PB-1 Naval Fortress

Last revised May 20, 2007






During the last year of the war and shortly thereafter, the US Navy acquired 48 ex-USAAF B-17s for patrol and air-sea rescue work. At first, these planes operated under their original USAAF designations, but on July 31, 1945 they were assigned the designation PB-1, a designation which had originally been used in 1925 for an experimental flying boat. Since most of the Fortresses involved were actually built by Douglas or Lockheed and not by Boeing, a more logical designation would have been P4D-1W or P3V-1G respectively.

The Navy Bureau of Aeronautics assigned the sequence of serial numbers between 77225 and 77258 to these aircraft. Later, two additional sequences were set aside--82855/82857 and 83992/84027.

Twenty-four B-17Gs (including one B-17F that had been modified to G standards) were used by the Navy under the designation PB-1W. The W stood tor anti-submarine warfare. A large radome for an ASP-20 search radar was fitted underneath the fuselage, and additional internal fuel tanks were added for longer range. These planes were painted dark blue, a standard Navy paint scheme which had been adopted in late 1944. Most of these planes were Douglas-built aircraft, flown directly from the Long Beach factory to the Naval Aircraft Modification Unit in Pennsylvania during the summer of 1945, where the APS-20 search radar was fitted. However, the war ended before any PB-1Ws could be deployed, and the defensive armament was subsequently deleted.

The first few PB-1Ws went to VBP-101 in April of 1946. The PB-1W eventually evolved into an early-warning aircraft by virtue of its APS-20 search radar. By 1947, PB-1Ws had been deployed to units operating with both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. VPB-101 on the East Coast was redesignated VX-4 and assigned to NAS Quonset Point in Rhode Island. VX-4 became VW-2 in 1952 and transferred to NAS Patuxent River in Maryland. VW-2 had the primary mission of early warning, with a secondary mission of antisubmarine warfare and hurricane reconnaissance. VW-1 was established in 1952 with four PB-1Ws at NAS Barbers Point in Hawaii. Elements of VW-1 were drawn from VC-11 at NAS Miramar and VP-51 at NAS San Diego. VW-1 had a mission similar to that of VW-2.

PB-1Ws continued in service until 1955, gradually being phased out in favor of the Lockheed WV-2, a military version of the Lockheed 1049 Constellation commercial airliner. PB-1Ws were retired to the Naval Aircraft Storage Center at Litchfield Park, Arizona. They were stricken from inventory in mid-1956 and many were sold as surplus and ended up on the civil register. 13 of them were sold as scrap.

Two ex-USAAAF B-17s were obtained by the Navy under the designation XPB-1 for various development programs. The first was transferred to the Navy in June of 1945, and the second was transferred in August of 1946. The second plane was used by the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in a jet engine test program. It was finally stricken off charge in 1955.

In May of 1947, six B-17Gs of unknown serial numbers were transferred to the Navy and assigned BuNos 83993 to 83998. They were stored at Corpus Christi until August 31, 1947, when they were stricken from charge. They were apparently never actually used by the Navy, and their ultimate fate is uncertain.

Two additional PB-1s were transferred to the Navy in 1950, these planes coming from the Air Force which had modified two EB-17Gs to PB-1W configuration for test programs. After the completion of these tests, these planes were transferred to the Navy and assigned the serials 77137, and 77138, which was sort of unusual in that these numbers had originally been set aside as part of a block of PB4Y aircraft.

It appears that the serials 83999 and 84001/84027 that had been been reserved for PB-1 aircraft were never actually used.

In 1949-1950, twenty B-17Gs were transferred to the Navy. The exact role that these planes were to fulfill is unclear. Their Navy designations and serials, if any, are unknown, and their ultimate fate is uncertain. None of these planes ever showed up on later civil registers.

Seventeen ex-USAAF Vega-built B-17Gs were used by the US Coast Guard under the designation PB-1G. In July 1945, 18 B-17s were set aside by the USAAF for transfer to the Coast Guard via the Navy. They were assigned Navy serial numbers. During wartime, the Coast Guard is part of the Navy and is under War Department jurisdiction, but on January 1, 1946, the Coast Guard returned to the Treasury Department. Nevertheless, the Navy continued to rework the B-17s and transferred them to the Coast Guard, where they served under their original Navy serial numbers.

The first PB-1Gs were delivered to the Coast Guard beginning in July of 1946. In the event, only 15 PB-1Gs were actually transferred to the Coast Guard, and they carried the Navy serial numbers between 77246 and 77257, plus 82855 and 82856 from the second serial block. The USCG obtained one more aircraft directly from the USAAF in 1947. It never received a BuAer number, and served with a truncated version of its USAAF serial (85832).

The PB-1Gs were stationed throughout the hemisphere, with five at the Coast Guard station at Elizabeth City, North Carolina, two at San Francisco, two in Newfoundland, one in Alaska, and one in Washington state. They were used primarily for air-sea rescue, but were also used for iceberg patrol duties and for photo mapping. Air-sea rescue PB-1Gs usually carried a droppable lifeboat underneath the fuselage and were painted in yellow and black air-rescue markings. The chin turret was often replaced by a radome. In postwar years, PB-1Gs would often carry the national insignia on their vertical tails rather than on the fuselage. The Coast Guard PB-1Gs served for a long time, the last example (44-85828, BuNo 77254) not being withdrawn from service until October 14, 1959. This airplane was sold as surplus, operated as an air tanker for many years, and is now on display in Arizona.

The BuAer serials of the Navy PB-1Gs and PB-1Ws were as follows:

34106		Douglas-Long Beach PB-1W Fortress - B-17F-75-DL 
			42-3521 from USAAF delivered to US Navy
34114		Douglas-Long Beach PB-1W Fortress - B-17G-85-DL 
			44-83538 from USAAF delivered to US Navy
77137		Douglas-Long Beach PB-1W Fortress - B-17G-80-DL
			44-83463 from USAAF delivered to US Navy
77138		Lockheed-Vega PB-1W Fortress - B-17G-100-VE 44-85679
			from USAAF delivered to US Navy.
77225 		Douglas-Long Beach PB-1W Fortress - former Army
			B-17G-95-DL 44-83855 used by US Navy
77226/77228	Douglas-Long Beach PB-1W Fortress - former Army
			B-17G-95-DL 44-83857/83859 used by US Navy
77229/77232	Douglas-Long Beach PB-1W Fortress - former Army
			B-17G-95-DL 44-83861/83864 used by US Navy
77233/77234	Douglas-Long Beach PB-1W Fortress - former Army
			B-17G-95-DL 44-83868/83869 used by US Navy
77235/77242	Douglas-Long Beach PB-1W Fortress - former Army
			B-17G-95-DL 44-83872/83879 used by US Navy
77243		Douglas-Long Beach PB-1W Fortress - former Army
			B-17G-95-DL 44-83883 used by US Navy
77244		Douglas-Long Beach PB-1W Fortress - former Army
			B-17G-95-DL 44-83884 used by US Navy
77245		Lockheed-Vega PB-1G Fortress - Former Army 
			B-17G-110-VE 44-85806 used by US Coast Guard
77246		Lockheed-Vega PB-1G Fortress - Former Army 
			B-17G-110-VE 44-85812 used by US Coast Guard
77247/77257	Lockheed-Vega PB-1G Fortress - Former Army
			B-17G-110-VE 44-85821/85831 used by US Coast Guard.
			77248 may have been returned to the Navy in 1949 and
			reserialed 84000.
77258		Lockheed-Vega XPB-1 Fortress - former Army
			B-17G-100-VE 44-85683 obtained by US Navy in June
			1945 for experimental tests.
82855/82857	General Motors XF2M-1 - Order cancelled before any could
	   		be built.
			These serials later reassigned to ex-USAAF 
  			Lockheed-Vega B-17G-110-VEs
			44-85837,44-85834, and 44-85838 used
			by US Coast Guard as PB-1G.
			82856 transferred from USCG to Navy in 1948 and
			may have received a new serial number. 
83992		Lockheed-Vega XPB-1 Fortress - B-17G-95-VE 44-85571 obtained 
			from War Assets Administration in August 1946 for use 
			by Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory for jet engine tests.
			Striken off record in 1955.
83993/83998	Boeing PB-1 Fortress - unknown B-17Gs from USAAF
			transferred to US Navy in May of 1947 and stored at
			Corpus Christi until August 31, 1947 when striken from
			charge.  Fate unknown.
83999		It would appear that this serial number was reserved for
			PB-1 aircraft, but never actually assigned.
84000		Navy records for 77248 and 84000 suggest that they were
		the same aircraft.  Apparently 77248 was returned by the
		Coast Guard to the Navy in 1949 and was reserialed
		84000.  It was B-17G-110-VE 44-85822.
84001/84027	It appears that these serial numbers were reserved
			for PB-1s, but never actually assigned.
85832		Lockheed-Vega PB-1G Fortress - Ex-USAAF
			B-17G-110-VE 44-85832 transferred directly from
			USAAF inventory to USCG.  Never assigned a Navy serial 
			number and carried the truncated USAAAF serial
			85832 while on Coast Guard duty.

In 1949-1950, the following B-17s were transferred to the Navy. Apparently, they were never assigned Navy serial numbers or Navy designations.

44-83404  Douglas-Long Beach B-17G-80-DL
44-83408  Douglas-Long Beach B-17G-95-DL
44-83433  Douglas-Long Beach B-17G-95-DL
44-83435  Douglas-Long Beach B-17G-95-DL
44-83422  Douglas-Long Beach B-17G-95-DL
44-83505  Douglas-Long Beach B-17G-95-DL
44-83563  Douglas-Long Beach B-17G-95-DL
44-83726  Douglas-Long Beach B-17G-95-DL
44-83749  Douglas-Long Beach B-17G-95-DL
44-83765  Douglas-Long Beach B-17G-95-DL
44-85495  Lockheed-Vega B-17G-95-VE
44-85514  Lockheed-Vega B-17G-95-VE
44-85537  Lockheed-Vega B-17G-95-VE
44-85542  Lockheed-Vega B-17G-95-VE
44-85574  Lockheed-Vega B-17G-95-VE
44-85628  Lockheed-Vega B-17G-100-VE
44-85657  Lockheed-Vega B-17G-100-VE
44-85661  Lockheed-Vega B-17G-100-VE
44-85665  Lockheed-Vega B-17G-100-VE
44-85681  Lockheed-Vega B-17G-100-VE

Sources:

  1. Flying Fortress, Edward Jablonski, Doubleday, 1965.

  2. Famous Bombers of the Second World War, Volume One, William Green, Doubleday, 1959.

  3. Boeing Aircraft Since 1916, Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1989.

  4. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  5. Lockheed Aircraft Since 1913, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1987.

  6. Boeing B-17E and F Flying Fortress, Charles D. Thompson, Profile Publications, 1966.

  7. American Combat Planes, Ray Wagner, Third Edition, Doubleday, 1982.

  8. Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II, Military Press, 1989.

  9. Final Cut: The Postwar B-17 Flying Fortress: The Survivors, Scott A. Thompson, Pictorial Histories Publishing Co.