A Deadly Delivery | The Incredible Story of the B-17 Joining the Israeli Air Force

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Although there were better bombers in the US service during WWII, for some reason, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress captured millions of Americans. 

But there’s one such Air Force use of the Flying Fortress, whose story we’ll delve further- how Israel managed to smuggle a group of B-17 outside the US to their country, using their own delivery flights to do the unthinkable- bombing the capital city of their enemy. 


After WWII, after the horrors of the Nazi holocaust, Jews celebrated the rebirth of their homeland, and a mass migration began. However, the creation of Israel involved the partition of Palestine, displacing many Palestinians. 

This outraged their Arab brothers, particularly the Egyptians. Soon, the Royal Egyptian Air Force (REAF) began launching air raids on Jewish settlements which Israel is almost powerless to stop. 

The Bomb Chuckers

In the desperation of those extremely early days, Israel placed an eclectic mix of civilian and ex-military aircraft forming the Israeli Air Force, defending the nation, in what the Israelis viewed as the war of independence. 

However, many of these planes are ill-suited. Men involved in these dangerous acts are called bomb chuckers. Still, something had to be done to give Israel more advantage in the air if they were to survive.

A Buyer’s Market

Demilitarization of combat aircraft along with a fresh supply of trained and experienced pilots led to the explosion of start-up airlines during the post-war period. This provided a lot of American entrepreneurs a chance to make a fortune out of these burgeoning fields of business. It also provided the ideal cover for those who want to ignore the arms embargo on Israel and buy and smuggle aircraft to the newly established Jewish states. 

An American Jew, New York-born Al Schwimmer, began looking for dealers and operators for specific types, including former bombers. Fearing it could be the start of a second holocaust, and realizing that his business contacts could address Israel’s shortcomings, he soon began acquiring and delivering transport aircraft to Israel via Czechoslovakia. 

This was a risky prospect for him since it violated America’s neutrality laws. Scouring his contacts, he eventually found Miami businessman, Charles Winters’s B-17s, negotiating to purchase them for only $30,000. 

A Plan

The men managed to acquire two more B-17s. All four planes were airworthy, and legally registered in the US. Thus, they needed to come up with a plan to make their flight look legitimate as possible to US authorities. 

The first stage was flying from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico. From there, they would file a flight plan to Brazil, but would then head for the Portuguese Azores, where they would refuel, before heading out for a final leg to Czechoslovakia.


However, they had to act fast knowing this would eventually attract US authorities. The bombers touched down in San Juan without interference to be refueled and then flew to the Azores. Landing in the Azores, the FBI had been actively investigating the aircraft so they refueled as quickly as possible. The trio of planes touched down in Czechoslovakia three days after leaving Miami. The fourth bomber meanwhile, made it to the Azores but was impounded by Portuguese authorities at the request of the US government, and it would never fly again. 

When the Arabs realized that the Israelis had now long-range potential, Arab nations scaled back their attacks. To capitalize on this fear, the Israelis regularly modified the three B-17s replacing their armament configurations and serial numbers as often as possible, making enemy intelligence believe there were more than they actually were. 

B-17s continued to fly raids for the remainder of the war and later saw use for reconnaissance and transport roles.