Lancaster vs B-17: Which One Would You Want to Fly In?

YouTube / Caliban Rising - Aviation History

If you had the choice, which iconic aircraft would you want to fly in? The Avro Lancaster or the B-17 Flying Fortress? Let’s compare how these two measure up against each other. 

Bomb Load & Bomb Sight Accuracy

When it comes to bomb load, the Lancaster blows the B-17 out of the way. It can carry a massive 22,000 pounds of payload to targets. Meanwhile, the Flying Fortress had a usable bomb load of less than half that at 9,600 pounds. 

Wikimedia CC / Bzuk

When it comes to bomb sight accuracy, most Lancasters were equipped with some variant of the Mark 14 bomb site. Meanwhile, the B-17 had the famous Norden bomb site which was said to be so accurate you can drop a bomb in a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet. 

Crew and Range Long Missions

The biggest difference between the Lancaster and the B-17 was that the American bomber had three additional crewmen to the Lancaster’s seven-strong team. This meant three additional gunners. 

Pixabay / JonPauling

When it comes to operational range, the Flying Fortress has the Lancaster beaten hands down. With the ability to fly a thousand miles further in bombing missions, the B-17s can pretty much hit any Axis target possible.


The British stuck with their .303 rifle caliber ammunition, and the Lancaster mostly retained the .303s in its gunner positions.

Pixabay / HistoryGear

The Flying Fortress boasted up to 13 .50-caliber machine guns in various placements and variants. Meanwhile, the Lancaster only had up to 8-10 .303 machine guns. 


Now, when it came to speed, the Lancaster and B-17 were fairly comparable. However, the primary advantage the Flying Fortress has over its British counterpart is its ceiling. 

Pixabay / kvnlyle

The American bomber can fly nearly 10,000 feet higher than the RAF crew, attacking targets from up to 35,600 feet.

Which Air Force?

Another thing that you might want to consider is which bomber command you want to join. Losses and casualties were staggering during the war. British bomber crews faced around 53% attrition rate during WWII. Meanwhile, the Eight Air Force lost 4,730 aircrews over occupied Europe. When it comes to the Brits, it’s interesting to note that of the 32 airmen who won a Victoria Cross in WWII, 19 of them were in bomber command.

Pixabay / delphinmedia

However, the sad thing about this bomber command post-war is that they were despised by the British government and soon denounced as pretty much a war crime. The crew didn’t get the same accolades as other RAF crew, and they didn’t get a memorial until 2012. Meanwhile, the Eight Air Force was never demonized the same way.  

War Bird Legacy

Out of the 7,377 Lancasters and 12,726 B-17s that were built, there are now 16 and 26 survivors respectively. 

Although there are quite a few flying examples of the Lancaster, you can still see many B-17s take the skies.

So, now it’s up to you – which plane do you want to fly?