Fortress versus Lightning: B-17 and F-35 compared


The Boeing B-17 and Lockheed Martin F-35 are two American bombers separated by around 70 years of history. They belong to the same weight class and bear interesting comparison.

First flight:

B-17 1935

X-35 2000 / F-35 2006

Time from requirement to service entry:

B-17 4 years (1934-1938)

F-35 23 years  (1992-2015 est. for B)


Maximum speed compared to average contemporary fighter:


287 mph/400 mph (71.75 %)


1200 mph/1450 mph (82.7 %)


B-17G:  1,738 nmi, 3219 km with 2700 kg (6,000 lb) bomb-load

F-35: 584 nm (1080 km) on internal fuel (combat radius)

Take-off speed:

B-17: 115 mph

F-35: 0 mph (B variant)

Maximum conceivable amount of enemy aircraft that can be destroyed by standard defensive weapons on one mission

F-35: 2

B-17G: 25+


Max loaded weight:

B-17G: 65K Ib

F-35: 70K Ib

Max internal bomb-load:

F-35: 4670 lbs

B-17: 8000 lbs (4500 lbs for long range missions)

Max bomb-load (including external munitions):

B-17: 17, 600 lbs

F-35: 18,000 Ibs

Max internal fuel:

F-35: 19,200 lb (C model)

B-17: 10, 200 lbs

Wing loading

F-35: 107.7 lb/ft² (526 kg/m²; 745 kg/m² max loaded)

B-17G: 38.0 lb/ft² (185.7 kg/m2)


B-17: $238,329

F-35: $170 million (flyaway average A/B/C 2013)

How many bottles of coke* could you buy with the cost of each aircraft (contemporary prices)?

F-35 is worth 113,333,333 cokes an aircraft.

B-17 was worth 4,766,580 cokes an aircraft in 1943.

The $238,329 it cost to build a B-17 would be worth $3,209,272.19 today.

*based on bottle of Coca-Cola (1943): 5 cents, (2014): $1.50


  1. Mark

    ‘twould be interesting to also measure the cost of the crew risked in each airframe.
    Avionics comparisons can’t really be made…

    The “death star” cost of sinking so much of the national treasure into each of these is staggering.

    Won’t be long until the F35 is obsoleted by UAVs anyway. The design limitations forced by having a meat puppet in the front simply can’t compete with what is coming down the pike.

    I only hope US / Western aircraft companies and militaries will have the sense to overcome the fighter jock union that insists on manned fighters.

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