World War 2 bomber crews biked to work

Newly published color photos of American World War 2 bomber crews by celebrated TIME-LIFE photographer Margaret Bourke-White includes bicycles on the flight line.

Bicycling to WW2 B17 Super Fortress bomber  by TIME-LIFE photographer Margaret Bourke-White 1942

Fuel shortages meant the military pulled out all of the stops to conserve, which meant crews often used bikes to get around the airfields of Europe.

Bicycling to WW2 B17 Super Fortress bomber  by TIME-LIFE photographer Margaret Bourke-White 1942

The B-17 Flying Fortress shown here carried a crew of six to ten and was 75 feet long, only 13 feet longer than the modern F-22 Raptor single seat air superiority fighter jet.

View the full set over at LIFE.TIME.COM: World War II in Color: American Bombers and Their Crews, 1942. Via IO9 and Ubbe.


  1. There’s something deeply ironic about this that I can’t quite pin down.

    Is it that…

    (a) In WWII we were happy to economize and conserve even while prosecuting something as brutally inefficient as warfare?

    (b) The American wars of the last 23 years have been for the sake of preserving an inefficient energy economy?

    (c) Our society has glorified the WWII generation yet marginalized cycling?

    (d) All of the above.

    (e) None of the above.

  2. I just looked it up – the F-22 empty weight is about 4 tons more than the B-17! F-22 has substantially higher max takeoff weight too: 83,500 lbs vs 65,500.

  3. Clearly a result of the pork that accrued after the conclusion of the ATF contest and my involvement with the LOSING team. Per Wikipedia, the MTO weight of the YF-23 was 62000lb; slightly less than the B-17, but darn close. In Lockmart’s defense, the YF-22 was also a 62k MTO aircraft.

  4. OTOH, your comment suggests that our original Northrop suggested nickname for the Lockheed aircraft as “Constellation 2” had more truth than any of us suspected at the time, considering that the MTO weight of the original Constellation was 86250 lb per Wikipedia, versus the final 84K of the production F-22. Both heavier than any B-17 and 22K heavier than either YF.

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