I was at the California Capital Airshow on Mather AFB over the weekend, and came across a beautifully maintained B-17 Flying Fortress. The crew were kind enough to allow people to go inside and take a look - what a magnificent machine!

While inside, I noticed the dome gunner seems to be in a position to accidentally shoot the tail off the plane!

Are there any confirmed instances of this happening? Was there some way to prevent it - either be it training or some mechanism that stopped the guns while in this position? I can imagine, in the heat of battle, sweeping an enemy fighter and nicking your own tail in the process!

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    $\begingroup$ This page contains an account of a waist gunner shooting the tail, but I'm unable to do more research into it at the moment. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ If your not careful thats what happens at 11 0'clock $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ IIRC shooting your own aircraft was a serious risk with pintle mounted machine guns in early WW1 aircraft. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ My grandfather was an air Sargent and gunner on B-17. He told me a story where he had accidentally shot down his plane because the ball turret gun cutoffs were wired shut. These cut-offs were to prevent hitting the aircraft was the turret guns rotated but German fighters quickly learned to approach bombers these angles. This led to crews wiring shut the cut-offs. Fortunately for my grandfather, being the air Sargent, he was responsible for the combat log for the mission and also enemy fighters were encountered so he could report the plane was hit by enemy fire. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ @DanNeely That's correct. It took the invention of Fokker's interrupter, which automatically repressed fire when a blade was in front of the gun, to prevent this. $\endgroup$
    – forest
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 6:35

1 Answer 1


There's a profile cam in the turret track ring that operates a mechanism that interrupts the guns when the barrels are pointed at parts of the aircraft. Waist gunners were the only ones who had to worry about hitting their own plane.

The bigger problem was gunners hitting adjacent aircraft. The "box" formation design attempted to provide as much of an open field as possible to each gunner.

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    $\begingroup$ Not just gunners hitting friendly air craft - the bombs themselves have hit planes flying below them as well. Recall watching old WW2 documentaries w/ various gun cam footage and seeing it happen... $\endgroup$
    – ivanivan
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 22:07
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    $\begingroup$ The only gunners that had the ability to shoot directly into their own airplane's structure were the waist gunners. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnK Would this then be accurate? "Because the top turret gun had an interrupter mechanism, it could not shoot the airplane even though it could aim at the tail. However, the waist guns, which had no interrupter mechanism, could be aimed at the airplane. Therefore, the waist gunners were the only ones who had to worry about hitting their own plane." $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ @supercat - that's a great new question - why don't you ask it! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ @supercat you'd be amazed at the knowledge and mad Google skillz of this community! Also, just because it's only interesting to you doesn't mean it's not a good question. It would also be interesting to me, and a lot of others would read it and think, "Huh... that's a good question! Wish I'd thought of it!" $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 14:58

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