Jack Bally was a veteran and aviation enthusiast with a knack for building and flying kit planes. His list of builds includes a bush plane and a parasol monoplane. But in 1999, he would take on his greatest challenge yet, spending 17 years and 40,000 man hours building a near-perfect replica of a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress in 1:3 scale.
According to the Experimental Aircraft Association, the story goes that Bally and his buddies were enjoying some cold beverages and talking about building one more plane. But instead of building just any plane, they wanted to build something different; something with more than two engines.
Bally initially looked at building a scale B-24 Liberator, but found that it would be tough to scale down. What plane could be scaled down and still work? A B-17 Flying Fortress.
With the help of an aerospace engineer, he took off designing his creation. Bally took plans for a 1:9 scale B-17 R/C plane and adapted them to make the real deal, only in a larger 1:3 scale. His design would call for Cessna 152-like handling and be strong enough to withstand six positive and negative g loads.
Building a plane is no walk in the park, and taking nearly two decades to build one requires incredible dedication. Some car enthusiasts give up on car projects before even getting started. But Bally committed to seeing this plane through to reality, building a faithful, but small recreation of a B-17G. It took him 40,000 hours to build it and the plane took its first flight in 2016 before finishing touches were added in time for its 2018 EAA AirVenture debut.
The Bally Bomber B-17 is said to be exactly 1:3 scale of the real deal, save for having a slightly larger cockpit than it should. It’s amazing to think that this plane started off as plans for a far smaller R/C aircraft.
It’s powered by four Hirth F-30 two-stroke four cylinder air-cooled boxer engines. These normally produce about 80 HP and use a propeller speed reduction unit to keeps the props spinning at a usable speed. However, that unit wouldn’t fit in the nacelles, so the propellers are mounted directly. In this application, the Hirths are pumping out 60 HP each for a total output of 240 HP.
At one point, as described by Bally in an interview, he had them down to 45 HP each.
Richard Kosi, the plane’s pilot describes the plane as a little underpowered. The finished aircraft has a wingspan of about 34 feet, 7 inches and an empty weight of around 1,800 pounds. For comparison, a Piper Cub has a 35-foot wingspan.
Sadly, Bally wouldn’t get very long to enjoy his miniature bomber and he passed away in 2020. The plane’s new owner keeps it in the skies and the plane made a return to EAA AirVenture this year.
Bally’s legacy lives on in his striking planes and the inspiration he gives to builders everywhere. Hopefully, we’ll get to see the Bally Bomber for years to come.