B-17 Flying Fortress Loop: The Story that Made the Headlines

John ‘Reds’ Urban helped fly a B-17 that nosed up and into a loop after another bomber crashed across its tail. The photo shows Urban’s plane after making it back to England.


In the nearly 20 years Ed Krupa knew him, John Urban never let on that he had done anything extraordinary as a World War II bomber pilot.

“He never said anything about the loop,” Krupa said. Krupa read about the maneuver after Urban’s widow lent him her husband’s scrapbook.

Urban, a civic leader and lifelong Nazareth resident known as Reds, died in 2001. Krupa learned his secret last year: On a fiery mission over Germany in 1944, Urban’s B-17 performed a feat so spectacular it made headlines around the war-torn world.

With much of its tail section sheared off, the four-engine Flying Fortress — a heavy aircraft not built for aerobatics — shot straight up and onto its back, then swooped down in an arc. It was a complete, accidental inside loop.

Flying Fortress does inside loop: Navigator sticks to ceiling, drops on his head as plane swings back to normal,” reads a headline from the Omaha Daily Journal.

The Daily Express of London reported: “Battered Fort does full loop, but gets home.”

The Easton Express ran a photo of Urban and crowed, “Nazareth pilot on B-17 which did ‘impossible.’”

“John and I would discuss aviation,” said Krupa. “But John never said any more than that he flew a B-17. He just said that he was a copilot and he flew so many missions to Germany, and just left it be.”

The scrapbook is a neatly kept but time-worn collection of photos, reports and clippings chronicling Urban’s service with the Army Air Forces, including his flight records and even a fabric map of Europe he carried in case he was shot down.Its contents include proof of Urban’s valor: a July 1944 report by the operations officer of the 364th Bombardment Squadron certifying Urban had completed 25 missions. It lists the date and destination of each, as well as Urban’s decorations — three Air Medals for meritorious achievement and the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism.

The B-17, nicknamed Hit Parade, reached England and landed at a Royal Air Force base with a flat tire and only five minutes of gas in its tanks, Urban noted in his scrapbook alongside photos of the plane’s damage. One of the 10 crew members was injured — a waist gunner, who broke his heel during the loop. The Hit Parade was junked.

The UP reported the loop tale was the topic of “much scientific debate among fliers in London bars … who shook their heads in disbelief.” Until then, they hadn’t heard any reports of B-17s doing loops and assumed such a maneuver was out of the question.

But aviation expert John J. Ruddy of Leesburg, Va., said recently that the story makes sense. “The plane had already dropped its bombs and burned off thousands of pounds of fuel, making it less resistant to the doomed B-17 crashing down across its tail,” he said.

The impact forced Hit Parade “to immediately rotate to an almost vertical nose-high position …and around its pitch axis,sort of like a seesaw going up too high and wanting to go over backward,” said Ruddy, a retired United Air Lines pilot, aircraft mechanic and aerobatic flier.

As a result of the “rotational impact,” Hit Parade could “simply flip over backward and wind up positioned as if it were approaching the bottom half of an intentional loop maneuver,” Ruddy said.