Supermodel Fortress

For me, every novel begins with the germ of an idea – a single thought which, if it's a good one, grows and ramifies. For my novel Burning Blue the germ was the idea of someone creating a really large-scale model of a B-17 Flying Fortress. At that point I had no conception of the huge, multi-layered war story and conspiracy thriller that would eventually grow from it; I just experienced a nerdy fascination with the idea of a monster model.

Knowing little about R/C modelling, I just made it up as I went along.


The elegant wing and tail of B-17 "Sally B" frame a visiting DC-3 at IWM Duxford. The "Sally B" was a vital source of inspiration in getting a feel for the character and presence of a B-17 when I was writing Burning Blue (photo © Jeremy Dronfield)

Having approached it in that spirit, I worried that I might have gone over the top. In the book, Martin's model is 1:10 scale, giving it a huge (or so I thought at the time) wingspan of about 10 feet. There wasn't YouTube in those days; I didn't even have an internet connection in 1995–6 (when I first began writing the early version of the novel).

And so, now I discover that Martin's 1:10 model, had it been real, would have been a mere minnow in the world of aviation modelling. A fellow in Austria has created a flying B-17 with an astonishing wingspan of nineteen feet. That's nearly twice the span of Martin's.

Watch it flying here. It's a delight.

One incidental thing that pleases me is that I got the disassembly right in the novel. I was also correct about needing a motorised device for starting those big engines. Oh, and it's metal-skinned, like Martin's (which is another feature I worried about the authenticity of).

'A page-turning thriller that combines a storyteller’s gift with intellectually brilliant invention'
Publishing News


The new edition of Burning Blue for 2013 – coming from Thistle Publishing.

That isn't the only giant Fortress model, not by a long way. Here's a chap who's built a (slightly) less impressive 17-footer …

When I was preparing the text of Burning Blue for re-release (coming soon from Thistle), I considered enlarging Martin's model. I held back. I have reservations about altering the text of a novel after it's been published (except to correct errors). More important, giving Martin too large a plane could cause plot difficulties.


The real thing. "Sally B" in flight. The smoke generators were installed for the filming of the movie Memphis Belle (1990), parts of which were shot at Duxford. The chin turret was removed for filming, to make the plane resemble a period-correct B-17F. The poor forward armament of the F model plays a pivotal role in the plot of Burning Blue (photo © Jeremy Dronfield)

Update: Burning Blue has been reissued, and is now available on Amazon.

© Jeremy Dronfield 2017