Brickmania 2183 B-17G “Flying Fortress” WWII Heavy Bomber [Review]

We recently reviewed the new Brickmania F-4C Phantom II fighter kit, but the Brickmania team has also just restocked the massive B-17G WWII Heavy Bomber custom kit, their largest LEGO aircraft kit produced to date. This custom kit of the legendary “Flying Fortress” is built from 3,074 LEGO pieces and includes 10 custom-printed minifigures.

The packaging, instructions, and sticker sheet

Official LEGO sets have varying box sizes based on the number of parts in the set, but Brickmania only uses a few box sizes. As a result, the B-17 comes in the same size box as the Phantom II jet we recently reviewed, with artwork highlighting the bomber and its crew on the front and a historical photo and a focus on working features on the back of the box.

But because the box is the same size as other large Brickmania sets, the parts are packed in so tightly that we had trouble re-packing them after this photo!

The spiral-bound instruction booklet reminds us of the large booklet that comes with the UCS Millennium Falcon. Each page includes more steps than the build process for official LEGO sets, so the 88 large pages in the Brickmania instruction booklet give you a sense of just how massive this custom kit is from the moment you open the box.

The first page of the instruction booklet highlights the service history of the real-world aircraft, while the end of the book showcases the LEGO model’s various working features.

Brickmania prints their own custom decals in-house, and the sticker sheet for the bomber includes markings that depict the aircraft as it appeared in service in the European Theater with the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) during World War II.

The build

Unlike most other Brickmania custom LEGO kits, the B-17’s parts do come in five numbered bags, each with several unnumbered bags inside. Given that most of the parts are dark or light gray, the large numbered bags and smaller sub-bags were a huge relief.

Each of the bags corresponds to a specific section of the aircraft, with the first bag providing the parts for the nose and its cockpit.

Right away, it’s clear that this is no regular LEGO kit, despite the fact that all but the custom BrickArms pieces for the ten .50 caliber machine guns are genuine LEGO (contrary to the “not LEGO” comments these reviews inevitably get from people who can’t be bothered to read the articles themselves). Because the Brickmania B-17 has a fully detailed interior, the fuselage is built as a tube, with an outer skin attached via brackets.

Although the markings on the plane’s exterior are accomplished with decals, all of the interior details, from the cockpit dashboard and radio equipment to the pilot and co-pilot’s seat cushion life preservers with “U.S. Air Corps” stencils are all custom-printed. Many of these printed details aren’t visible when the model is complete — attention to detail that would be skipped to reduce cost in an official LEGO set.

The instructions have you build the crew into their stations within the plane, leaving us worried that they’d be difficult to remove and add back in later. However, all of the interior sections have fuselage sections that pop off easily to allow removal of the minifigs. It’s actually rather amazing that the pilot and co-pilot can sit side by side, and that the navigator and bombardier (who operates the chin turret) fit in the nose.

As we noted earlier, the skin is attached studs-out to the structure of the fuselage, with slopes and tiles yielding smooth curves.

At first glance, this open interior looks like it wouldn’t be very sturdy, but after the top panels are added and overlying sections connect across various segments, the fuselage is unbelievably strong.

The large opening for the bomb bay (with its bomb racks and opening bomb bay doors) means that the enormous, heavy LEGO wings aren’t directly connected to each other through the largely System-built fuselage. But by extending Technic liftarms into the fuselage and essentially creating a box-like structure around the bomb bay, the Brickmania designers have achieved a trifecta of structural stability, design accuracy, and working features.

The finished model

The Boeing B-17 heavy bomber first entered service with the United States Army Air Corps in 1938, and until production ended in 1945, 12,731 aircraft were produced. Over 8,000 of those were the B-17G variant depicted by this Brickmania kit. TBB Co-Founder Josh Wedin and I toured a fully restored B-17 (one of the last remaining airworthy Flying Fortresses) at the Seattle Museum of Flight several years ago, so I can attest to the fantastic accuracy of this custom LEGO model, both in its exterior shaping and interior detail.

Seattle Museum of Flight Boeing B-17F “Boeing Bee” in flight over Puget Sound (photo courtesy Seattle Fortress Bombers Restoration

When complete, the Brickmania B-17 has a wingspan of 3 feet (91 cm) and the aircraft measures 25.5″ (65 cm) from nose to tail. It’s just plain huge, its wingspan surpassing the 33″ (84 cm) length of the UCS Falcon. Nevertheless, for the ten crew members crammed on either side of the bomb bay, the B-17 was a claustrophobic metal tube.

The sheer scale of this LEGO model is evident when you place a couple of minifigs nearby, as you can see in this photo with a pair of minifigs inspecting the port wing.

Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire fighters escorted USAAF Flying Fortresses on their first raid into occupied France in August 1942, so we thought we’d highlight the Brickmania B-17’s scale with the Brickmania Spitfire Mk Vb (a gorgeous custom LEGO kit in its own right).

From nose to tail, the aircraft is fully detailed, with complex curves achieved with inset sub-assemblies and brick-built canopies. Custom stickers give the nose character, with a reclining Daniel Siskind on the left side of the nose above lettering that says “Sassy Siskind” and a row of bombs indicating the number of missions that this fictional aircraft has completed. The chin turret rotates, as does the top turret. Both feature custom BrickArms .50 caliber machine gun elements.

The waist gunner positions also use BrickArms .50 caliber elements, with openings through which the gunners can spot enemy aircraft. This view also shows how Brickmania stickers are applied across multiple LEGO elements, and even across stepped levels on the model’s surface. This is something we’d typically frown on for a regular LEGO set, but it’s very unlikely that you’re going to disassemble your Brickmania B-17, so an approach more similar to plastic model kits makes sense.

The ailerons on each wing flap up and down. LEGO doesn’t have every angle in wedge plates yet, so some angles on the model are achieved by stepping tiles and plates. This view accentuates the stepped angle, but from most angles the stepping works very well.

Similarly, the elevators on the tailplane are moveable, as is the rudder on the vertical stabilizer.

The tail gunner position sits at the very rear of the aircraft, with a tiny canopy. To provide access to the minifig, the Brickmania kit has a top panel that swings out on hinges, and side panels that pop off. (On some real B-17s, the rear gunner sat on a bicycle seat, and he would have to crawl through the narrow tail to get to his station.)

The tail wheel can be raised and lowered with the small Technic gear on the right side of the rear fuselage.

The main landing gear can be detached manually, but there is no mechanism to retract them into the engine compartments.

One of the most unenviable crew positions on a B-17 is the lower ball turret. When Josh and I toured the restored B-17, our guide (a retired Boeing engineer) described how ball turret gunners would have to sit crouched inside the turret for the duration of the mission, and their legs would fall asleep, requiring their crew-mates to lift them out at the end of the mission — a horrific situation if the aircraft was damaged and the crew had to bail out quickly, or worse if the landing gear fails…

“Sperry” type ball turret used on B-17s (this historic photo is from one on a B-24 Liberator bomber)

The LEGO ball turret doesn’t actually fit a minifigure, though it does fully rotate in all directions. The mechanism inserts up into the plane’s fuselage.

As the ball turret and landing gear indicate, the underside of the plane has all the expected details. Since the wings are built entirely studs-out on the Technic frame, much of the wings’ undersides are also tiled, with subtle curves from inverted “baby bow” slopes on the wing’s leading edge.

The B-17’s bomb bay occupies the space behind the cockpit, between the wings. Four brick-built bombs are attached to bomb racks that angle up to the top of the LEGO aircraft. On a real B-17, getting from the radio station to the cockpit required walking along a narrow catwalk between the V-shaped bomb racks, and during our tour we sacrificed a perfectly good LEGO T-shirt as it got hung up on the solenoids (neither Josh nor I are the size of 19-year-old WWII airmen).

B-17 Bomb Bay

Photo of a real B-17 bomb bay by Rick Hawkinson

The bomb bay doors open and close to reveal the bombs on their racks. However, the bombs themselves can’t really be dropped — it would have been interesting to see what kind of working function Brickmania designers would have come up with to drop and re-load the bombs (features that LEGO Star Wars designers have accomplished in sets like 75172 Y-wing Starfighter from Rogue One and 75188 Resistance Bomber from The Last Jedi). In other words, the bombs are there for you to enjoy as a detail during the build process, but you probably won’t be flipping your B-17 upside down very often to get to them.

The Brickmania B-17’s stability can’t be understated. Photography for a LEGO set review can require some serious manhandling, and more than a few interior connections and sub-assemblies popped off during our review of the UCS Millennium Falcon last year. Not so with this custom LEGO kit. Despite carting the aircraft from my place to Chris’s for photography, flipping it over for underside shots, spinning it this way and that for detail photos, and even partially disassembling it to highlight building techniques, the Brickmania B-17 lived up to the indestructible reputation of its real-life counterpart.

It’s also remarkably balanced. Simply for the purpose of photography, we often build small stands or jigs to hold a LEGO model in place. While we don’t recommend doing this for long-term display, the Brickmania B-17 almost appears to float when placed on only a pair of 1×2 clear column pieces.

One major difference from LEGO’s UCS sets is that the specification panel is printed — a welcome change from having to position an enormous sticker.

The minifigs

The B-17G flew with a full crew complement of 10 officers and enlisted airmen. The Brickmania Flying Fortress includes two identical sets of 5 custom-printed minifigs — five officers and five enlisted airmen, differentiated only by whether they’re wearing a leather helmet or an officer’s hat.

The torso and leg printing is identical on all ten minifigs, and uses digital printing to produce a textured, 3D feeling on every surface of the minifig. I mentioned in our review of the F-4 Phantom that I personally prefer custom-printed elements created with pad printing like LEGO’s own designs, but I wholeheartedly acknowledge that this is a stylistic preference and not a comment on quality or durability.

The printing extends right around the minifig, including arms and the back of the minifig’s legs.

Conclusions & recommendation

The Brickmania B-17G WWII Heavy Bomber custom kit yields a beautiful model not just for its overall look and working features but also for the sheer engineering prowess necessitated by its massive scale. We’ve compared various aspects of the kit to the official LEGO Star Wars UCS Millennium Falcon several times throughout this review, and the comparison is entirely apt (and not just because they’re both gray flying machines with lots of weapons bristling in all directions). Both sets are Premium, Prestige sets with capital P’s.

At $1,750 for this Brickmania kit, you could buy two UCS Falcons, so this won’t be a casual purchase for all but the rather well-to-do. It bears repeating, as we’ve noted in previous Brickmania and other custom kit reviews, that the kit maker sources their LEGO bricks on the open market just like the rest of us (there’s no special program from LEGO for bulk parts for custom kit makers), and they must cover a higher proportion of the cost for design and packaging. But as a deeply meaningful gift for a person or organization with a connection to the real-life aircraft, or for the die-hard LEGO military collector, this custom kit is absolutely amazing. (It’s also important to note that Brickmania has a frequent-buyer program that would immediately pay for itself even if you’re just purchasing this one set, and they have frequent sales of as much as 30% off the custom kits in their inventory.)

While it’s certainly hard to set aside the cost entirely, if you can look past the price, the Brickmania B-17G brings together innovative building techniques and remarkably sturdy construction that results in an absolutely gorgeous finished model. This is an LEGO aircraft model that would look stunning as the centerpiece of any LEGO World War II display.

Brickmania is a Premier Sponsor of The Brothers Brick and sent The Brothers Brick a copy of this set for review. However, providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.

7 comments on “Brickmania 2183 B-17G “Flying Fortress” WWII Heavy Bomber [Review]

  1. Benjamin P. von Suck (@benvoliothe1st)

    Certainly a great kit. Thanks for highlighting the stickers that go across pieces. I think I would slice the stickers so that the bricks could still be separated later, which would improve the look, too.

    But yeah, this is outside my price range by about $1400.

  2. R

    I wonder how much cheaper a person could build this for on their own. I get all the reasons stated for the ridiculous price point, however seeing the absolute lack of diversity within the minifigures is truly a disappointment. For close to $2k you would think that they could at least put a little effort forth.

  3. ShaneP

    Looks great. My grandfather flew B-17s in the war. Bit of a history lesson / correction here: This can’t be a US Army Air Corps B-17G because the US Army Air Corps changed to the US Army Air Forces on 20 June 1941. The first G model B-17 didn’t fly until 16 August 1943.

  4. Greg Dlx

    It is funny, whilst I am always complaining about Lego’s premium on regular products, this one seems to deserve its price tag. You can see the incredible amount of work that has gone for it and sourcing bricks is not cheap.

    Thanks TBB for the review – this is as close as i will get to this superb set.

  5. Ran Dome

    Very nice, but stupidly expensive. This is the kind of present for people with Ferrari’s parked in their 6 car garage. I’d rather get a plastic scale kit or even build a R/C model for a fraction of this price. Also, $1700 will buy you a lot of very nice regular lego.

  6. Jimmy

    “I wonder how much cheaper a person could build this for on their own”

    $300 in raw lego parts, no stickers, no printing.

    But the real kicker is time, it really starts to add up. Even using this model’s pics as a guide, how long would it take you to build from your existing collection of parts? 30 hours? 100?

    Then you have to source those parts in the right color. Find on bricklink. Order. Unbox when the mail arrives, sort. That’s at least another couple hours of your time.

    Now rebuild your model in the correct colors. Another 2 hours down.

    So $300 in parts and conservatively 50 hours of your time. Even at a cheap $10/hour that’s $500 right there.

    Now add in more time. Time to design stickers (huge assumption that you can do this yourself). Cost to print. Not even considering the cost of custom printed tiles or figs, nor of paying a graphic designer to creat the art and print-ready files.

    Box, box pics. Writing instructions copy, getting photos.

    How long to get the model into a brick CAD program? Hours? How long to create instructions -more hours?

    $1700 seems steep, but in reality it’s probably just right, if not on the cheap side.

Comments are closed.