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Airpower Classics

Artwork by Zaur Eylanbekov

B-29 Superfortress
World War II bomber development reached its zenith in the B-29 Superfortress, a sophisticated heavyweight famed for carrying out the only wartime use of atomic weapons. Its cost was high, but the sleek bomber was unquestionably a war winner. This Boeing giant emerged from the 1937 XB-15 design, though it underwent much change. The Army Air Corps in early 1940 specied a requirement for a Hemisphere Defense Weapon able to y at 400 mph, travel 5,000 miles, and carry 2,200 pounds of bombs. AAC chose Boeings Model 345, combining a high aspect ratio wing with Fowler aps, new engines and avionics, and remotely controlled gun turrets. It was the rst bomber with pressurized crew areas. Gen. H.H. Arnold believed in the B-29, and the service ordered 1,500 even before rst ight. Despite a troubled development, the B-29 was lethal and versatile. In December 1943, US leaders decided not to use the B-29 in Europe but to use its great range in the vast Pacic. The rst B-29 raids on Japan came on June 15, 1944 and built up steadily. In March 1945, Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay ordered night low-altitude use of incendiary bombs, and these raids, by hundreds of B-29s, devastated Japan. On Aug. 6, Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On Aug. 9, Bockscar dropped another on Nagasaki. Tokyo surrendered. Five years later, B-29s, though past their prime, returned as workhorses of the Korean War. They ew 20,000 sorties, dropped 200,000 tons of bombs, and shot down 27 enemy aircraft. It was the end of the combat career for what might have been the most signicant bomber in history. Walter J. Boyne

This aircraft: B-29A Superfortress #44-61835Dragon Ladyas it looked in 1951 when


assigned to SACs 19th Bomb Group in Japan for Korean War duty. A World War II veteran, it bombed North Korea and shot down ve MiGs, but crashed in the Pacic in late 1951.

In Brief

Designed by Boeing built by Boeing, Bell, and Martin rst ight Sept. 21, 1942 crew 10 number built 3,970 bomb load 20,000 lb Specic to B-29A: four Curtiss-Wright R-3350 engines armament eight or 10 .50-cal guns (turrets), one 20 mm gun, two .50-cal guns max speed 358 mph cruise speed 230 mph max range 4,100 mi weight (loaded) 141,100 lb span 141 ft 3 in length 99 ft height 29 ft 7 in.

Famous Fliers
Medal of Honor recipientSSgt. (later MSgt. Henry E. Red Erwin. Three SAC commandersMaj. Gen. (later Gen. and CSAF) Curtis E. LeMay; Col. (later Gen.) Thomas S. Power; 1st Lt. (later Gen.) Russell E. Dougherty. Atomic bombing pilotsCol. (later Brig. Gen.) Paul W. Tibbets Jr., Hiroshima raid, and Maj. (later Brig. Gen.) Charles W. Sweeney, Nagasaki raid.

Interesting Facts

B-29s unload incendiary bombs on Japan in 1945. 96

Flown by USAAF, USAF, US Navy, RAF, RAAF used in bombing, reconnaissance, refueling, transport, rescue, weather, special operations led to B-50 bomber, KC-97 tanker drop aircraft for X-series aircraft Soviet Tupolev Tu-4 was a Chinese copy. AIR FORCE Magazine / March 2007

Airpower Classics
Artwork by Zaur Eylanbekov

B-36

The gargantuan B-36, in service during the period 1948-59, was USAFs first true intercontinental bomber. It made heavy use of magnesium to reduce weight and was widely known as the Magnesium Overcast. Another nicknameBig Stickdenoted its role as the strong sword of Strategic Air Command in the early days of the Cold War. The B-36 dated to the World War II year of 1941, when it seemed Britain might fall and US Army Air Forces might have to carry out bombing operations against Germany from US bases. USAAF called for a 5,000-mile unrefueled range and a 10,000-pound bomb load. Consolidated won the competition and got a production contract in 1943. The result was the largest combat aircraft in history; one pilot likened it to sitting on your front porch and flying your house around. It had six pusher engines, huge wings, and crew compartments fore and aft connected by an 80-foot tunnel. Because of

its nuclear prowess, the B-36 was perceived as a threat to carrier aviation by Navy officials, a fact which led to an unsuccessful effort to kill it and a subsequent Revolt of the Admirals in 1949. The basic design was enhanced when the Air Force added four turbojet engines to increase the bombers speed and carrying capacity. The B-36 deployed operationally only twice, during the Suez Crisis of 1956 and the Hungarian revolt against Soviet occupation that same year. While it never dropped a bomb in anger, its very existence had a deterrent effect on US enemies. Some think it may have prevented direct Soviet entry into the Korean War on the side of North Korea and China. The last B-36 stood down in 1958 and was retired soon after, leaving the Air Force with an all-jet bomber force. Yet no one who saw it in flight or heard the roar of its 10 engines ever forgot it. Walter J. Boyne

This aircraft: B-36H#51-5718as it looked in spring 1953 when assigned to USAF Strategic Air Commands 42nd Bomb
Squadron, 11th Bomb Group, at Carswell AFB, Tex.

In Brief

Designed, built by Consolidated-Vultee rst ight Aug. 8, 1946 crew of 15 number built 385 Specic to B-36D: six P&W R-4360-41 radials + four GE J47-GE-19 turbojets armament 16 20 mm cannon in 8 turrets bomb load 72,000 lb nuclear or conventional bombs max speed 439 mph cruise speed 225 mph max range 7,500 mi weight (loaded) 357,500 lb span 230 ft length 162 ft 1 in height 46 ft 8 in.

Famous Fliers
Gen. Lew Allen Jr., USAF Chief of Staff 1978-82; Maj. Gen. Christopher S. Adams Jr., SAC chief of staff 1982-83; Gen. Walter C. Sweeney Jr., TAC commander 1961-65; Brig. Gen. Richard E. Ellsworth, namesake of Ellsworth AFB, S.D.

Interesting Facts

No ofcial name; Peacemaker, often used, was unofcial rst US thermonuclear weapon delivery system took part in six live nuclear weapon tests featured in 1955 lm Strategic Air Command, starring Jimmy Stewart used to test feasibility of atomicpowered aircraft initial tires 9 feet tall, with enough rubber for 60 car tires 32 lost in accidents one-third builit as or converted to RB-36 reconnaissance models suffered two Broken Arrow incidents, one in Canada and one in New Mexico. 168

A B-36 at the 1949 National Air Fair in Chicago. AIR FORCE Magazine / May 2007