Wednesday, 17 August 2011

B-36 Peacemaker in the desert

Not everyone knows of the Convair B-36 six-engined bomber but it's a significant aircraft, being one of the first planes capable of delivering atomic bombs, and in fact, at the centre of the loss of one or two of them.

The story of the B-36 is like an episode of 'Bigger, Better Bomber'. Design work began in 1941 and it was two-thirds bigger than the USAF workhorse, the B-29, which dropped the atom bombs. It had six propeller engines, which immediately condemned it to an early operational grave in the jet age, but could fly at altitudes of 50,000 ft plus.. carrying atom bombs.. but it wasn't fast enough to get out of the danger area in time.

These pictures are of the last B-36 built, a B-36J Peacemaker named 'City of Fort Worth' which is on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. It has wings which are SEVEN FEET thick and is a plane which operates on a truly gargantuan scale. One pilot described flying the B-36 as 'sitting on the porch flying your house around.'

I've known about the B-36 since I was a kid but I'd never seen one in the flesh until this summer. The engines were fitted backwards so push the plane through the air rather than pull it. It was a novel idea but caused problems because the engines weren't warmed by the propellers and so iced up: a backlog of unburnt fuel built up, causing engines to catch fire.

The introduction of the Mig-15 in the Korean War with its heavy calibre machine guns and high altitude ceiling hastened the end of the B-36's operational life - as for all propeller-driven pre-jet age bombers - but the nuclear capable B-36 with its monstrous dimensions fought on as a reconnaissance aircraft into the late 1950s before being replaced by the B-52.

1 comment:

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