Living History: First B-36 Peacemaker, June 26, 1948
WASHINGTON, Jun 26, 2009 -- On June 26, 1948, the 7th Bombardment Group received the Air Force's first operational B-36 Peacemaker heavy bomber. The B-36 was the largest American bomber every produced as its 230 foot wingspan was almost 50 percent longer than that of the B-52 Stratofortress that replaced it. During its eight years of service, it was one of America's major deterrents to aggression, and it was famous for "never having fired a shot in anger." The huge six-engine bomber was designed to deliver nuclear weapons against an enemy on the other side of the globe.
On Feb. 12, 1959, the last B-36 Peacemaker was retired from the Air Force inventory when an all-jet bomber force took over the aircraft's duties.
Development of the huge plane began in 1941. The Army Air Forces wanted a bomber that could fly from the United States to Europe, drop bombs, and then return. The prototype first flew Aug. 8, 1946, and operational models were delivered to Strategic Air Command in 1948.
The debate over the projected combat effectiveness of the B-36 was very intense in the years immediately following World War II when defense spending was minimal. The U.S. Navy, in particular, was a strong opponent of B-36 procurement. During the -B model production run, the Air Force authorized the addition of four jet engines mounted in two outer wing nacelles. The jets were an attempt to improve the performance of the B-36 by increasing the maximum speed and altitude for the aircraft. Most of the B-36B fleet was retrofitted with the jet engine modification and re-designated B-36D or RB-36D.
The fleet was not fully operational until 1951. Although the aircraft had great range, the slow cruising speeds at combat weight (about 225,000 lbs.) caused the entire B-36 program to be criticized as outdated in the post-World War II era of jet development.
By 1952 all of the B-36s were delivered as or converted to "J" models, which had improvements over other models and stronger landing gear.
- Span: 230 feet
- Length: 162 feet 1 inch
- Height: 46 feet 9 inches
- Weight: 410,000 lbs. (max. gross weight)
- Armament: Sixteen M24 20mm cannons in eight nose, tail and fuselage turrets; plus bombs--nuclear or 86,000 lbs. of conventional (Featherweight III aircraft had only 20mm cannons)
- Engines: Six Pratt & Whitney R-4360-53 radials of 3,800 horsepower each and four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojets of 5,200 lbs. thrust each
- Crew: 13 after Featherweight III conversion; 15 otherwise
- Maximum speed: 411 mph. [418 mph. for B-36J] at combat weight
- Cruising speed: 230 mph
- Range: approximately 10,000 miles
- Service Ceiling: 43,600 feet (at combat weight)
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