Boeing B-29 Superfortress

Pima Air and Space Museum Tucson Arizona


The Boeing B-29 Superfortress is a 4 engine propeller driven bomber  in World War II.  It was one of the largest aircraft and most advanced in the War.  It featured a pressurized cabin, tricycle landing gear, a remote electronic fire control system that controlled four machine gun turrets.

Although the B-29 was designed for high altitude strategic bombing, it was also used for low altitude incendiary bombing missions.  One of the final missions of World War II was to deliver the first used atomic bomb to Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the war.


B-29 at Davis-Monthan USAAF Arizona


Work begin in 1938 by the Boeing aircraft Company in response to a request by USAAC (United Sates Army Air Corp) for a design for a four engine bomber that was more advanced than the B-17 Flying Fortress.

But USAAC did not have the funds to pursue the project that year,  so Boeing continued the work on a design on it’s own.  In December of 1939  a request came from USAAC, after funding was approved,  for a design which would require the bomber to carry 20,000 lb of bombs, have a range of 2,600+ miles and a speed of 400 mph.    The bid proposal was also answered by Boeing,  Consolidated Aircraft, Lockheed and Douglas.

Boeing having already started designing a bomber on it’s own,  plus the  ready knowledge of the B-17, was in position to start working on a prototype  and was given a design contract for two test bed aircraft in 1940.

The other two companies, Douglas and Lockheed abandoned their projects but Consolidated Aircraft (Convair) continued with their model 33, in case Boeing ran into design problems.  Convair’s Model 33 became the B-32.

Boeing received a production order for 14 test aircraft and in May 1941  plus an order for 250 bombers.  Many of the first 250 aircraft were not airworthy,  in fact only about 15 were acceptable .

This was because the production in the 40’s was scattered around the country and the B-29 was a very new concept.  Besides these factors,  the war was on and not enough materials, factories and workers for all the airplanes, ships, tanks, artillery and the million and one other war materials needed, RIGHT NOW!

By 1944 Boeing had pretty well got things established and the B-29s were starting to come out on a scheduled basis toward the goal of 4,000 Superfortresses.

Early on the Wright Complex-Cyclone R-3350 had problems, especially with engine fires due the wrong kind of metal used for the carburetor system,  once these issues were ironed out, the R-3350 became a very reliable engine.

Some of the later B-29 variants used the largest radial engine ever produced, the Pratt and Whitney R-4360 rated at 3,500hp.  The KB-29 aerial tanker, the B-50 Superfortress family of post-war bombers and a few special variants for specific operations,  used the R-4360.

The B-29 had a unique feature as it was the only pressurized bomber in the war.  The area that was not pressurized was the bomb bay.

Now this presented a bit of a design challenge, as how could a crew member get from the tail area where the fire control officer and assistants were to the cockpit and vice versa.

The engineers came up with the solution, build a round tunnel that is pressurized and the crew member could crawl forward to the cockpit or back to the tail area.

B-29 #03


Initially the plan for the B-29 Superfortress in the  war was to use it on Germany.   Due to so many B-17 and B-24 bases in England, it was decided by USAAC to base the B-29 in Egypt and deploy it from there over Germany.

However due to production delays, the B-29 was not ready until late 1943 and by then President Roosevelt had promised China that the U.S. would attack Japanese bases in China from India.  The B-29 was the perfect long range bomber for the job.

However the lack of sufficient number of aircraft limited the effectiveness of the raids  The cost of supplies, ordnance and fuel was costly as everything had to be airlifted  over the Himalayas, to the bases in India sometimes by B-29s.

By June 1943, the numbers of available aircraft increased and raids began on Bangkok, Thailand and key targets in China.  The U.S. had also established at base Chengdu, China.  Sixty-eight Superfortresses took off from Chengdu and bombed the Imperial Ironworks at Yahata, Japan.

The raid did little damage to the ironworks facility, but it was the first raid on the Japanese homeland islands since the Doolittle raid early in the war in the Pacific.

By mid-summer 1944,  the battle was on for the Mariana Islands.  Even before an island could be totally secured, work began on Tinian, Saipan and Guam to build bases for the B-29.

The first B-29s that could be transferred from India arrived at Saipan on 12 October 1944.    In November a raid of 111 B-29s targeted Tokyo, the first since Doolittle’s raid.

By January 1945, the B-29s had been withdrawn from China and deployed to the Mariana bases which housed two air bases on Tinian,  two on Guam, and one on Saipan.  In March the last raid from India occurred, as all the B-29s were now flying from the Marianas.

Through out late 1944 and  up to August 1945 many raids occurred on strategic targets including cities where cottage industry was a major source for the Japanese war effort.

Many of these cities burned from incendiary bombs,  as more damage was done from the low-level (6,000-8,00 ft) incendiary bombing then from the two atomic devices.

Operation Silverplate was a companion to the Manhattan Project.  The Manhattan Project was developing the Atomic Bomb, while  Operation Silverplate was delivering the bomb.

Lt. Colonel Paul Tebbits, a B-17 veteran was selected to pick and train crews in total secrecy to be ready to deliverer the bomb.  Months and months they trained in a remote base in Utah, honeying their skills to perfection.

None of the other pilots and crews knew anything about what they were going to do, just that it was something very important.  Soon the squadron shipped out to Tinian.

Tebbits’ own crew still didn’t know anything until Enola Gay (Tebbit’s mother first name) was airborne and they were on their way to their destiny and fame by dropping the first atomic bomb in history,  on Hiroshima.

Three days later on 09 August 1945 the crew of Bockscar dropped the second atomic bomb in history.  A few days later the Japanese surrendered,  ending World War Two.

Although the B-29 could not keep up with the “jet age”, especially the MIG-15, the Superfortress served admirably in Korea.  B-29 raids were restricted to night only operations  but they still

  • Flew 20,000 sorties
  • Dropped 180,000 tons of bombs.
  • Shot down 27 enemy aircraft.

B-29 #01 B-29s on Display

Miss Marilyn Gay in Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia

Jack’s Hack in New England Air Museum Windsor Lock, CT.

Enola Gay in Smithsonian Museum Washington DC

Bockscar in USAF Wright-Patterson AFB Dayton, Ohio

Sentimental Journey in Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson Arizona

Still flying:  Fifi with the Commemorative Air Force

There several other B-29 in museums or in storage in the country.

 Tech Specs

Wing Span:       141 ft 3 in

Length:              99 ft  0 in

Height:               29 ft 7 in

Weight:              74,500lb (Empty), 120,000 lb s (loaded) 133,500 lbs                                                   (GTOW*)

Max Speed:       358 MPH

Cruise Speed:   225-310 MPH (depending  on mission)

Service Ceiling: 31,500 ft

Range:                  3,300 miles

Engines:             4 /Wright R-3350 with 2,200 HP per engine.

Crew:                  11

*Gross Take-Off Weight





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