Convair B-36 Peacemaker

B-36 #2


The Convair B-36 Peacemaker first flew in August 1946.  Convair produced 384 of the aircraft.  The B-36 was intended to be a stopgap between the B-29 Superfortress until the all-jet B-47 came into service in 1951 and in 1955 the Boeing B-52.

The design plans began as early as 1941, prior to the Pearl Harbor attack in Hawaii.  There was serious thought that England might fall to the Nazi “Blitz” and the U.S. military felt that it would be imperative to have a long-range bomber to hit Germany from the United States should Britain fall.

Due to so many higher priorities during the war amongst the services, that the B-36 was not ordered until 23 July 1943.  Where 100 aircraft were purchased at $4.1 million.     


As World War II came to a close, a new adversary emerged the USSR.    Thus when we entered the Atomic Age, The B-36 was the only airborne delivery system that could carry the massive Mark-17 hydrogen bomb which weighed 42,000 lbs.

If you remember the B-29 was capable of hauling only a 20,000-pound payload.  The B-36 could carry an 86,000-pound payload.

However, because of the bulk size of the Mark-17, only one could be carried.  A configuration of conventional ordinances up to 86,000 lbs would fit on the B-36.

The B-36 had the range and ability to carry these very large and heavy atomic bombs to targets in the USSR.  The Soviets had successfully tested an atomic weapon in 1949, so the arms race and the Cold War was on.

The B-36 could carry the heaviest payload not only for its time but also decades later.  Only the B-747 and C-5 Galaxy, developed in the 60’s and 70’s would exceed the Peacemaker in payload.

The giant wings (230 ft wing span and 7.5 ft thickness at the chord (wing root) would give the B-36 a range of 4,000 miles(10,000 miles ferry) without refueling.

There were different experiments with configurations (e.g. removing the turrets) that allowed the aircraft to cruise at 300+mph at nearly 50,000 ft.

Pratt and Whitney built the 28-cylinder R4360 the largest piston engine ever built.   Revised engine models could produce up to 22,800 hp.

The 6 /R4360s were mounted in a “pusher” configuration to avoid wind flow interference over the wing.  This lead to overheating problems and occasional engine fires due to a lack of venting wind over the engine.

However considering the length of these flights, “overheat” problems must not have occurred too often.  The 3-bladed propeller of 19 ft in diameter was slow in revolving and made a low rumbling sound that preceded the aircraft.   This could tip off the enemy of the aircraft’s proximity.

Beginning with the B-36D, Convair added 4 GE J-47 turbojet engines, 2 on each wing tip area.  This help shortens the take-off roll and speed up the “dash” over enemy targets.

During the normal cruise, the jet engines were shut down and the intakes louvered.

There was a crew of 15.  The basic crew was augmented because of the length of the missions (sometimes up to 40 hours.)   Just like the B-29, the B-36 was pressurized on the flight deck and crew quarters in the aft section.

One got from the forward area of the aircraft to the aft section by a pressurized tunnel.  Unlike the B-29 where the crew member had to crawl to the aft or forward area, there was a trolley in the B-36 tunnel where you pulled yourself along with a rope.

The B-36 was a maintenance hog, to say the least.  Each engine required a one-hundred-gallon oil tank. Many times after a long mission, the 6 oil tanks were nearly dry.   Spark plugs had to be changed after each flight.  Between the 6 engines, there were 336 spark plugs that were replaced.

Most airbase hangers of the day were too small to house the B-36.  Thus most aircraft were serviced outdoors in what many times were harsh climates.  Serving as a B-36 maintenance man was not an envied position.

B-36 #3

Notable Incidents

01 Sep 1952 a tornado hit Carswell AFB, Ft. Worth TX. damaging 61 of the 7th and 11th Bomber Wing compliment.  It took nearly 6 months to repair all of the aircraft, two of them were written off.

18 March 1953 an RB-36 (recon) got off course over Newfoundland, Canada, and went down.  There were no survivors of the 23 crew members.

An atomic bomb-laden B-36 on 13 Feb 1950 went down in the Pacific Ocean near British Columbia, Canada  This was the USAF’s first “Broken Arrow” accident.  The plutonium bomb was not armed and had a dummy lead core but the trigger was TNT and it detonated over the ocean before the crew bailed out successfully.  (Note “Broken Arrow” is an accident/incident with  atomic/nuclear weapons.)

On this date, 22 May 1957   a B-36 accidentally dropped a Mark-17 bomb near Kirkland AFB, New Mexico.  The trigger detonated but the bomb was unarmed.  this was the second “Broken Arrow” of this era.

The last B-36 was retired on 13 Feb 1959.


B-36s On Display

Castle Air Museum, Castle AFB, Atwater CA

Strategic Air and Space Museum Offutt AFB Ashland, NE.

National Museum of USAF, Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, OH.

Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, AZ. (Largest privately owned museum in the United States)

Tech Specs Convair B-36

Wing Span:          230 ft 0 in

Length:                 162 ft 1 in

Height:                 46 ft 9 in

Weight:                 166,165 lbs (empty); 410,000 lbs (MTOW)

Max Speed:          435 MPH

Cruise Speed:       240-300MPH

Service Ceiling:    43,000-50,000 ft (depending on aircraft configuration and weight)

Range:                  4,000 miles (combat range); 10,000 (ferry range)

Engines:               6 Pratt Whitney R4360 with 3,800 HP per engine and 4 GE Turbojets with 5,200 pounds force.

Crew:                   15



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