Convair B-36


The B-36 was the last of the conventional piston-engined American bombers and the largest operational bomber ever to serve the USAF. It was a huge, and massively expensive, 100 ton aircraft with a 230ft wingspan that earned various unofficial names; ‘Peacemaker’, The ‘Aluminium Overcast’ ’Magnesium Monster’, ‘Six Turning and Four Burning’ (a reference to the engine arrangement) and the ‘Big Stick’ of the uncompromising Lt. Gen. Curtiss E. Le May. The B-36 was also a somewhat unlikely star of Strategic Air Command alongside James Stewart.

The wing had a hollow catwalk down the mainspar permitting crew access right out to the outer engine nacelle and jet pod access panel during long-range missions that could last some 50 hours, prompting the joke that the B-36 only landed once every three years for the crew to re-enlist.

Originally conceived in 1941 to allow U.S forces to operate against Germany from American home bases should England and the USSR be knocked out of World War Two, the XB-36 prototype first flew 8 August 1946, the first of 385 B-36s built.

B-36As entered service in June 1948. The type was at its peak late 1954 with 342 being on SAC charge, being withdrawn from December 1955, the last operational SAC B-36J retiring on 12 February 1959 when barely 4½ years old. Never used ‘in anger’, though in 1953 a show of force was made off the Soviet coast to encourage the North Koreans to sign the truce that ended the Korean War. Normally operated singly with frequent detachments to the U.K and elsewhere from 1950, with reconnaissance flights reportedly made over the People’s Republic of China.

Later variants were ‘feather weighted’ with most guns removed and crew reduced from 15 (22 on recon versions) to increase speed and permit operations reportedly up to 58,000ft.

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