26 June 1948

Convair B-36A-1-CF (S/N 44-92004, the first -A model built) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Convair B-36A-1-CF 44-92004, the first B-36A built. (U.S. Air Force)

26 June 1948: The 7th Bombardment Wing, Very Heavy, at Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas, received the United States Air Force’s first Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation (“Convair”) B-36A, a six-engine, very long range heavy bomber. Its mission was to serve as a nuclear-capable deterrent until the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress came into service five years later. A total of 22 B-36As were delivered by February 1949. These were not armed and were used for crew training. Most were later converted by Convair to RB-36E reconnaissance bombers, beginning in 1950.

The B-36A differed from the XB-36 prototype in several areas, but two features were the most apparent: The cockpit had been completely revised and now covered by a large dome. The single-wheel main landing gear was replaced by four-wheel bogies to better spread the airplane’s weight over the runway surface.

A crew of thirteen airmen with their Convair B-36A-10-CF Peacemaker, 44-92014. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
A crew of thirteen airmen with their Convair B-36A-10-CF Peacemaker, 44-92013, at Carswell AFB, 1949. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

The B-36A was 162.1 feet (49.4 meters) long with a wingspan of 230.0 feet (70.1  meters) and overall height of 46.8 feet (14.3 meters). The wings had 2° dihedral, an angle of incidence of 3° and -2° twist. The wings’ leading edges were swept aft to 15° 5′. The airplane’s total wing area was 4,772 square feet (443.33 square meters). Its empty weight was 135,020 pounds (61,244 kilograms). The combat weight was 212,800 pounds (96,524 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) was 310,380 pounds (140,786 kilograms).

Convair B-36A 44-92015 at Carswell Air Force Base.

The initial production version of the Peacemaker was powered by six air-cooled, supercharged, 4,362.5 cubic-inch-displacement (71.489 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major R-4360 Pusher (R-4360-25) four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines rated at 2,500 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 37,000 feet (11,278 meters), and 3,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff. Each engine drove a 19-foot (5.791 meter) three-bladed propeller through a 0.381:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-25 was 9 feet, 1.75 inches (2.788 meters) long and 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter. It weighed 3,483 pounds (1,580 kilograms).

Convair B-36A 44-92015

The six radial engines gave the bomber a maximum speed of 300 knots (345 miles per hour/556 kilometers per hour) at 31,600 feet (9,632 meters). It took 53 minutes for the giant airplane to climb to an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,396 meters). The service ceiling for the B-36A was 39,100 feet (11,918 meters), and combat ceiling was 35,800 feet (10,912 meters). The ferry range was 9,136 miles (14,702 kilometers).

The B-36As initially carried no defensive armament. The maximum bomb load was seventy-two 1,000 pound bombs (total, 72,000 pounds/32,659 kilograms) carried in four internal bomb bays. With a bomb load of 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms), the B-36A had a combat radius of 3,370 nautical miles (3,878 miles/6,241 kilometers).

Designed during World War II when nuclear weapons were unknown to aeronautical engineers, the bomber was designed to carry up to 86,000 pounds (39,009 kilograms) of conventional bombs. It could carry a single 43,600 pound (19,777 kilogram) T-12 Cloudmaker, a conventional explosive earth-penetrating bomb, or, later, several Mk.15 thermonuclear bombs. By combining the bomb bays, one Mk.17 15-megaton thermonuclear bomb could be carried.

The sixteenth B-36A, 44-92020, after conversion to the RB-36E reconnaissance configuration. (U.S. Air Force)
The sixteenth B-36A, 44-92020, after conversion to the RB-36E reconnaissance configuration. (U.S. Air Force)

The RB-36E reconnaissance bomber carried a crew of 22. The radial engines were upgraded to R-4360-41s which increased takeoff horsepower with water injection to 3,500 at 2,700 r.p.m. at Sea Level. Four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojet engines were added in two two-engine pods at the outer end of each wing. These changes significantly increased the airplane’s maximum speed and altitude capability and reduced the required takeoff distance by 25%. Fourteen reconnaissance cameras were installed. There were four additional radomes on the belly and numerous external antennas for electronic intelligence gathering.

The empty weight of the RB-36E increased to 164,238 pounds (74,497 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight to 370,000 pounds (167,829 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the RB-36E was 363 knots (418 miles per hour/672 miles per hour) at 38,200 feet (11,643 meters). Its service ceiling was 46,400 feet (14,143 meters).

The reconnaissance bomber carried eighty 188 pound (85.3 kilogram) T-56 photo flash bombs. Defensive armament consisted of sixteen M24A1 20 mm autocannon in five remotely-operated turrets. 9,200 rounds of ammunition were carried.

Between 1946 and 1954, 384 B-36 Peacemakers were built. They were never used in combat. Only five still exist.

The first Consolidated-Vultee B-36A, 44-92004, was flown to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, for structural testing. Redesignated YB-36A, it was tested to destruction.

Convair YB-36 (B-36A) 004 under structural testing at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair YB-36A 44-92004 under structural testing at Wright Field. (U.S. Air Force)

The name, “Peacemaker,” was suggested by a Convair employee. It is a reference to the Colt Model 1873 Single-Action Army® revolver, the classic “six-shooter” of the American frontier, which is also known as the Peacemaker®.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 thoughts on “26 June 1948

  1. My father’s cousin, Col. Royal Jackson, was a B-36 flight test pilot at Wright-Patterson AFB during the early fifties. He had some great stories about this old bird.

  2. I have sometimes read that the B-36 could carry 2 of the Mk 17 TN bombs. Some sources say 2, some say just one.

  3. My dad, CMS Ward A. Hogue (ret.), flew on that monster out of Carswell. I don’t think he was there by 1949 though (probably still in tech school). I will check.

  4. I was a mechanic on a B 36 bomber at Biggs Air
    Force Base from 1956 to 1957

  5. I was an Aircraft Engine technician on the Peace Maker from March 1949 to December 1954. I also flew on the bomber as a engine scanner a few times. When the Korean War broke out June 1950 we flew to the coast of Korea as a show of force to deter the war. It did not work, for the north army came south that day. What a long trip that was.

  6. I worked in post flight, then ground crew and ending as a crew chief. I was also flight status. This was a very good experience working on the B36. I never got over watching it take off, the sound no other sound like it.

  7. Wow! Truly great photo of the Carswell Air Force Base flight line near Fort Worth, Texas. Included in the photo is a new “nuclear-capable” B-36 Convair “Peacemaker” VH (“Very Heavy”) Strategic Bomber, with two 1949 production-model Coleman CF-55-AF aircraft towing tractors in the foreground.

    ➢ However, something is very wrong with the reported date of “26 Jun 1948,” almost a full year before any Coleman units had even been delivered.

    Gen. Curtis LeMay had not even ordered the toe-to-toe field trials for (5) competing bidders until 7 Mar 1949, and at that time, Coleman won the contract with their G-55M submission, which was simply a modified G-55 four-wheel-drive, four-wheel-steering semi-tractor with extra ballast and several other competition-specific modifications. LeMay was so impressed with the Coleman’s very surprising agility and rugged performance, Coleman won the contract on the spot, and due to the urgent “Cold-War” need, Coleman was then directed to deliver the first (2) working double-cab production-models by April 13th (only 24 days later), and then (18) more units very shortly thereafter. With yet another follow-on order of (29), this resulted in a final total (49) units produced in this first “1949” variant. That is to say, this photo cannot be before 13 April 1949, and circumstantially, this “may” either be the first 2 units delivered, or perhaps instead other units from later in the 1949 production run.

  8. Great article about a beautiful airplane. Thanks.

    I assume that the added GE J47’s burned AvGas? That was how the P2 handled the requirement after Jet turbines were added.

  9. Flew as ECM operator 99th strat recon wing 1955 thru 1957.Longest mission 38 hours(no refueling).Spokane Wa.to Guam .

  10. Unfortunately none of the four surviving Peacemakers remains at Carswell/Fort Worth. For years, supporters of the B-36 Peacemaker Museum group at Fort Worth worked on restoring their B-36, The City of Fort Worth.
    In 2005, however, the US Air Force decided to move this aircraft to the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. The B-36 had been built at Fort Worth and remained there for decades. Restored from near-ruin by a group of volunteers in the mid-1990s, the aircraft was going to be the centrepiece of a museum dedicated to the rich history of Fort Worth. But the US Air Force decided otherwise. Although the Cold War–era bomber had been decommissioned many years earlier, the USAF retained ownership. In May 2005, the B-36 Peacemaker Museum’s request to display the aircraft at Meacham Airport in Fort Worth was rejected.
    The decision touched off a public outcry, similar to one in the early 1990s when the Air Force wanted to move the aircraft to South Dakota. That time, the public-relations campaign worked and Fort Worth was given another chance. Sadly, fundraising by two aviation-related groups, the Peacemaker Museum group and the Aviation Heritage Association, never gained enough momentum. The bomber remained at the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, largely hidden from public view.
    Before the move, the aircraft had been used to film part of the Myth Merchant Films’ Lost Nuke. Whether the Canadian-made documentary influenced the US Air Force to take the B-36 Peacemaker Museum group’s bomber away from Fort Worth is unknown. The group had allegedly assisted “a Canadian filmmaker in using the B-36 for filming without permission from the Air Force Museum [now the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio].”

  11. Some of the best footage of this monster is contained in the file “Strategic Air Command” starring Brig. Gen. James Stewart. Good footage of the B-47 as well. For a cold war “rah rah” film, I happen to think it’s a pretty decent movie.

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