Tag Archives: Bomber

16 July 1935

The Boeing 299 is rolled out for the first time, 16 July 1935. (Boeing photograph via Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

16 July 1935: Just over a year after design began, the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, a prototype four engine long range heavy bomber, was rolled out of its hangar at Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington for the first time. The largest land airplane built up to that time, it seemed to have defensive machine guns aimed in every direction. A Seattle Times reporter, Roland Smith, wrote that it was a “flying fortress.” Boeing quickly copyrighted the name.

After several years of testing, the Model 299 went into production as the B-17 Flying Fortress. By the end of World War II, 12,731 B-17 Flying Fortresses had been built by Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed Vega.

Rollout of teh Boeing Model 299, NX13372, prototype XB-17. (Museum of Science and Industry)
Rollout of the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, prototype XB-17. (Museum of Science and Industry via Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

The Boeing Model 299 was a four-engine bomber operated by a crew of eight. It was designed to meet a U.S. Army Air Corps proposal for a multi-engine bomber that could carry a 2,000 pound (907 kilogram) bomb load a distance of 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers) at a speed greater than 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). Design of the prototype began in June 1934 and construction was started 16 August 1934. The Air Corps designated it B-299, and later, XB-17. It did not carry a military serial number, being marked with civil registration NX13372.

The Model 299 was 68 feet, 9 inches (20.955 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9–3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and height of 14 feet, 11–5/16 inches (4.554 meters). Its empty weight was 21,657 pounds (9,823 kilograms). The maximum gross weight was 38,053 pounds (17,261 kilograms).

The prototype was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,690.54-cubic-inch-displacement (27.703 liter) Pratt & Whitney Hornet S1E-G nine-cylinder radial engines which were rated at 750 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., each, and 875 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for takeoff. They turned 11 foot, 6 inch (3.505 meters) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The S1E-G was 4 feet, 1.38 inches (1.254 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.44 inches (1.383 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,064 pounds (483 kilograms)

Cockpit of the Boeing Model 299. (U.S. Air Force)
Cockpit of the Boeing Model 299. (Boeing)

In flight testing, the Model 299 had a cruise speed of 204 miles per hour (328 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 236 miles per hour (380 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The service ceiling was 24,620 feet (7,504.2 meters). The maximum range was 3,101 miles ( kilometers). Carrying a 2,573 pounds (1,167 kilograms) load of bombs, the range was 2,040 miles (3,283 kilometers).

Boeing XB-17 (Model 299) bombers and front gunners compartment. (U.S. Air Force photo) 060706-F-1234S-007
Nose turret of the Boeing Model 299, with .30-caliber machine gun, photographed 24 July 1935. (Boeing 8195)
Bomb sight position., 9 August 1935. (Boeing 8227-B)

The XB-17 could carry eight 500 pound (227 kilogram) bombs in an internal bomb bay. Defensive armament consisted of five air-cooled .30-caliber Browning machine guns.

Starboard waist gunnner’s position of the Boeing 299. (Boeing)
Starboard waist gunners position, with Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun and ammunition canisters. (Boeing)

NX13372 was destroyed when it crashed on takeoff at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 30 October 1935. An Army Air Corps pilot making his first familiarization flight neglected to remove the control locks. This incident led directly to the creation of the “check list” which today is used by all aircraft crew members.

Boeing Model 299, left quarter, at Boeing Field, south of Seattle, Washington,August 1935. (Boeing)
Boeing Model 299, NXxxx72, the prototype XB-17. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing Model 299, NX13372, the prototype XB-17, at Wright Field, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing Model 299, left profile, at Boeing Field, 13 August 1935. (Boeing 8234-B)
Boeing Model 299 NX13372, designated XB-17, at Wright Field, Ohio, 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing Model 299 NX13372, designated XB-17, at Wright Field, Ohio, 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing 299 NX13372, all engines running.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 July 1968

General Dynamics FB-111A 67-0159, the first production aircraft. (U.S. Air Force)

13 July 1968: The first production General Dynamics FB-111A supersonic strategic bomber successfully completed a 30-minute maiden flight at Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas. The FB-111A differed from the F-111A fighter bomber with the substitution of a larger wing, originally designed for the F-111B, giving the bomber a 7 foot (2.134 meter) increase in wingspan. The landing gear was strengthened, the bomb bay enlarged, and it had more powerful engines.

Aardvark (Orycteropus afer)

The airplane’s very long nose earned the nickname “Aardvark,” but this did not become official until 1996.

67-0159 was delivered to the U.S. Air Force 4 September 1968 and assigned to the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. (The first six production airplanes were used for flight testing.)

67-0159 was later converted to the F-111G configuration. In 1980 it was sent to the Sacramento Air Logistics Center to test weapons modifications and received a spectacular white and orange paint scheme. It was retired in 1990. 67-0159 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It is on loan and now on display at the Aerospace Museum of California, Sacramento, California.

General Dynamics FB-111A-CF (F-111G) 67-159

The General Dynamics FB-111A is a two-place, twin-engine, strategic bomber with variable-sweep wings, assigned to the Strategic Air Command. It is 73.54 feet (22.415 meters) long. The wingspan varies from a maximum 70.0 feet (21.336 meters) when fully extended, and a minimum 33.96 feet (10.351 meters) when swept fully aft. Overall height is 17.04 feet (5.194 meters).

The wings of the FB-111A have a total area of 550 square feet (51.10 square meters). When fully extended, the wings’ leading edges are swept aft to 16.0°. The angle of incidence at the root is +1° and -3° at the tip. There is 1.0° dihedral.

The Aardvark’s empty weight is 47,481 pounds (21,537 kilograms). Normal maximum takeoff weight is 116,115 pounds (52,669 kilograms), and the maximum overload takeoff weight is or 119,243 pounds (54,088 kilograms).

The aircraft is powered by two Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-107 engines. This is a two-spool axial-flow turbofan engine with afterburner. It has a 3-stage fan section, 13-stage compressor section (6 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). The -107 has a maximum continuous power rating of 10,800 pounds of thrust (48.041 kilonewtons) at 14,150 r.p.m., N2 (static thrust, at Sea Level), and a maximum power rating of 20,350 pounds (90.521 kilonewtons) at 14,550 r.p.m., N2 (45 minute limit) The T30-P-107 is 3 feet, 2.12 inches (0.968 meters) in diameter, 20 feet, 1.4 inches (6.132 meters) long,  and weighs 4,121 pounds (1,869 kilograms).

The FB-111A has an average cruise speed of 415–442 knots (478–509 miles per hour/769-819 kilometers per hour), depending on the mission profile. It’s maximum speed at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) is 1,262 knots (1,452 miles per hour/2,337 kilometers per hour)—Mach 2.20. The bomber’s service ceiling varies from 50,390 feet to 56,380 feet (15,359–17,185 meters), again, depending on the mission profile. The maximum combat range is 4,920 nautical miles (5,662 statute miles/9,112 kilometers). The airplane can carry as many as six 600 gallon (2,271 liter) external tanks on underwing pylons. This gives the Aardvark a maximum ferry range of 4,313 nautical miles (4,963 statute miles/7,988 kilometers).

General Dynamics FB-111A 67-163, the fifth production airplane, loaded with four AGM-69 SRAM missiles. The dots on the missiles and airplane are for precise tracking from ground stations. (U.S. Air Force)

The FB-111A could carry weapons in an internal bomb bay or on underwing hardpoints. It could be armed with up to 37,500 pounds (17,010 kilograms) of conventional bombs; or six AGM-69A Short Range Attack Missiles (SRAM). The Aardvark could carry maximum of six nuclear weapons (B-43, B-57 or B-61).

General Dynamics YFB-111A 63-9783, the prototype strategic bomber variant. (U.S. Air Force)

In addition to a prototype (63-9783, which was converted from the last production F-111A) General Dynamics built 76 FB-111A strategic bombers. With the introduction of the Rockwell B-1B Lancer, the FB-111As remaining in service were converted to F-111G tactical fighter bombers. They were retired by 2003.

The Royal Australian Air Force bought 15 of the F-111Gs. By 2007, these had also been taken out of service.

Two General Dynamics FB-111As in formation, 1 December 1983. (MSGT Buster Kellum, U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 July 1940

The Battle of Britain begins.

“The Few.” Royal Air Force pilots run to their fighters to defend England from attacking German Luftwaffe bombers during the Battle of Britain. © IWM (HU 49253)

Before Germany could mount Operation Sea Lion, a cross-channel invasion of the British Isles, it needed to have complete air superiority over the invasion fleet. Because of the Luftwaffe‘s greater numbers and modern aircraft, German military leadership believed this could best be accomplished by defeating the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat.

The Royal Air Force had been conserving their limited numbers of pilots and aircraft up to this point in the war. Germany’s plan was to send its bombers against targets that the R.A.F. would be forced to defend. The escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109s (also referred to as the Me 109) would then shoot down the Boulton Paul Defiants and Bristol Blenheims. But the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires were up to the task. While the Hurricanes went after the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 and Heinkel He 111 bombers, the Spitfires engaged their Bf 109 fighter escorts.

Contrails over London during the Battle of Britain, 10 July–31 October 1940.
Contrails over London during the Battle of Britain, 10 July–31 October 1940.

Britain used a system of radar-directed ground control of its fighter squadrons. The result was that, although both sides lost about the same number of aircraft, the Battle of Britain was a decisive victory for Great Britain. Germany was forced to give up on its plans for an invasion of England.

During a speech the House of Commons, 20 August 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to the pilots of Fighter Command when he said,

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Ever since, the Royal Air Force has been known as “The Few.”

Luftwaffe aircraft:

A flight of Dornier Do 17 bombers, circa 1940. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
A flight of Dornier Do 17 bombers, 31 December 1939. (Bundesarchiv)
Heinkel He 111 bomber. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
Heinkel He 111 bomber, circa September–October 1940. (Bundesarchiv)
A flight of Messerchmitt me 109s carry external fuel tanks to extend their range and time over target. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
A flight of Messerchmitt Bf 109s carry external fuel tanks to extend their range and time over target. (Bundesarchiv)
Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine heavy fighter, circa 1942. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine heavy fighter, circa 1942. (Bundesarchiv)

Royal Air Force aircraft:

Supermarine Spitfire fighters of No. 610 Squadron, RAF Biggin Hill, during the Battle of Britain. (Imperial War Museum)
Supermarine Spitfire fighters of No. 610 Squadron, RAF Biggin Hill, during the Battle of Britain. (Royal Air Force Museum)
Hawker Hurrican Mk.I P3408 (VY-K) of No. 85 Squadron, Church Fenton, Yorkshire, October 1940. (B.V. Daventry, RAF official photographer. Imperial War Museum CH 1501)
Hawker Hurricane Mk.I P3408 (VY-K) of No. 85 Squadron, RAF Church Fenton, Yorkshire, October 1940. Flying the same type, also with the identification letters VY-K, Squadron Leader Peter Townsend, DFC, was shot down by a Do 17 named Gustav Marie, over the English Channel, 10 July 1940. After the war, Townsend became good friends with the bomber’s gunner, Werner Borner. (Mr. B.J. Daventry, RAF official photographer. Imperial War Museum CH 1501)

Highly recommended: Duel of Eagles, by Group Captain Peter Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force. Cassell Publishers Limited, 1970 and Castle Books, 2003.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 July 1985

The first operational B-1B Lancer, 83-0065, Star of Abilene, flying over Dyess AFB, 7 July 1985. (Reporter-News)

7 July 1985: The Strategic Air Command received the first operational Rockwell B-1B Lancer, serial number 83-0065, Star of Abilene, at Dyess Air Force Base, Abilene, Texas. It flew for 17 years, 7 months, 23 days before being retired 1 March 2003 and preserved at Dyess.

The Rockwell B-1B is a long-range, supersonic bomber with variable-sweep wings. It is operated by two pilots and two combat systems officers. The Rockwell B-1B is 146 feet (44.501 meters) long, with the wing span varying from 79 feet (24.079 meters) to 137 feet (41.758 meters). It is 34 feet (10.363 meters) high at the top of the vertical fin. The bomber’s empty weight is 192,000 pounds (87,090 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 477,000 pounds (216,364 kilograms).

The B-1B is powered by four General Electric F101-GE-102 afterburning turbofan engines. This is an axial-flow engine with a 2-stage fan section, 9-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). It is rated at 17,390 pounds of thrust (77.35 kilonewtons), and 30,780 pounds of thrust (136.92 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The F101-GE-102 is 15 feet, 0.7 inches (4.590 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.2 inches (1.402 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,460 pounds (2,023 kilograms).

A Rockwell B-1B drops Mk. 82 bombs from its three weapons bays. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-1B has a maximum speed of Mach 1.25 (830 miles per hour (1,336 kilometers per hour) at high altitude, or 0.92 Mach (700 miles per hour, 1,127 kilometers per hour) at 200 feet (61 meters). The Lancer has a service ceiling of 60,000 feet (18,288 meters), and an unrefueled range of 7,456 miles (11,999 kilometers).

It can carry up to 84 Mk.82 500-pound bombs, 24 Mk.84 2,000-pound bombs, or other weapons.

100 B-1B Lancers were built by Rockwell International’s aircraft division at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, between 1983 and 1988. As of February 2018, 62 B-1B bombers are in the active Air Force inventory.

Rockwell B-1B with wings swept. (U.S. Air Force)
Rockwell B-1B with wings swept. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 June 1955

The first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)
The first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)

29 June 1955: The first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711, was delivered to the 93rd Bombardment Wing, Heavy, at Castle Air Force Base, Merced, California. The new long-range heavy bomber would replace the 93rd’s Boeing B-47 Stratojets.

Fifty B-52Bs were built by Boeing at its Plant 2, Seattle, Washington. Twenty-seven of these were RB-52B reconnaissance bombers. They were designed to accept a pressurized electronic intelligence and photographic reconnaissance capsule with a two-man crew that completely filled the bomb bay. Without the capsule aboard, the RB-52s were capable of the same bombing missions as their sister B-52Bs. The change could be made within a few hours.

Pressurized two-man RB-52 reconnaissance pod.
Pressurized two-man RB-52 reconnaissance pod. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-52B/RB-52B was operated by a six-man flight crew for the bombing mission, and eight for reconnaissance. These were the aircraft commander/pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radar navigator/bombardier, electronic warfare officer, and gunner, plus two reconnaissance technicians when required.

The airplane was 156.6 feet, (47.7 meters) long with a wingspan of 185.0 feet (56.4 meters) and overall height of 48.3 feet (14.7 meters). The wings were mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”) to provide clearance for the engines which were suspended on pylons. The wings’ leading edges were swept aft to 36° 54′. Their angle of incidence was 6° and there was 2° 30′ dihedral. The RB-52B’s empty weight was 162,969 pounds (73,921 kilograms), with a combat weight of 257,900 pounds (116,981 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 390,000 pounds (176,901 kilograms). (MTOW was later increased to 420,000 pounds.)

The bomb bay of this RB-52B Stratofortress, 52-8012, is open, revealing the reconnaissance pod. (U.S. Air Force)

Early production B-52Bs were powered by eight Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1W turbojet engines, while later aircraft were equipped with J57-P-19W and J57-P-29W or WA turbojets. The engines were grouped in two-engine pods on four under-wing pylons. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-PW-1 engines had a Normal Power rating of 8,250 pounds of thrust (32.698 kilonewtons) at 9,720 r.p.m., N1, continuous; Military Power, 9,500 pounds thrust (42.258 kilonewtons) at 9,950 r.p.m., N1, for 30 minutes; and Maximum Power, 11,100 pounds of thrust (49.375 kilonewtons) with water injection, at 9,950 r.p.m., N1, 5 minute limit. The J57-PW-1 was 3 feet. 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, 13 feet, 1.2 inches (3.993 meters) long, and weighed 4,210 pounds (1,910 kilograms).

Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress 52-013. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-52B/RB-52B had a cruise speed of 517 knots (595 miles per hour/957 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The maximum speed was 542 knots (624 miles per hour/1,004 kilometers per hour) at 19,500 feet (5,944 meters). The service ceiling at combat weight was 47,600 feet (14,508 meters).

The RB-52B had a maximum fuel capacity of 37,385 gallons (141,518 liters). Its maximum ferry range was 6,460 nautical miles (7,434 statute miles/11,964 kilometers). With a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load, the RB-52B had a combat radius of 3,110 nautical miles (3,579 miles/5,760 kilometers). With inflight refueling, the bomber’s range was world-wide.

Tail gun turret of an early B-52 Stratofortress
B-52 tail gun turret

Defensive armament consisted of four Browning Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50, AN-M3, mounted in a tail turret with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a combined rate of fire in excess of 4,000 rounds per minute.

The B-52B could carry twenty-seven 750 pound (340 kilogram) bombs, or two 25,000 pound (11,340 kilogram) Special Weapons (thermonuclear bombs).

Boeing manufactured 744 B-52 Stratofortress bombers, with the final one rolled out at Wichita, Kansas, 22 June 1962. As of June 2016, 75 B-52H bombers remain in service with the United States Air Force.

RB-52B 52-8711 remained in active service until 29 September 1965. Today it is on display at the Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska.

A Strategic Air Command alert crew runs to man their bomber, Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711, 22 Bombardment Wing (Heavy), the first operational B-52, at March Air Force Base, California, 1965. (U.S. Air Force)
A Strategic Air Command alert crew runs to man their bomber, Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711, 22 Bombardment Wing (Heavy), the first operational B-52, at March Air Force Base, California, 1965. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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