Tag Archives: Strategic Bomber

12 February 1959

Convair B-36J-10-CF Peacemaker, 52-2827, the last B-36 built. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-36J-75-CF Peacemaker, 52-2827, the last B-36 built. (U.S. Air Force)

The Last Peacemaker: This gigantic airplane, a Convair B-36J-75-CF Peacemaker, serial number 52-2827, was the very last of the ten-engine strategic bombers built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at Fort Worth, Texas. It was completed 1 July 1954. On 14 August, it was delivered to the Strategic Air Command, 92nd Bombardment Wing, Heavy, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. In April 1957, 52-2827 was assigned to the 95th Bombardment Wing, Heavy, at Biggs Air Force Base, El Paso, Texas.

The last one built, 52-2827 was also the last operational B-36.

Convair B-36J-10-CF Peacemaker 52-2827 at Amon Carter Field, Fort Worth, Texas, 12 February 1959. (Unattributed)
Convair B-36J-75-CF Peacemaker 52-2827, City of Fort Worth, at Amon Carter Field, Fort Worth, Texas, 12 February 1959. (Unattributed)

On 12 February 1959, after 4 years, 5 months, 30 days service, the Air Force returned the bomber to Fort Worth. 52-2827 departed Biggs Air Force Base at 11:00 a.m., under the command of Major Frederick J. Winter. Other pilots were Colonel Gerald M. Robinson, commanding the 95th Wing, and Captain Wilson P. Smith. (Colonel Robinson flew as first pilot during the takeoff, while Major Winter flew the landing.) The bomber’s crew were hand-picked, and included two navigators, two flight engineers, an observer, two radio operators, two gunners and a crew chief. Ten newspaper, radio and television reporters were on board as well.

Crew of City of Fort Worth

The B-36 touched down at Amon Carter Field at 2:55 p.m. The Peacemaker’s log book was closed out with a total of 1,414 hours, 50 minutes, flight time.

After a ceremony attended by thousands, the bomber was officially retired. A bugler blew “Taps,” and then the Peacemaker was towed away.

It was put on display at Amon Carter Field. After decades of neglect, the bomber was placed in the care of the Pima Air and Space Museum at Tucson for restoration and display.

The last Peacemaker, Convair B-36J-10-CF 52-2827, comes to the end of the assembly line at Fort Worth, Texas. (University of North Texas Libraries)
The last Peacemaker, Convair B-36J-75-CF 52-2827, comes to the end of the assembly line at Fort Worth, Texas. (University of North Texas Libraries)

Convair B-36J 52-2827 is one of 14 “Featherweight III” high altitude variants. It was built without the six retractable defensive gun turrets of the standard B-36, retaining only the two M24A1 20 mm autocannons in the tail. This reduced the crew requirement to 13. It is 162 feet, 1 inch (49.403 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet (70.104 meters) and overall height of 46 feet, 9 inches (14.249 meters). The empty weight is 166,125 pounds (75,353 kilograms) and loaded weight is 262,500 pounds (119,068 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight is 410,000 pounds (185,973 kilograms).

The B-36J has ten engines. There are six air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49 cubic-inch-displacement (71.488 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major C6 (R-4360-53) four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines placed inside the wings in a pusher configuration. These had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 115/145 aviation gasoline. The R-4360-53 had a Normal Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. Its Military Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., and 3,800 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. with water injection—the same for Takeoff. The engines turned three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed, reversible propellers with a diameter of 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-53 is 9 feet, 9.00 inches (2.972 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,040 pounds (1,832.5 kilograms).

Four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojet engines are suspended under the wings in two-engine pods. The J47 is a  single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with a 12-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The J47-GE-19 was modified to run on gasoline and was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.131 kilonewtons).

The B-36J Featherweight III had a cruise speed of 230 miles per hour (370 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 418 miles per hour (673 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 43,600 feet (13,289 meters) and its combat radius was 3,985 miles (6,413 kilometers). The maximum range was 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers).

The B-36 was designed during World War II and nuclear weapons were unknown to the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Corporation engineers. The bomber was built to carry up to 86,000 pounds (39,009 kilograms) of conventional bombs in the four-section bomb bay. It could carry the 43,600 pound (19,777 kilogram) T-12 Cloudmaker, a conventional explosive earth-penetrating bomb. When armed with nuclear weapons, the B-36 could carry several Mk.15 3.8 megaton thermonuclear bombs. By combining the bomb bays, one Mk.17 15-megaton thermonuclear bomb could be carried.

Bomb, Mark 17, displayed with Convair B-36J Peacemaker at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Bomb, Mark 17 Mod 2, displayed with Convair B-36J Peacemaker at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

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

Convair B-36J-10-CF 52-2827 at the Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona. (B-36 Peacemaker Museum)
Convair B-36J-75-CF 52-2827 at the Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona. (B-36 Peacemaker Museum)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 February 1969

North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001. (U.S. Air Force)

4 February 1969: The North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie, 62-0001, made its very last flight from Edwards Air Force Base, California, to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. NASA Research Test Pilot Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force (Retired), and Lieutenant Colonel Emil Sturmthal, U.S. Air Force, were the flight crew for this final flight.

On arrival at Wright-Patterson, Fulton closed out the log book and handed it over to the curator of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

The Mach 3+ prototype strategic bomber and high-speed, high-altitude research airplane had completed 83 flights for a total of 160 hours, 16 minutes of flight time.

Lieutenant Colonel Emil Sturmthal, USAF and Fitzhugh Fulton, NASA, with the North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA 62-0001 at Edwards AFB, California. (Chris Walmsley/Rockwell International)
Lieutenant Colonel Emil Sturmthal, USAF and Fitzhugh Fulton, NASA, with the North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA 62-0001 at Edwards AFB, California. (Chris Walmsley/Rockwell International)

62-0001 was the first of three prototype Mach 3+ strategic bombers. (The third prototype, XB-70B 62-0208, was not completed.) The Valkyrie utilized the most advanced technology available. Materials and manufacturing techniques had to be developed specifically to build this airplane. It is a large delta wing airplane with a forward canard and two vertical fins. The outer 20 feet (6.096 meters) of each wing could be lowered to a 25° or 65° angle for high speed flight. Although this did provide additional directional stability, it actually helped increase the compression lift, which supported up to 35% of the airplane’s weight in flight.

The XB-70A is 185 feet, 10 inches (56.642 meters) long with a wingspan of 105 feet (32.004 meters) and overall height of 30 feet, 9 inches (9.373 meters). Fully loaded, the Valkyrie weighs 534,700 pounds (242,535 kilograms).

It is powered by six General Electric YJ93-GE-3 turbojet engines which were rated at 22,000 pounds of thrust (97.86 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 31,000 pounds (137.89 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The J93 was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with an 11-stage compressor section and two-stage turbine. It was 235.0 inches (5.969 meters) long, 55.0 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,770 pounds (2,164 kilograms).

The maximum speed achieved was Mach 3.1 (2,056 miles per hour, or 3,308.8 kilometers per hour) at 73,000 feet (22,250 meters). The service ceiling is 73,350 feet (23,357 meters).

The second Valkyrie, XB-70A-2-NA 62-0207, was destroyed when it crashed after a mid-air collision with a Lockheed F-104N Starfighter flown by NASA Chief Research Test Pilot Joseph A. Walker, 8 June 1966. Both Walker and the B-70’s co-pilot, Major Carl S. Cross, U.S. Air Force, were killed.

XB-70A Valkyrie 62-0001 is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
 North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. This photograph shows the twelve elevons that act as elevators, flaps and ailerons, the swiveling action of the vertical fins, open drag chute doors and the variable exhaust outlets. (U.S. Air Force).
North American Aviation XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie 62-0001 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. This photograph shows the twelve elevons that act as elevators, flaps and ailerons, the swiveling action of the vertical fins, open drag chute doors and the variable exhaust outlets. (U.S. Air Force).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 January 1966

Boeing KC-135A-BN Stratotanker 58-0004 refuels Boeing B-52G-75-BW Stratofortress 57-6741. These are the same type aircraft that were involved in the 1966 Palomares Incident. (Boeing)

17 January 1966: A United States Air Force Boeing B-52G-115-BW Stratofortress, 58-0256, and its 7-man crew, along with a second B-52, were flying an Airborne Nuclear Alert patrol over the Mediterranean Sea. The bomber, call sign “Tea 16,” was armed with four Mark 28 nuclear bombs carried in its bomb bay.

At approximately 10:30 a.m., the two B-52s rendezvoused with two Boeing KC-135A-BN Stratotankers, based at Morón Air Base, Spain, for the second aerial refueling of the mission. The aircraft were at 31,000 feet (9,448 meters) off the southern coast of Spain.

Major Larry G. Messinger, a veteran of World War II, aboard as a relief pilot, was flying Tea 16 from the left seat. The aircraft commander, Captain Charles J. Wendorf, was in the right, co-pilot’s seat, while 1st Lieutenant Richard J. Rooney, the assigned co-pilot, rode in a jump seat behind them.

Major Messinger later said, “We came in behind the tanker, and we were a little bit fast, and we started to overrun him a little bit. . . .”

A boom operator’s view as a B-52 Stratofortress refuels. (John E. Considine/NASM)

B-52G 58-0256 collided with the refueling boom of “Troubadour 14” (KC-135A 61-0273). The boom penetrated the bomber’s fuselage, broke structural members and the left wing broke off. The B-52 exploded. The fully-loaded tanker, on fire, went into a steep dive. At 1,600 feet (488 meters), it also exploded.

The four crewmen aboard the tanker were killed. Three of the seven men on the B-52 ejected, and the co-pilot, who was not in an ejection seat, literally fell out of the disintegrating bomber. The navigator’s parachute did not open and he was killed. Three others were unable to escape the doomed airplane and were also killed.

Wreckage of B-52G 58-0256 at Palomares, Spain, January 1966. (Kit Talbot/The New York Times)

As the B-52 broke apart, the four nuclear bombs it carried in the bomb bay fell free. Three of them fell near the fishing village of Palomares. In two of these, the conventional explosives that “implode” the plutonium to start a chain reaction, detonated on impact, but a nuclear explosion did not occur. However, plutonium was scattered over the area. The third bomb was recovered intact, though it was slightly damaged. The retarding parachute of the fourth Mark 28 opened and it was carried offshore by the wind and fell into the Mediterranean Sea.

A massive recovery operation took place. The fourth bomb was recovered after five months. It had come to rest in an underwater canyon at a depth of 2,550 feet (777 meters).

1,400 tons of soil was packed into more than 6,000 steel drums and taken to the United States.
1,400 tons of soil was packed into more than 6,000 steel drums and taken to the United States.

558 acres (226 hectares) of land in and around Palomares was contaminated. The soil was removed and placed in steel barrels for transportation to the United States for burial at the Savannah River Plant, a nuclear reservation in South Carolina.

Three airmen position a B28Y1 1.1 megaton thermonuclear bomb for loading aboard a B-52 Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force)
Three airmen position a B28Y1 thermonuclear bomb for loading aboard a B-52 Stratofortress. (TSgt. Boyd Belcher, U.S. Air Force)

The Mark 28 was a two-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear bomb which was designed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory and produced from January 1958 to May 1966. In 1968, it was redesignated B28. More than 4,500 were manufactured in as many as 20 variants. Explosive yield varied between 70 kilotons and 1.45 megatons. The B28Y1 in the photograph above is a 1.1 megaton weapon. The bomb remained in service until 1991.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 December 1974

The first prototype Rockwell B-1A Lancer, 74-0158, takes off at AF Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 23 December 1974. (U.S. Air Force)
The first prototype Rockwell B-1A Lancer, 74-0158, takes off at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, 23 December 1974. (U.S. Air Force)

23 December 1974: The first of four prototype Rockwell B-1A Lancer Mach 2.2 strategic bombers, serial number 74-0158, made its first flight from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California. The aircraft commander was company test pilot Charles C. Bock, Jr. (Colonel, U.S. Air Force, retired) with pilot Colonel Emil Sturmthal, U.S. Air Force, and flight test engineer Richard Abrams. After basic flight evaluation, the B-1A landed at Edwards Air Force Base, about 22 miles (35 kilometers) to the northeast of Palmdale.

Rockwell B-1A 74-0158 with a General Dynamics F-111 chase plane, landing at Edwards Air Force base. (U.S. Air Force)
Rockwell B-1A 74-0158 with a General Dynamics F-111 chase plane, landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

The Rockwell International B-1A Lancer was designed to operate with a flight crew of four. It was 150 feet, 2.5 inches (45.784 meters) long. With the wings fully swept, the span was 78 feet, 2.5 inches (23.838 meters), and extended, 136 feet, 8.5 inches (41.669 meters). The tip of the vertical fin was 33 feet, 7.25 inches (10.243 meters) high. The wings have an angle of incidence of 2°,  with 1° 56′ anhedral and -2° twist. The leading edges were swept to 15° when extended, and 67½°, fully swept. The total wing area is 1,946 square feet (180.8 square meters).

The empty weight of the B-1A was approximately 173,000 pounds (78,472 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weight was 389,800 pounds (176,810 kilograms), but once airborne it could take on additional fuel up to a maximum weight of 422,000 pounds (191,416 kilograms).

The Lancer was powered by four General Electric F101-GE-100 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 16,150 pounds of thrust (71.839 kilonewtons), and 29,850 pounds (132.779 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The F101-GE-100 is 15 feet, 0.7 inches (4.590 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.2 inches (1.402 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,165 pounds (1,889 kilograms).

The bomber’s maximum speed was 1,262 knots 1,452 miles per hour/2,337 kilometers per hour)—Mach 2.2—at an optimum altitude of 53,000 feet (16,154 meters), its combat ceiling. The B-1A’s combat range was 5,675 nautical miles (6,531 statute miles/10,510 kilometers) The maximum ferry range was 6,242 nautical miles (7,183 statute miles/11,560 kilometers).

The B-1A was designed to carry 75,000 pounds (34,019 kilograms) of bombs in an internal bomb bay. It could carry a maximum of 84 MK-82 conventional explosive bombs. For a nuclear attack mission, the Lancer could carry 12 B43 free-fall bombs, or 24 B61 or B77 bombs. For a stand-off attack, the bomber could carry 24 AGM-69 SRAM (Short Range Attack Missile) nuclear missiles.

Each of the four prototypes served its own role during testing. 74-0158 was the flight evaluation aircraft.

By the time that the B-1A program was cancelled, 74-0158 had made 79 flights totaling 405.3 hours. It was dismantled and used for weapons training at Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado.

The first prototype Rockwell B-1A Lancer, 74-0158, at Edwards AFB. Visual differences of the B-1A that distinguish it from the later B-1B are the long drag link on the nose landing gear, the vertical inlet splitter vanes, black wheels and a long tail cone. On the upper fuselage behind the cockpit are the "elephant ears" intended to stabilize the crew escape capsule. (U.S. Air Force)
The first prototype Rockwell B-1A Lancer, 74-0158, at Edwards AFB. Visual differences of the B-1A that distinguish it from the later B-1B are the long drag link on the nose landing gear, the vertical inlet splitter vanes, black wheels and a long tail cone. On the upper fuselage behind the cockpit are the “elephant ears” intended to stabilize the crew escape capsule. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 November 1956

Convair XB-58 55-0660 in its original paint scheme. (Unattributed)

11 November 1956: At Fort Worth, Texas, Convair’s Chief Test Pilot, Beryl Arthur Erickson, takes the first prototype XB-58, serial number 55-0660, on its first flight.

“Pilot B.A. Erickson is interviewed by NBC after a flight as part of a B-58 Press Show Demonstration. July 10, 1957″—Code One

The B-58 Hustler was a high-altitude Mach 2 strategic bomber which served with the United States Air Force from 1960 to 1970. It was crewed by a pilot, navigator/bombardier and a defensive systems operator, located in individual cockpits. The aircraft is a delta-winged configuration similar to the Convair F-102A Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptors.

The Hustler is 96 feet, 10 inches (29.515 meters) long, with a wing span of 56 feet, 10 inches (17.323 meters) and an overall height of 31 feet 5 inches (9.576 meters). The fuselage incorporates the “area rule” which resulted in a “wasp waist” or “Coke bottle” shape for a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag. The airplane’s only control surfaces are two “elevons” and a rudder, and there are no flaps.

The B-58’s delta wing has a total area of 1,542.5 square feet (143.3 square meters) and the leading edges are swept back at a 60° angle. The wing has an angle of incidence of 3° and 2° 14′ dihedral (outboard of Sta. 56.5).

The B-58A had an empty weight of 51,061 pounds (23161 kilograms), or 53,581 pounds (24,304 kilograms) with the MB-1 pod. The maximum takeoff weight was 158,000 pounds (71,668 kilograms).

Convair XB-58 Hustler 55-0660. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-58A was powered by four General Electric J79-GE-5 axial-flow afterburning turbojet engines, suspended under the wings from pylons. This was a single-shaft engine with a 17-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. It had a Normal Power rating of 9,700 pounds of thrust (43.148 kilonewtons). The Military Power rating was 10,000 pounds (44.482 kilonewtons), and it produced a maximum 15,600 pounds (69.392 kilonewtons) at 7,460 r.p.m., with afterburner. The J79-GE-5 was 16 feet, 10.0 inches (5.131 meters) long and 2 feet, 11.2 inches (0.894 meters) in diameter. It weighed 3,570 pounds (1,619 kilograms).

Convair XB-58 Hustler 55-0660 rotates during a high-speed taxi test. (Code One)

The bomber had a cruise speed of 544 knots (626 miles per hour/1,007 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,147 knots (1,320 miles per hour/2,124 kilometers per hour) at 67,000 feet (20,422 meters). The B-58A had a combat radius of 4,225 nautical miles (4,862 statute miles/7,825 kilometers). Its maximum ferry range was 8,416 nautical miles (9,685 statute miles/15,586 kilometers).

The B-58 weapons load was a combination of Mark 39, B43 or B61 thermonuclear bombs. The weapons could be carried in a jettisonable centerline pod, which also carried fuel. The four of the smaller bombs could be carried on underwing hardpoints. There was a General Electric M61 20 mm rotary cannon mounted in the tail, with 1,200 rounds of ammunition, and controlled by the Defensive Systems Officer.

FAI altitiude record setting Convair B-58A-10-CF 59-2456, showing the bomber’s weapons capability. (U.S. Air Force)

116 were built and they served the Strategic Air Command until January 1970 when they were sent to Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona for long-term storage.

Convair XB-58 55-0660 was transferred to Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, 15 March 1960, for use as a ground instruction airframe. It was scrapped some time later.

Convair XB-58 55-0660 touches down on the runway following a test flight. (Unattributed)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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