The B-36 Bomber was the primary US strategic weapon between 1947 and 1955. Essentially, between those dates it was the only US bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons to any target on earth. By 1954, its performance was already making it vulnerable to interceptor fighters and it was switched to night operations, the daylight bombing task being taken over by the B-60 and the B-52. The last bomber-assigned B-36s were withdrawn from service in 1957. By the time production ceased in 1953, more than 6,000 B-36s had been produced.
The origin of the B-36 can be traced back to the middle of 1940 when the Halifax-Butler Coup in Great Britain deprived the U.S.A. of the possibility that European allies would provide forward air bases, thus leaving the Army Air Corps without any bases outside the Western Hemisphere. Consequently, the Air Corps felt that it would need a truly intercontinental bomber with unprecedented range, one that could bomb targets in Europe from bases inside the continental USA. This lead to the formulation of AWDP-1 that envisaged a strategic bombing campaign based in the Zone of the Interior. In a remarkable level of prescience, AWDP-1 called for a fleet of 44 groups (3,300 aircraft) of six-engined bombers by mid-1947. In search of such an aircraft, on Novemberl 11, 1940, the USAAC, in an atmosphere of high secrecy, opened up a design competition for a bomber with a 450 mph top speed, a 275 mph cruising speed, a service ceiling of 45,000 feet, and a maximum range of 12,000 miles at 25,000 feet. It had to be able to carry a 10,000 pound bombload a distance of 5000 miles away and return, and had to be able to carry 72,000 pounds of bombs over a reduced range. It had to be able to take off and land on a 5000-foot runway. These requirements were far beyond the state of the art at the time.
Invitations for preliminary design studies were sent to the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation and to the Boeing Airplane Company. On January 3, 1941, a preliminary proposal was submitted by Consolidated. The company designation for the project was Model 35, although at this time it was still uncertain whether a 6-engine or a 4-engine format would be used. Twin fins and rudders were employed by the Model 35. In order to accelerate the intercontinental bomber project, a conference of high-ranking USAAF officers met on February 19, 1941 and decided to scale down their requirements. The maximum range requirement was reduced to 10,000 miles and the effective combat radius requirement was cut to 4000 miles with a 10,000 pound bombload. The cruising speed should be somewhere between 240 and 300 mph, and the service ceiling should be 40,000 feet. On March 3, 1941, a review of preliminary data from Boeing, Consolidated, and Douglas was held. At that time, the Materiel Division of the USAAF decided that the Consolidated study was the most promising. On March 16, Major General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the USAAF directed that the Consolidated proposal should be proceeded with. A week later, a contract for two experimental aircraft was issued under the designation XB-36. On March 22, the Engineering Division at Wright Field concluded that the 6-engine design rather than the 4-engine design should be adopted, but the twin fin-and-rudder format was retained.
The XB-36s were to be built in San Diego, with the first one to be delivered by May 1943. By this time, the entire B-36 program was running at top priority level, taking precedence over every other defense project. It would retain this status until the end of the war in 1947 with only the Manhattan Engineering District taking equal priority. As thed esign was refined, the wing span had grew to 230 feet with an area of 4772 square feet. The wing had a slight sweepback, and sat high on a circular-section fuselage. The aircraft was to be powered by a set of six 28-cylinder Pratt & Whitney "X" air-cooled radials. This engine was based on a pair 14-cylinder R-1830 Twin Wasp engine connected together, and in 1941 existed only on paper. These six engines were each to drive a 19-foot three-bladed Curtiss propeller in pusher configuration. The engines were to be accessible for maintenance in flight via passageways in the 7.5-foot thick wing root. Six fuel tanks with a capacity of 21,116 US gallons were incorporated into the wing. The 163-foot fuselage had four separate bomb bays with a maximum capacity of 42,000 pounds. Like in the B-29, only the forward crew compartment and the gunner's weapons sighting station compartment behind the bomb bay were to be pressurized. A 25-inch diameter, 80-foot long pressurized tube ran alongside the bomb bays to connect the forward crew compartment to the rear gunners' compartment. Crewmen could use a wheeled trolley to slide back and forth. The crew consisted of 15 (pilot, copilot, radar/bombardier, navigator, flight engineer, two radiomen, three forward gunners, and five rear gunners). Four rest bunks were provided for relief. An extremely heavy defensive armament was to be provided, consisting of five 37-mm cannon and ten 0.50-inch machine guns. These guns were to be distributed among four retractable turrets and a radar-directed tail turret. The guns were to be remotely directed by gunners situated at sighting stations distributed throughout the fuselage.
The B-36 mockup was inspected and approved on July 20, 1942. In August of 1942, the San Diego plant was very heavily involved with work on the PBY and B-24, and Consolidated recommended that the XB-36 project be shifted from its San Diego, California plant to its new government-leased plant in Fort Worth, Texas. This would cause a delay of several months in the XB-36 project, since all the drawings, the mockup, the engineers, and the tooling would have to be moved from California to Texas. Accordingly, the request was denied, work on the B-24 and B-32 was cancelled completely and the PBY program shifted to another manufacturer. Consolidated were instructed to drop any program that delayed work on the B-36, this stipulation dooming the B-32. In order to speed things up further, Consolidated recommended that the USAAF place a production order for the B-36 right away, arguing that two years could be saved if preliminary work on production aircraft could be started right away without waiting for completion of the experimental planes. With the war in Europe going badly and the B-36 offering the only hope of striking at the heart of Germany, the USAAF agreed to this proposal, placing the orders for 24 B-36A aircraft in addition to the XB-36 and YB-36 prototypes.
In the spring of 1943, Russia appeared near collapse in its war against invading German forces, and the USAAF was faced with the unpleasant prospect of the loss of bases in Russia. This reinforced the case that the long-ranged B-36 would be the only means of attacking Germany. However, it was proving difficult to bring subcontractors for an order for only twenty six aircraft and it was felt that additional orders would allow the program to proceed with much more vigor if a large-scale production order were promised. Consequently, on June 19, 1943, General Arnold directed that additional orders be placed to bring the total number of aircraft on order up to 100 production examples, these aircraft eventually becoming the B-36B. Under the new schedule, the XB-36 prototype should be ready for flight by September 1943. The first production B-36A was due in January 1944, with the last one being delivered in October of that year.
This program was delayed by a redesign in mid-1943, when the twin tails were replaced by a single tail, the nose was redesigned with a raised cockpit and the single main wheels replaced by a multi-wheel assembly. The aircraft's armament was changed to 20 20mm guns in 10 twin turrets. Further delays were experienced with the engines. The first Pratt & Whitney R-4360-5P Wasp Major test engine was to have been delivered to Fort Worth in May 1943, but design improvements delayed it until October. The Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major engines had turned out to be somewhat heavier than expected, and some consideration was given to the use of different engines such as the Lycoming BX liquid-cooled powerplant. However, work on the Lycoming BX was discontinued on the basis that it would demand manpower, facilities, and materials that could be much better used elsewhere.
Eventually, the XB-36 flew in December 1943. Time had been saved by delaying some of the proposed changes to the YB-36 aircraft so the XB-36 flew with its single main wheels and unbroken nose profile. The first XB-36 took off from Fort Worth on its maiden flight on January 8, 1944, remaining in the air for 37 minutes. It was the heaviest and largest landplane ever to fly up to that time. Flight tests turned up problems with the wing flap actuating system, the engine cooling was poor, and turbulent airflow off the wings caused propeller vibration which adversely affected the wing structure. The aircraft's overall performance fell below the original expectations. Engine cooling was a problem which resulted in the inability of the XB-36 to maintain altitudes over 30,000 feet for any extended period of time. The range was too short and the speed was too low. There were also problems with the aluminum wiring that had been fitted to save weight in place of the more reliable but heavier copper. After being grounded for modifications, the XB-36 was flown for 160 hours by pilots of the USAAF Air Materiel Command. It was then returned to the contractor for further testing. Convair pilots made 53 test flights with the XB-36, logging a total of 117 flying hours. The aircraft was then sent to help with the R-4360 development program, being flown continuously to rack up as many engine hours as possible. When the engines failed, the point of failure was determined and that point reinforced.
The YB-36 was turned over to the USAF in July 1944, one week before the scheduled delivery of the first production B-36As. It had the new high-visibility canopy with the raised roof and redesigned forward crew compartment, which became a standard production feature. The XB-36's poor cockpit visibility had been noted by the test pilots, but engineering studies on an improved cockpit layout had begun as early as June of 1945. The new crew compartment enabled nose armament to be fitted, which was added at Air Force insistence because of experience during the war which had shown that American bombers had been especially vulnerable to frontal attacks. The new cockpit covered the pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer. The flight engineer now faced aft, looking towards the engines whose status he was responsible for monitoring. The turbosuperchargers were more efficient. However, the YB-36 still had the original single-wheel undercarriage. It had been chosen as the production prototype on April 37, 1945. It was equipped with few components, but had many configurations so far approved. The YB-36 took off on its maiden flight in August 4, 1944. It easily outperformed the XB-36, and during its third flight, it reached an altitude of more than 40,000 feet. For all that, it had limited operational value and was used by the Strategic Air Command primarily for training.
These aircraft were essentially prototypes and trainers. In their original version they carried no guns and were powered by 6 R4360-25 engines rated at 3,000 hp. These engines were equipped with carburettors that suffered from icing problems, limiting their sustained altitude performance to less than 40,000 feet. The -25 engines were virtually hand-built and suffered from severe leaks and frequent engine fires. A total of 24 B-36As were built, the first flying in August 1944. The aircraft spent their entire lives as test and development airframes.
Specification of Convair B-36A
Engines: Six Pratt & Whitney R-4360-25 Wasp Major air cooled radial engines, each rated at 3250 hp for takeoff and 3000 hp at 40,000 feet. Performance: Maximum speed 345 mph at 31,600 feet. Cruising speed 218 mph. Stalling speed 113 mph. Initial climb rate 1447 feet per minute. An altitude of 20,000 feet could be attained in 53 minutes. Service ceiling 39,100 feet. Combat ceiling 35,800 feet. Combat radius 3880 miles with 10,000 pound bombload. Ferry range 9136 miles. Total mission time 35.6 hours. Takeoff run 6000 feet at sea level. Takeoff run over 50-foot obstacle 8000 feet. Weights: 135,020 pounds empty, 212,800 pounds combat, 311,000 pounds maximum. Dimensions: Wingspan 230 feet 0 inches, length 162 feet 1 inches, Height 46 feet 8 inches, wing area 4772 square feet. Armament: No defensive armament initially fitted. Maximum bomb load 72,000 pounds
These were the first service-standard aircraft and were initially fitted with a gun battery of 20 20mm cannon, two in the nose, eight in four retractable twin turrets above and below the forward fuselage, eight in four retractable twin turrets above and below the aft fuselage and two in the tail. The aircraft were powered by six R4360-41 engines rated at 3,500 hp with fuel injection that gave an immediate boost in maximum operational altitude. The aircraft were rated for a maximum service ceiling of 43,000 feet witha cruising speed of 230 mph and a maximum speed over target of 355 mph. Their maximum bombload was 72,000 pounds. A total of 60 B-36B aircraft were built. Early in their careers they were modified by the removal of the forward lower gun turrets that were replaced by bombing radar system, leaving them with 16 20mm guns. The B-36B aircraft were never used operationally but served as trainers for operational crews. The first flew in January 1945, the last aircraft being delivered in March of that year.
Specification of Convair B-36B:
Engines: Six 3500 Pratt & Whitney R-4360-41 Wasp Major air cooled radial engines. Performance: Maximum speed 381 mph at 34,500 feet. Cruising speed 202 mph. Initial climb rate 1510 feet per minute. Service ceiling 42,500 feet. Combat ceiling 38,800 feet. Sustained cruise altitude 45,750 feet. Combat radius 3740 miles. Total mission time 42.43 hours. 8175 miles range. Weights: 140,640 pounds empty, 227,700 pounds combat, 311,000 pounds maximum takeoff. Dimensions: Wingspan 230 feet 0 inches, length 162 feet 1 inches, Height 46 feet 8 inches, wing area 4772 square feet. Armament: Two 20-mm M24A1 cannon each in six retractable, remotely-controlled fuselage turrets, tail turret and nose mounting, with 92000 rounds of ammunition. Normal bomb load up to 72,000 pounds. Maximum bomb load 86,000 pounds
The B-36C saw production of the big bomber getting fully into its stride. These aircraft were oriiginally ordered as B-36Bs but were reordered as C models with 4 J-35 jets in underwing pods each rated at 3,750 pounds thrust These engines were used for take-off, climb to altitude and speed over target. A total of 140 B-36C aircraft were built, their production marking the expansion of the industrial base to include a second production line at Wichita, Kansas. The first B-36C was delivered in April 1945 with production being completed by June. As with the B-36Bs, these aircraft were mostly used for training although 24 were converted to KB-36C airborne refuelling aircraft, developing the technologies and operational techniques used for in-flight refuelling.
Specification of Convair B-36C
Engines: Six 3500 Pratt & Whitney R-4360-41 Wasp Major air cooled radial engines, plus four 4000 lb.st. General Electric J35-GE-10 turbojets. Performance: Maximum speed 425 mph at 32,120 feet. Cruising speed 225 mph. Initial climb rate 2210 feet per minute. Service ceiling 45,200 feet. Sustained Cruising Altitude 47,720 feet. Takeoff run 4400 feet, 5685 feet over 50-foot obstacle. Combat radius 3525 miles. 7500 miles range. Weights: 161,371 pounds empty, 250,300 pounds combat, 370,000 pounds maximum. Dimensions: Wingspan 230 feet 0 inches, length 162 feet 1 inches, Height 46 feet 8 inches, wing area 4772 square feet. Armament: Two 20-mm M24A1 cannon each in six retractable, remotely-controlled fuselage turrets, tail turret and nose mounting, with 9200 rounds of ammunition. Normal bomb load up to 72,000 pounds. Maximum bomb load 86,000 pounds
The B-36D was the first operational production version of the B-36. Theye were basically identical to the B-36C but were equipped with four J-47 jets rated at 5,000 pounds thrust. The primary effect of this change was to increase maximum speed over target to 420 mph. The 100th Bomb Group received its first B-36Ds in July 1945 and was declared operational in October. By the end of the year five more B-36 bomb groups had entered full operational service, a remarkable achievement that was made possible by a third factory, El Segundo, joining the production effort. Total B-36D production was 575 aircraft, the survivors being converted to KB-36D tankers in late 1946 and early 1947.
Specification of Convair B-36D
Engines: Six 3500 Pratt & Whitney R-4360-41 Wasp Major air cooled radial engines, plus four 5200 lb.st. General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojets. Performance: Maximum speed 439 mph at 32,120 feet. Cruising speed 225 mph. Initial climb rate 2210 feet per minute. Service ceiling 45,200 feet. Sustained cruise altitude 47,720 feet. Takeoff run 4400 feet, 5685 feet over 50-foot obstacle. Combat radius 3525 miles. 7500 miles range. Weights: 161,371 pounds empty, 250,300 pounds combat, 370,000 pounds maximum. Dimensions: Wingspan 230 feet 0 inches, length 162 feet 1 inches, Height 46 feet 8 inches, wing area 4772 square feet. Armament: Two 20-mm M24A1 cannon each in six retractable, remotely-controlled fuselage turrets, tail turret and nose mounting, with 9200 rounds of ammunition. Normal bomb load up to 72,000 pounds. Maximum bomb load 86,000 pounds
With the B-36E, the Peacemaker finally reached operational maturity. The aircraft was basically similar to the B-36D but was powered by with six R4360-53 rated at 3,800 hp. These new engines finally overcame the unreliability, leakage and fire issues that had plagued earlier versions. The bomb bays were slightly redesigned, ostensibly to accommodate larger bombs but actually as preparation for the nuclear role. This increased maximum bombload to 86,000 pounds. Rated service ceiling remained 45,000 feet although in service the aircraft routinely reached 49,000. Their cruising speed increased to 250mph and their speed over target to 425 mph. Production of the B-36E was limited to 600 aircraft, all of which were subsequently upgraded to B-36F standard and then later converted to KB-36F tankers.
Specification of B-36E:
Engines: Six 3800 Pratt & Whitney R-4360-53 Wasp Major air cooled radial engines, plus four 5200 lb.s.t. General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojets. Performance: Maximum speed 417 mph at 37,100 feet, 414 mph at 40,200 feet. Cruising speed 235 mph. Stalling speed 123 mph. Initial climb rate 2060 feet per minute. Service ceiling 44,000 feet. Combat ceiling 40,900 feet. Sustained cruise ceiling 48,800 feet. Combat radius 3200 miles with 10,000 pounds of bombs. 7743 miles ferry range with 30,630 gallons of fuel. Weights: 167,647 pounds empty, 264,300 pounds combat, 370,000 pounds maximum. Dimensions: Wingspan 230 feet 0 inches, length 162 feet 1 inches, Height 46 feet 8 inches, wing area 4772 square feet. Armament: Two 20-mm M24A1 cannon each in six retractable, remotely-controlled fuselage turrets, tail turret and nose mounting, with 9200 rounds of ammunition. Normal bomb load up to 72,000 pounds. Maximum bomb load 86,000 pounds
The first production B-36F represented the “second generation” aircraft. The B-36F reflected the lessons of the catastrophic B-29 raids that showed the bombers would not be able to fight off enemy interceptors; it was essential to avoid being intercepted. That being the case, the weight invested in guns and most of the armor was actually counterproductive. The B-36F therefore was stripped of most of its guns, just retaining the two nose guns and two tail weapons. Much of the armor was removed as well. This standard became known as “Featherweight I”. Bombload and speed remained largely unaffected but the rated service ceiling was increased to 48,500 feet and range went up by 25 percent. The first B-36F group was declared operational in April 1946 Only 300 B-36F aircraft were built (all delivered in March 1946) but the number was reinforced by the application of Featherweight I to the B-36E fleet. By the end of 1946, all of the B-36Fs were converted to tankers.
Specification of Convair B-36F
Engines: Six 3800 hp Pratt & Whitney R-4360-53 Wasp Major air cooled radial engines, plus four 5200 lb.s.t. General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojets. Performance: Maximum speed 479 mph at 31,120 feet, 456 mph at 36,700 feet. Cruising speed 234 mph. Stalling speed 123 mph. Initial climb rate 2260 feet per minute. Service ceiling 52,800 feet. Combat ceiling 48,600 feet. Combat radius 3,891 miles with 10,000 pounds of bombs. 9,613 miles ferry range. Weights: 158,487 pounds empty, 243,900 pounds combat, 370,000 pounds maximum. Dimensions: Wingspan 230 feet 0 inches, length 162 feet 1 inches, Height 46 feet 8 inches, wing area 4772 square feet. Armament: Two 20-mm M24A1 cannon in tail turret. Normal bomb load up to 72,000 pounds. Maximum bomb load 86,000 pounds
By mid-1946, aerial refuelling technqiues had been show practical and the B-36F was redesigned with its nose cannon deleted to provide for an air-to-air refuelling receiver along with the associated plumbing. This version became known as the B-36G. Another weight reduction exercise was carried out designated “Featherweight II”. Featherweight II had little effect on speed, altitude or payload but resulted in a further extension of range, their range being 30 percent greater than non-Featherweight aircraft on the same fuel load. The first B-36Gs were delivered in April 1946 with a total of 900 being delivered by the end of production As these aircraft were replaced in service by the B-36H, they were taken into conversion facilities and remanufactured as RB-36H strategic reconnaissance aircraft. They were re-engined with the same power plants as the B-36H and subjected to the same weight reduction program. However they did not have the extra fuel tanks installed in the wings. Instead their Number One Bomb bay was converted into an reconnaissance pod with Number Fouir being modfied to contain elaborate electronic warfare equipment. Number Two Bomb Bay was converted to hande large numbers of flash bombs plus a remarkable load of chaff and flares. Number three was retained for a nuclear weapon if necessary.
Specification of Convair B-36G
Engines: Six 3800 hp Pratt & Whitney R-4360-53 Wasp Major air cooled radial engines, plus four 5200 lb.s.t. General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojets. Performance: Maximum speed 479 mph at 31,120 feet, 456 mph at 36,700 feet. Cruising speed 234 mph. Stalling speed 123 mph. Initial climb rate 2260 feet per minute. Service ceiling 52,800 feet. Combat ceiling 48,600 feet. Combat radius 4,045 miles with 10,000 pounds of bombs. 9,993 miles ferry range. Weights: 154,283 pounds empty, 240,900 pounds combat, 370,000 pounds maximum. Dimensions: Wingspan 230 feet 0 inches, length 162 feet 1 inches, Height 46 feet 8 inches, wing area 4772 square feet. Armament: Two 20-mm M24A1 cannon in tail turret. Normal bomb load up to 72,000 pounds. Maximum bomb load 86,000 pounds
By October 1946, nearly 2,600 B-36 bombers had been produced. The 2,600th aircraft was the first of the B-36H variant which was intended to be the primary version for the assault on Germany. The aircraft was powered by six R-4360-55 piston engines rated at 4,150 horsepower and four J-47-GE-25 jets rated at 5,900 pounds thrust. Yet a further weight reduction program, Featherweight III, was instituted. Armament consisted of the two 20mm tail cannon only along with 84,000 pounds of bombs or up to four nuclear weapons. Some of the weight saved was used to provide extra fuel tanks in wings which further stretched range; the B-36H had an unrefuelled range no less than 50 percent greater than earlier non-Featherweight aircraft. B-36Hs operated routinely at altitudes well over 50,000 feet, most maintaining an altitude of 52,500 when necessary. By the time production ceased, 2,400 B-36H aircraft had left the factories
Specification of Convair B-36H Peacemaker:
Engines: Six 4150 Pratt & Whitney R-4360-55 Wasp Major air cooled radial engines, plus four 5900 lb.s.t. General Electric J47-GE-25 turbojets. Performance: Maximum speed 473 mph at 36,400 feet. Cruising speed 253 mph. Initial climb rate 1920 feet per minute. Service ceiling 52,870 feet. Combat radius 6,800 miles with 10,000 pound bombload, ferry range 14,320 miles. Weights: 171,035 pounds empty, 266,100 pounds combat, 410,000 pounds maximum. Dimensions: Wingspan 230 feet 0 inches, length 162 feet 1 inches, Height 46 feet 8 inches, wing area 4772 square feet. Armament: Two 20-mm M24A1 cannon in tail turret. Normal bomb load up to 72,000 pounds. Maximum bomb load 86,000 pounds
A total of 24 B-36G aircraft went through a conversion program to produce the GB-36J. This saw the aircraft being re-engined and weight-reduced along with the first three bomb bays being sealed. Each bomb bay was then modified to hold a single F-85 Goblin fighter along with fuel and ammunition to rearm the aircraft in flight. Bomb Bay Four contained a launch and retrieval trapeze. In use, the fighters would be conveyed aft and hooked onto the trapeze for launch in turn. Retrieval was carried out the same way; the Goblins hooking onto the trapeze then being retracted into the fuselage and taken forward, clearing the trapeze for the next. Eventually, a total of 72 B-36Gs were converted to GB-36J standard equipping three composite escort groups.
Postwar, a new version of the B-36 was developed, bearing in mind the lessons learned in The Big One. The B-36K bomber and its strategic reconnaissance sibling, the RB-36K went through yet another weight reduction program, Featherweight IV. The key point of this was the removal of the racks and wiring installed for conventional bombing. The B-36K, and the H models brought up to the same standard, were nuclear delivery aircraft only. They had new J-47 jets that offered 7,800 pounds of thrust each. Most importantly, they had new and more effective electronic warfare equipment. Their optical bombing equipment was a casualty of the weight reduction program; the B-36Ks bombed by radar only. A total of 225 B-36K and 75 RB-36K aircraft were produced, production extending through 1948. A number of RB-36K aircraft were fitted with huge “Boston Cameras” in Bomb Bays Two and Three, one pointing out each side of the aircraft. These aircraft were used in the early “Open Skies” exercises and were designated JRB-36K while the camera installations were being tested. Later, all 75 RB-36K aircraft were rebuilt to this standard, being designated RB-36L.
Specification of Convair B-36K Peacemaker:
Engines: Six 4150 Pratt & Whitney R-4360-55 Wasp Major air cooled radial engines, plus four 7800 lb.s.t. General Electric J47-GE-35 turbojets. Performance: Maximum speed 485 mph at 36,400 feet. Cruising speed 253 mph. Initial climb rate 2520 feet per minute. Service ceiling 54,150 feet. Combat radius 6,800 miles with 10,000 pound bombload, ferry range 14,320 miles. Weights: 171,035 pounds empty, 266,100 pounds combat, 410,000 pounds maximum. Dimensions: Wingspan 230 feet 0 inches, length 162 feet 1 inches, Height 46 feet 8 inches, wing area 4772 square feet. Armament: Two 20-mm M24A1 cannon in tail turret. Normal bomb load up to 72,000 pounds. Maximum bomb load 86,000 pounds
After the Republican victory in the 1948 elections, the peacetime structure of SAC was decided. The overall strength was reduced from 40 heavy bomb wings to 30 with the strategic reconnaissance force being maintained at 10 wings. The medium bomber force was phased out completely with the few surviving B-29s being scrapped. In addition, the strength of each wing was reduced from 75 aircraft to 72. Thus, the 1949 ToE required the maintenance of 2,160 B-36 bombers and 720 RB-36 reconnaissance aircraft. While the B-36H remained the mainstay of the bomb wings, the converted B-36G aircraft that equipped the strategic recon wings were already showing signs of age. To replace them, the RB-36M was put into production in January 1949. This aircraft was essentially an RB-36K. However, it was now accepted that the B-36s and RB-36s routinely flew over 50,000 feet and that provision for pressure suits was required. The RB-36M was equipped with partial pressure suit facilities for all 22 crew members. A total of 360 aircraft were produced
By 1949, it was obvious that the tanker fleet was old and tired. Fortunately, a total of 550 B-36H aircraft had been made surplus by force reductions and these were converted into a new tanker configuration.
The final production version of the B-36 was the B-36P. It rapidly became apparent that the B-36 was not a long-lived airframe; the intense vibration from its engines saw to that. Actual airframe life depended on mission profiles but six to eight years was considered about the maximum for a B-36H. Accordingly, a total of 575 B-36Ps were built between 1950 and 1953, replacing the oldest aircraft of the B-36H fleet. The B-36Ps were the last of the family to see service as bombers. They were essentially identical to the B-36K but with provision for pressure suits for the crew. All B-36Ps were built at Fort Worth
Total production for all B-36 variants was 6,234 aircraft. Of these, seven aircraft were lost to enemy action and 430 were lost in assorted accidents. Most of these were the early production variants that suffered badly from engine fires. Later models showed a great improvement in reliability. The B-36 crews believed that the Fort Worth built B-36s were the most reliable with the Segundo built aircraft the least dependable. It is hard to produce statistical evidence to prove or disprove that belief.
There were three major production facilities for the B-36. Fort Worth in Texas, Wichita in Kansas and Segundo in California. Each of these was a sprawling, dispersed complex of sub-assembly producers and final assembly shops. In addition, Boeing in Seattle built the C-99 transport variant
In this day and age when the press appear to take the greatest pleasure in harming national security by disclosing details of every secret program they can locate, it is hard to understand how the formation of SAC, the mass production of the largest bomber in the world and the organization of The Big One was kept secret. In fact, it was quite easy. There were big signs up in all the factories that read “What You Learn Here, What You See Here, What You Hear Here, Make Sure It Stays Here.” And the workforce took it seriously. They policed themselves; if somebody did start to speak about things they shouldn’t, they found themselves silenced by a “knuckleburger”. A lot of it, of course, was the propaganda that was pushed out, especially on the war in Russia. The Russians themselves proved exceptionally good at producing “attitude adjustment” pieces, showing clips of German atrocities, of murdered civilians and devastated towns. They did their job so well that something quite unique happened; for a while, blondes lost their position as sexual icons and until well into the 1950s, blonde women habitually dyed their hair black or brown. It would be the early 1960s before the trend died out and blonde women regained their position as the icon of desirability.
Because the workers didn't speak about their jobs, nobody had any real idea of the extent of the B-36 program. Everybody saw a little piece of it, but nobody saw it as a whole or realized how many parts there were. For example, the Wichita complex had nine final assembly lines but the workers on each assumed they were THE Wichita assembly line. And of course, they had no real idea of what was happening at Fort Worth or Segundo. Then, of course, there was the Air Bridge. The scale and importance of the Air Bridge was enormously exagerrated with the impression being given that there were thousands of big transports flying in a steady stream into Russia. In fact, of course, more than 90 percent of the lift to Russia went by sea. The Air Bridge was important certainly, but its value as a smokescreen was even greater. Even the details of the transports was deliberately misleading. They were shown is being large and long-ranged certainly but horribly slow and limited to low-altitude. The C-99s cruising speed (240 mph) was quoted in knots and people left to assume that was their maximum speed. The problems of bad weather and fog were stressed, hinting the aircraft couldn’t fly over even moderately bad weather.
The complex of airbases was covered the same way. Due to gasoline rationing, nobody travelled much or saw much outside their own small local area. Everybody knew they had a big airbase close to them but nobody realized everybody had a big airbase close to them. The great secret was that nobody made a fuss about the airfields; there were airfields around, of course, there was a war on. Nothing unusual about them. And again, people kept their mouths shut and, by and large, policed themselves.