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B-36 Peacemaker

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B-36 “Peacemaker”
The B-36D used both piston and jet engines.
Type Strategic bomber
Manufacturer Consolidated Vultee
Designed by Ted Hall
Maiden flight 8 August 1946
Introduced 1949
Retired 12 February 1959
Primary user United States Air Force
Number built 384
Unit cost US$4.1 million (B-36D)[1]
Variants Convair YB-60
Convair XC-99

The Convair B-36 (nicknamed the Peacemaker[2])was a strategic bomber built by Convair and operated solely by the United States Air Force (USAF). The B-36 was the largest mass-produced piston engined aircraft ever made and the largest combat aircraft ever built, although there have been larger military transports. The B-36 was the first bomber capable of delivering thermonuclear weapons. With a range of over 6,000 miles and a maximum payload of at least 72,000 lbs, the B-36 was the first operational bomber with an intercontinental range, setting the standard for subsequent USAF long range bombers, such as the B-52 Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer, and B-2 Spirit.


The genesis of the B-36 can be traced to early 1941, prior to the entry of the U.S. into World War II. At that time it appeared that there was a very real chance that Britain could fall, making a strategic bombing effort by the U.S. against Germany impossible.[3] A new class of bomber would be needed to fill this role, one offering trans-Atlantic range so it could bomb targets in Europe from bases inside the continental USA.[4] The United States Army Air Corps opened up a design competition for the very long-range bomber on 11 April 1941, asking for a 450 mph top speed, a 275 mph cruising speed, a service ceiling of 45,000 ft, and a maximum range of 12,000 miles at 25,000 ft.[5] These proved too demanding for any short-term design, so on 19 August 1941 they were reduced to a maximum range of 10,000 miles, an effective combat radius of 4,000 miles with a 10,000 pound bombload, a cruising speed between 240 and 300 mph, and a service ceiling of 40,000 ft.[6]

After the Cold War began in earnest with the 1948 Berlin airlift and the 1949 atmospheric test of the first Soviet atomic bomb, American military planners sought bombers capable of delivering the very large and heavy first-generation nuclear bombs. The B-36 was the only American aircraft with the range and payload to carry such bombs from airfields on American soil to targets in the USSR (storing nuclear weapons in foreign countries was, and remains, diplomatically sensitive).

The B-36 was arguably obsolete from the outset, being piston-powered in a world of jet interceptors,[7][3] but its jet rival, the B-47 Stratojet, which did not become fully operational until 1953, lacked the range to attack the Soviet homeland from North America and could not carry the huge first-generation hydrogen bomb. Nor could the other American piston bombers of the day, the B-29 or B-50.[8] Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) did not become effective deterrents until the 1960s. Until the B-52 Stratofortress became operational in the late 1950s, the B-36, as the only truly intercontinental bomber, was the mainstay of the Strategic Air Command (SAC).[3]

Convair touted the B-36 as an "aluminum overcast", a "long rifle" to give SAC a global reach.[3] When General Curtis LeMay headed SAC (1949-57) and turned it into an effective nuclear delivery force, the B-36 formed the heart of his command. Its maximum payload was more than four times that of the B-29, even exceeding that of the B-52. The B-36 was slow and could not refuel in the air, but could fly missions to targets 3,400 miles (5,500 km) away and stay aloft as long as 40 hours.[3]Moreover, the B-36 was believed to have an ace up its sleeve: a high cruising altitude, made possible by its huge wing area, that put it out of reach of all piston fighters and early jet interceptors.[3]

Nevertheless, the B-36 was difficult to operate, prone in its early service years to catastrophic engine fires and other costly malfunctions. To its critics, these problems made it a "billion-dollar blunder".[9] In particular, the United States Navy saw it as a costly bungle diverting Congressional funding and interest from naval aviation and aircraft carriers in general, and carrier–based nuclear bombers in particular. In 1947, the Navy attacked Congressional funding for the B-36, alleging it failed to meet Pentagon requirements. The Navy believed the dominance of the aircraft carrier in the Pacific during World War II proved carrier-based air strikes would be decisive in future wars. To this end, the Navy designed United States, a "supercarrier" capable of launching huge fleets of tactical aircraft — or nuclear bombers. It then pushed to have funding transferred from the B-36 to the United States. The Air Force successfully defended the B-36 project, and the United States was officially cancelled by Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson in a cost-cutting move. Several high-level Navy officials questioned the government's decision, alleging a conflict of interest because Johnson had once served on Convair's Board of Directors. The uproar following the cancellation of United States was nicknamed the "Revolt of the Admirals".[10] The furor as well as the use of carriers in the Korean War resulted in the subsequent Forrestal class supercarriers, which were of comparable size to the United States but with a design geared towards greater multi-role use.

Design and development

A B-36 airframe undergoing structural stability tests. Note for scale the three men at the extreme right of the photograph.

In 1941, the fall of Britain to a German invasion seemed imminent. This would have left the United States Army Air Corps (AAC) with no bases in Europe from which to bomb Germany. American bombers would have had to reach Europe from bases in North America, necessitating a combat range of at least 5700 miles, the length of a Gander, NewfoundlandBerlin round trip. The AAC therefore sought a bomber of truly intercontinental range.[11][12]

On 11 April 1941, the USAAC announced a design competition for an aircraft with a 275 mph (445 km/h) cruising speed, a service ceiling of 45,000 ft (14,000 m), capable of delivering 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) of bombs to targets 10,000 miles (16,000 km) away. These requirements far exceeded the technology of the day. The B-36 concept began with a proposal by Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation (later Convair) to meet this requirement; the same design request led to the Northrop YB-35. Though the need to bomb Germany from North American bases never arose, the project was not cancelled because the B-36 was seen as playing a possible eventual role in the Pacific war.[11]

The B-36 took shape as an aircraft of immense proportions,[13] two-thirds longer than the previous "superbomber," the B-29. The wingspan and tail height of the B-36 exceeded those of the Antonov An-22, the largest ever mass-produced propeller-driven aircraft. Only with the advent of the Boeing 747 and the C-5 Galaxy, both designed two decades later, did aircraft capable of lifting a heavier payload than the B-36 become routine.[citation needed]

The wings of the B-36 were large even when compared with present-day aircraft, exceeding, for example, those of the C-5 Galaxy, and enabled the B-36 to carry enough fuel to fly very long missions without refueling. The wing area permitted cruising altitudes above the operating ceiling of 1940s-era fighters, jet as well as piston. All versions of the B-36 could cruise at over 40,000 ft (12,000 m).[citation needed] B-36 mission logs commonly recorded mock attacks against U.S. cities while flying at 49,000.[citation needed] In 1954, the turrets and other nonessential equipment were removed, resulting in a "featherweight" configuration believed to have resulted in a top speed of 423 mph (700 km/h),[14] and cruise at 50,000 ft (15,000 m), perhaps even higher.[15]

The large wing area and the option of starting the jet engines gave the B-36 a wide margin between Stall speed (VS)] and maximum speed (Vmax) at these altitudes. This made the B-36 more maneuverable at high altitude than the USAF jet interceptors of the day, which either could not fly above 40,000 ft, or if they did, were likely to stall out when trying to maneuver or fire their guns.[16] However, the Navy argued that their F2H Banshee fighter could intercept the B-36, thanks to its ability to operate at more than 50,000 ft.[17] The Air Force declined the Navy's invitation to a fly-off between the Banshee and the B-36. Later, the Secretary of Defense, Louis A. Johnson, who considered the U.S. Navy obsolete and favored the U.S. Air Force, forbade putting the Navy's claim to the test.[18]

The propulsion system alone made the B-36 a very unusual aircraft. All B-36s featured six Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major radial piston engines. Even though the prototype R-4360s delivered a total of 18,000 hp (13.4 MW), early B-36s were slow and required long takeoff runs. The situation improved with later versions delivering 3,800 hp (2.8 MW) apiece.[19] Each engine drove an immense three-bladed propeller, 19 ft (5.8 m) in diameter, mounted in the pusher configuration. This unusual configuration prevented propeller turbulence from interfering with airflow over the wing.

Beginning with the B-36D, Convair suspended a pair of General Electric J47-19 jet engines from each wing; these were also retrofitted to all extant B-36Bs. Thus the B-36 came to have 10 engines, more than any other mass-produced aircraft. The jet pods greatly improved takeoff performance and dash speed over the target. In normal cruising flight, the jet engines were shut down to conserve fuel.

The new XB-36 alongside the first superbomber, the B-29 Superfortress.[20]

The B-36 had a crew of 15. As in the B-29, the pressurized flight deck and crew compartment were linked to the rear compartment by a pressurized tunnel through the bomb bay. In the B-36, one rode through the tunnel on a wheeled trolley, by pulling oneself on a rope. The rear compartment led to the rear turret, and featured six bunks and a galley.[21] The B-36 also tested the experimental Boston Camera.

The XB-36 featured single-wheel landing gear whose tires were the largest ever manufactured up to that time, 9 ft, 2 in (2.7 m) tall, 3 ft (1 m) thick, and weighing 1,320 lb (600 kg), with enough rubber for 60 automobile tires.[22] These tires placed so much weightper unit area on runways, the XB-36 was restricted to the Fort Worth airfield next to where it was manufactured, and to a mere two USAF bases. At the suggestion of General Henry H. Arnold, the single-wheel gear was soon replaced by a more conventional four-wheel bogie.Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag was also tried on the XB-36, but proved heavy and noisy and was quickly abandoned.


The four bomb bays could carry up to 86,000 pounds of bombs, more than 10 times the load carried by the World War II workhorse, the B-17 Flying Fortress, and substantially more than the B-17's gross weight.[23] The B-36 was not designed with nuclear weaponry in mind, because the mere existence of such weapons was top secret during most of the period when the B-36 was engineered (1941–46), and their mode of delivery had yet to be determined. Nevertheless, the B-36 stepped into a nuclear delivery role immediately upon becoming operational. In all respects but speed, the B-36 could match what was arguably its Soviet counterpart, the Tu-95 (still in service).[24] Until the B-52 came on line, the B-36 was the only means of delivering the first generation Mark-17 hydrogen bomb,[25] 25 ft (7.5 m) long, 5 ft (1.5 m) in diameter, and weighing 42,000 lb (19,000 kg), the heaviest and bulkiest American nuclear weapon ever. Carrying this massive weapon required merging two adjacent bomb bays.[citation needed]

The defensive armament consisted of six remote-controlled retractable gun turrets, and fixed tail and nose turrets. Each turret was fitted with two 20 mm cannon, for a total of 16 cannons, the greatest defensive firepower ever carried by a bomber.[citation needed] Recoil from gunnery practice could cause the vacuum-tube electronics to malfunction, solid state then being unknown. This contributed to the crash of B-36B 44-92035 on 22 November 1950.[26]

The Convair B-36 was the only plane designed to carry the T12 Cloud Maker, a gravity bomb weighing 43,600 lb and designed to produce an Earth quake bomb effect. The T12 still remains the heaviest conventional bomb to have been employed by the United States.[citation needed]


Variant Built
XB-36 1
YB-36 1
B-36A 21
B-36B 62
B-36D 26
RB-36D 24
B-36F 36
RB-36F 24
B-36H 83
RB-36H 73
B-36J 33
Total 384[citation needed]

The first prototype XB-36 flew on 8 August 1946. The speed and range of the prototype failed to meet the standards set out by the Army Air Corps in 1941. As is often the case with aircraft pushing the size envelope, the XB-36 experienced a number of problems. (For instance, the B-29 Superfortress was plagued by engine problems, and available engines were too weak to afford the Boeing XB-15 a useful top speed.) Many problems with the XB-36 stemmed from its "placeholder" engines, weaker engines used until the intended powerplant became available.[citation needed]

File:B-36 tracked gear.jpg
Closeup of experimental tracked landing gear.

A second aircraft, the YB-36, flew on 4 December 1947. It featured a redesigned high-visibility "bubble" canopy, which was later adopted for production. Altogether, the YB-36 was much closer to the production aircraft. Additionally, the engines used on the YB-36 were a good deal more powerful and more efficient. The YB-36 was actually beaten to the air by the first production model: a single B-36A was built with enough equipment to fly to Wright Field, where its airframe was subjected to a battery of physical tests.[citation needed]

The XB-36 on its first flight.

The first of 21 B-36As were delivered in 1948. They were admitted interim airframes, intended for crew training and later conversion. No defensive armament was fitted as none was ready. Once later models were available, all B-36As were converted to RB-36E reconnaissance models. The first B-36 variant meant for normal operation was the B-36B, delivered beginning in November 1948. This aircraft met all the 1941 requirements, but had serious problems with engine reliability, and with the availability of armaments and spare parts. Later models featured more powerful variants of the R-4360 engine, improved radar, and redesigned crew compartments.[27]

The four jet engines raised fuel consumption, thus reducing range. Meanwhile, new air-to-air missiles made hand-aimed guns mounted in heavy turrets obsolete; they were also unreliable. In February of 1954, the USAF awarded Convair a contract to reduce the weight of the entire B-36 fleet by implementing a new "Featherweight" design program in three configurations:

  • Featherweight I removed the 6 movable gun turrets and other defensive hardware.
  • Featherweight II removed the rear compartment crew comfort features, and all hardware accommodating the XF-85 parasite fighter.
  • Featherweight III incorporated both configurations I and II.

The six turrets eliminated by Featherweight I reduced the aircraft's crew from 15 to 9. Featherweight III enabled a longer range and an operating ceiling of at least 47,000 ft (14,000 m), features especially valuable for reconnaissance missions. The B-36J-III configuration (the last 14 made) featured a single radar-aimed tail turret, extra fuel tanks in the outer wings, and landing gear allowing the maximum gross weight to rise to 410,000 pounds (190,000 kg). Production of the B-36 ceased in 1954.[28]

Reconnaissance capability

More than a third of all B-36 models were reconnaissance models, designated RB-36. Before the development of the Lockheed U-2, the RB-36 was the mainstay of American photo reconnaissance over hostile territory. It was the only American aircraft having range enough to fly into Asia from bases in the USA, and size enough to carry the bulky high-resolution cameras of the day. The RB-36 performed a number of rarely acknowledged reconnaissance missions and is suspected of having carried out numerous penetrations of Chinese (and possibly Soviet) airspace.[citation needed]

The RB-36 was well-suited for such reconnaissance missions. Its high cruising altitude made it difficult to intercept, and its fuel capacity enabled missions up to 50 hours long. The RB-36 featured a pressurized camera compartment staffed by a crew of seven, in place of a forward bomb bay. The aft bomb bay contained tanks for extra fuel. The RB-36 cameras could produce very high resolution photographs: pictures of a golf course taken from 40,000 ft (12,000 m) show recognizable golf balls. RB-36s were distinguished by the bright aluminum of the camera compartment (contrasting with the dull magnesium of the rest of the fuselage) and by a series of radar domes under the aft fuselage, varying in number and placement.[citation needed]

Operational history


The B-36, including its RGB-36, RB-36, and XC-99 variants, was in service as part of the USAF Strategic Air Command from 1948 through 1958.

Unlike the B-52, which has seen action in the Vietnam War and the two Gulf Wars, no B-36 ever dropped a bomb or fired a shot at an enemy. The closest the B-36 came to seeing action was during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the Suez Crisis, when nuclear-armed B-36s were dispatched to SAC forward operating bases Turkey and Morocco.[citation needed]


Throughout its time in service, the B-36 was the subject of USAF lore, some apocryphal, some containing a grain of truth.

  • If all engines functioned normally at full power during the pre-takeoff warm up, the lead flight engineer would say to the aircraft commander "six [engines] turning and four [engines] burning". Erratic engine reliability led to the wisecrack "two turning, two burning, two joking and two smoking," with two engines not accounted for or referred to as dead.[29]
  • A common joke was that some B-36 flight decks included a calendar; 40-hour missions were routine, 48-hour ones not unknown, and one mission lasted as long as 56 hours.


Personnel and equipment required to get and keep a B-36 airplane in the air.

The B-36 needed a great deal of maintenance between flights; although in an emergency an aircraft could be "turned" in a few hours for a ferry flight, it took much longer to get the airplane ready for an operational mission.[30] In January 1951, a B-36 amassed 200 hours of flight time (8.3 standard 24-hour missions), an apparent record.[citation needed]

The B-36 was too large to fit in most hangars. Moreover, even an aircraft with the range of the B-36 needed to be stationed as close to the enemy as possible, and this meant the northern continental United States, Alaska, and the Arctic. As a result, most "normal" maintenance, such as changing the 56 spark plugs (always at risk of fouling by the leaded fuel of the day) on each of its six engines, or replacing the dozens of bomb bay light bulbs shattered after a gunnery mission, was performed out of doors, in 100F summers or -60F winters, depending on the location. Special shelters were built so that the maintenance crews could enjoy a modicum of protection while working on the engines. Often, ground crews were at risk of slipping and falling from icy wings, or being blown off the wings by a propeller running in reverse pitch. Some procedures even required a mechanic to sit astride a running engine, with a 19-foot diameter propeller at his feet and his hand near the 34-inch diameter cooling fan.[citation needed]

The wing roots were thick enough, 7 ft (2.1 m), to enable a flight engineer to access the engines and landing gear by crawling through the wings. This was possible only at altitudes not requiring pressurization.[31]

The Wasp Major engines also had a prodigious appetite for lubricating oil, each engine requiring its own 100 gallon (380 L) tank. A former ground crewman has written: "[I don't recall] an oil change interval as I think the oil consumption factor handled that." It was not unusual for a mission to end simply because one or more engines ran out of oil. Though an unloaded B-36 could fly on as few as three engines, the stress on those engines put them at risk of failing.[citation needed]

Engine fires

Like all large aircraft powered by piston engines, the B-36 was prone to engine fires. The problem was exacerbated by the pusher configuration, which facilitated carburetor icing. The design of the R-4360 engine tacitly assumed that it would be mounted in the conventional tractor configuration - propeller/air intake/28 cylinders/carburetor - with air flowing in that order. In this configuration, the carburetor is bathed in air warmed by engine cooling and so is unlikely to ice up. However, the R-4360 engines in the B-36 were mounted in the pusher configuration - air intake/carburetor/28 cylinders/propeller. The carburetor was now in front of the engine and so could not benefit from engine heat, and also made more traditional short term carb heat systems unsuitable. Hence when intake air was cold and humid, ice gradually obstructed the carburetor air intake, which in turn gradually increased the richness of the air/fuel mixture until the unburned fuel in the exhaust caught fire. Three engine fires of this nature led to the first loss of an American nuclear weapon, described above[32] (an event known as a broken arrow in military terminology). Adding electric heating to the carburetor intakes eliminated this problem.[citation needed]

Crew experience

Training missions were typically in two parts; first, a 40 hour flight - followed by some time on the ground for refueling and maintenance - then a 24 hour second flight. With a sufficiently light load, the B-36 could fly at least 10,000 miles (16,000 km) nonstop, and the highest cruising speed of any version, the B-36J-III, was only 230 mph (380 km/h). Turning the jet engines on could raise the cruising speed to over 400 mph (650 km/h), but the resulting higher fuel consumption reduced the range. Hence a 40 hour mission, with the jets used only for takeoff and climbing, flew about 9,200 miles (15,000 km). Many missions were flown "around the flag pole", meaning they began and ended at the same base.[citation needed]

The B-36 was not a particularly enjoyable aircraft to fly. Its overall performance, in terms of speed and manuverablity, was never considered sprightly. Lieutenant General James Edmundson likened it to "...sitting on your front porch and flying your house around."[33] Despite its immense exterior size, the pressurized crew compartments were relatively cramped, especially when occupied for 24 hours by a crew of 15 in full flight kit. Although the rear compartment included six bunks, and the radio compartment behind the flight deck included a couple of bunks, crewmen usually chose to sleep in their seats.[citation needed]

War missions would have been essentially one-way, taking off from forward bases in Alaska or Greenland, overflying the USSR, and landing in Europe or the Middle East. Ironically, recollections of crew veterans reveal that while crews were confident of their ability to complete a mission if called upon to do so, they were less confident of surviving the weapon delivery itself.[34] Their concerns were a function of the relatively low speed of the aircraft coupled with the extreme destructive power of the bombs they were carrying, resulting in the plane still being in harm's way once the bombs detonated on target. These concerns were borne out by the 1954 Operation Castle tests, in which B-36s flew near detonations in the 15-megaton range, at distances believed typical of wartime delivery, and experienced blast damage.[35]


NB-36H nuclear reactor testbed

The B-36 was employed in a variety of aeronautical experiments throughout its service life. Its immense size, range and payload capacity lent itself to use in research and development programs. These included nuclear propulsion studies, and "parasite" programs in which the B-36 carried smaller interceptors or reconnaissance aircraft.[36]

In May 1946, the Air Force began the Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft (NEPA) project which was followed in May 1951 by the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion (ANP) program. The ANP program required that Convair modify two B-36s under the MX-1589 project. One of the modified B-36s studied shielding requirements for an airborne reactor to determine whether a nuclear aircraft was feasible. The Nuclear Test Aircraft (NTA) was a B-36H-20-CF (Serial Number 51-5712) that had been damaged in a tornado at Carswell AFB on 1 September 1952. This plane, designated the NB-36H, was modified to carry a 1 MW, air-cooled nuclear reactor in the aft bomb bay, with a four ton lead shield between the reactor and the cockpit. The cockpit was encased in lead and rubber, with a 6-inch (15 cm)–thick acrylic glass windshield. The reactor was operational but did not power the plane; its sole purpose was to investigate the effect of radiation on aircraft systems. Between 1955 and 1957, the NB-36H completed 47 test flights and 215 hours of flight time, during 89 of which the reactor was critical. The NB-36H was scrapped at Fort Worth in 1958 when the nuclear aircraft program was abandoned.[citation needed]

Other experiments involved providing the B-36 with its own fighter defense in the form of parasite aircraft carried partially or wholly in a bomb bay. One parasite aircraft was the tiny McDonnell XF-85 Goblin, which docked using a trapeze system. The concept was tested successfully using a B-29 carrier, but docking proved difficult even for experienced test pilots. Moreover, the XF-85 was seen as no match for Soviet aircraft, and the project was cancelled.[citation needed]

GRB-36 carrying YRF-84F. USAF Museum Photo Archives carrying an F-84 Thunderjet

More successful was the FICON project, involving a modified B-36 - called a GRB-36D "mothership" - and the RF-84K, a fighter modified for reconnaissance, in a bomb bay. The GRB-36D would ferry the RF-84K to the vicinity of the objective, whereupon the RF-84K would disconnect and begin its mission. Ten GRB-36Ds and 25 RF-84ks were built and saw active service until 1959.

Projects TIP TOW and Tom-Tom involved docking F-84s to the wingtips of B-29s and B-36s. The hope was that the increased aspect ratio of the combined aircraft would result in a greater range. Project TIP TOW was canceled when the combination of two EF-84Ds and a specially modified test EB-29A crashed, killing everyone on all three aircraft. This accident was attributed to one of the EF-84Ds flipping over onto the wing of the EB-29A. Project Tom-Tom, involving RF-84Fs and a GRB-36D from the FICON project (redesignated JRB-36F), continued for a few months after this crash, but was also canceled due to the violent turbulence induced by the wingtip vortices of the B-36.[37]


The operational life of the B-36 ended because:

  • Long range jet-powered bombers became feasible, resulting in such aircraft as the B-47 and B-52, with cruising speeds more than double that of the B-36.
  • The speed and operating ceiling of jet fighter interceptors steadily rose.
  • Radar-guided surface-to air missiles, such as the Soviet SA-2 Guidline, capable of reaching 20,000 meters, emerged.
  • The airframe, especially the wings, proved vulnerable to metal fatigue.
  • Wing flexing led to fuel leakage, a common problem.

The B-36 was progressively removed from service as the B-52 became operational in 1955. The last B-36s left active USAF service in 1959.


File:NMAF B-36.jpg
B-36J serial number 52-2220 on display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

Only four (and a half) B-36 type aircraft survive today, from the 384 produced.[38]

Notable incidents and accidents

Though the B-36 had a better than average overall safety record, 10 B-36s crashed between 1949 and 1954 (three B-36Bs, three B-36Ds, and four B-36Hs). Goleta Air and Space Museum maintains a web site with photographs and lengthy excerpts from the official crash reports.[40] When a crash occurred, the magnesium-rich airframe burned readily.[41]

A B-36 was also involved in two "Broken Arrow" incidents. On 13 February 1950, a B-36, serial number 44-92075, crashed in an unpopulated region of British Columbia reputedly after ditching its bomb over the ocean (See 1950 British Columbia B-36 crash). Recovery teams also searched the crash site for its remains and accompanying "bird-cage", resulting in the first loss of an American nuclear weapon.[42]

On 22 May 1957, a B-36 accidentally dropped a Mark-17 hydrogen bomb on a deserted area while landing at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Only the conventional trigger detonated, the bomb being unarmed. These incidents were classified for decades. See list of military nuclear accidents.[43][40]

Related models

Main article: Convair B-36 variants

In 1951, the USAF asked Convair to build a prototype of an all-jet variant of the B-36. Convair complied by replacing the wings on a B-36F with swept wings, from which were suspended eight Pratt & Whitney XJ57-P-3 jet engines. The result was the B-36G, later renamed the Convair YB-60. The YB-60 was deemed inferior to Boeing's YB-52, and the project was terminated.[44]

Just as the C-97 was the transport variant of the B-50, the B-36 was the basis for the Convair XC-99, a double-decked military cargo plane that was the largest piston engined, land-based aircraft ever built, and the longest practical aircraft (185 ft, 56 m) of its era. The sole example ever built was extensively employed for nearly a decade, especially for cross-country cargo flights during the Korean War. In 2005, this XC-99 was dismantled in anticipation of its being moved from the former Kelly Air Force Base, now the Kely Field Annex of Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, where it had been retired since 1957. The XC-99 was relocated to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, with C-5 Galaxy transports carrying pieces of the XC-99 to Wright-Patterson as space and schedule permitted.[45]

A commercial airliner derived from the XC-99, the Convair Model 37, never left the drawing board. It would have been the first "jumbo" airliner.[3]

Popular culture

In 1949, the B-36 was featured in the documentary film, Target: Peace, which was centered around the operations of the 7th Bombardment Wing. Other scenes included B-36 production at the Fort Worth plant.

The B-36 featured prominently in Paramount's Strategic Air Command (1955), starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson. In the film Jimmy Stewart's character is forced to crash land his B-36 in the Arctic. Strategic Air Command features many good aerial shots of B-36s and B-47s.

In Top of the World (1955), a formation of early B-36s (without the four jet engines) is shown just before the end title.[46]

The 1957 John Wayne film Jet Pilot also shows a B-36 on a test mission being intercepted by an F-94 Starfire.

Specifications (B-36J-III)

Data from [citation needed]

General characteristics



  • Guns:20 mm (0.787 in) M24A1 cannon
  • Bombs: 86,000 lb (39,010 kg) with weight restrictions, 72,000 lb (32,660 kg) normal

File:B-36 bomber.ogg
Video clip of the construction and features of the B-36 bomber


  1. Knaack, Marcelle Size. Post-World War II Bombers, 1945-1973. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1988. ISBN 0-16-002260-6.
  2. Convair proposed the name "Peacemaker" in a submission to a contest to name the bomber. Although the name was not officially adopted, it was commonly used and sources often state or imply that the name is an "official" one. Peacemaker Name Certificate, 7th Bomb Wing B-36 Association
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 National Museum of the USAF Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "NMUSAF" defined multiple times with different content
  4. Taylor 1969, p. 465.
  5. Winchester 2006, p. 49.
  6. Taylor 1969, p. 465.
  7. Wagner 1968, p. 142.
  8. Yenne 2004, p. 124-126.
  9. Wolk 2003, p. 163.
  10. Barlow, Jeffrey G. Revolt of the Admirals: The Fight for Naval Aviation, 1945–1950. Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, 1994. ISBN 0-16-042094-6.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Johnson 1978, p. 1.
  12. Jacobsen and Wagner 1980, p. 4.
  13. [1]compares the large aircraft designed in the 1940s
  14. Jacobsen 1974, p. 54.
  15. Yenne 2004, p. 136-137.
  16. Jacobson and Meyer, The Big Stick.
  17. AU/ACSC/166/1998-04 Standard Aircraft Characteristics, F2H-2 Banshee
  18. Air Command and Staff College Air University, "The Revolt of the Admiral"
  19. Yenne 2004, p. 137-138.
  20. original image from the Maxwell Air Force Base website.
  21. Shiel 1996, p. 7.
  22. Convair XB-36 Peacemaker Access date: 4 September 2006.
  23. Boeing B-17 Product History page
  24. BBC NEWS | Europe | Russia sparks Cold War scramble
  25. Mark 17
  26. Summary of Air Force accident report
  27. detail on the features and performance of each of 16 variants of the B-36
  28. "The Last B-36 and the people who saved it from destruction." 1 October 2006, Access date: 21 September 2007.
  29. B-36 Quote attributed to Capt Banda when he was escorting Air Cadet Michael R. Daciek, later Lt Col Daciek, on an inside tour of the XC-99 in 1953.
  30. . B-36 maintenance discussion. Delphi Forums
  31. Flying the Aluminum and Magnesium Overcast
  32. Interview with B-36B 44-92075 Co-pilot 1st Lt R.P. Whitfield 1998, Access date: 24 September 2007.
  33. Edmundson interview
  34. B-36 Forum
  35. Operation Castle: Report of Commander, Task Group 7.1 p. 24 (extract version), dated 1 February 1980], Access date: 23 September 2007.
  36. Miller and Cripliver 1978, p. 366, 369.
  37. Lockett, Brian. Parasite Fighter Programs: Project Tom-Tom.Goleta Air and Space Museum. Tom Tom Access date: 3 February 2007.
  38. Yenne 2004, p. 149.
  39. Walters Farm
  40. 40.0 40.1 B-36 wrecks
  41. Synopsis of the Air Force Accident Report for RB-36H, 51-13722 posted 30 July 2003, Access date: 23 September 2007.
  42. Ricketts, Bruce. Broken Arrow, A Lost Nuclear Weapon in Canada. Mysteries of Canada, 11 January 2006. Broken Arrow Access date: 17 August 2007
  43. Doomsday
  44. National Museum of the USAF factsheet about the YB-60
  45. Air Force Link XC-99 begins piece-by-piece trip to Air Force Museum by 1st Lt Bruce R. Hill Jr., 433rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs, 22 April 2004
  46. Top of the World
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  • Wolk, Herman S., Fulcrum of Power: Essays on the United States Air Force and National Security. Darby, Pennsylvania: Diane Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-42899-008-9.
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