Boeing B-29 Superfortress

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B-29 Superfortress
B-29 in flight.jpg
A USAAF B-29 Superfortress
Role Strategic bomber
Manufacturer Boeing
First flight 21 September 1942[1]
Introduction 8 May 1944
Retired 21 June 1960
Status retired (see Survivors)
Primary users United States Army Air Forces
United States Air Force
Royal Air Force
Produced 1943–1946[2]
Number built 3,970
Unit cost
Variants All models
Boeing KB-29 Superfortress
XB-39 Superfortress
Boeing XB-44 Superfortress
Boeing B-50 Superfortress
Developed into Boeing 377 Stratocruiser
Boeing assembly line at Wichita, Kansas (1944)

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress is a four-engine propeller-driven heavy bomber designed by Boeing and was flown primarily by the United States during World War II and the Korean War. It was one of the largest aircraft operational during World War II and very advanced for its time. It featured a pressurized cabin, all dual wheeled, tricycle landing gears, and a remote, electronic fire-control system that controlled four machine gun turrets. A manned tail gun installation was semi-remote. The name "Superfortress" continued the pattern Boeing started with its well-known predecessor, the B-17 Flying Fortress. Designed for high-altitude strategic bomber role, the B-29 also excelled in low-altitude nighttime incendiary bombing missions. One of the B-29's final roles during World War II was carrying out the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Due to the B-29's highly advanced design for its time, unlike many other World War II-era bombers, the Superfortress remained in service long after the war ended, with a few even being employed as flying television transmitters for the Stratovision company. The B-29 served in various roles throughout the 1950s. The Royal Air Force flew the B-29 as the Washington until phasing out the type in 1954. The Soviet Union produced an unlicensed reverse-engineered copy as the Tupolev Tu-4. The B-29 was the progenitor of a series of Boeing-built bombers, transports, tankers, reconnaissance aircraft and trainers including the B-50 Superfortress (the first aircraft to fly around the world non-stop) which was essentially a re-engined B-29. The type was finally retired in the early 1960s. The B-29 production total was 3,970 aircraft. Dozens of B-29s remain as static displays but only one example, Fifi, remains on flying status. As of 2015, another B-29 is being restored for flight.

A transport developed from the B-29 was the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, first flown in 1944, followed by its commercial airliner variant, the Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser in 1947. This bomber-to-airliner derivation was similar to the B-17/Model 307 evolution. In 1948 Boeing introduced a tanker variant of the B-29 as the KB-29, followed by the Model 377-derivative KC-97 introduced in 1950. A heavily modified line of outsized-cargo variants of the Stratocruiser is the Guppy / Mini Guppy / Super Guppy which remain in service today with operators such as NASA.

Design and development[edit]

The length of the 141-foot (43 m) wing span of a Boeing B-29 Superfortress based at Davis-Monthan Field is vividly illustrated here with the cloud-topped Santa Catalina Mountains as a contrasting background.
Two large olive-colored aircraft flying over farmland.
YB-29 Superfortresses in flight.
A Superfortress returns from a training mission to its base at this Training Command B-29 Transition School.
1000th B-29 delivery ceremony at Boeing Wichita plant in February 1945.

Boeing began work on pressurized long-range bombers in 1938, in response to a United States Army Air Corps request. Boeing's design study for the Model 334 was a pressurized derivative of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress with nosewheel undercarriage. Although the Air Corps did not have money to pursue the design, Boeing continued development with its own funds as a private venture.[4] In April 1939, Charles Lindbergh convinced general Henry H. Arnold to produce a new bomber in large numbers to counter the Nazi production.[5] The Air Corps issued a formal specification for a so-called "superbomber", capable of delivering 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) of bombs to a target 2,667 mi (4,290 km) away and capable of flying at a speed of 400 mph (640 km/h) in December 1939. Boeing's previous private venture studies formed the starting point for its response to this specification.[6]

Boeing submitted its Model 345 on 11 May 1940,[7] in competition with designs from Consolidated Aircraft (the Model 33, later to become the B-32),[8] Lockheed (the Lockheed XB-30),[9] and Douglas (the Douglas XB-31).[10] Douglas and Lockheed soon abandoned work on their projects, but Boeing received an order for two flying prototypes, given the designation XB-29, and an airframe for static testing on 24 August 1940, with the order being revised to add a third flying aircraft on 14 December. Consolidated continued to work on its Model 33 as it was seen by the Air Corps as a backup in case of problems with Boeing's design.[11] Boeing received an initial production order for 14 service test aircraft and 250 production bombers in May 1941,[12] this being increased to 500 aircraft in January 1942.[7] The B-29 featured a fuselage design with circular cross-section for strength. The need for pressurization in the cockpit area also led to the B-29 being one of very few American combat aircraft of World War II to have a stepless cockpit design, without a separate windscreen for the pilots.

Manufacturing the B-29 was a complex task. It involved four main-assembly factories: a pair of Boeing operated plants at Renton, Washington (Boeing Renton), and Wichita, Kansas (now Spirit AeroSystems), a Bell plant at Marietta, Georgia ("Bell-Atlanta"), and a Martin plant at Omaha, Nebraska ("Martin-Omaha" - Offutt Field).[7][13] Thousands of subcontractors were involved in the project.[14] The first prototype made its maiden flight from Boeing Field, Seattle on 21 September 1942.[13] The combined effects of the aircraft's highly advanced design, challenging requirements, and immense pressure for production, hurried development and caused setbacks. The second prototype, which, unlike the unarmed first, was fitted with a Sperry defensive armament system using remote-controlled gun turrets sighted by periscopes,[15] first flew on 30 December 1942, this flight being terminated due to a serious engine fire. On 18 February 1943, the second prototype, flying out of Boeing Field in Seattle, experienced an engine fire and crashed.[16] The crash killed Boeing test pilot Edmund T. Allen and his 10 man crew, 20 workers at the Frye Meat Packing Plant and a Seattle firefighter.[17] Changes to the production craft came so often and so fast that in early 1944, B-29s flew from the production lines directly to modification depots for extensive rebuilds to incorporate the latest changes. The AAF contracted modification centers and its own air depot system struggled to cope with the scope of the requirement. Some facilities lacked hangars capable of housing the B-29 (which) combined with freezing cold weather further delaying the modifications, such that at the end of 1943, although almost 100 aircraft had been delivered, only 15 were airworthy.[18][19] This prompted an intervention by General Hap Arnold to resolve the problem, with production personnel being sent from the factories to the modification centers to speed modification of sufficient aircraft to equip the first Bomb Groups in what became known as the "Battle of Kansas". This resulted in 150 aircraft being modified in the six weeks between 10 March and 15 April 1944.[20][21][22]

The most common cause of maintenance headaches and catastrophic failures were the engines.[20] Although the Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone radial engines later became a trustworthy workhorse in large piston-engined aircraft, early models were beset with dangerous reliability problems. This problem was not fully cured until the aircraft was fitted with the more powerful Pratt & Whitney R-4360 "Wasp Major" in the B-29D/B-50 program, which arrived too late for World War II. Interim measures included cuffs placed on propeller blades to divert a greater flow of cooling air into the intakes which had baffles installed to direct a stream of air onto the exhaust valves. Oil flow to the valves was also increased, asbestos baffles installed around rubber push rod fittings to prevent oil loss, thorough pre-flight inspections made to detect unseated valves, and frequent replacement of the uppermost five cylinders (every 25 hours of engine time) and the entire engines (every 75 hours).[N 1][20][23]

Pilots, including the present day pilots of the Commemorative Air Force’s Fifi, the last remaining flying B-29, describe flight after takeoff as being an urgent struggle for airspeed (generally, flight after takeoff should consist of striving for altitude). Radial engines need airflow to keep them cool, and failure to get up to speed as soon as possible could result in an engine failure and risk of fire. One useful technique was to check the magnetos while already on takeoff roll rather than during a conventional static engine-runup before takeoff.[23]

Interior photo of the rear pressurized cabin of the B-29 Superfortress, June 1944

In wartime, the B-29 was capable of flight at altitudes up to 31,850 feet (9,710 m),[24] at speeds of up to 350 mph (560 km/h) (true airspeed). This was its best defense, because Japanese fighters could barely reach that altitude, and few could catch the B-29 even if they did attain that altitude. Only the heaviest of anti-aircraft weapons could reach it, and since the Axis forces did not have proximity fuzes, hitting or damaging the aircraft from the ground in combat proved difficult.[citation needed]

The revolutionary General Electric Central Fire Control system on the B-29 directed four remotely controlled turrets armed with two .50 Browning M2 machine guns each.[N 2] Some turrets were made according to patents from the Tucker Gun Turret.[25] All weapons were aimed optically with targeting computed by analog electrical instrumentation. There were five interconnected sighting stations located in the nose and tail positions and three Plexiglas blisters in the central fuselage.[N 3] Five General Electric analog computers (one dedicated to each sight) increased the weapons' accuracy by compensating for factors such as airspeed, lead, gravity, temperature and humidity. The computers also allowed a single gunner to operate two or more turrets (including tail guns) simultaneously. The gunner in the upper position acted as fire control officer, managing the distribution of turrets among the other gunners during combat.[26][27][28][29] The tail position initially had two .50 Browning machine guns and a single M2 20 mm cannon. Later aircraft had the 20 mm cannon removed,[30] and sometimes replaced by a third machine gun.[31]

In early 1945, Major General Curtis Lemay, commander of XXI Bomber Command, the Marianas-based B-29-equipped bombing force — that resulted in the affected aircraft having as little defensive firepower as the atomic mission-intended Silverplate B-29 airframes — ordered most of the defensive armament and remote-controlled sighting equipment removed from the B-29s under his command so that they could carry greater fuel and bomb loads as a result of the change of role from high-altitude, daylight bombing with high explosive bombs to low-altitude night raids using incendiary bombs.[32] As a consequence of this requirement, Bell Atlanta (BA) produced a series of 311 B-29Bs that had turrets and sighting equipment omitted, except for the tail position, which was fitted with AN/APG-15 fire control radar.[33] This version could also have an improved APQ-7 "Eagle" bombing-through-overcast radar fitted in an airfoil shaped radome under the fuselage. Most of these aircraft were assigned to the 315th Bomb Wing, Northwest Field, Guam.[34]

The crew enjoyed, for the first time in a bomber, full-pressurization comfort. This first-ever cabin pressure system for an Allied production bomber was developed for the B-29 by Garrett AiResearch.[N 4] The nose and the cockpit were pressurized, but the designers were faced with deciding whether to have bomb bays that were not pressurized, between fore and aft pressurized sections, or a fully pressurized fuselage with the need to de-pressurize to drop their loads. The solution was a long tunnel over the two bomb bays so as not to interrupt pressurization during bombing. Crews could crawl back and forth between the fore and aft sections, with both areas and the tunnel pressurized. The bomb bays were not pressurized.[35]

Operational history[edit]

World War II[edit]

Boeing B-29 Superfortress
Enola Gay, a Silverplate version of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress landing after delivering Little Boy over Hiroshima
Crew members standing in front of their B-29, 'To Each His Own'. Nose art such as that seen here was common not only among B-29s, but many other aircraft operated by the United States during the war.

In September 1941, the Army Air Forces plans for war against Germany and Japan proposed basing the B-29 in Egypt for operations against Germany as British airbases were likely to be overcrowded.[36][37] Air Force planning throughout 1942 and early 1943 continued to have the B-29 deployed initially against Germany, only transferring to the Pacific after the end of the war in Europe. By the end of 1943, however, plans had changed, partly due to production delays, and the B-29 was dedicated to the Pacific Theater.[38] A new plan implemented at the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a promise to China, called Operation Matterhorn, deployed the B-29 units to attack Japan from four forward bases in southern China, with five main bases in India, and to attack other targets in the region from China and India as needed.[39] The Chengdu region was eventually chosen over the Guilin region to avoid having to raise, equip, and train 50 Chinese divisions to protect the advanced bases from Japanese ground attack.[40] The XX Bomber Command, initially intended to be two combat wings of four groups each, was reduced to a single wing of four groups because of the lack of availability of aircraft, automatically limiting the effectiveness of any attacks from China.

This was an extremely costly scheme, as there was no overland connection available between India and China, and all supplies had to be flown over the Himalayas, either by transport aircraft or by the B-29s themselves, with some aircraft being stripped of armor and guns and used to deliver fuel. B-29s started to arrive in India in early April 1944. The first B-29 flight to airfields in China (over the Himalayas, or "The Hump") took place on 24 April 1944. The first B-29 combat mission was flown on 5 June 1944, with 77 out of 98 B-29s launched from India bombing the railroad shops in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand. Five B-29s were lost during the mission, none to hostile fire.[39][41]

Forward base in China[edit]

On 5 June 1944, B-29s raided Bangkok, in what is reported as a test before being deployed against the Japanese home islands. Sources do not report from where they launched, and vary as to the numbers involved—77, 98, and 114 being claimed. Targets were Bangkok's Memorial Bridge and a major power plant. Bombs fell over two kilometres away, damaged no civilian structures, but destroyed some tram lines and destroyed both a Japanese military hospital and the Japanese secret police headquarters.[42] On 15 June 1944, 68 B-29s took off from bases around Chengdu, 47 B-29s bombed the Imperial Iron and Steel Works at Yahata, Japan. This was the first attack on Japanese islands since the Doolittle raid in April 1942.[43] The first B-29 combat losses occurred during this raid, with one B-29 destroyed on the ground by Japanese fighters after an emergency landing in China,[44] one lost to anti-aircraft fire over Yawata, and another, the Stockett's Rocket (after Capt. Marvin M. Stockett, Aircraft Commander) B-29-1-BW 42-6261,[N 5] disappeared after takeoff from Chakulia, India, over the Himalayas (12 KIA, 11 crew and one passenger)[46] This raid, which did little damage to the target, with only one bomb striking the target factory complex,[47] nearly exhausted fuel stocks at the Chengdu B-29 bases, resulting in a slow-down of operations until the fuel stockpiles could be replenished.[48] Starting in July, the raids against Japan from Chinese airfields continued at relatively low intensity. Japan was bombed on: 7 July 1944 (14 B-29s), 29 July (70+), 10 August (24), 20 August (61), 8 September (90), 26 September (83), 25 October (59), 12 November (29), 21 November (61), 19 December (36) and for the last time on 6 January 1945 (49).

The tactic of using aircraft to ram American B-29s was first recorded on raid of 20 August 1944 on the steel factories at Yawata. Sergeant Shigeo Nobe of the 4th Sentai intentionally flew his Kawasaki Ki-45 into a B-29; debris from the explosion following this attack severely damaged another B-29, which also went down. Lost were Colonel Robert Clinksale's B-29-10-BW 42-6334 Gertrude C and Captain Ornell Stauffer's B-29-15-BW 42-6368 Calamity Sue, both from the 486th BG.[49] Several B-29s were destroyed in this way over the ensuing months. Although the term "Kamikaze" is often used to refer to the pilots conducting these attacks, the word was not used by the Japanese military.[50]

B-29s were withdrawn from airfields in China by the end of January 1945. Throughout this prior period, B-29 raids were also launched from China and India against many other targets throughout Southeast Asia, including a series of raids on Singapore and Thailand. On 2 November 1944, 55 B-29s raided Bangkok's Bang Sue marshalling yards in the largest raid of the war. Seven RTAF Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusas from Foong Bin (Air Group) 16 and 14 IJAAF Ki-43s attempted intercept. RTAF Flt Lt Therdsak Worrasap attacked a B-29, damaging it, but was shot down by return fire. One B-29 was lost, possibly the one damaged by Flt Lt Therdsak. [N 6] On 14 April 1945, a second B-29 raid on Bangkok destroyed two key power plants, and was the last major attack conducted against Thai targets.[42] The B-29 effort was gradually shifted to the new bases in the Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific, with the last B-29 combat mission from India flown on 29 March 1945.

B-29A-30-BN, 42-94106, on a long-range mission.

New Mariana Islands air bases[edit]

In addition to the logistical problems associated with operations from China, the B-29 could only reach a limited part of Japan while flying from Chinese bases. The solution to this problem was to capture the Mariana Islands, which would bring targets such as Tokyo, about 1,500 mi (2,400 km) north of the Marianas within range of B-29 attacks. The Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed in December 1943 to seize the Marianas.[52]

A joint US forces invaded Saipan on 15 June 1944. Despite a Japanese naval counterattack which led to the Battle of the Philippine Sea and heavy fighting on land, Saipan was secured by 9 July.[53] Operations followed against Guam and Tinian, with all three islands secured by August.[54]

Naval construction battalions (Seabees) began at once to construct air bases suitable for the B-29, commencing even before the end of ground fighting.[53] In all, five major air fields were built: two on the flat island of Tinian, one on Saipan, and two on Guam. Each was large enough to eventually accommodate a bomb wing consisting of four bomb groups, giving a total of 180 B-29s per airfield.[41] These bases, which could be supplied by ship, and unlike the bases in China, were not vulnerable to attacks by Japanese ground forces, became the launch sites for the large B-29 raids against Japan, in the final year of the war. The first B-29 arrived on Saipan on 12 October 1944, and the first combat mission was launched from there on 28 October 1944, with 14 B-29s attacking the Truk atoll. The 73rd Bomb Wing launched the first mission against Japan from bases in the Marianas, on 24 November 1944, sending 111 B-29s to attack Tokyo. For this first attack on the Japanese capital since the Doolittle Raid in April 1942, 73rd Bomb Wing wing commander Brigadier General Emmett O'Donnell, Jr. acted as mission command pilot in B-29 Dauntless Dotty. The raids intensified, being launched regularly until the end of the war. The attacks succeeded in devastating most large Japanese cities (with the exception of Kyoto and several others), and they gravely damaged Japan's war industries. Although less publicly appreciated, the mining of Japanese ports and shipping routes (Operation Starvation) carried out by B-29s from April 1945 significantly affected Japan's ability to support its population and move its troops.

The atomic bombs[edit]

Perhaps the most famous B-29s were the Silverplate series, which were modified to drop atomic bombs. They were also stripped of all guns except the tail gun to be lighter. The Silverplate aircraft were handpicked by Lieutenant Colonel Paul W. Tibbets for the mission, straight off the assembly line at the Omaha plant that was to become Offutt Air Force Base.

Enola Gay, flown by Tibbets, dropped the first bomb, called Little Boy, on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Enola Gay is fully restored and on display at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, outside Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. Bockscar dropped the second bomb, called Fat Man, on Nagasaki three days later. Bockscar is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Following the surrender of Japan, called V-J Day, B-29s were used for other purposes. A number supplied POWs with food and other necessities by dropping barrels of rations on Japanese POW camps. In September 1945, a long-distance flight was undertaken for public relations purposes: Generals Barney M. Giles, Curtis LeMay, and Emmett O'Donnell, Jr. piloted three specially modified B-29s from Chitose Air Base in Hokkaidō to Chicago Municipal Airport, continuing to Washington, D.C., the farthest nonstop distance to that date flown by U.S. Army Air Forces aircraft and the first-ever nonstop flight from Japan to the U.S.[N 7][56] Two months later, Colonel Clarence S. Irvine commanded another modified B-29, Pacusan Dreamboat, in a world-record-breaking long-distance flight from Guam to Washington, D.C., traveling 7,916 miles (12,740 km) in 35 hours,[57] with a gross takeoff weight of 155,000 pounds (70,000 kg).[58] Almost a year later, in October 1946, the same B-29 flew 9,422 miles nonstop from Oahu, Hawaii to Cairo, Egypt in less than 40 hours, further proving the capability of routing airlines over the polar icecap.[59]

B-29s in Europe and Australia[edit]

Royal Air Force Washington B.1 of No. 90 Squadron RAF based at RAF Marham

Although considered for other theaters, and briefly evaluated in the United Kingdom, the B-29 was exclusively used in World War II in the Pacific Theatre. The use of YB-29-BW 41-36393, the so-named Hobo Queen, one of the service test aircraft flown around several British airfields in early 1944, was thought[by whom?] to be as a "disinformation" program intended to deceive the Germans into believing that the B-29 would be deployed to Europe.[21]

American post-war military assistance programs loaned the RAF enough Superfortresses to equip several RAF Bomber Command squadrons. The aircraft were known as the Washington B.1 in RAF service, and served from March 1950 until the last bombers were returned in early 1954. The phase out had been occasioned by deliveries of the English Electric Canberra bombers. Three Washingtons modified for ELINT duties and a standard bomber version used for support by No. 192 Squadron RAF were decommissioned in 1958, being replaced by de Havilland Comet aircraft.

Two British Washington B.1 aircraft were transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1952. They were attached to the Aircraft Research and Development Unit and used in trials conducted on behalf of the British Ministry of Supply. Both aircraft were placed in storage in 1956 and were sold for scrap in 1957.[60]

Soviet re-engineering of the B-29[edit]

Main article: Tupolev Tu-4
Tupolev Tu-4 at Monino museum

The Soviet experience in developing a four-engined heavy bomber was limited. The Petlyakov Pe-8 equipped the VVS starting in 1940 however only some 93 examples were ever built. During 1944 and 1945 five B-29s made emergency landings in Soviet territory after bombing raids on Japanese Manchuria and Japan. In accordance with Soviet neutrality in the Pacific War, the bombers were interned and kept by the Soviets, despite American requests for their return. Through reverse engineering the American B-29 were, instead, used by the Soviets as a pattern for the Tupolev Tu-4.[61]

On 31 July 1944 Ramp Tramp (serial number 42-6256), of the 462nd (Very Heavy) Bomb Group was diverted to Vladivostok, Russia after an engine failed and the propeller could not be feathered.[N 8] This B-29 was part of a 100 aircraft raid against the Japanese Showa steel mill in Anshan, Manchuria.[61] On 20 August 1944, Cait Paomat (42-93829), flying from Chengdu, was damaged by anti-aircraft gunfire during a raid on the Yawata Iron Works. Due to the damage sustained, the crew elected to divert to the Soviet Union. The aircraft crashed in the foothills of Sikhote Alin Range east of Khabarovsk after the crew bailed out.

On 11 November 1944, during a night raid on Omura on Kyushu Japan, the General H.H. Arnold Special (42-6365) was damaged and forced to divert to Vladivostok in the Soviet Union. The crew was interned.[62] On 21 November 1944, Ding Hao (42-6358) was damaged during a raid on an aircraft factory at Omura, Japan, and was also forced to divert to Vladivostok.

The interned crews of these four B-29s were allowed to escape into American-occupied Iran in January 1945 but none of the B-29s were returned after Stalin ordered the Tupolev OKB to examine and copy the B-29, and produce a design ready for quantity production as soon as possible.[62][N 9]

Because aluminum in the USSR was supplied in different gauges from that available in the US (metric vs imperial),[61] the entire aircraft had to be extensively re-engineered. In addition, Tupolev substituted his own favored airfoil sections for those used by Boeing, with the Soviets themselves already having their own Wright R-1820-derived 18 cylinder radial engine, the Shvetsov ASh-73 of comparable power and displacement to the B-29's Duplex Cyclone radials available to power their design. In 1947, the Soviets debuted both the Tupolev Tu-4 (NATO ASCC code named Bull), and the Tupolev Tu-70 transport variant. The Soviets used tail-gunner positions similar to the B-29 in many later bombers and transports.[63][N 10]

Transition to USAF[edit]

Production of the B-29 was phased out after World War II with the last example completed by Boeing's Renton factory on 28 May 1946. Many aircraft went into storage, being declared excess inventory and were ultimately scrapped as surplus. Others remained in the active inventory and equipped the Strategic Air Command when it formed on 21 March 1946.[65] In particular, the "Silverplate" modified aircraft of the 509th Composite Group remained the only aircraft capable of delivering the atomic bomb, and so the unit was involved in the Operation Crossroads series of tests, with B-29 Dave's Dream dropping a "Fat Man"-type bomb in Test Able on 1 July 1946.[65]

Some B-29s, fitted with filtered air sampling scoops, were used to monitor above ground nuclear weapons testing by the United States and the USSR by sampling airborne radioactive contamination. The USAF also used the aircraft for long-range weather reconnaissance (WB-29), for signals intelligence gathering (EB-29) and photographic reconnaissance (RB-29).

Korean War and postwar service[edit]

A photo-reconnaissance B-29 that crash-landed at Iruma Air Base, Japan after being severely damaged by MiG-15 fighters over the Yalu River; the B-29's tail gunner shot down one of the attackers (Nov 9, 1950)[66]
A 307th Bomb Group B-29 bombing a target in Korea, c. 1951.

The B-29 was used in 1950–53 in the Korean War. At first, the bomber was used in normal strategic day-bombing missions, though North Korea's few strategic targets and industries were quickly reduced to rubble. More importantly, in 1950 numbers of Soviet MiG-15 "Fagot" jet fighters appeared over Korea, and after the loss of 28 aircraft, future B-29 raids were restricted to night-only missions, largely in a supply-interdiction role. Over the course of the war, B-29s flew 20,000 sorties and dropped 200,000 tonnes (180,000 tons) of bombs. B-29 gunners were credited with shooting down 27 enemy aircraft.[67]

The B-29 was notable for dropping the large "Razon" and "Tarzon" radio-controlled bomb in Korea, mostly for demolishing major bridges, like the ones across the Yalu River, and for attacks on dams. The aircraft also was used for numerous leaflet drops in North Korea, such as those for Operation Moolah.[68]

A Superfortress of the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron flew the last B-29 mission of the war on 27 July 1953. Over the three years 16 B-29 and reconnaissance variants were lost to North Korean fighters, four to anti-aircraft fire and 14 to other operational causes.[69]

The Boeing B-47 and B-52 multi-jet, swept wing bombers rendered the Superfortress line obsolete. Even earlier, with the arrival of the mammoth Convair B-36, the B-29 was reclassified as a medium bomber by the Air Force. However, the later B-50 Superfortress variant (which was initially designated B-29D) was good enough to handle auxiliary roles such as air-sea rescue, electronic intelligence gathering, air-to-air refueling, and weather reconnaissance. The B-50D was replaced in its primary role during the early 1950s by the Boeing B-47 Stratojet, which in turn was replaced by the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. The final active-duty KB-50 and WB-50 variants were phased out in the mid-1960s, with the final example retired in 1965. A total of 3,970 B-29s were built.


Bell X-1 and its B-29 mother ship

The variants of the B-29 were outwardly similar in appearance but were in fact built around different wing center sections that affected the wingspan dimensions. The wing of the Renton built B-29A-BN used a different subassembly process and was a foot longer in span. The Georgia built B-29B-BA weighed less through armament reduction. (Total 311) A planned C series was not built.

Moreover, engine packages changed including the type of propellers and range of the variable pitch. A notable example were the Silverplate project built for the Manhattan Project with Curtiss Electric reversible pitch propellers.

The other differences came about through added equipment for varied mission roles. These roles included cargo carriers (CB); rescue aircraft (SB); weather ships (WB); and trainers (TB); and aerial tankers (KB).

Some were used for odd purposes such as flying relay television transmitters under the name of Stratovision.

WB-29A of the 53d Weather Reconnaissance Squadron in 1954 showing the fuselage-top observation station

The B-29D lead progressively to the XB-44, and the family of B-50 Superfortress (which was powered by four 3,500 hp (2,600 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-4360-35 Wasp Major engines).

Another role was as a mothership. This included being rigged for carrying the experimental parasite fighter aircraft, such as the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin and Republic F-84 Thunderjets as in flight lock on and offs. It was also used to develop the Airborne Early Warning program; it was the ancestor of various modern radar picket aircraft. A B-29 with the original Wright Duplex Cyclone powerplants was used to air-launch the famous Bell X-1 supersonic research rocket aircraft, as well as Cherokee rockets for the testing of ejection seats.[70]

Some B-29s were modified to act as test beds for various new systems or special conditions, including fire-control systems, cold-weather operations, and various armament configurations. Several converted B-29s were used to experiment with aerial refueling and re-designated as KB-29s. Perhaps the most important tests were conducted by the XB-29G; it carried prototype jet engines in its bomb bay, and lowered them into the air stream to conduct measurements.


 United Kingdom
 United States
 Soviet Union
  • Soviet Air Forces (three USAAF B-29s made emergency landings in the USSR during WW II, and were never returned)


Boeing B-29 Superfortress displayed at March Field Air Museum in 2007.

Twenty-two B-29s are preserved at various museums worldwide, including one flying example; Fifi, which belongs to the Commemorative Air Force, along with four complete airframes either in storage or under restoration (including one to airworthy), eight partial airframes in storage or under restoration, and four known wreck sites.

The B-29, Miss Marilyn Gay, which flew 27 successful bombing missions mainly over Japan during the Second World War, and five POW relief missions is displayed at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia. There is a restored B-29A, Jack's Hack, located as part of the 58th Bomb Wing Memorial the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, CT. The Enola Gay (nose number 82) the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb, was fully restored and placed on display at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum near Washington Dulles International Airport in 2003. Similarly, the weapons delivery aircraft for the Nagasaki raid deploying the Fat Man, the Bockscar (nose number 77) is restored and on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.

Only two of the 22 museum aircraft are outside the United States, one is the B-29A It's Hawg Wild in the American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in the United Kingdom, the other at the KAI Aerospace Museum in Sachon, South Korea.[71]

Accidents and incidents[edit]

Memorial at the Alaska Veterans Memorial to those lost in a B-29 crash in the Talkeetna Mountains in 1957

Notable B-29 accidents and incidents include a crash of the plane near Clovis, New Mexico on Friday evening, 10 November 1944 wherein all 15 members of the crew were killed; 1948 Waycross B-29 crash, which resulted in the United States v. Reynolds lawsuit regarding State Secrets Privilege, the 1948 Lake Mead Boeing B-29 crash and the 1953 "Tip Tow" crash. Another well-known crash took place in 1946 near Clingmans Dome on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. On 11 April 1950 a B-29 departed Kirtland Air Force Base at 9:38 p.m. and crashed into a mountain on Manzano Base approximately three minutes later, killing the crew. Detonators were installed in the nuclear bomb on the aircraft. The bomb case was demolished and some high-explosive (HE) material burned in the gasoline fire. Other pieces of unburned HE were scattered throughout the wreckage. Four spare detonators in their carrying case were recovered undamaged. There were no contamination or recovery problems. The recovered components were returned to the Atomic Energy Commission.[72] Both the weapon and the capsule of nuclear material were on board the aircraft but the capsule was not inserted for safety reasons. A nuclear detonation was not possible.[73]

Specifications (B-29)[edit]

Cockpit controls of Bockscar

Data from Quest for Performance[74]

General characteristics



See also[edit]

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists



  1. ^ As efforts were made to eradicate the problems a succession of engine models were fitted to B-29s. B-29 production started with the −23, which were all modified to the "war engine" −23A. Other versions were −41 (B-29A), −57, −59.
  2. ^ The forward upper turret's armament was later doubled to four .50 Brownings.
  3. ^ The nose sighting station was operated by the bombardier
  4. ^ Boeing had previously built the 307 Stratoliner, which was the first commercial airliner with a fully pressurized cabin. Only 10 of these aircraft were built. While other aircraft such as the Ju 86P were pressurized, the B-29 was designed from the outset with a pressurized system.
  5. ^ The suffix −1-BW indicates that this B-29 was from the first production batch of B-29s manufactured at the Boeing, Wichita plant. Other suffixes are BA = Bell, Atlanta; BN = Boeing, Renton, Washington; MO = Martin, Omaha, Nebraska.[45]
  6. ^ The biggest raid on Bangkok during the war occurred on 2 November 1944, when the marshalling yards at Bang Sue were raided by 55 B-29s ...[51]
  7. ^ "The straight line distance between Chitose Japanese Air Self Defense Force and Chicago, Chicago Midway Airport is approximately 5,839 miles or 9,397 kilometers."[55]
  8. ^ The drag of the windmilling propeller critically reduced the range of the B-29. Because of this "Ramp Tramp" was unable to reach the home-base at Chengdu, China, and the pilot opted to head for Vladivostok.
  9. ^ Ramp Tramp was also used during 1948-49 as a drop ship for underwing launching of 346P glider. The 346P was a development of the German DFS 346 rocket-powered aircraft. The complete wing and engines of Cait Paomat were later incorporated into the sole Tupolev Tu-70 transport aircraft.
  10. ^ The Soviets interned another B-29 when, on 29 August 1945, a Soviet Air Force Yak-9 damaged a B-29 dropping supplies to a POW camp in Korea, and forced it to land at Konan (now Hŭngnam), North Korea. The 13-man crew of the B-29 was not injured in the attack, and was released after being interned for 13 days.[64]
  11. ^ For the B-29B-BW all armament and sighting equipment was removed except for tail position; initially 2 x .50 in M2/AN and 1× 20 mm M2 cannon, later 3 x 2 x .50 in M2/AN with APG-15 gun-laying radar fitted as standard.


  1. ^ LeMay and Yenne 1988, p. 60.
  2. ^ "Boeing B-29." Boeing. Retrieved: 5 August 2010.
  3. ^ Knaack 1988, p. 486.
  4. ^ Bowers 1989, p. 318.
  5. ^ Herman 2012, pp. 289-291
  6. ^ Willis 2007, pp. 136–137.
  7. ^ a b c Bowers 1989, p. 319.
  8. ^ Wegg 1990, p. 91.
  9. ^ "Factsheet: Lockheed XB-30." National Museum of the United States Air Force. Retrieved: 15 November 2010.
  10. ^ Francillon 1979, p. 713.
  11. ^ Willis 2007, p. 138.
  12. ^ Knaack 1988, p. 480.
  13. ^ a b Bowers 1989, p. 322.
  14. ^ Willis 2007, pp. 138–139.
  15. ^ Brown 1977, p. 80.
  16. ^ Peacock Air International August 1989, pp. 70–71.
  17. ^ BANEL, FELIKS. "70 Years Ago: Remembering The Crash Of Boeing’s Superfortress". kuow. Retrieved 22 September 2015. 
  18. ^ Willis 2007, p. 144.
  19. ^ Peacock Air International August 1989, p. 76.
  20. ^ a b c Knaack 1988, p. 484.
  21. ^ a b Bowers 1989, p. 323.
  22. ^ Herman 2012, pp. 284-346.
  23. ^ a b Gardner, Fred Carl. "A Year in the B-29 Superfortress." Fred Carl Gardner's website, updated 1 May 2005. Retrieved: 11 April 2009.
  24. ^ a b "B-29 Superfortress." Boeing. Retrieved: 22 March 2012.
  25. ^ Pearson, Charles T. (1974). The Indomitable Tin Goose: The True Story of Preston Tucker and His Car. Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers, Minneapolis. ISBN 0-87938-020-9 (hardcover).
  26. ^ Brown 1977, pp. 80–83.
  27. ^ Williams and Gustin 2003, pp. 164–166.
  28. ^ "B-29 Gunnery Brain Aims Six Guns at Once." Popular Mechanics, February 1945, p. 26.
  29. ^ ""Central station fire control and the B-29 remote control turret system.", 23 February 2011. Retrieved: 30 May 2015.
  30. ^ Willis 2007, p. 140.
  31. ^ Pace2003, p. 53.
  32. ^ Herman 2012, p. 327.
  33. ^ Willis 2007, pp. 140, 144.
  34. ^ "History of 315 BW." Retrieved: 19 June 2008.
  35. ^ Mann 2009, p. 103.
  36. ^ Craven and Cate Vol. 1 1983, pp. 145–149.
  37. ^ Craven and Cate Vol. 2 1983, p. 6.
  38. ^ Craven and Cate Vol. 5 1983, pp. 11–12.
  39. ^ a b Willis 2007, pp. 144–145.
  40. ^ Craven and Cate Vol. 5 1983, pp. 18–22.
  41. ^ a b Peacock Air International August 1989, p. 87.
  42. ^ a b Stearn, Duncan. "The air war over Thailand, 1941-1945; Part Two, The Allies attack Thailand, 1942-1945." Pattaya Mail, Volume XI, Issue 21, 30 May – 5 June 2003. Retrieved: 18 February 2012.
  43. ^ Craven and Cate Vol. 5 1983, p. 100.
  44. ^ Craven and Cate Vol. 5 1983, p. 101.
  45. ^ "List of B-29 and B-50 production." Retrieved: 16 June 2008.
  46. ^ Source: 20th Bomb Group Assn
  47. ^ Willis 2007, p. 145.
  48. ^ Craven and Cate Vol. 5 1983, pp. 101, 103.
  49. ^ "Pacific War Chronology: August 1944." Retrieved: 12 June 2008. Archived 2 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  50. ^ "Japanese website dedicated to the Tokkotai JAAF and JNAF." Retrieved: 7 June 2008.
  51. ^ Forsgren, Jan. "Japanese Aircraft In Royal Thai Air Force and Royal Thai Navy Service During WWII." Japanese Aircraft, Ships, & Historical Research, 21 July 2004. Retrieved: 18 February 2012.
  52. ^ Willis 2007, pp. 145–146.
  53. ^ a b Willis 2007, p. 146.
  54. ^ Dear and Foot 1995, p. 718.
  55. ^ "How Far Is It?" Retrieved: 8 June 2009.
  56. ^ Potts, J. Ivan, Jr. "Chapter: The Japan to Washington Flight." Remembrance of War: The Experiences of a B-29 Pilot in World War II. Shelbyville, Tennessee: J.I. Potts & Associates, 1995. Retrieved: 8 June 2009.
  57. ^ "Monday, January 01, 1940 – Saturday, December 31, 1949." History Milestones ( US Air Force). Retrieved: 21 October 2010.
  58. ^ Mayo, Weyland. "B-29s Set Speed, Altitude, Distance Records." Retrieved: 21 October 2010.
  59. ^ "Inside The Dreamboat." Popular Science, December 1946 interview with crew about planning for flight.
  60. ^ "A76: Boeing Washington." RAAF Museum. Retrieved: 28 January 2012.
  61. ^ a b c "Tu-4 "Bull" and Ramp Tramp." Monino Aviation. Retrieved: 1 November 2009.
  62. ^ a b Lednicer, David. "Intrusions, Overflights, Shootdowns and Defections During the Cold War and Thereafter." David Lednicer, 16 April 2011. Retrieved: 31 July 2011.
  63. ^ "Russian B-29 Clone – The TU-4 Story." at the Wayback Machine (archived August 9, 2008) Retrieved: 20 July 2011.
  64. ^ Streifer, Bill and Irek Sabitov. "The Flight of the Hog Wild B-29 (WWII): The day the world went cold." Jia Educational Products, Inc., 2011. Retrieved: 28 November 2011.
  65. ^ a b Peacock Air International September 1989, p. 141.
  66. ^ "William F. (Bill) Welch — 31st and 91st SRS Recollections." Retrieved: 18 May 2015.
  67. ^ Futrell et al. 1976.
  68. ^ United States Air Force operations in the Korean conflict, 1 July 1952 – 27 July 1953. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: USAF Historical Division, 1956, p. 62.
  69. ^ Wheeler 1992, p. 84.
  70. ^ Shinabery, Michael. "Whoosh failures were 'instructive'." Alamogordo Daily News, 26 October 2008. Retrieved: 17 May 2014.
  71. ^ Weeks, John A. III. "B-29: The Superfortress Survivors.", 2009. Retrieved: 17 July 2009.
  72. ^ Atomic Energy Commission.
  73. ^ Department of Defense, Narrative Summaries of Accidents Involving U.S. Nuclear Weapons, 1950-1980
  74. ^ Loftin, LK, Jr. Quest for Performance: The Evolution of Modern Aircraft. NASA SP-468. Retrieved: 22 April 2006.
  75. ^ record 7,916 miles, 12,740 km
  76. ^ AAF manual No. 50-9: Pilot's Flight Operating Instructions for Army model B-29, 25 January 1944, page 40; Armament
  77. ^ "The bombload of the B-29 eventually reached 9000 kg (20000 lb)" (Lewis 1994, p. 4)


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External links[edit]