Discovery Channel Great Planes Boeing B 29 Superfortress

the boeing b-29 super fortress now a decaying hulk it once crippled an empire and in a single stroke of terror ended a war and changed a world forever its recurring echo still sounds from those gone but not forgotten days april 1942 under the command of colonel james h doolittle 16 b-25b mitchell bombers lifted off the rolling deck of the u.s carrier hornet with a belly full of bombs and fuel they were bound for the japanese home islands the first direct bombing assault on tokyo it proved a costly but needed boost to allied confidence but demonstrated a desperate inadequacy a strategic long-range bomber a weapon foretold in doolittle’s post-mission statement we’re going back to tokyo and we shall go in full array with mighty allies the b-24 liberator an extremely versatile bomber could not meet the range speed altitude and load requirements now envisioned by the war department neither could the b-17 flying fortress another magnificent plane while they flew countless successful missions over europe they were already being outmoded by designs on the drawing boards back home the huge douglas xb19 first flown in 1941 was a flying laboratory to test the principles of big aircraft in 1940 the war department called for a bomber capable of speeds altitudes loads and ranges that the underpowered 19 couldn’t match it became a competition between the consolidated and boeing companies the consolidated b-32 dominator powered by four right r-3350 engines specified for use by the war department it was pressurized and although large it was not seen to break any major new ground it would just fulfill specifications but offering little more than a conservative step forward adopted as an insurance policy if the radical boeing model 345 failed only 15 b-32s saw active duty although over 100 were built the winning design was the boeing giant designated xb 29 top speed over 350 miles per hour ceiling over thirty thousand feet range approximately four thousand miles with a ten thousand pound payload the maiden flight of the first xb29 was on september the 21st 1942 over boeing field seattle test pilot eddie allen reported that low horsepower was a problem but in flight the big aircraft handled superbly the early sperry gun system and three bladed props seen here were not incorporated in later models much important data was obtained from this first xb29 not so with the next xp on its second flight it burst into flames eddie allen his 10 crew and 19 civilians perished such horrifying losses were not allowed to impede a project which the war depended on the xp’s were soon back flying the b-25 mitchell is a big strapping bomber 67 feet across the wings but it could reach japan only if it took off from an aircraft carrier much bigger is the famed b-17 fortress 104 feet from wing tipping tip it has ranged 1400 miles over japan’s island conquests but it cannot reach japan itself from any base we now hold the super fortress wingspan 141 feet longer than the right’s first flight through the air kitty hawk range altitude and bomb load secret by june 1942 the first of 14 pre-production drab painted yb-29s were airborne the theories of the radical design on trial the 29’s huge bombays were set forward and after center of gravity to maintain stability during drops an interval armature released payload from alternate bays inside crew quarters were heated pressurized and soundproofed in the forward compartment the

bombardier sits in the extreme nose of the plane below and between the pilot and co-pilot the pilot sits on the left the co-pilot on the right the navigator is behind the pilot facing forward the flight engineer is behind the co-pilot facing aft the radio operator is behind the flight engineer facing right in the aft compartment along with the rest area are the gun commander in a barber’s chair observing through a plexiglas blister atop the aircraft the two side gunners to the left and right of him notice the early blister cages to stop crew being sucked out if a blister pops the tail gunner mans the putt-putt auxiliary starter motor his normal position is in the pressurized tail compartment the huge wings set mid fuselage were quite radical boeing departed from the conventional bridge truss configuration settling on a web type structure flaps increased wing area by as much as one-fifth for low-speed flight takeoff and landings the retractable twin-wheeled tricycle landing gear was a great advantage for such a heavy aircraft during high-speed landing runs even after extensive combat damage the 29 used another innovation the general electric remote gunnery control system all guns were sighted and fired remotely four of the turrets two on top and two beneath the fuselage can turn through 360 degrees in azimuth 90 degrees in elevation the tail turret is more restricted in movement but it has a 20 millimeter cannon in addition to the twin fifties the others carry but the big thing about the twenty nine’s armament is the fact that the gunners don’t touch the guns the guns are controlled remotely from special sites and any gunner can fire almost any turret for example one side gunner might have control of two turrets firing four caliber fifties at his target a small central computer made corrections for wind temperature altitude speed and extended range by correcting for bullet drop gunners using this remote system experienced no jarring recoil and gun vibration easing the task of holding a target inside gun camera footage of fighters shot down is terrifyingly real the camera is activated by the firing mechanism it is seen here mounted between the twin machine guns of the aft lower turret long high altitude flights called for pressurization the 29’s circular cross-section hull gave the necessary uniform strength the boeing auto pressure regulator controlled pressurization there were three pressurized compartments the nose compartment connected via a long 34 inch diameter tube to the aft gunners compartment the tail gunners compartment was also pressurized the fact that it was pressurized and the altitude was brought down to simulate 8 000 feet that whenever any kind of a window pops out or rupture from if it can combat in the fuselage would cause a sudden rush of air out of that to equalize the pressure and uh especially when you’re hiding altitudes in the thin atmosphere and so because we had to travel from the forward deck to the back over the bomb bay through a tunnel which was a little bit confining in that you couldn’t wear your parachute with you but while you’re in that tunnel if you should suddenly depressurize at that time you’ve got the feeling that you might be a projectile in a cannon shot right through the tunnel so it was a little apprehensive about going there at times especially at high altitudes the massive engines were at the time the most complex and powerful ever built four right r3350 radios turbo supercharged to produce 2200 horsepower the huge props were geared to rotate very slowly for high altitude performance this was a very special aircraft spurred on by pearl harbor the us now geared up for wartime production by january 1942 b-29 orders were doubled

to 500 labor shortages foreseen processes were simplified for unskilled workers designs were broken down into components for allocation to many production facilities throughout the us final assembly production lines also span the nation boeing’s renton plant in washington the martin plant in omaha nebraska boeing’s new plant in wichita kansas and bell’s marietta plant in georgia 1 600 b-29s would be ordered before a single prototype had flown so do so no do so so but not all was in the swing the b-29 project had slowed to a crawl crippled by its vast logistic and organizational problems the battle of kansas was about to be fought august 1943 canada at the first quebec conference

allied chiefs were planning new strategy expecting european victory in a year the allies now marshal their forces against japan the president knew that distances had put a premium on long-range air power to strike japan he had a new weapon roosevelt promised 200 b-29 super ports by march 1944 inside the chateau frontenac at the joint chiefs conference general arnold proposed to pierce the inner zone of japan’s homeland with the unbuilt bombers from bases to be erected in china it was a bold plan at the time of the quebec conference we only had 11 super forts half arnold’s motto is to become famous he announced the difficult we do immediately the impossible takes a little longer the situation was that the b-29 had to be sent to war within a specified time and it was the job of the people under the command of arnold to make that happen so they ended up with a situation that they had approximately five weeks to get the b-29 into action and unfortunately they found the worst weather conditions possible they had problems with transportation of parts and they also were dealing with a situation where they had partly trained crews who were trying to complete modifications to the airplane as things went wrong and had to be replaced these crews learned on the job and you had a situation for instance where they were fitting modified raid assets but they had never fitted radar sets before of any kind under direct presidential pressure arnold stepped in it said sixty armchair generals turned up to impress him but he meant business signing the one hundred and seventy fifth twenty nine arnold demanded it be ready by march the first nineteen forty four by the twenty eighth of february the hap arnold special plus all twenty nines ahead of it had been rolled out before the super fortress deployment to india and the pacific an elaborate cover plan was executed hobo queen the only yb to see active duty was sent to india via england it toured the uk for two weeks in an attempt to mislead the axis to believe the 29 was to be used in europe not an hour after landing a german reconnaissance aircraft was seen flying overhead china the focus of japanese aggression for many years here was an opportunity to strike back mainland china offered forward bases close to japan for the new b-29s bound for permanent bases in india the pacific posed the problems that bore the concept of the 29 the b-17 and b-24 had both proven great aircraft over europe with shorter distances from base to target the pacific posed huge logistic problems vast expanses of ocean that conventional warfare had not yet encountered the b-29 was simply the only aircraft that could reach japan the 20th bomber command was specifically created to hold the b-29s together as a single force to strike japan the 58th very heavy bombardment wing was made up of the 40th 444th 462nd and 468th bombardment groups they were bound for the heat and dust of india half a world away traveling east the first stop ganda bay newfoundland across the atlantic to marrakech cairo karachi and finally calcutta in preparation thousands of indian workers and u.s construction troops had upgraded indian airstrips to take the big bombers the bases were scattered around northeast india at karangapur chakulia piadoba and kindy the forward bases in china lay on the plains of chiang too just in range of the southern islands of japan from calcutta everything had to be ferried in a massive airlift operation across the jagged peaks and deep gorges of the himalayas the treacherous hump covered in ice and cloud that lay before the vast plains of

cheng-2 and the forward bases converted 29 tankers flew the route three gallons used for every one gallon of fuel off loaded at cheng2 four airstrips were constructed each eight thousand five hundred feet long to service the huge bombers each rock was turned into handmade gravel to fill and flatten the old rice paddies china mobilized its one huge resource people over a third of a million laborers worked on the construction using simple barrows buckets and wooden tools to reform the landscape fighter aircraft also had to be accommodated strips were built for them in southwest china these rollers weighed up to 10 tons and were hauled by as many as 100 men the sheer manpower was staggering but all this cost money generalissimo chiang kai-shek charged the u.s government over 200 million dollars in gold for the effort by april 1944 b-29s were landing in china ready for the raids of june raids that would prove disappointing the long distances much at high altitude the treacherous himalayas the golden air strips of cheng-2 transformed into 200 million dollar bogs by torrential rain the initial conception that the b-29 could be self-supporting a fallacy the fuel run across the hump couldn’t keep up with demand after the first raid of june the 14th raids were held up for a protracted period as there were only 5 000 gallons of suitable fuel in the whole of china these bases would not dispel the defeat of japan there were many raids from these chinese bases but range from china limited targets the 29’s just being able to reach the southern tip of japan only biting at its heels the turning point came mid 1944 when after much bitter fighting the marianas islands were rested from the japanese the loss caused the fall of the tojo cabinet these were for the b-29s the stepping stones to tokyo the three islands guam saipan and tinia were only 1 500 miles from japan construction of five b-29 bases on the three islands commenced crews working hard coral formations into airstrips through tropical heat and sudden rainstorms on october 12 1944 the first b-29 landed on isley airfield saipan joltan josie the pacific pioneer carried the new commander of the 21st bomber command brigadier general haywood s hansel as arnold’s chief of staff in washington he directed the india china offensive he would now control the 21st from the marianas the first element of the 21st bomber command has arrived when we’ve done some more fighting we’ll do some more talk was a planner and a staunch believer in strategic high altitude precision bombardment the bombs rained down on industrial and economic targets throughout japan but results were again poor b-29 losses grew as the enemy concentrated defensive fighter squadrons around these targets the high altitudes the b-29s had to climb for such raids were causing huge operational difficulties many aircraft ditching on the long journey back to the marianas arnold needed results hansel was relieved of his command arnold replacing him with general curtis e lemay maybe this man could turn the tide iwo jima captured soon after lemay’s appointment the island sits around halfway from the marianas to tokyo japanese held it was taken by us marines in february march 1945 with tremendous loss of life the still hot volcanic rock of iwo jima was carved into an unsinkable aircraft carrier now there was a safety stop in emergencies fighter escorts for the b-29s and japan was being pushed back at last lemay not a devotee to any specific tactical doctrine would try new ideas to get results ideas that would eventually

burn the heart out of japan i’d say that they respected and feared him but they knew that he could do the job and hopefully would keep them alive previously they’ve been suffering serious losses in the b-29s and uh lemay came along changed the tactics made the airplane work lemay found that hansel had built the b-29 bases in the marianas into a well-organized war machine the navy had shipped in massive stockpiles of cargo to service the vast armada safely out of range of japanese attacks lemay could see no reason for the 29’s failure to perform apart from the tactical use he had the weapon it was a case of using it in the right manner efficiently and to its full devastating potential lemay would at first allow missions to continue as before daylight raids hitting from high altitude in formation using heavy explosives he would observe the characteristics of the missions and devise a startling plan missions were planned in great detail and the map rooms collated huge amounts of data here was the control center for all b-29 operations against japan so even as these bombs rained down on japan cities lemay had pieced together the offensive of fire a campaign that in just 11 days would put to the torch 29 square miles of urban area in the following months more fire raids paired with an extensive aerial mining campaign would choke and starve the nation removing all guns and ammunition except the tail armament and leaving the gunners behind would mean a huge saving in weight allowing more payload for the new m69 incendiary fire bombs at night the 29s would approach the target at five to eight thousand feet in single file guided by pathfinder b-29s marking the target with a huge cross and fire lemay observed that japanese anti-aircraft guns were not greatly effective at low to medium altitudes and their night fighter capabilities

were very limited lower altitudes meant more range leader three times greater payload and less strain on the engines engine fatigue was perhaps the worst enemy during these high altitude raids these factors formed the base of the lemay treatment flying back to the marianas after missions the crews now had the haven of iwo jima for emergency landings many dropped in where before it was a long limp home with every chance of a ditching in the vast pacific and little chance of rescue ewo was a godsend after ewo was the long flight back to tinian saipan and guam most 29s returned safely to fly again but not all were nearly so lucky in the first great fire raid 14 aircraft out of the 279 29s sent out fell to a similar fate bad losses but in comparison minor for that raid during the night of the 9th of march 1945 is considered the single most destructive air raid ever out doing the infamous dresden raids and both atomic attacks unusually high winds that night fanned the many fires into a storm violent air currents thrust the bombers up thousands of feet the fuselage is blackened by smoke tokyo could be seen glowing 40 miles away this is not hiroshima in one night nearly 16 square miles 25 percent of all the buildings in tokyo were destroyed one million homeless 150 000 dead injured or missing the lame treatment was a terrifying success the bases in the pacific were no island paradise sometimes hot and dusty sometimes wet and muddy low morale was ever present men living close together in tent cities a cargo culture far from home and the ominous fear of not returning from the next mission the b-29 became a part of the crew pampered like a new cadillac a certain amount of customizing went on for example the official decision to remove the 20 millimeter tail cannon was not seen by some crews as a desirable step the twin 50 machine guns alone would certainly not be much of a discouragement to enemy fighters this menacing bit of set dressing made of tin was rigged up by one crew just the sight of this monster cannon kept fighters well out of range of its non-existent sting customizing of another kind was the famous b-29

nose art when the order came to remove the nozart there was a ripple of discontent but in a military situation orders were orders where the order came from nobody really seems to know there is one version that says that a number of b-29s went back the united states and when the nose art was seen there were objections to the lurid nature of it and therefore the order came back to the people in the combat zone to remove it other versions of that story are that it was decided the group level by the group commanders some wanted to run a cleaner operation than others the men’s high regard for their aircraft made their loss seem even greater jolt and josie on april fool’s day 1945 a small explosion was seen shortly after takeoff she burst into flames plunging into the bay of saipan super wabbit lost february the 19th 1945 the japanese suicide attack tore off both wings she went down no survivors little joe hit over miya kanojo on april 29 1945 the crew bailed out only six of the eleven men were rescued nose art gave them names to be remembered by but this is surely the most unforgettable name of them all on the 16th of july 1945 us scientists exploded the first atomic device in under one month a modified b-29 of the specially created 509th composite group would carry the 9700 pounds uranium bomb high above the city of hiroshima after a photographing session that make it made us feel like a hollywood premiere we got off at about uh 3 o’clock in the morning darkness and headed for iwo jima which we reached about sunrise we made uh certain adjustments and tests on the bomb during that flight we then headed for the empire and the weather improved as we went along we felt that it was our lucky day and we knew it was as we made the final approach toward hiroshima which the navigator hit right on the button bombardier took over identified the target and everything went with perfection not approached in the rehearsals a bomb was finally released exactly at the designated hour and the explosion occurred as planned uh my navigator had me perfectly lined up with the target when i touched down with my sight i could clearly see the city of hiroshima within my bomb site then i clutched down and took the run and i felt the bump of the airplane i would greatly leave because i knew the unit had gone from the airplane it successfully delivered it meant so much to the army air forces american science and industry the bomb was armed in flight by captain parsons to avoid any mishap on takeoff an ola gay flew unopposed over hiroshima well as the bomb left the airplane we took over uh manual control made it an extremely steep turn to try and put as much distance between ourselves and the explosion as possible after we felt the explosion hit the airplane that is the concussion waves we knew that a bomb had explosion had exploded everything was a success so we turned around to take a look at it the site that greeted our eyes was quite beyond what we had expected because we saw this cloud of boiling dust and debris below us with this tremendous mushroom on top beneath that was hidden the ruins of the city of hiroshima at 9 15 on the morning of the 6th of august 1945 4.5 square miles of hiroshima and 78 000 of its inhabitants ceased to exist the enola gay named for tibbetts mother remains the single most destructive weapon used in anger japan in shock

couldn’t come to a decision on peace the b-29 boxcar carried the second bomb over nagasaki another city disappeared under a billowing mushroom fears of death on the war’s last days were fueled as bombing went on after nagasaki all bombers returned as peace was declared the war was over but the b-29 still had much to accomplish with a post-war surplus of 29’s variance appeared the percussion dreamboat was a b-29b modified for long-distance flight stripped bare inside extra fuel tanks installed andy gump chinless nacelles fitted and tires filled with low weight helium it was to break the world distance flight record in november of 1945 the flying fuel tank flew 8198 miles in 35 hours in 1946 on the marshall islands in the south pacific the b-29 atomic bomber would launch the tests of a more powerful a-bomb arriving aboard the b-29 the outlaw a familiar face general lemay now deputy chief of staff of research the marshall group 5000 miles from the u.s surrounded by vast stretches of ocean the first test target bikini atoll the b-29 dave’s dream was specially modified to hold the test bomb in its bay it would deliver the payload over a target of 93 unmanned naval vessels clustered around the tiny atoll other 29s would act as weather planes flying laboratories and photographic platforms unmanned radio-controlled b-17 drones would fly through the fallout cloud to collect samples naval observation ships sat 14 miles from aimpoint at 34 seconds past 9am july the 1st the atoll and the naval target ships were rocked by a massive blast beginning operation crossroads and the string of nuclear bomb tests into the fifties the b-29 was the true pioneer of usaf in-flight refueling systems in this drogue probe system fuel was transferred down a long hose to the receiver aircraft the pilot having to close into the end rogue with a probe seen here on the wingtip much more successful was the boeing patented flying boom a rigid telescopic tube was literally flown into position by an operator in the old tail gun compartment an aerodynamic v-shaped wing at the tip of the arm allowed steering a panel of lights on the belly of the 29 gave the receiver pilot instructions to hold position during normal flight the arm could be pivoted under the tail coupling and decoupling can be seen closer in this footage of a kc-97 tanker and an early b-52 using the flying boom system pioneered by the b-29 the soviets had a b-29 of their own the tupolev tu4 was a direct copy of b-29s interned during the war 1200 were built the hap arnold special was ironically one of the 29s methodically taken to pieces and copied bolt for bolt the sb 29 super dumbo was basically a b-29 equipped with survival and rescue gear its main feature was an a3 lifeboat carried under the fuselage which could be dropped to downed crews 16 sb conversions were carried out the huge a3 lifeboat must have been a blessing to count as it was motorized and carried all manner of survival equipment first clone in 1947 the b-29 d’s designation was changed to b-50 the b-50

had a much stronger airframe later models had 700 gallon wing tanks and a one-piece plexiglass nose cup its pratt and whitney r-4360 engines produced 3500 horsepower the huge tail had a folding tip to allow entry into usaf hangers with the b-50 and new b-36 in their arsenal the usaf could afford to loan the raf 87 b-29s designated the washington bomber the b-50 the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe non-stop was the final variant of the b-29 in the late 40s the super fort would play another crucial role in the advancement of aviation this time as a mother ship for early experimental supersonic aircraft at the air force flight test center edwards air force base the bell rocket-powered research aircraft x1 would attempt to break the sound barrier a b-29 was used to air launch the parasite aircraft at around 30 000 feet in a series of flights usaf test pilot major chuck yeager took the x1 glamorous glennos up close to the sound barrier on the 14th of october 1947 jaeger punched the x1 beyond mach 1 into the smooth airflow of supersonic flight so began a string of b-29 parasite launchers that changed the face of aviation technology the loading of these x-planes was quite interesting as the huge b-29 had to be elevated on stilts the parasite x-plane was rolled underneath then hoisted clear of the ground and recessed into the modified bombays another peculiar parasite aircraft was tested from the b-29 the xf-85 goblin air-launched fighter was designed to be carried by the conveyor b-36 the goblin could be launched then picked up after completing its mission when war broke out in korea in 1950 the b-29 was to play an active and crucial role in support of the un troops used mainly in a medium level interdiction role it destroyed bridges roads and enemy communication lines the b-29 was said to be an easy target for the soviet mig-15 no match in speed altitude or firepower but the superfortress dealt many a harsh blow dropping 167 000 tons of bombs in twenty one thousand three hundred and twenty eight sorties they operated on all but twenty six days of the war shut down over thirty fighters thirty four super forts were lost in rural the b-29 also deployed the mammoth tarzan radio-controlled bombs the devastating effect in the heat of korea nose art surfaced again the 29s were soon adorned with pretty

girls and comic characters but once again the sensors moved in by the end of the korean war in 1953 the b-29 was deemed obsolescent it was soon relegated to only second line duties the last operational b-29 flew its final mission a routine radar evaluation flight on the 21st of june 1960 i think that the crews who were flying the b-29s were proud of the fact that they were flying the most advanced aircraft in the world at the time and in one specific case a pilot who flew b-29s during world war ii has always insisted that when he flies on an airline it must be an airline flying boeing planes we more or less had the feeling that we were having the cadillacs of airplanes it was the the super bomber because of that we were all quite proud and it was a good plane so you