RB-29:Nearly 120 B-29s were converted to the reconnaissance configuration and redesignated as RB-29s. Some of these aircraft, known as F 13s during World War II, were first fitted with fairly primitive photographic equipment: 3 K 1713s, 2 K 22s, and 1 K 18 camera. At that time, the best piston-engine bombers had a maximum payload of 20,000 pounds of bombs with a range of 2,300 miles. Reconnaissance was in its infancy; recon planes, such as the RB-29, were manned, used some radar, and couldn't fly higher than 33,000 feet.
After 1948, when the RB-29 designation came into being, the converted bombers began acquiring more sophisticated components. The RB-29s were assigned to the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, which like other SAC units played a crucial role during the Korean conflict. The RB-29s followed the phaseout pattern of the bombers from which they derived. The same reasons prompted their retirement.
At the end of October 1950, six Chinese armies totaling approximately 180,000 men were in Korea and more were coming, all unnoticed by the UN command. Why and how were these troops not seen? A major reason was that the cuts in the armed forces after World War II left the Air Force with just the shell of an aerial reconnaissance force. When the Korean War began, the Air Force had the equivalent of one tactical reconnaissance group (three squadrons), of which one RF-80A squadron was assigned to Far East Air Force [FEAF]. Strategic reconnaissance wasn't much better--one RB-29 reconnaissance squadron was also assigned to FEAF. An RB-26 squadron did reach Korea in August, followed by an RF-51 outfit which began operations in November. But all of these units shared a common problem--outmoded equipment and not even enough of that.
In March 1954, US Air Force Security Service [USAFSS] initiated a new concept in reconnaissance collection by implementing its Airborne Reconnaissance Program effort. One RB-29 began flying missions in the Far East in April 1954. This was the only aircraft, Airmen assigned to the 6920th Security Group, Johnson, Air Base, Japan repair radios--1953. which USAFSS already had jurisdiction over, engaged in the Airborne Reconnaissance Program effort at that time; however, USAFSS had personnel serving as operators aboard 343d Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron RB-50G ECM aircraft.
WB-29: Some B-29s were modified to carry meteorological equipment and used on weather reconnaissance flights. Designated as WB-29s in 1948, these aircraft were the last B-29s to phase out of the regular Air Force. WB-29s were modified from production B-29s for weather reconnaissance missions. Besides conducting standard weather data gathering flights, WB-29s were also used as "Hurricane Hunters." The aircraft would fly into the eye of the Hurricane or Typhoon to gather weather data. On October 26, 1952, all crewmembers of a WB-29 were killed when their craft crashed attempting to make a low-level penetration of Typhoon Wilma, near Leyte Island.
Some WB-29s were fitted with air sampling scoops to test for airborne radiation levels after nuclear weapon tests conducted above ground. General Dwight D. Eisenhower commissioned the Constant Phoenix program on 16 September 1947 when he charged the Army Air Forces with the overall responsibility for detecting atomic explosions anywhere in the world. On September 3, 1949 an Air Weather Service WB-29 flying from Japan to Alaska picked up atomic particles in a paper filter. Lab tests revealed that the filter, which had been exposed at 18,000 feet for three hours, contained a significant radiation count of 50 per minute. Subsequent flights revealed counts of up to 1,000 per minute. President Truman announced on September 23, 1949, that the Soviet Union had exploded a nuclear devise -- an event thought not possible until mid-1950. The Cold War took on a new meaning
The Korean calm was shattered on Sunday morning, June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces pushed across the 38th parallel into South Korea. Less than 24 hours after the initial assault, an Air Weather Service WB-29, crewed by members of the 512th Reconnaissance Squadron at Yokota, Japan, conducted the first weather reconnaissance flight over the Korean peninsula. The 512th and the 20th Weather Squadron at Nagoya, Japan, were part of the 2143rd Air Weather Wing, headquartered at Tokyo, Japan, and under the command of then Col. Thomas S. Moorman, Jr. The 2143rd was responsible for providing the bulk of weather support to the allied forces in the Korean War. Throughout the Korean War, WB-29 crews flew daily combat sorties over the peninsula. The 512th was redesignated the 56th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Medium, Weather, Feb. 20, 1951. Over the course of the first year of the War, the 56th flew more than 400 combat weather reconnaissance flights, totaling in excess of 5,600 combat flying hours. The 56th continued at that pace until the end of hostilities, without a single combat loss.
The 58th Reconnaissance Squadron (Medium, Weather) earned the nickname "Pole Vaulters" for their frequent trips over the North Pole. The unit flew WB-29 and WB-50 aircraft until its inactivation in 1958.
Unlike the B-17 and B-25, B-29s were not declared surplus and released to the commercial market. This is the primary reason so few B-29s survive today. The Air Force phased out its last B-29 aircraft - a WB-29-in September 1960. Tail number 44-27343 stayed at Army Proving Grounds in Aberdeen, Md. for 30 years before the Air Force decided it needed a B-29 at Tinker again. Tail number 44-27343 was restored and now bears World War II Army Air Force insignia and mock twin machine guns in its restructured tailgunner's compartment. Large round patches in the fuselage show where it once had upper and lower gun turrets and bulging round windows in its sides. Now maintained by volunteers from the Propulsion Management Directorate, it was dedicated in its present place of honor on Sept. 12, 1986.
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