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1935 - Project D - Bomber, Long Range (BLR)

The development of large aircraft by the Air Corps had been justified as a means of coast defense. In June 1934 the War Department had approved Project A for exploring the problem of maximum range for a reconnaissance bomber; this project brought forth the B-15. In May 1935 the Secretary of War approved a bigger and better venture, Project D, aimed at still greater size and range, which produced the giant B-19.

Both of these costly experiments were supported by the War Department, not to secure -prototypes for strategic bombardment, but to develop the most efficient aircraft for use in coast defense. During the period that these projects were under way, Air Corps leaders continued to stress that they desired large planes only for protection of the hemisphere.

Before Boeing started manufacturing the XB-15, the Army Aviation Division began to consider developing more advanced long-range aircraft. So on February 5, 1935, Army Air Corps officially released the "Project D" plan. Like "Project A" its content was also the development of an ultra-long-range combat aircraft, but it was more conceptual than the "Project A" that specifies the maximum range. "Project A" required the aircraft to have a maximum range of 5,000 miles, and the "Project D" makers said that the drafting of the requirements document was "to promote the development of military aviation by studying the maximum range that the future aircraft can achieve."

The research plan was to encourage manufacturers to make every effort to improve the performance of the aircraft. As with the previous "Project A", there are also two companies that should be marked this time. One of the Douglas Aircraft Corporations in Santa Monica, Calif., became a leading company in the commercial aircraft manufacturing industry in the United States, but never built large aircraft.

Another bidder is Sikorsky Airlines in Stafford, Connecticut, founded by Russian aviation pioneer Igor Sikorski. As early as the Tsarist Russia era, Sikorski began to develop and manufacture aircraft, the most notable of which was the development of the world’s first four-shot bomber, Ilya Murowitz, on the eve of the Great War. No. The aircraft repeatedly bombed the Germans in the First World War, causing concern from many parties. After the Tsar was overthrown in the February Revolution, Sikorski moved to the United States and opened an aircraft company named after his surname. He was known for making large water passenger planes in the 1920s and 1930s.

In the spring of 1935, it was decided to merge "Project D" and earlier "Project A" into a "Bomber, Long Range" (BLR) project. The number of aircraft purchased in the two plans also changed. The Boeing XB-15 became XBLR-1, the Douglas bomber became XBLR-2, and Sikorsky's solution was XBLR-3. As for Martin's XB-16, since it has been cancelled, the XBLR-4 number was not used.

On June 5, 1935, Douglas and Sikorsky sent representatives to the Wright base to discuss matters related to Project D with officials from the equipment division. During the talks, the military asked the two companies to submit preliminary designs within seven weeks, that is, before July 31. The details should be designed by January 31 of the following year, and the completed prototype must be delivered by March 31, 1938. The power unit is the 1600-horsepower XV-3420-1 engine supplied by Allison. Three weeks after the Wright Base talks, Luhang officially approved Boeing to start manufacturing XBLR-1, and the development of the three aircraft was on the right track.

After reviewing the wooden models of XBLR-2 and XBLR-3 in March 1936, the equipment division decided to revoke XBLR-3 and concentrate on developing Boeing and Douglas aircraft. After this failure, the heavy bomber pioneer Sikorski and his company left the field forever. Also in 1936, the Army abolished the XBLR numbering system and re-enabled the original numbering method, so Boeing XBLR-1 changed back to XB-15 and XBLR-2 became XB-19. In addition, the aircraft's powerplant was also changed. The XB-3420-1 liquid-cooled engine originally intended for XB-19 was replaced by the 2000-horsepower Wright R-3350 radial engine, and the XB-15 was replaced with Pratt-Whitney R-1830 "Double Wasp" engine.

Maj. Gen. Oscar Westover, Chief of the Air Corps, related his plea for a stronger air force to the military dangers abroad. Addressing the National Aeronautical Association in November 1936, Westover declared: “If and when the great European conflict occurs, the only way in which the neutral nations in the world can keep out of that conflict is to have such a strong national defense that none of the belligerents involved dare violate their neutrality." No suggestion was given of possible offensive operations by the big bombers.

Likewise, Maj. Gen. Frank M. Andrews, commanding the GHQ Air Force, related his arguments for long-range aircraft to the coast defense requirement. The advantages of the large plane over the smaller one, said Andrews, were greater power of self-protection, less danger of forced landings, economy of operation per bomb delivered, and ability to contact the enmy sooner and to hold him longer under surveillance and attack.

In response to a query from Maj. Gen. Stanley D. Embick of the General Staff, Andrews stated flatly that the air weapons under development were purely defensive. “It is utterly absurd to consider them as anything else and I think we should emphasize this point on all occaisions.

A year later found Andrews stressing the same theme in a lecture before the Army War College. Seeking to counteract criticisms of the big bomber projects, he told his audience: "From some sources comes the statement that the modern development of large bombers is for the purpose of aggressive action on the part of the United States. Often we hear of our large bombers spoken of as ‘Weapons of Offense,’ ‘Superbombers,’ and similar appellations. These terms are unfortunate and misleading." At the same time, Andrews pointed to the fact that commercial airlineswere planning ships of greater weightrup to 250,000 pounds, and he emphasized the superior efficiency of such aircraft in defending the nation.

The XB-15, which started two years earlier, went very smoothly at this time, and the prototype was already formed in the hangar of Boeing Airport. However, XB-19 has been slow, because it did not provide sufficient funds in 1936 and 1937. In addition, Douglas also completed a large order, including the very popular DC-3 aircraft and the B-18 Bolo.

But by this time, Douglas had doubts about the prospects of the project, and believed that the final result of the project was to create a large and useless "white elephant". So at the end of August 1938, Douglas made it clear that XB-19 was out of date without manufacturing and suggested canceling the entire project. However, the military rejected the company's proposal and insisted that the company require the completion of aircraft manufacturing.

As late as 1939 the impression persisted, outside of the Army as well as in, that the Air Corps bombers were being built purely for defense. Maj. George Fielding Eliot, the popular civilian writer on military affairs, expressed the opinion that the chief use of the American air arm in case of war would probably be to attack hostile fleets and advance bases, “For this purpose we require bombers of greater radius of action, as far as we can achieve this, than any possible enemy possesses.”

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Page last modified: 10-08-2018 02:00:14 ZULU