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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

B-29 Superfortress - Design

Technically a generation ahead of all other heavy bomber types in World War II, the Superfortress was pressurized for high altitudes and featured remotely-controlled gun turrets. Most important, its four supercharged Wright R-3350-23 engines gave it the range to carry large bomb loads across the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean.

A test flight of the plane's XB-29 prototype ended in tragedy Feb. 18, 1943, when an engine caught fire and the plane crashed. The pilot, crew and 19 people on the ground were killed. The Boeing Company declared that it was "not going to build this airplane. It's no good. It has too many problems." Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold, the Air Force's first general officer, argued with Boeing and threatened to force them to repay the $200 million that they had been given to build the planes. Faced with having to pay back money already received, Boeing agreed to "operate the factories," but they would "not take any responsibility for the airplane." The Army took over the test program after the crash. Development continued that summer with flight testing of the YB-29 even as hurried production versions of the B-29 were being turned out.

In December 1943, it was decided not to use the B-29 in the European Theater, thereby permitting the airplane to be sent to the Pacific area where its great range made it particularly suited for the long over water flight required to attack the Japanese homeland from bases in China. As it came into the AAF inventory in mid-1944, the B-29 weighed 140,000 pounds loaded, with an effective range of 3,250 miles. Pavements failed, and at their best, behaved erratically. No airfield pavement had been designed for more than 120,000 pounds gross weight. The Corps of Engineers began experiments anew with pavement overlays at Hamilton Field north of San Francisco.

Construction of the B-29 was thoroughly conventional. As standardized by Boeing and the aircraft industry during the pre World War II decade, the new bomber had an all metal fuselage with fabric covered control surfaces. On the other hand, and in spite of being a further development of the B-17, the B-29 was a radically different airplane, featuring significant aerodynamic innovations. Included were a high aspect ratio wing mid mounted on the circular section fuselage; huge Fowler flaps that increased the wing area by 19 percent when extended," and also raised the lift coefficient; a dual wheel retractable tricycle landing gear; flush riveting and butt jointing to reduce drag (the landing gear lowered contributed 50 percent of the resistance); and pressurized compartments for the usual crew of 10.

For defensive armament, the B-29 was equipped with non retractable turrets mounting ten .50 caliber machine guns and one 20 millimeter cannon (which was dropped from later models). All turrets were remotely operated by a General Electric central fire control system. The B-29's complex, revolutionary defensive gunnery system featured five sighting stations which could selectively fire the four remote gun turrets and the manned tail turret. The sighting station on display was used on the B-29 Superfortress Command Decision.

The B-29 gunnery system had many advantages over the manned turrets used on nearly all bombers before the B-29. For instance, computers and gyros automatically calculated factors like bullet drop, speed of the B-29, speed of the target, etc. Most importantly, one gunner could aim and fire multiple turrets against a single target.

The B-29 also had an extensive radio and radar equipment that included a liaison set, radio compass, marker beacon, glide path receiver, localizer receiver, IFF (identification friend or foe) transformer, emergency rescue transmitter, blind bombing radar (on many aircraft), radio countermeasures, and static dischargers.

Another special and for a while greatly troublesome feature of the B-29 was the brand new, but fire prone, 18 cylinder Wright R-3350-23 engine. The 4 engines were mounted by 4 bladed Hamilton constant speed, full feathering propellers, 16 feet, 7 inches in diameter. In addition, instead of the traditional single unit, each engine made use of 2 turbo superchargers.

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Page last modified: 23-07-2018 13:44:50 ZULU