The B-29 bomber, produced by the Boeing Aircraft Company during World War II, was the first long-range heavy bomber employed by the United States. It was primarily used in the war's Pacific Theater, and became notorious as the plane used to drop the world's first atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, Aug. 6 and 9, 1945.
In the 1930s the War Department and the Joint Army-Navy Board had limited the role of teh Army's air striking force to quasi-independent activities. These were largely defensive in character, subordinating strategic bombardment to counterair activities and to such over-water operations “in support of or in lieu of naval forces” as were allowed by the Joint Action of the Army and Navy of 11 September 1935.
This view was epitomized in an Air Corps memo of 1935: "National policy, geographic location of bases and the present range of planes which does not permit the air attack of the national structure of any probable enemy, dictate the role of the GHQ Air Force as one of air defense and fix its true objective."
In 1935, Gen. Haywood S. Hansell, an instructor at the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, wrote “If we were dragged into a war which had been precipitated by other great powers among themselves, we would inevitably find allies. Those allies being themselves within the sphere of air influence, could provide operating bases for our Air Force .... [to which] it is possible, with modern aircraft, to fly direct .... from the Western Hemisphere.” [Hansell later commanded American strategic bombing of Germany and Japan in World War II].
In 1938-1939 “hemisphere defense” supplanted “national defense” as a slogan, and this theory was extended to cover new territories, but strategically it remained much the same. Ostensibly, at least, the B-29 was designed in 1940 to prevent Axis powers from establishing bases in Latin America rather than to carry the atom bomb to Hiroshima.
In June 1940 an Air Corps general, anxious to secure the aid of the automobile industry’s most prominent pacifist and rabid anti-Semite, could write in all seriousness: “It should not be difficult to convince Mr. Ford that the bomber, as far as we are concerned, is not an offensive weapon but the best means we have available to defend the United States."
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress had its official beginning on February 5, 1940, when the Air Corps called for a "Hemispheric Defense Weapon".
The Boeing B-29 was designed in 1940 as an eventual replacement for the B-17 and B-24. The first one built made its maiden flight on Sept. 21, 1942. Developing the Boeing B-29 was a program which rivaled the Manhattan Project in size and expense.
The end of World War II prompted the cancellation of over 5,000 B-29s, still on order in September 1945. However, several B 29s well along in production were completed. For all practical purposes, production did not end before June 1946, the last B-29 being delivered on the 10th.
The AAF accepted a grand total of 3,960 B-29s: 3,943 B-29s, 3 XB-29s (including the experimental plane which crashed before delivery), and 14 B-29 prototypes. Actually, B-29s, B-29As, and B-29Bs made up the production total. The B-29 and B-29A were alike and barely differed from the B-29B. The B model was about 2,000 pounds lighter than the A, had an extra 150 feet in service ceiling, and a slightly longer range.
Immediately post-World War II, SAC's bomber inventory housed the B-29 Superfortress, the plane that had dropped atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1946, the Soviets began design of their long-range bomber, the Tu-4, modeled directly on B-29s captured during 1944. The B-29 was SAC's first Cold War aircraft, and even as late as the close of 1948 the Air Force had modified only 60 of the planes to carry the atomic bomb. Its infrastructure, hangars, and ancillaries were reused from World War II facilities. While the B-29 was the long-range aircraft that revolutionized air war, the aircraft could only fly the U.S.-Soviet corridor one way, and could not achieve that distance heavily loaded.
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