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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

B-47A Stratojet

The Air Force began to plan for the procurement of B-47 productions in December 1947 at about the same time the experimental version first flew and planning in the following months centered on the production of 54 B-47s (13 B-47As and 41 B-47Bs). A serious misunderstanding arose during the ensuing negotiations. The Air Force assumed $35 million would pay for 10 aircraft and enough tooling for the production of an additional 44. Boeing thought tooling and plant expenses to build 54 B-47s would reach $31 million, without counting the actual cost of each plane. In any case, when Boeing received an official production go ahead in September 1948, it was only authorized to proceed with the engineering, planning, tool design, procurement of tool materials, and placing of subcontracts for 10 B 47s, in an amount not to exceed $35 million. Moreover, production would not take place in Seattle, as Boeing wished, but at a government owned plant in Wichita, Kansas a shift that accounted in part for the slippage that later occurred.

The production letter contract was made on 22 November 1948. This letter contract (W33-038-ac-22413) covered a first order of 10 B-47As for $28 million and the future procurement of 3 additional B-47As and 41 B-47Bs, at a cost still to be negotiated. In keeping with routine procurement practices, the letter contract of November 1948 was amended more than once. First, the 3 additional B-47As were canceled; then on 28 February 1949, the number of B-47Bs on order was raised from 41 to 55. The Air Force had interrupted Boeing's testing earlier in the month and flown the first XB-47 to Andrews AFB, Maryland, where it was shown to members of the House Armed Services Committee. The 3 hour flight from Moses Lake AFB, Washington, on 8 February 1949 averaged 602.2 miles per hour over a 2,289 mile course and set an unofficial transcontinental speed record. Evidently, the XB-47 was capable of reaching great speeds, but the Air Force still considered its combat speed too slow. The Air Force also ordered the design and construction of a ground test rig for the prototype jet assisted take off system that it believed future B-47s would need.

It took months of hard bargaining to arrive at a fair price for the B-47Bs covered by the letter contract of November 1948, as amended in June 1949. The definitive $208.7 million contract (W33-038-ac-22413) of November 1949 was actually a compromise. The Air Force settled for 87 B-47Bs (15 less than planned during the preceding June), and Boeing's fixed fee was reduced. The contract still required that the B-47B be developed according to the new specifications that had been issued in September 1948. These called for single point refueling (through 1 opening), tactical type assisted take off (ATO) installation, external fuel tanks, increased gross weight (202,000 pounds after in flight refueling), the K-2 bombing and navigational system (also earmarked for the B-47A), and an unmanned radar controlled tail turret all of which would require some redesign of the wing, body and landing gear. Delivery schedules, however, remained unaltered. The 10 B-47As were due between April and November 1950; the 87 B-47Bs, between December 1950 and December 1951.

Even though deliveries had been scheduled to start in March 1950, Boeing did not fly the first B-47A until 25 June. It took another year to deliver all 10 B 47As on order to the Air Force.

Runways of adequate length were available at Wichita, Kansas. Hence in line with the change of production location, testing was shifted from Seattle in the fall of 1949. Moses Lake AFB was transferred to the Continental Air Command at about the same time.

Continued flight testing of the B-47A and of the first XB-47 revealed that neither plane was safe, mainly because both were underpowered. Also, critical braking problems occurred following refused takeoffs, and after gross weight landings on wet runways. In addition, after refused landings, go arounds were hazardous owing to the jet engines' poor acceleration. The answer lay in equipping B-47 productions with higher thrust engines and drogue parachutes that would act as in flight air brakes. But these remedies were not yet available. Modifications of subsequent B-47As yielded sufficient improvements, but not without considerable delay. Yet none of the changes recommended by a March 1950 USAF engineering inspection reached any of the B-47As.

Many factors accounted for the production slippage that plagued the B-47 program from the start. The XB-47's flight to Andrews in February 1947 set back Boeing tests for several weeks. Relocation from Seattle to Wichita took time. Modification of the second XB-47 in August 1950 and allocation of the aircraft to Operation Greenhouse (a Pacific atomic test scheduled for 1951) was another testing handicap. Still, Boeing claimed that the principal reason for the B-47A production delay was that the concept of both the B-47A configuration and the overall B-47 program had been changed by the Air Force in September 1948 (when the production decision was made). The Air Force, on the other hand, pointed out that the requirements of 1948 barely affected the B-47As. Also, the engineering changes requested in March 1950 were to be made on a "no delay" basis on the B-47Bs and had no bearing on the B-47As.

None of the B-47As saw operational duty. Never considered as true production aircraft, the B-47As were unarmed and at first practically bare of components; upon delivery, only 4 of the 10 were equipped with the K-2 Bombing Navigational System. One of their few advantages probably lay in their crew ejection seats, a controversial feature deleted from the first B-47B lots.' In addition to their training role, the B-47As were used in extensive tests. Some stayed with the Air Proving Ground Command. Two were designated to try out the A-2 and A-5 fire control systems.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:34:53 ZULU