Cold War Era

Five turning, one not! Rare photo shows B-36 Peacemaker flying with number 3 propeller “feathered”

Feathering the propeller while flying the B-36 Peacemaker refers to rotating the blades to reduce their drag so the fat side of the blades aren’t against the wind stream.

Taken by Lt. Col Frank F. Kleinwechter and appeared on Fans of the B-36 Facebook Group, the cool photo in this post features a Convair B-36 Peacemaker strategic bomber flying with number 3 propelled feathered.

The photo also shows five other B-36s in the background – six Peacemakers would sound incredible flying over you!

As explained by several members of the group who flew and worked on the mighty B-36, feathering the propeller refers to rotating the blades to reduce their drag so the fat side of the blades aren’t against the wind stream.

Think of a windmill — the blades flat to the wind, in order to “bite” into it to create thrust. If the prop is not being powered, those flat faces make a lot of drag. So you turn the blades “sideways” so that they present less of a “face” to the airstream.

When a B-36 engine was shut down for mechanical problems the angle of the prop on that engine was changed in order to reduce the drag of that prop in the windstream. Feathering also prevents damage to the engine.

Although the B-36 was composed of a familiar cigar-shaped fuselage, its six 28-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-4360 ‘Wasp Major’ radial engines were positioned in an unorthodox rearward-facing pusher configuration, which succeeded in smoothing the airflow over its massive wings.

Noteworthy the aircraft portrayed in this photo looks pre jet pods too: beginning with the B-36D, Convair added a pair of General Electric J47-19 jet engines suspended near the end of each wing; these were also retrofitted to all extant B-36Bs. Consequently, the B-36 was configured to have 10 engines, six radial propeller engines and four jet engines, leading to the B-36 slogan of “six turnin’ and four burnin’ ”. The B-36 had more engines than any other mass-produced aircraft. The jet pods greatly improved takeoff performance and dash speed over the target. In normal cruising flight, the jet engines were shut down to conserve fuel. When the jet engines were shut down, louvers closed off the front of the pods to reduce drag and to prevent ingestion of sand and dirt. The jet engine louvers were opened and closed by the flight crew in the cockpit, whether the B-36 was on the ground or in the air.

Thanks to the B-36, the US had a powerful deterrent against Soviet aggression during the Cold War. The B-36 never saw combat action and never dropped a bomb on an enemy target, but did obtain a measure of fame when flown by Jimmy Stewart—a real-life Air Force Reserve brigadier general—flew it in the movie “Strategic Air Command. ” More importantly, the mammoth aircraft remained a potent deterrent throughout its service, and more than lived up to its nickname, “Peacemaker.”

Photo credit: Lt. Col Frank F. Kleinwechter / U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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