The genesis of the Convair B-36 Peacemaker can be traced to early 1941, prior to the entry of the US into World War II. At the time, the threat existed that Britain might fall to the German “Blitz”, making a strategic bombing effort by the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) against Germany impossible with the aircraft of the time.
The US would need a new class of bomber that would reach Europe and return to bases in North America, necessitating a combat range of at least 5,700 miles (9,200 km), the length of a Gander, Newfoundland–Berlin round trip. The USAAC therefore sought a bomber of truly intercontinental range, similar to the German Reichsluftfahrtministerium’s (RLM) ultralong-range Amerikabomber program, the subject of a 33-page proposal submitted to Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering on May 12, 1942.
As the Pacific war progressed, the US increasingly needed a bomber capable of reaching Japan from its bases in Hawaii, and the development of the B-36 resumed in earnest. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, in discussions with high-ranking officers of the US Army Air Forces (USAAF), decided to waive normal army procurement procedures, and on Jul. 23, 1943 – some 15 months after the Germans’ Amerikabomber proposal’s submission made it to their RLM authority, and coincidentally, the same day that, in Germany, the RLM had ordered the Heinkel firm to design a six-engined version of their own, BMW 801E powered Amerikabomber design proposal – the USAAF submitted a “letter of intent” to Convair, ordering an initial production run of 100 B-36s before the completion and testing of the two prototypes.
The first delivery was due in August 1945, and the last in October 1946, but Consolidated (by this time renamed Convair after its 1943 merger with Vultee Aircraft) delayed delivery. The aircraft was unveiled on Aug. 20, 1945 (three months after V-E Day), and flew for the first time on Aug. 8, 1946.
How effective would the B-36 Peacemaker have been if it got into World War II?
‘While the cruise speed of the B-36 was basically the same as the B-29 (around 235 MPH) it could do it at over 40,000 feet! There were no anti-aircraft cannon that could reach that altitude in World War II.
‘It’s range of 4,000 miles (in the early versions) with a 10,000 lb payload didn’t quite give it the range to attack Japan from the Aleutians but it could easily attack Berlin from Iceland. For shorter distances, the aircraft could carry up to 72,000 lbs of bombs.
‘Of course, if any fighters could climb to an altitude which would put the B-36 into danger, it could ably defend itself with 16 20mm cannon (12 in remote turrets).
‘There would only be one issue and it isn’t a trivial one – the B-36 required much longer, wider and thicker runways than any other aircraft up to that point in time. When the first B-36 made its first flight, there were only three runways in the world that could handle the aircraft. The efforts to build B-29 runways around the world would be seen as creating goat paths in comparison to the effort that would be required for the B-36.’
‘But I would expect the war would have been over much, much sooner.’
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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