B-29 Superfortress: How This Bomber Changed the US Air Force Forever

B-29 was the bomber that ended World War 2.
B-29 Superfortress soars during 2019 Wings Over Whiteman Air and Space Show

The B-29 Superfortress is one of the most iconic aircraft of the United States for its impressive performance during WWII – and it is a symbol of a new atomic era.

This aircraft changed the course of WWII in favor of the United States and redefined what long-range strategic bombers could do, influencing the creation of future aircraft like the B-52 Stratofortress.

That’s why the B-29 changed the U.S. Air Force forever, and even today, B-29s like the Enola Gay, which dropped the world’s first atomic bomb, are among the most famous aircraft.

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The legend of the B-29 Superfortress

B 29 Engines
B-29 Engines by Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot. Public Domain

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress is an American four-engine heavy bomber used during WWII and the Korean War, and it was in service until 1960. 

The Superfortress was built for high-altitude strategic bombing, and it was produced in great numbers for the USAF between 1943 and 1946. In fact, a total of 3,970 B-29s were made, and today 2 of them keep flying, the FIFI and Doc.

In 1945, the B-29 made history for being the aircraft that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and it became the only aircraft to ever use atomic weapons in combat. 

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Technologically speaking, the aircraft was one of the cutting-edge aircraft of its time because of its armament, performance, aerodynamics, the capacity to carry up to 20,000 pounds (9,100 kilograms) of bombs, and range of around 2,667 nautical miles (4,939 kilometers).

Also, Superfortresses carried out the most extensive bombing ever seen in history to date, the bombing of Tokyo with firebombs which led to massive fires destroying most of the city and killing an estimated 80,000 to 130,000 civilians.

B-29 modernized the Air Force

FIFI cockpit
FIFI cockpit by Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot. Public Domain

Before WWII, the United States Army Air Forces concluded that the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress would be insufficient for flying long distances and carrying a considerable payload. 

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Consequently, Boeing started innovating based on the B-17 design to create a new bomber with improved capabilities. The result was the one of the greatest aircraft of WWII, the B-29.

It had top-of-the-line technology for the time, including a pressurized cabin, dual-wheeled, and innovative landing gear. IT also featured the world’s remote-controlled gun turrets, increasing the crew’s survivability. First, In fact, for an aircraft that had very little time for flight tests and development, it brought a key innovation: the first pressurized and soundproofed bomber cabin.

At the time, having a pressurized cabin was a major innovation that significantly increased pilot performance and ease of operation. With these innovations, it was no longer necessary to carry oxygen cylinders or wear bulky clothing because of the freezing temperatures at high altitudes.

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Specs

Boeing B 29 Superfortress Enola Gay 5
Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay 5 by Mike Peel, Licensed under CC by 4.0

The Superfortress was ahead of its time and an inspiration for future bomber developments. Some of the most outstanding features are:

  • Crew: 11
  • Length: 99 feet (30.18 meters)
  • Wingspan: 141 feet 3 inches (43.05 meters)
  • Height: 27 feet 9 inches (8.46 meters)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 133,500 pounds(60,555 kilograms)
  • Cruise speed: 220 mph (350 km/h)
  • Service ceiling: 31,850 feet (9,710 meters)  

The inspiration for other bombers

FIFI
FIFI by Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot. Public Domain

The B-29 was the inspiration for a new generation of bomber aircraft such as the B-50 Superfortress and B-52 Stratofortress which were based on this design although each included improvements.

Likewise, the Soviet version of the B-29, the Tupolev Tu-4 was an almost exact reproduction of the B-29 that gave the Soviet Union a greater range of action, and even the ability to bomb the United States for the first time.

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The B-29 changed U.S. military aviation forever

For American Aviation, the B-29 marked a breakpoint with its many technical innovations. Especially with the use of a pressurized cabin to lower crew stress on long missions.

Moreover, this aircraft is legendary and still remembered for its achievements in the pacific theater during WWII.


Feature image credit: B-29 Superfortress soars during 2019 Wings Over Whiteman Air and Space Show by Staff Sgt. Kayla White. Public Domain

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