"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Monday, January 02, 2012


This post is about airplanes (the B-36 in particular), and is gonna have a bunch of boring photos of same.

If it's more interesting photos you seek, check out Wolf Howling's
  The Genius of Capitalism - An Alien Cathouse ...
Brothel owner Dennis Hof and famed Hollywood Madame Heidi Fleiss are teaming up to open the new "Area 51" brothel in Vegas, where all of the girls will be playing the roles of various vixens of Sci-Fi fame. It is capitalism at its most creative. 

No way can I compete with that.  Give it a look (it's safe). I'll wait.

03 Jan 2012 - 17:00 - I've already gotten a bit fond of this post, so naturally I just had to tweak it, play with it and add a couple of pictures.  Will I ever learn to just leave well enough alone?  Probably not. :-)

Ok, then.  Back to the subject at hand ...
Convair B-36D Peacemaker - from www.saceliteguard.com
("Peacemaker" was a proposed name from Convair
 - it was never an official name)

When I was a kid in San Antonio in the '50s, B-36's operated out of Kelly AFB (SAC) on the southwest edge of the city and flew over all the time.  It was very rare that one would be low enough to even come close to a view like this one.

More often, the experience was as my brother accurately described in a comment to my previous post ("Blogging is not writing..., which was mostly an expansion of a "To do" list of future posts, including this one) ...

"I'll never forget the sound and the FEEL of one passing over when we lived in San Antone....the damned thing would be so high you couldn't see it but that monstrous drone seemed to come from everywhere and you could feel the vibration if you were standing on hard ground!"

This plane had its genesis before we had officially entered WW2.  In 1941, we were worried that Britain would fall to the Nazis, and instead of having that "unsinkable aircraft carrier" to operate from, we would be looking at doing sorties from Gander, Newfoundland to Berlin, making a round-trip of 5700 miles (9200 km).

Absolutely nothing in our arsenal could even come close to doing that with a decent bomb load, so what was then the United States Army Air Corps (becoming the United States Army Air Forces in June 1941) opened a design competition which was won by the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation (later Convair) over a Boeing design in October 1941.

Our entry into WW2 (courtesy of Pearl Harbor) caused the Army to order Consolidated to slow down development of the B-36 and to concentrate on production of their B-24 Liberator bomber, which (with Boeing's B-17) was sufficient for the European theater (policy being to finish off Germany first, and then deal with Japan).

Later, as we looked to the Pacific theater of operations, work was accelerated, but Boeing's B-29 appeared to be capable of doing the job there (which it did with a vengeance).  Did the Japanese have any concept of the wind they had sown and the whirlwind they would reap? ...

       On the morning of December 7th, 1941, when the last Japanese airplane departed Pearl Harbor, some sailors picked up several leaflets which had fluttered down on the burning wreckage of Oahu.  They read: "Goddam Americans all to go hell." Period.
       This was Japan's concept of how to wage psychological warfare against the men of our armed forces.  It proved one thing immediately:  while we knew precious little of the Japanese, they knew even less of us.
       ~Martin Caidin - "A Torch to the Enemy" - 1960

The tools at hand (B-17, B-24 and B-29) were more than sufficient, so there was no real hurry to get on with the B-36.  Indeed, the B-29 was quite horrific enough.

I have a laserdisc of a made-for-TV move Hiroshima (1995), a Canadian-Japanese co-production that is compelling and accurate.  It can be found on DVD, but the DVD does not have the commentary that the laserdisc does.

In that commentary, director Roger Spottiswoode mentions that for interior shots of the B-29, they used one operated by the Confederate Air Force (now politically corrected into the Commemorative Air Force).  They operate what may be the only surviving example of a B-29 in flying condition.

Spottiswoode commiserated with the pilot about that being the only one of the thousands of those magnificent aircraft still flying.  The pilot (an Air Force veteran) was not quite so nostalgic, telling him ...

"You have to remember that this plane was built for one purpose, and one only:  to kill people by the tens of thousands.  One is more than enough!"

The delays (and lack of immediate need) meant that it was August of 1946 before the B-36's first flight.  The Air Force got its first delivery in 1948 at Carswell AFB ...
B-36A arrival Carswell 1948.- from www.dieselpunks

The plane on the left, the awesome B-29, almost looks like a toy next to it. 

03 Jan 2012 - 17:00 - I have to admit that picture looks a bit weird;  it looks like night at the edge of the field, while the shadows suggest high noon.  I suspect that is exactly the case.

What's beyond the edge of the field is a residential area with a lot of trees with dark foliage.  Carswell was a bit northwest of Ft. Worth, Texas, where development and production were moved to from California. The picture was taken in June 1948, apparently around noon, and the field was so brilliantly lit by sunlight (almost as if by a nuclear flash;   which is of course exactly what sunlight is) that adjusting the exposure to a more reasonable level resulted in that area above looking like the middle of the night.  The light objects in that area are houses peeking through the trees;  not lights.

I truly kid you not.  1'll bet this is closer to what that scene actually looked like ...

Welcome to Texas summer; now you know why pilots sport those cool sunglasses. Not as a fashion statement, but to prevent being blinded by the sunlight on a Texas airfield. :-)

For a further size comparison ...
B-36 - cropped from image at fas.org

FYI - Clicking on any of these images will get you a bigger one.

Oddly enough, the B-36 was not built with the atomic bomb in mind (because of the secrecy of the Manhattan Project), but its size made it the only plane in service, for a long time, that could handle the first-generation hydrogen bombs that were entering our arsenal.

Because of that fact it was the mainstay of our nuclear deterrence and was probably the intended tool to back up SAC General Curtis LeMay's promise to leave the Soviet Union "a smoking ruin" were they ever to attack us.  For that reason they were not used in the Korean war, as we still had plenty of B-29s available for strategic bombing there.

The B-36 served for only 10 years (1949 to 1959), primarily because it had already become obsolete as we were well into the jet age when it entered service.

You'll notice, in the Carswell picture above, that the delivered model (B-36A)  had only the six piston engines to drive it.  Six 3250 hp engines (vs the four 2200 hp engines that powered the B-29).  Beginning with the "D" model and continuing with subsequent models, four jet engines were added near the ends of the wings, in twin pods very similar to those on the Boeing B-47;  so similar in fact, I can't help wondering if they are the same pods, with only slight modifications to the pylons for mounting on a very different wing.

04 Jan 2012 - 12:27 - A little more research ( Castle Air Museum RB-36H Peacemaker 51-13730 ) discloses that is exactly the case about the jet pods.  I actually get something right once in a while.  Cool :-) ...
B-36 Jet Pod - from www.air-and-space.com - added 04 Jan 2012 13:20

That essentially is the same jet pod as used by early models of Boeing's B-47, probably without the outrigger landing gear of the B-47 (although the pod retains the fairing to enclose it). Convair bought some from Boeing, and used a modified pylon to attach them to the B-36's wing.  Biggest difference is the metal petals that expand to close off the inlet when the engine is not running (which is most of the time) to keep said engine from windmilling in the windstream while the bomber is cruising.  They retract when you need to fire up those engines.

Those jets were mainly used to assist take-off (the earlier models used a lot of runway getting airborne with a maximum load) and for extra dash speed over the target after releasing the bomb and trying to get the Hell out of Dodge before it went off.  Otherwise, they normally weren't running.

B-36 formation - from www.456fis.org - added 03 Jan 2012 - 17:00

In the short span of its service, its replacements were already being developed.  To try and extend the life of the design, Convair made a version with swept wings and tail surfaces, powered by eight jet engines of the same type as used on its ultimate successor, the Boeing B-52.

This version was ...
Convair YB-60 - from jetpilotoverseas.files.wordpress.com

... designated YB-60 and was in competition with the B-52, ultimately losing because, while quite beautiful, it was outperformed by the B-52 in every parameter.  Not all that surprising as Convair was trying to evolve a ten-year old design while Boeing started with a clean slate.

Did the Air Force make the right choice there?  The B-52 first flew in 1952 (same year as the YB-60;  I remember seeing the first YB-60 flights in newsreels in theaters at that time) and went into service in 1955.  So, its service life is nearing 57 years now, and it just might have another decade or two left in it.

All in all, the B-36 was a pretty awesome airplane.  Even though it never saw action.

Anything else out there that's just as awe-inspiring?

Well, the B-52 ain't exactly a shrinking-violet.

But, I'd be tempted to go with a Russian model from that era ...
Tupolev Tu-95 Bear - from globalsecurity.org

A contemporary of the B-52, it was the Soviet Union's premier long range heavy bomber.  A monster of similar size, it's powered by four 15000 hp turboprop engines:  each driving a pair of contra-rotating (turning in opposite directions) propellers.

Possibly one of the fastest propeller-driven aircraft ever, its engines drive those huge propellers (at least their tips) faster than sound, making it arguably the loudest airplane on the planet.

Because of its long range it has been (and currently still is) used as a reconnaissance aircraft operating along our eastern coast and therefore attracting some of our fighters to escort it and show them that we care.
Added 08 APR 2018

Blogger Frank Martin (Varifrank) noted in a post about one of those enounters ...

I once had an F-4 Pilot tell me that the Bear was the only aircraft that could be found in the air by sound alone, that they only had to turn off the radar and stick their helmets against the canopy and listen for the sound of those huge turboprops.  The noise from the Bear's engines is supposed to be enough to stun a small animal into a coma at 50 yards.

There is a naval version of this plane, designated Tu-142.  Instead of being outfitted to carry H-bombs, it's loaded with electronics for hunting submarines and also with aerial-dropped torpedoes and anti-ship missiles for dealing with them.

The Indian Navy has some of these, and several are tasked with patrolling the waters off of Somalia to help with anti-piracy efforts there.  In May 2011, a Chinese freighter was attacked by Somali pirates and called for help.  An Indian Tu-142M was in the area and buzzed them at low level.

Those pirates probably got this view of it ...
Tu-142M2 - from acig.org

I have no idea if the Indian pilot decided to have a bit of fun and fire-walled the throttles when he passed over them, but considering the noise described above, I'll sure bet he got their attention.

Bottom line:  they left.



GW said...

Thanks for the plug Paul. I would not have that it possible to combine , even in limited fashion, discussions of the evolution of our strategic bomber force with alien prostitution. Nice post.

Gary Binkley said...

I for one have no problem with combining Jolene Blalock and Jeri Ryan with strategic bombers,or the Enterprise,or a covered wagon or anything else for that matter....but maybe that's just the redneck in me reacting to their beauty!That being said,the Peacemaker is still one of my all time favorite planes....right next to the Blackbird( which is one scary looking beast flying low and slow!)Good start for the year!

Jerry Pournelle said...

I once took a 24 hour flight on a B-36, just toward the end of service of the ship. It was big, fairly comfortable, and the flight was uneventful.

We were in the process of converting the original B-52 to the H model in which the tail gunner was in the main cabin above the bomb/nav compartment. We were also putting Hound Dog standoff missiles on the BUFF. The Buff is a lovely airplane. And still she flies, a bunch of parts in loose formation.

Jerry Pournelle

Paul Gordon said...

And still she flies, a bunch of parts in loose formation.

I couldn't help flashing on the movie "Serenity" (sort of a final episode of one of my favorite short-lived future-fantasy (not science-fiction; the "science" would rattle around in a thimble) series "Firefly") where their ship is taking off end the end, a piece flies off, and the final line of dialog is "WHAT was THAT?" :-)

Gary Binkley said...

Parts in loose formation makes me think of what a former business partner showed me one time in 1985,..he was also in the Air Gaurd at the time and we were bored,so we wound up on the flight line at Little Rock AFB watching a group of C-130s take off ( they train on them at LRAFB,which seems to include flying over my house at crop duster altitude!)...after they took off a small parade of jeeps and pickups made passes down the runway for a while...Jim informed me that was normal routine to clean the strip of odd pieces and nuts and bolts from the Herkybirds,so other planes to avoid damage...makes you wonder sometime!

Anonymous said...

If you get to Tucson, the Pima Air Museum has a B-36 on outdoor display. We happened to get to watch it roll out after non-flyable restoration. Beautiful and imposing aircraft nestled among an impressive collection of other huge aircraft. (No affiliation with museum, just enjoy seeing the unsung old big birds up close and personal.)

PapayaSF said...

There's an RB-36H on display at the Castle Air Museum in Atwater, California. "Six turning and four burning!"

Anonymous said...

Hi, i think that i saw you visited my site thus i came to “return the favor”.I'm attempting to find things to enhance my web site!I suppose
its ok to use some of your ideas!!

Paul Gordon said...

Go ahead. I'm FINE with THAT. :-)


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