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The Convair B-36 "Peacemaker"

B-36 Variants

History Of The B-36

The B-36 At The Crossroads

Flying The B-36

B-36 Diagrams

The Convair B-36

The Battle Of The B-36




The Parasite Ffighters The XF-85 GOBLIN

Project Tom-Tom

Project  FICON

The Nuclear B-36


Consolidated Vultee / Convair B-36 "Peacemaker"


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The B-36 became the first true intercontinental bomber. Designed by Consolidated, the Model 36 was selected over three competing concepts for an aircraft able to deliver a payload of 10,000 lb to targets in Europe from bases in the US. The resulting B-36 bomber, though too late to see action in World War II, was likely the largest bomber ever to enter production. The design featured a
pressurized fuselage with a raised cockpit for improved visibilty. Besides its size, the B-36's most recognizable feature is its six pusher-prop piston engines. Later models were also equipped with four jet engines mounted in outboard pods permitting increases in maximum takeoff weight, payload, maximum speed, and service ceiling. Entering service in the late 1940s, the B-36 became the backbone of the US Strategic Air Command in the early days of the Cold War.


The First Intercontinental Strategic Bomber

From an article by Col (Ret) Francis H Potter


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In April 1941 the US Army Air Force revealed its specification for a heavy bomber able to lift a prodigious 72,000 lb of bombs but also possessing the range to deliver 10,000 lb of bombs onto European targets from US bases. This led to the model 36 as the world's first inter-continental bomber, designed with a pressurized fuselage and huge thick section wings carrying six R-4360-25 radial each driving a pusher propeller. The original design featured endplate vertical surface, but the XB-36 that first flew in August 1946 had a single fin/rudder assemble. 






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Design of the B-36 was started under the Consolidated designation Model 36. It was produced by Consolidated Vultee under the trade name Convair.

The B-36 was the world's first true intercontinental bomber, that is a bomber with enough range to carry a heavy bomb load to targets halfway around the world. The requirement for this bomber called for an aircraft able to deliver a 10,000 lb payload to targets in Europe from bases in the US. Consolidated won the contract to build the large new aircraft when the company's Model 36 was selected over three competing concepts.

The resulting B-36 Peacemaker, though too late to see action in World War II, was the largest production bomber ever built. The design featured a pressurized fuselage with a raised cockpit for improved visibilty. Besides its size, the most recognizable feature of the B-36 was its six pusher-propeller piston engines. Later models were also equipped with four jet engines mounted in outboard pods permitting increases in maximum takeoff weight, payload, maximum speed, and service ceiling.

Entering service in the late 1940s, the B-36 became the backbone of the US Strategic Air Command in the early days of the Cold War. Several models were also built for reconnaissance duties. One of the more unusual reconnaissance versions featured smaller "parasite" aircraft carried aloft by the gigantic bomber and released during flight to extend the smaller aircraft's range. Other unique variants of the B-36 included the NB-36 radiation research aircraft and XC-99 transport model. Consolidated also built and tested a pure jet derivative called the YB-60, but this new design was rejected by the USAF in favor of the B-52 Stratofortress. The final B-36 was withdrawn from service in 1959.




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Convair B-36 Peacemaker Bomber coldwar cold war peace maker


The idea for this big plane came along in the '40s. Our leaders felt we needed a bomber capable of making an ocean crossing, bomb the European continent, and return. If the Germans would be successful in denying us the use of bases in England, we would have no planes capable of bombing them. So, on April 11, 1941, the Army Air Corps was authorized to ask Consolidated Aircraft and others to submit plans for a bomber capable of flying at 25, 000 feet, 275 mph, and carrying a payload of 4,000 lbs. This resulted in competition between the Consolidated XB-36 and the Northrop XB-35 flying wing. A later all Jet "flying wing," the YB-49, was also developed. This model had eight jet engines and was capable of an amazing 520 mph, unheard of at that time.

The XB-35/YB-49 had some stability problems however, and were quite a radical design for the time. With no long tail to stabilize and help turn, the flying wing looked more like a boomerang than an aircraft. So, because of this and the usual dose of "politics," the powers that be went with the XB-36. The first flight was on August 8, 1946.

The XB was developed with a nine-foot, two-inch single tire on each main gear, the largest aircraft tire ever produced. With this very heavy footprint, there were only three U.S. airfields with the 22 1/2 inch thick runways that were needed to support this heavy bomber. They were located at Carswell AFB, Texas; Eglin AFB, Florida; and Fairfield-Suisun (renamed Travis AFB), California. This single tire setup was soon discarded, and the twin-doubles developed. These proved much more effective. With more rubber on the pavement, a runway only 13 1/2 inches thick was required. This made 22 primary and 22 alternate fields available.

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Convair b36 peacemaker jet pod

Modifications were made to the 22 "A" models, changing them into "B" models. Seventy-two more "B"s were produced, following its first flight on July 8, 1948. Changes were made in the R-4360 engines, upping the horsepower to 3,500 each. This gave a service ceiling of 42,000 feet and a top speed of 381 mph. Performance data now used was based on "combat weight" (expected weight over the target, not take-off weight). This computing method raised the "A" model to a speed of 345 mph and gave a service ceiling increase from 31,600 to 39,100 feet.

Then, more changes were made, and soon the "D"- model followed. It had more engine improvements and the addition of a single pod containing two General Electric J-47-GE-l9 engines under each wing. This gave a top speed of 439 mph with a service ceiling of 45,200 feet. Gross weight went to 357,500 lbs, cruising speed to 225, and it could carry a 10,000 lb load for 7,500 miles. Seventy one of the "B" s were modified to the "D" configuration. Landing speed remained a respectful 121 mph. The first operational B-36 aircraft was delivered to the 7th Bomb Wing 1BW) at Carswell AFB, Ft Worth, Texas, on June 26, 1948. When production ended in August, 1954, 385 of these powerful aircraft had been produced at a cost of $3.6 million each.

The statistics on this plane are still very impressive. Wing span was 230 feet. It was 162 feet long, had a tail that towered to 46 ft 10 in, the wing area was 4,772 sq ft. The bomber had a fuel capacity of 32,910 gallons and engine oil capacity of 1,200 gallons. A crew of from 12 to 15 was needed to man all positions. Armament was eight remotely operated turrets with dual 20mm cannons in each. Each cannon had 600 rounds of ammunition available except for the nose position which had 400 rounds. All turrets, except the nose and tail turrets, retracted into the aircraft.

The first Convair B-36 peace maker peacemaker coldwar cold war h-bomber bombing model's wheel

Later, the "J" model came into being. All non-essential and crew comfort items were removed along with other weight reducing measures. This decreased the basic weight, making the performance of the "J" model even more impressive. It had a gross weight of 410,000 lbs, cruise speed of 230 mph, and a max speed of 430 mph. Range was 8,300 statute miles with a service ceiling of 46,800 feet. On this model, all guns were removed except for two M-24, 20mm cannons in the tail.

Although the new bomber was interesting and fun to fly, it had one rather naughty problem that gave the maintenance men a real fit. It wouldn't hold its gas. That's was plagued with gas leaks. It didn't take long to become evident that this was a problem that could not be fxed by on-base band-aids. It would require something more drastic. So, after having them for less than a year, B-36s were returned to the company to fix their leak problems.

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Convair B 36 peace maker peacemaker Main LG-B-36

Here is other trivia data that really impressed all who qualified to fly this bird. The wing was more than seven feet thick at the root. A person could climb into the wing and work his way outboard of the center engine. The 19 ft square tipped props were geared to turn approximately one half engine speed to keep them sub-sonic, which gave that unforgettable throbbing. Each aircraft used 336 sparkplugs, a big portion of which required replacing after each mission. The engineer's station had an engine "analyzer" which was used periodically in flight to determine engine condition. Each engine carried its own oil supply of 150 gallons which was not enough in some cases. The aircraft had four bomb bays, which could be configured to carry up to 72,000 lbs of bombs.

There was an 85 ft tunnel between the two pressurized compartments. To go from one compartment to the other, crew members had to lay on a cart and pull themselves along with an overhead rope. The tunnel has a slight "V" shape, with the low point near the center. By raising the nose slightly when someone was coming forward, we could really make that person work. Naturally, if we lowered the nose, he would come screaming through.

The NB-36H was modified and used as an atomic reactor test bed. This aircraft was operated by normal means, however, while testing was going on. This propulsion idea did not prove out and was discarded, but it was the only plane to have so served. Other aircraft were configured to carry fighter planes. The McDonnell XF-85 "Goblin," a fighter with folding wings, was developed to be carried in the rear bomb bay but was never actually tested with the B-36. Tests were also made with the RF-84F, carrying, deploying and recovering it using a trapeze hook-up under the aircraft. They also tested the "Tom-Tom" wing-tip setup which was to carry an RF-84F on each wing tip. This was discarded when it was found that the intense wing tip vortices made hook-up nearly impossible. Plus, the fighter pilot was trapped in his aircraft for the entire flight. None of these projects proved feasible, and all were abandoned.

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Convair B36 peacemaker b36-turrets-pecekeeper


There are four B-36s still intact and on display. The last one to fly is located at the Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. The last one built, which is also the last to carry the SAC (Strategic Air Command) emblem is located at the General Dynamics plant in Ft Worth, Texas. A "J" model is on display at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, and a B-36H is on display at Castle AFB, California.

From article by Col (Ret) Francis H Potter





Development of America's present-day jet-bomber force began as far back as 1941 when it appeared that Hitler was about to take over the whole of Western Europe, and it seemed possible that the United States might have to make a stand from its own bases if she hoped to strike enemy targets in Europe. For this task a strategic bomber that could carry a 10,000-pound load over a distance of 5000 miles to its objective and return to its North American base without refueling, would be necessary. Furthermore, it would have to fly at 35,000 feet at a speed somewhere between 240-300 miles per hour.

These specifications were distributed quietly, and from four designs submitted the one offered by the Consolidated Aircraft Company was selected. This giant machine, the biggest that would go into service with the Army Air Force, was to have a wing span of 230 feet, a pressurized fuselage, six piston engines with pusher propellers behind the trailing edge, and a gross weight of 278,000 pounds. (The Flying Fortress of that period tipped the scales at 32,700 pounds. )

Two prototypes from the original blueprints were ordered, but the building of them was assigned to the Convair factory at Forth Worth, which at the time was turning out B-32 Dominators and B-24s. By 1943 it was apparent that a strategic bomber of high performance would be necessary if Japan was to be attacked from American bases-for the concept of island-hopping had not come up---and production on the B-36 went into high gear.

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Convair B36 piecemaker peace maker bomber -nose

The first basic model, the XV-36, came out of the shed on September 8, 1945, but did not actually fly until August 8, 1946, and by then the tail assembly had been changed from twin fins and rudders to a single fin and rudder, and a temporary armament system had been built in. The wings at their roots were six feet thick which allowed access to the Pratt & Whitney R-4360 radial engines during flight. The forward and rear compartments of the fuselage were connected by an eighty-foot tunnel along which a wheeled flatcar ran back and forth for the convenience of the crew.

Then began a long, bitter period of interservice rivalry in which the B-36 became the chief pawn. The first production aircraft was flown on August 28, 1947, and with that twenty-two B-36A machines were delivered to the Strategic Air Command. They carried no armament, but were used mainly for pilot and crew training. Not until July 8, 1948, was a B-36B, complete with six retractable and remotely controlled turrets each mounting two 20-millimeter cannon in the fuselage with two more like weapons each in the nose and tail turrets, available. The engines were still Pratt & Whitney radials, and by now the weight had gone up to 328,000 pounds.

Later models offered a much improved armament system, and the bays were modified to take two 42,000-pound bombs, and the new K-3A bombing-navigation system was installed as well as gun-laying radar. In some models the radials were replaced by four Allison J35 jets, and these were in turn replaced by General Electric J47 turbojets. With the new B-36 SAC had entered the giant, jet-propelled bomber sweepstakes.

Week after week saw broad modifications in the monster. Some were produced as strategic reconnaissance planes in which two of the bomb bays were turned into photo areas that mounted fourteen cameras. It was obvious no one knew what classification to aim for next.

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Convair B-36 Peace maker Sketch

The RB-36D was revised to develop the parasite-fighter theory, then known as FICON (Fighter-Conveyor). In this a McDonnell XF-85 was slung under the fuselage, taken into the air and released at a specified time, or over a specified area, but this first experiment was soon abandoned, and the Republic GRF-84, an F-84 modified for release from a trapeze gear, was substituted. It seems that in this there was some hope of stretching the range of any contemporary fighter-an aircraft carrier of the air, so to speak.

Final production versions of the B-36J, now weighing 410,000 pounds, were built in the spring of 1952, and by that time all piston-engine B-36s were retired. About eighty of the final model were assembled and shipped out to various squadrons. The 92nd Bomb Wing took them out to Guam. The I I th Bomb Wing had them in North Africa, and a few saw temporary service in Great Britain on training missions.

By this time the B-36 had proved itself in many ways-that is as a peacetime bomber-and it had eluded United States interceptors in defense exercises since it could hide at extreme altitude, up to 45,000 feet, a ceiling made possible by its moderate wing-loading and high aspect ratio. There, of course, were questions whether this immunity would have lasted very long against the lightweight Russian MiG that first appeared in 1948, or the eventual improvement in Russian radar interception.

In 1955 one B-36H was modified to become a test bed for a nuclear reactor, but in its first flights the reactor did not contribute to the propulsion. It was mounted to check the effect of radiation upon instruments, equipment, and airframe, and to develop certain shielding methods. What resulted from this study has not been divulged, but a B-36 that was to use nuclear power for primary propulsion was eventually abandoned.

The B-36 was a costly venture, but it must have contributed something to the deof the SAC strategic-bomber force. Except for the ill-fated B-70 project, nothing of its size or program of development has been undertaken since, for, as will be seen, modern strategic bombers are little more than fighter-bomber types with a wide capability.

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Convair B-36 The Pecekeeper airial view

To meet the possible need to continue World War II after the collapse of Britain the B-36 was planned to operate against Nazi-held Europe from bases in the United States or Canada. The specification called for a bomb load of 10,000 and delivered to a target 5.000 miles from its 5,000 ft runway. This was challenging enough, but the prototype program was crippled by shortages due to its low priority and need to devote all effort to wartime production. Only at the end of World War II did the work gather momentum, and when the XB 36 flew it was the largest and most powerful air craft to take the air anywhere in the world. The Lin armed B-36A was used for training crews of the newly formed USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC), which enclosed The controversial monster as its central team of equipment Production aircraft had boge main goars pressurized front and rear crew compartments linked by an 80 ft trolley tunnel, comprehensive radar bombing and navigation system and automatically controlled defensive guns with five sighting stations.

The RB-36 models had 14 cameras in place of two of the four weapon bays and a crew increased from 15 to 22.

Technical problems were severe and until 1951 reliability was poor.
In 1944-49 it was planned to carry the tiny egg shaped McDonnell F 85 Goblin jet fighter inside the forward bomb bay for added defense.

In 1953 FICON trials were held to carry and launch F 84F manned reconnaissance fighters

Some of the final examples of the 385 B-36s built were stripped of most armament and used for very long range high altitude, reconnaissance carrying large quantities of ECM and other special sensing systems.

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Convair info B36 peacemaker bomber information history 3 view

Convair b-36 bomber peacemaker  photo landing gear


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MK17 H-bomb carried by Convair B 36 peace maker
Convair Boeing B-36-H-bomb
The B-36's primary mission was intercontinental nuclear strikes deep within the Soviet Union for which it carried the monster Mk 17 Hydrogen thermonuclear bomb. The MK17 was 24 feet 8 inches long, 61.4 inches in diameter, and weighed between 41,400 and 42,000 lbs.; much of this was casing weight. The MK17 bomb was only four feet shorter than a POLARIS A-1 SLBM, but weighed half again as much. Approx 200 were made.

In addition, the requirement for cumbersome, specialized, and expensive handling equipment doomed weapons such as the MK17 to short service lives. These bombs could only be moved with straddle loaders or large cranes, and were not compatible with more standardized Air Force weapons handling equipment. They also could not be carried easily by the B-47 or B-52. The bomb casing was made of 3 1/2" thick aluminum with a lead and plastic liner to withstand internal explosive forces for as long as possible and to generate compressive plasma for the secondary. MK17 yield was on the order of 15 to 20 megatons, one of the most powerful nuclear weapons ever built by the U.S. The bomb could be carried effectively only by the B-36 aircraft; when the weapon was dropped, the delivery airplane usually leaped upwards several hundred feet due to the enormous weight loss. As an example of the handling difficulties associated with the MK17, in early 1955 a MK17 Mod1 training weapon was assembled at Manzano for carriage by a B-36 to Bossier Base, Louisiana because the latter site had no railhead capable of unloading the MK17 weapon case.

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A "Broken Arrow" nuclear weapons accident involving a MK17 occurred on May 22, 1957 when a B-36 crewman inadvertently leaned against a release mechanism that dropped an unarmed MK17 (the "nuclear capsule" for the primary was not installed) through closed bomb bay doors and on to the desert in New Mexico near Kirtland Air Force Base. The heavy explosive in the bomb exploded on impact, killing an unfortunate cow and digging a crater 12 feet deep and 25 feet in diameter. Everyone on the plane knew when the bomb fell: the B-36 jumped up a thousand feet.
The MK17s were retired from the stockpile between November 1956 and August 1957. It was withdrawn in favor of the MK 36 bomb, which was significantly smaller and lighter and featured a lower yield. A shift in U.S. targeting strategy from cities to military targets, along with a significant increase in the number of nuclear-capable SAC bombers, allowed the production and stockpiling of large numbers of relatively-low yield bombs in the place of a small number of high-yield bombs." *



The Magnesium Cloud


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It was mid-March, 1941 and the United States watched as Europe burned. Germany was winning almost everywhere having captured France, Greece, Crete, The Low Countries, Norway, most of Eastern Europe, North Africa and was currently romping nearly unopposed through Russia’s western half. England had been saved by the Royal Air Force, but only for the moment. Once Germany was finished conquering Russia, they would again turn west and use their now-vast military machine to quickly overwhelm the British. That would leave the German war machine staring hungrily at America’s East Coast.

America faced the very real prospect of having to fight Germany on its own with no bases within 5,000 miles of its potential enemy. We could not have attacked Western Europe as the Luftwaffe, based in England, Greenland, Iceland, Portugal, Spain and the Azores would destroy any American fleet to come within 500 miles of a conquered Europe. The same would apply to North Africa. In order to preserve its remaining territory, Russia would have signed a peace agreement ceding Moscow and all territories west to Germany and signed a neutrality pact, as did Vichy France, so America had no access to Germany from any side.

But the US military faced this nearly hopeless scenario, not by conceding defeat, but by calling for the design and construction of a 10,000 mile range Global Bomber with which to attack Germany from the air instead. Boeing, Douglas, Northrop and Consolidated (later Convair) submitted designs and Consolidated’s Model 37 won. Fortunately, the nightmare scenario described above never happened. But work on the Model 37, which was to become the B-36, continued in case America had to bomb Japan from Midway and the Aleutians. But the project’s priority was lowered.

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The XB-36 Prototype

The B-36’s priority was again reduced once bases in the Marianas were secured. Even B-29’s could reach Japan from there so the need for the B-36 was eliminated and the project just barely existed. But exist it did and the first B-36 prototype (photo 1) flew on August 8, 1946. The 200,000 pound bomber used just 4,000 ft. of runway to takeoff and only 2,500 ft. to land. Its performance was so outstanding that the Air Force took a second look and, in view of the problems then developing with a Russia-turned-Soviet-Union and with the existence of nuclear weapons, the big bomber started to look attractive again. A single, 10,000-mile range bomber moving at 300 knots while carrying 3-4 nuclear weapons would be a formidable deterrent to a Soviet invasion of Western Europe; then a very real possibility.

Starting on June 7, 1947, 95 of the B-36A bombers were built. However, these were mostly training aircraft without defensive armament. But some of these training missions were spectacular. How about an 8,000 mile flight dropping 25,000 pounds of bombs or a shorter trip to the Gulf of Mexico to drop 72 1,000 pound bombs? These were impressive numbers for its day. And the Soviet Union was watching. The B-36A could also carry 2 42,000 Grand Slam conventional bombs. Coincidentally (?), the first Hydrogen bombs had very similar weight and size.

The B-36B, the first combat version, equipped with a 37 mm tail cannon and 16 20 mm canons in turrets, nose and tail, used 3,500 hp Pratt and Whitney R-4360 engines. The B-36B’s 21,000 hp used about 36,000 gallons of Avgas in one flight. Try putting that fuel bill on your gasoline credit card.

Just as the “B” model was starting production, the Air Force was becoming a separate entity apart from the U.S. Army. The Navy saw this as a threat to their dominance and the Army people held a grudge against the upstarts in Blue. Using politicians favorable to their cause, these Services tried to get the B-36 eliminated. The Peacekeeper was the most visual part of the new U.S Air Force and discrediting it would discredit the new Service Branch. These politicians called the B-36 the “Billion Dollar Blunder” saying it was too slow and vulnerable.

The fact that no fighters of its day could reach the B-36’s 44,000 ft. plus operational altitude in time to stop the 370 mph bomber seems to have escaped the political critics. But Congress held an investigation anyway. In a surprising victory of reality over politics, the investigation concluded that the B-36 was the only viable weapon system that could deter Soviet aggression. The political critics were silenced and the U.S. Air Force remained a separate and equal Branch of the Armed Forces.

But the B-36 was just a little slow so the Air Force added four General Electric J47 Turbojets to pods mounted near the wingtips. This increased top speed to 435 mph on the “bomb run” making the new B-36D (contest photo) nearly invulnerable to any piston engined fighter. Once the first generation jets entered service, it looked like they could be a threat to the big bomber.

The Mig 15 could just reach the B-36’s 45,000 ft. cruising altitude and remain under control. While the listed service ceiling was 51,000 ft., early -15s really couldn’t get that high and still fight. About 46,000 ft. was all they could manage. Later versions were better at altitude but the early ones just fell from the sky attempting any kind of a tight combat turn above 46,000 ft.

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First generation jet fighters used almost enough fuel to run a battleship in just one flight (slight exaggeration but not by much). Escort duty, so well performed by P-51 Mustang, P-47 Thunderbolt and P-38 Lightning WW II fighters, was out of the question. Instead, the Air Force started arming GRB-36F Peacekeepers with the Republic F-84 fighter (photo 2). Yes, they tried a thing called the XF-85 Goblin, and it flew well, but it could not fight. But the F-84’s could fight and they could also carry a nuclear weapon up to an additional 850 miles away and return.

If you want to see this amazing aircraft in action, and not just sitting in the Air Force Museum, rent the movie “Strategic Air Command” starring James Stewart. The air shots are exhilarating and the aircraft’s abilities are well illustrated.

The B-36 was America’s only nuclear deterrent to Soviet attack for 10 full years. It flew recon over outlying portions of the Soviet Union and orbited just outside their boundaries armed with Hydrogen bombs. It never fired a shot in anger but no less kept America alive until the B-47 and B-52 bombers arrived in force. The B-36 kept the peace and protected the United States from harm for a decade. Yet it never had to kill a single enemy soldier or civilian while doing its duty. It would be hard to ask more than this from any military airplane.




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