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Publisher/Brand Air World
Author Graham M. Simons
No. Pages 304
Version Hard cover
Category Books on aviation
Subcategory US Prop Aircraft
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This product was added to our database on Tuesday 31 October 2023.
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The story of the Consolidated B-36 is unique in American aviation history. The aircraft was an interesting blend of concepts proven during the Second World War combined with budding 1950s high-tech systems. The program survived near-cancellation on six separate occasions during an extremely protracted development process. It was also the symbol of a bitter inter-service rivalry between the newly-formed US Air Force and the well-established US Navy over which of which of the two organizations would control the delivery of atomic weapons during the early years of the Cold War.
Entering service in 1948, the B-36 was a remarkable design. It was the largest mass-produced piston-engine aircraft ever built, having the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft in history. Importantly, in terms of the developing Cold War at least, the B-36 was the first bomber capable of delivering any of the weapons in America's nuclear arsenal without modification. To achieve this part of its role, the Peacemaker had an operational range of 10,000 miles, being capable of intercontinental flight without refuelling.
It is difficult to imagine a modern aircraft remaining airborne for two days without refuelling – but such missions were relatively routine for the B-36 crews. Whilst there were, at the time of its service, questions around its flight speed, the Peacemaker flew so high that this was considered of little concern – few fighters of its era could reach the same altitudes, and operational surface-to-air missiles were still in the future.
The B-36, despite its seemingly conventional appearance, pushed the state-of-the-art technology further than any other aircraft of its era. Its sheer size brought with it structural challenges, while its high-altitude capabilities led to engine cooling and associated problems. However, all of these were finally overcome, and the B-36 served well as the first 'Big Stick' of the Cold War.