Boeing B-29/50 Superfortress History
     The B-29 bomber, produced by the Boeing Aircraft Company during the war, was the first long-range heavy bomber employed by the United States. It was primarily used in the war’s Pacific Theater, and became notorious as the plane used to drop the world’s first atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, Aug. 6 and 9, 1945.
     The Boeing B-29 was designed in 1940 as an eventual replacement for the B-17 and B-24. The first one built made its maiden flight on Sept. 21, 1942. Developing the Boeing B-29 was a program which rivaled the Manhattan Project in size and expense. Technically a generation ahead of all other heavy bomber types in World War II, the Superfortress was pressurized for high altitudes and featured remotely-controlled gun turrets. Most important, its four supercharged Wright R-3350-23 engines gave it the range to carry large bomb loads across the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean.
      A test flight of the plane’s XB-29 prototype ended in tragedy Feb. 18, 1943, when an engine caught fire and the plane crashed. The pilot, crew and 19 people on the ground were killed. The Boeing Company declared that it was “not going to build this airplane. It’s no good. It has too many problems.” Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, the Air Force’s first general officer, argued with Boeing and threatened to force them to repay the $200 million that they had been given to build the planes. Faced with having to pay back money already received, Boeing agreed to “operate the factories,” but they would “not take any responsibility for the airplane.” The Army took over the test program after the crash. Development continued that summer with flight testing of the YB-29 even as hurried production versions of the B-29 were being turned out.
     In December 1943, it was decided not to use the B-29 in the European Theater, thereby permitting the airplane to be sent to the Pacific area where its great range made it particularly suited for the long over water flight required to attack the Japanese homeland from bases in China. As it came into the AAF inventory in mid-1944, the B-29 weighed 140,000 pounds loaded, with an effective range of 3,250 miles. Pavements failed, and at their best, behaved erratically. No airfield pavement had been designed for more than 120,000 pounds gross weight. The Corps of Engineers began experiments anew with pavement overlays at Hamilton Field north of San Francisco.
     As the powerful B-29 "Superfortress" rolled off America’s production lines in the midst of World War II, General "Hap" Arnold, then Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, understood the need to bring the B-29’s unique strategic bombing capabilities to bear against the Japanese homeland. Thus, in April 1944, he created Twentieth Air Force and gave it the daunting mission of conducting one of the largest--and ultimately most successful--air campaigns in history. Arnold’s B-29s first flew in Operation MATTERHORN, which called for India-based Superfortresses to bomb Japan from forward bases in China. However, as allied forces advanced in the South Pacific "Island Hopping" campaign, Twentieth Air Force expanded its B-29 operations to bases in the Marianas Islands. During the last two months of 1944, B-29s began operating against Japan from the islands of Saipan, Guam and Tinian. Flying more than 1,500 miles one way, more than 1,000 bombers and 250 fighters conducted 28,000 combat sorties against Japan in the brief span of 16 months.
     In early 1944 the Army Air Forces started its program to develop an atomic bomb delivery capability using the B-29 aircraft. The B-29 was the logical choice in view of its long range, superior high-altitude performance, and ability to carry an atomic bomb that was expected to weigh 9000 to 10,000 pounds. In March and again in June dummy atomic bombs were dropped by B-29s at Muroc Army Air Force Base in California to test the release mechanism. In August seventeen B-29s entered a modification program at the Glenn L. Martin plant in Omaha, Nebraska, to apply the lessons learned at Muroc. The "Silver Plate" project was the code name of the pilot and crew training program for the coming World War II atomic missions.
      On 6 August 1945 the crew of the "Enola Gay" dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The thirteen-hour mission to Hiroshima began at 0245 Tinian time. By the time they rendezvoused with their accompanying B-29s at 0607 over Iwo Jima, the group was three hours from the target area. The "Enola Gay" flew toward the AiOi T-Bridge in Hiroshima at a speed of 285 mph. After six-and-a-half hours of tough overwater navigation, the B-29 was over target within seventeen seconds of the scheduled drop time of 0915. When the 9,000-pound bomb "Little Boy" fell from the "Enola Gay," pilot Paul Tibbets put the aircraft into a 60-degree diving right turn and headed home. Seconds later, Hiroshima lie in ruins.
    Despite widespread destruction, the Japanese still did not surrender. Three days later, Maj. Charles W. Sweeney, commander of the 393rd BMS and piloting "Bockscar" flew over Nagasaki. A few minutes after 9 a.m., bombardier Capt. Kermit K. Beahan toggled the bomb switch. Less than a minute later, Nagasaki became the second city attacked with the devastating weapon. The Japanese surrendered in the following days thereby ending World War II.
       Immediately post-World War II, SAC’s bomber inventory housed the B-29 Superfortress, the plane that had dropped atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1946, the Soviets began design of their long-range bomber, the Tu-4, modeled directly on B-29s captured during 1944. The B-29 was SAC’s first Cold War aircraft, and even as late as the close of 1948 the Air Force had modified only 60 of the planes to carry the atomic bomb. Its infrastructure, hangars, and ancillaries were reused from World War II facilities. While the B-29 was the long-range aircraft that revolutionized air war, the aircraft could only fly the U.S.-Soviet corridor one way, and could not achieve that distance heavily loaded.
      With the advent of the conflict in Korea in June 1950, the B-29 was once again thrust into battle. For the next several years it was effectively used for attacking targets in North Korea. The Warner Robins Air Materiel Area (WRAMA) literally unwrapped and refurbished hundreds of "Cocooned" Boeing B-29 Superfortresses. Understaffed and working around the clock, they made sure that United Nations forces in the Far East had the necessary tools to fight the North Korean invaders. This was particularly true with the key role B-29s played in bombing Communist supply lines and staving off the enemy's assault on Allied forces pinned down inside the Pusan Perimeter. B-29s detached from Twentieth Air Force continued flying combat missions until the end of the war in 1953. By 1955, with the situation in Korea stabilized and intercontinental-range bombers entering service, the need no longer existed for a B-29 numbered air force in the Pacific.
     The B-29 MR [MR standing for Modified Receiver] could refuel in mid-air. The KB-29M was the tanker, using what was called the British 'looped hose' method, a 400 foot length of hose that tethered the two airplanes together. In order to extend the range of the new generation of jet aircraft, a B-29 was also fitted with a flying boom for experiments in air-to-air refueling.
     A stop-gap measure to fill the long-range bomber requirement in the Cold War, the Boeing B-29D Washington began entering service with UK Bomber Command Squadrons during August 1950. The type began to be retired in 1953 with the advent of the V-bombers, but the last did not leave the RAF until 1958.