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The Convair B-36 "Peacemaker" the Spruce Goose of the Cold War

Updated on May 12, 2018
Mark Caruthers profile image

BA University of Arkansas Fayetteville Geography & History

The World's First Intercontinental Bomber

On the 1st of March 1954, the United States exploded the world's first thermonuclear bomb, code named "Castle Bravo," it was the largest nuclear device ever tested by the United States with the explosive force of fifteen- megatons of TNT. The United States military would quickly weaponize the thermonuclear bomb and code name it "Castle Romeo." The bomb weighed over 41,000 pounds and had the yield of eleven-megatons of TNT. The US Air Force needed a plane large enough to carry their new bomb, the B-36 was created to carry out that new mission. The enormous B-36 was one of the most awe inspiring aircraft ever to fly, with its graceful tubular fuselage stretching over 163 feet and a rudder the height of a five story building. With a gross weight of 265,000 pounds it was one of the heaviest aircraft to ever fly. At the tip of its nose the B-36 had a raised cockpit with a greenhouse type canopy rising a foot above the fuselage. It had a wingspan of 230 feet, and six massive 4,360 cubic-inch engines making the B-36 the largest mass produced piston engine aircraft ever manufactured. The bomber was so large its crew of 15 moved from the front to the back of the bomber by pulling themselves along a tunnel on a trolley, and slept in bunks when off duty. The B-36 was powered by an array of pusher propellers and turbojets. One pilot remarked flying the B-36 was like flying an apartment house, as it flew overhead those who witnessed it could feel the ground shake. The B-36 was nicknamed the "Peacemaker" to stress that its purpose was to prevent war through deterrence.

The Many Faces Of The B-36

The B-36 and all that is needed to get it into the air.
The B-36 and all that is needed to get it into the air. | Source
A B-36 carrying its own jet fighter for protection.
A B-36 carrying its own jet fighter for protection. | Source
The B-36 sitting next to the B-29 the bomber that delivered the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The B-36 sitting next to the B-29 the bomber that delivered the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. | Source
The B-36 in flight
The B-36 in flight | Source
The Reconnaissance version of the B-36.
The Reconnaissance version of the B-36. | Source
The B-36 landing gear.
The B-36 landing gear. | Source
B-36 taking off for a mission for SAC.
B-36 taking off for a mission for SAC. | Source

The Many Variations Of The Convair B-36 Peacemaker

There were several variations of the B-36, one carried its own fighter escort, which was carried completely within its fuselage, and launched by a trapeze located in one of its bomb bays. All variations of the B-36 carried eight remotely operated gun turrets, six of which retracted and were covered by faired doors to reduce drag, all gun turrets carried pairs of 20mm cannons. The B-36 had an operational altitude of 46,100 feet a remarkable achievement for an aircraft of such great proportions. It was the first manned intercontinental bomber capable of traveling 10,000 miles without refueling. A stripped down version of the B-36 would later be used in a reconnaissance role which was capable of flying over 50,000 feet at a top speed of 423 miles per hour. The large wing area, and the two jet pods supplementing the piston engines, made the B-36 more maneuverable at high altitudes than jet interceptors of the day. The B-36 set the standard for range and payload for American transcontinental bombers. The most unusual variation of the B-36 was the NB-36H which housed a nuclear reactor located in the tail of the plane for airborne atomic tests. This plane was completely unarmed and had a distinctive cobra-like hood over its cockpit. It was used to determine the reaction of nuclear radioactivity on instruments and other operating parts of the aircraft in anticipation of atomic powered flight. This plane was not powered by the reactor. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, due to the fact if a B-36 powered by an atomic reactor did happen to crash the radiation from the core of the reactor could have escaped releasing lethal radiation over a large area.

The B-36

The B-36 on its first flight.
The B-36 on its first flight. | Source
The B-36 and B-47 together on the runway.
The B-36 and B-47 together on the runway. | Source
The B-36 on the assembly line 384 were built.
The B-36 on the assembly line 384 were built. | Source
The B-36 over Korea.
The B-36 over Korea. | Source

The Last Days Of The Peacemaker

Deployed along with the B-47, the B-36 provided the United States Air Force the means to deliver its massive thermonuclear bomb until the Boeing B-52 took over as the mainstay of America's nuclear bomber force in the second half of the 1950s. Over 384 B-36s were built . Entering service in 1948, the B-36 was the primary nuclear weapons delivery vehicle of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) until it was retired in February 12th, 1959. All but five B-36s were scrapped, the rest were sent to the US Air Force's desert graveyard in Arizona.

The Convair B-36 Peacemaker

The Aerial Titan

B-36 Aerial Titan

The remote controlled twin 20 mm cannons of the B-36.
The remote controlled twin 20 mm cannons of the B-36. | Source
The B-36 at the scrap yard in Arizona
The B-36 at the scrap yard in Arizona | Source
The version of the B-36 with the nuclear reactor in the tail.
The version of the B-36 with the nuclear reactor in the tail. | Source

Sources

Jones Lloyd S. U.S. Bombers 1928 to 1980., Aero Publishers Inc. 325 West Aviation Road, Fallbrook, CA. 928028. 1980

Rhodes Richard. Dark Sun : The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb., Simon & Schuster., Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10020. 1995

Grant R. G., Flight 100 Years of Aviation., DK Publishing Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York NY, 10014. 2002



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