The Convair B-36 (nicknamed Peacemaker) was a strategic bomber built by Convair and operated solely by the United States Air Force (USAF). The B-36 was the largest mass-produced piston engined aircraft ever made and had the largest wingspan in a combat aircraft ever built (230 ft (70 m)), although there have been larger military transports. The B-36 was the first bomber capable of delivering thermonuclear weapons from within a fully-enclosed bomb-bay. With a range of over 6,000 miles (9,700 km) and a maximum payload of at least 72,000 lb (33,000 kg), the B-36 was the first operational bomber with an intercontinental range, setting the standard for subsequent USAF long range bombers, such as the B-52 Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer, and B-2 Spirit. Later variants, after the addition of the under-wing pods for the jet engines, were described as "Six turnin' and four burnin'". "Six turnin'" referred to the six radial piston engines and "four burnin'" referred to the four jet engines (2 in each pod).
The B-36 was conceived in the early years of World War II, when US fears that should Great Britain be invaded by the Germans, and the USA be drawn into the War in Europe, there might be a need to carry out air attacks directly from the Continental USA.. In search of an aircraft capable of carrying out bombing raids across the Atlantic Ocean, on 11th of April 1941 the US Army Air Corps invited designs for a bomber capable of carrying a useful bomb-load to a range of 12,000 miles. The specification was met by a proposal from the Consolidated Aircraft Company (later Convair) with a design of truly staggering proportions, and powered by no less than six 28-cylinder R-4360 Wasp Major air cooled radial engines each driving a 19ft Curtiss propeller in pusher configuration.
When the defeat of the German Luftwaffe by the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain (1940) made the original concept irrelevant, the project was temporarily shelved to allow Consolidated to concentrate on more immediate production, but by early 1943 the project was revised when it looked as if the US might lose its bases in China to the invading Japanese. In June 1943 an order was placed for 100 aircraft with the prototype to be ready by September 1944 and with Service deliveries to commence a year later.
Development delays with the engines, among other aspects, coupled with the successful Allied progress in the Pacific War doomed the B-36s development to a low priority, and it would not be until the 8th of August 1946 (almost two years late) that the first of two prototypes (XB-36) would be ready to take to the air. By this time the US had a new requirement; to be to carry the A-Bomb against potential enemies around the world. The first production batch of B-36A aircraft were unarmed and used for crew training, but the subsequent batch of B-36B would be fitted out to carry the Atomic Bomb. Ultimately Strategic Air Command would equip ten wings with the B-36 Peacemaker with production continuing through to August 1954, with subsequent marks and upgraded aircraft giving the USAF a truly global reach for some ten years.
Prototype powered by six 3,000 hp (2,200 kW) R-4360-25 engines and unarmed, one built.
Prototype with modified nose and raised cockpit roof, one built later converted to YB-36A.
Former YB-36 with modified four-wheel landing gear, later modified as a RB-36E.
Production variant, unarmed used for training, 22 built all but one converted to RB-36E.
Armed production variant with six 3,500 hp (2,600 kW) R-4360-41 engines, 73 built later conversions to RB-36D and B-36D.
Designation for 39 B-36Bs temporary fitted with a camera installation.
Projected variant of the B-36B with six 4,300 hp (3,200 kW) R-4360-51 engines driving tractor propellers, not built.
Production version of the YB-36 completed as B-36Bs.
Same as B-36B but fitted with four J47-GE-19 engines, two each in two underwing pods, 22 built and 64 conversions from B-36B.
Strategic reconnaissance variant with two bomb bays fitted with camera installation, 17 built and seven conversions from B-36B.
The YB-36A and 21 B-36As converted to RB-36D standards.
Same as B-36D but fitted with six 3,800 hp (2,800 kW) R-4360-53 engines and four J47-GE-19 engines, 34 built.
Strategic reconnaissance variant of the B-36F with additional fuels capacity, 24 built.
One RB-36F modified to carry a GRF-84F Thunderstreak on a ventral trapeze as part of the FICON program.
Project for a jet-powered swept wing variant due to the difference between a standard B-36 it was re-designated the YB-60.
Same as B-36F with improved cockpit and equipment changes, 83 built.
One B-36H fitted with a nuclear reactor installation for trials, had a revised cockpit and raised nose.
Strategic reconnaissance variant of the B-36H, 73 built.
High altitude variant with strengthened landing gear, increased fuel capacity, armament reduced to tail guns only and reduced crew, 33 built.
Double deck transport variant of the B-36
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