Duxford Building 7 - American Air Museum - Page 3

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Boeing began work on pressurized long-range bombers in 1938, when, in response to a United States Army Air Corps request, it produced a design study for the Model 334, a pressurized derivative of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress with nosewheel undercarriage.

Although the Air Corps did not have money to pursue the design, Boeing continued development with its own funds as a private venture.

In December 1939 the Air Corps issued a formal specification for a so-called "superbomber", capable of delivering 20,000 lb of bombs to a target 2,667 miles away and capable of flying at a speed of 400 mph, and this formed a starting point for Boeing's response.

The B-29 project was given a high priority, as it was the only bomber with sufficient range to attack Japan from US bases. It proved to be an outstanding aircraft with many advanced features including a partly pressurised fuselage and remote controlled gun turrets. The B-29 featured a fuselage design with circular cross-section for strength. The need for pressurization in the cockpit area also led to the B-29 having the only "stepless" cockpit design (without a separate windscreen for the pilot) on any American combat aircraft of World War II.

After the capture of the Marianas Islands, B-29s of the 20th Air Force launched a strategic bombing campaign on the Japanese home islands. Initial high level attacks in daylight produced disappointing results and heavy losses, so low level attacks using incendiaries by night were substituted.

In early 1945 these raids completely destroyed the centres of several large Japanese cities, including Tokyo.

By VJ Day nearly 4,000 B-29s had been completed in the largest and most complex aircraft production programme of the Second World War.

Manufacturing the B-29 was a complex task. It involved four main-assembly factories: a pair of Boeing operated plants at Renton, Washington, and Wichita, Kansas, a Bell plant at Marietta, Georgia ("Bell-Atlanta"), and a Martin plant at Omaha, Nebraska ("Martin-Omaha"). Thousands of subcontractors were involved in the project.

The first prototype made its maiden flight from Boeing Field, Seattle on 21 September 1942.

Because of the aircraft's highly advanced design and challenging requirements plus immense pressure for production, development was deeply troubled. The second prototype, which, unlike the unarmed first, was fitted with a Sperry defensive armament system using remote-controlled gun turrets sighted by periscopes, first flew on 30 December 1942. This flight was terminated due to a serious engine fire.

On 18 February 1943, the second prototype experienced an engine fire and crashed.

Changes to the production craft came so often and so fast that in early 1944 B-29s flew from the production lines directly to modification depots for extensive rebuilds to incorporate the latest changes. The U.S. Air Force–operated modification depots struggled to cope with the scale of work required, with a lack of hangars capable of housing the B-29 combined with freezing cold weather further delaying the modification.

At the end of 1943, although almost 100 aircraft had been delivered, only 15 percent were airworthy. This prompted an intervention by General Hap Arnold to resolve the problem, with production personnel being sent from the factories to the modification centres to speed modification of sufficient aircraft so as to equip the first Bomb Groups in what became known as the 'Battle of Kansas'.

This resulted in 150 aircraft being modified in the six weeks between 10 March and 15 April 1944.

Perhaps the most famous B-29 is the 'Enola Gay', which dropped the atomic bomb "Little Boy" on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, and is presently preserved and on display at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

'Bockscar', another B-29, dropped "Fat Man" on Nagasaki three days later, and is preserved and on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

These two actions, along with the Soviet invasion of Manchuria on 9 August 1945, brought about the Japanese surrender and the official end of World War II.

Both aircraft were handpicked for modification from the assembly line at the Omaha plant that was to become Offutt Air Force Base.

A B-29 Bomber on a long range mission in 1945 (above).
This image is the work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties.
As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

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