Monster Bomber

At the Pima Air and Space Museum, the B-36 is the largest U.S. warplane ever rebuilt

</i>Fort Worth</i>, a B-36J, basks in restored glory.
Fort Worth, a B-36J, basks in restored glory. Scott Youmans

It was the end of the line. Convair B-36 Peacemaker 52-2827, later named the City of Fort Worth, was the 383rd of 383. The nuclear bombers, designed for use in World War II but not finished in time, were intended for transatlantic strikes against Germany. With a range of 6,000 miles and a bomb payload of up to 86,000 pounds, they were built huge—the wing spanned 230 feet, and had almost three times the area of a B-29’s. B-36s served from 1948 to 1959. After retirement, 52-2827 was sent to Fort Worth, Texas, where over the years it was besieged by weather and vandals. In 2005, the Air Force reallocated it to Tucson, Arizona’s Pima Air & Space Museum, which spent four years restoring it, a job that required, among other things, 5,000 nuts and bolts and 3,000 rivets.

For more photos of the B-36, see the gallery at left.

The D model (flying) was the first B-36 to add jet engines to its radials. National Museum of USAF
Fort Worth, a B-36J, basks in restored glory. Scott Youmans
Pima’s B-36 served with the 95th Bomb Wing at Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso. Here it awaits takeoff from Biggs on its final flight: to Fort Worth. National Museum of USAF
A jet engine pod, a chunk of fuselage — to be shipped, the bomber had to be broken down into pieces that filled 11 trucks. Mark Bennett
B-36s were unusual in that much of their skin was made of dull magnesium, rather than shiny aluminum. The material is plentiful and has a high strength-to-weight ratio, but it corrodes easily. When Fort Worth arrived in Arizona, parts of its skin were in bad shape; right: a section of the tail. Courtesy Pima Air and Space Museum
A restorer sands one of the six flaps (two are shown). The flaps had a total surface area of 519 square feet — 48 percent more than the flaps of the B-29 bomber. Courtesy Pima Air and Space Museum
The interior of Fort Worth’s wing, pre-restoration. At its root, a B-36 wing is more than seven feet thick. Crewmen could enter the interiors in flight and get to the engines or landing gear. The B-36’s wings were the longest of any combat aircraft in history. Mark Bennett
Each turbojet nacelle had a streamlined air plug (the cone-shaped object), to minimize drag when the jets were not used, and shutters that prevented excessive blade windmilling during cruise. Mark Bennett
Inlets to feed air to the radial engines were incised in the wings’ leading edges, minimizing drag. Mark Bennett
In the nose, the large round panel marks the former location of a window for the optical bombsight, replaced with a sight that used radar. Mark Bennett
Looking out of the nose of a B-36J bombsight. Mark Bennett
The instrument panel for the two flight engineers. Mark Bennett
The 19-foot-diameter propellers were aft-facing, so the prop wash would not disturb airflow over the wings and increase drag. The pusher arrangement helped give the bomber intercontinental range. Mark Bennett
Purists point out that the present incarnation of B-36J no. 52-2827 isn’t 100 percent accurate: To help increase speed and cruise altitude, the Air Force had the last Peacemakers made without drag-inducing sighting blisters (the raised dome near the cockpit, installed during an earlier restoration, in Fort Worth). Scott Youmans

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