In 1939, prior to the United States entering the Second World War, Boeing submitted the B-29 prototype to the U.S. Army for consideration as a long-range heavy bomber. Boeing hoped that the airplane’s advanced new features, such as its remote controlled guns and pressurized cabin, would appeal to the military. Other attractive features included an extended range capacity, a fortified defensive armor, and a larger bomb load capacity than older heavy bombers like the B-17 and B-24.
Due to the wartime demands for vast numbers of aircraft, many of the changes made to the B-29 Superfortress were field modifications. This prevented the stops and starts in production that would have occurred if the changes had been made on the assembly line.
The B-29 Superfortress was used in many bombing missions throughout the Pacific during the Second World War. In the last days of fighting against Japanese forces, the Allies used the B-29 to attack Tokyo in waves of up to 1,000 Superfortresses at a time. The most famous B-29, the Enola Gay, was used to drop the first atomic bomb in history, which it did on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Another B-29 followed suit three days later when it dropped the world’s second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki.
Production of the B-29 ended in 1946 after almost 4,000 of the bombers had been manufactured. After the war, the B-29 Superfortress was used for some post-war missions including weather reconnaissance, search and rescue, in-flight refueling, and anti-submarine patrol. It also flew in the Korean War from 1950-1953.
In September of 1960, the B-29 was retired for good and proudly boasted the following specifications:
Maximum speed: 365 mph.
Cruise speed: 220 mph
Range: 5,830 miles
Ceiling: 31,850 feet
Length: 99 ft.
Wingspan: 141 ft. 3 in.
Height: 27 ft. 9 in.
Maximum weight: 133,500 lbs
Empty weight: 74,500 lb
Engine(s): Four 2,200-horsepower Wright Double Cyclone engines
Rate of climb: 900 ft per minute
Crew: 11, including the pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, navigator, radio operator, radar observer, bombardier, and four gunners.
Armament: 20,000 lbs. of bombs, one 20mm cannon, and twelve .50-cal. machine guns.
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The F-14 Tomcat represented the dawning of a new age of fighter aircraft. Its technology and capability vastly overpowered traditional military planes and the fighter’s impact remains apparent even today. The F-14A debuted on December 21, 1970 and after several years of modifications it became the foremost carrier-based fighter aircraft in the United States Navy. Though the F-14 had already gained recognition in its own right, the film Top Gun which starred Tom Cruise as an F-14 naval aviator, cemented the plane’s role in popular culture.
One of the Tomcat’s strengths is its ability to accurately deliver ordnance against multiple targets simultaneously. The F-14’s six long-range Phoenix missiles can be automatically directed at separate targets using the onboard weapons control computer system. In addition to the Phoenix missiles, the F-14 can carry Sparrow medium-range missiles and close-up 20 mm cannon and Sidewinder missiles. The F-14 was versatile in the combination of missiles, guns, and bombs it could carry, which gave it the ability to customize its armament to suit a particular mission. The swept wing design of the Tomcat creates its trademark look, but the wings are versatile and can be extended or retracted for optimum performance.
Though originally expected to remain in service until at least 2009, the United States military retired the F-14 from service on September 22, 2006.
During the Shah of Iran’s reign, Grumman sold the country 80 F-14 Tomcats in addition to spare parts and armament for $2 billion. When the Shah was overthrown by Islamic militants, the United States placed an embargo on further sales of F-14s and parts to Iran. However, several of the original F-14 Tomcats sold to the Shah are still flying for the current Iranian Air Force.
Maximum speed: 1,544 mph
Cruise speed: 576 mph
Range: 576 mi
Ceiling: 56,000 feet
Length: 62 feet 7 inches
Wingspan: 64 feet unswept; 38 feet swept
Height: 16 feet
Maximum weight: 74,348 lb
Empty weight: 40,104 lb
Engine(s): Two Pratt and Whitney TF-30-P412A turbofan engines with afterburners
Rate of climb: 45,000 feet per minute
Armament: Combination of missiles, Gatling gun, and bombs
Contractor: Grumman Aerospace
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The P-40 Warhawk is one of the most famous planes of World War II. Curtis based its design on the P-36, and made its inaugural flight on October 14, 1938. In May of 1939, the P-40 earned the largest order ever made for a U.S. fighter aircraft of that time.
The P-40, as a single-engine pursuit aircraft, entered World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces. Maj. Pappy Boyington, and other American pilots who were collectively known as the Flying Tigers, flew the P-40 in China in early 1942 with great success and earned a proud war record.
In addition, the P-40 served in the 99th Fighter Squadron, an African-American unit that flew for the United States military in North Africa during WW II. The P-40 Warhawk also fought in Italy, the Far East, the Southwest Pacific, the Aleutians, and Russia.
The P-40 was not the fastest airplane, nor could it always match enemy planes in rate of climb or maneuverability. For instance, though the aircraft could out-turn the Messerschmitt 109, the P-40 couldn’t keep up with one if it climbed away.
In an effort to improve the Warhawk’s speed, many American and Russian pilots removed as much weight from the plane as possible. This often included taking out at least one of the wing guns. For what the plane lacked in speed and power, the P-40 made up for in toughness. The P-40 could take a beating and still bring her pilot home. During the early days of World War II, a large number of P-40 pilots became aces.
Before the P-40 was retired in June of 1948, more than 14,000 of the aircraft had been manufactured for 28 different countries. The P-40 was eventually retired from all military forces when, in 1958, the Brazilian Air Force took the last of this great warbird permanently out of service.
Maximum speed: 362 mph
Cruise speed: 235 mph
Range: 850 miles
Ceiling: 30,000 feet
Length: 31 feet, 9 inches
Wingspan: 37 feet, 4 inches
Height: 12 feet, 4 inches
Maximum weight: 9,100 pounds
Empty weight: 6,350 lbs
Engine(s): 1,150 hp Allison V-1710
Armament: 700 pounds of bombs and six .50-cal. machine guns
The Douglas A-1E Skyraider entered service in World War II as a replacement for the SBD dive-bomber. The Skyraider‘s original designation was the “AD” and it made its inaugural flight on March 18, 1945. The A-1E Skyraider had a middle compartment which allowed it to be used for carrying passengers, supplies, or heavy cargo. Modifications of the airplane continued years after the aircraft was first placed in service. During the next twenty odd years, the Navy took delivery of 3,180 Skyraiders – a number of those aircraft were placed in service during the Korean War.
By 1963, and after many modifications, the Skyraider had evolved from the AD-5 to the A-1E and the United States Air Force used the airplane heavily during the Vietnam War. Despite the advent of jet fighters, the propeller-driven A-1E was well-suited for missions in Vietnam because of its ability to perform close-support operations. Specifically, the A-1E Skyraider had the ability to absorb lethal ground fire and fly at low altitude with large bomb loads, essential tasks during the Vietnam War.
On March 10, 1966 the A-1E Skyraider played a major role in the rescue of a downed pilot in enemy-held territory by pilot Maj. Bernard Fisher for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Though the airplane suffered major damage in combat, Maj. Fisher’s A-1E’s Skyraider is currently on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
The A-1E Skyraider has dual controls and side-by-side seating for the pilot and assistant pilot. Both crew members have an ejection seat. Each wing has two 20 mm guns and the Skyraider can accommodate a variety of mines, gun pods, bombs, rockets, and other armament. To enable the A-1E Skyraider for long strike capability, it can be fitted with external or internal auxiliary fuel tanks. Here is some critical data for aircraft enthusiasts:
Maximum speed: 325 mph
Cruise speed: 240 mph
Range: 1,500 miles
Ceiling: 26,200 ft.
Length: 40 ft.
Wingspan: 50 ft. 1/4 in.
Height: 15 ft. 9 5/8 in.
Maximum weight: 24,872 lbs.
Engine(s): Wright R-3350 of 2,700 hp
Armament: Four 20mm cannons and a wide assortment of bombs, rockets, mines, grenades, flares and gun pods
Contractor: Douglas Aircraft Company
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The primary role of the A-10 Thunderbolt II was to provide close air support for ground forces. The single-seat twin engine A-10 was designed to destroy armored vehicles, tanks, and other fortified targets. It also provided forward air control in advance of other aircraft.
The first A-10 flew in October of 1975, and in March of the next year, the Air Force received the first deliveries of the airplane. A total of 715 A-10 Thunderbolts would be produced before production halted in 1984.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II was anything but a delicate airplane. It could withstand direct hits that would have devastated another aircraft, and returned her crew safely to base. Many stories have been told of a Thunderbolt, commonly known as the Warthog, limping home with gaping holes in its structure, a dead engine, or missing sections of a wing. In large part, the plane’s durability was due to the complex system of backup controls and hydraulic systems, and self-sealing fuel tanks. The retractable wheels were designed to not entirely retract so they could be partially used during belly landings.
Though its two aft engines presented an ungainly appearance, the Warthog was deceptively maneuverable. It could fly slowly at low altitude as well as perform short takeoffs and landings. The A-10 also flew well in adverse weather conditions. Fairchild developed a nighttime adverse weather version of the A-10 for the United States Air Force but the project was eventually canceled. That version of the aircraft would have employed two crew instead of the traditional crew needed for the A-10. The second airman would have been responsible for target acquisition, navigation, and other functions.
Overall, the A-10 has served its purpose well, which was to provide a better offense against ground based enemy units.
Maximum speed: 380 knots
Cruise speed: 300 knots
Ferry Range: 2,240 nm
Ceiling: 45,000 ft
Length: 53 ft 4 in
Wingspan: 57 ft 6 in
Height: 14 ft 8 in
Maximum weight: 50,000 lb
Empty weight: 24,959 lb
Engine(s): two 9,065 General Electric TF34-GE-100A turbofans
Rate of climb: 6,000 feet per minute
Armament: combination of guns, missiles, bombs, and rockets
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In 1976, the United States Army approved Hughes Aircraft’s bid to produce the Model 77/YAH-64 advanced attack helicopter. The first model wasn’t ready to fly until 1983 and by then the manufacturer had changed its name to Hughes Helicopter. In 1981, the helicopter became the Apache. A few years later, in 1984, McDonnell Douglas purchased Hughes Helicopters. In August of 1997, McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing. Despite the ownership changes, behind the scenes manufacture of the Apache continued.
In 1989, during the U.S. invasion of Panama, the Apache was inaugurated into combat. Since then, the helicopter has taken part in numerous conflicts, including the Gulf and Iraq Wars. The AH-64 helicopters are especially valuable for taking out tanks and other heavily fortified targets. Its main drawbacks are a vulnerability to ground fire from enemy units and its inability to fire at more than one target simultaneously. Numerous AH-64 aircraft have been lost during combat in the Iraq War.
The AH-64 helicopter is capable of carrying a combination of anti-tank missiles and FFAR rockets. The Apache can also carry an auxiliary fuel tank for extended range missions. The latter proved invaluable during Desert Storm when AH-64 helicopters were used to destroy radar systems in advance of a bombing force. Because the AH-64 can operate in darkness or poor weather, it’s extremely versatile and can provide an added element of surprise.
The AH-64 Apache has played a role in the effectiveness of many armed forces around the world, including Israel, the Netherlands, Singapore, Kuwait, Turkey, South Korea, and Australia. It’s more than likely that additional countries will eventually integrate the AH-64 into their forces. Here are some details about the AH-64 Apache.
Main rotor diameter: 48 ft, 14.63 meters
Wingspan: 17 ft 2 in, 5.23 meters
Overall Height: 16 ft 3 in, 4.95 meters
Wheelbase: 10.59 meters (34 ft 9 in)
Empty weight: 11,387 lb, 5,165 kg
Maximum take-off weight: 9525 kg
Maximum cruising speed: 293 km/h, 182 mph, 158 kt
Maximum rate of climb: 736 meters per minute
Service ceiling: 21,000 ft, 6,400 meters
Maximum range: 260 nm, 482 km, 300 mi
Armament: one 30mm automatic cannon, and up to 76 FFAR rockets, or up to 16 Hellfire anti-tank missiles, or a combination of Hellfire missiles and FFAR rockets.
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The B-1B Lancer is a bomber aircraft that took its inaugural flight on October 18, 1984. This was a major achievement for both Rockwell International and North American Aircraft (now a part of Boeing) manufacturing companies. The Lancer was part of a major push by the Reagan administration to strengthen the American military. Two years after its first test flight, the B-1B was ready, and by November of 1986, four of the airplanes were coming off the production lines every month.
During the 1980’s, 100 of the B-1B Lancers were built for the U.S. Air Force. The aircraft’s design was based on the earlier B-1A bomber and initially carried the AGM-69A nuclear short-range attack missile (SRAM). The Lancer could achieve a maximum speed of Mach 1.25 at sea level with a gross takeoff weight of 477,000 pounds.
During the 1990’s, after the cold war had ended, nuclear weapons fell into disfavor. The potential for accidents made the American public wary of anything but conventional weapons. The military replaced many of their nuclear weapons with conventional armament, and this included those carried on the B-1B bomber. By 1997, the Lancer was equipped with only conventional weapons. These included Mk84 and Mk82 conventional gravity bombs. In 2001, 32 of the original B-1B Lancers were retired.
Boeing upgraded the remaining 68 aircraft with GPS navigation units, anti-jam radios, and joint direct attack munitions (JDAM). Onboard computers were also updated with better defensive and offensive weapons systems. Boeing has announced plans for additional upgrades that will include new weapons, better electronic defensive systems, cockpit displays, and improved communications systems.
More information about the B-1B Lancer:
Maximum speed: 900-plus mph (Mach 1.2 at sea level)
Ceiling: 30,000 feet plus
Length: 146 feet
Wingspan: 137 feet
Height: 34 feet
Maximum takeoff weight: 477,000 pounds
Empty weight: 190,000 pounds
Engines: Four General Electric F-101-GE-102 turbofan engines with afterburner
Thrust: 30,000-plus pounds with afterburner, per engine
Crew: Four (aircraft commander, pilot, offensive systems officer and defensive systems officer)
Armament: Up to 84 Mark 82 conventional 500-pound bombs, or 30 CBU-87/89/97, or 24 JDAMS
Contractor: North American Aircraft/Boeing
Unit Cost: $200-plus million per aircraft
The B-24 Liberator, as successful as it was in its missions, has always remained in the shadow of the older B-17 Flying Fortress. Ironically, the B-24 had an overall greater military capability than the B-17 and the B-24 was produced in far greater numbers.
When Consolidated Aircraft won the contract to produce the B-24 for the United States Army Air Corps, they had less than a year to deliver the first plane. They met the terms of the contract with two days to spare. The XB-24, as it was known then, first rolled off the production line in the last days of 1939 and made its first flight out of Lindbergh Field. The following year, Consolidated incorporated several design adjustments for the B-24 before it was finally ready. Changes included modifying the nose, cockpit, and windscreen. Meanwhile, France had ordered 120 of the bombers for their air force, but in 1940, shortly before they received them, the country fell to the Germans. The B-24s designated for France were then purchased by Great Britain for the Royal Air Force. The RAF ordered an additional 164 of the bombers. These became the LB-30 Liberator Mk II. In all, more than 18,000 Liberators were produced.
The design of the B-24 differed from older generation bomber aircraft in that it had a twin tail and tricycle landing gear in place of a rear wheel, otherwise known as a tail dragger. Also different from the B-17 is the B-24’s larger wingspan and its ability to carry a heavier payload. Here are some interesting facts about the B-24:
Maximum speed: 303 miles per hour
Cruise speed: 175 mph
Range: 1,080 miles
Ceiling: 28,000 ft
Length: 66 ft 4 in
Wingspan: 110 ft 0 in
Height: 17 ft 11 in
Maximum weight: 56,000 lb
Empty weight: 33,980 Ibs.
Engine(s): four 1,200-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-43 Twin Wasp radial piston engines
Rate of climb: 1,100 ft per minute
Armament: one (usually three) 0.5-in (12.7-mm) nose gun, two in dorsal turret, two in tail turret, two in retractable ball turret and two in waist positions; plus a maximum internal bomb load of 8,000 lb (3629 kg)
Contractor: Consolidated Aircraft.
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