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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