Today in Aviation History: USAF Begins to Retire the B-29 Superfortress

Boeing B-29A-30-BN Superfortress 42-94106, circa 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
United Fuel Cells

by Bryan R. Swopes of This Day in Aviation

On November 1, 1954, the United States Air Force begins to retire the Boeing B-29 Superfortress from service. In the above photograph, B-29A-20-BN 42-94012 is at the aircraft storage facility, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, “The Boneyard.” The dry desert climate and hard, alkaline soil make the base ideal for long-term aircraft storage. The Santa Catalina Mountains are in the background.

Rare color photograph of olive-drab painted B-29 superfortress

The B-29 Superfortress was the most technologically advanced—and complex—aircraft of World War II. It required the manufacturing capabilities of the entire nation to produce. Over 1,400,000 engineering man-hours had been required to design the prototypes.

The Superfortress was manufactured by Boeing at Seattle and Renton, Washington, and Wichita, Kansas; by the Glenn L. Martin Company at Omaha, Nebraska; and by Bell Aircraft Corporation, Marietta, Georgia.

There were three XB-29 prototypes, 14 YB-29 pre-production test aircraft, 2,513 B-29 Superfortresses, 1,119 B-29A, and 311 B-29B aircraft. The bomber served during World War II and the Korean War and continued in active U.S. service until 1960. In addition to its primary mission as a long-range heavy bomber, the Superfortress also served as a photographic reconnaissance airplane, designated F-13, a weather recon airplane (WB-29), and a tanker (KB-29).

Boeing B-29 Superfortresses at Wichita, Kansas, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-29 was operated by a crew of 11 to 13 men. It was 99 feet, 0 inches (30.175 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.068 meters). The vertical fin was 27 feet, 9 inches (8.305 meters) high. The wings had a total area of 1,720 square feet ( square meters). The angle of incidence was 4° with a 4° 29′ 23″ dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 7° 1′ 26″. The bomber’s empty weight was 71,500 pounds ( kilograms) with a maximum takeoff weight of 140,000 pounds ( kilograms).

The B-29 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liters) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone) 670C18BA4 (R-3350-23A) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines, which had a Normal Power rating of 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff. They drove 16-foot, 7-inch (5.055 meters) diameter, four-bladed, Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-23A was 6 feet, 4.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,646 pounds (1,200 kilograms).

Boeing B-29A-20-BN Superfortress 42-94012 at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. (U.S. Air Force)

The maximum speed of the B-29 was 353 knots (406 miles per hour/654 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), though its normal cruising speed was 198 knots (228 miles per hour/367 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). At its maximum takeoff weight, the B-29 required 1 hour, 1.5 minutes to climb from Sea Level to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). The bomber’s service ceiling was 43,200 feet (13,167 meters). The combat range was 3,445 nautical miles (3,964 statute miles/6,380 kilometers) and its maximum ferry range was 4,493 nautical miles (5,170 statute miles/8,321 kilometers).

The Superfortress could carry a maximum of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) of bombs in two bomb bays. For defense it had 12 Browning M2 .50-caliber machine guns in four remote-controlled turrets and a manned tail position. The B-29 carried 500 rounds of ammunition per gun.

B-29 Superfortresses in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. (LIFE Magazine)

A number of B-29 Superfortresses are on display at locations around the world, but only two, the Commemorative Air Force’s B-29A-60-BN 44-62070, Fifi, and B-29-70-BW 44-69972, Doc, are airworthy.


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