The B-36 was a strategic bomber which operated at the beginning of the cold war. The design of the aircraft started prior to the entry of USA in the WWII. The US Army Air Corps was seeking a bomber with an un-refueled intercontinental range, that is, that could fly from the US East Coast to Europe, drop bombs and fly back to the USA without being refueled. That mission was out of the range of the bombers being used at the time, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator.
A bit less than 400 aircraft were built and it was retired from service at the beginning of the 1950s, when the B-47 and B-52 started to take over its role.
The development of the aircraft showed some pitfalls that are curious to reflect on. For example, initially the main landing gear consisted of two legs with a single (huge) tyre each (see picture in the right). That caused significant pressure to be stood by the runway resulting in it being able to operate only from 3 runways in the USA (!). In the pictures below you can see that the series production has 4 wheels per leg.
Another interesting point is that of the engines. The B-36 initially had six 28-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-4360 “Wasp Major” radial engines (see the internal movement of a piston radial engine in this post, with a video taken at National Air and Space Museum in Dulles, DC). Each engine drove a three-bladed propeller, 5.8m of diameter (for comparison, A400M propellers have a 5.3m diameter), mounted in the pusher configuration. This configuration led to some engine fires due to engine-overheating. The aircraft also was very slow in taking off and thus from the version B-36D Convair added 4 General Electric J47-19 jet engines, two in each outer part of the wings. This improved take-off performance, however in normal cruise, to reduce fuel consumption the jet engines were shut off, and some louvers covered the air intakes to reduce drag (see pictures below). This made the B-36 have in the end 10 (!) engines: 6 piston engines and 4 jet engines (“six turnin’ and four burnin’ “, as described by Airmen Magazine, the official US Air Force magazine).
See some of the pictures of the Convair B-36 Peacemaker that I took at Pima in the slide show below:
To put things into perspective, some of the technical specifications:
- Length: 49.42m >> A380 length is 72.73m (much longer)
- Wingspan: 70.12m >> A380 wingspan is 79.75m (~)
- Wing area: 443.5m2 >> A380 wing area is 845m2 (almost 2x)
- Empty Weight: 75,530kg >> A400M empty weight is 76,500kg (~)
- Maximum Take Off Weight: 186,000kg >> A400M MTOW is 141,000kg (lower)
- Combat radius: 3,465nm >> B-52 combat radius is 3,890nm, or 787 range of ~8,000nm (note radius vs. range) (~)
- Armament: 39,000kg of bombs >> B-52 carries ~31,500kg of bombs (lower)
Finally, you may see below the first part of a 30-minute documentary about the B-36, the requirement behind it, its prototypes, development, etc.: