The B-36 was originally developed during the Second World War, initially to attack Europe from the US if Britain fell, then for possible use against Japan. However it never had high enough priority to come into service during the war (with the first prototype making its maiden flight only a few weeks after the surrender of Japan), so a key part of the story presented here is how the aircraft’s defenders successfully resisted a series of attempts to have it cancelled.
There is no doubt that the B-36 was an impressive aircraft. It could carry a much heavier payload than the B-29 over much longer ranges, and for many units a normal peacetime training mission lasted at least 24 hours! However there was always a great deal of concern about just how effective a weapon it would have been, especially because of its relatively slow speed compared to even the earlier jet aircraft, and by the late 1950s it was obsolete. It was actually replaced in service by the B-52, which is still going strong almost seventy years later!
We get a good description of the interior of this massive aircraft, although I would have liked more interior pictures, especially as it had quite a complex layout, with a two deck cockpit in the nose and a second crew area at the rear, with the two connected by a long tube for the crew (which is shown).
Luckily the B-36 was never used in its main combat role, but it was also never used as a conventional bomber, so there isn’t any active service to report in three chapters on its time in service. Instead these tend to focus on the original build up in numbers, the entry into service of reconnaissance versions of the aircraft, and its rapid replacement by the B-52. The B-36 was used as the basis for a number of interesting experiments, including attempts to produce a nuclear powered bomber and a very large cargo carrying variant, but none of these actually came to anything.
This is a useful book on a largely forgotten US bomber of the Cold War, overshadowed by the wartime bombers it replaced and the ever-green B-52, but that during the early 1950s was the most impressive bomber in American service.
1 – Bigger and Bolder
2 – Birth of a Heavyweight
3 – Test and Development
4 – Service Entry
5 – Doomsday Bomber
6 – Global Reach
7 – Many Crew, Many Tasks
8 – Massive Changes
Author: Peter E Davies