Douglas XB-19 – America’s Giant World War II Intercontinental Bomber, William Wolf

Douglas XB-19 – America’s Giant World War II Intercontinental Bomber, William Wolf

X Planes 16

The XB-19 was an unusual aircraft, in that it was effectively obsolete by the time work actually began on the prototype, and the company building it had already attempted to get the contract cancelled, without success.

Having insisted that the aircraft be completed, the USAAC/ USAAF then had to find a way to justify it, calling it a ‘flying laboratory’. There does appear to have been some validity to this claim, with some lessons learned for later designs. The massive wings of the B-19 (and earlier B-15), which were large enough to include crawl ways that gave the crew access to the engines while in flight proved to be unnecessary,

The scale of this aircraft is still impressive. One photograph shows four men standing on the tail, cleaning the fin, which looms over them, five times the height of the men! The horizontal stabilizer had a span of 61.1ft, wider than the wings of many medium bombers! The aircraft required a crew of sixteen, and was felt to be so large that it needed an aircraft commander as well as a pilot and co-pilot! The main cockpit was so large that was described as a ‘bridge deck’, and included room for six of the crew, several with their own desk! The aircraft included sleeping quarters for a spare bridge crew, as it was originally hoped that it might stay in the air for more than two days! 

The aircraft is described in great detail, presumably because the technical aspects are the most interesting thing about the B-19. However the sheer complexity of this aircraft also helps explain why it wasn’t really suited to be put into full production – the amount of resources required to build hundreds of these aircraft would have been massive. The very slow development of the B-19 also didn’t help – it didn’t fly until 27 June 1941, by which time it looked rather under-armed and was already obsolete (although naturally that wasn’t mentioned in any of the publicity material!). The maximum payload looks impressive, but the normal payload of 11,000lb less so.

That first flight appears to have been somewhat dramatic, with the aircraft struggling to get into the air, and bouncing several times on landing. Only the skill of the experienced test pilot seems to have avoided an embarrassing incident, and the weight of the aircraft damaged the runway at its new home of March Field! It’s fascinating to see how the USAAF slowly changed the public perception of the B-19 from being a hemispheric bomber, capable of reaching Japan from the US into its being a flying laboratory. Quite how much value it had in that role is rather unclear – by the time it left March Field at the start of 1943 it had only flown for 70.03 hours, and that 2,000 mile flight from March Field to Wright Field would be its longest trip. One area that the B-19 did help with was the development of its Wright R-3350 Duplex Cyclone engine, which was used in the B-29. 

1 – Prolonged Planning and Procrastination
2 – Technical Description
3 – XB-19 Finally Flies
4 – At March Field
5 – Wright Field Flying Test Bed

Author: William Wolf
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 80
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2021

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