Aviation Ancestery - February 2012

The B-29 Superfortress, Part Two

By Scott Schwartz

B-29’s roll down the assembly line, soon to be winging their way to targets in the Far East. (Photo courtesy of the USAF)Fire aboard an aircraft is something that is dreaded by pilots and aircrew.  Left unchecked, fire can melt major structural components-such as wing spars, with obvious results.  This is exactly what happened with the second B-29 prototype.  The date was February 18, 1943.  During the preceding months, engine overheating and engine fires became commonplace, especially at altitudes above 25,000 feet.  On this day, yet another engine fire burned completely through the wing spar.  Boeing test pilot Eddie Allen, the entire flight crew, and six firefighters (who were on the ground) were killed in the crash.  This disaster caused the whole B-29 program to come to a halt.

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Aviation Ancestry - January 2012

The B-29 Superfortress

By Scott Schwartz

The Boeing XB-29: notice the early three-bladed propellers and the lack of gun turrets. The Army experimented with various defensive armament during the early phases of the B-29 program. (Photo courtesy of the United States Air Force) )The B-29 Superfortress’s engines had a tendency to overheat and catch fire.  Its defensive gun system sometimes jammed or simply failed altogether.  Yet, in many respects, this aircraft changed the world after it was used on two very special missions during World War II.

During the early 1930s, U.S. Army planners had been thinking about (perhaps dreaming would be a more accurate word) a new bomber that could carry 2,000 pounds of bombs, and which had a range of more than 5,000 miles.  By 1940 though, these imaginings had coalesced into a concrete set of specifications.  The new bomber would have to carry 2,000 pounds of bombs and be able to fly more than 5,300 miles.  Oh, and it would also have to be able to fly faster than 400 mph.  The reader should remember that in 1940, the fastest fighters in first-line service could not achieve 400 mph in level flight!

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Aviation Ancestry - November 2011

Buff: Part V

By Scott Schwartz

A B-52H in flight; note that the tail guns have been removed, as attacks from enemy aircraft are no longer considered to be a threat. (United States Air Force)This is the final installment of the five-part series about the B-52 Stratofortress.

Their service during operation “Desert Storm” began early on Jan. 16, 1991, when seven of them departed from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, en route to Saudi Arabia. These aircraft – B-52Gs – were armed with another Boeing product – the AGM-86C Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM).  This was an almost textbook example of the B-52’s new “stand-off” attack capability. While loitering some 500 miles from Baghdad, the B-52Gs launched their cruise missiles, rendezvoused with the fuel tankers (twice), and then flew back to Barkdsdale. The targets were radar installations and power plants. The time spent in the air was more than 34 hours.

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Aviation Ancestry - October 2011

Buff: Part IV

By Scott Schwartz

A B-52G in flight; notice the faired over tail gunner’s position. Unlike previous B-52 models, the B-52G’s tail gunner fired his guns by remote control from the forward crew compartment. Also notice the smaller outer wing fuel tanks. (Courtesy of the National Museum of the United States Air Force)With the introduction of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), a change in tactics was needed. First coming off the production line in 1957, the B-52E was not much different from the venerable “D” model.  However, one of the changes incorporated into the “E” model was the installation of “low-level” Doppler radar. This enabled the B-52E to do something that is hard to imagine possible for such a large aircraft. The B-52 could now fly below hills and mountains in order to evade SAM radar.  Plus, the B-52E could launch AGM-58 “Hound Dog” cruise missiles (with nuclear warheads) – which reduced the aircraft’s exposure to enemy anti-aircraft weapons. 

Intended for the nuclear-deterrent role only, the B-52E was not built in great numbers – a total of one hundred were constructed, and the “E” model was finally retired during 1970 – although a few lingered on as training aircraft.

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Aviation Ancestry - September 2011

Buff – Part III

By Scott Schwartz

B-52D tail gunners downed at least two MiG fighters with their four .50 cal. machine guns. This B-52D is on display at the March Field Air Museum. (Scott Schwartz)Actually, more than the paint job had to be changed on the B-52Ds before they could be used effectively in Vietnam.  The reader should remember that the B-52 was designed for a strategic role.  Now, they were to be used as tactical aircraft – thousands of pounds of bombs were to be dropped on enemy troops and supply stockpiles.

As stated in BUFF, Part II, B-52Fs were already being used in Vietnam.  The “F” models were sent overseas in 1965.  The reason for adding the B-52Ds into the mix was simple:  there were twice as many B-52Ds as there were B-52Fs.

Since the aircraft were now going to be dropping more than one hundred bombs on a typical mission, changes had to be made.  Enter the Big Belly program.

Despite its name, the Big Belly program did not involve enlarging the bomb bay in any way.  Rather, the existing conventional bomb rack attachment points were modified so that special bomb racks – known as “clips” could be installed.  These “clips” could carry twenty eight 500 pound bombs, or fourteen 750 pound bombs apiece.  Further, the external bomb racks were re-wired so that they could hold conventional bombs.  All told, the modified B-52Ds (when loaded to capacity) could carry 108 bombs each. 

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