Boeing B-29 Superfortress from above

B-29 Superfortress Units of World War 2, Robert F Dorr. Despite the title, this book actually looks at the development and service career of the B-29 Superfortress, from the pre-war call for a heavy bomber to its heyday in 1945 when fleets of the massive silver bomber devastated the cities of Japan. [see more]

WWII Game Changer: The Boeing B-29 Superfortress Was Simply Unstoppable

First rolling off the assembly line as a production aircraft in July 1943, the Superfortress was the answer to America’s need for a high-level long-range strategic bomber. Conceived in 1938, the Superfortress was designed to increase the range, payload, and speed of its predecessors and was ultimately slated for service in the Pacific Theater of Operations only. The B-29 had a loaded range of around 4,000 miles, could carry a bomb load of up to 20,000 pounds, had a combat ceiling in excess of 36,000 feet, and travelled at a maximum speed of over 350 miles per hour with a cruising speed of 230 miles per hour. No other bomber in the world approached its capabilities.

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The Superfortress also influenced American strategy in the Pacific. Already masters of the Solomon, Gilbert, and Marshall Islands, American strategists elected to bypass the Japanese stronghold in the Caroline Islands and instead turn their attention to the Marianas Islands. Their decision was influenced in part by the availability of the new B-29 bomber, which could easily reach the mainland of Japan some 1,500 miles away from the Marianas islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam.

The B-29 also brought a number of technological innovations to America’s existing air arsenal. It was the first plane to feature a heated, pressurized crew cabin, which greatly improved crew comfort and combat effectiveness while decreasing their fatigue. With pressurization, the B-29 could operate at significantly higher altitudes than previous bombers and often above the ceiling of enemy fighters. It was also the first bomber to pioneer dual-wheeled tricycle landing gear. Previously, the B-17 Flying Fortress featured a tail wheel and the B-24 Liberator a single nose wheel, which made the latter notoriously unstable on landing. Without discounting these aeronautical innovations, what really distinguished the B-29 from every other bomber in the world was its state-of-the-art gunnery system, which made it quite literally a flying superfortress.

The aircraft featured a General Electric Company model 2CFR55B1 centralized fire-control system, or CFC, which transformed bomber defensive gunnery from a loose collection of independent guns into an integrated gunnery system. The major components of the CFC system were five gunsights, five remotely controlled turrets, five targeting computers, and an electric gun-switching system. Each of the five turrets was operated remotely by a gunner stationed in one of five sighting stations located throughout the aircraft. The firing trajectory was calculated by five targeting computers, each associated with a sighting station and each connected to one or more turrets that could be operated from that single sighting station.

Two turrets were located in the forward section of the aircraft, with the upper forward turret on top of the fuselage and the lower forward turret on the bottom, both positioned slightly aft of the forward pressurized crew compartment where the pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, and navigator sat. Similarly, the upper aft and lower aft turrets were located on the top and bottom of the fuselage toward the rear of the aircraft forward of its tail fin. The fifth was mounted in the tail facing the rear.

The B-29 carried a crew of 11 airmen, five of whom were gunners. The fire control officer, also called the ring gunner or top gunner, sighted through a plexiglass blister on top of the fuselage and were seated in the middle pressurized crew compartment in a tall chair known as the “barber chair.” The right- and left-side gunners, or blister gunners, were stationed below the top gunner, sighting through blisters on opposite sides of the fuselage. The bombardier sat in the nose of the aircraft, forward of the pilot and co-pilot, and functioned as the nose gunner when not engaged in the actual bombing run. The nose gunner’s gunsight retracted to be stowed out of the way when he turned his attention to the bombsight, which was affixed to the floor between his feet. Finally, the tail gunner sat in the rear of the airplane alone in the aft pressurized compartment.

One gunner was assigned primary control or “first call” on the use of each of the five turrets. Through a series of electrical switches, control of the turret could be passed to a secondary gunner who could operate it alone or in conjunction with his primary turret. The nose gunner had primary control of both forward turrets. Secondary control of the upper forward turret fell to the top gunner the lower forward turret was controlled by either of the side gunners. The top gunner had primary control of the upper aft turret and secondary control of the upper forward turret. The side gunners had primary control of the lower aft turret with secondary control of the lower forward turret and the tail turret. The tail gunner could only control the tail turret.

With all the overlapping fire control possibilities, proper communication among the gunners via the aircraft’s interphone system was paramount, with the fire control officer quarterbacking the whole process. The gun positioning system, with the exception of the tail mount, contained fire interrupter cams, which prohibited the guns from firing on their own aircraft’s wings or tail. However, the guns could fire on their own formation if the weapons were active at the time when control switched between gunners and the guns swung around to the second gunner’s targeting position.

Each of the five turrets featured two air-cooled Browning M2 .50-caliber machine guns. In response to the relative effectiveness of frontal attacks, later versions of the aircraft included two additional .50s in the upper forward turret. To avoid overheating the guns, gunners were instructed to fire in short bursts and then count to three before firing again. Hot gun barrels would expand, decreasing accuracy, or could rupture completely or “cook off” the next round by thermally induced firing. A maximum of 25 rounds could be fired at once but then required at least 15 seconds of cooling off, which must have seemed like eternity when engaged with the enemy. Early B-29 models also included a 20mm cannon in the tail mount. The cannon was controlled by the same sighting and firing mechanism as the rear machine gun turret and could be fired in conjunction with the machine guns but not alone. The 20mm round weighed about twice as much as the .50-caliber round but packed nearly three times its force.

Each gunner manually operated a gunsight, which was connected electrically to the CFC system and contained a 2-inch by 3-inch glass eyepiece. The glass optics had two interchangeable sky filters, enabling the gunner to maintain a clear view of his target through the optics in nearly dark conditions or even sighting an enemy attacking from out of the sun. A reticle consisting of a circle of dots aligned around a center dot, similar to the crosshairs on a rifle scope or the focusing marks on a camera viewfinder, was reflected on the optical glass by a reticle lamp of adjustable illumination.

When a target was encountered, the gunner was required to first visually identify the type of enemy aircraft and then adjust the target size knob on the gunsight from 35 feet to 150 feet to correspond with the wingspan of the target aircraft. The projected reticle size changed as the target size knob was adjusted, showing the current target size setting in feet at the 12 o’clock position on the reticle circle. Placing the center dot of the reticle on the center of the target, the gunner would then adjust the gunsight’s range wheel until the target aircraft’s wings completely filled the reticle circle.

Tracking the target then required the smooth movement of the gunsight on both the vertical axis, or elevation, and on the horizontal axis, or azimuth, to keep the target aircraft centered in the reticle and properly ranged within the bounds of the reticle circle. Changes in azimuth were affected by the gunner rotating the gunsight horizontally along with his body, while changes in elevation required moving the gunsight vertically by rotating the two hand wheel grips that were located on the outsides of the gunsight frame. Friction adjustments allowed the gunner to customize the touch of the gunsight’s movements to his preference.

Each movement in the gunsight, whether in elevation or in azimuth, resulted in an electrically activated corresponding movement to the guns (elevation), the turret (azimuth), or both. The mechanism for transmitting these movements involved differential selsyn generators in the gunsight and at the gun emplacement as well as a servo amplifier and two amplidyne generators, which drove the two motors that moved the guns.

With the exception of the tail mount, the turrets could rotate 360 degrees in azimuth and the guns could incline to 90 degrees in elevation relative to the body of the aircraft. The firing triggers were not “pulled” per se, but rather were buttons located adjacent to the hand wheels and depressed by either of the gunner’s thumbs. An action switch depressed by the gunner’s left palm while in contact with the hand wheel served as a control override for the sighting station. If the action switch was not depressed, such as in the event the gunner was incapacitated, the guns could not be fired from that sighting station. Control of the turret(s) then passed to another gunner’s sighting station regardless of the current settings of the electrical control switches, ensuring that all turrets remained operational.

While in contact with the enemy, the gunner simply needed to properly size, range, and track the target with his gunsight and then fire at the appropriate effective range. The CFC system moved the guns while the computer continuously calculated all the corrections needed for the fired projectile to hit the target. With computer-calculated targeting, the effective range of the guns was 900 yards, 50 percent farther than manually sighted guns and over twice the effective range of most enemy fighters’ guns.

The computer introduced the correction as a deviation from the parallel mirroring movements between the gunsight and the guns as transmitted by the system of selsyns. The total calculated correction was the sum of individual corrections for ballistics, parallax, and lead. Ballistics corrections compensated for the deflection of the projectile caused by gravity and by wind as the projectile exited an aircraft traveling around 250 miles per hour. Since the guns themselves were remote from the gunsights, parallax correction allowed for the distance along the length of the aircraft between the gunsight and the gun barrels. Lead correction allowed for the travel distance of the target aircraft during the time the projectile was in the air.

To perform its correction calculations, the computer required a number of pieces of input information obtained from several different sources. These inputs included the current position of the guns in both elevation and azimuth the aircraft’s true air speed, altitude, and outside temperature, which were input by the aircraft’s navigator the range to the target obtained from the gunsight as the gunner tracked the target and adjusted the range wheel and the relative velocity of the target received from two gyroscopes located on the gunsight as the gunner tracked the target.

Depending on the type of parallax, two different models of computers were used. A single-parallax computer, the General Electric model 2CH1C1, was used at sighting stations that had parallax between the gunsight and only one gun location, such as the tail gunner station, which controlled only one turret, or the nose gunner station, whose two turrets were located above and below each other almost equidistant longitudinally from the gunsight. A double-parallax computer, the model 2CH1D1, was used for the three top and side gunners’ sighting stations since all three gunners could simultaneously control two turrets of differing parallax from their gunsight. Although the side gunners were capable of controlling three different turrets via the control switching system, they could only operate two at any one time.

All inputs to the computer were electrical, but the computer itself performed its calculations mechanically since a purely electrical calculator lay outside the reach of existing technology in the era of vacuum tubes with their appetite for electrical current and enormous heat output. Aboard an aircraft, size and weight were further concerns. Conversion of the electrical inputs into the mechanical calculation system was achieved through an array of selsyns and potentiometers.

The computer itself was really several separate but interconnected calculating units contained within the same chassis, which was the size of a suitcase and weighed more than 50 pounds. The ballistic calculating unit was programmed with the known effects of gravity and the ballistic characteristics of a .50-caliber shell fired from the Browning M2, such as its muzzle velocity. To make the ballistics correction calculation, the ballistic unit needed to know the current gun position for the angle of initial velocity, the range to the target, the current true air speed, which affected windage, and the aircraft’s current altitude and outside temperature, which affected the air density and thus the drag on the bullet. Similarly, the parallax computing unit was programmed with the longitudinal distance(s) between its gunsight and the turret(s) that sight could control, but it needed to know the current gun position and the range to the target to compute the parallax correction trigonometrically. Finally, the lead calculating unit computed the lead correction from the range and the relative velocity of the target along with the ballistic characteristics, which affected the time of the projectile to the target.

The computer’s output, which consisted of the parallel signal received from the gunsight selsyn adjusted for the sum of the three calculated corrections, was then converted back into electrical impulses, which fed a servo amplifier, or feedback controller, that drove the two gunpositioning motors, one for elevation and one for azimuth. Thus the computer’s correction was introduced as an alteration to the position of the guns and of the turret from that which would have been exactly parallel to the gunsight’s position.

Because they were connected electrically, the computers did not have to be physically located with either the gunsights or the turrets. The nose gunner’s computer was located in the forward pressurized cabin aft of the pilot’s armor, while the other four computers were placed under the floor in the radar operator’s compartment near the back of the middle pressurized cabin surrounded by armor. In case of a computer failure or combat damage, an override switch allowed the gunner to bypass the computer completely and operate the guns without its correction using a retractable flip-down peep sight on the gunsight.

According to U.S. Army Air Forces records, a total of 3,760 production Superfortresses were delivered, around 70 percent of which were built by Boeing at its plants in Wichita, Kansas, and Renton, Washington. The rest were produced in Marietta, Georgia, by the Bell Aircraft Company and in Omaha, Nebraska, by the Glenn L. Martin Company, later part of Martin-Marietta.

After assembly was complete but before the aircraft was combat ready, the guns were harmonized and the targeting computers tested. First, both guns in a single turret were aligned to parallel target marks by use of a bore sighting tool with alignment made by changes to adjustment screws. Then each turret was aligned with each of the sighting stations that could control it by using a predefined harmonization target placed at least 100 feet away from the aircraft. Adjustments were made to either the selsyn at the sighting station or to the one at the turret, depending on which gunsight and turret combination was being adjusted. After the guns and sighting stations were harmonized, the targeting computers along with all the input systems and calculating components were tested using a comprehensive testing device containing on its face over 50 dials, meters, and switches.

Aircraft production quickly outpaced the manufacturers’ capacity to set up the revolutionary CFC systems, so the USAAF began training its own crews to ensure that the otherwise combat-ready bombers were not delayed in deployment. USAAF Corporal Robert W. “Bob” Truxell of Lansing, Michigan, was part of the first class to graduate from the B-29 CFC and computer training schools at Lowry Field in Denver, Colorado. Truxell had previously washed out of air cadet pilot training due to a three-month bout with rheumatic fever, which permanently disqualified him from serving in a flight crew. The illness proved to be fortuitous since most of his air cadet squadron was later lost in the ill-conceived raid on the Ploesti, Romania, oil refineries on August 1, 1943. After recovering from his illness, Truxell was reassigned from air cadets to aircraft armament, where he completed the remote control turret mechanic course.

After the turret course, Truxell was tapped for the 16-week B-29 CFC specialist course because he had begun studying engineering, including taking trigonometry, at the General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan, before enlisting in February 1943. Corporal Truxell finished first in his CFC class, earning entrance into targeting computer school and a third stripe upon its completion. Shortly thereafter he was given command of the first graduating class and a staff sergeant’s rocker. The new crew’s first assignment was in Georgia.

Truxell writes, “We were all sent to the [Bell Aircraft] B-29 factory in Marietta, Georgia, where completed B-29s were lined up for a mile awaiting proper alignment of the gun turrets and central computer.” He vividly recalls using a fire extinguisher to flush civilians sleeping on the clock at government expense out of the bombers’ pressurized crew tunnels so his crew could access the aft areas of the aircraft. Once the backlog in Georgia was cleared, the crew leapfrogged to various stateside air bases where B-29 squadrons were ready for overseas deployment—except for the final adjustment of their gunnery systems. After a particular squadron deployed, the gunnery crew moved on to the next base. Truxell calls his service a “pretty safe and interesting job.”

The B-29’s revolutionary gunnery system made a Japanese fighter pilot’s job neither pretty safe nor interesting. According to the Army Air Forces Statistical Digest published in December 1945, in the 13-month period from August 1944 to the war’s end in August 1945, B-29s were responsible for the destruction of 914 enemy aircraft in the air with a loss of just 72 of their own to enemy aircraft during more than 31,000 combat sorties flown.

1 November 1954

1 November 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.

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 are of 1,720 square feet ( square meters). The angle of incidence was 4° with 4° 29′ 23″ dihderal. 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 liter) 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 meter) 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-30-BN Superfortress 42-94106, circa 1945. (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.

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. (After a lengthy restoration, Doc received its Federal Aviation Administration Special Airworthiness Certificate, 19 May 2016.)

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

This Is The Story Of How The Russians Reverse Engineered The Boeing B-29 Superfortress

While many believe that it was the atomic bomb that led to the victory against Japan in WWII, in reality, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress is what really took the fight from them. Several months before the Bockscar carried the final nail in the coffin, hundreds of the B-29s from the US had taken flight across the Pacific in thousands of sorties and had taken out various Japanese cities and Japan’s ability to fight.

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was the most advanced aircraft of its time and featured cutting-edge technology, including remote-controlled guns, dual-wheeled, pressurized compartments, insanely powerful engines, and tricycle landing gear. It was capable of carrying up to 20,000 pounds of bombs and drop them at distances of 3,000 miles. It could fly at an altitude of more than 30,000 – an altitude which placed it out of reach for most of the Japanese guns and planes – at speeds of 350 mph. The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was actually a generation ahead when compared with Boeing’s B-24 and B17 and also Luftwaffe’s Junkers Ju 290. Japan didn’t have any advanced bomber, whereas the most advanced bomber that was present in the Soviet air force relied on fabric-covered ailerons, whereas the B-29 was using all-aluminum ailerons.

Stalin had been requesting President Roosevelt to provide the Soviet Union with B-29s under the US military aid program. This was an understanding that existed between the Allied nations wherein they were supposed to share food, oil, and materials amongst themselves. The US sent the Soviet Union everything but the heavy bombers. However, Stalin was in luck because the B-29 crews were allowed to land in Russia in case of emergencies. One such emergency in the summer of 1944 led to three B-29s landing in Vladivostok. The three aircraft were General H.H. Arnold Special, Ding How, and Ramp Tramp. The Soviets took them to a facility in Moscow. The crews of the aircraft were sent back to the US after multiple please from the US. However, the planes were never returned.

Stalin gave the order to copy the B-29 exactly and thus began the most ambitious reverse-engineering projects ever. Out of the three Boeing B-29 Superfortress, one was taken apart while the second one was kept intact as a reference. The third one was utilized for the test flight. Soviet Union faced a variety of issues while trying to copy the B-29. The Soviet Union lacked the manufacturing capabilities required to create many parts, and thus a number of compromises were made. The .50 caliber machine guns could not be sourced and were replaced with cannons.

The copying of the central fire-control system also proved to be one of the biggest challenges. It was such a complex task that Andrei Tupolev, who was the lead engineer project, was actually surprised when his team of engineers pulled it off. Soviet Superfortress Tupolev Tu-4 was ready in two years after this, and although there were many challenges, it only weighed 340 kilograms more than the B-29. Both aircraft featured the same wingspan and fuselage length. They both offered the same speed, range, payload, and but the Tu-4 offered a bit higher service ceiling.

The first batch of Tu-4s was manufactured in 1947 and took flight for the first time on 19 May 1947. By 1952, the Soviet Union had 850 bombers, and the experience gained during the copying and manufacturing process helped the Soviet Union to launch its strategic bomber program.

Boeing B-29 Superfortress Variants

During World War II, three models of the Superfortress were manufactured: the B-29, B-20A and the B-29B.

After the war, B-29s were adapted for several functions, including in-flight refueling as the KB-29, anti-submarine patrol, the RB-29 reconnaissance version, WB-29 weather reconnaissance, and rescue duty.

KB-29 Aerial Tanker

Two tanker versions were developed and produced: KB-29M and KB-29P. The B-29 played an important role in developing the effective use of aerial refueling during the late 1940s. The first aircraft produced for aerial refueling was the KB-29M tanker which used a flexible hose approach.

A more refined system was used in the KB-29P, involving a rigid flying boom system. The boom was mounted on the aftmost end of the KB-29P, and had two small wings. This approach would later be used in other Air Force tankers, including the KB-50, KC-97, KC-135 and KC-10.

RB-29 and F-13 Superfortress Reconnaissance Aircraft

The photo reconnaissance version of the B-29 was originally designated the F-13 Superfortress. In 1944 an F-13 became the first U.S. plane to fly over Tokyo since April 1942.

A total of 118 B-29 aircraft were reconfigured for photo work. In 1948, the F-13s were redesignated the RB-29 or the RB-29A.

WB-29 Weather Monitoring Aircraft

The WB-29s were production aircraft modified to perform weather monitoring missions. An observation position was fitted above the central fuselage section. They conducted standard data-gathering flights, including from the England out over the Atlantic Ocean, but also used for accumulating hurricane weather data.

As the Air Force's largest aircraft in 1950, the WB-29 became the first aircraft to be designated with a "W" for weather service. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron scored many "firsts" with the Superfortress. For example, in 1946 it was the first to fly into the top of a hurricane, at 22,000 feet (with the tops of clouds at 36,000 feet).

TB-29 Training Aircraft

The TB-29 was a trainer version of B-29 used to train cresw for bombing missions. Other TB-29s were used to tow targets.

B-29 Superfortress "Silverplates"

During World War II, the 509th Composite Group included 15 B-29s with special "Silverplate" modifications, and 1,800 men. The Silverplate B-29s had modifications necessary to deliver atomic weapons, which included an extensively modified bomb bay with pneumatic doors, special propellors, modified engines and the deletion of protective armor and gun turrets.

XB-39 Superfortress

The XB-39 Superfortress was intended to prove that the B-29 could successfully operate if the first choice of engine, the air-cooled Wright R-3350 radial engine, ran into development or production difficulties. The XB-39 would be fitted with Allison V-3420-17 liquid-cooled W24 inline engines.

The project test bed was YB-29, S/N 41-36954 it was was transferred in November of 1943 to the Fisher Body Aircraft Development Section of General Motors to be fitted with the Allison engines.

The first flight of the B-39 was made on December 9, 1944 at Cleveland, Ohio. The initial flight tests of the B-39 were impressive. However, the B-29s in service were working at a level that made the XB-39 not worthwhile. Consequently, the B-39 project was cancelled and no other types were built.

XB-44 Superfortress

Pratt and Whitney was provided B-29A S/N 42-93845 for testing of more powerful R-4360 radial engines. This aircraft was known as the XB-44, and later as the B-29D.

To secure funding for the new aircraft, and due to the aircraft's large number of modifications from the B-29, the designation was later changed from the B-29D to the B-50.

B-50 Superfortress

A later variant of the B-29, the B-50 made it maiden flight in 1947, originally named the B-29D. Essentially an improved version of the B-29, this aircraft's large number of modifications caused its redesignation as the B-50.

The B-50 was configured with more powerful Pratt & Whitney radial engines than the B-29, a stronger structure, a taller fin, and other improvements.

Boeing B-54 Ultrafortress Strategic Bomber

The Boeing B-54 was a strategic bomber designed by Boeing for use by the United States Air Force. Derived from the YB-50C Superfortress, construction of the prototype was cancelled before completion, and the aircraft was never flown.

Boeing C-97 and Boeing 377

After the war Boeing developed the Model 367, a military transport airplane based on the B-29 Superfortress bomber. Its civilian counterpart was the Model 377 Stratocruiser.

The C-97 Stratofreighter had a double-lobe fuselage consisting of two intersecting circular sections, so that the 74-foot-long upper deck had a larger diameter.

The Boeing 377, also called the Stratocruiser, was a large long-range airliner built after World War II. It was developed from the C-97 Stratofreighter.

Tupolev Tu-4

The Tupolev Tu-4 is a reversed-engineered variant of the Boeing B-29. Using B-29s which made emergency landings in the Soviet territory, Tupolev engineers designed and built a clone of the B-29, with its first flight in May of 1947.

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was a four-engine propeller-driven heavy bomber that was flown by the United States Military in World War II and the Korean War. The B-29 is one of our favorite models.

Boeing B-29 Superfortress WWII Heavy Bomber

The X-1 Rocket and the "Fat Man" Atom Bomb Models carried by the B-29 are included with the B-29 Download!

The Boeing B-29 was designed in 1940 as an eventual replacement for the B-17 and B-24. The first one built made its maiden flight on September 21, 1942. In December 1943 it was decided not to use the B-29 in the European Theater, thereby permitting the airplane to be sent to the Pacific area where its great range made it particularly suited for the long over-water flight required to attack the Japanese homeland from bases in China. During the last two months of 1944, B-29s began operating against Japan from the islands of Saipan, Guam and Tinian.

The B-29 had many new features, including guns that could be fired by remote control. The crew areas were pressurized and connected by a long tube over the bomb bays. The tail gunner had a separate pressurized area that could only be left during un pressurized flight. The B-29 was also the heaviest production plane because of increases in range, bomb load and defensive requirements.

By the end of the World War II, the Boeing Wichita plant had built 1,644 B-29s, nearly 65 percent of the total produced during the war.
The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) has now grounded FIFI, who used to tour --last in Wichita about 4 years ago. She was coming back in Sept 0f '01, but you-know-what grounded everything but the geese. The FIFI pilots are hopefully going to pilot, and train pilots, for DOC. Those committed to preservation pull together!

Hey chip: You folks at FG just keep trying to out-do yourselves. Now we modelers are going to have to build the B-36, b-17 and B-29 all in the same scale. My wife said, and I quote " You had better finish the model room in the storage shed. You're NOT hanging those three from the bedroom ceiling!" Oh well, keep up the good work! Dave (10/03)

On the B-29, All I can say is WOW! Caramba, Cowabongas! (10/03)

How VERY nice! This is one that was worth the wait! Bravo, Bravo, Bravissimo! (10/03)

Thanks Chip & Crew, for two differing but excellent aircraft in their own right - l love the 'planes from the inter war era. The B 29 will be an excellent project for any spare time over Christmas! Phil Wilkinson (10/03)

Wow! Thanks - and thanks for the Russian Tu-4 markings. Discovery-Wings channel did an episode on the Tu-4. Enola is "alone" spelled backwards. Yes, it was his mother's name, but it makes you wonder. Thanks again, John


Chip and Crew, Thanks again for such a wonderful creation! The way you guys are pumping out these fantastic models I will have to put on a major house extension to display these little beauties. Regards, Louis Rizzo Urbanform Designs P/

We are DEFINITELY havin' fun.. Steve B. MD

The model looks great I will start building it as you read this. Lucas Hidding Holland

Guys, Great kits, I never thought I would see a B-17 or B-29 paper kit. I do enjoy the era of wood and fabric. Have you ever considered making a Dragon Rapide, Handley Page 400, De Havilland DH-4, or the French Voison? So much paper, so little time. Thanks JW

I'm pretty excited about this model my Dad worked on these planes and I'm going to surprise him with my rendition. Paul Berger

Hi Chip! You guys are super. I'm always eagerly awaiting whatever's next. You ought to see my office..Thanks, and best regards, Bob F

I downloaded the B-29. WOW!! So glad I put the plastic modeling to one side, who needs it when there are beauties like this to be had? Derek

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was an American four-engine heavy bomber, and easily the largest aircraft of World War II. It was the primary US strike weapon against Japan and continued to serve long after the war was over.

Boeing began planning for a very large, long range bomber in 1938, an aircraft far larger and more ambitious than any yet built. It was a very ambitious project - too ambitious, some felt - but it was not the first time Boeing had tried to build a giant bomber. Their B-17 had been an equally ambitious design when it was first planned in 1934, and its development had been long and troubled. Nevertheless, Boeing offered its design study for a still more advanced pressurized development of the B-17 to the United States Army Air Corps in 1938 and, though there was no immediate interest, they were encouraged to keep working on it.

In January 1940, with the B-17 just entering service and the bigger Consolidated B-24 still more than a year away, the Air Corps issued a request for proposals for a much larger bomber, which was to have the range for operation over the Pacific - it being understood that war with Japan was all but inevitable. Four firms submitted design studies, but Douglas and Lockheed soon withdrew. In September 1940 Boeing and Consolidated were awarded development contracts for the XB-29 and the XB-32.

The Boeing B-29 was designed in 1940 as an eventual replacement for the B-17 and B-24. The first one built made its maiden flight on September 21, 1942. In December 1943 it was decided not to use the B-29 in the European Theater, thereby permitting the airplane to be sent to the Pacific area where its great range made it particularly suited for the long over-water flight required to attack the Japanese homeland from bases in China. During the last two months of 1944, B-29s began operating against Japan from the islands of Saipan, Guam and Tinian.

The B-29 had many new features, including guns that could be fired by remote control. The crew areas were pressurized and connected by a long tube over the bomb bays. The tail gunner had a separate pressurized area that could only be left during un pressurized flight. The B-29 was also the heaviest production plane because of increases in range, bomb load and defensive requirements.

By the standards of the day, it was an enormous airplane: 30m long, a 43m wingspan, over 32 tonnes empty, and when fully loaded almost 63 tonnes. For range, the mid-set wings had a high aspect ratio, and to keep the landing speed within reason, large Fowler flaps were fitted. Three separate pressurized crew compartments were provided: one in the nose, a second one just aft of the wing for gunners, and a third, isolated one for the tail gunner. Rather than fit traditional bulky manned gun turrets, Boeing used small, remote control units (which were to give endless trouble in the early years).

The manufacturing task was immense, involving four main factories at Renton, Wichita (both Boeing plants), Marietta (Bell) and Omaha (Martin), and thousands of sub-contractors.

Boeing built a total of 2,766 B-29s at plants in Wichita, Kansas, (previously the Stearman Aircraft Co., bought by Boeing in 1929) and in Renton, Washington. The Bell Aircraft Co. built 668 of the giant bombers in Georgia, and the Glenn L. Martin Co. built 536 in Nebraska. Production ended in 1946.

Perhaps the most recognized B-29 is the "Enola Gay", which dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. The "Bockscar", also a B-29, dropped another nuclear weapon on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Shortly thereafter, Japan surrendered.

The Soviet Air Force's Tupolev Tu-4 was a bolt-for-bolt copy of the B-29, first widely revealed to the world audience in August of 1947.

After the war, B-29s were adapted for several functions, including in-flight refueling, anti-submarine patrol, weather reconnaissance, and rescue duty. The B-29 saw military service again in Korea between 1950 and 1953, battling new adversaries: jet fighters and electronic weapons. The last B-29 in squadron use retired from service in September 1960.

With the advent of the conflict in Korea in June 1950, the B-29 was once again thrust into battle. For the next several years it was effectively used for attacking targets in North Korea.

The B-29 was soon made obsolete by the development of the jet engine and was replaced in the early 1950s by the Convair B-58 "Hustler", the Boeing B-47 "Stratojet", and eventually, the Boeing B-52 "Stratofortress".

As of August, 2003, the only B-29 in the world which is still airworthy is the Confederate Air Force's "Fifi." However, work is actively proceeding at the Boeing plant in Witchita, Kansas on restoring a B-29 named "Doc," and the airplane is expected to fly in 2004. Also, the United States Air Force Museum at the old Wright-Patterson Air Force base is considering restoring "Bock's Car" to airworthy condition it is presently restored as a static display. In addition, the Smithsonian has not decided whether to restore "Enola Gay" as a static display or to bring the airplane back to flight status.

The B-29A was the version of the Superfortress built by Boeing at the Navy-owned Renton plant. The B-29A was essentially the same as the B-29, differing from the B-29 primarily in the wing structure. The B-29 employed a two-piece wing center section that was bolted together at the center line and which was installed as a single unit passing entirely through the fuselage and supporting the engine nacelles. The B-29A used a very short stub center section that projected only a very short distance beyond the fuselage sides. Each pair of engine nacelles was fitted to a separate short section of wing. The outer wing panels attached at the same point on B-29s and B-29As alike. This change gave the B-29A an additional foot of wingspan as compared to the B-29.

The B-29A was powered by four R-3350-57 engines. 1119 B-29As were built, block numbers reaching -75. The 20-mm cannon was removed from the tail turret beginning with production Block 20, and a pair of 0.50-inch guns were added to the top forward turret to provide additional protection against fighter attacks coming from the front.

Revised engine nacelles were developed and tested and were to be used on late-model B-29As. These engine nacelles had the oil coolers and inter coolers moved further aft, which gave them a "chinless" appearance. Because of this chinless appearance, these nacelles became known by the nickname "Andy Gump", who was a famous cartoon character of the period.

Some early B-29As were fitted with pneumatically-operated bomb-bay doors which could be snapped shut in less than a second. The normal hydraulic doors took seven seconds to close. By early 1945, all B-29s were being manufactured with pneumatic doors as a standard fit.

The B-29 had always been somewhat underpowered for its weight, and in search of more power, one B-29A (42-93845) was handed over to Pratt & Whitney for conversion as a testbed for the four-row 28-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-4360 air-cooled radial engine. This aircraft was later re designated XB-44, and was readily recognizable by the new engine installation, with the oil cooler intake pulled further back on the lower part of the nacelle. The aircraft had been initially ordered into production as the B-29D, but all contracts were cancelled at the end of the war. However, the B-29D project was later reinstated as B-50A.

The A-Bombs used over Japan Little Boy (left) and Fat Man (right)

Just three days after the bomb was dropped to Hiroshima, the second atomic bomb called "Fat Man" was dropped to Nagasaki. Though the amount of energy generated by the bomb dropped to Nagasaki was significantly larger than that of the Little Boy, the damage given to the city was slighter than that given to Hiroshima due to the geographic structure of the city. It is estimated that approximately 70,000 people died by the end of the year because of the bombing.

The volunteers who participated in this project, strongly believe that the world must learn about weapons of total destruction. We hope that the information presented here will help you understand the pain and devastation that nuclear weapons can cause. We don't want you to just feel sorry for the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war inflicted untold pain and suffering on many people in Asia and the Pacific. Rather we want you to work with us to ensure that all of us can live in a safe world.

We hope this document helps you understand what it was and what it means.

Crew: 10
Span: 141 ft. 3 in.
Length: 99 ft. 0 in.
Height: 27 ft. 9 in.
Weight: 133,500 lbs. max.

Eight .50-cal. machine guns in remote controlled turrets
Two .50-cal. machine guns and one 20mm cannon in tail
20,000 lbs. of bombs
Engines: Four Wright R-3350s of 2,200 hp. ea.

Maximum speed: 357 mph.
Cruising speed: 220 mph.
Range: 3,700 miles
Service Ceiling: 33,600 ft.

A Tribute to the Great Boeing B-29 Superfortress

This website is a tribute to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, and to the people who designed, built, flew, and serviced these aircraft.

"Enola Gay" parked on tarmac after the Hiroshima atomic bomb flight

We provide first-hand commentary, specifications, history and original photographs of the Superfortress.

Boeing began work on a pressurized long-range bomber in 1938. In December 1939, the Army Air Corps issued a formal specification for a so called "superbomber", capable of delivering 20,000 lbs of bombs to a target 2,667 miles distant, at a speed of 400 mph.

The B-29 was one of the most advanced bombers of its time, featuring innovations such as a pressurized cabin, a central fire-control system, and remote-controlled machine gun turrets.

As part of the World War II military buildup, 3,970 B-29s were built during production at four assembly plants across the United States.

Read about the B-29's role in World War II and Korea, the bomber's development, production and deployment.

Explore our coverage of the B-29 Superfortress "Enola Gay" and its role in dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Days later, the B-29 "Bockscar" dropped the second bomb, on Nagasaki.

Left fuselage view of the Boeing WB-50D, S/N 49-0310 (staff photo)

After World War II, many of the existing B-29 aircraft were sent for storage, and ultimately scrapping at aircraft storage and disposal facilities around the U.S.

The remaining B-29s helped build the initial bomber inventory of the Strategic Air Command when it was formed in March of 1946. Many served during the Korean War and as KB-29 aerial tankers during the 1950s.

A later variant of the B-29 was the B-50 Superfortress which featured more powerful Pratt & Whitney radial engines, a stronger structure, a taller fin, and other improvements.

Only 22 complete B-29 airframes are currently on display in the United States. We've had the privilege of seeing, and photographing, 16 of these, and have on this website a list of surviving B-29 Superfortresses, photographs and locations. These surviving bombers provide us a first-hand, up-close opportunity to appreciate the size and power of these aircraft.

Continued Evolution of This Aviation Website Series

We launched Planes of the Past in 2012, which over time grew into a large site covering a variety of aviation-related topics. In 2015, we split the website into more focused topics based on our viewers' interests. Now we offer the following websites:

Boeing B-29 Superfortress

Boeing B-29 Superfortress (Boeing Model 341/345) on Yhdysvaltain armeijan ilmavoimien (USAAF, US Army Air Forces, USAF:in edeltäjä) käyttämä nelimoottorinen raskas pommikone.

B-29 Superfortress

USAAFin B-29 Superfortress.
Tyyppi strateginen pommikone
Alkuperämaa Yhdysvallat
Valmistaja Boeing
Ensilento 21. syyskuuta 1942 [1]
Esitelty 8. toukokuuta 1944 [2]
Poistettu käytöstä 21. kesäkuuta 1960
Status 1 lentokuntoinen, 1 restauroitavana, useita museoissa
Pääkäyttäjät USAAF
Valmistusmäärä 3 970
Valmistusvuodet 1943–1946 [3]
Yksikköhinta 639 188 USD [4]
Muunnelmat KB-29 Superfortress
XB-39 Superfortress
Boeing XB-44 Superfortress
Boeing B-50 Superfortress
Boeing 377 Stratocruiser
Tupolev Tu-4
Infobox OK

Konetyyppi kehitettiin edelleen B-17 Flying Fortress -tyypistä. Kehitystyö kohtasi ongelmia, sillä B-29:ää pidettiin hankalana lennettävänä. Lisäksi moottorit saattoivat syttyä tuleen kesken lennon. Koelentäjä Edmund "Eddie" T. Allen sai surmansa, sekä samalla koko 11 hengen miehistön kaikki jäsenet menetettiin Wichitan eteläpuolella lento-onnettomuudessa, missä koelentokone törmäsi teollisuuskiinteistöön jossa menehtyi 18 henkeä. [5]

B-29 oli toisen maailmansodan suurin ja kehittynein aktiivipalveluksessa ollut kone, jossa oli muun muassa ensimmäisenä pommikoneena paineistetut miehistötilat, erittäin kehittynyt Norden M-9B -pommitustähtäin [6] ja keskitetty konekiväärien tulenjohtojärjestelmä, johon kuului muun muassa sähköinen laskin. Konekiväärit olivat kauko-ohjatuissa torneissa, joissa oli kaksi 12,7 mm Browning M2 -konekivääriä, ja lisäksi perän tornissa oli 20 mm tykki. Alun perin se oli tarkoitettu pääasiassa korkean lentokorkeuden päiväpommittajaksi, mutta sitä käytettiin useimmiten matalan lentokorkeuden yöpommittajana. B-29 toimi Yhdysvaltain pääasiallisena hyökkäysaseena Japania vastaan ja onkin tunnettu Hiroshiman ja Nagasakin atomipommien kuljettajana. Kone oli ainoa USAAF:in konetyyppi, B-32 Dominatoria lukuun ottamatta, joka pystyi kuljettamaan melkein 4 600 kiloa painavan pommin.

B-29 pystyi lentämään niin korkealla (yli 9 300 m) ja nopeasti (huippunopeus 574 km/h) [2] että suurin osa japanilaisista hävittäjäkoneista ei pystynyt saamaan sitä kiinni, joten se ei usein edes tarvinnut järeää puolustusaseistustaan. Tämän vuoksi ydinpommittajiksi varustetuista koneista riisuttiin koneen keventämiseksi aseistus pyrstöaseita lukuun ottamatta.

B-29 pysyi käytössä vielä pitkään toisen maailmansodan jälkeenkin. Sitä käytettiin rakettimoottorein varustettujen koekoneiden, muun muassa X-1:n ja Douglas Skyrocketin kuljettamiseen noin 12 kilometrin korkeuteen, missä koekone irrotettiin pommittajan erityisesti tarkoitukseen muutetusta pommikuilusta ja jatkoi lentoaan omin voimin. Tässä tehtävässä jotkut näistä muutetuista koneista varustettiin laitteistolla, jolla koekoneet saattoi tankata ennen lähtöä: vaikka ne tankattiin kentällä, herkästi haihtuva nestehappi tahtoi kiehua ja siis poistua käytöstä sen noin tunnin aikana, joka kului koneyhdistelmän kohotessa lähtökorkeuteen.

Kun B-29 poistui käytöstä 1960-luvulla, yhteensä noin 3 900 konetta oli rakennettu. Kone oli erittäin kallis rakentaa. Se maksoi 300 000 dollaria aikana, jolloin hyvän hotellihuoneen sai kolmella dollarilla yö. On laskettu, että sillä alumiinimäärällä, mikä kului yhden Superfortressin rakentamiseen, olisi voitu rakentaa laivueellinen (16 kpl) P-51 Mustangeja.

Lentokonetyyppiä käytettiin myös tiedustelukone RB-29:nä vielä toisen maailmansodan jälkeen 1950-luvulla. Neuvostoliitto kehitti kolmesta haltuunsa joutuneesta B-29:stä itselleen vuoteen 1947 mennessä Tupolev Tu-4:n strategiseksi pommikoneekseen. Tupolev Tu-4:ää käyttivät Neuvostoliiton ilmavoimien lisäksi myös Kansan vapautusarmeijan ilmavoimat Kiinan kansantasavallassa.

Koneesta kehitettiin myöhemmin siviiliversio Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, jossa oli kaksikerroksinen runko. Stratocruiserista tuli suihkukoneiden tuloon asti hyvin suosittu pitkillä lentolinjoilla. Kuljetuskonemuunnoksen tyyppimerkintä oli C-97 ja siitä kehitettiin erikseen ilmatankkausmuunnelma KC-97, joka palveli siihen asti kunnes Boeing 707 -koneesta kehitetyt KC-135 Stratotanker -tankkerit tulivat palveluskäyttöön.

Historic Lake Mead B-29

While the plane is mostly known for its function as a heavy bomber used during World War II, the Lake Mead B-29 was used for science.

Susan Edwards, a research archaeologist and historian from Desert Research Institute, said the B-29 was destined for storage until Dr. Carl Anderson, a professor of physics and Nobel Laureate, proposed using the B-29 for cosmic research.

After the war, he requested one B-29 from the Army Air Force. His request went up the chain, and the Department of Defense agreed to give him three B-29s. Project APOLLO, the High Altitude Flying Laboratory Program was approved.

“The missions weren’t classified,” Edwards said, “but what they were going to do with the research was. High-energy particle physics research clearly dominated the B-29 flights, but a wide variety of other upper atmospheric research experiments were interspersed between the cosmic ray studies. The program was really important.”

“It had a protocol that day,” she said. “It had to start at a low altitude and ascend 500 feet a minute and collect readings. At 30,000 feet, it descended at 500 feet a minute. It was a protocol they had done multiple times before.”

The Crash

At 9:51 a.m. July 21, 1948, a B-29 Superfortress, weighing in at 104,556 pounds, took off from China Lake, California. It traveled to a test area near Lake Mead to conduct high-altitude atmospheric research.

After the last measurements were taken, the pilot took the plane a little lower. Both the pilot and co-pilot thought they were around 400 feet above the lake’s surface, but the altimeter was reportedly off. Around 12:30 p.m. traveling at 230 miles per hour, the B-29 struck the water.

Capt. Robert M. Madison, 1st Lt. Paul M. Hesler, Staff Sgt. David D. Burns and John W. Simeroth escaped and climbed along the spine of the plane and inflated two life rafts. Sgt. Frank A. Rico was still inside. Madison and Simeroth pulled him from the back of the plane out through the co-pilot’s window.

They all climbed aboard the life rafts and watched the plane slip below the surface of the lake.

After two hours in the water, Edwards said the crew was able to signal a civilian aircraft flying overhead. Its pilot saw the rafts and reported it. The National Park Service dispatched rescue crews.

By 6:15 p.m., all men were off the water and in Boulder City.

The Discovery

Fo r decades, finding the plane proved to be quite a challenge. The National Park Service knew the general area where the plane crashed, but it rested a couple hundred feet underwater.

In 2000, a private dive team discovered the wreck, using a side-scan sonar - a device that is prohibited in the park without a permit. The group dove on the plane in 2001 and illegally removed artifacts from the site.

With the location of the plane in a national park it was now a national cultural resource that required protection by law. Therefore, the artifacts were returned to the park service.

The exact location was still unclear to the park service until 2002 when Mark Sappington, a park employee, worked with the Bureau of Reclamation to reprocess existing map data of the area when an outline of a plane appeared.

Fifty-five years after it crashed, the park service dropped an underwater camera at the mapped location and found the plane. It was found that there were ropes and lights from previous un-authorized dives and parts of the aircraft were missing due to looting.

In 2003, the park sponsored a team of technical divers to survey the wreckage. Since the aircraft was now at almost 300 feet below the surface (water levels fluctuated year to year) and that required special diving equipment and back-up systems.

During a special event to commemorate the Lake Mead B-29, Submerged Resources Center Chief Dave Conlin recalled that first dive.

He said his crew had to undergo new training and obtain new equipment for a dive this complex. It involved breathing a mixed air that included helium.

“The first time I dove on that plane, I was terrified. We went down and down and down and down and suddenly, there was a plane,” he said. “The lights went on, and it looked like a spaceship. It was in incredible condition.”

At the end of the dive, his team had a map of the area and a better idea of what happened when the plane crashed.

The number two engine hit the water and flipped up under the wing and hit the tail. Then, the number three and four engines hit the water. The number one engine caught fire, and the tail cone broke off.

Conlin said all of the crew members escaped the B-29 before it sunk and hit the bottom nose first.

Protecting the B-29

Following the crash, the plane was recommended for salvage, but the recommendation was canceled Feb. 18, 1949. As an agency dedicated to the preservation of America’s resources, the National Park Service now serves as the custodian of the Lake Mead B-29.

Because the Lake Mead B-29 is such a unique, significant resource, the National Park Service balances recreational access with protection.

Over the next 100 years, the park wants new visitors to be able to experience this moment in history.

Diving on the B-29

2002: Due to the damage and looting discovered at the site diving on the B-29 was banned.

2007-2008: After National Park Service divers conducted a thorough assessment of the plane and crash site, it was opened to limited permitted diving. Commercial tours were provided by Scuba Training and Technology Inc. and Xtreme Scuba.

2009-2014: The B-29 site was closed for public diving while the park service assessed the plane's conditions and reviewed the terms of the permit to help make it more economically viable for businesses.

2015-2017: Commercial tours were provided by Scuba Training and Technology Inc.

2018-2020: The park took a pause in permitted diving to further assess the plane's condition.

2020-2022: Commercial tours are now available through Las Vegas Scuba, LLC and Scuba Training and Technology Inc. Water levels fluctuate at Lake Mead, but the plane usually rests at depths that place it in a technical dive category.

There are many other diving experiences open to the public at Lake Mead, including an aggregate plant and other submerged planes, boats and vehicles.

T Square 45: A B-29 Bomber Returns to its Former Glory

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress T Square 54 shines on static display at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

The Seattle Museum of Flight’s meticulous B-29 restoration has returned most of the veteran bomber’s controls to working order.

Given its location on historic Boeing Field, it’s not surprising that Seattle’s Museum of Flight exhibits a wide variety of Boeing aircraft. Among its latest restorations is another Boeing product, a combat-veteran B-29 Superfortress. The shiny new bomber, serial no. 44-69729, rolled out of the Boeing plant in Wichita, Kan., on New Year’s Day 1945. Accepted by the U.S. Army Air Forces on January 4, the new Superfortress had its “address” prominently displayed on the broad, tall vertical stabilizer: a black “T” for the 498th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) above a square for the 73rd Bomb Wing and the number 54 as the 54th aircraft assigned to the 875th Squadron.

T Square 54’s first mission, on the night of March 9-10, was a low-level incendiary raid on Tokyo that burned 16 square miles of the city and marked a change in tactics for the Twentieth Air Force bombers. Over the next several weeks T54 flew missions over Osaka, Kobe and Nagoya to mark targets in advance of the main bomber stream and participated in attacks. During a May 23 night raid, an anti-aircraft shell set the no. 1 engine on fire, but the B-29 made it back on the other three. On August 8, while the radioactive fires were still burning in Hiroshima, T54 flew its 37th and final mission to industrial targets in Yawata.

T Square 54 drops its payload during one of 37 combat missions it flew over Japan in 1945. (The Museum of Flight)

During the Cold War the veteran bomber was sent back to Boeing’s Wichita plant for conversion as a KB-29 aerial tanker. At Biggs Air Force Base in Texas, no. 729 was part of Strategic Air Command’s 95th Bomb Wing, flying missions to the UK. In 1956, after 11 years of service, it was finally retired from the Air Force and given to the Navy.

Transported to the Weap­ons Testing Center at Naval Air Station China Lake, high in the California desert, 729 joined several other B-29s as bombing targets for naval aviators. They had little luck in hitting the old veteran. In the 1970s the Air Force, realizing there were few Superfortresses left, ordered a stop to using them as targets. By the early 1980s 729 was among the last salvageable wartime B-29s left. In 1986 the dilapidated bomber was trucked in pieces to Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado, where it underwent its first restoration.

In 1993, with Lowry designated for closure, the Museum of Flight began negotiations aimed at restoring 729 to its original appearance. Retired AT&T engineer Dale Thompson eventually oversaw the project.

Thompson said the bomber was in bad shape when Lowry first received it. “The aluminum skin was very weathered, some of the windows were broken, so the desert dust had blown in and covered everything,” he noted. “The tires were all flat and cracked. The engines were frozen, with pools of solid oil in the nacelles. All the wiring and cabling was gone or degraded. The wartime bombing equipment was gone, replaced by the air tanker gear. The control surfaces are fabric over an aluminum frame, and after all those years sitting in the sun at China Lake they were nothing more than shreds.”

A view of the command pilot’s position and working Norden bombsight. (The Museum of Flight)

Lowry restored the exterior and repaired the damage, but what Thompson and his team faced was far more daunting. The Superfortress was in effect a huge metal jigsaw puzzle with dozens of missing pieces, some of which no longer existed. Rare wartime armament, radar, navigation, communications and bombing equipment had to be found or machined from original 1944 specifications. All four engines had to be stripped down and rebuilt, along with the hydraulics, instruments, flight controls, and oxygen and interphone systems.

Several hundred volunteers gave their time to the old bomber. “We had ex-USAF personnel, people who worked at Boeing and a lot of folks who just offered their time and effort,” reported Thompson. Boeing opened their archives to the project, allowing the team to copy any drawings, diagrams and photos they needed.

“The cockpit is about 90 percent complete,” said Thompson. “During the war the inner skin was just bare aluminum, but at all the crew stations it was insulated and covered with cotton fabric. All the cotton fabric is in place now. The tunnel through the bomb bay is lined too. We have the Norden bombsight and it actually works. We had it running and even an hour after it was turned off, the gyros were still spinning. Beautiful machinery. It looks brand-new.

A look at the flight engineer’s station, which is situated just aft of the copilot facing backward. (The Museum of Flight)

“We had machinists who custom-made parts from original Boeing drawings. Syd Baker built bomb racks from scratch in his garage. All the instrument panels and labels are there, and their surfaces have been done with the proper black finish. It looks absolutely new.

“The control cabling has been replaced,” continued Thompson. “The pulleys and guides are perfect and they operate the control surfaces. The command radios do work. Some licensed ham operators were on the team. We had two wartime pilots in the B-17 and B-29 and told them to talk and simulate a mission. They were so happy to use those radios again.”

Thompson said the team worked a deal with Travis Air Force Base to wrangle up some critical parts. “It’s the only B-29 in the world where all five turrets work,” he proudly noted. “We invited a B-29 gunner to come on board. He settled into his old seat at the gunsight and said, ‘I wish I could fire these babies again.’ So I told him, ‘Go ahead. It works.’ This guy takes the handgrips and twists it around. The turret turns and the guns elevate. He was overjoyed, just like a kid. Then I told him to fire the guns. He did, and this chattering roar made him jump,” Thompson laughed. “We had this recorded sound of the .50s firing when he pulled the trigger. He was smiling from ear to ear.”

Today the revitalized veteran bomber is on display in the museum’s Aviation Pavilion. You can take a 360-degree virtual tour of the B-29’s immaculate interior at

This article appeared in the January 2021 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe click here!

Watch the video: B-29 Superfortress advance on Japan. (January 2022).