The B-29 Superfortress was the most complex aircraft built during the 40′s; because of this the US Air Force wanted some other aircraft as insurance against its failure.
With a war raging, and the world’s most complex aircraft under development, additional options were needed: planes that would be placed into production as backups had the Boeing Superfortress failed. By spreading the aircraft contracts around, it was hoped that at least one of these superbombers would work. Take a moment and look through the Superfortress development and you will see that that the B-29 nearly derailed several times during, and after, it’s time on the drawing boards.
The US Air Force put out a contest for a very long range euro bomber. It would need to be capable of the same range and bomb load as the B-29. Three companies stepped up and submitted designs for this contest with only one going into production.
With the Constellation underutilized during the war Lockheed submitted a bomber version of the aircraft. The design never got the scale model you see above. Which is a shame really since I would like to have seen how Kelly Johnson would have solved some of the bomber issues other manufactures had in his own special way.
Remember the numbers you see below were only from the design state. What would have happened if it actually reached development is any ones guess. Considering how effecient the Connie was with the identical numbers this bomber should have been pretty spectacular. The stats for all three aircraft are from wikipedia.
- Maximum speed: 382 mph (615 km/h)
- Range: 5,333 mi (8,045 km)
- Service ceiling: 17,832 ft (5,440 m)
- Rate of climb: ft/min (m/s)
- Wing loading: 52 lb/ft² (255 kg/m²)
- Power/mass: 0.10 hp/lb (170 W/kg)
- Bombs: 16,000 lb
Douglas was next up with their proposed Douglas XB-31. Douglas had a leg up on the competition with the XB-19 which was the largest bomber at the time of it’s construction. The failure of the XB-19 was related to the lack of suitable engines not the airframe. With this in mind Douglas scaled up the design with the more powerful engines in mind. By using four of the Pratt and Whitney R-4360 3000hp radials they designed the largest aircraft of the three proposals.
Of special note is the shape of the nose section. With this being a pressurized fuselage the design called for a perfectly cylindrical shape. Douglas with with a far more pointed look then the B-29′s.
- General characteristics
- Crew: 8
- Length: 117 ft 3 in (35.7 m)
- Wingspan: 207 ft 0 in (63.1 m)
- Height: 42 ft 7 in (12.99 m)
- Wing area: 3,300 ft² (310 m²)
- Empty weight: 109,200 lb (49,530 kg)
- Loaded weight: 134,200 lb (60,870 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 198,000 lb (89,800 kg)
- Powerplant: 4 × Wright R-3350-13 “Duplex-Cyclone” radials, 2,200 hp (1641 kW) each
- Powerplant after later redesign: 4× Pratt & Whitney R-4360 ”Wasp Major” radials, 3,000 hp (2238 kW) each
- Performance (estimated)
- Maximum speed: 357 mph (575 km/h)
- Range: 3,000 miles (4,830 km)
- Service ceiling: 35,000 ft (10,675 m)
- Wing loading: 41 lb/ft² (200 kg/m²)
- Power/mass: 0.066 hp/lb (108 kW/kg) originally, later upgraded to 0.089 hp/lb (147 W/kg)
- Bombs: 25,000 lb (11,000 kg) in two ventral bomb bays
The winner of the competition was Consolidated’s B-32 Dominator. Let’s not kid ourselves, this is one of the best names for a bomber ever. Further, the design carries the B-24 look to it’s logical extreme. The US Air Force ordered 1500 B-32′s with the plan o take the B-29 to the Pacific and the B-32 to Europe. Only 118 Dominators were built with the success of the B-29 ending the war.
In operational use the bombers results were mixed. Towards the final weeks of the war they were used as photo recon aircraft to check on the Japanese cease fire. During this time they were attacked and were not shot down. Reliability issues showed up during these missions but that was to be expected for a new aircraft.
An unusual side note to the B-32 story is that the last airman killed during WWII was killed in a B-32 while trying to help another injured crew member.
- Maximum speed: 357 mph (310 knots, 575 km/h) at 30,000 ft (9,150 m)
- Cruise speed: 290 mph (252 knots, 467 km/h)
- Range: 3,800 mi (3,304 nmi, 6,118 km)
- Service ceiling: 30,700 ft (9,360 m)
- Rate of climb: 1,050 ft/min (5.3 m/s)
- Guns: 10× .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns
- Bombs: 20,000 lb (9,100 kg)
Whether the B-32 would have had better luck in combat than the B-29 is up for debate. The B-32 had nearly the same amount of issues in development as the B-29. Since they used the same R-3350 engines with the same nacelles they both suffered from the same overheating problems. Next the complexity of the remote gun systems plagued the B-29 and B-32. The B-29 addressed by removing the guns entirely during the fire bombing campaign, the B-32 addressed it by going with manual guns.
Had it been given time to develop and mature the B-32 may have held a place of significance like the Superfortress. Due to the amount of time needed for development, and the level of complexity in this back up aircraft, that was not to be the case.
[all images from Wikipedia.org]