Airborne Awesomosity, Big Complicated Machines

The Cold War That Wasn’t – The Convair YB-60

When I grow up I'm gonna ride a nuke from your bomb bay down onto the ground

A young “cowboy”, the son of a member of the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California, looks over the Convair built YB-60 during its visit at Edwards from the Fort Worth, Texas, plant. 1953 – From Wikipedia

The early Cold War years were a time of experimentation and discovery. You know like your college years. It was also a time when companies just tried to extend the lives of their older aircraft or threw some incredibly oddball stuff out there in hopes it would work. These are their stories.


What is old is still old

So at Convair there was a problem. They had put all their cards into an obsolete bomber. They had worked so hard pushing out the competition with the YB-35 that their karmic payment was due.  The future was coming and they were now the dinosaur. That didn’t mean they wouldn’t try one more time with their beast.

Take a moment and look at the Convair B-36D in the background. Six R-4360 cubic inch radial engines and four jet motors motivating that intercontinental bomber. How could Convair compete against the likes of the B-52? Easy put eight modern jet motors on a B-36 with some upgrades. The YB-60 gained a swept wing and a swept tail.The YB-60 even had a B-36 designation until the Air Force gave it a new number for the contest.


Bet you could heat a lot of tea in that.


The engines are hung like that for harmonic frequency reasons. The Brits would bury theirs into the roots of the wings for the same reason. The Americans would end with the advantage of being able to swap out to later engines this way where the Brits were stuck with the ones designed for the aircraft. The implications of this for this on the British would haunt them for decades with the V-Bombers and even the Concorde.  The one thing about American designs is that they are very forward looking.  At some point we’ll get one of our engineer to dig deeper to dig into this topic because it would help to lead the Brits out of the bomber business.



When I put the other pictures of the aircraft up you will spot a couple things. One is that you will see how large this jet is. It was the largest jet to fly in its day and for years afterwards.  It’s a true giant. A testament to what America could build. The US flexing its muscles by showing the Commies that we could build something bigger and badder.  Yet it really wasn’t. It was archaic to the bitter end. Born of a design powered by pistons and then force fed more power with gasoline fed jets. She was the big stick and it was time to retire her to pasture. 


To infinity and somewhere in the late nineteen forties


Just like other projects of this kind. It was meant to give the USAF the advantage of commonality. You get a newish aircraft while having the same parts that you had from the aircraft in the field. There are several aircraft that we will look at that cover this.  In the end it didn’t meet the performance goals of the competition. Heck the B-52 would beat it hands down. Just take a minute and think about what the skies would have looked like over Vietnam had primary heavy bomber been the B-60. Would it have intimated the enemy by shear size or fallen in larger numbers from its many weaknesses.


  • Victor

    Another great aircraft story.

  • My 1952 Observer’s Aircraft book the only one that I’ve lost from my collection over the years) listed the YB-60, the YB-52 and the B-36 in the same volume. Also the Douglas Skyray, Vought Cutlass and Avro 698- forerunner of the Vulcan.

    Those books are a wonderful snapshot of aviation at the time – there were many types that would go on to be featured in many further issues over the years, and some that would disappear into obscurity. Every year’s Observer’s Book would have a smattering of research aircraft, too, the Ryan XV-5 and XB-70A as notable examples.

    Since my grandfather gave me his collection when I was about ten, I’ve added to it and now have most years, picking up odd instalments when I see them in charity shops. Very few have their original dust-covers – copies that retain theirs tend to be priced at near antiquarian levels and unlike many collectors, I actually want the books for the information inside them, not ‘shelf presence’.