Convair B-36 “Peacemaker”

In 1941, before the United States entered World War II, military planners were considering a scenario in which Britain might fall to Nazi Germany, depriving the U.S. of an “aircraft carrier” located within bombing range of Germany by its B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers. Should hostilities break out between the U.S. and Germany, the only option for aerial bombardment would be direct round-trip bombing missions from North America, which would require a combat range of at least 9200 km from a base in Gander, Newfoundland to Berlin. In August 1941, specifications were refined in a request for proposals for a plane with a maximum range of 16,000 km, 4.5 tonne bomb load, and service ceiling of 12 km, higher than almost any German anti-aircraft fire.

After the entry of the U.S. into the war after Pearl Harbor and increasing confidence Britain would not be invaded, the original rationale for the B-36 evaporated, but in 1943 the project was given priority as it would permit attacking Japan and Japanese forces in Asia without the need for forward bases which required bloody amphibious assaults to take. Development of the giant plane ran into numerous problems and delays, and the first plane did not fly until 1946-08-08, almost a year after the defeat of Japan.

With the emergence of the Cold War, the B-36 became the front-line strategic bomber in the inventory of the newly formed (1947) U.S. Air Force, as it was the only aircraft able to deliver the large and heavy nuclear weapons of the era to targets in the Soviet Union from bases in North America. In-flight refueling had not yet been introduced, so only the B-36’s enormous combat range of 6413 km enabled such missions.

While the plane was under development, its builder, Convair, proposed “Peacemaker” as its name. The Air Force never officially adopted any name for the type, but “Peacemaker” was widely used nonetheless. (Curiously, “Peacemaker” was also proposed as the name for the intercontinental ballistic missile developed in the 1970s and 1980s under the working name “MX”. Shortly before the official introduction of the missile in 1983, it was renamed “LGM-118A Peacekeeper”, presumably because wets in the Reagan administration considered “Peacemaker” too bellicose a moniker for a weapon intended to deter attack from an adversary with 35,130 nuclear weapons in its inventory, many targeted on the United States.)

The B-36 was enormous for its day. The B-29 had been considered a huge airplane, but the B-36 was something else entirely. Here is a B-36 alongside a B-29 at Carswell Air Force Base in 1948.

The B-36 was subsequently upgraded by adding four jet engines outboard on the wings to assist in takeoff and (kind of) high-speed dashes to the target and out of enemy territory. This gave it ten engines—six piston and four turbojet—leading to status reports of “six turning and four burning”.

The B-36’s service life was to be short, as its slow speed rendered it vulnerable to jet fighters, and the introduction of the B-52 all-jet heavy bomber with refueling capability made it obsolete. The last B-36 was retired from service in February 1959.

Regrettably, Dennis R. Jenkins’s two superb books about the B-36, Magnesium Overcast and B-36 Photo Scrapbook, are both out of print. Used copies can sometimes be found at affordable prices with, oddly, hardcovers of the first title sometimes less expensive than paperbacks.


The “one takeoff, one landing” remark by Jimmy Stewart at the start is an in-joke, referring to the B-36’s endurance. The bomber version routinely flew missions of 40 hours, and the lightweight RB-36D reconnaissance version with an extra fuel tank carried in the third bomb bay could stay aloft up to 50 hours between that one takeoff and one landing.

The reconnaissance version had a crew of 22 as opposed to 15 for the bomber configuration, with the additional men operating the 23 cameras and on-board darkroom.


IIRC, in the film, Stewart’s character misses dinner with his wife and has to explain that the single flight was to Alaska and back.


Why not add condescending insult to bellicosity with a name like “Pacifier”?

I mean if Freud could do it with “discontent” and CNN can with “disgruntled” why can’t the DoD have a field day?


Beautiful machine.


Why do some prop planes have the props facing backwards? Hoping an engineer type on here can help me out with that one.


The choice of propellers in front of the wing (tractor) or a pusher configuration is a matter of engineering trade-offs. The pusher configuration has the advantage of making the wing profile “clean” and reducing frontal area. Propellers create a great deal of turbulence in their wake, and with the usual tractor configuration, this turbulence passes over the wing, which reduces its lift, increases drag, and thereby increases fuel burn and decreases range.

One of the principal design goals of the B-36 was very long range without refueling (which had not been developed at the time), and the pusher configuration allowed it to meet this goal. This comes at a cost. Because the wing is not “blown” by the air from the propeller, take-off runs are long, the absence of propeller-driven air cooling the engines makes them prone to overheating and fires, and the carburetor’s need to ingest air which had not been heated by the engine made it prone to carburetor icing. The resulting engine fires in the early days of the B-36 resulted in some crews wisecracking that instead of “six turning, four burning”, their planes had “two turning, two burning, two smoking, two choking, and two more unaccounted for”.


Thanks John.


What a bird! There is one at the AF museum in Dayton. You walk into a room and there’s a “presence” that you don’t recognize immediately - until you look up at the ceiling and see the wing takes up the whole room! The half-fuselage is mounted on the wall.

The early problem with the bomber was that there were no fighters than could go the distance, so it was “bare”. They attempted to solve that by developing a fighter called the Golbin that was suspended under the wings and could pop off, do its stuff, and reattach - supposedly. There is an example of one at the museum also.


I remember the B-36 being flown into Davis-Monthan AFB where they were stored for a while in 1959 and 1960. They went right over the U of Arizona. Some of them had feathered engines. As I recall, they were melted down on the spot.


According to the Magnesium Overcast book I mentioned in the original post, it was common in long-duration training and patrol missions for B-36 crews to shut down the two inboard engines once reaching cruising altitude, to save fuel, increase endurance, and reduce noise for the flight crews.

It may be they were using this procedure on the delivery flights to Davis-Monthan.