Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Aircraft profile

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The B-50, the last propeller-driven bomber delivered to the U.S. Air Force, made its initial flight on June 25, 1947.

Boeing B-50 Superfortress top: Boeing RB-50F (S/N 47-144, originally B-50B-50-BO) "Macs Effort" with armament. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress top: Boeing RB-50F (S/N 47-144, originally B-50B-50-BO) "Macs Effort" with armament. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Basically an improved version of the B-29, this aircraft's large number of modifications caused its redesignation as the B-50. Between 1948 and 1954, B-50s served with the Strategic Air Command as medium bombers, and they were replaced by jet-propelled B-47s. Many were modified for support roles such as weather reconnaissance, crew training, photo-mapping and aerial refueling.

In 1953 the USAF decided to replace its aging WB-29 weather reconnaissance aircraft with modified B-50Ds. Stripped of their defensive armament, 36 B-50Ds were equipped for long-range weather reconnaissance missions with high-altitude atmospheric samplers, Doppler radar, weather radar and a bomb-bay fuel tank for extended range. Some WB-50 aircraft also flew missions to sample the air for radioactive particles indicating that the Soviet Union had detonated a nuclear weapon. The WB-50D aircraft accomplished special weather reconnaissance missions with SAC's 97th Bomb Wing until April 1955, when all WB-50s went to the Air Weather Service.

In 1963 the USAF started phasing out the WB-50Ds, and in 1965 the aircraft on display became the last WB-50D to be retired. It was delivered to the museum in 1968.

Technical notes:

Engines: Four Pratt & Whitney R-4360s of 3,500 hp each

Maximum speed: 395 mph

Range: 4,900 statute miles (without aerial refueling)

Ceiling: 36,700 ft.

Span: 141 ft. 2 in.

Length: 99 ft.

Height: 32 ft. 8 in.

Weight: 173,000 lbs. maximum

Serial number: 49-0310

Source: US Air Force

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: An X-2 rocket plane is dropped from the B-50 Superfortress mothership in the mid-1950s. (Courtesy NASA photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: An X-2 rocket plane is dropped from the B-50 Superfortress mothership in the mid-1950s. (Courtesy NASA photo)

Detailed background:

Source: wikipedia.org

The Boeing B-50 Superfortress was a post-World War II revision of the wartime United States B-29 Superfortress with larger Pratt & Whitney R-4360 radial engines, a taller vertical stabilizer, and other improvements.

Design and development

The B-50 program began life as the XB-44 Superfortress. One B-29A-5-BN (s/n 42-93845) was modified by Pratt & Whitney in 1944 to accept the larger engines; the resulting engine testbed first flew in May 1945. If the engine modification had been included in the B-29 program, the resulting model was to have been known as the B-29D. However, due to other structural changes that would also be necessary to address the increased power, weight and fuel consumption, it was decided to change its military designation to a new model. Since the B-44 program was only for the engine modification, that designation was not considered, and in December 1945 the program was named B-50 Superfortress.

Officially, the aircraft's new designation was justified by the changes incorporated into the revised aircraft, but according to Peter M. Bowers, a long-time Boeing employee and aircraft designer, and a well-known authority on Boeing aircraft, "the redesignation was an outright military ruse to win appropriations for the procurement of an aeroplane that by its designation appeared to be merely a later version of an existing model that was being canceled wholesale, with many existing examples being put into dead storage."

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Formation of B-50A-1-BO (S/N 46-002, the first B-50A built), B-50A-20-BO (S/N 46-044) and B-50A-20-BO (S/N 46-021). (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Formation of B-50A-1-BO (S/N 46-002, the first B-50A built), B-50A-20-BO (S/N 46-044) and B-50A-20-BO (S/N 46-021). (U.S. Air Force photo)

Revisions to the B-50 (from its predecessor B-29) would result in a top speed just short of 400 miles per hour, faster than many World War II fighters. Changes included:

* Larger engines

* Redesigned engine nacelles and engine mounts

* Enlarged vertical tail and rudder (to maintain adequate yaw control during engine-out conditions)

* Reinforced wing structure (required due to increased engine mass, larger gyroscopic forces from larger propeller, greater fuel load, and revised landing gear loading)

* Revised routing for engine gases (cooling, intake, exhaust and intercooler ducts; also oil lines)

* Upgraded fire-control equipment (to control remote turrets)

* Landing gear strengthening (takeoff weight increased from 133,500 to 173,000 pounds)

* Increased fuel capacity (this was largely addressed by adding underwing fuel tanks).

* Revisions to flight control systems (the B-29 was already difficult to fly; with its increased weight the B-50 would have been much harder to hand-fly).

Redesigned with a larger upper fuselage, the B-50 design would form the basis for the Boeing 377 series of airliners and C-97/KC-97 military transports, with 816 of the KC-97 built. The B-29 and B-50s would be phased out with introduction of the jet powered B-47 Stratojet.

Operational history

Boeing built 371 of the various B-50 models and variants between 1947 and 1953, some serving until 1965.

A reconnaissance variant, the RB-50B (a B-50B conversion) existed and played an important role in Cold War espionage.

An aerial refueling tanker conversion designated KB-50 was used in the Vietnam War.

In 1949, The Lucky Lady II, commanded by Captain James Gallagher, became the first airplane to circle the world nonstop. This was achieved by refueling the plane in flight.

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing WB-50D (S/N 48-108) in flight. Originally B-50D-100-BO. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing WB-50D (S/N 48-108) in flight. Originally B-50D-100-BO. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Although constructed in relatively small numbers, the B-50 was the last member of the B-29 family and was one of the last piston-engined bombers built. The B-50 was retired from its main role as atomic bomber in 1955. A number were converted into KB-50 tankers and lasted long enough to be deployed to Southeast Asia in support of tactical operations.

B-50s were grounded and removed completely from inventory when wreckage of a KB-50 that broke up in flight in 1965 revealed corrosion problems in the fleet.

No flying examples exist today, although several can be found in various air museums.

The USAF Strategic Air Command had B-50 Superfortresses (B-50s and RB-50s) in service from 1948 through 1954.

Variants

* XB-44: One B-29A was handed over to Pratt & Whitney to be fitted with the new Wasp Major 28-cylinder engines. Initially designated B-29D, this was eventually changed to B-50A in December 1945. (x1, converted)

* B-50A--First production version of the B-50. It had new wings that were stronger and lighter than the units on the B-29. It also had taller vertical tail than the B-29. (x60)

* B-50B--Increase in gross weight over the A model, from 168,480 lb (76,420 kg) to 170,400 lb (77,290 kg). Also included a new type of lightweight fuel cell. (x45)

* B-50D--Definitive production version of the B-50. The 7-piece nose cone window was replaced by a single plastic cone and a flat bomb-aimer's window. Many included the new boom-type refueling system. (x222)

* DB-50D--Drone director conversion of a B-50D, to be used with the GAM-63 RASCAL missile. (x1, converted)

An F-101A Voodoo (top right), B-66 Destroyer (top left) and F-100D Super Sabre refuel from a KB-50J tanker. Taken in the early 1960s

* EB-50B--Single conversion of a B-50B to be fitted with a track-tread undercarriage. (x1, converted)

* KB-50--Air to air refueling tanker conversions of the bomber. (x134, converted)

* KB-50J--Tanker B-50s with improved performance, via two extra General Electric J47 turbojets under the outer wings. (x112, converted)

* KB-50K--Tanker conversions of the TB-50H trainer aircraft. (x24, converted)

* RB-50B--All but one of the B-50Bs were converted into the recon role. These were fitted with nine cameras in four stations, weather instruments, and a bomb bay capsule holding the extra crew members. (x44, converted)

* RB-50E--Special photographic conversions of the RB-50B, modified at Wichita. (x14, converted)

* RB-50F--Conversions of the RB-50B, fitted with SHORAN navigation radar for special missions. (x14, converted)

* RB-50G--Conversions of the RB-50B, fitted with electronics countermeasures statios along with the SHORAN radar. (x15, converted)

* TB-50A--Trainer conversion of the B-50A. (x11, converted)

* TB-50D--Trainer conversion of the B-50D. (x11, converted)

* TB-50H--Newly built trainer planes. (x24)

* WB-50 --Weather reconnaissance conversion of the B-50.

* WB-50D--Weather reconnaissance conversions of outdated B-50Ds, fitted with meteorological equipment. (x36, converted)

* YB-50C--Version to be fitted with the Variable Discharge Turbine version of the R-4360 engine. None were built.

* B-54A--Proposed version of the YB-50C.

* RB-54A--Proposed reconnaissance version of the YB-50C.

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing B-50D pilot's station, taken March 13, 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing B-50D pilot's station, taken March 13, 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Specifications (B-50D)

General characteristics

* Crew: 8: Pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, radio/electronic countermeasures operator, two side gunners, top gunner and tail gunner

* Length: 99 ft 0 in (30.2 m)

* Wingspan: 141 ft 3 in (43.1 m)

* Height: 32 ft 8 in (10.0 m)

* Wing area: 1736 ft² (161.3 m²)

* Empty weight: 80,610 lb (36,560 kg)

* Loaded weight: 121,850 lb (55,270 kg)

* Max takeoff weight: 173,000 lb (78,470 kg)

* Powerplant: 4× Pratt & Whitney R-4360 radial engines, 3,500 hp (2,600 kW) each

Performance

* Maximum speed: 395 mph (343 kn, 636 km/h)

* Cruise speed: 244 mph (212 kn, 393 km/h)

* Combat radius: 2,100 NM (2,400 mi, 3,860 km)

* Ferry range: 5,000 NM (5,760 mi, 9,270 km)

* Service ceiling 36,650 ft (11,170 m)

* Rate of climb: 2,225 ft/min (11.3 m/s)

* Wing loading: 70.19 lb/ft² (343 kg/m²)

* Power/mass: 0.115 hp/lb (193 W/kg)

Armament

* Guns:

o 12× .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in remote controlled turrets

o 1× 20 mm (0.787 in) cannon in tail

* Bombs:

o 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) internally

o 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) on external hardpoints

More photos:

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing WB-50D. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing WB-50D. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing WB-50D (S/N 48-108) in flight. Originally B-50D-100-BO. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing WB-50D (S/N 48-108) in flight. Originally B-50D-100-BO. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Formation of B-50A-1-BO (S/N 46-002, the first B-50A built), B-50A-20-BO (S/N 46-044) and B-50A-20-BO (S/N 46-021). (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Formation of B-50A-1-BO (S/N 46-002, the first B-50A built), B-50A-20-BO (S/N 46-044) and B-50A-20-BO (S/N 46-021). (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Formation of B-50A-1-BO (S/N 46-002, the first B-50A built), B-50A-20-BO (S/N 46-044) and B-50A-20-BO (S/N 46-021). (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Formation of B-50A-1-BO (S/N 46-002, the first B-50A built), B-50A-20-BO (S/N 46-044) and B-50A-20-BO (S/N 46-021). (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing B-50A-15-BO (S/N 46-026) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing B-50A-15-BO (S/N 46-026) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing B-50A-5-BO (S/N 46-009). Preparing for a cold weather start, the ground crew turns the propeller to remove any oil accumulated in the lower engine cylinders. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing B-50A-5-BO (S/N 46-009). Preparing for a cold weather start, the ground crew turns the propeller to remove any oil accumulated in the lower engine cylinders. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing B-50D-95-BO (S/N 48-096) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing B-50D-95-BO (S/N 48-096) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing JB-50A-10-BO (S/N 46-017) taxiing. Note the F-80 and Flying Tiger Line C-46 in the background. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing JB-50A-10-BO (S/N 46-017) taxiing. Note the P-80) aircraft profile">F-80 and Flying Tiger Line C-46 in the background. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing B-50D pilot's station, taken March 13, 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing B-50D pilot's station, taken March 13, 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing B-50D, probably a weather, trainer or transport conversion. This photo was taken after 1957 since the tail number starts with 0. Note the unusual paint scheme (like a weather aircraft) and the upside down installation of the nose glass. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing B-50D, probably a weather, trainer or transport conversion. This photo was taken after 1957 since the tail number starts with 0. Note the unusual paint scheme (like a weather aircraft) and the upside down installation of the nose glass. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress top: Boeing RB-50F (S/N 47-144, originally B-50B-50-BO) "Macs Effort" with armament. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress top: Boeing RB-50F (S/N 47-144, originally B-50B-50-BO) "Macs Effort" with armament. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing RB-50E (S/N 47-0122) in flight. Note tail number doesn't begin with 0 so photo was taken before 1957. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing RB-50E (S/N 47-0122) in flight. Note tail number doesn't begin with 0 so photo was taken before 1957. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: An X-2 rocket plane is dropped from the B-50 Superfortress mothership in the mid-1950s. (Courtesy NASA photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: An X-2 rocket plane is dropped from the B-50 Superfortress mothership in the mid-1950s. (Courtesy NASA photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing KB-50J in flight (S/N 48-0088, originally B-50D-90-BO) of the 421st Air Refueling Squadron. (U.S. Air Force Photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing KB-50J in flight (S/N 48-0088, originally B-50D-90-BO) of the 421st Air Refueling Squadron. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: KB-29M refuels B-50A (S/N 46-010) "Lucky Lady II" during the first non-stop around the world flight in February 1949. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: KB-29M refuels B-50A (S/N 46-010) "Lucky Lady II" during the first non-stop around the world flight in February 1949. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Douglas RB-66B Destroyer in flight refueling (S/N 53-452) with Boeing KB-50J (S/N 48-109). (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Douglas RB-66B Destroyer in flight refueling (S/N 53-452) with Boeing KB-50J (S/N 48-109). (U.S. Air Force photo)

Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing KB-50K (S/N 51-0450, originally TB-50H-BO) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)Boeing B-50 Superfortress: Boeing KB-50K (S/N 51-0450, originally TB-50H-BO) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

More photos: Boeing B-50 Superfortress photo gallery

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