The B-36 Peacemaker is most famous for its monstrous, gargantuan, tremendous size. It is the largest mass-produced piston-engine aircraft ever, and it has the largest wing span of any military aircraft.
Designed as an intercontinental bomber, the B-36’s size wasn’t for fun, it was necessary to carry enough fuel and ordnance at high altitudes between continents without refuelling.
In this article we are going to show you just how BIG this aircraft was, in 26 images.
The B-36’s is a Cold War nuclear bomber, but its development actually began before the United States had even entered the Second World War.
At this time it wasn’t guaranteed that Britain could hold the line against Germany, and may even fall under German occupation. Without the UK as a staging ground, the US would have to cross the Atlantic Ocean if it wanted to hit targets with strategic bombing.
The B-17 was the US’s primary heavy bomber in 1941, but it had no-way near enough range or grunt to carry bombs across the Atlantic, so a new bomber would be needed: an intercontinental bomber.
The request for such a bomber came in early 1941, and it had some seriously tough requirements to meet: such as being able to cruise as fast as many fighters, and reach altitudes above the range of anti-aircraft guns all the while carrying a sufficient bomb load thousands of miles.
While the B-36 was initially needed to cross the Atlantic, the Pacific War revealed the need for a bomber with great range, for which the B-36 would be perfectly suited. Convair developed the aircraft, but it wouldn’t be ready in time for the war, being revealed just a few months after Japan surrendered in 1945.
What they revealed was a bomber of titanic proportions.
The B-36’s Massive Size
The B-36 is an aircraft that still ranks as one of the biggest ever, or even the biggest ever in some metrics, despite being designed 80 years ago.
At 166,000 lbs (75,300 kg) empty, it weighed more than twice as much as the B-29 Superfortress, and almost five times as much as the B-17 Flying Fortress.
Fully loaded, this beast weighed over 200 tons. In fact, its bomb load of 86,000 lb (39,000 kg) is more than the empty weight of the B-29 – meaning that, if it could fit, it could carry an entire B-29, or more than two B-17s in its bomb bay.
The B-36 measured 162 ft (49 meters) in length, and had an enormous wingspan of 230 ft (70 meters). This is, ironically, the same width as Red Square in Moscow. It is also almost twice the length of the Wright brothers’ first flight.
Its tail was over 46 ft 10 in (14 meters) tall, equivalent to more than a 4 story building.
Those giant wings allowed the aircraft to fly at impressive heights of over 40,000 ft. At these heights the B-36 was more manoeuvrable than any interreceptor sent to bring it down. Some units were lightened, giving them a rumoured maximum altitude of over 50,000 ft!
Powering this behemoth was six Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major radial engines. Each engine had 28 cylinders, displaced 4,362.5 cu in (71.5 litres) and produced almost 4,000 hp. The R-4360s were the largest and most powerful piston aircraft engines built by the US.
Each engine had 56 spark plugs, for a total across all six engines of 336 spark plugs. The engines drove 19 ft (5.8 meter) propellers, some of largest ever built. 1,200 gallons of oil kept the engines running. Its wings were so big that the engines could be accessed in-flight.
To keep the B-36 flying great distances, it carried 40,000 gallons of fuel – enough to power a modern petrol car for over 1.4 million miles!
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