The Amazing B-50 Superfortress Bomber: The First Plane to Fly Around the World

Sebastien Roblin

Sebastien Roblin

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Forget the B-29 or B-52.

The Amazing B-50 Superfortress Bomber: The First Plane to Fly Around the World

Quiz time! Which secret American military project during World War II proved even more expensive than the $2 billion Manhattan Project which developed U.S. atomic bombs?

That would be the $3 billion B-29 Superfortress—the huge four-engine bomber designed to fly across huge distances and drop those atomic bombs.

The silver-skinned B-29’s four huge turbo-supercharged R-3350 Duplex Cyclone radial engines allowed the 37-ton aircraft (when empty!) to fly relatively fast at 290 to 350 miles per hour and at altitudes exceeding 30,000 feet, making it extremely difficult for Japanese interceptors to catch up with them.

But even as World War II ground on to its conclusion, the Air Force appreciated that the Superfortress’s advantages would soon vanish due to the advent of turbojet-powered fighters. As the Cold War gathered momentum in the late 1940s, it further became vital for the Air Force to have a nuclear bomber that could strike Russia from U.S. bases.

These needs culminated in a new B-29D model with engine power cranked up nearly 60 percent using a 3,500 horsepower R-4360 Wasp Major engine and a skin made of stronger but lighter 75-S aluminum alloy. Together, this lowered the weight of the wings by 600 pounds and increased speed to nearly 400 miles per hour. Other trimmings included a taller tail fin, hydraulically assisted controls, and wing and window de-icing systems.

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