Key Point: Despite the B-32’s upsides, the Army Air Corps was largely satisfied by the B-29’s performance and only dispatched three B-32s for operational testing in the Phillippines at the request of the 5th Air Force.
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber achieved fame—and infamy—for its role in the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Developing the huge bombers, which could lug heavy bomb loads over long distances at high altitudes and speeds, amounted to the most expensive weapons program undertaken by the United States during World War II—more expensive even the Manhattan Project.
However, the Superfortress actually had a little-known rival developed by the manufacturer Consolidated, better known for its mass-production of the B-24 Liberator heavy bomber. Had the Superfortress failed to perform as expected, the so-called B-32 Dominator was to be the fallback option. However, the B-29 actually did end up performing according to expectations when it began operations in the Pacific Theater in 1944, but Consolidated still produced more than a hundred B-32s which were deployed into action in mid-1945. In fact, Dominator crews fought the last U.S. air battle of World War II—tragically, after the war had ended.
The program for a super heavy bomber actually predated Pearl Harbor. However, Consolidated’s project, which used the B-24 as its basis, fell considerably behind Boeing’s development of the B-29. The hulking bomber went through several permutations—it’s original design included twin-rudder tail and bizarre configuration mounting 20-millimeter cannons to fire rearward from each engine nacelle, but these elements were eventually ditched.
In the end, the B-32 is most visually distinguished by its enormous tail which stretched ten meters tall. The Dominator wound up resembling the B-29 in key performance parameters: both aircraft used four Wright R-3350-23 Cyclone engines for power, had a maximum speed of around 358 miles per hour—as fast as an early-war Bf-109E fighter—and could lug a huge bomb load of 20,000 pounds. The B-32’s defensive armament included ten conventionally manned machineguns, operated by a similar number of crew.