WHEN it entered service in June 1944, the Boeing B-29 was the largest, heaviest and most complex production airplane of its time—a masterpiece that pushed the state of the art to its limits. It had an 11-man crew, five powered gun turrets (each with two .50-caliberguns),a20mm cannon in the tail turret, a pressurized fuselage and two bomb bays with a capacity of up to 20,000 pounds of bombs. Four 2,200hp Wright R-3350 engines, each fitted with two turbo-superchargers, plus slick aerodynamics, gave it the ability to bomb from over 30,000 feet and attain a top speed of 365mph at
25,000 feet and a range of 4,100 miles.
Development of the B-29 began in May 1939, after the U.S. had assessed its future airplane needs. It needed a bomber with a speed of 400mph, a range of 5,333 miles and the ability to deliver a 1-ton bomb load at the halfway point. The U.S. aircraft industry received the specification for such a bomber in February 1940, and Boeing responded with Model 341. The Army, however, kept changing its requirements for equipment, armor and armament, and self-sealing fuel cells, so Boeing had to develop a new Model 354 to keep up. In June 1940, Boeing and Lockheed received Army contracts to build wooden mock-ups for evaluation. Lockheed dropped out, but Boeing was awarded a contract for two XB-29 prototypes in August, and Consolidated was to build a competing XB-32. Both received orders for a single additional XB in December.
The B-29 had an unprecedented procurement and development history. Army officials doubted Boeing's engineering and wind-tunnel test figures and insisted on a larger wing to reduce the then-fantastic wing loading of 69 pounds per square foot (much higher than that of contemporary fighters). Boeing argued that this would reduce speed and range, and that the B-29's huge Fowler flaps would keep landing speeds within reasonable limits. The Army was fi nally convinced and ordered 1,500 B-29s before the prototype flew. N
With Boeing's Seattle factory choked with B-17s, the Army built a new factory for B-29 production alongside Boeing's existing plant in Wichita, KS, where the Kaydet trainers were being built. In February 1942, the Army started new plants for two other manufacturers—Bell Aircraft at Marietta, GA, and Glenn L. Martin Co. at Omaha, NE. The U.S. Navy had built a new factory at Renton, WA, near Seattle, for Boeing to build PBB-1 flying boats, but it cancelled the boats and turned the plant over to the Army for B-29 production.
Built in Seattle, the first of the three XB-29s flew on September 21, 1942. The test program was seriously delayed by chronic troubles with the R-3350 engines, which had never been used in a production airplane. Fourteen service-
The Eddie Allen, named for the famous war correspondent, was paid for by Boeing-Wichita employees. Here it displays four camels on its nose, indicating four round-trip supply trips over the "Hump." This plane was so badly damaged over Tokyo in May 1945 that it had to be scrapped.
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