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How the B-36 Peacemaker Almost Flew Again.

Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.

B-36 on display at the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland.

B-36 on display at the Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland.

The Bird

The largest piston engine aircraft ever built. The longest wingspan of any combat warplane on earth. The bridge between propellors of the past and jets of the future. These are just some of the things that describe the Convair B-36 Peacemaker Bomber.

World War II demonstrated the the future of warfare would be in the skies. As the war progressed, bombers slowly evolved with larger payloads and longer ranges. Throughout the war, US bomber technology culminated with the B-29 Superfortress, the most advanced then built with the furthest range, 2,600 miles. The next generation of bomber, a true intercontinental bomber, would not be ready by the time the war ended. This new bomber, the XB-36, would have its first flight in 1946.


The B-36 was a marvel. Capable of lifting 87,000lb worth of bombs across either ocean and back without refueling, she was the Air Force's first intercontinental bomber. Powered by six 28-cylinder radial engines and paired with four jet engines by the time her service life ended, this thing was a monster! She outright dwarfed the Superfortress she was replacing in length, wingspan and payload. The addition of her jet engines for assisted takeoffs and highspeed turns, earned her the slogan "Six Turnin, Four Burnin."

From 1948 to 1959, the Peacemaker served her Cold War purposes from long range recognizance to nuclear deterrent flights. When the all-jet powered B-47 and B-52 ended her short career, it also ended the age of propellor bombers.

The size comparison of the B-29 vs the B-36.

The size comparison of the B-29 vs the B-36.

Early Retirement

The B-36's career was cut short in part due to its many design problems. Since it drew from World War II era technology, there were many shortcomings to the aircraft almost immediately. It was under powered, slow, cumbersome and simply just too big. Its biggest drawback of all is was not being designed for nor capable of conversion for midair refueling. This caused major problems for the US during the escalating Cold War. As part of the US Nuclear deterant, planes were expected to fly longer and longer.

As Soviet jet technology advanced, the Peacemaker's slow speed made it extremely vulnerable to attack thus ending its ability to fly attack missions over the USSR. Ultimately the Defense Department favored the all-jet powered B-52 and the B-36 was phased out.

Scrapping began in 1956. Out of the 384 complete B-36s built, only four were chosen for preservation. The rest were scrapped over two years, sending the B-36 into the history books.

Preserved B-36 Airplanes.

Serial NumberVariantCurrentLocation

52-2217

B-36J

Strategic Air and Space Museum

52-2220

B-36J

National Museum of the United States Air Force

52-2827

B-36J

Pima Air & Space Museum

51-13730

RB-36H

Castle Air Museum

The Spirit of Fort Worth sitting at the closed GSW airport.

The Spirit of Fort Worth sitting at the closed GSW airport.

Attempted 1974 Airworthy Restoration

The B-36, 52-2827, currently located at the Pima Air & Space Museum was originally retired to Fort Worth, Texas. Christened Spirit of Fort Worth, this particular bomber had the distinction of being the very last B-36 to ever roll out of the Convair assembly plant. When the B-36 program ended in 1959, 52-2827 was flown to Fort Worth for static display at GSW airport. There it would sit for 20 years, exposed to the elements and vandals alike. The closing of GSW airport in 1974 prompted uncertainty about the plane's future. The decision was made to restore the plane enough to fly it to a nearby airfield where it would be fully restored to airworthy status.

Backed by the City of Fort Worth, the Peacemaker Foundation was founded to oversee the restoration of the plane. Despite severe damage by vandals, the organization made incredible progress on the plane. All six radial engines were successfully fired up for the first time since the plane's final flight. Then the Air Force stepped in and halted restoration.

Engine covers removed for restoration in 1974. All six radial engines were successfully restarted.

Engine covers removed for restoration in 1974. All six radial engines were successfully restarted.

In the height of the Cold War, the Air Force argued an airworthy B-36 in civilian hands was a threat to national security. Since the plane was only on loan to the City of Fort Worth, the Air Force planned to repossess it. Local outrange prompted the city to enter months of negotiations with the Defense Department to continue the restoration. Eventually the Air Force considered one short flight if certain requirements were met. Ultimately the entire endeavor collapsed due tensions between the Air Force and the Peacemaker Foundation and the restoration stopped permanently.

The Air Force repossessed, disassembled and shipped the plane to a new location. There it would remain in pieces for the next 20 years. Finally in the early 2000s, the plane was moved to the Goleta Air and Space Museum in Pima, Arizona. There it was reassembled and restored to static display.


B-36 "Spirit of Fort Worth" in Pima.

B-36 "Spirit of Fort Worth" in Pima.

Future Restorations

The failed restoration of 1974 reminded the aviation community that the B-36 will never fly again. The Air Force still owns all four remaining B-36s and the events of 1974 made it clear they have no intention of allowing the Peacemaker to return to the sky. In the 30 years since, there are hardly any spare parts remaining. To restore just one of the Peacemakers would effectively require the use of parts from all four remaining planes, something the Air Force would never allow.

Comments

RTalloni on October 15, 2018:

So interesting on several levels. I had forgotten that the B36 was also called the peacemaker. Fort Worth's loss is a lesson in thoroughly researching a project before investing in it. Thanks for an informative read.