B-36: The Enormous Nuclear Bomber Designed for Potential Russian Targets
The Cold War-era B-36 bomber went out of service more than seven decades ago.
Yet the massive airframe still holds the record for longest wingspan of any combat-coded platform.
The strategic airframe also represents the first bomber in America’s aerial history capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
As tensions ramped up between the U.S. and the former USSR in the 1940s and 1950s, the B-36 served as a powerful deterrent.
The airframe could fly from New England to Leningrad without refueling. To this day, the Peacemaker is a legendary bomber.
The Origin Story of the Peacemaker
The B-36 was conceptualized in the World War II era, when Germany controlled Europe and was set on invading the United Kingdom. The U.S. needed a contingency plan that included a strategic bombing effort against Germany, but there was no existing airframe suited to such a mission.
Devising a platform that could travel from America to Europe without refueling became a top priority for the U.S. military. The bomber America was looking for needed to feature a combat range of at least 5,700 miles — the length of a U.S.-Germany round-trip flight.
The B-36’s Nickname Was Fitting
Consolidated Vultee, later Convair, designed the craft. The Peacemaker exceeded the minimum mileage requirement with its 10,000-mile range. Ordnance-wise, the bomber embodied its Peacemaker moniker.
The airframe could carry approximately 86,000 pounds of nuclear or conventional bombs, a capacity more than 15,000 pounds greater than the U.S. Air Force’s current B-52 bomber.
While the bomber sported a typical cigar-shaped fuselage, its propellers were located in a rearward-facing pusher configuration, a position that differentiated the airframe from other aircraft of the time. With a 230-foot wingspan, the bomber was massive. In fact, “you could lay a B-52 Stratofortress’ wings over the B-36’s and still have room to throw a Super Hornet on the end for good measure,” as pointed out by Sandboxx News.
Ten engines were needed to power the Peacemaker, including six Pratt & Whitney R-4360-53 Wasp Major radial pistols and four General Electric J47 turbojet engines. The engines pushed the B-36 to a max airspeed of around 435 miles per hour.
As detailed in the Aviation Geek Club, ‘While the cruise speed of the B-36 was basically the same as the B-29 (around 235 MPH) it could do it at over 40,000 feet! There were no anti-aircraft cannon that could reach that altitude in World War II. Its range of 4,000 miles (in the early versions) with a 10,000 lb payload didn’t quite give it the range to attack Japan from the Aleutians but it could easily attack Berlin from Iceland. For shorter distances, the aircraft could carry up to 72,000 lbs of bombs.”
The B-36 Never Fought
While the Peacemaker’s nuclear capabilities remained a formidable deterrent throughout its service, the massive bomber never actually saw combat. A total of 384 B-36s were constructed prior to the platform’s retirement in the late 1950s.
Four intact Peacemakers today live in air and space museums throughout the country.