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Conviair YB60: Colossal, Jet Powered, and Slain By the Stratofortress

When you’re the U.S. Military, you go big or go home. But as it happens, even the Air Force has a limit when it comes to this ideology.

It’s hard to judge where they draw this line. But the massive, gargantuan, and positively super-jumbo-sized Convair YB-60 jet bomber almost certainly crossed right over it. But to understand why the U.S. Air Force even bothered commissioning the design of such a ludicrously oversized strategic bomber, we need to understand the political climate of the day.

You’ve no doubt heard the story before. The Allies sweep into Germany from the east and west, plunder whatever they can of German technology, and then spend the next 50 years threatening to wipe each other out with nuclear fire. But before the top-secret German aerospace technology had even been settled on U.S. soil, a top-secret strategic bomber program was already taking to the skies. That, of course, is the colossal, piston-engined Coviar B-36 Peacemaker. An airplane so massive, it made a quad-engined Boeing B-29 Superfortress nuke-truck look like a DC-3.

The B-36 was the premiere strategic bomber in the U.S. Air Force’s arsenal in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. On top of seemingly being built for a 15-foot (5 meters), yeti-like creature with its size, it could also carry the king’s share of conventional or nuclear weaponry, including the new-fangled hydrogen variety. There was more than a lot to like about the B-36 from a technical and aesthetical perspective.

But none of that could make up for the fact that warfare was changing drastically at this time, especially in the air. As it happens, around the same time the B-36 first took to the air, a slew of German engineers and their inventions as well found their way onto U.S. soil. It’s been said that German aerospace technology was as much as five to ten years ahead of the Americans, Soviets, and the British by 1945.