The B-29 Superfortress was a four-engine propeller-driven heavy bomber designed by Boeing, which has been called the weapon that won the war in the Pacific. Designed to carry large bomb loads long distances, it made possible the strategic bombardment that brought Japan near to collapse.
A July 16, 1945 cockpit view of two 39th Bomb Group B-29s out of North Field (Andersen) on a mission to Hiratsuka, Japan. (Air Force File Photo)
- The B-29 was the world’s heaviest production plane because of increases in range, bomb load and defensive requirements. It was one of the largest aircraft operational during World War II and featured state of the art technology.
- The B-29 was the single most expensive weapons project undertaken by the United States in World War II, exceeding the cost of the Manhattan Project by between 1 and 1.7 billion dollars.
- The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was designed to replace the B-17 as the primary long-range bomber of the U.S. Army Air Forces. The name "Superfortress" continued the pattern Boeing started with its well-known predecessor, the B-17 Flying Fortress. The B-29 could carry more payload and fly faster than the Army's B-17 or B-24 heavy bombers.
39th Bombardment Group B-29 Superfortress dropping 500 pound high-explosive bombs over Japan. Note the high winds in the jet stream scattering the bombs, making precision bombing ineffective from high altitudes
- The B-29 was exclusively used in World War II in the Pacific Theatre. The use of YB-29, the so-named Hobo Queen was part of a "disinformation" program from its mention in an American-published Sternenbanner German language propaganda leaflet from Leap Year Day in 1944, meant to be circulated within the Reich, with the intent to deceive the Germans into believing that the B-29 would be deployed to Europe.
- The B-29 featured a fully pressurized nose and cockpit; an aft area for the crew was also pressurized. This first-ever cabin pressure system for an Allied production bomber was developed for the B-29. The crew enjoyed, for the first time in a bomber, full-pressurization comfort. Since the bomb bays were not pressurized, a pressurized tunnel was devised to connect the fore and aft crew areas. A retractable tail bumper was provided for tail protection during nose-high takeoffs and landings.
468th Bombardment Group B-29 Superfortresses over Japan
- The B-29 featured a remote, computer-controlled fire-control system that directed four machine gun turrets that could be operated by a single gunner and a fire-control officer. A manned tail gun installation was semi-remote.
- The second prototype first flew on 30 December 1942, this flight being terminated due to a serious engine fire. On its second flight, on 18 February 1943, this same prototype, experienced an engine fire and crashed. The crash killed Boeing test pilot Edmund T. Allen and his 10-man crew, 20 workers at the Frye Meat Packing Plant and a Seattle firefighter.
- The first B-29 combat mission was flown on 5 June 1944, with 77 out of 98 B-29s launched from India bombing the railroad shops in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand. Five B-29s were lost during the mission, none to hostile fire.
68th Bombardment Group Boeing B-29-30-BW Superfortress 42-24494 "Mary Ann" (792d Bombardment Squadron) attacking Hatto, Formosa on 18 October 1944 with high-explosive bombs. Overshot runway due to prop failure Jun 17, 1945 at West Field, Tinian.
- The first attack on Japanese islands since the Doolittle raid in April 1942 was made by B-29s. On 15 June 1944, 68 B-29s took off from bases around Chengdu, 47 B-29s bombed the Imperial Iron and Steel Works at Yahata, Japan. The first B-29 combat losses occurred during this raid, with one B-29 destroyed on the ground by Japanese fighters after an emergency landing in China, one lost to anti-aircraft fire over Yawata, and another, disappeared after takeoff from Chakulia, India, over the Himalayas (12 KIA, 11 crew and one passenger).
- The first attack on the Japanese capital since the Doolittle Raid in April 1942 was made by B-29s. The 73rd Bomb Wing launched the first mission against Japan from bases in the Marianas, on 24 November 1944, sending 111 B-29s to attack Tokyo.
- One of the B-29's final roles during World War II was carrying out the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Enola Gay dropped the first bomb, called Little Boy, on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Bockscar dropped the second bomb, called Fat Man, on Nagasaki three days later.
468th Bombardment Group Boeing B-29s attacking Rangoon Burma, 22 March 1945
- During WWII, B-29s dropped over 180,000 tons of bombs, and shot down 27 enemy aircraft. Following the surrender of Japan, B-29s were used to drop food and supplies into POW camps.
- During WWII, four B-29s made emergency landings in the Soviet Union after making bombing runs over Japan. The US asked the Soviets to return the aircraft, but they refused.
- The B-29 weighed almost 60 tons and its Wright Cyclone air-cooled radial engines were considered to be the most powerful of the time developing 2,200 hp in each engine. The four engines gave it just under 9,000 hp and the range to carry large bomb loads across the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean.
9th Bombardment Group Aireal Mining of Japanese home waters, 1944
- The B-29 was designed to fly at 400 mph when it was not loaded. The B-29 was capable of flight at altitudes up to 31,850 feet (9,710 m),at speeds of up to 350 mph (560 km/h) (true airspeed). This was its best defense, because Japanese fighters could barely reach that altitude, and few could catch the B-29 even if they did attain that altitude. Only the heaviest of anti-aircraft weapons could reach it, and since the Axis forces did not have proximity fuzes, hitting or damaging the aircraft from the ground in combat proved difficult.
- The B-29 had massive armaments: ten .50 inch machine guns in turrets in both its upper and lower fuselage. In later models, the B29's forward upper turret had a four gun battery and a 20 mm cannon supplemented the tail gun. Each gun was served by a 1,000 round bullet belt.
B-29s dropping bombs
- The B-29 was able to fly at 30,000 feet and to carry a 2000 lb bomb load 5,000 miles. However, on smaller distances, the B29 was capable of carrying sixteen 500lb bombs in its after bomb bay and another sixteen 500lb bombs in its forward bomb bay.
- The most famous B-29s were the Silverplate series, which were modified to drop atomic bombs. They were also stripped of all guns except the tail gun to be lighter. A transport developed from the B-29 was the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, first flown in 1944.
- Manufacturing the B-29 was a complex task. It involved four main-assembly factories: a pair of Boeing operated plants at Renton, Washington, and Wichita, Kansas, a Bell plant at Marietta, Georgia, and a Martin plant at Omaha, Nebraska. Thousands of subcontractors were involved in the project.
- The Battle of Kansas, project to build, modify and deliver large quantities of the world's most advanced bomber to the front-lines, began as the first B-29 Superfortresses rolled off the production lines of the massive new Boeing factory on the prairies near Wichita, Kansas.
Boeing B-29A-45-BN Superfortress 44-61784 6 Bombardment Group G 24 BS - Incendiary Journey June 1,1945 mission to Osaka,Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo)
- Boeing built a total of 2,766 B-29s at plants in Wichita, Kan., and in Renton, Wash. The Bell Aircraft Co. built 668 of the giant bombers in Georgia, and the Glenn L. Martin Co. built 536 in Nebraska. Production ended in 1946.