In the early 1940s, the Air Force was in the market for a long-range strategic bomber which would replace the B-17 Flying Fortress. The prototype bomber first flew in 1946.
The B-36 was massive. Its wingspan was 230 feet, and it was 46 feet high. It had a range of 10,000 miles and could carry 43 tons of conventional or nuclear bombs. The maximum takeoff weight was 410,000 pounds.
The bomber was controversial. To get the funds to develop and build it, the US Navy’s new planned supercarrier, the United States, was cancelled. This led to the “Revolt of the Admirals” in 1949, in which several senior naval officers publicly criticized the B-36 program, calling it a “billion-dollar blunder.”
The aircraft went into service in 1949.
388 B-36 bombers were built altogether, but they were never used in combat (living up to the name "Peacemaker.")
The B-36 had an excellent safety record, but there were a few crashes. On February 3, 1950, a B-36 flying a simulated combat mission crashed off western Canada. The crew bailed out, but five of the crewmen were never recovered, and presumed dead. The plane's wreckage was later recovered 200 miles away from the bailout point. It was carrying a Mark 4 nuclear bomb for the mission, a training capsule of lead was inserted (no capsule of nuclear material was on the flight).
The bombers were phased out in 1958-1959 in favor of the smaller, less expensive B-52 (each B-36 cost over 3 million dollars). Only a few still survive, one of which is an exhibit at the National Museum of the USAF.
- Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy, by Craig L. Symonds, Naval Institute Press, 1995