Monday, April 13, 2015

What's Wrong With this Picture, Redux

Go to Bing, type "Russian jet US plane" into the browser, then look at what your search reveals.

At the top of the page, above the caption "U.S. plane intercepted," you could see this picture (at least for a while), selected by the bright boys and girls at Microsoft.  It's an introduction, of sorts, for articles on a recent, dangerous intercept of an American RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft by a Russian SU-27 fighter.  But the RC-135 is not in the photo posted by the folks at Bing.  Instead, they chose this one:


The B-36 at sunset, back in the late 1940s or early 50s.  

Yes, that plane was probably intercepted by the Russians--about 60 years ago.  

The aircraft in question is the B-36 "Peacemaker," built by Convair and in service with the U.S. Air Force from 1949-1959.  At 230 feet, it had the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft in history, and was the largest piston-engine aircraft ever built.  It was the nation's primary nuclear bomber from the early years of the Cold War until the late 1950s, when the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress began to replace the Peacemaker.

In many ways, the B-36 was a remarkable aircraft.  It carried four times the payload of a B-29 and with forward basing or intermediate refueling on the ground, it could reach targets in the Soviet Union without support from aerial tankers--an important consideration in an era when Strategic Air Command relied on KC-97s (modified B-29s) for the in-flight refueling mission.  The B-36 had a crew of 15 and could stay aloft for up to 40 hours.  Crew members traveled from the nose to the tail of the bomber through a pressurized tunnel, pulling themselves along on a wheeled trolley.

Early models of the B-36 had six radial propeller engines, but when the B-36D was introduced, four jet engines were added, increasing its speed and raising its combat ceiling above 40,000 feet.  With the piston-and-jet engine configuration Peacemaker crews often reported they had "six-a-turnin' and four burnin.'  But in most cases, the jet engines were only used during takeoff, or during sprints towards a simulated target.  If the GE J47 turbojets had remained operating throughout flight, the B-36's range would have been significantly reduced.

The Peacemaker was capable of dropping the largest nuclear gravity bombs ever produced by the U.S., and crews feared blast effects more than enemy air defenses.  With a relatively slow cruising speed, B-36 crews worried about their ability to exit the target area before the bomb detonated.

While its primary mission was nuclear deterrence, the Air Force also developed a strategic recce version that probed Soviet defenses in the Arctic in the 1950s.  The advent of jet interceptors in the Russian Air Force increased the Peacemaker's vulnerability, and those missions were discontinued, and the B-36 was phased out in favor of all-jet designs like the B-52 and to a lesser degree, the B-47.   

But the giant bomber served its purpose.  It never fired a shot in anger, and the last Peacekeeper was retired in 1959, as the B-52 entered wide service and the nation's first ICBMs and medium-range ballistic missiles came on line.  Maybe the photo editors at Bing can dig up a shot of a Jupiter or Atlas  the next time we conducted a missile test from Vandenburg.
ADDENDUM:  The B-36 photo has since been removed by Bing.  Wonder how many complaints they received about using a picture of a long-retired bomber to illustrate their story on the Russian intercept.   


1 comment:

Ed Bonderenka said...

at least it inspired a good post, thank you.