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Home > Fact Sheets > Bomber Aircraft Development in the 1930s


Posted 6/25/2009 Printable Fact Sheet
Martin XB-907
Martin XB-907, taken Feb. 27, 1932. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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" ... (the) Air Force needed a most essential element which was not yet available -- the long-range bomber."

By the early 1930s, aircraft design and construction technology throughout the world had advanced to the point where it was possible to mass-produce all-metal airplanes. There had been an all-metal plane as early as World War I, but it was an exception. Most airplanes of the war period and the 1920s had been primarily of wood and fabric construction, although many later ones had tubular steel fuselage frameworks. The Air Corps' first all-metal monoplane bomber was the Boeing B-9; however, it was outclassed by its contemporary all-metal Martin B-10 and only seven were purchased.

A milestone was reached in Air Force history in March 1935 when the War Department established the General Headquarters (GHQ) Air Force. Going far beyond the traditional role of supporting Army ground troops on the battlefield, it was to serve as a central striking force for long-range bombardment and observation to defend U.S. coastal areas and island possessions from attack by sea. To be effective, however, the GHQ Air Force needed a most essential element which was not yet available -- the long-range bomber.

In the summer of 1935, the Boeing Airplane Co. unveiled its Model 299, a remarkable four engine, high-speed, long-range, heavy bomber that was eventually designated the B-17 Flying Fortress. This plane, although destined to change the complexion of aerial warfare, initially failed to convince the Army's General Staff of its merits and capabilities. As a result, the General Staff directed that the major portion of funds for the purchase of bombers be spent for cheaper two-engine Douglas B-18s rather than more-costly four-engine B-17s, believing the latter type an expensive and unnecessary luxury.

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