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Keeping the Bear at Bay

The Convair B-36 Peacemaker served as the U.S. Air Force's primary strategic nuclear bomber in the 1950s. Although the aircraft never dropped a bomb in combat, its range and nuclear weapons capability made it a powerful deterrent to communist aggression.

In 1941 when Britain's survival appeared doubtful, the AAF outline a requirement for an aircraft capable of bombing European targets from the Western Hemisphere. From this evolved the giant Convair B-36. Due to the improving war situation and a lowered priority for the B-36 development program, the XB-36 did not make its first flight until August 1946. Deliveries of B-36s to Strategic Air Command (SAC) began in 1948. With a range of more than 7,000 miles, the B-36 had a normal crew of 15, although the strategic reconnaissance version carried a crew of 22, plus camera equipment and 14,000 pounds of photo flash bombs for night photography.

The B-36 became the subject of sometimes bitter inter-service controversy when anonymous documents were circulated alleging corruption in the selection of the aircraft and questioning both its value and the USAF philosophy of strategic bombing. However, a Congressional investigation in 1949 vindicated the original decision to buy the B-36 and it remained in production until 1954 with a total purchase of 385 planes. Its official nickname of "Peacemaker" was appropriate, for although the B-36 never dropped a bomb in combat, its range and nuclear weapons capability made it a powerful deterrent to a possible third world war.


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