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Boeing B-50 Superfortress and other B-29 Variants

B-29 Variants

During World War II, three models of the Superfortress were manufactured: the B-29, B-20A and the B-29B.

After the war, B-29s were adapted for several functions, including in-flight refueling as the KB-29, anti-submarine patrol, the RB-29 reconnaissance version, WB-29 weather reconnaissance, and rescue duty.

KB-29 Aerial Tanker

Two tanker versions were developed and produced: KB-29M and KB-29P. The B-29 played an important role in developing the effective use of aerial refueling during the late 1940s. The first aircraft produced for aerial refueling was the KB-29M tanker which used a flexible hose approach.

A more refined system was used in the KB-29P, involving a rigid flying boom system. The boom was mounted on the aftmost end of the KB-29P, and had two small wings. This approach would later be used in other Air Force tankers, including the KB-50, KC-97, KC-135 and KC-10.

RB-29 Reconnaissance Aircraft

The photo reconnaissance version of the B-29 was originally designated the F-13 Superfortress. In 1944 an F-13 became the first U.S. plane to fly over Tokyo since April 1942.

A total of 118 B-29 aircraft were reconfigured for photo work. In 1948, the F-13s were redesignated the RB-29 or the RB-29A.

WB-29 Weather Monitoring Aircraft

The WB-29s were production aircraft modified to perform weather monitoring missions. An observation position was fitted above the central fuselage section. They conducted standard data-gathering flights, including from the England out over the Atlantic Ocean, but also used for accumulating hurricane weather data.

Boeing B-50 Superbomber
Boeing B-50 Superbomber
(from the Topps Wings Friend or Foe cards)

As the Air Force's largest aircraft in 1950, the WB-29 became the first aircraft to be designated with a "W" for weather service. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron scored many "firsts" with the Superfortress. For example, in 1946 it was the first to fly into the top of a hurricane, at 22,000 feet (with the tops of clouds at 36,000 feet).

The Boeing B-50 Superfortress

A later variant of the B-29, the B-50 made it maiden flight in 1947, originally named the B-29D. Essentially an improved version of the B-29, this aircraft's large number of modifications caused its redesignation as the B-50.

Between 1948 and 1954, B-50s served with the Strategic Air Command as medium bombers, and then replaced by jet-propelled B-47 Stratojets. The B-50 handled roles such as air-sea rescue and electronic intelligence gathering.

622nd Air Refueling Squadron based at England Air Force Base

In 1953 the Air Force started replacing its aging WB-29 weather reconnaissance aircraft with modified B-50Ds. Stripped of their defensive armament, 36 WB-50Ds were equipped for long-range weather reconnaissance missions with high-altitude atmospheric samplers, Doppler radar, weather radar and a bomb-bay fuel tank for extended range.

The KB-50 was used for air-to-air refueling. A number of units operated the KB-50, including the 622nd Air Refueling Squadron based at England Air Force Base ... see patch shown to the right.

The B-50 was configured with more powerful Pratt & Whitney radial engines than the B-29, a stronger structure, a taller fin, and other improvements.

B-50 Superfortress, Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Dayton, Ohio
WB-50D Superfortress, S/N 49-0310

Technical Specifications for the Boeing B-50

Engines: Four Pratt & Whitney R-4360s of 3,500 hp each
Maximum speed: 395 mph
Range: 4,900 statute miles (without aerial refueling)
Ceiling: 36,700 ft.
Span: 141 ft. 2 in.
Length: 99 ft.
Height: 32 ft. 8 in.
Weight: 173,000 lbs. maximum

The tanker and weather reconnaissance versions of the B-50 remained in service until 1965.

Boeing B-50 Superfortress Surviving Aircraft

Today, of the 370 B-50 Superfortresses built, only a few have been preserved, including the WB-50D planes at the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton and the Castle Air Museum in Atwater, California (see photographs below).

In addition, KB-50J planes are located at the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, and MacDill AFB (unaccessible to the general Public) in Tampa. See photos below.

The fuselage of the B-50A "Lucky Lady II" is stored at the Planes of Fame Air Museum in California.

Shown in the table below is a list of the surviving B-50 Superfortress aircraft by state, including serial numbers and model numbers.

Model
S/N
Name
Museum or AFB
Status
City
ST
KB-50J
49-0372
  Pima Air & Space Museum Static Display Tucson
AZ
WB-50D
49-0351
Flight of the Phoenix Castle Air Museum Static Display Atwater
CA
B-50A
46-0010
Lucky Lady II Planes of Fame Air Museum Fuselage only on Static Display Chino
CA
KB-50J
49-0389
  MacDill AFB (unaccessible to public) Static Display Tampa
FL
WB-50D
49-0310
  Museum of the U.S. Air Force Static Display Dayton
OH

B-50 Surviving Aircraft Photos

Boeing WB-50D, S/N 49-0310, a later variant of the B-29, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
(Photo by the Planes Of The Past Staff)
Boeing WB-50D, S/N 49-0310, a later variant of the B-29
Boeing WB-50D "Flight of the Phoenix", S/N 49-0351, on display at the Castle Air Museum, Atwater, California
(Photo by the Planes Of The Past Staff)
Boeing WB-50D "Flight of the Phoenix", S/N 49-0351
Boeing KB-50J, S/N 49-0372, on display at the Pima Air Museum, Tucson, Arizona
(Photo by the Pima Air and Space Museum
Boeing KB-50J, S/N 49-0372
Fuselage section of the Boeing B-50 "Lucky Lady II", at the Planes of Fame Air Museum, Chino Airport, California
Fuselage section of the Boeing B-50 "Lucky Lady II"

B-50 Superfortress Photos

B-29 Superfortress S/N 44-86422 taxis while B-50D 4854 lands
at McClennan Field, Sacramento, California, circa 1948
(Photo used by permission of the photographer, William T. Larkins)
Photo showing side-by-side comparison of the B-29 and the B-50 ... B-29 Superfortress S/N 44-86422 taxis while B-50D 4854 lands at McClennan Field, Sacramento, California, circa 1948
Boeing B-50A Superfortress 6026, Buzz Number BK-026, in flight
Boeing B-50A Superfortress 6026, Buzz Number BK-026, in flight
Boeing KB-50J Superfortress S/N 0-80114, in flight
Boeing KB-50J Superfortress S/N 0-80114, in flight
B-50 Superfortress bombers at Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth Texas, circa 1951, as seen in LIFE
B-50 Superfortress bombers at Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth Texas, circa 1951


More about the B-29


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