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Boeing B-29 Superfortress Development, History, Assembly Plants, & Production Numbers

Our Tribute to the B-29

This section of Planes Of The Past is meant to be a tribute to those who designed & built the B-29 Superfortress, the crews who flew her, and those who have worked tirelessly to preserve this incredible plane and its history.

Many have already done a tremendous job in documenting the Superfortress in great detail on the Internet, both in text and pictures. We will not attempt to recreate the work already done, but instead to present an overview of the plane's design, development, deployment and preservation.

B-29 Superfortress Design and Development

Boeing began work on a pressurized long-range bomber in 1938. In December 1939, the Army Air Corps issued a formal specification for a so called "superbomber", capable of delivering 20,000 lbs of bombs to a target 2,667 miles distant, at a speed of 400 mph.

Bids were submitted by Lockheed, Consolidated, Douglas, and Boeing, which ultimately won the competition and subsequent contracts. An initial production order for 14 service test aircraft and 250 production bombers was placed in May 1941. The B-29 was one of the most advanced bombers of its time, featuring innovations such as a pressurized cabin, a central fire-control system, and remote-controlled machine gun turrets.

XB-29

The first three aircraft built were identified as the XB-29, with triple-bladed propellers.

The initial XB-29 (Serial Number 41-0002) was rolled out on the runway at Boeing Field, Seattle, and made its maiden flight on September 21, 1942, in front of almost all the Boeing employees who had contributed over 1,300,000 man hours to the project. This first XB-29 remained at Boeing throughout the war as a test aircraft.

The second XB-29 (Serial Number 41-0003) first flew on December 30, 1942. Shortly after noon on February 18, 1943, pilot Eddie Allen and crew were flight testing the second XB-29 when an engine fire developed. The port wing spar burned through and collapsed sending the huge bomber crashing into the Frye meat packing plant three miles from Boeing Field. All eleven men aboard the plane and 18 in the plant were killed instantly. details of the crash at the Aviation Safety Network

The third XB-29 prototype (S/N 41-18335) had its maiden flight in June of 1943. It incorporated extensive powerplant and equipment revisions, and was later moved to Boeing-Wichita to be part of the configuration of the assembly line. The aircraft was then transferred to the USAAF for armament and accelerated flight testing. This third XB-29 later crashed.

Boeing XB-29, S/N 41-0002, the first B-29 prototype, seen at Boeing Field in Seattle, on October 1, 1942
Boeing XB-29, S/N 41-002, seen at Boeing Field in Seattle, on October 1, 1942

YB-29 Prototype

The YB-29 was an improved version of the XB-29 used for service testing. The engines were upgraded, and three-blade propellers of the XB-29 were changed to a four-blade type for the YB-29. The YB-29 also featured an improved fire control system and turret-mounted .50-cal. machine gun pairs.

The first YB-29 (S/N 41-36954) made its initial flight on June 26, 1943. A total of 14 YB-29 aircraft were manufactured at Boeing-Wichita. They provided the basis for continued B-29 development and testing, and eventually a flyable aircraft was ready for production.

Initial models were plagued with problems, and faced a constant series of modifications. The most common cause of maintenance headaches and catastrophic failures was the engine.

Boeing YB-29 S/N 41-36957 aircraft on tarmac
Boeing YB-29 S/N 41-36957 aircraft on tarmac
Boeing YB-29 aircraft in flight formation
Boeing YB-29 aircraft in flight formation

B-29

The most widely produced Superfortress model was the B-29, of which 2,537 aircraft were built.

The B-29 featured the first ever fully pressurized nose and cockpit in a bomber; an aft area for the crew was also pressurized. Since the bomb bays were not pressurized, a pressurized tunnel was devised to connect the fore and aft crew areas. A retractable tail bumper was provided for tail protection during nose-high takeoffs and landings.

B-29A

The Boeing B-29A was an improved version of the B-29, assembled only at Boeing's Renton plant. It featured an improved wing design and a four gun forward top turret. The new wing had a span 12 inches greater than the B-29 and was constructed in three pieces, a center section and two outboard sections, rather than the two sections of the earlier model. This allowed for greater strength and quicker installation at the factory plus maintenance in the field was easier.

All 1,122 B-29A aircraft were built at the Boeing Renton plant.

B-29 Superfortress TOPPS Card #51
B-29 Superfortress TOPPS Card #51
(from the Planes Of The Past TOPPS Wings Friend or Foe Trading Card collection)

B-29B

The Boeing B-29B was a modification of the basic B-29 design for use in the Pacific during World War II for low-level bombing raids against Japan. The B-29B had all defensive armament removed except for the tail turret. The 20mm cannon was removed and the two .50-cal. machine guns were aided by the installation of an AN/APG-15B radar fire control system.

All 311 B-29B aircraft were built at the Bell Atlanta-Marietta plant, between January and September of 1945.

B-29 Superfortress Specifications

Armament: Eight .50-cal. machine guns in remote controlled turrets plus two .50-cal. machine guns and one 20mm cannon in tail; 20,000 lbs. of bombs
Engines: Four Wright R-3350s of 2,200 hp each
Maximum speed:
357 mph
Cruising speed: 220 mph
Range: 3,700 miles
Ceiling: 33,600 ft.
Span: 141 ft. 3 in.
Length: 99 ft.
Height: 27 ft. 9 in.
Weight: 133,500 lbs. maximum

B-29 Superfortress Assembly Plants and Production Numbers

A total of 3,970 production B-29s were built, at these locations:

     
Prototypes
Production
Aircraft Manufacturer
Plant Location
Plant Code
XB-29
YB-29
B-29
B-29A
B-29B
Production
B-29s Built
Boeing Seattle, Washington
BO
3
Boeing Renton, Washington
BN
1,122
1,122
Boeing Wichita,
Kansas
BW
14
1,644
1,644
Bell Aircraft Co. Atlanta (Marietta),
Georgia
BA
357
311
668
Glenn L. Martin Co. Omaha,
Nebraska
MO
536
536
 
TOTAL PRODUCTION
2,537
1,122
311
3,970

The plant location was indicated in the data block on the left side of the fuselage below the pilot's window. Also contained the in the block number was information such as the model type and serial number.

Each plane was identified by a seven-digit serial number, with the first two digits indicated the fiscal year in which the Army Air Force ordered the plane, followed by a five-digit number unique to each aircraft.

The end of World War II in August 1945 dictated massive cancellations of existing orders for military equipment. In September of 1945, existing orders for over 5,000 additional B-29s were canceled.

Many of the existing B-29 aircraft were sent for storage, and ultimately scrapping at WWII aircraft storage and disposal facilities around the U.S. The remaining B-29s helped build the initial bomber inventory of the Strategic Air Command when it was formed in March of 1946.

Boeing Wichita Plant

The Early Years in Wichita: Stearman Aircraft

Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, and Clyde Cessna established the Travel Air Manufacturing Company in Wichita in January of 1925. Considered the big three aviation pioneers, they established the "air capital" and set the goal to manufacture "a plane for every purpose." Travel Air became the leader in light commercial aircraft.

Stearman left the company and the state in 1926 but returned the following year. He founded the Stearman Aircraft Corporation, which was acquired by a holding company for Boeing in 1929.

Stearman Aircraft Company, Wichita, Kansas, aerial view in the early years
Stearman Aircraft Company, Wichita, Kansas
Stearman Aircraft Company factory & administration building, Wichita, Kansas, looking southwest, circa 1935
(Photo by the Wichita Chamber of Commerce)
Stearman Aircraft Company factory & administration building, Wichita, Kansas, looking southwest, circa 1935
Stearman Aircraft Company, Wichita, Kansas, South Oliver Street, showing completed biplanes in the foreground
Stearman Aircraft Company, Wichita, Kansas, South Oliver Street, showing completed biplanes in the foreground

Stearman Merges with Boeing

The Stearman company signed its first major military contract in 1934, and built 61 Navy Model 73 biplane trainers.

In 1938 Stearman became a division of the Boeing company, and in 1941 the company became the Wichita Division of The Boeing Airplane Company.

Among its accomplishments in Wichita was the production of nearly 10,000 of its famous biplane trainers by 1945.

Building the New Boeing B-29 Plant in Wichita

Greetings from Wichita, Kansas ... early imageGreetings from Wichita, Kansas

Although it took 18 months to complete after its June 24, 1941 ground breaking, Boeing's new "Plant II" was in partial operation by June of 1942. New equipment was already being installed by Boeing six months before final completion.

Building a new plant was a formidable task, but staffing it with sufficient numbers of trained workers was equally difficult. Many of the employees from the local population had never before touched an airplane, and were totally inexperienced in aircraft fabrication and assembly.

People were recruited from all over Kansas and neighboring states. Accommodations for all of them needed to be found. A mammoth recruiting, training, and job placement task eventually created a skilled workforce.

Less obvious, but equally challenging, were the problems faced by the thousands of subcontractors that also had to expand and train their workforces across the country.

Production of B-29s at the Boeing Wichita Plant

The first production B-29s began to roll off the production lines at Boeing-Wichita in September of 1943.

Aerial view of the Boeing Plant, Wichita, Kansas, during World War IIAerial view of the Boeing Plant, Wichita, Kansas, during World War II

By mid-January 1944, 97 B-29s had been built by Wichita, but unfortunately only 16 of these were flyable. Only the very early Wichita-built models were delivered in olive drab and grey camouflage paint, with the remainder being delivered unpainted.

During March and April 1944, the intensive effort to get the first B-29s ready for overseas service became known as the "Battle of Kansas." All the B-29s used in the first raid on Japan on the steel center at Yawata, June 15, 1944, were built at Wichita.

At the end of the war Boeing-Wichita was producing 4.2 Superfortresses per working day for an average of 100 a month, which was the military's schedule. The plant had also reduced the number of manhours to produce a single B-29, from157,000 (the average required for the first 100 bombers), to less than 20,000.

When the war was won, uncompleted airframes on the Wichita assembly line were stripped of all government furnished equipment, and scrapped on the flightline.

Of the 3,888 Superfortresses built by all factories, 1,644 were Wichita-made. Wichita also built an additional 125 Superfortresses in spare parts. In later years, 1,370 Boeing B-47 Stratojets would be built in Wichita, as well as B-52 Superfortresses.

Boeing announced plans in January, 2012, to close its Wichita plant.

Boeing Wichita Plant, inside view of B-29s on the assembly line
Boeing Wichita Plant, inside view of B-29s on the assembly line
Inside the Boeing Wichita Kansas Plant, B-29 Superfortress assembly line
Inside the Boeing Wichita Kansas Plant, B-29 assembly line
Boeing Wichita Plant, aerial view of completed B-29s parked on tarmac
with part of the original Stearman Aircraft plant and water tower in the background
Boeing Wichita Plant, aerial view of completed B-29s parked on tarmac with part of the original Stearman Aircraft plant in the background
Roll-out of the 1,000th B-29 Superfortress built at the Boeing Wichita Plant
Roll-out of the 1,000th B-29 built at the Boeing Wichita Plant in Kansas
Roll-out of a completed B-29 Superfortress, on the night shift, Boeing Wichita Plant
Roll-out of a completed B-29 Superfortress, on the night shift, Boeing Wichita Plant
Boeing Wichita Plant, exterior view, with completed B-29s parked on tarmac
Boeing Wichita Plant, exterior view, with completed B-29s parked on tarmac
Boeing Wichita Plant, aerial view of completed B-29s, VJ Day, August 15, 1945
Notice the original Stearman Plant and water tower in the top-right of the photo
Boeing Wichita Plant, aerial view of completed B-29s, VJ Day, August 15, 1945

Martin Omaha (Bellevue) Plant

The Omaha area was yet another ideal aircraft manufacturing site, hundreds of miles inland, and safe from attack. Just south of Omaha was the town of Bellevue, the site of the new B-29 assembly plant, on the other side of the runway from present-day Offutt Air Force Base.

Glenn L. Martin B-29 Superfortress Bomber Plant, Fort Crook, Nebraska, near OmahaGlenn L. Martin Bomber Plant, Fort Crook, Nebraska

The first aircraft assembly building built in Bellevue by the Glenn L. Martin Co. measured 600 by 900 feet with eight other major buildings supporting it.

There was over 250 miles of electrical wiring, 47,000 cubic yards of concrete, five acres of glass and 10-million square feet of painted walls. The plant had its own telephone system, bank, post office, hotel, library, recreation, police, school, fire and sanitation systems.

The first Martin-Omaha B-29 was delivered in mid-1944, and by 1945 over 13,000 employees were building the super bomber.

Among the B-29s built at the Bellevue Martin plant were the Enola Gay and Bockscar, the planes that dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On May 9, 1945, Col. Tibbets personally selected the B-29 that would become the Enola Gay on the production line at Omaha with the advice of plant foremen.

By the end of production, Martin-Omaha had constructed 536 B-29 Superfortresses. About 1,500 B-26 Marauders were also constructed at the Martin Omaha plant.

Boeing Renton Plant

Boeing began manufacturing operations in Renton, Washington in 1941 to build a reconnaissance aircraft for the United States Navy - the XPPB-1 Sea Ranger, an experimental flying boat. A site was chosen on the marshy shores of Lake Washington a few miles southeast of Seattle, on the Cedar River where, under Boeing supervision, the river was diverted and a 95-acre, 2.3 million square-foot (215,353 square-meter) plant was built.

By the end of production, Boeing Renton had constructed 1,122 B-29 Superfortresses. The last B-29 rolled off the Renton production line on May 28, 1946.

Bell Marietta (Atlanta) Plant

Bell Bomber Plant, Marietta, Ga
Bell Bomber Plant, Marietta, Georgia

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Roosevelt administration decided to build additional aircraft-manufacturing facilities in the nation's interior, away from vulnerable coastlines. With its excellent railroad network and an established airport (Candler Field), the Atlanta area was an ideal location for new aircraft industries.

Based in Buffalo, New York, the Bell Aircraft Corporation had only about 1,000 employees when the United States entered World War II. About two weeks after Pearl Harbor, Bell learned that the government had selected its company to build B-29s in the Atlanta area.

The first B-29 rolled off the assembly line in February, 1944. Bell Bomber reached its peak employment of 28,158 workers in February 1945.

By the end of production, Bell Marietta had constructed 668 B-29 Superfortresses.

Bell-Marietta B-29 Superfortress assembly line
Bell-Marietta B-29 assembly line
Night scene at Bell Bomber Plant, Marietta, Georgia, near Atlanta
Night scene at Bell Bomber Plant, Marietta, Georgia, near Atlanta

USAF B-29 Assembly Line Photos

Boeing B-29 Superfortress Assembly Line
Boeing B-29 Assembly Line (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-29 Superfortress pressurized cockpit sections, showing connectors for pressurized tunnel over bomb bays
Boeing B-29 pressurized cockpit assembly, showing connectors for pressurized tunnel
Partially completed wing assembly of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress
Partially completed wing assembly of the Boeing B-29
Boeing B-29 Superfortress Assembly Line
Boeing B-29 Assembly Line (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-29 Superfortress Assembly Line
Boeing B-29 Assembly Line (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-29 Superfortress Assembly Line
Boeing B-29 Assembly Line (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)
The completed aircraft: The Boeing B-29 Superfortress
Boeing B-29 Superfortress
Boeing B-29 Superfortress
Boeing B-29 Superfortress

YouTube Video: The Boeing B-29 Superfortress


More about the B-29 Superfortress

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