Boeing B-50 slideshow
Previous Next

The Origins of the Boeing B-50 Superfortress

The Boeing B-50A 'Superfortress' was the result of a programme started in mid-1943 when Pratt & Whitney offered to adapt a B-29 for its more powerful R-4360 radial engines. The Army Air Forces accepted the offer, but only authorised conversion of a single aircraft strictly for test purposes. This aircraft was redesignated XB-44 when complete. Although the XB-44 had better performance than the B-29, no production plans were made for B-44s. The Army didn't want to disrupt B-29 production in favour of the B-44 and the end of WWII saw the rapid demobilisation of the armed forces and the end of most wartime production. Although the end of World War II signalled the end of most production contracts; the Army still needed a long range bomber capable of carrying atomic weapons.

In December of 1945, the designation of the B-29D was changed to B-50A. This was a ploy to win appropriations for the procurement of an aeroplane that appeared by its designation to be merely a later version of an existing model that was already being cancelled wholesale, with many existing models being put into storage. Officially, the justification for the new B-50 designation was made on the basis that the changes introduced by the B-29D were so major that it was essentially a completely new aircraft. The ploy worked, and the B-50 survived the cutbacks to become an important component of the post-war Air Force.

The B-50, the last propeller-driven bomber delivered to the U.S.Air Force, made its initial flight on 25th of June, 1947. The aircraft was first designated as the B-29D, but modifications to the original B-29 structure were considerable so it was redesignated as the B-50.

B-50s served with the Strategic Air Command as medium bombers between 1948 and 1954 when they were replaced by jet-propelled B-47's. Many were modified for other roles such as weather-reconnaisance, crew training, photo-mapping, and aerial refuelling. In these support roles, some B-50's remained in service until the late 1960's.

Boeing built 370 B-50's, 222 of which were -D's.

The first non-stop around-the-world flight

The first non-stop flight around the world was made by a team of US Air Force flyers in 1949. The aircraft used was the B-50A-5-BO S/N 46-010 "Lucky Lady II" assigned to the 43rd Bomb Group taking off from Carswell Air Force base in Fort Worth, Texas on 26th February, Captain James Gallagher and a crew of 14 headed east in a B-50 Superfortress, called Lucky Lady II. They were refuelled four times in the air by KB-29 tanker planes of the 43rd Air Refuelling Squadron, over the Azores, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Hawaii. The circumnavigation was completed on 2nd March, having travelled 94 hours and 1 minute, covering 37,743 km (23,452 miles) at an average speed of 398 km/h (249 mph).

About two-thirds of the B-50A's were modified as receiver aircraft for an in-flight refuelling technique developed by the British. The fuel delivery aircraft (KB-29M) would fly above and forward of the receiver aircraft (B-50A) and unreel a long refuelling hose. The crew of the B-50A would extend an apparatus from the rear of the aircraft designed to snag the refuelling hose trailing behind the KB-50M. Once the fuel hose was captured, it was reeled into the B-50A where the crew connected it to the refuelling manifold. Once the fuel transfer was complete, the hose was released and the KB-29M reeled it back.

The 43rd Air Refuelling Squadron supplied 4 pairs of KB-29M tankers for refuelling making it possible for the "Lucky Lady II" to complete the around-the-world flight non-stop. Although this early type of in-flight refuelling was quickly replaced by more efficient methods, the around-the-world flight was proof that the US Air Force was capable of projecting air power anywhere in the world. The cold war had started and the US, Great Britain and France were in the middle of the Berlin Airlift which started in June 1948 and lasted until September 1949.

Only the fuselage of the "Lucky Lady II" remains as a testament to this historic aircraft, abandoned, forgotten & derelict it lies between a fence & a hanger at the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California. An ignominious end to an historic aircraft.

Update: A few years ago Lucky Lady II had been moved over to the the Jet Museum facility at Chino where it is displayed outside with the other aircraft. The nose section is not original. The nose was taken from a B-50D after Lucky Lady II, a B-50A, crashed and the original nose section was badly damaged. As far as I know, the remainder of the fuselage is original. There is a rumour it may be restored. We shall see.

If you came to this page from a search engine click below to access the rest of the site