Last week my father and I were talking about the Boneyard 5k from last month and the Pima Air and Space Museum and he started talking about when he was growing up and during the time in the mid to late 50's that every last B-36 flew into Davis Monthan at the end of their service life.
My father told me that there were days when multiple B-36's would head into town and even from inside their house the roar of the planes could be heard while the planes were still outside of Marana (several minutes, and about 10-15 miles away), well before you could spot the planes. To hear him explain it, this was likely an experience that everyone who was alive and aware in Tucson at that time can recall. It was wall to wall noise (and by wall to wall, I mean the entire Tucson metro area is in a large valley with mountain ranges dominating all four cardinal directions).
B-36's waiting to be scrapped at the AMARC (now AMARG) boneyard
Neither of us had realized until we did some elementary online research that every last B-36 that remained in service came through Tucson (with a possible exception for 51-13730, which may have gone directly to Chanute AFB for display before heading to it's current location at the Castle Air Museum). For my father, this was just common knowledge of the time. As was indicative of the times, an overwhelming majority of the air frames were scrapped once they reached Davis Monthan.
In fact, of the 384 built, only 4 planes remain intact (there is a 5th which was disassembled after being displayed and as far as I can determine, still remains in pieces, and was in terrible shape the last I can tell - see picture)
The B-36 is a fascinating plane which bridges the era between propeller driven planes and the jets which followed. It had the largest wingspan (230 ft) of any combat airplane ever in service. And the nature of its propulsion with six rear facing props was enough to garner attention from most. And then due to it's slowness, weight and poor takeoff performance, starting with theB-36D variant and then retrofitted to every model still in service, a pod with two GE jet engines was installed on near the end of each wing. When all *ten* engines were in use (six turnin' and four burnin') the total output was approximately 40,000 HP.
B-58, B-36 and B-52 in flight
And before I veer too far from this behemoth's takeoff performance, the B-36 went through a number of landing gear configurations because the initial single wheel per gear assembly strategy came to be nicknamed the runway breaker. Each wheel in this configuration exerted too much pressure on the ground and there were only three military airfields that could handle the weight and pressure of the initial landing gear system.
Pictured here is the landing gear in single wheel "runway breaker" configuration:
This led to a four wheel per assembly redesign that allowed the plane to land and taxi on other runways. In addition to this the XB-36 briefly toyed with the concept of tracked landing gear, though this proved to be too heavy and noisy to reach production. I did find a few pictures of the landing gear in the tracked configuration, and I have to say this would have been very neat to see in action.
As if all of this insanity was not enough, Convair decided to take this concept to the next level (and tried to compete with the B-52) and they developed prototype models of a strictly jet powered variant, the YB-60 (this started off as the B-36G. However so many design changes were required that a new designation was sought out). The YB-60 had shortcomings in comparison to the B-52 that it could not overcome, chiefly being that it was significantly slower and had poor handling characteristics. and after only two models were made, the program was ceased and both aircraft were scrapped.
XB-60, all jet powered variant
It is amazing to stand next to a B-36 (or underneath one, notice the adult standing underneath the one in the picture below) and then compare it to a B-52, which suddenly, and surprisingly, seems small in comparison.
B-36 at the Pima Air and Space Museum
For more posts related to the AMARG boneyard check out the tag page http://kinja.com/tag/amarg. (As of the time of this post, all AMARG tags have been used by me).
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