The Convair B-36 Peacemaker was a strategic bomber built by Convair and operated solely by the United States Air Force (USAF) from 1949 to 1959. The B-36 was the largest mass-produced piston engine aircraft ever made. It had the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft ever built, although there have been larger military transports. The B-36 was the first bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons, (specifically the first weaponized hydrogen bomb, over 20 feet long and 10 feet in diameter), from within a fully enclosed bomb bay. The B-36 was the first operational bomber with an intercontinental range.
This set the standard for subsequent USAF long range bombers, such as the B-47 Stratojet, B-52 Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer, and B-2 Spirit. The genesis of the B-36 can be traced to early 1941, prior to the entry of the U.S. into World War II. At the time it appeared there was a very real chance that Britain might fall to the Nazi ‘Blitz’, making a strategic bombing effort by the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) against Germany impossible with the aircraft of the time. The U.S. would need a new class of bomber that could reach Europe from bases in North America. The USAAC therefore sought a bomber of truly intercontinental range. Throughout its development, the B-36 would encounter various delays. When the United States entered World War II on 7 December 1941, Consolidated was ordered to slow down the B-36 project and increase production of the B-24 Liberator. The first mockup was inspected on 20 July 1942, following six months of refinements.
A month after the mockup inspection the project was moved from San Diego, California to Fort Worth, Texas, which set back development several months. Consolidated changed the tail from a twin-tail to a single, thereby saving 3,850 pounds, but this change would delay delivery by 120 days. The tricycle landing gear system would allow the B-36 to land at only three airports in the United States, therefore Consolidated designed a four-wheel truck-type gear, which distributed the weight more evenly and reduced weight by 1,500 lbs. Changes in the USAAF requirements would add back any weight saved in redesigns, and cost more time. A new antenna system needed to be designed to accommodate an ordered radio and radar system. The Pratt & Whitney engines were redesigned, adding another 1,000 lbs.