Boeing B-29, RB-29, WB-29, SB-29 Superfortress

The Boeing B-29 was a four-engine, long-range, medium bomber.  A prototype of the B-29 first flew on 21 September 1942.  A service aircraft first flew on 26 June 1943, and the B-29 was first used in combat on 5 June 1944.  During World War Two the B-29 was classified as a very heavy bomber, and it was the mainstay of the strategic bombing campaign in the Pacific.  During the Pacific campaign B-29s dropped 170,000 tons of bombs, 25 times the combined total of all other US aircraft. 

The B-29 had a crew of ten or eleven, was armed with eleven 0.50-inch machine-guns, and could carry up to 20,000 lbs. of bombs.  It had a pressurized cabin to allow high-altitude operations, and it had four 2,200-hp engines giving it a maximum speed of 358 mph.  A total of 3,905 B-29s were built.

After World War Two the B-29 was re-classified as a medium bomber.  At the start of the Korean War there were 22 operational B-29s serving with the two squadrons of the US Far East Air Force’s 19th Bombardment Group.  In addition, the Far East Air Force possessed 6 RB-29s for photo-reconnaissance and 4 SB-29s for air-sea rescue.  Four more groups of B-29s arrived in the theater during July and August 1950.  After destroying most of the strategic targets in North Korea, two of the B-29 groups returned to the US during October and November 1950.  For the rest of the Korean War the core of the Far East Air Force’s Bomber Command consisted of three medium bombardment groups – the 19th, 98th, and 307th, each with an authorized strength of 33 B-29s.

B-29 losses were very light during the first year of the war.  Only six were lost in action through September 1951.  That changed in October 1951 when five B-29s were destroyed and eight were seriously damaged.  In November 1951 B-29s were restricted to night-time operations for the rest of the war.  During the Korean War B-29s flew 21,000 sorties and dropped 167,100 tons of bombs.

B-29s were also adapted for several other uses during the war.  RB-29s were used for photo-reconnaissance by the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron.  SB-29s were used for air-sea rescue by the 3rd Air Rescue Squadron and its successor, the 3rd Air Rescue Group.  WB-29s were used for weather reconnaissance by the 512th Reconnaissance Squadron and its successor, the 56th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron.  In July 1952 KB-29 tankers were used for the first aerial refueling of fighter aircraft crossing the Pacific Ocean.