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The second prototype, which, unlike the unarmed first, was fitted with a Sperry defensive armament system using remote-controlled gun turrets sighted by periscopes, first flew on 30 December , this flight being terminated due to a serious engine fire.
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On 18 February , the second prototype, flying out of Boeing Field in Seattle, experienced an engine fire and crashed. The crash killed Boeing test pilot Edmund T. Changes to the production craft came so often and so fast that in early , Bs flew from the production lines directly to modification depots for extensive rebuilds to incorporate the latest changes. AAF-contracted modification centers and its own air depot system struggled to handle the scope of the requirements.
Some facilities lacked hangars capable of housing the giant B, requiring outdoor work in freezing cold weather, further delaying necessary modification. By the end of , although almost aircraft had been delivered, only 15 were airworthy. This prompted an intervention by General Hap Arnold to resolve the problem, with production personnel being sent from the factories to the modification centers to speed availability of sufficient aircraft to equip the first Bomb Groups in what became known as the "Battle of Kansas".
This resulted in aircraft being modified in the six weeks between 10 March and 15 April The most common cause of maintenance headaches and catastrophic failures were the engines. Although the Wright R Duplex-Cyclone radial engines later became a trustworthy workhorse in large piston-engined aircraft, early models were beset with dangerous reliability problems.
Interim measures included cuffs placed on propeller blades to divert a greater flow of cooling air into the intakes which had baffles installed to direct a stream of air onto the exhaust valves. Oil flow to the valves was also increased, asbestos baffles installed around rubber push rod fittings to prevent oil loss, thorough pre-flight inspections made to detect unseated valves, and frequent replacement of the uppermost five cylinders every 25 hours of engine time and the entire engines every 75 hours.
Pilots, including the present day pilots of the Commemorative Air Forces Fifi, one of the last two remaining flying Bs, describe flight after takeoff as being an urgent struggle for airspeed generally, flight after takeoff should consist of striving for altitude.
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Radial engines need airflow to keep them cool, and failure to get up to speed as soon as possible could result in an engine failure and risk of fire. One useful technique was to check the magnetos while already on takeoff roll rather than during a conventional static engine-runup before takeoff. This was its best defense, because Japanese fighters could barely reach that altitude, and few could catch the B even if they did attain that altitude.
Only the heaviest of anti-aircraft weapons could reach it, and since the Axis forces did not have proximity fuzes, hitting or damaging the aircraft from the ground in combat proved difficult. The General Electric Central Fire Control system on the B directed four remotely controlled turrets armed with two.
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Some turrets were made according to patents from the Tucker Gun Turret. All weapons were aimed optically with targeting computed by analog electrical instrumentation. There were five interconnected sighting stations located in the nose and tail positions and three Plexiglas blisters in the central fuselage.
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Five General Electric analog computers one dedicated to each sight increased the weapons' accuracy by compensating for factors such as airspeed, lead, gravity, temperature and humidity. The computers also allowed a single gunner to operate two or more turrets including tail guns simultaneously. The gunner in the upper position acted as fire control officer, managing the distribution of turrets among the other gunners during combat. The tail position initially had two. Later aircraft had the 20 mm cannon removed, and sometimes replaced by a third machine gun.
In early Major General Curtis Lemay, commander of XXI Bomber Command the Marianas-based Bequipped bombing force ordered most of the defensive armament and remote-controlled sighting equipment removed from the Bs under his command. The affected aircraft had the same reduced defensive firepower as the atomic mission-intended Silverplate B airframes, but could carry greater fuel and bomb loads as a result of the change.
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The lighter defensive armament was made possible by a change in mission from high-altitude, daylight bombing with high explosive bombs to low-altitude night raids using incendiary bombs. This version could also have an improved APQ-7 "Eagle" bombing-through-overcast radar fitted in an airfoil shaped radome under the fuselage. The crew enjoyed, for the first time in a bomber, full-pressurization comfort. This first-ever cabin pressure system for an Allied production bomber was developed for the B by Garrett AiResearch. The nose and the cockpit were pressurized, but the designers were faced with deciding whether to have bomb bays that were not pressurized, between fore and aft pressurized sections, or a fully pressurized fuselage with the need to de-pressurize to drop their loads.
The solution was a long tunnel over the two bomb bays so as not to interrupt pressurization during bombing. Crews could crawl back and forth between the fore and aft sections, with both areas and the tunnel pressurized. The bomb bays were not pressurized. In September , the Army Air Forces plans for war against Germany and Japan proposed basing the B in Egypt for operations against Germany as British airbases were likely to be overcrowded.
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Air Force planning throughout and early continued to have the B deployed initially against Germany, only transferring to the Pacific after the end of the war in Europe. By the end of , however, plans had changed, partly due to production delays, and the B was dedicated to the Pacific Theater. A new plan implemented at the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a promise to China, called Operation Matterhorn, deployed the B units to attack Japan from four forward bases in southern China, with five main bases in India, and to attack other targets in the region from China and India as needed.
The Chengdu region was eventually chosen over the Guilin region to avoid having to raise, equip, and train 50 Chinese divisions to protect the advanced bases from Japanese ground attack. The XX Bomber Command, initially intended to be two combat wings of four groups each, was reduced to a single wing of four groups because of the lack of availability of aircraft, automatically limiting the effectiveness of any attacks from China.
This was an extremely costly scheme, as there was no overland connection available between India and China, and all supplies had to be flown over the Himalayas, either by transport aircraft or by the Bs themselves, with some aircraft being stripped of armor and guns and used to deliver fuel. Bs started to arrive in India in early April The first B combat mission was flown on 5 June , with 77 out of 98 Bs launched from India bombing the railroad shops in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand.
Five Bs were lost during the mission, none to hostile fire.
On 5 June , Bs raided Bangkok, in what is reported as a test before being deployed against the Japanese home islands. Sources do not report from where they launched, and vary as to the numbers involved77, 98, and being claimed. Targets were Bangkok's Memorial Bridge and a major power plant. Bombs fell over two kilometers away, damaged no civilian structures, but destroyed some tram lines and destroyed both a Japanese military hospital and the Japanese secret police headquarters.
This was the first attack on Japanese islands since the Doolittle raid in April The first B combat losses occurred during this raid, with one B destroyed on the ground by Japanese fighters after an emergency landing in China, one lost to anti-aircraft fire over Yawata, and another, the Stockett's Rocket after Capt. Marvin M. Stockett, Aircraft Commander BBW , disappeared after takeoff from Chakulia, India, over the Himalayas 12 KIA, 11 crew and one passenger This raid, which did little damage to the target, with only one bomb striking the target factory complex, nearly exhausted fuel stocks at the Chengdu B bases, resulting in a slow-down of operations until the fuel stockpiles could be replenished.
Starting in July, the raids against Japan from Chinese airfields continued at relatively low intensity.
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In addition to the logistical problems associated with operations from China, the B could only reach a limited part of Japan while flying from Chinese bases. The solution to this problem was to capture the Mariana Islands, which would bring targets such as Tokyo, about 1, mi 2, km north of the Marianas within range of B attacks.
A joint US forces invaded Saipan on 15 June Despite a Japanese naval counterattack which led to the Battle of the Philippine Sea and heavy fighting on land, Saipan was secured by 9 July. Operations followed against Guam and Tinian, with all three islands secured by August. Naval construction battalions Seabees began at once to construct air bases suitable for the B, commencing even before the end of ground fighting. In all, five major air fields were built: two on the flat island of Tinian, one on Saipan, and two on Guam.
Each was large enough to eventually accommodate a bomb wing consisting of four bomb groups, giving a total of Bs per airfield. These bases, which could be supplied by ship, and unlike the bases in China, were not vulnerable to attacks by Japanese ground forces, became the launch sites for the large B raids against Japan, in the final year of the war.
The first B arrived on Saipan on 12 October , and the first combat mission was launched from there on 28 October , with 14 Bs attacking the Truk atoll. Showing of 2 reviews. Top Reviews Most recent Top Reviews. There was a problem filtering reviews right now.
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