The Douglas XB-19 Was the Biggest Bomber in the World—and a Big Failure

It’s considerably ironic how well-known the XB-19 was in its personal time, contemplating how obscure it has develop into since. When first flown on June 27, 1941, the Douglas Plane Firm’s creation was not solely the biggest bomber on the planet, it was additionally the the biggest airplane ever constructed. The bomber was a top-secret Military Air Corps prototype, however it proved not possible to maintain such a gargantuan creation below wraps, and 4,500 folks turned out to witness the plane’s first flight at Clover Subject in Santa Monica, California. It was front-page information within the New York Occasions. “Largest Bomber Passes Air Check” learn the headline; “Aloft 56 Minutes in Maiden Journey.” Learn the article, “Among the many spectators have been most of the males who labored within the airplane’s building. They cheered wildly because it handed overhead.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt personally telephoned Donald Douglas to congratulate him on his firm’s achievement. The XB-19 grew to become featured in every single place within the media, commercials and animated cartoons. It even acquired point out in George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s comedy, The Man Who Got here to Dinner, wherein characters dropped the names of each notable individual and establishment of the day.

The huge bomber had its first flight on June 27, 1941 to a crowd of 1000’s of (The Boeing Firm)

The XB-19 wasn’t simply massive, it was humongous. It was 132 toes lengthy, had a wingspan of 212 toes and weighed 162,000 kilos on take-off. To place the size of the mammoth plane into perspective, it was twice the dimensions of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and 30 p.c bigger than the later Boeing B-29 Superfortress. In actual fact, the XB-19 was not bested in measurement till the appearance of Convair’s B-36, which didn’t fly till 1946. The XB-19 additionally price  $2½ million to construct, 1,000,000 of which Douglas Plane needed to soak up.  

The XB-19’s enormous principal wheels are the one elements of the airplane remaining. (U.S. Air Power)

Operated by a crew of as much as 18, the XB-19 was so massive that its large fuselage contained two decks and it had tunnels inside the wings so the flight engineer may attend to the engines in flight. The XB-19 may carry as much as 36,000 kilos of bombs and had a spread of 5,200 miles. Though the defensive armament included two 37mm cannons and 5 .50-caliber and 6 .30-caliber machine weapons, by the point the bomber flew it was already tacitly acknowledged that the 37mm and .30-caliber weapons can be of little sensible use.

Why did this super-bomber not seem on the forefront of America’s air arsenal in World Battle II? For one factor, the plane was primarily based upon an Military Air Corps specification that had been issued again in 1935, six years earlier than the US entered World Battle II. These six years have been important, as a result of the state-of-the-art for aviation expertise superior significantly throughout that interval. As an operational bomber, the XB-19 was out of date earlier than it was even completed. For an additional factor, engine expertise had not stored tempo with airframe expertise. The engine initially meant to energy the XB-19, the Allison V-3420, was delayed, so the design needed to be modified to just accept lower-powered alternate options. The XB-19 was really powered by 4 early examples of the identical Wright R-3350 engines subsequently put in within the B-29. The XB-19, nevertheless, was so heavy that it was chronically underpowered; to the purpose the place the plane needed to fly with its engine cooling flaps at all times open, contributing drag and hampering efficiency.

Nicely conscious that the XB-19 would by no means obtain a manufacturing contract, by 1938 Donald Douglas requested that the undertaking be cancelled. His firm was engaged in far more worthwhile and higher-priority tasks, such because the DC-3 airliner, A-20 Havoc medium bomber and SBD Dauntless dive bomber. Other than the drain on firm services, personnel and time, the XB-19 changed into a cash pit that ended up costing the corporate $1 million greater than the Air Corps paid for it. Nonetheless, the Air Corps insisted that Douglas full the plane.

The retired testbed awaits scrapping in 1946. (U.S. Air Power)

Other than its publicity worth, the XB-19 proved its value as a useful “flying laboratory” for the event of latest applied sciences that have been utilized to subsequent massive, long-range bombers just like the Boeing B-29 and Convair B-36. In actual fact, it has been stated that the technologically superior B-29 would possibly by no means have been developed in time to serve in WWII had it not been for the XB-19. 

In 1944 the XB-19 lastly acquired 4 of the long-awaited Allison V-3420 engines for which it had initially been designed. The engines had additionally been proposed for an improve of the B-29 to be designated the B-39. Though the highly effective new engines improved the Douglas bomber’s efficiency, they by no means went past restricted manufacturing.

After a protracted and lively, if considerably obscure, profession as a flying testbed, the XB-19 was lastly relegated to be used as a really massive cargo service in 1944, though it doesn’t appear to have seen a lot lively service in that function. Laid up at Arizona’s Davis-Monthan Airfield in 1946, the enormous bomber was lastly scrapped in 1950. Well-known in its time, the XB-19 is now virtually completely forgotten. The one traces it left behind are two monumental wheels from its touchdown gear; one on the Nationwide Museum of the U.S. Air Power in Ohio and the opposite within the assortment of the Hill Aerospace Museum in Utah.


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