By Glen Broman, former AC49E PIC and Squadron Gunnery Officer
On the 1st of June, 1945, a contract was issued to Northrop for a jet engined version to be powered by eight Allison J35-A-5 engines of 4,000 pounds thrust. The eight jet version weighed 88,100 pounds with a normal loaded weight of 205,000 pounds. On the 21st of October 1947, the XB-49 took to the skies. (This was aircraft number 42-102367, now in the National Air and Space Museum) Top speed of the XB-49 was 520 MPH with a service ceiling of 42,000 feet.. The 17,545 gallons of fuel gave a range of 4,450 miles with a 36,760 pounds of bombs. Unfortunately, the second prototype YB-49 crashed at Muroc Field. This aircraft was piloted by MAJ Glen Edwards, after the crash Muroc was renamed Edwards AFB. This setback did not alter the results of the fierce fly-off between the Convair challenger, the ungainly and ill-fated YB- 36A. Northrop was issued a contract for series production of the B-49A bomber. The contract also called for a six jet powered version, the YRB-49A, which flew on May 4th, 1950. The six 5,000 pound thrust Allison J35-A-19 engines improved the speed and service ceiling. The B-49A had a wingspan of 172 feet, a length of 53 feet and a height of 20 feet.
The testing which followed proved the soundness of the radical design and more production contracts were awarded to Northrop and the "Stratowing" eventually formed the backbone of the Strategic Air Command for the next thirty years. The first order for 10 B49As was followed by an order for 398 B49Bs with eight GE J47-GE-11 and -23 engines with 5,800 pounds of thrust with a top speed over 600 MPH and a bombing range of 3,000 miles. The first B49C flew on January 30th, 1953 with 8 J47-GE-25A engines with 6,000 pound of thrust and two radar directed 20mm guns in the tail cone and carried improved avionics. Top speed was 630 MPH with a cruising speed of 496MPH. The B49D (and RB49D) was the first "wet wing" version with the wing itself forming the fuel cell. The B49D had a range of 10,000 miles and also carried the new Pratt and Whitney J57-P-3 jets with 9,000 pounds of thrust which increased the service ceiling to 50,000 feet and gave a rate of climb of 2,400 feet per minute. The B49D also was the first to carry two North American GAM-77 Hound Dog missiles. Of course, the Hound Dog equipped B49Ds were nicknamed "Elvis's" by their crews.
Rapid development of the B49 followed with improvements in engines, avionics and weapon systems. The following is a list of most of the significant versions of the B49.
B49E: Only two built, used as a launch vehicle for the X-15 flight test program at Edwards AFB.
RB49F: This was a photo-recon version only. Due to the sensitive nature of this aircraft's mission, the Air Force has never released anything other than grainy photographs of this aircraft and the pictures of the wreckage of the aircraft shot down over Russia in 1962 that Kruschev released during his stormy visit to the UN really amount to nothing more than a pile of aluminum.
B49G: This was a Pratt and Whitney J57-P-43-W powered version. The six 13,700 pounds of thrust each engine delivers allows the B49G to reach an altitude in excess of 60,000 feet with a speed of 650 MPH plus.. The B49G was equipped with the ASG remote fire control system and the ASB-9 bombing system.
RS49G: This was a reconnaissance/strike version powered by six GE YJ93-GE-3 continuous afterburning engines. The RS49G was the first version to reach sustained Mach 2 flight. It was, however, hampered operationally by extremely short legs, having an unrefueled range of approximately 40 city blocks.
B49H: This version carried a Low Light Television (LLTV) mounted in a blister under the nose. This was the first low level penetration model with a new strengthened wing. It carried one ASG-21 20mm gatling gun in the tail pod and carried four Douglas GAM-87A Skybolt missiles externally under the wing, later versions carried the Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM).
B49J: The "Wild Weasel" version was equipped with fourteen different ECM transmitters, carried over 6,000 pounds of chaff, four Quail decoy missiles and twelve High Speed, Anti- Radiation Missiles (HARM).
B49K: The B49K was equipped with eight AGM 68B Air-Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCM) and was powered by four GE F101 engines with "30,000 pound plus" of thrust and terrain following radar. Top speed was 760 MPH. This version was sacrificed as part of the SALT I and SALT II negotiations with the Russians but many of the systems and engines were retrofitted to other models.
AC49E: The AC49 was born of necessity in the war torn skies over South Vietnam. The first attempts consisted of eight surplus ASG-21 20mm gatling guns. It was wildly successful and really pissed off the NVA. The AC49E was the definitive version that incorporated early stealth technology, having the radar cross section of a Pigeon, and carrying four turret mounted GAU-8 30mm cannon, two 40mm cannon, a soft recoil 203mm (8 inch) cannon and 36 Maverick missiles in two rotary launchers.
KC49A: This was the first "wet wing" tanker version with the extended tail boom. The KC49R was the final version with the conformal "fuel canoe". The KC49 was nicknamed the "Manta" due to its shape with the refuelling probe extended and was unofficially called the "Aluminum Bladder" by its crews.
EC49Q: This was an offshoot of the Wild Weasel. The first operational test of this aircraft in Nevada in 1978 resulted in a major power blackout over most of the Midwest. The Air Force cover story claimed that the blackout was actually caused by a UFO.
EC49 "AWACS": This experiment was not successful but was, without a doubt, the most spectacular version ever built.
The B49 got its first baptism of fire flying recon missions during the Cuban missile crisis but it really reached its zenith in South-East Asia. B49s flew 126,615 sorties over Vietnam, losing 29 aircraft, only 17 to hostile action. B49 tail guns accounted for two MIG-21s. The B49D used in SEA had hard points under the wing and carried 42 750 pound bombs or 84 500 pound bombs of either size on the hardpoints. The B49H was first used for low level penetrations of North Vietnamese airspace during LINEBACKER II and flew over 700 sorties against the Hanoi-Haiphong area with amazing accuracy at night. Despite going "downtown" at low level, only two were lost to ground fire and one was lost to a really tall Banyan tree. The B49 continued to serve as a faithful warrior in the cold war but did not see action again until Desert Storm. Early on the morning of 16 January, 1991, after Army AH-64 Apaches had blasted a hole in the Iraqi forward radar line in Kuwait, six B49J Wild Weasel radar suppression aircraft blew through the hole at low level and led the Coalition air armada into Iraq while frying the Iraqi search and acquisition radars. Desert Storm B49Js were equipped with 24 HARMS with 18 in a rotary launcher in the bomb bay and four wingtip mounted AIM-9L Sidewinders for local defense. A B49J is credited with destroying two MIG 23s in the landing pattern at Ras Sulieman airfield in Iraq. One was destroyed by a Sidewinder missile and the pilot of the second MIG was observed staring intently at the B49J over his left shoulder as his aircraft slammed into a telephone pole. CENTCOM granted the crew credit for both victories. During the 1980s several experiments had been conducted with Joint Army and Air Force Attack Teams (JAAT) consisting of Army attack helicopters and Air Force A-10 and AC49s. The success of these missions led to the deployment of the AC49E to Dhamamm in Saudi Arabia in December 1990. During one mission flown with AH-64s from the 101st Aviation Regiment, the AC49E "Bad MoFo", piloted by CPT GR "Bad Attitude" Broman was credited with destroying an entire regiment of Iraqi T-72s of the "Hammurabi" division in a single pass. During one of his briefings, Gen Schwarzkopf referred to this mission as "the Mother of all drive-by shootings". It is generally believed that, unless the U.S. goes to war with China, this record will never be broken.
In 1962, the first Bomber Demonstration team was formed as a result of successful lobbying by the Curtis LeMay faction in the Air Force. For the 1962-63 season, six B49Ds with the special red, white and blue Thunderbird painted on the aircraft were used and became a crowd favorite at air shows. Both the "Thunderbird" name and trademark "fluer-de-lis" formation were later adopted by the Air Force Flight Demonstration Team when the B49s were pulled back to SAC in 1963-64 for upgrade. Only one appearance was made with the red, white and blue smoke generators on the B49 Thunderbirds, during SEAFAIR '62 in Seattle. The tremendous volume of smoke caused it to rain for 193 consecutive days and meteorologists claim that weather patterns over the Puget Sound basin have been permanently affected. However, the residents of Seattle have yet to notice the difference.
The B49 became famous with the American public when a B49E from Edwards AFB was used in the remake of Orson Well's War of the Worlds. Who can forget the scene when the giant B49 drops the nuke on the Martians in California during the dramatic finale of the 1959 film classic. Foreign and Naval variants:
In 1962, an RB-49D crashed in Siberia after "accidentally" violating Soviet airspace 136 times. Unfortunately for the Americans, it pancaked in to the soft tundra and was recovered largely intact by the Russians. The Soviets copied it and when the Russian jet powered engines proved unsuccessful, the MIG design bureau designed a high performance turbofan engine and mated them to the Tupolev airframe. Thus was born the TU-49 "Wingski". Contrary to popular belief, only one civil Wingski was ever made. It was used for head of state visits to the West. The civil Wingski would make a slow pass over every western airfield displaying a huge USSR flag painted on its underside before landing.
The RAF built the B49 under license in the UK. The RAF called it the Viking and it became the third aircraft in the famous V bomber triad with the Vulcan and Victor. The major variants were the B.MK III (B49D) which was equipped with the "Blue Steel" missile and the B.MK IV Viking II (B49G) which was the version the RAF flew non-stop from RAF Greenham Common in the UK to completely shred the runway in Port Stanley during the Falklands war. The lead aircraft placed a stick of 24 750 pound bombs directly down the center axis of the runway.
B49N: This was the Australian version of the B49D. It was nicknamed the "Boomerang" in RAAF service.
Naval variants: The U.S.Navy, the RCAF and the FAA (later RAF) where the only major users of flying wings. All of the operational naval versions were B35 turboprop powered aircraft.
PBT-1: This was the first ASW version. The final U.S. Navy version was the PBT-9. Due to an apparent oversight, they were never renamed and should have carried the designation S-1.
PB2T: This was an ASW B49B but was never adopted by the Navy.
CB35B Basselope I: This was the AVRO built RCAF SAR and ASW version. The CB35C was equipped with skis for Arctic research missions during the 1960s.
CB35D Basselope II: This was the most numerous RCAF version in Canadian service. This ASW aircraft carried 10 Mark 34 torpedoes and had an extended tail boom with MAD gear and sonobouy chutes.
CB35F Basselope V: This was the PB2T-9 in Canadian service. Considered the definitive navalized version, it carried 24 Mark 46 torpedoes and had improved MAD gear. It was claimed the sonar system could pick up a salmon fart from 20,000 feet.
by Wei-Bin Chang
email@example.comG.R. Broman's story on B49 variants is essentially correct. However, he missed an important chapter: The secret operations of RB-49F over China flown by ROCAF pilots. As an ROCAF enthusiast, I am happy to reveal this untold history. The following story is based on reported aircraft sightings in newpapers, my interviews with the pilots, and my own research on ROC government files. As ROCAF never admitted such operations, my story might contain some errors.
In 1961, six RB-49F were secretly transported to Taiwan by sea. They were based at Taoyuan AB, serving along with the famous U-2. Like the U-2, these RB-49F were also operated by CIA, but pilots were chosen from ROCAF. Prior to the shipment of RB-49, 12 ROCAF pilots had been secretly sent to Edwards AFB for training. Ten of them returned to Taiwan in 1961 while the other two were recruited by USAF due to their excellent skills. It was rumored that the RB-49 shot down over Russia was co-piloted by one of the two.
The unit that operated RB-49F was nicknamed "Black Bat." (FYI, the unit flying U-2 was called "Black Cat.") Its mission is to fly over China's nuclear test sites and take photographs. Reports that U-2 were responsible for these missions were created by CIA to fool Chinese and Russians. In fact, U-2 were only used as decoy since they had larger RCS than RB-49F. A typical mission involved an RB-49F and a U-2. After reaching the target area, the U-2 would fly circles to attract the attention from Chinese SAM radars, while RB-49F conducted its recon mission. Although several U-2s were shot down, none of RB-49Fs flown by ROCAF was ever lost. The ten pilots all received the "Blue-sky-and-white-sun" medal, the highest honor a Taiwanese could get. A photo showing these pilots with then President Chiang Kai-Shek was released to the press by accident. Later the Ministry of National Defense claimed that these pilots were from the Black Cat squadron. However, the pilots in this photo were wearing a bat-shaped pin on their chests. All RB-49Fs were withdrawn to USA in either 1969 or 1970. All pilots were also flown to USA and granted US citizenship. They are all protected by the Witness Protection Program.
RB-49F based in Taiwan wore overall light gray with a black "shadow" of a fullsize U-2 painted on both sides. It is said that Squadron/Signal has obtained a photo of ROCAF RB-49F and this photo will be included in the future "B-49 in Action." However, as I called them to verify it, CIA cut my phone connection and two agents came to my apartment warning me to keep my butt off. So this is all I know about RB-49 in Taiwan.