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The B-29 Superfortress

The B-29 was one of the largest aircraft to see service during World War II. A very advanced bomber for this time period, it included features such as a pressurized cabin, an electronic fire control system and remote-controlled machine gun turrets. Though it was designed as a high-altitude daytime bomber, in practice it actually flew more low-altitude nighttime incendiary bombing missions. It was the primary aircraft in the American firebombing campaign against the Empire of Japan in the final months of World War II, and carried the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


In flight, the Pilot called for engine and flap settings instead of moving the throttles and the flap levers himself. Another innovation was the number of calculations the crew had to perform before and during the mission. Prior to the B-29, flight manuals only provided approximate performance figures and pilots relied largely on instinct and experience. The B-29 manual had charts to compute take-off and landing speeds based on weight, elevation and temperature. Finding the optimum power settings for cruise required consideration of cruise altitude, outside temperature, aircraft weight and desired airspeed. The power settings were recalculated every two hours or with every change in altitude. These types of calculations are routine in modern civil and military aviation, but they were an innovation in 1944.

John wrote about the pilot's role: “There’s no co-pilot aboard a B-29. The left seat is occupied by the Airplane Commander, right seat by the Pilot (that’s me) and a third-rated Pilot is the Flight Engineer. The Airplane Commander flies the ship and the Flight Engineer watches the instruments. The Pilot contacts the range station and towers by radio, he’s Fire Control Officer, he must take-off and land once daily, take an instrument and transition check. The Pilot does the same thing as the Flight Commander, but without the responsibility of the Commander. In 7-8 hour formation flights you can bet that both Commander and Pilot fly until worn out.”

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