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B-50 Superfortress
B-50A-5-BO 46-10 Lucky Lady II, the first-ever aircraft to fly around the world nonstop.
Role Strategic bomber
Manufacturer Boeing
First flight 25 June 1947
Introduced 1948
Retired 1965
Status Retired
Primary user United States Air Force
Produced 1947-1953
Number built 371
Unit cost US $1,144,296[1]
Developed from B-29 Superfortress
Variants Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter

Boeing KB-50

The Boeing B-50 Superfortress was a post-World War II revision of the wartime United States B-29 Superfortress with larger Pratt & Whitney R-4360 radial engines, a taller vertical stabilizer, and other improvements.


Design and development

The B-50 program began life as the XB-44 Superfortress. One B-29A-5-BN (s/n 42-93845) was modified by Pratt & Whitney in 1944 to accept the larger engines; the resulting engine testbed first flew in May 1945. If the engine modification had been included in the B-29 program, the resulting model was to have been known as the B-29D. However, due to other structural changes that would also be necessary to address the increased power, weight and fuel consumption, it was decided to change its military designation to a new model. Since the B-44 program was only for the engine modification, that designation was not considered, and in December 1945 the program was named B-50 Superfortress.

Officially, the aircraft's new designation was justified by the changes incorporated into the revised aircraft, but according to Peter M. Bowers, a long-time Boeing employee and aircraft designer, and a well-known authority on Boeing aircraft, "the redesignation was an outright military ruse to win appropriations for the procurement of an airplane that by its designation appeared to be merely a later version of an existing model that was being canceled wholesale, with many existing examples being put into dead storage."[1]

Revisions to the B-50 (from its predecessor B-29) would result in a top speed just short of 400 mph (644 km/h), faster than many World War II propeller-powered fighters. Changes included:

  • Larger engines
  • Redesigned engine nacelles and engine mounts
  • Enlarged vertical tail and rudder (to maintain adequate yaw control during engine-out conditions)
  • Reinforced wing structure (required due to increased engine mass, larger gyroscopic forces from larger propeller, greater fuel load, and revised landing gear loading)
  • Revised routing for engine gases (cooling, intake, exhaust and intercooler ducts; also oil lines)
  • Upgraded fire-control equipment (to control remote turrets)
  • Landing gear strengthening (takeoff weight increased from 133,500 lb/60,555 kg to 173,000 lb/78,471 kg)
  • Increased fuel capacity (this was largely addressed by adding underwing fuel tanks).
  • Revisions to flight control systems (the B-29 was already difficult to fly; with its increased weight the B-50 would have been much harder to hand-fly).

Redesigned with a larger upper fuselage, the B-50 design would form the basis for the Boeing 377 series of airliners and C-97/KC-97 military transports, with 816 of the KC-97 built. The B-29 and B-50s would be phased out with introduction of the jet powered B-47 Stratojet. [2]

The B-50 was nicknamed "Andy Gump" because the redesigned engine nacelles reminded aircrew of the chinless newspaper comic character popular at the time.

Operational history

B-50D-90-BO 48-086 with R-4360 engine differences visible
Boeing B-50D of 15th Air Force while on detachment to England in May 1953

Boeing built 371 of the various B-50 models and variants between 1947 and 1953, the tanker versions serving until 1965.

A reconnaissance variant, the RB-50B (a B-50B conversion) played an important role in Cold War espionage.

An aerial refueling tanker conversion designated KB-50 was used in the Vietnam War.

In 1949, The Lucky Lady II, commanded by Captain James Gallagher, became the first airplane to circle the world nonstop. This was achieved by refueling the plane in flight.

Although constructed in relatively small numbers, the B-50 was the last member of the B-29 family and was one of the last piston-engined bombers built. The B-50 was retired from its main role as atomic bomber in 1955. A number were converted into KB-50 tankers and lasted long enough to be deployed to Southeast Asia in support of tactical operations.

B-50s were grounded and removed completely from inventory when wreckage of a KB-50 that broke up in flight in 1965 revealed corrosion problems in the fleet.

No flying examples exist today, although several can be found in various air museums.

The USAF Strategic Air Command had B-50 Superfortresses (B-50s and RB-50s) in service from 1948 through 1954.


  • XB-44: One B-29A was handed over to Pratt & Whitney to be fitted with the new Wasp Major 28-cylinder engines. Initially designated B-29D, this was eventually changed to B-50A in December 1945. (x1, converted)
  • B-50A--First production version of the B-50. It had new wings that were stronger and lighter than the units on the B-29. It also had taller vertical tail than the B-29. (x60)
  • B-50B--Increase in gross weight over the A model, from 168,480 lb (76,420 kg) to 170,400 lb (77,290 kg). Also included a new type of lightweight fuel cell. (x45)
  • B-50D--Definitive production version of the B-50. The 7-piece nose cone window was replaced by a single plastic cone and a flat bomb-aimer's window. Many included the new boom-type refueling system. (x222)
  • DB-50D--Drone director conversion of a B-50D, to be used with the GAM-63 RASCAL missile. (x1, converted)
EB-50B with track-tread undercarriage
  • EB-50B--Single conversion of a B-50B to be fitted with a track-tread undercarriage. (x1, converted)
  • KB-50--Air to air refueling tanker conversions of the bomber. (x134, converted)
An F-101A Voodoo (top right), B-66 Destroyer (top left) and F-100D Super Sabre refuel from a KB-50J tanker at an RAF open day in England, 1963
  • KB-50J--Tanker B-50s with improved performance, via two extra General Electric J47 turbojets under the outer wings. (x112, converted)
  • KB-50K--Tanker conversions of the TB-50H trainer aircraft. (x24, converted)
  • RB-50B--All but one of the B-50Bs were converted into the recon role. These were fitted with nine cameras in four stations, weather instruments, and a bomb bay capsule holding the extra crew members. (x44, converted)
  • RB-50E--Special photographic conversions of the RB-50B, modified at Wichita. (x14, converted)
  • RB-50F--Conversions of the RB-50B, fitted with SHORAN navigation radar for special missions. (x14, converted)
  • RB-50G--Conversions of the RB-50B, fitted with electronics countermeasures stations along with the SHORAN radar. (x15, converted)
Boeing WB-50D of 53rd Weather Squadron at RAF Burtonwood in May 1957
  • TB-50A--Trainer conversion of the B-50A. (x11, converted)
  • TB-50D--Trainer conversion of the B-50D. (x11, converted)
  • TB-50H--Newly built trainer planes. (x24)
  • WB-50 --Weather reconnaissance conversion of the B-50.
  • WB-50D--Weather reconnaissance conversions of outdated B-50Ds, fitted with meteorological equipment. (x36, converted). Some of these flew highly classified missions for atmospheric sampling between 1953 and 1955 to detect Soviet detonation of atomic weapons.[3]
  • YB-50C--Version to be fitted with the Variable Discharge Turbine version of the R-4360 engine. None were built.
  • B-54A--Proposed version of the YB-50C.
  • RB-54A--Proposed reconnaissance version of the YB-50C.


B-50D-115BO 49-0310 used for weather reconnaissance on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

Only five B-50 type aircraft survive today, from the 371 produced.

  • B-50A AF Serial No. 46-0010. This aircraft, "Lucky Lady II", is disassembled and stored outside at The Air Museum Planes Of Fame in Chino, CA.
  • WB-50D AF Serial No. 49-0310. This aircraft has been moved indoors after many years outside at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH.
  • WB-50D AF Serial No. 49-0351. This aircraft is displayed outdoors at Castle Air Museum in Atwater, CA.
  • KB-50J AF Serial No. 49-0372. This aircraft is displayed outdoors at Pima Air & Space Museum in Tuscon, AZ.
  • KB-50J AF Serial No. 49-0389. This aircraft is displayed outdoors at McDill AFB in Tampa, FL.


 United States

Specifications (B-50D)

Boeing B-50D

General characteristics

  • Crew: 8: Pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, radio/electronic countermeasures operator, two side gunners, top gunner and tail gunner
  • Length: 99 ft 0 in (30.2 m)
  • Wingspan: 141 ft 3 in (43.1 m)
  • Height: 32 ft 8 in (10.0 m)
  • Wing area: 1736 ft² (161.3 m²)
  • Empty weight: 80,610 lb (36,560 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 121,850 lb (55,270 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 173,000 lb (78,470 kg)
  • Powerplant:Pratt & Whitney R-4360 radial engines, 3,500 hp (2,600 kW) each



See also

Related development

Related lists




  1. ^ a b Knaack, Marcelle Size. Post-World War II Bombers, 1945-1973. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1988. ISBN 0-16-002260-6.
  2. ^ B-50 phase out for B-47
  3. ^


  • Jones, Lloyd S. U.S. Bombers, B-1 1928 to B-1 1980s. Fallbrook, CA: Aero Publishers, 1962, second edition 1974. ISBN 0-8168-9126-5.

External links


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