- Yes, as a tech tree vehicle
- Yes, as a premium vehicle
- Yes, as an event vehicle
- Yes, as a squadron vehicle
- No, I would not like the B-50D in game.
The B-50D Superfortress was the ultimate (built) version of the B-29. While it featured many improvements over its ancestor, like most strategic bombers, it ultimately fell victim to the quantum leap in air defense and interception capabilities which reared its ugly head at the turn of the 1950s. Despite being relegated to a position as a stopgap aircraft, the B-50 was an elegant refinement that deserves a little more love.
TL;DR: Most of the improvements that the B-50D has over the B-29 and other B-50 models are not very relevant to War Thunder. This is a short list of relevant improvements compared to the B-29:
- Superior speed and acceleration across the board, but especially at sea level, owing to its 3,500 hp Wasp Major engines
- One more .50 caliber M2 in the tail turret for extra defensive firepower
- One external pylon on each wing capable of carrying a 4,000 lb bomb
- Better handling
Overall History of the B-50
Boeing XB-44, the beginning of the B-50 lineage.
The year is 1944. The revolutionary B-29 Superfortress has begun deploying to bombard Japan. And unfortunately, it’s not quite all it’s cracked up to be.
The history of the B-29, unlike the B-50, is extremely well documented, so its teething issues have received plenty of historical coverage. A major issue presented itself with the Wright R-3350 Duplex Cyclone engine and specifically its installation. The problem was twofold; one, the engine, while powerful, did not permit the B-29 to reach its design specifications or speeds noted in its Standard Aircraft Characteristics, and two, the magnesium components in the engine had a very unfortunate propensity to catching on fire. That, combined with other thermal and oil issues, meant that the B-29, while revolutionary, wasn’t everything that the Air Force would have hoped. The performance issues were such that the famed Curtiss LeMay issued an order for all turrets besides the tail gun to be omitted from his B-29s to save weight. Boeing were keenly aware of these deficiencies and began design studies for an improved B-29D.
The Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major was the beating heart of the B-50. This extraordinary piston engine produced 3,500 horsepower with injection - a 60% power increased compared to the R-3350.
A project was quickly initiated to install the Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major in place of the R-3350 engines of the B-29, which required modification to the engine nacelles and engine control systems. One B-29A was converted to an XB-44, which demonstrated immediate and significant performance improvements when it first flew in May 1945, flying about 60 miles per hour faster than the B-29. The B-29D would have incorporated more changes to make it both lighter and stronger, as well as easier to handle. Theoretically, this would have been a great improvement, but there was one small problem - the end of World War II.
A B-29 dropping bombs in Korea - why bother when the B-50 existed? We’ll go over that.
The standing order for B-29Ds was severely reduced as a ridiculous number of B-29 orders were cancelled. A rapid postwar arms race with the Soviet Union had also begun, and it was clear that the B-29 was not going to cut it against any reasonably modern adversary. In order to save the aircraft from cancellation, the B-29D was marketed as the B-50, in a sort of opposite case to the Tu-22M, where it was named after a similar plane despite being a radical departure. The new moniker wasn’t completely undeserved, though, since the B-50A, which entered service in 1948, was a significant improvement over the B-29. The engines weren’t the only change - new aluminum alloy, automatic engine controls, in flight refueling, a more aerodynamic four-gun turret, external pylons for fuel or bombs, and many more changes made the B-50 much more pleasant to fly and expanded its capabilities. The in-flight refueling in particular allowed for the first non-stop flight around the globe when Lucky Lady II, a B-50A, made a historic 23,000+ mile trip in 1949.
Lucky Lady II in flight being refueled. The AN/APG-15 fire control radar’s antenna housing underneath the tail guns can be seen.
Despite its strengths over its predecessor, the B-50 was not employed in frontline service during the Korean War. This is primarily due to the fact that it was Strategic Air Command’s primary nuclear bomber aircraft at the time. Only ever intended as a stopgap, the B-50 had several features that made it attractive for its purpose until the jet powered B-47 could enter service. It was less expensive, faster, and more reliable than early models of the B-36. Despite the Peacemaker’s higher cruising altitude and ability to carry nuclear bombs without modification, its teething issues kept it from full operational capability until 1951. In short, sending the USAF’s primary strategic bomber to face poor odds against MiGs in Korea wasn’t very high on the to-do list, especially when the B-29 did “fine” enough.
A KB-50J refuels an FJ-4B Fury naval fighter. Note the engines mounted where the external struts for drop tanks were originally kept.
The B-50 survived in service slightly longer than the B-29, finally being retired in 1965. Its better speed and handling made it better to fly but also more useful for missions such as recon, for which 44 of the 45 B-50B variant were converted to RB-50s, weather monitoring in the case of the WB-50D, or in-flight refueling in the case of the KB-50J, which had extra jet engines to increase its speed to a suitable level to refuel aircraft such as the F-100. RB-50s did see some combat against MiGs as they carried out missions along and over Soviet airspace, which went about as well as you might expect. The B-47 replaced the B-50 in the nuclear bomber role when it entered service, which was a breath of fresh air for the SAC. Even with all its improvements, the B-50 was a B-29 at its core, and its bomb bays were ill-suited to carrying the large nuclear bombs of the early Cold War. Compared to the nearly 4,000 B-29s constructed, only 370 B-50s in total were produced.
Photo of the AN/APG-15B fire control radar installation on the B-50A, a carryover from the B-29B. Presumably, it was still unreliable as B-50Ds omitted the installation entirely.
The B-50D incorporated some improvements originally designed for the B-54 “Ultrafortress”, the most visible of which is the single-piece front window with a flat aiming window for the bombardier. Its strengthened undercarriage and lightweight fuel tanks, along with the more powerful Wasp Major engines, allowed for a maximum takeoff weight of 173,000 pounds, giving it a combat radius higher than the B-29 and prior B-50 variants. The B-50D incorporated a “flying boom” refueling system as seen in the picture at the top of this post, replacing the cumbersome “looped hose” system that pioneered in-flight refueling. Fun fact: the B-50A’s IFR was so clumsy it required an entire additional crew member to operate it. This crew member’s removal from the B-50D attests to the new system’s effectiveness and ease of use.
This diagram shows the complexity of the B-50A’s refueling system - no wonder it needed a dedicated operator.
Despite its increased takeoff weight, the B-50D was not able to carry more bombs internally than the B-29, due to the fact that there simply wasn’t any space in the bomb bays to carry more. However, B-50s were capable of carrying sea mines in addition to conventional bombs. B-50Ds had wing pylons capable of carrying one drop tank for extending range or one 4,000 pound bomb on each. Therefore, the maximum bomb load for the B-50D was 28,000 pounds. Defensive armament was very similar to the B-29, although the upper four-gun turret had a more aerodynamic profile (sometimes the standard four-gun turret as seen on the B-29 was used instead) and the tail turret had one extra .50 caliber M2 machine gun. Each gun had up to 1,000 rounds of ammunition, although the extra tail gun had a very strange ammo count of 114. The B-50A had a fire control and ranging radar for the tail turret, though this was removed from the B-50D.
This B-50D shows that not every B-50 carried the more aerodynamic top turret. For some reason, the typical plates that normally cover the exhaust of the Wasp Major’s supercharger have also been removed.
The B-50 had an extensive radio and radar suite with various functions, most of them irrelevant for the game. Compared to the B-50A, the B-50D had similar radar equipment, save for an improved bombing system. An AN/APQ-24 navigational/bombing radar set allowed for navigational and bombing computations to be performed with the same equipment. The B-50’s flight computer was improved and allowed the plane to be more pleasant to handle. In a similar vein, the Wasp Major engines had automatic controls.
Boeing B-50D Superfortress
- Span: 141 ft 3 in (43.05 m)
- Length: 99 ft 0 in (30.18 m)
- Height: 32 ft 9 in (9.98 m)
- 80,609 lb (36,564 kg) empty
- 154,824 lb (70,227 kg) with full fuel
- 173,000 lb (78,471 kg) maximum takeoff weight
Propulsion: 4 x Pratt & Whitney R-4360-35 Wasp Major 28-cylinder radial engines
- Normal power: 2,650 hp at 2,650 rpm
- 3,250 hp at 2,700 rpm
- 3,500 hp at 2,700 rpm (with injection)
- 285 knots (328 mph, 528 km/h) at sea level
- 335 knots (385 mph, 620 km/h) at 30,000 feet (9,144 m)
Climb rate (123,100 lb weight):
- 2,150 ft/min (10.9 m/s) at sea level
- 1,400 ft/min (7.1 m/s) at 30,000 feet (9,114 m)
- Gun turrets:
- 4 x .50 caliber AN/M2 machine guns in front dorsal turret (1,000 rounds/gun; 4,000 rounds total)
- 2 x .50 caliber AN/M2 machine guns in aft dorsal turret (1,000 rounds/gun, 2,000 rounds total)
- 2 x .50 caliber AN/M2 machine guns in front ventral turret (1,000 rounds/gun, 2,000 rounds total)
- 2 x .50 caliber AN/M2 machine guns in aft ventral turret (1,000 rounds/gun, 2,000 rounds total)
- 3 x .50 caliber AN/M2 machine guns in tail turret (1,000 rounds/gun for the middle guns + 114 in upper gun, 2,114 rounds total)
- Up to 40 x 500 lb AN-M64A1 bombs (alternatively, AN-M7, AN-M9 or AN-M58A2)
- Up to 32 x 500 lb AN-M13 incendiary bombs
- Up to 12 x 1,000 lb AN-M65A1 bombs (alternatively, AN-M59A1)
- Up to 12 x 1,000 lb AN-MK33 armor piercing bombs
- Up to 12 x 1,600 lb AN-MK1 armor piercing bombs
- Up to 8 x 2,000 lb AN-M66A2 bombs
- Up to 4 x 4,000 lb AN-M56A1 bombs
- An additional 2 x 4,000 lb AN-M56A1 bombs can be carried externally.
- Sea mines:
- Up to 12 x 1,000 lb Mk 36 Mod 1 sea mines (alternatively, Mk 13, Mk 26, Mk 26 Mod 1, or Mk 36)
- Up to 12 x 1,600 lb Mk 12 Mod 1 sea mines
- Up to 8 x 2,000 lb Mk 10 Mod 9 sea mines
- Up to 8 x 2,000 lb Mk 25 Mod 1 sea mines (slightly different internal arrangement compared to Mk 10)
- Drop tanks:
- Up to 2 x 700 gallon (2,650 liter) drop tanks
- AN/APG-24 navigation and bombing radar
Why it should be in War Thunder
I get that the B-50 is a bit of a hard sell, as the B-29 is notoriously annoying for both the pilot, considering the adversaries it often faces, and in the rare case of a downtier, anyone chasing it. The short answer for why I think this should be in game is because it’s cool and I like it. The long answer? For starters, it provides a better link between the B-29 and B-57. And while it’s less well-defended than the Tu-4, it goes at speeds the latter could only dream of. Strategic bombers are a bit of sticking point for most of the community, but I hope we can all agree that this beautiful plane deserves a chance in the spotlight like its ancestor has had since its inception.
Despite not being the topic of this suggestion, I felt fit to include that the B-50A, with its fire control radar for the tail gunner, would likely be slightly more potent game-wise.
- Flight Operating Instructions Handbook for B-50A and B-50D aircraft (1950)
- Boeing B-50D Superfortress
- Boeing B-50 Superfortress of the U.S. Air Force, design, history, specifications, deployment, KB-50, RB-50, photographs, surviving B-50 aircraft
- AutoSpeed - The Pratt and Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major
- Convair B-36 Peacemaker: Meet the Biggest Bomber Ever Built | The National Interest