Airplanes are able to do so much more and travel so much further these days than they were in World War II. Back then, planes had to be based in nations closer to the fighting, because bomb runs could not be done from US shores…too much distance. Nevertheless, it wasn’t because no one had considered such a possibility. On September 28, 1942, General Henry “Hap” Arnold ordered the highest priority be given to the development of two exceptional aircraft. They were the B-35 Flying Wing and the B-36 Peacemaker, and they were intended for bombing runs from bases in the United States to targets in Europe. It could have potentially changed the way the war was fought…had everything worked out as planned.
General Arnold was a man of distinction from the beginning of his career. Not only was he one of the first pilots in the US Signal Corps, but he was taught to fly by none other than one of the Wright brothers. During World War I, Arnold was director of aviation training for the Army. Between World War I and World War II, he was a proponent of the controversial military philosophy that emphasized strategic bombing, eliminating the need for the use of ground forces altogether. It was a noble idea, and could have potentially saved many lives, although I don’t know how feasible it really is. I think there are times when ground forces are the only way to go, but I have never fought in a war, so I could be wrong on that thought.
When the United States entered into World War II, the Army Air Forces had become an increasingly distinct military service. General Arnold became its first chief. Along with this honor came the opportunity of a seat with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Initially this was intended to boost his status to that of his counterpart in Britain, but it also increased the stature and independence of the Army Air Forces. General Arnold was able to form alliances with British RAF allies who also favored the use of strategic bombing in lieu of ground-force operations.
In 1942, Arnold gave the highest priority to the development of two extra long-distance transatlantic planes that would prove most useful to his strategic bombing game plan, the B-35 Flying Wing and the B-36 Peacemaker transatlantic bombers. The B-35 had been first proposed in early 1941, intended for use in defending an invaded Britain. But the tailless design was so radical that it was viewed as…maybe not safe, so the plane was put on the back burner. When I look at the plane, I can see how it might look unsafe, and really not flight worthy.
The plans for the B-35 were finally revived because of advantages the plane afforded over the B-36 bombing range in relation to gross weight, for example. Fifteen B-35 planes were ordered for construction, but the first did not take flight until 1946, after World War II had ended. Designs for the B-36 were also developed early in 1941, on the assumption that the United States would inevitably be drawn into the war and it would need a bomber that could reach Europe from bases in America. It was to be a massive plane…162 feet long with a 230 foot wingspan. But its construction lagged, and it was not completed until after the war ended either. Although Hap’s “high priority” could not cut through the military bureaucracy of his time, 1947 would see the Nation Defense Act establish an autonomous Air Force…a dream for which he had worked. The B-35 Flying Wing would become the prototype for the B-2 Stealth bomber built in 1989. And the B-36 was used extensively by US Strategic Air Command until 1959, but the B-36 Peacemaker never dropped a bomb.