American Military Aircraft


In this article Trips Into History will highlight several American military aircraft that made a difference. Each of the military planes featured here have made large contributions to America’s military effort and each has a historic story to tell. These historic aircraft are on display at various venues around the U.S. and we will highlight some of these excellent air museums.

b-29 bomber
B-29 Superfortress in flight

The B-29 Superfortress

Everyone knows that it takes time between the design phase of an aircraft to it’s actual production. In the case of the B-29, the original designs were submitted to the U.S. Army in 1939. This was prior to the U.S. entering World War Two.

As military aircraft went, the B-29 was radically new in a number of ways. A pressurized crew area was one. The B-29 was also designed to carry remote controlled guns. The plane was also the heaviest to date built to carry bombs over very long distances. The plane was designed as a replacement for the B-17 and B-24.

Boeing built the B-29 in two plants. One was located in Wichita Kansas and the other in Renton Washington. Two other companies also manufactured B-29’s. These were the Bell Aircraft Company who constructed in Georgia and the Glen L. Martin Company who built the planes in Nebraska. Total B-29 production by all three companies which ceased in 1946 totaled just under 4,000 planes.

b 29 superfortress
Tail section of B-29 Superfortress

When you view these aircraft today, take special note of the airfoil and flaps. These are the Boeing 117 airfoil and the Fowler flaps which gave the B-29 superior left. The Boeing 117 airfoil had much lower drag and could provide better per pound of lift than any other airfoil. In addition to this the plane had the biggest flaps to date. The flaps provide more of a climb rate at takeoff and provide a lower stalling speed while landing. The Fowler flap was a  trailing edge flap that moves out of the wings on tracks. The Boeing 117 airfoil and the Fowler flap gave the B-29 a big advantage as a long range heavy bomber.

The B-29 Superfortress was ideal for operations during World War Two in the Pacific largely because of it’s extended range. Many of the bombing runs in the Pacific theater required very long distances from island bases. A very interesting book and great read is The Last Mission by author Jim B. Smith, a radio operator on the B-29 named “Boomerang“. This book chronicles the last mission of World War Two and how it inadvertently had a part in actually ending the war. The Boomerang flew over Japan while a failed coup by hard line Japanese military officers was underway.

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B-52 Stratofortress

The B-52 Stratofortress

Just like the B-29, the B-52 was designed to be a long range heavy bomber. This aircraft can operate at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet and carry both nuclear and conventional precision bombs and missiles.

The military issued specifications for a new heavy bomber in November of 1945. Plans and designs for the B-52 were submitted in 1946. The B-52 was meant to be a replacement for the jet propelled B-36 Convair. Differing from the B-29, the B-36 was the world’s first manned bomber with an unrefueled intercontinental range.

The B-52 (B-52A) had it’s first flight in 1954 and became operational in 1955. During it’s production span, the B-52 was built as several models. The B-52 B was first manufactured in January 1955 and delivered to the Air Force six months later. The year 1956 saw the addition of a B-52 C and B-52 D.

b-52 stratofortress
One of the engine pods on the B-52 holding two Pratt and Whitney engines

In 1957 we saw the B-52 E roll out then in 1958 the B-52 F and G models. A total of 102 B-52 H’s were delivered to the Strategic Air Command beginning in 1961. The H model is capable of carrying up to 20 air launched cruise missiles. In addition, it can carry the conventional cruise missile that was launched in several contingencies during the 1990s, starting with Operation Desert Storm and ending with Operation Allied Force. The B-52 H is equipped with eight Pratt and Whitney engines each delivering 17,000 lbs of thrust. The aircraft has a range of 8,800 miles unrefueled and a speed of 650 MPH.

a-7 corsair
A-7 Corsair !!

The A-7 Corsair II

The Ling-Temco-Vought built A-7 Corsair II is a carrier-capable subsonic light attack aircraft. This plane was one of the most successful military aircraft of modern times. In addition to having one of the lowest loss rates during the Vietnam War, the planes cost a little over one million dollars each and delivered weapons with an accuracy unheard of in their era. The carrier based A-7’s were one of the Navy’s most potent striking weapons during the Vietnam War.

Built originally on the airframe of the F-8U Crusader, the A-7 underwent several modifications since its introduction in 1965. The A-7 Corsair II, was used by TAC for close air support attack missions. There were several A-7 models with the A-7E  being the final version. The A-7’s were eventually replaced with the F/A-18s in 1992.

a 7 corsair II
Nose of carrier based A-7 Corsair II

Though the exterior of the aircraft appears bulky, the plane had extraordinary power. The single seat plane with an official range of 2,280 miles, an Alison 15,000 lbs thrust engine and a top speed of 691 MPH, the A-7 Corsair II was quite an attack aircraft.

Links to two additional photo articles on our Western Trips site you’ll enjoy include the Grumman S-2A Tracker and the F-15 First Responder both on display a the Pacific Coast Air Museum located near Santa Rosa California.

You’ll also enjoy our Trips Into History photo article about the first transcontinental air route involving passenger trains. This is the story about Transcontinental Air Transport and the creation of TWA.

See the B-29, the B-52 and the A-7 Corsair II

The venues listed below are great low cost travel stops and feature a good collection of vintage and classic military aircraft.

All three of the military planes featured in this article can be viewed at the National Nuclear Science and History Museum in Albuquerque New Mexico. The museum is located just north of the Albuquerque International Airport and Kirtland Air Force Base, about six miles east of the downtown area.

carrier plane tail hook
Tail Hook on A-7 Corsair

The Pacific Coast Air Museum located just north of Santa Rosa California and about 65 miles north of San Francisco has an excellent display of military aircraft including the F-15 First Responder that took to the air over New York City during the September 11th attacks.

The Pima Air and Space Museum is one of the largest in the U.S. Located a few miles east of Tucson Arizona, the Pima Air and Space Museum features over three hundred aircraft including a B-29 and a B-52 G.

The Planes of Fame has two locations. One is in Chino California and the other just north of Williams Arizona between Williams and the Grand Canyon. This is a unique air museum because planes are not only restored but several are also in flying condition. Many World War Two planes are on display including a Grumman Bearcat, a Grumman/ General Motors Avenger TBM and a Mitsubishi Zero. The Arizona location is a great stop to add to your trip planner when visiting the Grand Canyon.

(Photo of B-29 Superfortress in flight is from the public domain. Remainder of photos are from author’s collection)