by Geoffrey Hays, Ginter Books, Simi Valley, Calif., 2012, $49.95
The Boeing B-50 Superfortress was vital to Strategic Air Command in the post–World War II era. A B-29 on steroids with bigger engines, more fuel and a taller tail, the B-50 had the heft to accommodate the bulky Mark 6 and Mark 8 atomic bombs that gave the United States its brief nuclear monopoly. B-50s were used for weather reconnaissance, communications intelligence, air-to-air refueling and many other duties. Yet too often we only read about the B-50 as a kind of postscript to the B-29 story. This bomber has long deserved a history of its own.
Geoffrey Hays’ volume is for those who want a reference work covering aircraft structure, internal wiring, bumps, bulges and modifications. It’s the latest in a series of monographs published over decades by Steve Ginter, whose work has won him several awards. Pilots, enthusiasts and historians know they can trust a Ginter guidebook as the go-to source for basic, unembellished facts.
Hays, a retired Air Force officer and historian at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, made numerous trips to Boeing’s history office to dig out rare photos and diagrams of the B-50 and the never-built B-54 and B-55 variants. Thanks to him we learn that despite its robust power with four Pratt & Whitney R-4360 radials, later augmented by General Electric J47 turbojets on tanker versions, the B-50 did not initially have the global range SAC generals wanted. Still, the 370 B-50s that were built enjoyed such a priority during the Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union that SAC boss General Curtis E. LeMay refused to release them for duty in Korea, where bomber crews slogged on with older B-29s.
This title continues a fine tradition by a publisher who has made giant contributions to aviation history.
Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.