First Flight of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress

Designed in 1940 as an eventual replacement for the B-17 and B-24, the first B-29 made its maiden flight on Sept.

21, 1942. In December 1943 U.S. Army Air Forces leadership committed the Superfortress to Asia, where its great range made it particularly suited for the long over-water flights against the Japanese homeland from bases in China. During the last two months of 1944, B-29s began operating against Japan from the islands of Saipan, Guam and Tinian.

Manufacturing the B-29 was a complex task. It involved four main-assembly factories: a pair of Boeing plants at Renton, Washington and Wichita, Kansas, a Bell plant at Marietta, Georgia ("Bell-Atlanta"), and a Martin plant at Omaha, Nebraska ("Martin-Omaha"). Thousands of subcontractors were involved in the project. Due to its highly advanced design, challenging requirements, and immense pressure for production, development was deeply troubled. On 18 February 1943 the first prototype crashed during testing due to an engine fire that spread to the wing, killing the entire 10 man crew and 20 others in the Frye meat packing plant just north of Boeing Field. Changes to the production craft came so often and so fast that in early 1944, B-29s flew from the production lines directly to modification depots for extensive rebuilds to incorporate the latest changes. This "Battle of Kansas" (a troubleshooting modification program to get four groups ready for combat by 1 January 1944) nearly ended the program, which was only saved by General Hap Arnold’s direct intervention. It was still nearly a year before the aircraft operated reliably.

Eventually, the B-29 became the first combat aircraft to carry and drop atomic bombs, first on Hiroshima (by "Enola Gay" commanded by Capt. Robert Lewis and Col. Paul Tibbetts), then Nagasaki (by "Bockscar," commanded by Maj. Charles Sweeny), becoming the first and only aircraft to effectively end a world war. B-29's had one more war in their future before the type was finally retired from combat service in 1960 by a jet-propelled Air Force. During the Korean War, they flew more than 20,000 sorties in which they dropped nearly 200,000 tons of bombs on North Korean targets.