he Boeing B-29, nicknamed the Superfortress, has been a mainstay of the U.S. Armed Forces since its first flight on September 21, 1942. The airship has played a role in many historic events in wartime aviation for almost two decades before the last B-29 squadron was retired.
The B-29 was used primarily in World War II and the Korean War theaters of action. One of the most famous B-29s, now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center located in Dulles, Virginia, is the Enola Gay. History buffs know that it was the Enola Gay that was responsible for dropping the world’s first atomic weapon on the city of Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. The airship, commanded by Colonel (retired Brigadier General) Paul Tibbets, dropped a bomb nicknamed, “Little Boy;” two days later another B-29 named Bocscar dropped the atomic device code name “Fat Man” on the city of Nagasaki, which effectively brought the war in Japan to a close.
The Superfortress was the creation of aircraft manufacturer The Glenn L. Martin Company located outside of Baltimore, Maryland. The aircraft measures an impressive 99 feet long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches. As a bomber class aircraft, the B-29 weighed 105,000 during its wartime commission, flying at a cruising speed of 220 mph (up to a top speed of 365 mph) at a range of 5,830 miles. The company, by the way, would merge with American-Marietta Company in 1961 to become Martin-Marietta and finally with Lockheed in 1994 to become its current form, Lockheed Martin Corporation.
After the B-29’s service in WWII and Korea, it was used primarily as an in-air refueling airship, search and rescue missions, and weather surveillance. As the advent of jet fighters and electronic weapons ruled the skies heading toward America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the B-29 became obsolete and saw its last action in September 1960.