Classic Airplanes

Consolidated Vultee / Convair B-36 „Peacemaker“

The B-36 became the first true intercontinental bomber. Designed by Consolidated, the Model 36 was selected over three competing concepts for an aircraft able to deliver a payload of 10,000 lb to targets in Europe from bases in the US. The resulting B-36 bomber, though too late to see action in World War II, was likely the largest bomber ever to enter production. The design featured a pressurized fuselage with a raised cockpit for improved visibilty. Besides its size, the B-36‘s most recognizable feature is its six pusher-prop piston engines. Later models were also equipped with four jet engines mounted in outboard pods permitting increases in maximum takeoff weight, payload, maximum speed, and service ceiling. Entering service in the late 1940s, the B-36 became the backbone of the US Strategic Air Command in the early days of the Cold War.

3-view drawing of B-36E by Josef Hueber / Airborne Grafix

Convair XB-36

Designed by Consolidated, the Model 36 was selected over three competing concepts for an aircraft able to deliver a payload of 10,000 lb to targets in Europe from bases in the US. The B-36 was under development in 1941 and first flew on August 8, 1946. 

Comparison of size: the B-29 (left) and the huge XB-36.

Rare color photo of the XB-36.

The new monster bomber, also called „The Big Stick“.

The XB-36 main landing gear had the biggest a/c tires of all times.

Convair B-36 A - J

  • B-36A: unarmed crew trainer, first production model; 22 built, B-36B: first operational model for USAF, 73 built
  • B-36D: improved model equipped with four turbojet engines in addition to six piston engines allowing better performance; 22 built and 64 converted from B-36B airframes 
  • B-36F: similar to B-36B but equipped with more powerful engines; 58 built
  • B-36H: improved B-36D with new flight deck; 83 built, B-36J: long-range model with additional fuel tanks and strengthened landing gear, some models had all but one gun turret removed allowing a reduction to 9 crew members; 33 built. 

Line-up of B-36B models.





Convair RB-36

RB-36D Reconnaissance model with a crew of 22 to operate 14 cameras located in two of the four bomb bays; 17 built and 7 converted from B-36B airframes. 

Convair NB-36H

B-36H serial number 51-5712 was modified as a nuclear-reactor testbed. The object of this particular conversion was to test the effects of nuclear reactor radiation on instruments, equipment, and airframe and to study shielding methods. A nuclear reactor (which did not actually power the aircraft) was mounted in the aft bomb bay. The crew was housed entirely in a modified compartment in the fuselage nose section. The compartment was composed of lead and rubber, and entirely surrounded the crew. The aircraft was redesignated NB-36H. It bore the name Crusader on the fuselage side. Its first flight was made on September 17, 1955. Flying alongside the NB-36H on every one of its flights was a C-97 transport carrying a platoon of armed Marines ready to parachute down and surround the test aircraft in case it crashed. A total of 47 flights were made up to March of 1957.

Nose section with heavy shielded cockpit and open bomb bays.

Convair B-58 „Hustler“

The B-58 project began in 1949 when the US Air Force issued a request for a supersonic bomber. The resulting design featured a delta wing mated to a slender fuselage incorporating the area-rule concept to reduce transonic drag. One of the aircraft‘s most novel features was a large centerline pod mounted beneath the fuselage carrying fuel as well as a nuclear bomb. The idea underlying this concept was that the entire pod would be dropped over the target giving the B-58 a cleaner, more aerodynamic shape thereby allowing the aircraft to escape at higher speeds. Following the first flight of the XB-58 prototype, the aircraft soon began setting a number of speed records, including the first bomber to exceed Mach 1. A total of 116 B-58s were constructed between 1956 and 1962, and the last was withdrawn from service on 31 January 1970. Performance: Max Level Speed at altitude: 1,385 mph (2,230 km/h) at 40,000 ft (12,190 m), Mach 2.1

3view drawing by Josef Hueber / Airborne Grafix

One of the most published photos of the YB-58.

The late fifties high-tech bomber in service.

Front view showing massive landing gear design.

The impressive weapons arsenal of the Mach 2 bomber.

Boeing 377 „Stratocruiser“

When Boeing developed the B-29 Stratofortress during WW II, it was soon realized that it was the beginning of a new plateau of aircraft technology. The B-29‘s wings, engines, and tail were mated with a completely new fuselage, whose dimensions at that time looked fantastic. Pan American was very interested in the plane, but thought that it would be even better equipped with the new Wasp Major engine, then in development for the B-29‘s successor, the B-50. The interior would feature a two-deck arrangement, with luxurious furnishings and a spiral staircase to a downstairs bar / lounge. In June 1946 Pan American ordered 20 377‘s, now named the Stratocruiser. Further orders came from Northwest, American Overseas, SAS, BOAC, and United. However, total production of the Stratocruiser only came to 56, with most airlines shying away from the complex Wasp Major engines. The Stratocruiser was typically used in first class transatlantic service.

3view drawing by Josef Hueber / Airborne Grafix

Passengers having fun at the the Boeing‘s belly lounge.

Preparation of the upper berths for night service.

Nite-nite: luxury today‘s passengers can only dream of ...

BOAC operated the first „Strats“ outside the U.S .

The Boeing 377 was also converted for military cargo service..

Stewardesses of 6 airlines demonstrating the huge fuselage.

Boeing prototype of the civil version.

Late tanker version equipped with additional turbo-jets.

The Northwest (& United) version featured rectangular windows.

A modernized PAA Clipper ready for take-off.

Impressive night view of a radar equipped PAA Clipper.

PAA Stratocruiser crossing San Francisco Bay.

The Boeing 377 and its payload.

A typical PR shot from 1950 introducing the PAA first class service.

The first Boeing prototype (military version).

Boeing 377 "Mini Guppy" / "Pregnant Guppy" / "Super Guppy"

Several 377 Stratocruisers and KC-97 Stratofreighters were converted to transport large, bulky items. The first, was a converted Pan American aircraft stretched 16 feet, 8 inches with a new 20-foot-high cargo area. This aircraft was dubbed the Pregnant Guppy and first flew in 1962. The Pregnant Guppy was used to transport large rocket subassemblies for the Apollo program. Other variants included the Super Guppy which was 31 feet longer than the standard 377 and was hinged at the nose. The Mini Guppy simply hinged at the tail. Most Guppy variants were converted by Aero Spacelines. The Guppy has played a vital role in the space program since the 1960s in support of Gemini, Apollo and Skylab projects. Four Super Guppies were used by Airbus Industrie to shuttle subassemblies between its European partners. The last of these was retired in 1997.

Airbus Guppy #3 preparing for take-off.

The first Airbus Super Guppy.

Forward section of Airbus Guppy #3.

Aero Space Lines Super Guppy being loaded with X-24B and HL-10 lifting body X-Planes - she later became the first Airbus Guppy.

The ASL Super Guppy in flight.

The pregnant Guppy for ASL first flew in 1962.

The first Super Gubby was built for ASL, too and started in 1965.

The first Super Gubby.

She was aquired by ESA and later forwarded to NASA for ISS.