How a B-29 Stunt May Have Helped Create the USAF
AUTHOR: Edgar L. Vincent, B-29 Aircraft Commander – 6th Bomb Group, Tinian Island 1945. ©Ed Vincent 2020
Part of the Superfortress B-29 Story: the Army 20th Air Force planned the remarkable feat of flying four B-29s non-stop from Japan to Washington DC to favorably influence Congress to increase funding for aerial combat and the Air Force. What transpired was a stunt. The standard B-29 was incapable of flying non-stop, 27.5 hours to Washington DC. Yet, four B-29s on November 1, 1945 did so to the delight of news media and hopefully a few Congressmen.
Following Japan’s Pacific War surrender in 1945, the Army 20th Air Force planned the remarkable feat of flying four B-29s non-stop from Japan to Washington DC to favorably influence Congress to increase funding for aerial combat and the Air Force. The B-29 bomber had just redefined warfare in its unique capability to strike a crippling military blow to an enemy by carrying heavier bomb loads over significantly greater distances from remote bases (3000-4400 mile and 14-19 hour non-stop missions over Japan) with comparably low American casualties. What transpired was a stunt. The standard B-29 was incapable of flying non-stop, 27.5 hours to Washington DC. Yet, four B-29s on November 1, 1945 did so to the delight of news media and hopefully a few Congressman.
Unbeknownst to most, the B-29s that landed that day were far from standard. Four new waxed and polished B-29s were stripped of all armament and outfitted with pressurized fuel tanks in every available space including bomb bays, space above the bomb bays, the radar room and with pressurized rubber wing tanks all hosed together. Each fully fueled aircraft weighed 141,000 pounds, 10 tons over the maximum gross takeoff weight as specified by Boeing. The B-29’s were manned with three pilots, two navigators, a flight engineer, a radio operator and observer, far short of a full crew.
I was fortunate to have been selected to be a pilot of this grandstand mission likely by having piloted the longest non-stop combat mission of the war.
We flew the four aircraft initially from Guam to Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. There we waited for a forecast of strong jet stream tail winds along our great circle route to Washington D.C. We also waited for a cold morning for best takeoff conditions (higher lift), higher gas poundage fueling and engine cooling. The runway at Sapporo had the needed runway length to get our dangerously overloaded, dangerously pressure-fueled B-29s airborne.
All favorable conditions coincided for our takeoff on the morning of November 1, 1945. Our flight speed and altitude were continuously changed along our route with fuel usage and decreasing aircraft weight per charts for maximum range, flying 50 feet above sea level in the beginning to an altitude of 35,000 over Alaska. We descended slowly and continuously from Alaska to Washington DC using as much glider effect as possible. 27.5 hours and 6553 miles after takeoff, and with fuel tanks on empty, all four planes landed at Washington’s National Airport.
Less than two years later in 1947, the U.S. Air Force was created as a separate branch of the military. We can only speculate that the great Army Air Force stunt played a role in that decision. Those who participated like to think so.
Ed Vincent (1923 – )