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B-29s in Flight

Designed to fly at low altitudes

Considered the most advanced bombers in the world, the B-29s had pressurized cabins, remote control gun placements and 2,200-horsepower engines — the most powerful piston engines of the time. Able to fly over 3,000 miles, up to 16 hours, these bombers were just what the Allies needed to target Japan.


As Robert Rodenhouse, a B-29 pilot, remembers: “It just blew my mind. First of all its size, and then its capabilities. And to think that they could take an airplane, a bomber, and pressurize it so that we could feel the same at sea level as we do at 30,000 feet. And that’s essentially what they were doing. And then when I knew that the range that it was capable of doing, and the weight and the bomb load, I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel.”

Numerous Risks
“The planes were hard to handle. Heavy bomb loads made takeoffs risky. Flying 3,000 miles round trip to Japan over hostile waters made emergency landings almost impossible. But perhaps the most baffling problem to the flight crews was something we know today as the jet stream. “If we were going with the jet stream, our bombs were going over the target. And if we’re going against it, the bombs would be short of the target. And it wasn’t until about three or four missions that some meteorologist went along with the bombing group, and they determined what that was, a jet stream,” recalled Rodenhouse. “It’s a very common occurrence now. It’s in every meteorological broadcast today, where the jet stream is, and how fast it is, and what it’s moving. It has such an effect on weather systems. And we didn’t know about that.”

(excerpted from PBS American Experience)