Research on the B-29 by Jason Cohn

Jason Cohn wrote to me asking for help on writing a research paper on the B-29 Superfortress. I sent out an SOS to my B-29 mailing list and Jason had all the help he could get. This is the result . . .

Cover of his paper

Period 2
December 10, 1999

It is often thought that men with great vision - those with the most creativity and the wildest imaginations - always look to the future and never to the past. However, it is the past on which the foundation for the future is built, and one must understand the past in order to predict what the future might hold. Even though I aspire to become a space traveler and fly space shuttles to other worlds, I have become aware of the importance of learning about the past, particularly past airplane technology, which is the foundation for aircraft today and spacecraft of tomorrow.

The B-29 Superfortress can aptly be called the airplane that helped us attain victory in World War II, and it most certainly is one of the cornerstones of future aircraft. It is on this aircraft that I have decided I should begin my research.

In the European Theater the B-17 was "the plane" (LeMay). It could carry bombs and supplies over a large area of land. It could accomplish its missions in the day or night. Overall, it was the best plane at the time. In the Pacific Theater, the war was different. It was not fought on land but largely over islands and vast areas of water where refueling was either difficult or nonexistent. Solving this problem meant that the U.S. had to design a plane that would "go the distance," as the B-17 just was not suited for the missions required. Working with the Army Air Corps, Boeing created the B-29 with a $3,615,095 contract that was awarded to them (Marshall 13).

The B-29 was the first plane of its kind. Having taken the stronger points of the "Flying fortress," the B-29 became the "Superfortress" and could do everything the B-17 could do and much more. First, there was the cockpit. It was larger and more "open." What that means is that there were more windows giving the crew greater visibility (B-29 Internet). This was a great advantage to allow a greater view of the air and to let the crew see approaching enemy aircraft. The cockpit was also designed to be more aerodynamically efficient so it could move through the air using a little less fuel. There was one significant invention that made the B-29 a major success: a pressurized cabin. This enabled the plane and its crew to fly a great deal higher than the B-17 (Interview with Sgt. Andy Doty, retired tailgunner) and be more comfortable during the long flights between airbase and target and back home. It was equipped with radar and weather-observing instruments. Another great asset was the maximum payload of the Superfortress. The B-29 was equipped with two bomb bays, each of which had a payload of 10,000 lb. Therefore, 20,000-lb of bombs could be carried to a target many miles away.

The B-29 was not limited to just one type of bomb. In fact, it could carry and deploy several different types of bombs. The type of bomb depended upon the target, and the B-29 could bomb a wide variety of targets including entire towns, chemical plants, and fuel depots. There were incendiary bombs, which were sticks of smaller bombs wrapped together. When triggered and dropped, the individual "sticks" would separate and scatter over an area as large as one mile in length and one-half mile in width, setting fire to everything into which they came in contact (Sgt. Andy Doty interview). The bomb that the B-29 was most famous for carrying was the atomic bomb, which brought the world into the atomic age. This bomb was carried by a B-29 named the Enola Gay, and it was dropped on Hiroshima, one of four alternate targets, on August 6, 1945 (1st Lt. Ray "Hap" Halloran, telephone interview).

Adopting the idea of a B-17 with machine guns, the B-29 was armed with an assorted array of weapons and technology so it could defend itself against attacks by enemy aircraft. Mounted on the top near the cockpit was a radio- or electronically controlled turret with four barreled .50-caliber machine guns. A similar turret was mounted on the bottom of the plane under the cockpit and another was located near the tail of the plane. The tailgunner had a .30-caliber or .50-caliber weapon depending upon the plane (Gunston 334).

Because the U.S. had rushed to get the B-29 into service, despite its many good points, it also had some drawbacks. One of its major problems was with the engines (Doty). The plane was extremely heavy. Empty, it weighed 70,140 lb. Loaded, it was designed to carry up to 135,744-lb (Marshall 141). However, the planes were often overloaded to 140,000 to 160,00 gross weight, causing the engines to overheat. Very often, the crew was assigned to sit and watch the engines during the long flights, so at the first sign of overheating or fire, counter measures could be taken (Doty). Yet, the crews flew on and completed their missions. Another factor of the overloaded B-29s was fuel. The heavy planes could barely get off the ground, and a great deal of fuel was expended. Some of the planes did not make it back to their bases and crashed at sea when they ran out of fuel (Doty). A small percentage of B-29 losses were due to such overheating and running out of fuel.

Despite these drawbacks, the use of the B-29 ultimately lead to a victorious end of World War II for the United States. Without the technology provided by Boeing and the manpower supplied by the men and women of the Air Corps (and other branches of the service), the outcome of World War II could have been vastly different, and the world might not be as we know it today. Thanks to these devoted soldiers, democracy and a free nation will live on for many years to come.


  • Dimensions: Wing Span 142' 3", Wing Area 1,736 Sq.Ft., Lenght 99', Max Height 27' 9"
  • Weight: 70,140 Lbs. (empty) - 135,000 Lbs. gross with a 12,000 Lbs. payload
  • Powerplant: 4x 2,200 Hp - 18-cylinder Wright R-3350 Cyclone with 8x GE B-11 Superchargers
  • Range: 3,250 miles @ 25,000 ft. with a 5,000 lb. payload (4,100 with auxiliary tanks)
  • Max Speed: 375 mph. @ 25,000 ft.
  • Service Ceiling: 31.850 ft.
  • Climb rate: 38 minutes to 25,000 ft. with full load
  • Fuel load: 8,198 gallons, raised to 9,548 with auxiliary tanks fitted in the bomb bays
  • Defensive armament: 10x .50-cal. remote-controlled machine guns, 1x 20mm. cannon (later removed)
  • Bomb capacity: 5,000 lbs. over a 1,600-mile radius at high altitude, 12,000 lbs. at medium altitude
  • Crew: 11 (pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, flight engineer, radio operator, navigator, 3 gunners in the Central Fire Control station, radar operator, tail gunner)

Info taken from

Gunston, Bill. The Illustrated Directory of Fighting Aircraft of World War II. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1988.

LeMay, Gen. Curtis E., and Yenne, Bill. Superfortress, The B-29 and American Air Power. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1988.

Marshall, Chester. B-29 Superfortress. Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers, 1993.

INTERNET: "B-29A Superfortress," October 27, 1982.

Doty, Andy. December 8, 1999. (videotaped)
Halloran, Ray "Hap". December 9, 1999.
Johnson, Maj. Gen. Earl L. December 8, 1999.

WORKS CONSULTED Doty, Andy. Backwards into Battle. Palo Alto: Tall Tree Press, 1995.

VIDEOTAPE: World War II Campaigns In Europe (7-series tapes). Marathon Music & Video. Dastar Corp. 1995.


Jason is a multifaceted 17-year-old high school senior at Lodi High School in Lodi, California. At a very early age, he expressed his desire to be an astronaut and has been an aficionado of flying machines ever since. While his imagination usually takes him far into the future, he recently took a trip into the past while researching his report on the Flying Fortresses of World War II and found the experience exhilarating.

Although extremely friendly and outgoing, Jason states his two "best" girl friends are his horses, on whom he enjoys competing in dressage, cross-country, and hunter/jumper events.

He has won numerous awards and championships while training with Liz Jenner at Gateway Farm in Acampo, and he recently returned from Parker, Colorado, where he competed in the USPC National Championships on his Hanoverian mare, Royelle, garnering a prestigious team gold medal and an individual silver medal in dressage. He is very active in the United States Pony Club and will be taking his national-level C-3 rating on his thoroughbred/appaloosa mare, Danzgal, this summer, after he graduates from Lodi High School.

Jason doesn't limit his sports to equestrian activities, however. He is also an avid golfer and also enjoys wrestling, swimming, camping and marksmanship.

Jason is planning to become a therapeutic riding instructor, teaching handicapped children and adults to ride, while perfecting his own riding skills and hoping to qualify for the United States Olympic Dressage Team. He has been invited to spend a summer in Sweden, riding at an international-caliber barn near Stockholm.

Jason lives at home in Lockeford, California, with his parents, Alan and Pamela Cohn, and older brother, Scott.

Photo Courtesy of Rick Feldmann


I would like to dedicate this report to the men and women who fought in World War II, to the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom for their families, friends countrymen at home in the United States of America.

I would like to extend special thanks to Sergeant Andy Doty (ret.), tailgunner of a B-29, 1st Lieutenant (ret.) Ray "Hap" Halloran, and Major General Earl L. Johnson, who talked with me, answered my questions, and provided me with their invaluable insight regarding the B-29 and the United States' role in World War II. I would also like to thank Sallyann Wagoner for acting as a conduit for meeting these dedicated men and without whose help this report would not have been completed.

~ Jason A. Cohn


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