It was a warfare of intimidation and a game of fear: and so it bred monstrous planes, pregnant with the load of ominous bombs
For all who lived through Cold War, or have heard the stories and seen the movies, the most recognizable and frightening symbol of this harrowing period in human history were heavy bombers - Strategic Air Command long-range planes capable of delivering inconceivable destruction around the globe.
(1948 Boeing B-50 strategic bomber; art by Academy Model Co. via)
We are going to highlight some of the most impressive flying machines of this sort, in a series of articles inside our Airplanes category. Let's start with a bomber that made its name during World War Two - the 1942 Douglas A-20 'Havoc'.
"The Bombsight That Crushed Nazi Germany"
The Douglas A-20/DB-7 Havoc was an outstanding "light bomber" and night fighter aircraft of World War II, also known as "Boston" among British pilots - more info.
You will notive that this bomber's nose is covered by a yellow life raft - to conceal a secret bombsight device. This was Norden Bombsight, a groundbreaking piece of World War II technology, and "one of the most precious objects of its era" according to Malcolm Gladwell (watch his TED talk video here)
Norden said that "with the Mark 15 Norden bombsight, he could drop a bomb into a pickle barrel at 20,000 feet." Such precision was unheard of at the time, and much needed beacuse it allowed to bomb only the targets you absolutely need to bomb and spare civilian lives - more info. Half as much money was spent on its development and implementation than was spent on the Manhattan Project itself!
"This is the bombsight that crushed Nazi Germany. The Norden bombsight was the most sophisticated device of its kind during WWII. The standing orders were that if the plane crash-landed you were to destroy the sight at ALL costs."
True to the inventor's original claims, it delivered great precision in bombing, but alas, only under perfect conditions. War circumstances are, of course, almost always far from perfect, so in many bomb raids, only 10% of bombs would reach their intended targets, even with the help of Norden Bombsight. Ironically, the infamous Enola Gay bomber dropped a nuclear payload on Hiroshima using the bombsight (and still ended up missing the aiming point, the Aioi Bridge, by approximately 800 feet) - where they probably did not really need bombsight for accuracy at all.
A Sleek, Beautiful Shape with the Deadly Payload
The B-47 Stratojet (originally XB-47) looked significantly different from any other bomber at the time, described by some observers as having a "sleek, beautiful outline that was highly advanced". It was truly a magnificent, graceful jet, designed primarily with one sinister purpose - to drop nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union:
Its engine-under-wing configuration will later be used for most large military planes and civilian airliners - and the swept wing would allow this six-engined bomber to fly at at high subsonic speeds and at high altitudes:
This huge plane also sported so-called "Bicycle Landing Gear" (due to the very thin profiles of its wings) which consisted of "a pair of large wheels fore and aft of the bomb bay, with small outrigger wheels carried on the inboard twin-jet pods".
Here is the very first Boeing XB-47 ever built, before its first flight on Dec. 1, 1947:
Watch this B-52 doing a high-speed, low altitude pass over a nameless beach... ready to fly right into your nightmares, resembling low-flying sinister aircraft from J. G. Ballard post-apocalyptic stories:
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