September 28

This Day in History

World War II

Sep 28, 1942:

General Arnold fights for unique bombers

On this day in 1942, Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold gives highest priority to the development of two exceptional aircraft--the B-35 Flying Wing and the B-36 Peacemaker--intended for bombing runs from bases in the United States to targets in Europe.

General Arnold was a man of distinction from the beginning of his career: Not only was he one of the first pilots in the U.S. Signal Corps, he was taught to fly by none other than one of the Wright brothers. During World War I, Arnold was director of aviation training for the Army. Between the wars, he embraced a controversial military philosophy that emphasized strategic bombing, eliminating the need for the use of ground forces altogether.

At the time of the United States' entry into the Second World War, the Army Air Forces had become an increasingly distinct military service. Arnold was made its first chief. Along with this honor came the opportunity of a seat with the Joint Chiefs of Staff; initially intended to boost his status to that of his counterpart in Britain, it also increased the stature and independence of the Army Air Forces. Arnold was able to form alliances with British RAF allies who also favored the use of strategic bombing in lieu of ground-force operations.

In 1942, Arnold gave the highest priority to the development of two extra long-distance transatlantic planes that would prove most useful to his strategic bombing game plan: the B-35 and the B-36 transatlantic bombers. The B-35 had been first proposed in early 1941, intended for use in defending an invaded Britain. But the design was so radical (it was tailless), the plane was put on the back burner. It was finally revived because of advantages the plane afforded over the B-36--bombing range in relation to gross weight, for example. Fifteen B-35 planes were ordered for construction--but the first did not take flight until 1946. Designs for the B-36 were also developed early in 1941, on the assumption that the United States would inevitably be drawn into the war and it would need a bomber that could reach Europe from bases in America. It was to be a massive plane--162 feet long with a 230-foot wingspan. But its construction lagged, and it was not completed until after the war.

Although Hap's "high priority" could not cut through the military bureaucracy, 1947 would see the Nation Defense Act establish an autonomous Air Force--a dream for which he had worked. The B-35 would become the prototype for the B-2 Stealth bomber built in 1989. And the B-36 was used extensively by U.S. Strategic Air Command until 1959, but never dropped a bomb.

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