Development of the Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major gave Boeing an opportunity to improve their own bomber, and these 3,000-hp radials were installed on a B-29A; which became the XB-44. Ordered in July 1944, the XB-44 began tests in May 1945 with redesigned engine nacelles.
This became the prototype for the next Boeing series, originally designated B-29D when first 200 were ordered in July 1945, but renamed B-50 in December 1945, when the order was cut to 60. The new designation emphasized that this was a B-29 replacement, not a mere modification, and had a 75% new structure, including a stronger grade of aluminum. First flown June 25, 1947, by A. Elliott Merrill, the B-50A-1 had 3,500-hp R-4360-35s, a crew of 11 and could be distinguished from B-29s by their engine nacelles and tall tail, which folded for hangar storage. Armament was similar to late B-29A models, with thirteen .50-caliber guns and a double bay for 20,000 pounds of bombs, or a Mk III nuclear bomb in the forward bay.
Before entering service with SAC’s 43rd Bomb Wing on February 20, 1948, they had to be modified with winterization provisions for arctic operations, and to handle new Mk 4 nuclear weapons. Of 79 B-50As, 57 were fitted for air refueling from the KB-29M hose system. This was demonstrated when the B-50A-5 “Lucky Lady II”, made the first nonstop flight around the world, 23,452 miles, arriving back at Carswell AFB, Texas, on March 2, 1949, after 94 hours and refueling from eight KB-29M tanker planes.
On January 18, 1949, the last B-50A was followed by the first of 45 B-50Bs with two 700-gallon fuel tanks under strengthened wings, and the hose refueling system. All but the first B-50B were modified with nine cameras to become ten-place RB-50Bs and issued to a strategic reconnaissance group. Fourteen were reconfigured as RB-50E at the Wichita factory and redelivered, beginning in May 1950, followed by 14 RB-50F rebuilds with Shoran radar. Electronic reconnaissance was the mission of 15 16-place RB-50G conversions delivered from June to October 1951.
A YB-50C was proposed with Pratt & Whitney R-4360-51 compound VDT engines, but this change required complete airframe redesign. Forty-three were ordered in May 1948 as the Boeing B-54A, but on April 5, 1949, they were canceled in favor of the B-36D.
The B-50D introduced a modified plastic nose cone, more fuel space including two underwing drop tanks, and APQ-24 bombing radar. Between May 1949 and December 1950, 222 B-50Ds were delivered, and beginning with 16th B-50D, receptacles were installed for the boom air refueling system on the KB-29P. They could accommodate the 10,800-pound Mk 4 nuclear bomb that replaced the Mk III by 1950.
Production was completed with 24 unarmed TB-50Hs built by February 1953 built to train future B-47 jet crews to use the K-system of radar navigation and bombing. As the B-50s retired from their five SAC bomber wings in 1953/55, they were recycled as TB-50D trainers, WB-50D weather reconnaissance types, and KB-50J and KB-50K tanker aircraft. These supported the B-47 jets that had replaced the older types.
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