That the Boeing B-29 was not the epitome in four-engined bombers to be used against our slant-eyed foe was attested to late in July by General George C Kenney's Far East Air Forces who announced that the Convair B-32 had been seeing action against the Japs since June 29. Although of smaller dimensions than Boeing's Superfortresses, B-32s were their team mates in a life-or-death game then in its last five seconds of the last quarter. As a fast ball (or bomb) carrier put in almost at the end of the game, the B-32 has made a few more death-dealing touchdowns on Jap cities.
Outranging its own company predecessor, the B-24 Liberator, Consolidated Vultee's new superbomber dwarfs it in size, carries a heavier bomb .load. Other B-32 vs Liberator comparisons reveal the former to be nearly double the gross weight of a B-24, or about 100,000 pounds. At maximum speed a B-32 far outdistances a Lib, while its wing spread is 135 feet, 25 feet greater than that of the B-24, fuselage length is 83 feet 1 inch, compared with the 66-foot long B-24 fuselage.
The B-32's cylindrical, all-metal, semi-monocoque fuselage extends back to a single .tail surface rising 32 feet, 2 inches in taxi position. A general description of the craft, designated also as Convair Model 33, would use the words high-wing, long-range, high-speed bombardment monoplane. Four air-cooled, double-row, radial Wright Cyclone engines, each of 2200 hp, give the B-32 her power. Each Wright Cyclone, equipped with two exhaust-driven, automatically regulated turbo superchargers, turns the largest diameter propeller installed on any production airplane. Measuring 16 feet, 8 inches, two of the four Curtiss electric props the inboards may be reversed during landing run. This reduces length of run and increases maneuverability during ground operations.
With a crew of eight men, the B-32 was especially designed for long-distance Pacific combat conditions. Two large bomb bays arranged in tandem with the ship's fuselage provide alternate rack arrangements enabling a maximum bomb load to be carried. Neither bomb load nor defensive armament can as yet be told. However, a good idea may be gained from the results of a B-32 test flight in which loads were increased until the plane was taking off with a gross weight of 120,000 pounds, twenty per cent above the Army's initial requirements. Individual gun turrets on the B-32 achieve more accurate fire control. A weight-saving scheme was the elimination of cabin pressurization; Even when cabins are supercharged, combat ships must carry oxygen to be utilized when over enemy territory. Therefore, Army and Convair "powers that be" decided in favor of using oxygen exclusively on the B-32.
Pacific flight conditions also involve some strange bits of terra firma for landing strips. Here the B-32's fully retractable tricycle landing gear stars. Main gear has dual fifty-six-inch wheels which retract into inboard nacelle wells whose doors close flush to give additional streamlining. Nose landing gear is a retractable, self-centering caster type. Its thirty-nine inch dual wheels operate on a complete 360° swivel. A hydraulic strut, fully retractable, is provided for a tail bumper. Incidentally, hydraulically speaking, an average automobile could be raised seventeen stories in one minute by the power furnished in the hydraulic system of Convair's new bomber.
Overcoming high-altitude icing threats are heat exchangers within the fuselage. These not only effect passage of engine exhaust-driven air through leading edges of wings, but also heat the cabin comfortably for crewmen and pilot. Pilots, by the way, can launch into superlatives when discussing B-32's merits; It has highest wing loadings of any production airplane due to increased flap area and use of the high-lift, low-drag Davis wing, so successful on the B-24. Found only on B-32s, and on no other four-engine bomber, are interchangeable engines. These incorporate flight hoods, located just below and at about leading edge of the wings, which are estimated to give 110 more hp per engine through a jet effect at top speeds.
But this does not even begin to describe the millions of man-hours expended by Convair after the first call for a heavy bomber came from the AAF in 1941. No fewer than three experimental models were designed, then rejected, due to changing requirements of combat on all fronts. Last of the three X-models featured the huge single tail surface now extant on the B-32. Finally the windup of the job was tossed in the lap of Consolidated Vultee's mammoth Fort Worth plant which houses the world's longest straight assembly lines. Here workers faced a problem of completing their B-24 Liberator contracts to speed victory in Europe, while simultaneously beginning production on this new type.
No easy task was the designing of 27,000 manufacturing tools needed for assembly of the superbomber before actual construction could start. Then even before B-32s began rolling off Fort Worth assembly lines, spare parts were being made and shipped to world battlefronts.
But B-32 production does not end with final assembly lines. To be worthy of its name as dominant bomber of World War II, changes dictated by combat experience had to be included in each ship as rapidly as possible. To this job the in-plant modification department at Fort Worth was dedicated. The aircraft industry has found it easier to mass-produce planes, then modify each subsequent one, rather than to incorporate into assembly lines changes which would make for a slow-down in production. For example, one such modification performed at onetime on the B-32 was the discovery that air coming into the bombardier's compartment made it uncomfortable. This difficulty was erased by the modification department until production was able to make the change without loss of time. In the short while it takes for ten B-32s to come off the line, ten different modifications may have conceivably taken place on the same item.
The training school for B-32 ground crews, named Camp Consair, lies adjacent to Convair's main plant at San Diego. Founded in 1942 to train Liberator ground crewmen, the camp closely resembles an army installation except for its civilian instructors. Various training aids make possible completion of all nineteen courses offered by the school in thirty-nine days. AAF students, upon getting their sheepskins from Camp Consair, are considered technicians of the first rank and are transferred directly to battlefronts.
The B-32 will write its own story from now on. Some day when all details of its magnificent abilities are known, even more honors than it has been earning will be accredited to this superbomber.
This article was originally published in the October, 1945, issue of Air Tech with Air Tech magazine, vol 9, no 4, pp 28-29, 84.
The original article includes 5 photos of the B-32.
Photos are credited to Consolidated Vultee.