September 21 marks the maiden flight of three different U.S. military aircraft made by Boeing or firms now part of Boeing: the B-29 Superfortress in 1942, the CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter in 1961 and the XB-70 Valkyrie strategic bomber in 1964.
The Enola Gay made the most famous bomb drop in history. Photo: Air Force.
Boeing submitted the prototype for the B-29 Superfortress in 1939, even before the United States entered World War II. The aircraft was unique at the time in that it had guns that could be fired by remote control and was the heaviest combat plane at 105,000 pounds. Boeing built 2,766 B-29s, Bell Aircraft 668 and Glenn L. Martin Co. 536. Production ceased in 1946 and the planes were retired in 1960.
The B-29 was most prominent in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Besides the fleet destroying large parts of Tokyo by in bombing raids, the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the Bockscar dropped a atomic bomb on Nagasaki, leading to Japan’s surrender.
The Enola Gay currently resides at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., and the Bockscar resides at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
The B-29’s other war service involved battling jet fighters and electronic weapons in the Korean War.
Boeing started developing the Chinook CH-47 in 1960 when it purchased Vertol Aircraft, which was developing the aircraft for the Army. The Chinook ferried refugees and cargos from 1965-1975 in the Vietnam War. Boeing has developed a number of Chinook models that have seen action in the Persian Gulf War and the current Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts.
Chinooks have played a large role in Afghanistan. Photo: Navy.
The most famous use of Chinooks was in a backup role in the mission to kill Osama bin Laden in May 2011. They flew part of the way to the compound and held reserve soldiers for the mission. On August 16, the Taliban shot down a Chinook carrying 30 soldiers, including 15 members of Navy SEAL Team 6. U.S. officials say none of the victims participated in the bin Laden raid.
The Chinook is used by numerous Western nations, as exemplified by an exhibition devoted to the helicopter at the Royal Air Force Museum in London.
The XB-70 Valkyrie was a short-lived North American Aviation program for the Air Force. Six General Electric (GE) J-93 turbojet engines powered the experimental aircraft, which flew faster than Mach 3 and at altitudes over 70,000 feet. The two strategic bombers were designed to investigate the feasibility of long-range, high-speed flight and advance aeronautics in those areas.
The Valkyrie generated a lot of buzz during its short lifespan. Photo: Air Force.
Unfortunately, one of the Valkyries met its demise in 1966, two years after the maiden flight. On a routine promotional photo shoot for GE, a Lockheed Martin F-104 Starfighter was sucked into the Valkyrie’s jet vortex. The smaller aircraft impacted the Valkyrie and caused it to explode, resulting in the ejection of one of its crew and the death of the other.
The other Valkyrie did investigate structural dynamics until its last research flight in 1968. Politicians cancelled the program because they felt surface-to-air and intercontinental ballistic missiles made the bomber obsolete. It also now resides at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
Boeing Aeronautics Today
Boeing continues be a major player in government contractor aeronautics, as its Military Aircraft unit employs 25,000 people at 10 locations. The unit is divided into Global Strike, Missile and Unmanned Airborne Systems, Mobility and Surveillance and Engagement sectors. Besides continuing to develop Chinooks, Boeing’s most visible project today is the KC-46A NewGen refueling tanker for the Air Force.
Anthony Critelli follows the latest GovCon developments as news editor for GovWin, a Deltek network that helps government contractors win new business every day. He can be reached at [email protected].