When I hear the word Peacemaker the first thing that comes to my mind is Sam Colt’s .45 caliber revolver, famously worn (and used) by General George S. Patton, Jr. Thing is, his Peacemaker only held six shots; the Convair B-36 Peacemaker held so much more.

B-36: A New Gift for the Germans

The B-36 Peacemaker idea first saw the light of day in 1941, when the U.S. Army Air Corps (AAC) put out the request for a bomber capable of deploying from North America. The U.S. was then worried that Britain may fall to German bombing raids, thereby removing the U.S.’s ability to strategically bomb Axis targets from British airfields.

The requirements set by the AAC could not be met with the technology available at the time, so some parameters were scaled back. Overall range was reduced from 12,000 to 10,000 miles, and cruise speed dropped from 275 to 240 mph.

Simultaneously, the Germans were also in the process of developing their own long-range bomber: the Amerikabomber, so named because it was meant to target, you guessed it, America.

B-36 Peacemaker
An early Convair B-36B Peacemaker shown in-flight near Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, in the early 1950s. The 7th Bombardment Wing (Heavy) flew the B-36 for the entirety of the aircrafts’ operational life. (Courtesy photo/Tinker History Office)

While the Germans never got their bomber beyond the prototype stage, the U.S. began production before the B-36 prototypes had completed testing. In all, Consolidated Vultee (later Convair) produced 382 of some of the largest piston-driven aircraft ever built. Of these, none saw combat, and only four complete models remain today.

The Peacemaker and the Iron Curtain

The Peacemaker was developed not as a defensive weapon, but an offensive one, ready to take Holy fire to the Germans. 

Once WWII ended, the Iron Curtain descended, and the Cold War began setting the U.S. and Russia on different sides of the divide.

During the Cold War, the Peacemaker transformed into a peacekeeper. The Soviets knew America had a long-range, strategic bomber that could fly higher than their anti-aircraft batteries could handle. With a range of 10,000 miles and a nuclear payload, the Peacemaker was poised to “make the peace” should Russia decide to pop off.

The first operational B-36 flew in 1948. It flew from Texas to Hawaii, dropped training munitions, and returned home again, without refueling. That flight proved the worth of the B-36, showing that the U.S. could overfly Leningrad from the American mainland. Deterrence equals peace.

Though in service during the Korean War, the bomber was never used. In 1955, six Peacemakers flew to Britain and Guam, marking the only time the B-36 deployed overseas. The B-36 remained in service until 1959 when it was fully replaced by the B-52 Stratofortress. 

B-36 Peacemaker vs. B-52 Stratofortress

A B-52 Stratofortress. How does it compare to the B-36 Peacemaker?
A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress assigned to Barksdale Air Force Base, LA, is prepared for an MK-82 munitions load, in support of a Bomber Task Force deployment, Feb. 1, 2020, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. (Photo by Senior Airman Jacob M. Thompson/U.S. Air Force)

Many people see the B-52 and think it is the biggest bomber in the Air Force. In reality, the B-36 was larger. The Peacemaker had a wingspan of 230 ft and a length of 162 ft. Compared to the B-52’s 185 ft wingspan and 159 ft length, the B-36 dwarfed its replacement. 

With a payload of 86,000 pounds, it could also out-carry the B-52, which could “only” hold up to 70,000 pounds of munitions. The ultimate advantage belonged to the B-52, however. With its eight jet engines, the B-52 was more reliable, more efficient, and cost less to maintain. With nuclear capabilities, the B-52 became America’s “Peacekeeper,” with the ability to project U.S. nuclear might wherever and whenever needed.

Not Your Everyday Cameraman: The RB-36

Over 300 B-36 Peacemakers rolled off the production line, in various configurations. With the decreased need for offensive bombers, and an increased need for reconnaissance, the RB-36 was introduced. While it could still carry nuclear weapons, its most striking feature was a photo studio and camera installed in the forward bomb bay. 

A RB-36 Peacemaker, the reconnaissance variant of the B-36.
28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing Convair RB-36D-10-CF Peacemaker 49-2688 (Wikimedia Commons/USAF)

According to a story, an RB-36 once took a reconnaissance photo of a golf course while at 40,000 feet. In the photograph, an individual golf ball can be seen on the course. If true, it makes a compelling case for the Peacemaker’s reconnaissance abilities.

Sundown for the Peacemaker

February 1956, began the end of service for the B-36. By the end of 1957, over 160 aircraft were in the “Boneyard.” On February 12, 1959, the last operational Peacemaker made its final flight, from Biggs AFB to Amon Carter Field in Ft. Worth.

The B-36 was developed to be a peacemaker, ready to rain fire on the Germans. It morphed from there to project atomic fire to the Soviets becoming in effect becoming a peacekeeper. In the end, it fulfilled both roles without ever deploying in anger. 

A B-36 at the Air Force museum.
A B-36 on display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (Photo by Ben Strasser/USAF)