The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress has the nickname "Big Ugly Fat F***er" — or just the BUFF — but is it the biggest bomber that ever served? Believe it or not, that answer is, "No."
There was a much bigger bomber in the fleet — and while it never dropped a bomb in anger, it was the backbone of Strategic Air Command in its early years. That plane was the Convair B-36 Peacemaker.
A prototype B-52 next to a B-36 Peacemaker. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The Peacemaker was immense, according to a fact sheet from the National Museum of the Air Force: Its wingspan was 230 feet (compared to 185 feet for a B-52), the B-36 was 162 feet long (compared to just over 159 feet for the B-52), and it could carry up to 86,000 pounds of bombs, according to aviation historian Joe Baugher. The B-52's maximum bomb load is 70,000 pounds, per an Air Force fact sheet.
How did you get such an immense craft off the ground? Very carefully.
The B-36 had six Pratt and Whitney R-4360 engines in a pusher configuration and four General Electric J47 jet engines. These were able to lift a fully-loaded B-36 off the ground and propel it to a top speed of 435 miles per hour.
The immense scale of the B-36 is apparent by looking at the one on exhibit at the National Museum of the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Depending on the model, the B-36 had up to 16 20mm cannon in twin turrets. The B-36 entered service in 1948 – and it gave SAC 11 years of superb service, being replaced by the B-52. Five planes survive, all of which are on display.
Below, this clip from the 1955 movie "Strategic Air Command" shows how this plane took flight. Jimmy Stewart plays a major league baseball player called back into Air Force service (Stewart was famously a bomber pilot who saw action in World War II and the Vietnam War).
Also recognizable in this clip is the flight engineer, played by Harry Morgan, famous for playing Sherman Potter on "MASH" and as Detective Rich Gannon in the 1960s edition of "Dragnet."