Douglas XB-19 (XBLR-2) Experimental Heavy Bomber Aircraft
Eighteen crew were required to staff the enormous experimental Douglas XB-19 Heavy Bomber - of which only a single prototype was ever completed.
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Douglas Aircraft played a major role in American aviation from the 1920s into the 1960s, encompassing the Golden Age of Flight, the Interwar Years, World War 2 and a portion of the Cold War. One of its fortes during World War 2 was large multi-engined aircraft to act as transports or bombers for the United States military and its allies. In the post-war years, the company transitioned into civilian passenger airline travel and, ultimately, battlefield rockets and space launch systems. One of its wartime endeavors became the experimental XB-19, a four-engined heavy bomber intended to project new qualities of long range, high altitude bomb serving platforms. The XB-19 originally existed under the designation of XBLR-2 which detailed its intent - "Experimental Bomber, Long Range, Model 2". The competing (and equally experimental) Boeing XB-15 was known for a time under the XBLR-1 designation.
Outwardly, the XB-19 was a product of late-1930s design, covered over in an unfinished silver metal skin, a heavily-glazed nose section and stepped cockpit flight deck. The fuselage was of a smooth, tear drop-shaped design which tapered exceedingly at the rear. The fuselage featured a noticeable deep belly for the internal bomb bay. The cockpit was lined with horizontal windows and the chin was glazed over to provide vision under the forward section of the aircraft. Wings were mid-mounted appendages and fitted ahead of midships. Each wing was afforded a pair of engines along their leading edges in streamlined nacelles. Wings were straight in their general design and rounded at their tips. The tail unit consisted of a single, curved vertical tail fin with low-mounted, curved horizontal planes. Teh undercarriage was of particular note for it was of a tricycle arrangement as opposed to the "tail dragger" design incorporated in many bombers of period. Large wheels were fitted to the main landing gear legs to carry the weight of the massive aircraft on land. The nose leg featured a smaller wheel and was set just under the chin, aft of the windowed housing. Power for the XB-19 was originally served through 4 x Wright R-3350 series radial piston engines.
Dimensionally, the XB-19 featured a length of 132 feet, 2 inches, a wingspan of 212 feet and a height of 42 feet, 9 inches. When empty, it displaced at 130,230lbs and listed a maximum take-off weight of 164,000lbs. Her internal carrying capacity was reported to be 18,700lbs of stores. In practice, she was to be defensed by a collection of machine guns - 5 x 0.50 caliber Browning M2 heavy machine guns and 6 x 0.30 caliber Browning M1919 medium machine guns. Unlike other American bombers of the period, the XB-19 also carried a pair of 37mm autocannons.
Douglas received the construction contract in 1938 and a first flight was achieved on June 27th, 1941. The United States would commit to World War 2 that upcoming December following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Sometime in 1943, the aircraft was then re-engined with Allison V-3420-11 V24 series engines of 2,600 horsepower each. This provided the airframe with a maximum speed of 265 miles per hour, a cruise speed of 165 miles per hour, a range of 4,200 miles and a service ceiling of 39,000 feet. Climb rate was 650 feet per minute.
The XB-19 retained its experimental designation throughout its active test life with the United States Army Air Corps and only a single example was ever completed. While Douglas would rather have ended the program altogether, the USAAC resolved to utilize the airframe further though keeping it in its test configurations for a series of evaluations to follow. The XB-19 was never intended as a prototype for any future large-scale USAAC/USAAF/USAF bomber - the Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress" and Consolidated B-24 "Liberator" were firmly entrenched as its heavy bombers. To this was then added the technologically advanced Boeing B-29 "Superfortress" by war's end.
After completing its life as a test platform, the XB-19 was converted to a cargo hauler by the air force (as was the experimental Boeing XB-15) and served in this role until its official retirement. Though plans to save her for an American museum were intended, the aircraft was eventually scrapped in 1949 with only two of her main landing gear tires saved.