Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 4/25/2016):
The XB-47 was proposed as early as 1945 - the final year of World War 2 - and beat out a notable flying wing design proposed by the Northrop aviation firm. Two XB-47 prototypes were constructed as SN 46-065 and 46-066. Each was initially powered by 6 x Allison J35-GE-7 turbojet engines slung under each swept-back wing with both prototypes eventually receiving General Electric J47-GE-3 turbojets. The engines were split into pairings and single mounts as individual nacelles. The aircraft was crewed by three personnel made up of two pilots and a bombardier. From there, the first XB-47 achieved first flight in 1947.
With its immense size, the B-47 made use of no fewer than eighteen rocket-propelled boosters to help it achieve flight, resulting in a dazzling display of power and smoke upon take-off. To decrease runway landing distances, the Stratojet deployed a drag chute to significantly slow the airframe down upon landing - a practice utilized even today in modern aircraft types. An impressive inherent range meant that the B-47 was ideally suited to forward and rearward operating bases across Europe and the United States. In an age before accurate surface-to-air missile systems became the norm, the B-47 was really only threatened by the latest in the delta wing interceptors of the Soviet Union. As such, since the rear portion of any bomber was susceptible to attack from interceptors, the B-47 mounted two remote-controlled 12.7mm machine guns (later upgraded to 20mm cannons) in her tail. As far as her external design goes, the B-47 was conventional with a forward held cockpit (including glazed nosecone), a cylindrical fuselage and a conventional empennage mounting a single vertical tail fin and applicable horizontal planes. At rest, the aircraft took on a noticeable "nose up" position that required the use of a rolling ladder platform for the crew to gain entry. The undercarriage consisted of a pair of double-tired landing gear legs along the fuselage centerline with a pair of smaller single-tired legs under the inner pair of engine nacelles. With the advent of improved Soviet surface-to-air missile systems (SAM), the B-47 was forced to take more of a low-level bombing role and thusly the structure was optimized for the rigors of such flight. Internal ordnance was finalized in the B-47E model which could carry 25,000lbs of munitions in the form of 2 x Mk 15 nuclear drop bombs or up to 28 x 500lb conventional drop bombs.
The B-47A was the initial production model serving as evaluation airframes numbering ten examples. The first unit was delivered in December of 1950 and followed closely to the original XB-47 prototypes fitted with J47-GE-11 series turbojet engines of 5,200lbf. At least four were fitted with autopilot and their nav-attack systemsas well as radar. Ejection seats were afforded the two pilots and the bombardier - the former's seats ejecting upwards with the latter's seat ejecting downwards. B-47A models were in service up until 1952 and were followed into service by the improved B-47B models.
B-47Bs served as the first true operational forms of the Stratojet to which the USAF put on order some 87 examples. First flight was on April 26th, 1951 and the dire need by the USAF to field the B-47 ensured a total of 399 B-47Bs were delivered. The first production batch was fitted with J47-GE-11 engines with follow up deliveries being given J47-GE-23 series turbojets of 5,800lbf. Since the B-47 series, up to this point, held an inherently short operational range, an in-flight refueling boom was added to the right side of the nose section to help increase range as well as jettisonable external fuel tanks between the outboard and inner pairing of engines. The addition of this assembly deleted the bombardier's glazed nose cone. The resulting changes produced a heavier end-product than the XB-47 and B-47A before it and several weight-saving measures were enacted - including the removal of the ejection seats.
A specialized reconnaissance version of the B-47 existed - aptly designated as the RB-47 - with extensive onboard Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) equipment installed. The similarities between the B-47 and the RB-47 were consistent which allowed all RB-47s to be retrofitted to carry bombs if need be. Despite the inherently limited internal carrying capacity of the base aircraft - either for munitions or electronics equipment - the B-47 made up for it in quantity with over 2,000 produced in one form or another - many eventually seeing operation with the Strategic Air Command (SAC). The RB-47B consisted of 24 B-47B airframes modified for the reconnaissance role - these fitting eight internal cameras in the forward bomb bay. Of note was that these airframes were only capable of daylight operations.