In the post-World War 2 period beginning the Cold War (1947-1991), the British Royal Air Force (RAF) found itself with little to no viable option for the long-range strategic bombing role - particular that as related to nuclear weapons delivery. Its proven wartime fleet of Avro "Lancaster" and the subsequent late-war Avro "Lincoln" (a derivative of the Lancaster itself) four-engined heavy bombers were now weary, under-performing veterans who had seen their best days and there proved few locally-grown options to be had for the service. As such, the United Kingdom looked to its wartime ally in the United States and focused on acquiring the late-war Boeing B-29 "Superfortress" design to fill the void (nearly 4,000 were eventually built). While not the long-term answer sought by the RAF, the Boeing product was a proven solution - albeit itself growing evermore obsolescent in the jet age - but the old high-flying bomber still held some life and furthermore provided the British with the needed range and nuclear weapons delivery that it sorely lacked.
This led to the RAF acquiring, by way of loan, three B-29 and a further 80 B-29A production bombers from the U.S., resulting in the local designation of "Washington" being given to the type - more formally the "Washington B.Mk I". The acquisition was official on January 27th, 1950 and deliveries began to RAF Marham as soon as March of that year. Before the end, the bomber made up no fewer than ten complete RAF squadrons and the fleet was actively operated into 1953-1954 before given up (three examples converted to ELINT - "ELectronic signals INTelligence" - platforms). By this time, the service had taken on the more modern, jet-powered, English Electric "Canberra" (detailed elsewhere on this site) for the role and the remaining seventy B-29s were returned to the U.S. the ELINT platforms were succeeded by de Havilland "Comet" aircraft in 1958.
Washingtons officially flew under the Royal Air Force banner until 1954 and a pair saw extended service lives under the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (running tests for the British Ministry of Supply) with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) from 1952 until mothballed in 1956. In 1957, these holdouts were eventually stripped of their usefulness and scrapped.
Status Retired, Out-of-Service
[ 83 Units ] : Boeing Company - USA
Australia; United Kingdom
- Ground Attack
99.02 ft (30.18 m)
141.24 ft (43.05 m)
27.72 ft (8.45 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Boeing Washington B.Mk I production model)
74,957 lb (34,000 kg)
134,482 lb (61,000 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Boeing Washington B.Mk I production model)
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