Consolidated B-32 Dominator Four-Engine Heavy Bomber
The Consolidated B-32 Dominator was a fail-safe heavy bomber design requested by the U.S. air service in the case that the Boeing B-29 Superfortress was not yet ready to go.
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Consolidated Aircraft Corporation held an existing relationship with the United States military in delivering large, multi-engined bomber types - its most classic of the World War 2 designs became the PBY "Catalina" flying boat aircraft that found much success throughout the conflict. With the development of the Boeing B-29 "Superfortress" heavy bomber ongoing during the war, all of the United States Army Air Force (formerly the United States Army Air Corps) eggs were seemingly placed into this basket so a move was made to develop another heavy bomber alongside it should the Boeing product not deliver in the timeframe expected. The USAAC approached Consolidated to bridge the gap and this work begat the Consolidated "Model 33" aircraft.
Consolidated engineers returned with a very modern heavy bomber design utilizing all that was learned in the development and operation of the B-24 Liberator heavies and their flying boats prior. A tubular, well-streamlined fuselage was selected with a glazed-over nose section and stepped cockpit with good views from within. Wings were high-mounted along the sides of the fuselage and each carried two radial piston engine in underslung nacelles. The empennage saw the fuselage taper in the normal way to which a twin-finned rudder assembly was arranged along individual supporting horizontal planes at rear - similar to the tail unit as seen in the preceding B-24. The engines - massive Wright R-3350 models of 2,200 horsepower output each - were the same as slated for the upcoming B-29. As the new Consolidated heavy was to operate at high altitudes for its bombing role, the aircraft was to be fully pressurized requiring a dedicated onboard system. No fewer than fourteen defensive machine guns were envisioned to help protect aircraft and crew - with guns fitted to remote-controlled, retractable turret installations directed by periscope viewing.
Content with the proposal, the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) signed on for a pair of XB-32 prototypes. As completed, these prototypes lacked many of the features that would appear on the standardized production form including the pressurization system and the full slew of machine gun armament. Problems with engine cooling and leaks proved common which only served to delay the aircraft during development while progress proved an equally labored venture on the competing B-29 product. The XB-32 first flew on September 7th, 1942 but was lost in a crash the following year.
The second prototype followed and this time a large, rounded single vertical tail fin was fitted - its shape similar to that as seen in the Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress" and upcoming B-29 lines. The pressurization issues led to the aircraft being now relegated to the low-to-medium altitude bombing role which allowed engineers to drop the troublesome feature altogether. Problems also persisted with the intended remote-controlled armament and these too were nixed - in their place were conventional, manned, power-operated turrets instead. The second XB-32 followed into the air on November 3rd, 1943.
Finalized B-32s carried a defensive array of 10 x 0.50 caliber Browning heavy machine guns. The aircraft was outfitted with a Sperry electric-hydraulic twin-gunned ball turret in the nose and belly (this installation being retractable) with two Martin electrically-operated twin-gunned dorsal turrets. A third Sperry ball twin-gunned turret was fitted at the tail to protect the aircraft from trailing interceptors. Its bombload reached 20,000lbs of conventional drop ordnance held internally. Its crew numbered ten. With its streamlined form and Wright series 18-cylinder radial engines, the aircraft reached speeds of 360 miles per hour, cruised at 290 miles per hour, held a service range of 3,800 miles, and reached ceilings of 30,700 feet through a 1,050 feet per minute rate-of-climb. The competing B-29 would go on to showcase similar numbers during its more storied service tenure.
With 1944 looming, the USAAF moved ahead with an order for 1,500 of the bombers under the B-32 "Dominator" designation . The first of these was not delivered until September of that year to which the B-29 had already been in combat service for nearly half the year. By December, additional B-32 deliveries were limited while B-29s were being received in useful numbers and proving a successful design over Japan. Official service introduction of B-32s was not until late January 1945 and the line was eventually operated through the 312th Bombardment Group and the 386th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy).
Mechanical issues dogged much of the short-lived career of the Dominator - there were unresolved issues with its engines which led to in-flight fires and undercarriage weaknesses led to collapsed landing gears. Despite the deficiencies, the aircraft was pressed into action and saw first combat on May 29th, 1945 in an attack against Japanese supply stores at Luzon. The airframe proved adept as a bombing platform and crews enjoyed the modern onboard accommodations - though there were noted complaints about engine noise in the cockpit and critique of the instrument panel layout. Defensive armament was hailed as very good and the aircraft's major systems were easily accessible by ground personnel for repairs in-the-field.
Regardless, with the need for a fall-back heavy bomber no longer apparent, the B-32 was procured in just 118 total examples - a far cry from the 1,500 originally envisioned. Production ceased in 1945 and, with the Japanese surrender forthcoming by the middle of August, the B-32 line was officially retired as soon as August 30th of that year - becoming nothing more than a footnote in American military aviation history. It was never exported nor passed on to second-line roles like other large aircraft of the period were and only a few notable variants were developed that included the "TB-32" crew trainer and this line produced several sub-variants in time. Active B-32 crews were transferred to B-29s once the Boeing product became available in the numbers required for the USAAF and many under-construction B-32s were simply scrapped at war's end - leaving none under the protection of museums or private owners today.