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Aviation History And Aircraft Photography

B-47 — The Stratojet Survivors

During World War II, the US Army Air Force maintained a policy of using proven technology whenever possible. Rather than using the more efficient water cooled engines and experiment with jets, the USAAF stuck mainly to air cooled round engines. The idea was not to take unneeded risks when you could build something simple and reliable in large numbers. At the end of the war, all this would change.

The US Air Force was born in 1947, and with it, the idea that an all-jet bomber was needed. Previously, bombers flew at such a high altitude that propeller fighter aircraft were not able to pose much of a threat. But with the advent of the jet fighter, these slower bombers would be sitting ducks. To address this requirement, the USAAF issued four different contracts to develop an all-jet bomber. These were the North American B-45 Tornado, Convair B-46, Boeing B-47 Stratojet, and the Martin B-48.

Early on in the all-jet build-off, it was apparent that the B-45 and B-46 would be ready well before the other two aircraft. The USAF went ahead with testing of the XB-45 and XB-46 prototypes. The XB-46 turned out to be too narrow and lightweight to carry the equipment that was needed for a long range nuclear bomber, so it was canceled. The XB-45, however, performed well. It did have a short range, and its straight wings lead to a slower speed and higher fuel consumption than desired, but since the USAF needed an all-jet bomber as soon as possible, the USAF went ahead with the B-45 program as a medium range bomber. The idea was that the better of the B-47 versus B-48 competition would simply replace the B-45 when the time came.

Click B-47 Stratojet
Photo courtesy of US Air Force.

The B-47 Stratojet was finally ready in December 1947, and underwent flight testing through 1951. The USAF concluded that the B-47 had far more potential than the B-48, and it flew more than 50 miles per hour faster than the Martin bird. As a result, the B-48 was canceled, and the B-47 entered production in 1952. Eventually, 2042 Stratojets were produced, making it the largest post-war bomber project.

The B-47 Stratojet flew as the front line nuclear bomber until the B-52 was available in the late 50’s and early 60’s. The B-47 simply did not have the range that was needed for the job, and remote basing overseas was becoming increasingly difficult and expensive. The B-47 was also used in a recon role as the RB-47, and as a weather tracking plane as the WB-47. The RB-47 flew some of the most dangerous missions of the cold war testing Soviet radar installations, and several were shot down. The B-47 was retired long before it was worn out in the early 1960’s, with some of these specialized birds hanging on through the 1960’s.

I am not going to be able to add much to the B-47 story. The B-47 was mostly retired before I was born, and I never had the opportunity to see one fly. If you want to dive more deeply into B-47 history, start at the B-47 Stratojet Association website. I can, however, appreciate the importance of the B-47. The B-47, with its ability to deliver the nuclear bomb anywhere on the face of the earth, kept the Soviets in check in the mid to late 1950’s. The fact that the Stratojet never had to drop a nuclear bomb on the Soviets attests to its success at keeping the peace.

Despite its critical role in the early cold war, the B-47 seemed to fade into the sunset as fast as it had arrived. Of the more than 2000 aircraft built, only about two dozen survive, none of which are in flyable condition. If you do want to see the B-47 in action, watch the classic movie Strategic Air Command, starring Jimmy Stewart as Col. Robert “Dutch” Holland, who pilots the Stratojet back when the job was big and the pay was small. The B-47 nose section used in filming the movie is on display at the March Field Museum.

B-47 Stratojets Currently On Display

Serial Number Aircraft Type City State Location Notes
46-066 XB-47 Rantoul IL Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum Displayed on ramp behind museum building. Museum on grounds of former Chanute AFB. Open to the public, no base pass required.
50-062 B-47B Savannah GA Mighty Eight Air Force Heritage Museum Recently restored for static display.
51-2120 B-47B Knob Noster MO Whiteman AFB Displayed outdoors in base airpark, not visible from public roads.
51-2315 B-47B Peru IN Grissom Air Museum Displayed outdoors at the museum, no base entry required.
51-2387 B-47E Wichita KS Kansas Aviation Museum Formerly located at Oklahoma City fairgrounds.
51-7066 WB-47E Seattle WA Museum Of Flight Displayed outdoors on the lawn by the museum main entry.
51-7071 B-47E Altus OK Hightower Park Displayed outdoors in city park.
52-166 B-47E Atwater CA Castle Air Museum Displayed outdoors at the museum, no base entry required.
52-412 EB-47E Abilene TX Dyess Linear Air Park Displayed outdoors along base entry road, ask for visitors pass.
52-595 B-47E Jacksonville AR Little Rock AFB Displayed outdoors, high security base, no view from public roads.
52-1412 B-47E Ashland NE SAC Museum Displayed indoors at new SAC Museum.
53-2104 B-47E Pueblo CO Pueblo Historical Aircraft Society Displayed outdoors.
53-2135 EB-47E Tucson AZ Pima County Air & Space Museum Displayed outdoors, full restoration in the early 90’s.
53-2275 B-47E Riverside CA March Field Museum Displayed outdoors, no base entry required.
53-2276 B-47E Shreveport LA 8th Air Force Museum Displayed outdoors, get visitors pass at main gate.
53-2280 B-47E Albuquerque NM National Museum Of Nuclear Science & History Displayed outdoors, formerly at USAF Museum in Dayton.
53-2385 B-47E Plattsburgh NY Former Plattsburgh AFB Displayed outdoors.
53-4213 B-47E Wichita KS McConnell AFB Displayed outdoors in restricted area of base.
53-4257 RB-47E Oklahoma City OK Tinker AFB Displayed outdoors.
53-4296 RB-47H Valparaiso FL USAF Armament Museum Displayed outdoors, just outside of Eglin AFB, no base entry required.
53-4299 RB-47H Dayton OH USAF Museum Recently put on display in new 3rd hangar, formerly located at the former Smokey Hill AFB near Salina, KS.
Note—click on the Serial Number to see a photo of each airplane.

B-47 Stratojets Projects And Hulks

Serial Number Aircraft Type City State Location Notes
49-1901 B-47A Tucson AZ Pima County Air & Space Museum Not on display, aircraft is not complete. Nose section appears to be in good condition and could someday be restored for display.
51-2075 B-47B Rosamond CA US Air Force Flight Test Center Museum Hulk, laying out in the desert as a test target.
51-2360 WB-47E Ogden UT Hill AFB Museum Not on display, undergoing full restoration for static display. Aircraft has been reassembled and is up on its gear as of mid-2006. Formerly on display in Windsor Locks, CT.
52-410 EB-47E Unknown ?? Unknown Former Pease AFB display. Moved to Ellsworth, SD, but project failed. Moved to Dayton and scavenged for parts for 53-4299 project. Remains were surplused, and sold to a private party. May have been scrapped.
Note—click on the Serial Number to see a photo of each airplane.

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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