The Boeing B-29 Superfortress holds a special place in American history for more than one reason, but none more important than this one; On Aug 6, 1945, the United States became the first country in the world to use an atomic weapon, dropping a thermonuclear device on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was the aircraft that dropped that bomb on Hiroshima, and did so again three days later on Aug.9, 1945, this time on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Thus began the age of thermonuclear warfare.
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped those nuclear bombs on Japan was a specially designed version of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, produced specifically for the Manhattan Project. Originally designed as a high-altitude strategic bomber, it was eventually used primarily as a low-altitude, carpet bombing style aircraft, due to disappointingly poor results in the former category. This specially designed version of the aircraft was code named Silverplate.
The Manhattan Project was a World War Two research and development project began by President Roosevelt to create the world’s first atomic weaponry, with Los Alamos National Laboratory Director physicist Dr. Robert Oppenheimer leading the team of scientists tasked with creating this “doomsday” device. The research for the Manhattan project was not only performed in Los Alamos, NM, additional research facilities include Hanford, WA and Oak Ridge, TN. The U.S. Department of Energy had its beginnings in the Manhattan Project, and the projects three locations continue to be managed and administered by the DOE to this day.
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first thermonuclear device on Japan, bringing the World into the age of nuclear warfare, was named The Enola Gay. It is now on display at The National Air and Space Museum’s annex, The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center located at the Washington Dulles International Airport in Fairfax, Va. The aircraft was named after the mother of the pilot that flew that mission, Bird Colonel Paul Tibbets. His mothers name was Enola Gay Tibbets.
The Enola Gay was the first aircraft to drop a thermonuclear bomb in the history of recorded warfare. Colonel Tibbets retired as a Brigadier General in 1966, after 29 years of service to his country. At the time of his retirement, he was Commander of the 308th Bombardment Wing, as well as the 6th Air Division of the United States Air Force.
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was first presented by Boeing to the U.S. Army in 1939, prior to World War Two. The prototype high-altitude, long-range bomber had quite a different complexion than most aircraft of the day, and was a hailed as a major advancement in airship technology. Some of the distinct features of the aircraft include the first air pressurized cabin, a fully automatic remote control machine-gun turret and a first of its kind electronic fire-control system designed to increase proper target placement.
A total of 3,970 The Boeing B-29 Superfortress were produced over the years at three manufacturing plants located in Renton, WA, Marietta, GA and Omaha, NE. The last of these WW2 era planes was produced in 1946, and only one of the planes is still in use today. The Boeing 707 has its roots in the development of the B-29, as it was the aircraft which all other similar Boeing aircraft of the era were designed and modified from.
The Enola Gay will go down in history as the first The Boeing B-29 Superfortress to deliver a thermonuclear payload against any country. With it, the age of nuclear warfare was initiated, a precursor to the Cold War. The last remaining Airman that flew on that mission died earlier this year. Enola Gay Navigator Theodore Van Kirk passed away at the age of 93, on July 28, 2014.
By Jim Donahue