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An inside look at the cockpit of a B-36

A pal of mine passed this on to me. I thought some of you who remember boiler gauges would enjoy the tour. B-36 Cockpit Gauge Maze The B-36 was a state of the art airplane in its day. The Flight Engineer was responsible for starting, maintaining and shutting down the 6 Radial Engines and the 4 Jet Engines required to make it fly and complete its mission. No modern technology, such as "Fly by Wire" or "Computer controlled Aircraft" systems, were involved here. Just straight… ( 기타...

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I remember when the B-36 was introduced in the late 40's and was part of SAC into the late 50's when it was retired from service and replaced with the B-52. The best movie featuring the B-36 was "Strategic Air Command" with Jimmy Stewart/June Allison. Every airplane buff should see it! The movie had some of the best flying cinematography in film history courtesy of Paul Mantz. Stewart was a Brigadier General in the USAF Reserve and had actual flight time as aircraft commander in the B-36. The 6 P&W R-4360 engines were 3200 HP, 28 cylinder maintenance nightmares and were the largest reciprocating airplane engines built. Turbojet engines were just becoming the norm in the early 50's.
Thanks for sharing, and thanks for your service.
Where can I find that old movie. It's been many moons since I've seen it.
mrvair 2
I thought the movie would be readilly available anywhere but it isn't. But I did find it at this website I ordered a copy for $7.49 w/free shipping.
Thanx....just ordered it!
oowmmr 1
Great site. What a variety of airplane choices with ones I've never seen or heard of.
I've caught it occasionally on TCM. Awesome movie!
oowmmr 2
Great tip on the movie. Now I have another one to watch.
honza nl 1
Sorry, the BMW 803 and the Shvetsov ASh-2 were in fact even bigger
yonian 1
Well played, sir, but prototypes don't count! (Internet comment rule #19,457.13.5, subsection M.)
Ahhh, the old game of Can You Top This.

Hardly the point
As was the H-4 Hercules...
Apology accepted.
btweston 1
Ahh, the days when everybody's dad played every movie roll lol. "W... Well, I guess we're gonna drop some bombs here, see? And then w... we'll head on back home to our w... wives. N... Now wait, see? This is a highly accurate film. Very little dramatic, uh, license."
btweston 1
This is true. I cannot spell role.
I think the jets were J-47s. They were standard on the B-47, F-86, and almost everything else in those days. Unfortunately the early models had no auto-fuel control for starting; this made for a lot of over-temps....and a lot of pissed off crew chiefs.
bbabis 6
Good thing all that complicated stuff is behind the pilots!

It reminds me of the scene from "Airplane" where Ted Striker looks around a never ending collage of gauges and dials.
Yes! - I was looking for the warning light that says "A LITTLE HOT".
bbabis 2
Shirley you must be kidding!
mrvair 3
And don't call me Shirley !!
mrvair 3
I totally agree with Walt's comments on "Strategic Air Command". I can't count the number of times I've watched (and listened) to that B-36 flying over the ball park in the opening scene. The purr of those P&W's is like no other in aviation. And the scene where the Peacemaker is flying in and out of the clouds on their "one takeoff and landing" training mission (with that background music) is like he said, "some of the best flying cinematography in film history". Think I'll dig out that DVD and watch it one more time !!
btweston 0
Shouldn't you be complaining about how this isn't news because you know everything?
Why would I be complaining... The movie mentioned is one of the best out, and the news with the pan and zoom is great... and NO.. I do not know everything.... But I do know a lot about how planes work and what is and is not possible.
Examination of the image shows that the gauges for the jet engines are on the pilot's panel, not the flight engineer's and the jet engine power levers are above the pilot's seats.
Geat siteseeing
incredible thank you
Awesome... Thanks for sharing.
I used to have to read and record data from Air Force Bomber & Cargo instrument panels, but this one would have given me a headache.

Would not have wanted to be the flight engr who kept up with this one.

Thanks for the memories.
Looks just like the C-150 that I soloed
Where do you put the iPad mount?!
btweston 1
Right next to the GPS ;)
Pretty amazing that 4 guys can fly 6 engines & all of that action going on with minimal technology! Fore Flight would have helped!!!
Actually, it was 10. There were 4 jets too, according to the story
744pnf 2
4 burnin' and 6 turnin'
Pileits 1
Bad link.
Wow, you can transfer the auto-pilot to the bombadier?!?
mskierki 1
Even going back to the nordon bombsight on the B-17, the bombardier was able to make changes to the flight path during the bombing run.
jwmson 1
The flight engineer controlled the airspeed. The navigator controlled the heading The pilots tried to hold th altitude steady! ;-)
leery1 1
Big question is how did they get into the cockpit?
got to climb through the B36 at Castle AFB while they were restoring... unbelievable complexity... now all that stuff is done by computers...
While the 90's don't seem ancient by any means, it's 24 years if you go all the way back to 1990. No cell phones or internet, and Al Gore didn't invent it.
No place for cup holders in the Cold War.
If that forward arrow indicates the actual direction, then I don't think any "air-sickness" bag ever made could handle the output of the slueing.
oowmmr 1
My dad once told me (while we where looking at the monster at Castle) he used to hear and see Peacemakers fly out of San Diego area and they sounded like large 337 Skymasters.
They did indeed sound like skymasters, while serving with a 40MM AntiAircraft detachment at Hawthorne Calif. in '57 we were scrambled because of an inoperable "IFF" on a B36 flying over LA. IFF= Identification,friend, or foe, called transponders now.
I lived in Albuquerque after the war, B-36's were at Kirkland AF Base. The early versions didn't have the jet engines...they appeared to just hang in the air and drone slowly by.
I liked the steam gauges but that's a little much.
How do you think those guys would be going to a glass panel. LOL
ozarkmtn 1
Nice job Thank You
With all those manual guages, wonder what the ratio of wiring weight to airframe weight was.

Wikipedia has a photo of a design concept for a tracked landing gear (yep, like a tank) that was apparently under consideration after the tricycle landing wheels proved so huge as to be impractical. Someone intelligent in the Air Force killed the idea in favor of the now common four-wheeled bogeys (trucks). Link:

Here is a photo from the Castle Air Museum website of their B-36. This is a really big aircraft. The large bomb thingy next to it is a Mark 17 Hydrogen bomb (thermonuclear device) casing, 25 feet long, five foot diameter and weighed 42,000 pounds; yield 10-15 megatons. Total B-36 load capacity is shown at 86,000 pounds; B-17 bomb capacity was 4,800 pounds.
I am sure they were heavy... Keep in mind that most of those back then were actual gauges and not indicators like they are today.
Walt is correct- "Strategic Air Command" with jimmy stewart is a must see if you like warplanes. The take- off scene out of Carswell AFB is incredibly beautiful. You must see it- the scene itself is on you tube, however the video quality is poorer than the movie. I knew it was coming as a kid on the ground in Fresno because my windows would start rattling before you saw it. Watch the take off scene if youve never seen it
The you tube B-36 take off I said you must see( from the Strategic Air Command Movie) is labeled "Six turning Four Burning" on you tube. Film quality was excellent, you tube vid is much poorer but stilll watchable.
yonian 1
A friend of mine went to school in Point Loma across San Diego Bay from the Convair B-36 rework facility. He told me that every time one took off his teacher would just close her mouth and look bored for a couple of minutes until it got quiet enough for her to continue.

It probably was not quite as bad for them as for the unfortunate Russians who have to put up with the even louder Tu-95 which is still in operation today.
Those of you that go way back will also remember the XC-99; it was a B-36 cargo clone. I saw it at Kelley Field SAT in the early '50s. Elegant and earth shaking monster!
Looks simple enough.
I liked steam gauges but that is a tad much. LOL
Not to worry Capt. There are two other guys designated to steering the pointy end and where the front end goes the back is sure to follow
Were their controls a telegraph like on a ship or at some point, did they assume a direct control?
Looks to me like they had to use a telegraph. :-) I'm not sure they could possibly hear each other. I can't imagine keeping attention on all that "stuff" and aiming too. What do you think?

Time to make the donuts
I agree. You can make the donuts. I'm going back to bed and take a nap.LOL
They obviously had headsets and intercoms.
When I was a kid, we lived several miles east of Carswell AFB, Ft Worth, TX. When a B-36 flew over the house, the windows would rattle. Great memory.
btweston 1
I'd love to sit there and watch one of these cockpits in action.

Question for those who might know: The throttle levers at the flight engineer's station... Are they the same as what the pilots have? Or do the FE levers have a wider range with the pilots' levers operating in a narrower window to serve the more immediate purpose of controlling speed? I know that a lot of those old piston monsters were incredibly complex and that they usually ran right at their limit, so did the FE have to "protect" them from the pilots?
mrvair 2
Don't know the answer about the throttles... but my dad was a B-29 FE in WWII. He flew 35 missions over Japan including the fire raids over Tokyo. I remember him talking about the overheating issues they had with those big 2000 HP R3350s. His bomb group was based on Siapan and he said when fully loaded they really struggled getting airborne before running off the 8700' runway into the Pacific. He said in order to keep the engines from overheating he had to crack open the huge cowl flaps which cooled down the engines but increased drag, which lengthed the takeoff and visa versa. Another constant headache was 12 hours of fuel management. But that's another story...
I suspect the cowl flaps would always have been "full-open" on takeoff. But I too have heard of the neccessity for cracking them slightly in criuse flight....and that would certainly have created increased drag and subsequent fuel consumption. It was a bit before my time but I still find those early B-29 air/ground crews to be real "heros"! The B-29 simply wasn't a reliable machine for the high alt long range mission required.....but they made it work anyway!
I remember being told that the B-36 was capable of flying non-stop from US bases to Russia and return without refueling.
I remember being told that the B-36 carried enough fuel to fly from US bases to Russia and return without refueling.
Very True...
I went through my high school years on Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico in the early 1950s. SAC took over the base with B-50s, then brought in the B-36s. My high school graduation speech (1955) was on how complex the B-36 was. 336 Spark Plugs firing, etc.

Many times a B-36 returning from a long mission would have several of the reciprocating engines feathered. There was a note on the bulletin board at base ops that running with more then three engines out on one side was not approved.

The training school (MTD) for all B-36 systems was just across the street from my house and many of the system panel were not locked up at night. The J-47 and R-4360 cutaway engines were there to poke at.

Menlo Park, CA


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