Battle of Kansas - Background


In early 1941 the Boeing Wichita factory (which was intended to become one of the main assembly plants for "Project 345") was building PT-13D & N2S-5 "Kaydet" biplane trainers for the USAAF and the USN respectively, as well as B-17 control surfaces: the plant needed massive expansion to build the new bomber. On June 24, 1941, new ground was broken for what was to become "Plant II", which was to be completed in January 1943. New equipment was already being installed by Boeing six months before final completion. Also needed was a whole army of factory workers: people were recruited from all over Kansas and neighboring states. Accommodation for all of them needed to be found. Few of them had any experience in aircraft assembly and a large scale training program was required: they were expected to build a type of aircraft that had never been seen before.

At the same time as the new factory was being built the USAAF started forming the foundations of four "Bombardment Groups" (the 40th, 444th, 462nd and 468th BGs.) Together they made up the 58th Bombardment Wing (58th BW), which was the first operational unit to take the B-29 into combat from as yet un-built bases in China. A fifth BG, the 472nd was also formed as an operational training unit: this Group stayed in the U.S. and was disbanded in April 1944.

With its new wing design, new type of remote controlled armament, pressurized crew stations, and powerful new Wright R-3350 radial engines (with new, 16 ft (4.88 m) diameter, slow-turning Hamilton Standard propellers), the B-29 project was unprecedented in Aviation history: from inception, to drawing board and mass production took three years, at a time when such a design should have taken five years just to become a prototype. Instead the engineering design, production and testing were being undertaken simultaneously, with all of the expected and unexpected problems, starting from the time the first XB-29 (41-1002) took to the air on 21 September 1942. The USAAF under General Hap Arnold envisaged thousands of B-29s, and they wanted at least 175 of them as soon as possible. The Wichita factory started producing components, then a run of 14 YB-29s in early 1943, before starting on building production aircraft by the autumn.

Soon after the fatal crash of the second prototype USAAF Colonel Harman came up with a plan to coordinate the process of working the "bugs" out of the new aircraft, especially the engines. The objective was to take control of the entire B-29 program of production, aircraft modification, flight tests, and training. Approval for "B-29 Special Project" came directly from President Roosevelt, who had been advised by General Arnold. In spite of this directive the B-29 program was to run into trouble.

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