The initial production version was the B-36A. The first production B-36A (44-92004) retained the R-4360-25s of the two prototypes. It flew for the first time on August 28, 1947, actually beating the YB-36 into the air by four months. Beryl Erickson was again at the controls. Although it had been decided that production B-36s should carry a defensive armament of sixteen 20-mm cannon, no armament was actually fitted to this aircraft. The B-36A featured the domed canopy first seeen on the YB-36 and it had the four-wheel landing gear system that had replaced the single-wheel main landing gear. However, an AN/APQ-23 bombing navigational radar was installed. This aircraft was only fitted with enough equipment for a flight to Wright Field in Ohio, where it was permanently grounded so that it could be structurally tested to destruction. It was permanently designated as YB-36A.
On December 12, 1946, General George S. Kenney, the commander of SAC since April of 1946, suggested that the procurement contract for 100 B-36s be reduced to only a few service-test aircraft. He believed the B-36 to be inferior to the Boeing B-50. Among the shortcomings of the B-36 were an effective range of only 6500 miles, an insufficient speed, and a lack of protection for the fuel load. However, neither the Air Staff nor Lt.Gen. Nathan F. Twining, the commander of the Air Materiel Command agreed with this assessment. They felt that the problems that had been experienced with the B-36 were normal at this stage in its development and that they could eventually be solved given sufficient time. In any case, the B-36 was the only long-range nuclear bomber available until the Boeing B-52 was ready, which at that time was not expected until 1953 at the earliest. General Carl Spaatz, who was now the commander of the USAAF, agreed with General Twining, and the B-36 contract was retained.
In August of 1947, shortly after the creation of the independent Air Force, General Hoyt Vandenberg, Deputy Chief of Air Staff, set up a USAF Aircraft and Weapons Board to determine which weapons would best support the Air Force's long-term plans. Because of the atomic bomb, strategic bombing took precedence. At that time, the B-36 was the only bomber capable of carrying out nuclear retaliation against an enemy without the need for overseas bases. However, at that time the supply of atomic bombs was still sparse, and plans had to be made for the possible use of conventional bombs. Many members of the Board felt that the B-36 was obsolete and should be cancelled in favor of fast jet bombers. However, this strategy was inherently risky since these jet bombers promised to have insufficient range and in any case would not be available for years. Still others wanted to try and improve the performance of the B-36 by re-engining it with the VDT engine and use it as an all-purpose bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear weapons. Others thought that the Boeing B-50 would be a better choice because it was faster and could also get greater speed and range by being re-engined with the VDT engines. After prolonged debate, it was decided to stick with the basic B-36 as a special purpose nuclear deterrent bomber. The B-36 would remain in service until replaced by the B-52. At that time, it was thought that 100 B-36s would be enough, and no further procurement was anticipated.
A further 21 B-36As were completed (44-92005/92025). None of them were fitted with any armament either, at least initially. Nineteen of them were delivered to the 7th Bombardment Group (Heavy) which was based at Carswell AFB, located just across the field from the Convair factory at Fort Worth. The first delivery was on June 26, 1948. The last B-36A was accepted in February 1949. They were used exclusively for training and crew conversion, and were not considered as being combat-ready.
On the night of April 8-9, 1948, B-36A 44-92013 made an extended flight of 33 hours 10 minutes, shuttling between Fort Worth and San Diego three times without stopping. It carried a 10,000 pound bomb load which was dropped midway from 25,000 feet on the Air Force Bombing Range at Wilcox, Arizona. The total distance flown was 6922 miles. In May of 1948, another long range flight was made by the same plane, a round trip of 8062 miles lasting 33 hours 8 minutes. On June 30, 1948, a B-36A dropped 72,000 pounds of bombs during a test flight.
In early 1950, Convair began conversion of the B-36As to the reconnaissance configuration. Included in the conversions was the sole YB-36 (42-13571). These were all redesignated RB-36E. The six R-4360-25 engines were replaced by six R-4360-41s--the more powerful engines already installed in the B-36Bs. They were also fitted with the four J47 turbojets that had initially fitted to the B-36D. They were equipped with K-17C, K-22A, K-38, and K-40 cameras. The converted B-36As also received some of the B-36B's more advanced electronics. Its normal crew was 22, which included 5 gunners to man the 16 M-24A-1 20-mm cannon. The last conversion was completed in July of 1951.
44-92004/92006 Consolidated B-36A-1-CF Peacemaker 44-92007/92011 Consolidated B-36A-5-CF Peacemaker 44-92012/92017 Consolidated B-36A-10-CF Peacemaker 44-92018/92025 Consolidated B-36A-15-CF Peacemaker
Engines: Six Pratt & Whitney R-4360-25 Wasp Major air cooled radial engines, each rated at 3250 hp for takeoff and 3000 hp at 40,000 feet. Performance: Maximum speed 345 mph at 31,600 feet. Cruising speed 218 mph. Stalling speed 113 mph. Initial climb rate 1447 feet per minute. An altitude of 20,000 feet could be attained in 53 minutes. Service ceiling 39,100 feet. Combat ceiling 35,8000 feet. Combat radius 3880 miles with 10,000 pound bombload. Ferry range 9136 miles. Total mission time 35.6 hours. Takeoff run 6000 feet at sea level. Takeoff run over 50-foot obstacle 8000 feet. Weights: 135,020 pounds empty, 212,800 pounds combat, 311,000 pounds maximum. Dimensions: Wingspan 230 feet 0 inches, length 162 feet 1 inches, Height 46 feet 8 inches, wing area 4772 square feet. Armament: No defensive armament initially fitted. Maximum bomb load 72,000 pounds