Boeing WB-50D Superfortress

Last revised December 8, 2012

During the mid-1950s, thirty-six obsolescent B-50Ds were stripped of their armament and equipped for long-range weather reconnaissance missions using meteorological equipment such as high-altitude atmospheric samplers, doppler radar, and weather radar. A bomb bay fuel tank was provided for extended range. These conversions were designated WB-50D. They were intended to replace weary WB-29s which were beginning to suffer from extensive corrosion.

The modification contract was assigned to the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. The WB-50D carried improved equipment and instrumentation to adapt it to the weather mission. This included the AN/APN-82 Automatic Navigator, which was a radar navigation device capable of measuring drift and ground speed, the ANQ-7 temperature humidity indicator, the ML-313 Psychrometer, and improved altimeters and flight indicators. The new equipment proved more difficult to install than expected, and Lockheed could not meet the original schedules.

The first modified WB-50D flew on August 20, 1955, and the first example was delivered to the Air Weather Service in November of that year. Many WB-50Ds also had an air sampling system installed with a distinctive scoop mounted on the top aft part of the fuselage. This was used for weather data gathering, but it was also used to measure airboarne radioactive fallout after above-ground nuclear tests conducted by other countries.

The WB-50Ds served for a much longer period than expected. In 1960, after several fuel cells failed in flight, 28 WB-50Ds were temporarily grounded until the problem could be corrected. In the event, most WB-50Ds were retrofitted with new or surplus fuel cells. One WB-50D (49-310) was given the temporary designation of JB-50D while being used for experimental work.

WB-50Ds continued to serve into the 1960s. Phaseout of the WB-50D began in late 1963. The last WB-50D (49-310) was retired in 1967.

Serials of WB-50D:

48-073/082	Boeing B-50D-85-BO Superfortress
			c/n 15882/15891
			073 modified as WB-50D weather recon aircraft.
48-0103/0112	Boeing B-50D-100-BO Superfortress
			c/n 15912/15921
			105,108 modified as WB-50D weather recon 
48-0113/0127	Boeing B-50D-105-BO Superfortress
			c/n 15994/16008
			113,116,121,124 modified as WB-50D weather  
			recon aircraft.
49-0260/0292	Boeing B-50D-110-BO Superfortress
			c/n 16036/16068
			260,261,264,266,281,284/288,291 converted to
			WB-50D weather recon aircraft.
49-0293/0325	Boeing B-50D-115-BO Superfortress
			c/n 16069/16101
			296,298,300,302,304,310,311,313,324 converted
			to WB-50D weather recon aircraft.
			WB-50D #49-310 temporarily designated JB-50D
			while used for experimental work.  
			49-0310 is on display at WPAFB Museum.
49-0326/0358	Boeing B-50D-120-BO Superfortress
			c/n 16102/16134
			0332,0333,0337,0341,0345,0351 converted to 
			WB-50D weather recon aircraft.
49-0359/0391	Boeing B-50D-125-BO Superfortress
			c/n 16135/16167
			0371 and 0375 converted to WB-50D weather recon


  1. American Combat Planes, Third Enlarged Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  2. Post World War II Bombers, Marcelle Size Knaack, Office of Air Force History, 1988.

  3. Boeing Aircraft Since 1916, Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1989.

  4. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  5. E-mail from Pat Hanavan on AN/APN-82.

  6. USAF Museum website,