Clark Field, Philippines May 29, 1945

On this date in 1945 three test versions of the B‑32 four-engine Dom­i­na­tors made their first com­bat appear­ance in World War II. Leaving Clark Field 60 miles north of the Philip­pine capi­tal of Manila, the Dom­i­na­tors tar­geted a Japa­nese supply depot less than a flight hour away. Four more B‑32 field oper­a­tional tests in June tar­geted struc­tures on enemy-occupied For­mosa (today’s Tai­wan). Manu­fac­tured by Con­sol­i­dated Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion with pro­duc­tion facil­i­ties near Fort Worth, Texas, and in San Diego, Cali­for­nia, the B‑32 Dom­i­na­tor was the junior but more mus­cu­lar brother of the air­craft maker’s famed B‑24 Lib­er­a­tor, the most numer­ous U.S. long-range bomber built during the war. Lib­er­a­tors had flown in the Euro­pean, Medi­ter­ra­nean, and Pacific thea­ters since Janu­ary 1942 and would come to domi­nate the heavy bom­bard­ment role in the Pacific until mid-1944.

Consolidated Aircraft designed the B‑32 Dom­i­na­tor to be a heavy stra­tegic bomber. Designers intended this air­craft to supple­ment Boeing’s B‑29 Super­for­tress and even­tually replace Con­sol­i­dated’s B‑24 Lib­er­a­tors. On Septem­ber 7, 1942, when Boeing was well on its way to building its first 500 B‑29s, Con­sol­i­dated’s ini­tial B‑32 proto­type (XB‑32‑CO) soared into the skies 6 months behind sched­ule. Nine­teen months later the first B‑32 pro­duc­tion ver­sions, desig­na­ted Model 34, began rolling off the com­pany’s Fort Worth assem­bly line, with flight testing begin­ning August 5, 1944. They were intended to be the first of 1,500 B‑32s sched­uled for production at the Texas and California sites.

The history of the B‑32 remains inex­o­ra­bly tied to that of its B‑29 counter­part. In Janu­ary 1940, with Boeing’s B‑17 Flying For­tress just entering ser­vice, the U.S. Army Air Corps (after June 20, 1941, the Army Air Forces) issued a request for pro­po­sals for a four-engine stra­tegic bomber that was to have suf­fi­cient oper­a­tional range to cover the vast stretches of the Pacific Ocean. Four firms sub­mitted design studies and on Septem­ber 7, 1940, Boeing and Con­sol­i­dated were awarded devel­op­ment con­tracts for the XB‑29 and XB‑32, respec­tively. Con­sol­i­dated’s Model 33 proto­types (there were three) morphed over time into the Model 34, the pro­duc­tion model. The firm hoped the B‑32 pro­duc­tion model would emerge as the U.S. mili­tary’s pri­mary stra­tegic bomber in case the Boeing pro­duct failed to deliver the contractual goods.

For their new airframe Con­sol­i­dated’s design engi­neers decided to dup­li­cate the Lib­er­a­tor’s twin tail and effici­ent Davis air­foil wing, lengthen the fuse­lage, and stretch the nose and round its tip. The second proto­type was out­fitted with a tradi­tional stepped cock­pit canopy and, in place of the twin tail, a large rounded, single ver­ti­cal tail fin. Orig­i­nal Model 33 B‑32 plans called for a pres­sur­ized cock­pit and remote-con­trolled retrac­table dor­sal and ven­tral gun turrets plus a half dozen more con­ven­tional gun sta­tions. Unfor­tu­nately, the firm’s engi­neers were tripped up by prob­lems with the remote-con­trolled arma­ment and pres­sur­i­za­tion systems among other chronic issues. Manned, power-operated turrets were installed instead, and the pres­sur­i­za­tion fea­ture was scrapped alto­gether. The Model 34 B‑32 was now clas­si­fied a low-to-medium altitude bomber.

Events at home and in the Pacific over­took the B‑32 pro­gram. By the time the first pro­duc­tion model was deliv­ered to the USAAF on Septem­ber 19, 1944, Boeing’s Super­for­tresses had suc­ceeded in striking the southern­most Japa­nese island of Kyūshū (June 15, 1944) from a Chi­nese air­base. By that Decem­ber, when just 5 Dom­i­na­tors had been deliv­ered, 111 Boeing heavy bombers had attacked the Japa­nese capi­tal Tokyo as well as other targets from new bases in the Mariana Islands (Novem­ber 24, 1944).

After the shakedown flights of the 3 Philippine-based Dom­i­na­tors were com­pleted on June 17, 1945, it was too little, too late for the B‑32 Dom­i­na­tor to become any­thing more than a foot­note in the Pacific War, which ended 2½ months later.

The Short-Lived Career of Consolidated’s B-32 Dominator

XB-32 DominatorB-32 Fort Worth assembly line 1944

Left: Initial XB‑32 twin-tailed prototype. Second and third proto­types had numer­ous tail vari­a­tions installed, including a Boeing B‑29 tail instal­la­tion. The first flight of the XB‑32 occurred on Septem­ber 7, 1942. Out of 3,970 Boeing B‑29 Super­for­tresses built, 24 sur­vive in museums and 1 or 2 even par­tici­pate in air shows. By con­trast, out of the 118 Con­sol­i­dated B‑32s built and deployed during the last few weeks of war (40 of them unarmed crew trainers), none has sur­vived. After V‑J Day the War Depart­ment can­celled 1,099 pro­duc­tion-ver­sion B‑32‑CFs and 499 B‑32‑COs. The 37 par­tially assem­bled B‑32s in Texas and Cali­for­nia were scrapped on site by Con­sol­i­dated and its con­trac­tors. Besides the B‑32s damaged or destroyed in acci­dents, post­war inven­tories of fly­able Domi­na­tors were flown directly to stor­age, then chopped to pieces in Arkan­sas and Ari­zona. The last remaining B‑32 was scrapped in the summer of 1949.

Right: Fort Worth, Texas, assembly line of Consolidated’s Model 34 B‑32 Domi­na­tors. The Model 34 “sky giant” bomber was first flown on August 4, 1944. The B‑32 crew num­bered 10 or, when delivered as unarmed crew trainer, 8. The plane was 83 ft (25.3m) long, 33.1 ft (10.1m) tall, and had a wing­span of 135.2 ft (41.2m), a gross weight of 100,800 lb (45,722 kg), and a max­i­mum take­off weight of 123,250 lb (55,905 kg). With a stream­lined fuse­lage that resem­bled a scaled-up twin-engine Martin B‑26 Marau­der and four 2,200 hp (1,600 kW) Wright R‑3350‑23A Duplex-Cyclone 18‑cylinder air-cooled, super­charged radial piston engines driving 4 large 4‑bladed rever­si­ble-pitch (in­board only) pro­pellers, the B‑32 reached speeds of 357 mph (575 km/h), cruised at 290 mph (466 km/h), and had a ser­vice range of 3,800 miles (6,100 km). The B‑32 bristled with wea­pons. In its stan­dard pro­duc­tion con­figu­ration, of which 75 were pro­duced, were ten .50 cali­ber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning heavy machine guns variously located in the Sperry-designed electric-hydrau­lic twin-gunned ball turrets at the nose and belly (these were the problem-plagued retract­able turrets), in the Martin elec­trically oper­ated twin-guns in the for­ward and rear­ward dorsal turrets atop the fuse­lage, in the ven­tral Sperry ball twin-gunned turret under­neath the fuse­lage, and in the Sperry ball twin-gunned turret at the tail posi­tion. Optional arma­ment was up­wards of a 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) bomb load in twin bomb bays.

B-32 DominatorsB-32 Hobo Queen II maintenance Tinian 1945

Left: Bird’s-eye view of Model 34, Consolidated’s B‑32 Domi­nator. The Model 34 was ini­tially intended as a backup long-range, heavy bomber should Boeing’s B‑29 pro­gram fall signif­i­cantly behind in its devel­op­ment and build sche­dule. In the sum­mer of 1944, how­ever, as Boeing began cranking out more and more Super­for­tresses for the Pacific Theater and full-scale production of the B‑32 was still several months away, the U.S. Army Air Forces began eyeing Con­sol­i­dated as a poten­tial source to replace fleets of ven­er­a­ble B‑17 Flying For­tresses and B‑24 Lib­er­ators in the Medi­terr­anean and Euro­pean thea­ters. But Con­sol­i­dated’s ever-slipping test program pre­vented the com­pany from deli­vering a single B‑32 to those two com­bat zones. After the Allies’ vic­tory in Europe in May 1945, Con­sol­i­dated’s sole com­bat arena was in the West­ern Pacific, and that the­a­ter shut down abruptly in mid-August 1945. B‑32 production shut down 2 months later.

Right: The B‑32 Hobo Queen II undergoing mainte­nance on the Pacific island of Tinian in the Marianas. Assigned to the United States Army Air Forces’ 386th Bom­bard­ment Squad­ron of the 312th Bom­bard­ment Group, the Hobo Queen II flew in the first trio of Domi­na­tors sent into com­bat against Japan—this on May 29, 1945, in the Philip­pines. It also had the sorrow­ful dis­tinc­tion of being the last Allied war­plane to be engaged in com­bat after World War II hos­til­i­ties ended. Following Emperor Hirohito’s capit­u­la­tion broad­cast to his sub­jects on August 15, 1945, the mis­sion of Hobo Queen II changed from bombing Japan to recon­noi­tering the coun­try as part of U.S. occu­pa­tion oper­a­tions; for example, locating and photo­graphing POW camps, moni­toring the cease­fire, and keeping an eye out for sus­pi­cious acti­vity at Japa­nese air­fields and ports. The Hobo Queen II was doing just that over the Tokyo area on August 18, 1945, in the com­pany of another B‑32 photo-recon air­craft when both were jumped and raked with 20mm canon fire by 17 Japa­nese fighter air­craft. Nine­teen-year-old U.S. Army photo­grapher’s assis­tant Sgt. Anthony Mar­chi­one was one of three crew­men hit by incoming fire. He bled to death aboard the Hobo Queen II as the plane managed a bee­line for Yon­tan Air­field, its new Oki­na­wa home base. As for the damaged Hobo Queen II, it was ren­dered into scrap in Septem­ber 1945 by an unfor­tu­nate series of non-combat mishaps to its airframe.

The B-32 Dominator That Became the Last Casualty of World War II