Boeing Model 464-17 “what if” – Not quite a Stratofortress, but no longer a Superfortress
Although it’s been almost six decades since Boeing turned out the last B-52H version of the venerable Stratofortress, it is easy to forget that the type had its genesis in the very weeks and months following the end of WWII. Even as the wartime US military was rapidly demobilizing, oftentimes abandoning aircraft in place at overseas bases while sending others directly from the production line to storage yards, the not yet independent USAAF was faced with a considerable dilemma for its future. The service operated the world’s most sophisticated bomber of its day, the B-29 Superfortress, yet the B-29 had some significant drawbacks. The Superfort was just able to accommodate the heavy first-generation nuclear weapons, and did not have the range to effectively threaten targets in the USSR from bases in the continental US. Overseas basing, inflight refueling, and the arrival of the improved B-50 would help matters some, but a new, much more capable aircraft was needed, and it was not sure that the B-36 Peacemaker would be what was needed.
Boeing’s first step towards what would become the B-52 took the form of the Model 462 design, which would have essentially been a larger B-50 powered by no fewer than six Wright T-35 turboprops. This gave way to the Model 464 with four T-35s, which in turn evolved into the Model 464-16/17 designs. Both again had four T-35s, but the 16 would have been optimized for the nuclear strike role, carrying one of the five ton gravity weapons of the day over intercontinental ranges, while the 17 would have carried large loads of conventional ordnance over short ranges – some 90,000 lbs of bombs could have been carried, more than even the “Big Belly” modified B-52Ds that were built in reality.
In the end, the -16/17 were passed over in case of later turboprop designs that introduced swept wings, with these in turn giving way to turbojet-powered evolutions that matured into the B-52 that actually flew.