21 September 1942

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress makes its maiden flight.

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was a four-engine, long-range, heavy bomber aircraft that played a pivotal role in World War II and the Korean War. It was one of the most advanced and sophisticated bombers of its time, known for its high-altitude capabilities and significant payload capacity.

Development and Design:
The development of the B-29 Superfortress began in the late 1930s, and it was designed to be an improvement over its predecessor, the B-17 Flying Fortress.
It was designed by a team led by Boeing engineer Robert R. Gross and featured several advanced technologies, including pressurized crew compartments, remote-controlled gun turrets, and a centralized fire-control system.

Crew: Typically consisted of 11 to 12 crew members, including the pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, navigator, flight engineer, radio operator, and gunners.
Wingspan: Approximately 141 feet.
Length: About 99 feet.
Maximum Speed: It could reach speeds of up to 365 mph (587 km/h).
Range: The B-29 had a maximum range of around 3,250 miles (5,230 km).
Maximum Bomb Load: It could carry a maximum bomb load of up to 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms).
Ceiling: It could operate at altitudes of up to 31,850 feet (9,710 meters).

The B-29’s most notable feature was its pressurized cabin, which allowed the crew to operate at high altitudes where the air was thin, making it difficult for enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft guns to reach them.
It was equipped with remote-controlled gun turrets, making it more efficient and safer for gunners to defend the aircraft.
The Superfortress had a “Central Fire Control” system that coordinated the firing of its machine guns and cannons, improving its defensive capabilities.

Operational History:
The B-29 Superfortress was primarily used by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) during World War II.
It played a significant role in the Pacific theater, conducting long-range bombing missions against Japanese targets, including cities and industrial complexes.
The most famous B-29 missions were the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, which played a key role in Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II.
B-29s were also used during the Korean War, where they conducted strategic bombing missions.

The B-29 Superfortress is considered one of the most iconic aircraft of World War II and played a critical role in shaping the course of the war.
After the war, some B-29s were converted for other roles, such as reconnaissance and weather research.
The aircraft’s design and technology influenced the development of subsequent generations of bombers.

21 September 1937

JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit is published.

On Sept. 21, 1937, Tolkien’s novel first hit booksellers’ shelves, eventually becoming one of the most popular literary works of all time. J.R.R. Tolkien, an English professor at the University of Leeds, was grading test papers during the summer of 1928 when he scribbled the words, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” on a student’s blank answer sheet.

“His effort to discover just what hobbits were and what they were like led him to write one of the most beloved books ever written, The Hobbit, an introduction to the world of Middle-earth,” says the Houghton Mifflin Company.

Tolkien worked on “The Hobbit” on and off through the early 1930s, sharing the manuscript with friends, including author C.S. Lewis. A friend of a student convinced the George Allen & Unwin publishing house to look at the book. Sir Stanley Unwin, the company chairman, gave the manuscript to his 10-year-old son to review in 1936.

“Bilbo Baggins was a hobbit who lived in his hobbit-hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his dwarves persuaded him to go,” wrote young Raynor Unwin. “He had a very exciting time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they got to the lonely mountain: Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home—rich! This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations. It is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.”

The review convinced Stanley Unwin to publish the book. The first copies of “The Hobbit,” subtitled “There and Back Again,” appeared in English bookstores on Sept. 21, 1937. With its illustrations and maps drawn by Tolkien, the book gained immediate popularity.

By Christmas the publisher had sold out of its first printing of 1,500 copies. The book crossed the pond in 1938 and the American version sold 3,000 copies in the first two months.

21 September 1942

The Boeing B29 Superfortress makes its first flight.

Boeing XB-29

On this day in 1942, the U.S. B-29 Superfortress makes its debut flight in Seattle, Washington. It was the largest bomber used in the war by any nation.

The B-29 was conceived in 1939 by Gen. Hap Arnold, who was afraid a German victory in Europe would mean the United States would be devoid of bases on the eastern side of the Atlantic from which to counterattack. A plane was needed that would travel faster, farther, and higher than any then available, so Boeing set to creating the four-engine heavy bomber. The plane was extraordinary, able to carry loads almost equal to its own weight at altitudes of 30,000 to 40,000 feet. It contained a pilot console in the rear of the plane, in the event the front pilot was knocked out of commission. It also sported the first radar bombing system of any U.S. bomber.

The Superfortress made its test run over the continental United States on September 21, but would not make its bombing-run debut until June 5, 1944, against Bangkok, in preparation for the Allied liberation of Burma from Japanese hands. A little more than a week later, the B-29 made its first run against the Japanese mainland. On June 14, 60 B-29s based in Chengtu, China, bombed an iron and steel works factory on Honshu Island. While the raid was less than successful, it proved to be a morale booster to Americans, who were now on the offensive.

Meanwhile, the Marianas Islands in the South Pacific were being recaptured by the United States, primarily to provide air bases for their new B-29s—a perfect position from which to strike the Japanese mainland on a consistent basis. Once the bases were ready, the B-29s were employed in a long series of bombing raids against Tokyo. Although capable of precision bombing at high altitudes, the Superfortresses began dropping incendiary devices from a mere 5,000 feet, firebombing the Japanese capital in an attempt to break the will of the Axis power. One raid, in March 1945, killed more than 80,000 people. But the most famous, or perhaps infamous, use of the B-29 would come in August, as it was the only plane capable of delivering a 10,000-pound bomb—the atomic bomb. The Enola Gay and the Bock’s Car took off from the Marianas, on August 6 and 9, respectively, and flew into history.