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    Comparison Of Costs: B-29 Superfortress Vs. Manhattan Project – The Most Expensive Elements Of World War II

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    The Boeing B-29 Superfortress, an American heavy bomber with four propeller-driven engines, was crafted by Boeing and predominantly utilized by the United States throughout World War II and the Korean War.

    The development of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress emerged as the costliest endeavor of the entire war, amounting to $3 billion, which equates to $49 billion in present-day terms.

    A B-29 Superfortress built in 1944, named Doc and one of two that are air worthy, sits on the tarmac at America's Airshow in Miramar, California.
    A B-29 Superfortress built in 1944, named Doc and one of two that are air worthy, sits on the tarmac at America’s Airshow in Miramar, California.

    Surpassing the expenses of the Manhattan Project by $1 billion, the design and production costs soared beyond expectations.

    WASHINGTON DC, USA - JUNE 21 2015: Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay at air museum
    WASHINGTON DC, USA – JUNE 21 2015: Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay at air museum

    As one of the most sizable aircraft of World War II, the B-29 was equipped with cutting-edge technology, such as a pressurized cabin, dual-wheeled tricycle landing gear, and an analog computer-controlled fire-control system.

    Boeing B29 superfortress at Fairchild musem, in Riverside
    Boeing B29 superfortress at Fairchild musem, in Riverside

    This system enabled one gunner and a fire-control officer to operate four remote machine gun turrets efficiently. Dubbed in reference to its forerunner, the B-17 Flying Fortress, the Superfortress was tailored for strategic bombing at high altitudes.

    The sun rises on a B-29 named Doc and workers preparing for the opening of America's Airshow in Miramar, California.
    The sun rises on a B-29 named Doc and workers preparing for the opening of America’s Airshow in Miramar, California.

    However, it also demonstrated proficiency in low-altitude night incendiary bombing and deploying naval mines to enforce a blockade against Japan.

    CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA - OCTOBER 10: Boeing B-29 Superfortress
    CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA – OCTOBER 10: Boeing B-29 Superfortress

    Production-wise, the B-29 became more cost-efficient as time progressed and mass production techniques improved. Initially, building the first 100 units required a hefty 157,000 man-hours.

    Oshkosh, WI - 28 July 2018:  A B-29 Superfortress bomber landing or taking off.
    Oshkosh, WI – 28 July 2018: A B-29 Superfortress bomber landing or taking off.

    In 1944, the man-hours required for constructing a B-29 had decreased to 30,000. Nevertheless, even with these efficiency enhancements, numerous bombers still necessitated thousands of man-hours for modifications post-completion.

    Oshkosh, WI - 28 July 2018:  A B-29 Superfortress bomber flying around, demostrating power from over 60 years ago.
    Oshkosh, WI – 28 July 2018: A B-29 Superfortress bomber flying around, demostrating power from over 60 years ago.

    While costs were lowered, the B-29 still demanded a steep price at an average of $930,000 per unit.

    Oshkosh, WI - 28 July 2018:  A B-29 Superfortress bomber flying around, demostrating power from over 60 years ago.
    Oshkosh, WI – 28 July 2018: A B-29 Superfortress bomber flying around, demostrating power from over 60 years ago.

    When comparing the Boeing B-17 and B-29 bombers, the B-29 exhibited a significantly greater payload capacity and efficiency.

    Oshkosh, WI - 28 July 2018:  A B-29 Superfortress bomber flying around, demostrating power from over 60 years ago.
    Oshkosh, WI – 28 July 2018: A B-29 Superfortress bomber flying around, demostrating power from over 60 years ago.

    The B-29 could carry an average of 10 tons of payload, while the B-17 and B-24 could only manage 2.5 tons each. In terms of monthly capacity, the B-29 could transport 130 tons, while the B-17 could only carry 25 tons.

    A B-29 Superfortress, named Doc and built in 1944, sits on the tarmac at the 2022 Miramar Airshow in San Diego, California.
    A B-29 Superfortress, named Doc and built in 1944, sits on the tarmac at the 2022 Miramar Airshow in San Diego, California.

    In a ton-for-ton analysis, the B-29 outperformed the B-17 with a 5 to 1 ratio in bomb load capacity and an impressive 10 to 1 ratio in ton-miles transported, even when factoring in the substantial distance variances between their respective missions.

    The engines of Doc, a B-29 Superfortrees built in 1944, that sits on the tarmac at the 2022 Miramar Airshow in San Diego, California.
    The engines of Doc, a B-29 Superfortrees built in 1944, that sits on the tarmac at the 2022 Miramar Airshow in San Diego, California.

    Despite its higher unit cost of $620,000 compared to the B-17’s $210,000, resulting in a cost ratio of 3 to 1 in favor of the B-17, the B-29’s superior payload capacity and efficiency justified its higher price tag.

    Doc, a B-29 Superfortress built in 1944, is a crowd favorite at the 2022 Miramar Airshow in San Diego, California.
    Doc, a B-29 Superfortress built in 1944, is a crowd favorite at the 2022 Miramar Airshow in San Diego, California.

    Operating the B-29 came with a steep price tag as well. In 1950, the cost of flying this behemoth for a single hour was a considerable $233.32, excluding crew and indirect costs. 

    Oshkosh, WI - 28 July 2018:  A B-29 Superfortress bomber flying away from smoke caused by a  bomb it dropped
    Oshkosh, WI – 28 July 2018: A B-29 Superfortress bomber flying away from smoke caused by a bomb it dropped

    Had the extra 5,092 B-29s that were in the pipeline at the war’s conclusion been finalized, the overall program expenses could have spanned from $5.4 billion to $7.2 billion, presuming that the unit costs stayed consistent.

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