Martin B-26 Marauder, No Visible Means of Support

Later versions had slightly larger wings for safer maneuvering.

By:       Norm Goyer

I always thought that the B-26 was way ahead of current designs when it was introduced in 1940. It was quite an airplane. It had very short wings, with a low aspect ratio, which meant the span was short and the chord was wide. Long wings have more drag than short wings but do have more lift. It was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 double-row Wasp engines. The propellers were Curtiss electric controlled four-bladed configuration; the B-26 was one of the first aircraft to use four blades. The Marauder was also the first aircraft to be equipped with a remotely controlled rear turret. The basic design was first conceived by the Glenn L. Martin Company in response to a military directive requiring a twin-engine aircraft capable of 350 mph with a range of 3,000 miles. To attain the speed requirement the wings were of the minimum size required to pick up the weight of the aircraft, fuel and the 2000 pound bomb load. The aircraft had a wing loading of an amazingly high 53 pounds per square foot. This was the highest of any aircraft ever chosen for military work.

The Martin B-26 was one of the first military aircraft to employ a four-bladed propeller.

The first prototype B-26, with Martin test pilot William K. “Ken” Ebel at the controls, flew on November 25, 1940. Deliveries to the U.S. Army Air Corps began in February 1941 with the second aircraft delivered in March 1941, the Army Air Corps started Accelerated Service Testing of the B-26 at Patterson Field, Ohio. The aircraft was involved in a large number of accidents almost immediately after the aircraft reached training bases. Because of the very high wing loading and small wings, the B-26 had a very high final approach speed of 120-135 mph, far greater than other twin-engine training craft.  A number of the earliest B-26s suffered hard landings and damage to the main landing gear, engine mounts, propellers and fuselage. The Marauder was grounded briefly in April 1941 to investigate the landing difficulties. Two causes were found: insufficient landing speed (producing a stall) and improper weight distribution. The latter was due to the lack of a dorsal turret; the Martin power turret was not ready yet. During the later years of production the wing area was increased slightly to improve the flying characteristics.

The crew consisted of pilot, copilot, navigator plus nose gunner.

The B-26 was not an aircraft for novices. Unfortunately, due to the need to quickly train many pilots for the war, a number of relatively inexperienced pilots got into the cockpit and the accident rate increased accordingly. This occurred at the same time as more experienced B-26 pilots of the 22nd, 38th and 42nd Bombardment Groups were proving the merits of the bomber. The B-26 received the nickname “Widowmaker”. Other colorful nicknames included “Martin Murderer”, “Flying Coffin”, “B-Dash-Crash”, “Flying Prostitute” (so-named because it had “no visible means of support,” referring to its small wings) and “Baltimore Whore” (a reference to the city where Martin was based).

The B-26 completed over 100,000 thousand bombing sorties.

Contrary to its reputation some reports indicate that the B-26 had the lowest combat loss rate of any U.S. aircraft used during the war. Nevertheless, it remained a challenging aircraft to fly and continued to be unpopular with some pilots throughout its military career. It served with honor and success throughout World War II and had flown more than 110,000 sorties and had dropped 150,000 tons of bombs. The Martin Marauder was used in combat by British, Free French and South African forces in addition to U.S. units. In 1945, when B-26 production was halted, 5,266 had been built.

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