In the early Cold War years, the Convair B-36 was the symbol of American ability to deliver nuclear weapons anywhere in the world. Belief in its deterrent ability led to the Peacemaker name.
The design of the B-36 began in 1941 when the U.S. contemplated the possibility that Nazi Germany would control all of Europe and that the U.S. would only be able to strike Germany from home bases. The demand for range dictated the bomber’s immense size. In late 1941, the U.S. entry into World War II shifted priority to aircraft with more immediate application, so it wasn’t until 1946 that the first B-36 prototype flew.
The first B-36s were delivered to the U.S. Air Force in 1948. Jet engines were added to increase take-off weight and speed over target. There also was a reconnaissance version, the RB-36. Other roles included carrying it’s own fighter escort or reconnaissance aircraft to extend it’s range, and carrying an active atomic reactor.
The last B-36s were retired in 1959, replaced by Boeing B-52s.