07/19/2011

A Swiss 6-engine aircraft!

An engineer, Robert Widmer,whose parents had emigrated from Switzerland to the USA, created and designed the B36, a 6-engine bomber nicknamed "Peacemaker".


Robert Henry (Bob) Widmer, who died on June 20 this year, was the son of a Swiss couple who had emigrated to the USA early last century. He was born January 2, 1918, near the end of World War 1. According to his obituary in The Times newspaper, he began his schooling in Switzerland, followed by University in New York and then California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

His father, Robert Widmer, was an eminent chemist, but his own passion was always aeronautics: for his degree thesis he designed and built a racing biplane. On June 9, 1939, he was one of 9 students awarded a Bachelor of Science in aeronautics by Caltech.

After the start of World War 2 he was a prolific contributor to the design of military aircraft, most notably flying boats and bombers.He was also active in the creation of supersonic fighters, notably the F16 "Fighting Falcon".

One of the most interesting of his designs was the B36 "Peacemaker" strategic bomber, which had six radial-type piston engines. These engines drove enormous (19 feet diameter) 3-bladed propellers, mounted in a "pusher" fashion behind the wings, thus allowing cleaner airflow over the wings (but making engine cooling more difficult). An example of pusher aircraft is the Piaggio Avanti, frequently seen (and heard!) at Geneva airport, and which I described as "an aircraft which flies backwards".

The B36 was notable for many reasons. It was the largest mass-produced piston aircraft ever made, with the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft ever built. With its range of over 6,000 miles, it was the first bomber which, in its standard version, could deliver nuclear weapons to other continents.

Bob Widmer believed that military aircraft could be instruments of peace. Although many might disagree with his philosophy, there are people who think that his work helped to enable the Soviet-American Cold War balance (MAD: Mutual Assured Destruction), which has resulted in over 60 years without a genuinely major armed conflict.

I find it a curious coincidence that, as well as sharing the same nickname as myself when young, he is listed as having been a keen player of tennis and golf. As one who shares the same passions and activities, I have played both games here in Geneva with a friend who has the same family name.

The same family?

 

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