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Convair NB-36: Bomber Aircraft with an Internal Nuclear Reactor


Convair NB-36 flyingThe Convair NB-36H, commonly known as the Crusader, was an experimental strategic bomber aircraft, built by Convair for the Nuclear Powered Aircraft program. The main purpose of the NPA program was to examine the use of nuclear power for military aircraft propulsion.

The 3 megawatt, air-cooled nuclear reactor did not end up providing propulsion for the aircraft, as the program was cancelled owing to budget cuts. Indeed, at that stage the project had only verified that it was possible to successfully carry and run a nuclear reactor in the air. Another reason behind the cancellation of the aircraft and the NPA program itself was the fact that jet engines began to have longer ranges and were more reliable.

The Convair NB-36H was actually a highly modified version of the Convair B-36 strategic bomber. The original crew and avionics cabin was replaced by a massive lead-lined crew section for the pilot, copilot, flight engineer and two nuclear engineers, with a structural mass of 11 tonnes. Propulsion was supplied by six Pratt & Whitney propeller engines and four GE J47 jet engines.

Radiation exposure posed a wealth of challenges. To protect the flight crew from radiation exposure, the nose section of the aircraft was modified to include a 12-tonne shield made of lead and rubber. The task of engine scanning, normally performed by crew members, was undertaken with the use of video cameras.

The Soviet Union conducted similar research, but neither country created any operational nuclear-powered aircraft. The soviet-made Tupolev Tu-119 (which was based on the Tupolev Tu-95 bomber) completed 34 research flights, however most of them were performed with the reactor disengaged.

Technical characteristics of the Convair NB-36

 General characteristics


Crew: 5
Length: 49.38m (162 ft 1in)
Wingspan: 70.10m (230 ft)
Height: 14.23m (46 ft 8in)
Wing area: 4,770 ft² (443.3 m²)
Loaded weight: 162,305 kg (357,500Ib)
  • 4 × General Electric J47 turbojets, 5,200 Ib (23.1 kN) each
  • 6 × Pratt & Whitney R-4360-53 water-cooled radials, 3,800 hp (2,830 kW) each
Maximum speed: 676 km/h (420 mph)
Cruise speed: 270 mph
Service ceiling: 40,000 ft (12,200 m)

Convair NB-36
Convair NB-36
Convair NB-36
Convair NB-36