Douglas XB-19 Book Review



Douglas XB-19: An Illustrated History of America’s Would-Be Intercontinental Bomber

By William Wolf

Hardcover in dustjacket, 128 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Schiffer Military History February 2017

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0764352326

ISBN-13: 978-0764352324

Dimensions: 8.8 x 1 x 11 inches

At the time of its first flight on 27JUN41 the Douglas XB-19 was arguably the largest aircraft in the world, and would remain so until the Consolidated B-36 Peacemaker prototype flew in 1946.  In the intervening years a few other designs (the Martin JRM-3 Mars flying boat, Blohm & Voss BV 238 flying boat, and the Junkers Ju-390 transport) exceeded its gross weight of 164,000 pounds (74,390 kg), but none surpassed its 212 foot (64.4 meter) wingspan.  While it was designed to be the world’s first intercontinental bomber it was underpowered and obsolete by the time it was ready to take to the air.  It spent its life as flying laboratory testing equipment for future bomber designs.

Even today not a lot is known about the XB-19, even amongst aviation enthusiasts.  Only a single example was built, Douglas did not want to see it completed and the USAAC really didn’t know what to do with it once they had it.  While it had an impressive range and load carrying capacity its cruising speed of 120 mph (192 km/h) (maximum 205 mph (329 km/h) sustained) would have made it easy prey for defending fighters – as a consequence it was never seriously considered for combat.

Author William Wolf has done a great service in gathering surviving documentation to fill a gap in the aviation record and tell the story of the XB-19.  The background leading up to the design of the first intercontinental bomber is explored in depth, with previous USAAC bomber designs described so the reader can see the type’s evolution.  Parallel competing designs are also explored.  Construction at Douglas is covered in detail as is the aircraft’s public unveiling and first flight.  A considerable amount of raw information is presented with technical details from the Erection Manual, memoranda, and USAAC & Douglas press releases making up much of the narrative.

Throughout, the book is heavily illustrated with several photographs on each page.  While this is perfectly adequate in many cases, it also represents a missed opportunity as several of these photographs are quite strikingly detailed and would have been most impressive had they been reproduced in full- or half-page formats.  Larger photographs would also have been useful in the opening chapters where previous designs and competing configurations are discussed –  postage stamp sized photographs just don’t do the trick here.  There are five color full-page renderings showing the XB-19 and XB-19A in its evolving paint schemes and configurations, but only one page of color photographs and these are also too small to be of any real use.

This is likely the only book we’ll see on the XB-19 so it fills a gap in the overall narrative of aviation history and is therefor welcome.  The book is let down by its treatment of the photographic material, which could have easily been significantly improved.