The cornerstone of the Air Force

by Dr. Marshall Michel
86th Airlift Wing historian

***image1***By the late 1920s, the bomber enthusiasts of America’s fledgling Army Air Corps dominated air power doctrine, but they lacked an aircraft that had the capability to exploit their beliefs.

Then, in the early 1930s, the Martin aircraft company developed and flew a new generation bomber, the XB-10. It was an all-metal monoplane with retractable landing gear, an internal bomb bay, and two fully cowled 600 horsepower engines.

 The XB-10 was a huge advance over the biplane bombers in service elsewhere in the world. The four crewmembers sat in open compartments and the first models had structural problems, which were not unexpected for such an advanced large airplane.

The next model, the YB-10, had strengthened wings, more powerful engines, completely enclosed cockpit and gun positions, as well as a fully rotating glass nose turret.

The B-10 was delivered for testing to the U.S. Army on March 20, 1933. It demonstrated a top speed of 197 mph, faster than any contemporary fighter. In one stroke it made all existing bombers obsolete.

The Army ordered 48 B-10s in 1933, and an additional 103 in 1935. No sooner had the B-10s come into squadron service, when they demonstrated their strategic strike capability. Lt. Col. “Hap” Arnold led three squadrons from Langley Air Force Base, Va., on a massed flight to Alaska and back. Air Corps maneuvers on the West Coast showed the B-10s were virtually invulnerable to interception by current American fighters. The new bombers soon equipped five groups, including one each in the Philippines and the Panama Canal Zone.

The B-10s were so successful that the Assistant Chief of the Air Corps, Brig. Gen. Oscar Westover, proposed that fighter aircraft be completely eliminated from the Air Corps inventory, since they were not fast enough to intercept the bombers. Colonel Arnold built on this argument, saying that even if fighters could catch the bombers, the firepower of tight bomber formations would destroy them.

Fortunately, these views were not adopted but the success of the
B-10 led to the continued development of more modern bombers like the B-17, as well as the strategic bombing ideas that allowed the Air Force to become a separate service after World War II.

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