Prototype of Boeing's first jet bomber, the XB-47, makes its maiden flight on December 17, 1947.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 9/14/2001
  • Essay 3564

On December 17, 1947, the XB-47 prototype of the revolutionary B-47 Stratojet family of jet bombers takes off from Boeing Field on its maiden flight with test pilot Bob Robbins at the controls. The B-47 defines a new paradigm for strategic bombers with six jet engines slung in pods below backward swept wings, a top speed of almost 600 m.p.h., a range of 4,000 miles, “JATO” rocket-assisted takeoff, and the ability to deliver nuclear weapons, among numerous other innovations. The Air Force ultimately ordered more than 2,000 B-47s between 1947 and 1956.

Design of the B-47 began in 1943, amid World War II, as the first practical jet engines were being perfected. Postwar development of the jet bomber was aided by insights gleaned from captured German jet aircraft research data, particularly experiments with swept wings which permit higher and ultimately supersonic speeds.


Peter M. Bowers, Boeing Aircraft Since 1916 (London: Putnam, 1989); Boeing Historical Archives, Year by Year: 75 Years of Boeing History (Seattle: Boeing, 1991); Harold Mansfield, Vision: The Story of Boeing (New York, Popular Press, 1966); Robert Redding and Bill Yene, Boeing: Planemaker to the World (San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 1997); Robert Serling, Legend & Legacy: The Story of Boeing and Its People (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992); Boeing historical chronology, (

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