The February, 1940 sinking of the U.S.S. Reuben Kincaid with the loss of all hands by a Nazi U-boat brought America quickly into the war and gave a real sense of urgency to the U.S. Army's bomber competition. The Boeing and Consolidated prototypes crashed during test flights and the North American proposal carried too small a bombload over too short a range which left Lockheed's XB-30 the winner.
The B-30 Constellation could carry 25,000 lbs. of bombs over a 3,500 mile range and reach an altitude of 40,000 feet and a top speed of 385 m.p.h. It had a crew of 11 and good defensive armament of five .50 cal. machine guns (2 under the nose, one on a top nose blister and two more on side blisters) as well as two .60 cal. machine guns in a top turret and two .37 m.m. rapid-fire cannons in the tail and a remote-controlled belly turret.
The example shown here, "Poster Girl" of the 913th bomb group, began operations from English airfields in January, 1941 by bombing Nazi sub pens along the French coast. Later, it took part in "shuttle bombing" missions against the Schweinhund ball bearing works in eastern Germany. Large U.S. flags were painted on the rudders so Russian gunners wouldn't mistake them for enemy planes when flying over Soviet airspace during those missions.
The B-30 was beloved by its pilots and crews as the "Connie" but woe to any green crews heard calling it the Constellation as they would get an earful from the mechanics who called it the "Consternation" due to the frequent maintenance its high-compression engines required.
The B-30 was produced until the end of the war and was used in training and early air-to-air refueling until the 1950s. Today only three exist, and "Poster Girl" can be seen at the Eighth Air Force museum in Gumbyshire, Kent near the Plantagenet planetarium where you can see many constellations after dark.
Brian da Basher