The aircraft's immense size allowed flight engineers to enter the wing through a crawlway and make minor repairs in flight. A 5,000 mi (8,000 km) flight took 33 hours at its 152 mph (245 km/h) cruising speed; the crew was made up of several shifts, and bunks allowed them to sleep when off duty.
The specification that produced the XB-15 began in mid-1933 as "Project A", USAAC discussions regarding the possibility of flying a very large bomber with a range of 5,000 mi (8,000 km). In April 1934 the USAAC contracted with Boeing and Martin to design a bomber capable of carrying 2,000 lb (910 kg) at 200 mph (320 km/h) over a distance of 5,000 miles. Boeing gave the project the internal name of Model 294, while the USAAC called it the XB-15. Martin's design, the XB-16, was judged inferior by the USAAC before a prototype was built, and was canceled.
The Boeing design team, headed by Jack Kylstra, initially intended the aircraft to use 2,600 hp (1,900 kW) Allison V-3420 liquid-cooled W engines; since these were not ready, 850 hp (630 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830 air-cooled radial engines were used instead.
Starting in August 1934, Boeing began designing the Model 299 in answer to a proposal by the USAAC to replace the Martin B-10 bomber. The Model 299 design team incorporated elements of the Boeing 247 and the Model 294, especially its use of four engines. The Model 299 design team worked alongside Klystra's team, but difficulties in fabricating such a large aircraft slowed progress on the 294. The Model 299 flew first, on 28 July 1935.
In mid-1935, the USAAC combined Project A with Project D; a proposal asking for "the maximum feasible range into the future." The combined program was designated BLR for "Bomber, Long Range". The XB-15 was renamed the XBLR-1; it was joined under the BLR program by two other projects: one from Douglas Aircraft, the XBLR-2 which later became the XB-19; and one from Sikorsky Aircraft called the XBLR-3, later canceled. The next year, the XBLR was dropped and the Boeing prototype was once again the XB-15.