2019 Fall Friends Journal Sampler

Page 1

A Day in the Life of a C-17 pilot

Final Deployment of 4025th SRS, Part 1


The magazine of the Air Force Museum Foundation

Snakes on a Plane






Fall 2019, Vol. 42 No. 4

mike’s musings



Col Susan E. Richardson, USAF (Ret)

Leonardo da Vinci once said “In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.” It was with great expectation then, that while recently in Europe, I visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy to experience the works from recognized masters such as Botticelli, Rembrandt, and da Vinci. In the Gallery, visitors were offered the opportunity to admire and experience the paintings, sculptures, etc. There was no time table or pressure from docents to move on. And yet, despite being in the presence of some of the most incredible works of art in the history of mankind, most visitors walked up, and immediately reached for that 20th century instrument to capture the moment; the camera in their cell phone. This struck me as the nature of modern tourism; unless visitors are challenged to connect they will constantly be on cell phone cameras documenting what is happening; connecting to and with everywhere else, rather than experiencing where they are. At the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force™ we have examples of some of the greatest technological works in the history of mankind. And thanks to your generosity, we have been able to introduce and will continue to pursue new and innovative ways for visitors to connect in the present. An example is the cutting-edge exhibit, D Day: Freedom from Above, that uses augmented reality to enable the visitor to immersively connect with the past, to appreciate the heroism and sacrifices, and to then keep the stories alive. So when at a museum or exhibition, I would encourage us all to put the camera away and soak it all in; for connection, in the moment, truly is the source of inspiration for that which will follow.

Mike Imhoff Air Force Museum Foundation Executive Director




Lt Gen C.D. Moore II, USAF (Ret) SECRETARY

CMSAF Gerald R. Murray, USAF (Ret) TREASURER

Brig Gen Paul R. Cooper, USAF (Ret) Col James F. Blackman, USAF (Ret) Mr. John G. Brauneis Dr. Thomas J. Burns, PhD Mr. Roger D. Duke Ms. Frances A. Duntz Ms. Anita Emoff Col Frederick D. Gregory Sr., USAF (Ret) Mr. Benjamin T. Guthrie Mr. James L. Jennings Mr. Ki Ho Kang Dr. Thomas J. Lasley II Maj Gen Brian C. Newby, USAF (Ret) Gen Gary L. North, USAF (Ret) Mr. Edgar M. Purvis Jr. Maj Gen Frederick F. Roggero, USAF (Ret) Mr. Philip L. Soucy Mr. Robert J. Suttman II, CFA Dr. Andrea Townsend Mr. Randy Tymofichuk

EMERITUS BOARD MEMBERS Col Mark N. Brown, USAF (Ret) Mr. James F. Dicke II Mr. Charles J. Faruki Col William S. Harrell, USAF (Ret) Maj Gen E. Ann Harrell, USAF (Ret) Mr. Jon G. Hazelton Mr. Charles F. Kettering III Mr. Patrick L. McGohan Lt Gen Richard V. Reynolds, USAF (Ret) Gen Charles T. Robertson, USAF (Ret) Mr. R. Daniel Sadlier Col James B. Schepley, USAF (Ret) Mr. Scott J. Seymour Mr. Harry W. (Wes) Stowers Jr.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in the Friends Journal articles and Feedback letters are solely those of the authors in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc., the United States Air Force or any other entity or agency of the U.S. Government.



When the Air Force Museum Foundation was chartered in 1960, the decision on a logo to visually represent the Foundation was simple — take the graphic from the Museum’s shield and put the words “Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc.” around it.


Honoring the past, embracing the future FOUNDATION, INC.

This logo served until 2012 when the Foundation created a special mark for use with the fundraising campaign for the planned fourth building. While that mark was designed to be temporary, it has been used as the de facto Foundation logo ever since. In December of 2017, in conjunction with updating our Mission and Vision statements, the Foundation conducted a survey to get feedback on the Foundation logo. Based on this research, we are proud to present the new Air Force Museum Foundation logo. The new logo is bold, engaging and unique, while also conveying heritage, pride and strength. The domed shape demonstrates the Foundation’s connection to the Museum’s buildings which have been almost entirely funded through your support. The use of the National Star Insignia adopted in 1947 honors the legacy we exist to protect. And the stylized aerospace vehicle conveys motion and that our mission is never complete. While you may have seen a few select uses of the new logo, you will soon start seeing it more prominently. The Friends Journal has also undergone a refreshing redesign. The new Journal is simple, clean, and modern. The design and colors used work hand-in-hand to make it more appealing and easier to read. And you will notice new efforts to bring you closer to the Museum through its pages. The new logo and new-look Friends Journal are designed to unify the Foundation’s look, simplify our message, and focus on what is important to all of us — the connection between you, the Foundation, and the Museum.

editor’s notes


Michael Imhoff



Melinda Lawrence


Mary Bruggeman


In the last issue of the Friends Journal we brought you the first of what will be regular reports on the work of the Restoration Division at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force™. The story of the restoration of the Avro 504 concludes in this issue, as the aircraft is prepared for return to the Early Years gallery. In the next issue we will begin another story of historically-accurate restoration by the dedicated staff of the Museum’s Restoration Division. Another duty of the Museum is the collection of artifacts that represent the history, heritage, and traditions of the Air Force. In this issue we are pleased to bring you the first of what will be regular updates from the Collection Division. They are excited to show you artifacts from the Museum’s collection that are related to the stories you will read in the Journal. We are working with them to highlight artifacts that aren’t available for the general public to view — you, as Friends of the Museum, will be getting special information on these artifacts. In this issue we have several items related directly to individual stories, and they are displayed along with the story. We will continue this practice with artifacts that are directly related to a story. In the future we may also give the Collection Division their own page if they have artifacts that aren’t directly related to a story but are relevant to the theme of the issue, a featured aircraft, or historical event. We hope you will enjoy this and future inside looks at some of the 135,000 items in the Museum’s collection, most of which have never been on display before. Thank you for reading the Friends Journal. We are working to bring you even more inside information, both current and pending, so you feel a closer connection with the Museum you love and support.

Christopher Adkins-Lamb


Chuck Edmonson


Gary Beisner


Sarah Shatzkin


Crystal Van Hoose



Krista Strider



Cheryl Prichard


John King, Art Powell, Robert Pinizzotto

If your Friends Journal is damaged during delivery, if you have a question about delivery, or if you have a change of address or other information, please contact the MEMBERSHIP OFFICE:

1.877.258.3910 (toll free) or 937.656.9615

Alan Armitage aarmitage@afmuseum.com | 937.656.9622

P.S. If you or someone you know has a story of service in the USAF and are willing to share it with the Friends of the Museum, please send it in to be considered for publication in the Friends Journal.


The Friends Journal is published quarterly by the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc., a Section 501(c)(3) private, non-profit organization dedicated to the expansion and improvement of the National Museum of the U.S. Air ForceTM and to the preservation of the history of the United States Air Force. The Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc. is not part of the Department of Defense or any of its components and it has no government status. Printed in the USA. USPS Standard A rate postage paid at Dayton, OH. Subscription to the Friends Journal is included in the annual membership of the Friends of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

what’s inside 16 IN EVERY ISSUE




Introducing Collection Connection





The North American Rockwell OV-10A Bronco

“I spent all the time I could in the air either controlling airstrikes or fighting.”

“There are formal interphone procedures and then there are those that work.”

10 |

38 |

31 | RESTORATION REPORT Avro 504K Restoration Update

52 | UPCOMING EVENTS AT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE USAF Plane Talks, Micro Drone Race, and Introduction to Becoming a Pilot Program

54 | REUNION ROUNDUP Reunions Around the Country

55 | SIT REP Envisioning the Museum’s Future



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“I was silently cursing the god of grapes who had allowed me to over-imbibe the night before.”

14 |

40 |

FINAL LANDING OF 344TH BOMB SQUADRON B-47 “The crew jettisoned the canopy, climbed out of the cockpit, and ran down the wing to the ground.”

16 |

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A C-17 PILOT “We haven’t seen a plane that big in here since we cut down that big ol’ oak tree on final.” ONE TURNS INTO SEVEN

“He found cracks on eight of our aircraft, and suggested we ground them. I agreed.”



“The bomber suddenly sprouted flames, then exploded, with the wings coming off.”

20 |

On the Cover: Boeing B-47B rocket-assisted take off. Black smoke from engines indicates water-methanol injection is in use. USAF photo. April 15, 1954

36 |

32 |

FINAL DEPLOYMENT OF 4025TH SRS, PART 1 “A short time later, they were told that 29 was losing altitude; then radio contact was lost.”


“The reptiles all survived the flight back to Edwards and we were happy to be rid of that dangerous cargo.”

41 |


“The next thing I remember was that I was on fire and had to get out of the plane.”

45 |


“The pay isn’t all that great, but the rewards are absolutely tremendous.”

48 |


“This was the ’Cold War’ we were in and I think it was between Lincoln’s winters and the USAF.”



friends feedback



“I enjoyed the story of Jackie Cochran in the Summer 2019 issue of Friends Journal. However, I must point out that on Page 20 WAAC is incorrectly identified as ‘Women’s Army Air Corps.’ WAAC stood (stands) for Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. I am certain; my mother was a member. I hope that I am not the only person to notice this and that you have been deluged with corrections.”

“I flew 74 bombing missions into South Vietnam during 1968, as a B-52 navigator assigned to the 77th Bomb Squadron, 28th Bomb Wing out of Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, TDY to SEA. I still have a hand-written record of every mission that I flew, including the tail number of each aircraft.

Thank you for catching that Paul. You are correct that WAAC stands for Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. We apologize for the error.

A reader pointed out the photo of Claude Reeson on page 16 of the Summer Friends Journal was taken at the Biloxi lighthouse in Mississippi and the caption should probably be “while at Keesler AFB, Mississippi” not “while at Perrin AFB, Texas.” This is correct.

TALK TO US Send your comments to P.O. Box 1903, WPAFB, OH 45433 or email aarmitage@afmuseum.com. For comments or questions directed at the Foundation that don’t pertain to the magazine, please visit the ‘Contact Us’ page at afmuseum.com. facebook.com/ Air.Force.Museum.Foundation @AFMFoundation #airforcemuseumfoundation @airforcemuseumfoundation #airforcemuseumfoundation


”I was admiring the restored B-52D, #665, pictured in the Spring 2017 Friends Journal. Just out of curiosity I reviewed my own records and noticed that I flew a mission on that very airplane on May 6-7, 1968. ”It was mission #52 for me personally. It lasted 11 hours and 20 minutes, we carried a bomb load of 47,200 pounds, and we picked up 91,000 pounds of fuel from a KC-135 north of the Philippines. (Since we had bombs on board, we were not allowed to overfly the Philippines on the way over, but it was acceptable to overfly the islands on the way back to Guam). ”I am sure there are countless other aircrew members who flew on B-52D #665. I salute all of them and I am pleased to see that #665 survived through it all.”

RETIRED AIR FORCE COL PAUL STAGG OF MARYLAND COMMENTED: “I was excited to read in the Summer 2019 issue, the articles about the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. From September 1962 until June 1963, I was one of 600 students in the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama. All students were cleared for classified information up to and including “Top Secret.” All 600 students met in a large auditorium every morning for a lecture by one of the national leaders. In the afternoon, we met in 42 seminar groups of about 14 students each, and a faculty member. ”On Monday, October 15, we were told about the discovery of missiles on Cuba, seen in photos by a U-2 reconnaissance plane. Each school day thereafter, we were told about military actions, including the concentration of units in Florida, and the political developments. We learned about the missile sites and types of Russian missiles, and about the conferences and negotiations among U.S. leaders in Washington. Our threat status rose to DEFCON 2 (level 1 being at war). On October 27, we were told that Russian leader Khrushchev had agreed to remove the missiles, and of course, everyone was relieved. ”We students were fortunate to be able to observe these events in detail, and in such a timely fashion.”


No FAC in a

Lawn Chair In early 1969 I completed my in-country training in the OV-10 Bronco and was assigned as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) to the 1st Air Cavalry Division. I was further assigned as the Air Liaison Officer (ALO) and FAC to the 1/9th Air Cavalry Squadron. When I reported I spent some time flying the O-2 Skymaster because the OV-10s hadn’t been assigned to the Division. This turned out to be a good thing since I would be flying over the entire air cav area of operations supporting all three brigades and OV-10s weren’t fully phased in yet. A few days later the OV-10s started arriving and we had another orientation ride and were sent to our organizations. For me that was Phuoc Vinh which was the Division/Squadron/C Troop headquarters.

The Division ALO took me to meet Lieutenant Colonel Peterson, the squadron commanding officer (CO), and the executive officer (exec), Fred Olson. When I was finally ready to work, Fred became a mentor to me and advised me to fly in the helicopters with the squadron as well as the OV-10. Peterson took me around in his UH-1 Iroquois (nicknamed Huey) and introduced me to the brigade commanders and the troop commanders and we stopped at a new firebase on the Song Be River. They had just

been inserted the day before, dug some holes, strung some wire hung with rock-filled cans and then been attacked by the Viet Cong (VC) their first night. The rock-filled cans did their job and warned them in time to mount a defense and there were six dead VC found tangled in the wire. They had been armed with satchel charges made of the burlap that was used to hold the rice they had for rations. That convinced me that we were fighting a determined enemy ready to sacrifice his life to try to attack us with even primitive weapons. During the tour I decided that I would spend my time flying with each troop and I would do that by flying an OV-10 available for the brigade FACs to use while I also flew the helicopters. I would also ☛

collection connection LT COL RAY JANES’S PARTY SUIT Lt Col Ray Janes, USAF (Ret) donated this party suit in 1999. After six months in South Vietnam with the 1/9th Air Cavalry Squadron, Col Janes spent six more with the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron at Nakom Phanom Royal Thai AFB. He was then assigned to the 71st Fighter Interceptor Squadron upon his return. All three units are represented with patches on the party suit, along with a Laotian flag to commemorate time spent flying close air support for the Royal Laotian Army, and his Command Pilot wings. FRIENDS JOURNAL ❙

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fly any scheduled OV-10 missions. I wound up often flying helicopters in the morning and the OV-10 in the afternoon and reversing it the next day. When I was at Quan Loi and Tay Ninh I would fly the helicopters a couple of days and then take the OV-10 back to Phuoc Vinh. My first experience was with B Troop at Quan Loi. I first flew in the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter with Troy Colley and learned how to handle the maps, the radios, fire the turret and use the minimum controls in the front seat. I also learned they operated as a “Pink Team” with the AH-1 covering an OH- 6 LOH (Light Obser vation Helicopter) scout helicopter, called a Loach, operating at tree top level looking for the enemy. When they found a target whatever forces were needed were provided to attack. I must have done okay because he offered to let me fly as aircraft commander in the back seat and fire the rocket armament. I looked at the minimum controls and declined because I knew I wasn’t qualified to handle an emergency. The next day I flew two OH-6 scout missions. The morning one was with 1st Lieutenant Cavalier White, the scout Platoon CO, and I was really impressed with his flying skill and more impressed with his and the M-60 (machine gun) armed crew chief’s ability to track the enemy along the trails we followed. It was my job to cover the area opposite from the direc tion they were working with my CAR-15 because they flew in a crabbed (sideways) direction. That afternoon I flew with a young warrant officer in command and was also very impressed with his and his crew chief’s abilities to do the same thing. He couldn’t have been more than 21 years old with the crew chief perhaps even younger. When I returned to Phuoc Vinh I decided to spend a day in the Squadron Tac tical Operations Center (TOC) to see how things were coordinated. The NonCommissioned Officer in Charge 8

An OV-10A Bronco firing a smoke rocket in the area north of Saigon in February 1969 to show where an F-100 Super Sabre should drop its bombs.

U.S. Air Force photo

introduced himself, told me that he was glad to meet me and pointed to an old lawn chair that he said was reserved for the squadron FAC. There had been an O-1 Bird Dog FAC that sat there every day and when a call came in he would run outside and jump in his 0-1 and do his job. When he didn’t have an aircraft the squadron would provide him with a UH-1. I don’t know if he flew it or just rode in it but it seemed to work pretty well. My radio operator, Charlie Daniel, was glad to have me there too. I wouldn’t have an aircraft assigned for my use so I wouldn’t be able to operate that way. I would only be able to fly when I was assigned a mission and would check in with them any time I was in the air to provide suppor t or make sure another FAC did if I was busy with my own action. As I sat there pondering how I would operate for the rest of my tour and listening to the chatter on the radio from the various troops suddenly the volume on one channel was turned up so ever yone could listen. The Loach was investigating a stone plantation house when suddenly there was withering fire from every window and the OH-6 went down just a few yards from

the front of the house. The gunship immediately attacked and called for help and another Pink Team came. The two gunships circled and the second Loach tried to determine if the crew of the downed bird was still alive. He had just radioed that he saw movement of the downed crew and smoke was beginning to float upward when the fire opened up again and the second OH-6 was hit. That helo managed to get out of the area and unfortunately both gunships started to follow him to a safe area to set down to wait for rescue. When they turned away a VC ran out of the house with a pistol in his hand and shot both crewmen on the Loach in the head. One gunship turned back and killed the VC with the turret before he got back to the house. We’ll never know whether he executed them or was just trying to prevent them from burning to death, but it didn’t make any difference because they were all dead. The smoke eventually stopped. About that time Rash 31, Art Mahon, checked in with some fighters he had been controlling and after a shor t briefing began putting bombs on the house. After two

more air strikes had expended their ordinance Art declared the firing had ceased and he recommended no more air strikes. The B Troop Commander, Troy Colley, came on the radio and said, “Rash 31 I am the on-scene commander and those are my men down there. I say there is still fire coming from the house and they are probably hiding in the basement while your bombs are falling. I don’t want one stone left on top of another at that house so get as many airstrikes as you can to finish the mission.” Rash 31 immediately requested further air strikes and the house was leveled. Troy agreed the house was destroyed and told Art to bomb the helicopter. In a shocked voice Art refused and Troy said, “It will be dark before we can get anybody out here and there is classified equipment on board and since

both crewmen are dead it needs to be destroyed.” Saber 6 came on the radio and agreed that the helo should be destroyed so Art ordered the fighters to hit the helicopter. They protested but eventually squarely hit the helicopter with the last bomb which blew it up with both bodies inside. The second Loach crew was rescued and the helicopter was later slung out to be repaired and fight again. I was shocked to learn that the dead crew was the young warrant officer, and his crew chief I had just flown with a few days before plus an observer who was a crew chief in training. That action convinced me that I didn’t need to sit in a lawn chair in the TOC and listen to crewmen being killed. I spent all the time I could in the air either controlling airstrikes or fighting from a 1/9th helicopter.

Lt Col (Ret) Ray H. Janes Jr. served 22 years in the USAF, mostly flying interceptor aircraft such as the F-86D, F-102, and F-106. After retiring he worked as a school teacher in the Fort Worth Independent School District for 16 years before finally retiring in 1992. He has since spent time volunteering as a driving instructor for AARP and as a volunteer at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum. He has also written books such as Vietnam Diary which provided this story, a history of the 317th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in Alaska, and the 94th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Selfridge AFB, Michigan.

A U.S. Navy Rockwell OV-10A Bronco of light attack squadron VAL-4 Black Ponies attacking a target with a 12.7 cm (5 in) “Zuni” rocket in the Mekong Delta, South Vietnam, ca. 1969/70.

U.S. Navy photo


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Boeing’s B-47


The Boeing B-47 Stratojet was approaching Pinecastle Air Force Base, Florida, at high speed and passing over nearby College Park. Witnesses reported that the bomber suddenly sprouted flames, then exploded, with the wings coming off and the landing gear and jet engines slamming down near a well-traveled road. Killed in this spectacular accident was Col Michael McCoy, commander of the 321st Bomb Wing, based at Pinecastle. The date was October 9, 1957, and Colonel McCoy was flying as part of a practice demonstration being held at his base, during the annual Strategic Air Command (SAC) Bombing, Navigation and Reconnaissance Competition. With a reputation as a knowledgeable and competent pilot and upfront leader, he was flying a DB-47B, with copilot, Lt Col Charles Joyce. Joyce too was highly experienced in bombers. Also aboard was Maj Vernon Stuff, chief of the Wing’s bombing division, along with Grp Capt John Woodroffe, a highly decorated Royal Air Force commander who was along to obser ve the procedure. At the time it had become vogue to blame the pilot for any and all crashes and, true to form, the Accident Board subsequently found Colonel McCoy personally responsible for the crash. A local newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel, reported that speculation in the area at the time was that McCoy had been “hot-dogging the aircraft as if it was a fighter.” 10

The Stratojet’s subsequent history revealed that McCoy and his crew, like numerous others, were victims of structural fatigue of critical fuselage and wing components. This was verified just five months later when an almost identical mishap occurred during a routine training flight. This time the accident occurred at high altitude and, while the student copilot was killed, the student pilot and instructor survived. BACKGROUND The B-47 had been designed as part of an effort to offset the Soviets’ superior ground forces threatening Europe during the 1950s and early 1960s. It was a major part of both our strategic reconnaissance and nuclear strike force. It had been specifically designed as a high altitude, high speed bomber, to either photograph or destroy the Soviets’ major infrastructure — factories, rail yards and airbases. The need for speed became obvious during the opening months of the Korean War when the sweptwing Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 jet interceptors quickly proved the currently in ser vice

s tr aight-winged, jet powered North American B-45 Tornados were inadequate for the mission. Fortunately, Boeing, assisted by World War II German wind tunnel studies, was already developing the much faster Stratojet. Equipped with an oval fuselage, topped by a fighter-type bubble canopy covering the pilot and copilot, and thin 35-degree swept wings carrying six podded General Electric J-47 turbojet engines, the first two prototypes began flying in late December 1947. Production versions had a top speed of 607 mph (525 knots) at 38,000 feet, and a cruise speed of 557 mph (480 knots). Even the Soviets’ MiG-15 interceptors had trouble matching its speed. For some time it was the fastest bomber in the world. In the February 2013 issue of Air Force Magazine, author/historian Walter J. Boyne wrote, “the B-47 was especially feared by our enemies because it gave the United States an unstoppable nuclear strike force.” Still, the Soviets’ improving air defense capabilities, in particular surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles, combined with more capable MiG17, MiG-19, and MiG-21 fighters, necessitated drastic changes in the bombers’ high-altitude tactics. Meanwhile, nuclear weapons had become aerodynamically sleek, smaller and relatively lightweight. This allowed Republic F-84 Thunderjets, assigned at the time to Strategic Air Command (SAC), along with the McDonnell F-101 Voodoos and North American F-100 Super Sabres in Europe and Asia, to carry them. To avoid enemy radar the fighters cruised to the target at low altitude. Their principal delivery method was a low altitude, high speed dash to the target, and at a preselected point, a pull into a half loop. Nearing the top of the loop the weapon was released and literally tossed toward the target, and the bomber rolled out of the loop and dove away.

trategic Air Command B-47 Stratojet bombers. The world’s first swept-wing bomber. The S B-47 normally carried a crew of three — pilot, copilot (who operated the tail turret by remote control), and an observer who also served as navigator, bombardier and radar operator.

U.S. Air Force photo

Inevitably, the Soviets’ evolving air defense technology forced SAC to reprogram B-47 tactics from high altitude to low level navigation and weapons delivery methods. Thus, in the early 1950s Stratojets began training in low altitude navigation to avoid Soviet radar, and the “toss bomb” technique for nuclear weapons delivery. Testing of this new procedure actually began in 1952, when SAC and Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) began working on Project Back Breaker. The result was a Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) designed for the B-47, using both 6,000 lb and 8,850 lb dummy nuclear bombs. The deliver y technique required the aircraft to run towards the target at high speed, and at a designated point, pull up sharply into a half loop with a 2.5-G pull – close to the airplane’s 3-G structural limitation. At the proper time the LABS released the FRIENDS JOURNAL ❙

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bomb, tossing it towards the target. The crew of the delivery aircraft was then to roll out and dive back in the direction they had come in order to recover their airspeed and (hopefully) escape the nuclear blast. The system seemed to work well, and in December 1955 three SAC wings began training in the low level LABS program — code named “Hairclipper.” And the accidents began. Boyne wrote, “Over its lifetime 203 aircraf t (about 10 percent) [of the B-47 fleet] were lost in crashes, with 464 deaths.” The accidents peaked in 1957 and 1958, with 49 of the bombers lost, resulting in 122 deaths. In March and April 1958, “Six aircraft broke apar t while flying low-altitude missions.” THE CAUSE The accident that ultimately vindicated Colonel McCoy occurred on March 13, 1958, just five months

after his fatal mishap. The TB-47, tail number 50-013, took off in good weather from McConnell AFB, Kansas, at 1:02 PM on routine training mission number seven. The mission called for two hours and thirty minutes in the training area, followed by a return to McConnell. Seated in the front cockpit was pilot trainee Capt John H. Gillick, with instructor pilot Capt Albert J. Soen in the aft seat. Riding below in the observer’s seat was copilot trainee Capt William T. Booy. The flight departed on an easterly heading and arrived over Tulsa Radio Beacon, whereupon they received clearance for their scheduled time in the training area. Capt Gillick’s first training event involved unusual at titude recoveries, beginning with a climbing left turn. This was followed by a thirty degree right wing low descent at 300 mph, with a rolling pullout recovery at less than 357 mph. ☛ 11

collection connection COL MICHAEL MCCOY’S FLYING HELMET This P-1B flying helmet was worn by Col Michael McCoy while he was commander of the 321st Bomb Wing at Pinecastle AFB, from 1954 until his death in 1957. In 1950, as the unofficial “dean” of Strategic Air Command’s Stratojet commanders, McCoy took delivery of the first combat ready B-47 off the assembly line, and later flew the first increments of B-47s to MacDill AFB as commander of the 306th Bomb Wing. The helmet was donated by his widow, Rose McCoy, in 1969. https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Collections/Donate-an-Item/

As Gillick rolled upright and leveled from the wing low descent all three pilots heard a crack or thump - but ignored it. Captain Gillick then made two steep turns; the first to the right was uneventful, but the instructor felt his roll rate was excessive. The second steep turn was to the left at 288 mph and at 23,000 feet altitude. The USAF accident report shows that shortly after establishing a 45 degree left bank and applying about 1.5 Gs to maintain altitude the pilots heard a “rumble, thump, muffled explosion or a crack, [and] the airplane shuddered violently.” Simultaneously the control columns snapped for ward and Gillick immediately noted flames below and beyond his left foot; whereupon he, “reached for the alarm bell switch and began his ejection sequence. As the canopy depar ted the aircraf t, flames engulfed the entire cockpit area.” Gillick quickly and successfully ejected. “With the aircraft tumbling through the air in uncontrolled gyrations, the instruc tor pilot 12

simply unbuckled his seat belt and dropped free.” Captain Booy had been instantly engulfed in the fierce, blow torch-like fire and did not survive; nor had his ejection seat been fired. Investigators found the accident was due to an explosion in the bomb bay area, with fire both inside and outside the cockpit. This resulted in failure of the lower fuselage longerons, with separation of the aft fuselage and tail. (This had caused the pilots’ control columns to snap forward and the aircraft to pitch down.) In addition, pre-existing fatigue cracks in the left wing structure led to failure of the left wing. FINALE Ultimately, the low altitude bomb deliver y procedure was found to have imposed stresses on major components of the aircraft structure that caused the Stratojets to suffer unsustainable losses. Left unreported was the avalanche of SAC pilots and navigators who

resigned because of the fatal accidents. Fortunately, as Marshall Michel wrote in a 2003 Air & Space Magazine ar ticle, new nuclear weapons were developed “that did not need to be tossed, and LABS training was terminated for the bombers.” Meanwhile, SAC F- 84 fighterbombers with a nuclear mission were transferred to Tactical Air Command (TAC). They were soon replaced by the faster F-100 Super Sabre. And for several years the F-100 was the principal tactical nuclear bomber. Ultimately, with the Soviets fielding their surface-to-air (SAM) missiles and Mach-2 c apable MiG -21 fighters, armed with heat-seeking air-to-air missiles, it became obvious the B-47s couldn’t survive. The USAF countered this with Convair’s Mach 2 capable B-58 Hustler that could carry five nuclear weapons. And Boeing produced the more capable B-52 Stratofortress with modern electronics and new long range stand-off weapons, which resolved much of this problem. In any case, it was obvious to the aircrews of both the bombers and fighters that their nuclear missions were one-way trips. And if a nuclear war had started, most of Europe, Russia and portions of the United States would have been radioactive for the next half century.

Author John Lowery was a tactical fighter pilot throughout his Air Force career. With combat tours in both the Korean and Southeast Asia wars, he retired as a lieutenant colonel from the USAF in 1975. He began writing aviation-related articles in 1968 as the editor of TAC Attack, the safety magazine of the Tactical Air Command, and has continued writing throughout his civil aviation career.