2018 Winter Friends Journal Sampler

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Winter 2017/2018

Vol. 40 No.4

The Magazine of the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc. • www.airforcemuseum.com

Featured Articles 14 Flying with the Hurricane Hunters 32 Life at Kunming 38 The View From the Back Seat

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From the Executive Director Every Airman has a story. Every Airman. It is no wonder then that the Vision of the Air Force Museum Foundation is to “Honor every Airman’s story with a permanent home to inspire future generations.” Here is one Airman’s story I thought I would share. Every Wednesday morning a Volunteer and I share a ride to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. I pull into this Airman’s driveway to pick him up at 7:15 a.m. and we begin our trek to the Museum. As we turn off of Harshman Avenue heading east onto Springfield Street, there is the Museum waiting for us…most often shining in the morning sun. It’s at this point in our journey that my rider says what I wait all week to hear: “I look forward to this all week, and I am so glad to be back.” Initially I thought it was as if he were greeting an old friend. Not surprising as they have history; he has been a Volunteer at the Museum for 17+ years. And yet, he uses words associated with time…forward and back. They are also metaphors that describe the Museum and its mission; looking back to honor an Airman’s story and looking forward to educate and inspire future generations. The past and present influencing the future. The millions of stories in the Museum speak to honor, sacrifice, and commitment. I hear them being shared over and over again when I walk through the Museum. One on one or in groups, the experience is the same — the sharing of a story, with the receiver accepting the implied obligation to pass it along…to keep it alive. Normally, as we move on, the ability to tell our story our way becomes someone else telling our story in their words. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. We, as a Foundation, are blessed with a planned giving program which allows all of us to leave behind the resources so that our stories may be shared our way. My thanks to all of you who are already part of our Legacy Society. For those of you who are not, I would invite you to consider it (see page 31 or visit afmuseumlegacy.org).

THE AIR FORCE MUSEUM FOUNDATION, INC. BOARD OF TRUSTEES Mr. Philip L. Soucy - Chairman Col Susan E. Richardson, USAF (Ret) - President Dr. Pamela A. Drew - Vice President Lt Gen C.D. Moore II, USAF (Ret) - Secretary Mr. Robert J. Suttman II, CFA - Treasurer Mr. John G. Brauneis Col Mark N. Brown, USAF (Ret) Dr. Thomas J. Burns, PhD Brig Gen Paul R. Cooper, USAF (Ret) Mr. Timothy O. Cornell, CIMA Mr. Roger D. Duke Ms. Frances A. Duntz Ms. Anita Emoff Mr. David C. Evans Col Frederick D. Gregory Sr., USAF (Ret) Mr. Benjamin T. Guthrie Maj Gen E. Ann Harrell, USAF (Ret) Brig Gen Allison Hickey, USAF (Ret) Mr. James L. Jennings Dr. Thomas J. Lasley II CMSAF Gerald R. Murray, USAF (Ret) Gen Gary L. North, USAF (Ret) Gen Charles T. Robertson Jr., USAF (Ret) Maj Gen Frederick F. Roggero, USAF (Ret) Maj Gen Darryl A. Scott, USAF (Ret) Mr. Scott J. Seymour Mr. Erik D. Smith Mr. Harry W. (Wes) Stowers Jr.

EMERITUS BOARD MEMBERS Maj Gen Charles S. Cooper III, USAF (Ret) Mr. James F. Dicke II Mr. Charles J. Faruki Col William S. Harrell, USAF (Ret) Mr. Jon G. Hazelton Mr. Charles F. Kettering III Mr. Patrick L. McGohan Lt Gen Richard V. Reynolds, USAF (Ret) Mr. R. Daniel Sadlier Col James B. Schepley, USAF (Ret)

At 5 p.m. every Wednesday, my rider and I meet in the Museum atrium to head home. When I drop him off, I hear the words I am grateful to hear each week; “Thanks again for the ride, Mike. I will see you next week.” For those eight hours or so, he is at the Museum telling his story and the stories of those of countless other Airmen who are no longer able. We are blessed that he is part of our Foundation family and has a home to tell these stories, inspiring future generations one day at a time.

Michael Imhoff


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Contents F E AT U R E S




Video Operating Mechanic on a B-36

Blue Canoe Night Flight

By today’s standards the system would be considered huge as it filled the nose section of the B-36.

The next thing I knew I was slammed hard against the left side of the cockpit.


Building Douglas C-54s in 1942 Then, one day we heard an unfamiliar exhaust sound, a deep throaty rumble.

38 11

Life in Kunming

Packaging Aircraft for Overseas Shipment

We heard the familiar ka-chunk, ka-chunk of exploding bombs at the west end of the field.

By the time the ship got out of the hurricane,the bag was in shreds.

43 14

Target Borneo

The View from the Back Seat

He laughed and pointed his finger just west and said, “It’s out that way someplace.”

Expediency and over-confidence are killers in waiting.

45 21

Short Runway

Shall we Dance?

That big, beautiful bird, loaded to near maximum weight, actually jumped in the air.

When the party ended, the tired cadets staggered onto the bus. 32

Flying with the Hurricane Hunters


Suichwan: 90 Days from Build-up to Blow-up

If our good radar couldn’t find land because of the weather, then the Cuban radars couldn’t find us either.

Tokyo Rose predicted the early fall of Suichwan and the other guerrilla fields.





Upcoming Exhibits & Education

Artifact Spotlight


Classic Aircraft of the NMUSAF

Editor’s Notes

Convair B-36J Peacemaker

The Rocket Fuel Handlers Exhibit, Education Highlights, and Family Days



Friends Feedback

Upcoming Events Memphis Belle™ In their own words — the boys of Memphis Belle

Norden Bombsight



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hile this is only the second complete issue since I took over as Editor, I have been very happy with the response to the Friends Journal. I have received letters, phone calls and e-mails from many of you expressing your appreciation for the content we have published. Creative Manager Cheryl Prichard and I take great pride in doing the best job possible in selecting and illustrating the stories we present in these pages. It is gratifying to know that you like what you are seeing and reading. We will continue to work hard to bring you a quality magazine. On a related note, we are still looking for new material for our pages. We have an archive of stories that were submitted over the years. I have used quite a few of those stories in recent issues. In an effort to generate more new content, I have been in touch with many individuals and organizations over the past several months. I have also been receiving a steady stream of unsolicited communication from readers and others interested in sharing their stories, and I look forward to more. This publication depends on people who are willing to share their stories with others. That willingness to contribute means we will continue to have interesting and exciting stories to share with you. If you or someone you know has a story of service they would like to share, please get in touch with me at aarmitage@afmuseum.com. Meanwhile, this issue is filled with stories of service from WWII to the Cold War. The theme of many of these stories is overcoming problems. Some of the problems were serious, like a perfect chain of events that led to a non-fatal training crash. Or trying to lift a fully-loaded B-17 Flying Fortress off a runway that was too short. Some of the problems were humorous, such as too many young ladies attending a community dance. And some of the problems required some creative thinking to overcome – when has being assaulted by an Airman while piloting an aircraft at night been a solution to a problem?! We have two stories documenting what it was like to live and serve on airbases in China during the latter years of WWII, and a tale of flying out of Bermuda during the 1960s.We also have a story of an Airman regularly assigned to make in-flight repairs aboard the B-36 Peacemaker, a truly transitional aircraft (“six turning, four burning”). We hope you enjoy your winter issue. Thank you for your continued support! Very respectfully,


Michael Imhoff - Executive Director Melinda Lawrence - Chief, Museum Store Operations Mary Bruggeman - Chief, Attractions Operations Chuck Edmonson - Marketing Director Gary Beisner - Facilities & Food Service Coordinator Membership Office: 1-877-258-3910 (toll free) or 937-656-9615


Lt Gen J. L. Hudson - Director, USAF (Ret) Krista Strider - Deputy Director/Senior Curator

Friends Journal

Editor - Alan Armitage Creative Manager - Cheryl Prichard Edito rial Assistants - Joe King, Art Powell Friends Journal Office: 937-656-9622

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.

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.

Alan S. Armitage


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Friends Feedback Oops! We received a note from a visitor to the Museum, Grant Langdon, who pointed out an error on the cover of the Summer, 2017 issue. The photo (photo A, reprinted here) accompanied by the caption “March 1, 1954 First Hydrogen Blast” was actually a photo of a French nuclear test called Licorne (Unicorn) which took place in 1970. We apologize for using the incorrect photo and salute Mr. Langdon for his sharp eye in catching the error.


Friend of the Museum Rick Fitzpatrick pointed out an error in the caption for the photo on page 7 of the Summer issue. President Kennedy’s body was returned to Washington, D. C. on November 22, 1963…not 1962. B

Additionally, Journal reader Eugene Lynch pointed out that the caption was inaccurate — the date and the title do not correspond. The first thermonuclear, or hydrogen, blast did not occur on March 1, 1954. It was actually the Mike test of Operation Ivy on November 1, 1952 (photo B above). That device “produced the first thermonuclear detonation in which a substantial portion of its energy was generated by the fusion, or joining, of hydrogen atoms” according to a Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) fact sheet (http://www.dtra.mil/Portals/61/Documents/ NTPR/1-Fact_Sheets/13_IVY.pdf). However, the device was very large and required so much support equipment that it was housed in a large structure built at the site. So while it definitely was the first thermonuclear blast, it could not be considered a bomb. I make that distinction because the test which took place on the date in the caption — March 1, 1954 — was the Bravo test of Operation Castle. This was also a thermonuclear explosion which “although not a weapon, was capable of delivery by an aircraft”according to a Defense Nuclear Agency document available on the DTRA website (http://www.dtra.mil/Portals/61/Documents/ NTPR/2-Hist_Rpt_Atm/1954_DNA_6035F.pdf). This test is therefore popularly considered the first hydrogen bomb, which may be what was intended for that historic milestone and may explain the confusion of dates and caption.

We’d also like to acknowledge several errors in the 2018 Calendar: The atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945…not 1947. On April 5, 1959, Gus Grissom (not Grisson) was selected for astronaut training. And on the back page in the poem High Flight, the line should read “Where never lark, or even eagle flew” (not ever).

Familiar Friend in Centerspread The centerfold of the Summer 2017 Friends Journal revealed a familiar friend in the F-100F S/N 56-3837. In reading the history of the F-100, it is a fighter with several firsts: first US fighter to exceed Mach 1 in level flight, first supersonic ejection and the first supersonic trainer — the F-100F. That first continues to irk my father, Capt. (at the time) R.Y. “Mac” McBurney. Having accumulated 4,500 hours flight time, over 1,000 of which were in single seat fighters requiring a self-checkout, Mac was required to take a check ride with an instructor in the F-100F in order to transition from the F-84F. Of course he passed, but in his opinion the solo checkout in the grossly underpowered F-84F was far more challenging than the Hun. Comparing assignment location and dates, England AFB, 1957-1958, it appears that the Museum’s Hun could be the same aircraft in which my Dad received his check ride. Over a decade later Capt. Dick Rutan would fly the very same aircraft in an attempt to rescue Strobe Zero One. I’ll be visiting it again next time we are in Dayton. Rap McBurney Jacksons Gap, AL

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Video Operating Mechanic on a B-36 By CHARLIE

I grew up on a family farm in Bowie, Maryland. During WWII, as a teenager I worked tending the crops in the field. Our farm was located near Camp Springs Army Air Field (later Andrews Air Force Base and now Joint Base Andrews) and Naval Air Station Anacostia and airplanes flew over our farm all the time. I was always watching them fly around, particularly when they would practice dog fighting. In my senior year in high school, all I talked about was aviation and flying. I began talking with people and friends who had been in the military. One person, Howard Donaldson, who had served in the U.S. Navy and went to my church, actually worked at Camp Springs Army Air Field as a civilian. He talked with me about the different branches of the military. He said that the government was spending a lot of money on the U.S. Air Force (USAF) since it had been separated from the U.S. Army and he recommend that I go USAF. My uncle, Wilfred Abell, who had also been in the U.S. Navy, recommended that I enlist in the Air Force as well. And so, on October 20, 1953 at the age of 18 I enlisted in the USAF. After completing basic training at Sampson AFB, New York, I was assigned to Lowry AFB, Denver, Colorado for six months of technical school training on the Bombing Navigation System used on B-36 (and later B-47) bombers. The system consisted of a periscope, a number of mechanical computers and a radar system. It



was nicknamed the K-System. By today’s standards the system would be considered huge as it consisted of many large black boxes that filled the nose section of the B-36. The Air Force brought in a B-36 to Lowry AFB while we were in school so we were able to get a tour of the big bomber. “Wow,” I thought, “that is one awesome airplane.” I knew right then and there I wanted to fly on that baby one day. Tech school lasted some six months and I graduated in mid-summer of 1954. I was excited to receive my orders and find out that I was assigned to Biggs AFB, El Paso, Texas — a B-36 base. Upon check in at Biggs AFB I was assigned to the 810th Air Division, 95th Bomb Wing, 95th Armament & Electronics (A&E) Maintenance Squadron which provided maintenance support for the 334th, 335th and 336th Bomb Squadrons. Initially I was assigned to flight line maintenance duties where we were responsible for repairing equipment that the bombardier reported had malfunctioned after each flight. It was also our job to calibrate the bombing navigation system to maintain and ensure readiness for the next flight. I always made it a point to check with the bombardier on each flight — before he departed and upon his return — to discuss how the system performed. I found flight crews always appreciated the follow up by the maintenance crews. As soon as possible I signed up for flying status to be a Video Operating Mechanic (VOM). A VOM often flew

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on long duration flights where the crew would be making a number of practice bombing runs over different areas throughout the United States. The VOM was along to assist the bombardier in case a mechanical or technical problem developed that prevented the bombing system from operating properly on bomb runs. The two major components of the bomb system were the periscope and the stabilizer unit. The periscope was what the bombardier used to visually sight the target.The stabilizer consisted of gimbals on an axis platform that held the high-speed gyros in place. The stabilizer unit allowed the bombardier to move the cross hairs in the periscope smoothly to position them on the target. As I remember it took around 12 to 15 minutes for the gyros to come up to speed once the system was turned on. Usually when a problem came about with the bombing system the VOM had to determine which amplifier was defective, pull the defective amplifier and plug a new one into the rack. I passed the flight physical and then took the required high-altitude chamber training as the B-36 most often flew at altitudes over 40,000 feet. As soon as I completed

You had to take off your parachute, lay on your back on a little trolley on a track, put the parachute on your legs, and pull yourself along the track using a rope that was attached to the top of the big tube”

my training for flying status, I made sure my NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) and all the bombardiers knew I was ready to fly. I will always remember my first flight. I was instructed to get in the rear section and if needed during the flight I would be notified to come forward to the main deck. Since B-36 flights usually lasted anywhere from 18 to 23 hours (and sometimes longer) there were six bunk beds stacked three high, side by side in the rear section where the crew members could rest.There was plenty of room in the rear section, consequently when extra crew members came aboard the flight they would stay in the rear section until needed up front in the flight crew area.

The original B-36s had left and right, upper and lower guns mounted in the rear section plus the actual tail gun. At some point in the early 1950s the upper and lower guns on each side were removed. A normal flight would have at least three scanners — airmen who were trained to operate the tail gun. A scanner would sit in a seat and look out the big, round windows on each side where the gun sighting stations used to be. They were responsible for observing and monitoring the three piston engines and two jet engines mounted on each wing, and keeping a lookout for other aircraft. At night they would use spot lights to monitor the engines. We took off and everything was going along fine. I was enjoying the flight. Then after an hour or so one of the scanners told me we were going to be climbing to 40,000 feet and the bombardier wanted me to come up front.This was no easy task in the B-36. To get from the rear section to the front section you had to climb through a hatch into a three-foot round pressurized metal tube about 100 feet or so in length that ran from the rear pressurized compartment along the left side of the unpressurized bomb bay to the pressurized main deck at the front of the airplane. As you might expect in such a transitional aircraft the process was pretty low-tech — you had to take off your parachute, lay on your back on a little trolley on a track, put the parachute on your legs, and pull yourself along the track using a rope that was attached to the top of the big tube. I had heard stories from other people about how you had to be careful going through the tube because the metal could get so brittle in the intense cold at altitude you could punch a hole in it and the pressure difference was so great that it would pull you right out through the hole in the tube. We were at 25,000 feet when I entered the tube and the pilot in command (PIC) started the climb. Let me tell you, when a B-36 started climbing it stuck its nose high in the air and went. I had to pull on that rope like crazy to get that trolley moving on the track. All the while I was looking through the little windows in the side of the tube into the bomb bay, which was filled with 100lb practice bombs. Finally, I banged my head against the hatch at the radio compartment.The crew was there to open the door and help me out, laughing their heads off after watching my struggles through the window in the forward hatch of the tube. I think the pilot put the airplane in a steep climb just to have a little fun so I wouldn’t forget my first flight. You can be sure I will never forget it!

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view of the world around and below you. I specifically remember one night mission over the Gulf of Mexico. We were cruising at 25,000 feet on a practice bomb run heading towards New Orleans. I was in the nose compartment with the bombardier and the navigator. Looking through the nose windows we could see lights all along the Gulf coast. There was also a full moon just off the nose of the airplane to the east. It seemed so big and close that you could reach out and touch it. It was an awesome, beautiful sight I will always remember. During my tour in the 95th Bomb Wing I was very fortunate to fly over and see nearly every major city from St Louis, Missouri all the way to the coast of California. To me the B-36 was one beautiful airplane. Whenever one took off it was a wonderful sight to watch. When the PIC revved up those six R-4360 piston engines and the four J-47 jet engines for takeoff, you could feel the power and thrust as the giant B-36 Peacemaker rolled down the runway and took off for the wild blue yonder. When it rotated the nose came up at a steep near 45-degree angle as it gained speed and climbed. It was an awesome experience to watch and feel the rumble of the big bird as it flew up and away. Abell

Charlie Abell as an Airman 1st Class.

Sometimes the problems we encountered required more than simply switching out a defective amplifier. I remember one flight I was on with Captain Eader as the bombardier. It seemed the gyros in the stabilizer unit would tumble as they were cycling up. We discussed the problem and I decided to remove the cover plates to gain access to the gimbal platform. I placed my hands under the gimbal platform and supported it as the system finished timing through the cycle. It was my lucky day because the platform stabilized as I held it in place. I kept my hands under the platform for support just to make sure it wouldn’t tumble while we were on the bomb run, and it held all the way through and Captain Eader hit the target dead center. After that flight I flew with him on every mission — we made a good team. While the VOM was up front they would normally sit in the nose of the aircraft with the navigator and bombardier. The VOM sat next to the bombardier so they could discuss the bomb navigation system functions and operation. From this position you had an incredible


During my four years on active duty in the 1950s it was the mission of the Strategic Air Command to have a B-36 Peacemaker in the air over the United States 24 hours a day. While I flew hundreds of hours in the B-36 I remember one mission in particular. We took off on a mission on Christmas Eve. We flew all Christmas day and landed back at Biggs AFB on the day after Christmas. As I recall we flew over 30 hours on that mission, but no one complained about the long hours aloft. It was simply our duty to serve and protect the United States of America. I am proud to say that I served in Strategic Air Command, 810th Air Division, 95th Bomb Wing, 95th A&E (Armament & Electronics) Squadron providing support for the 334th, 335th & 336th Bomb Squadrons at Biggs AFB, El Paso, Texas.

In addition to the B-36, Charlie Abell serviced the bomb nav system on the B-47 medium bomber during his 4 years on active duty. After a career in general aviation he retired for the first time in 1992. He then worked as Airport Manager for the City of Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Maryland, retiring again in 2008. He currently resides in Frederick County, Maryland.

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LET’S HONOR OUR HEROES AND INSPIRE THE NEXT GENERATION Annual Individual Membership Levels and Benefits

The Air Force Museum Foundation is Member Funded MEMBERSHIP LEVELS




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$1,000 can bring in aviation heroes to create once-in-a-lifetime experiences for visitors.

PLUS Receive one Legacy Data Plate added to the Wall of Honor at the Museum PLUS Receive Personalized VIP Tour of the Museum, and Recognition at Annual Stakeholders’ Meeting

*Notional examples of how your dollars might support the Foundation and the Museum and will vary based on the needs of the Museum and Air Force. Membership benefits are subject to change at the sole discretion of the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc.

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