17 June 1986

Boeing B-47E-25-DT Stratojet 52-166 is prepared to Depart NAWC China Lake. (U.S. Navy)
B-47E-25-DT Stratojet 52-166 is prepared to depart Armitage Field, NAWS China Lake, 17 June 1986. (U.S.  Air Force)

17 June 1986: After being returned to flyable condition, B-47E-25-DT Stratojet serial number 52-166, made the very last flight of a B-47 when it was flown by Major General John D. (“J.D.”) Moore and Lieutenant Colonel Dale E. Wolfe, U.S. Air Force, from the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in the high desert of Southern California, to Castle Air Force Base in California’s San Joaquin Valley, to be placed on static display.

52-166 had been built by the Douglas Aircraft Company at Air Force Plant No. 3, Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1952. 52-166 had not been flown in twenty years, having sat in the Mojave Desert serving as a radar target. General Moore and Colonel Wolf were experienced B-47 pilots, though they hadn’t flown one in the same twenty years. Because the B-47 it had not been through a complete overhaul prior to the ferry flight, it was decided to leave the landing gear extended to avoid any potential problems.

During the 43 minute trip, the aircraft had several systems fail, including airspeed sensors, intercom, and partial aileron control. On approach to Castle Air Force Base, a 16 foot (4.9 meters) approach parachute was deployed. This created enough aerodynamic drag to slow the airplane while the early turbojet engines were kept operating at high power settings. These engines took a long time to accelerate from idle, making a go-around a very tricky maneuver. Releasing the chute allowed the airplane to climb out as the engines were already operating at high r.p.m.

B-47E-25-DT Stratojet 52-166 enroute Castle Air Force Base with a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star chase. California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains are in the distance. (TSGT Michael Hagerty/U.S. Air Force)
Douglas-built B-47E-25-DT Stratojet 52-166 enroute Castle Air Force Base with a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star chase, 17 June 1986. California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains are in the distance. (U.S. Air Force)

Designed by Boeing, the Stratojet was a high-subsonic speed strategic bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, in service from 1951 until 1977. The B-47 could fly higher and faster than jet fighters of the time, and it was also highly maneuverable. B-47E (Boeing Model 450-157-35) was flown by a two pilots in a tandem cockpit. A navigator/bombardier was at a station in the nose.

The B-47E Stratojet differed from the earlier B-47B primarily with upgraded engines and strengthened landing gear to handle an increase in maximum weight. The B-47E Stratojet is 107.1 feet (32.644 meters) long with a wingspan of 116.0 feet (35.357 meters), and an overall height of  28.0 feet (8.534 meters). The wings are shoulder-mounted and have a total area of 1,428 square feet (132.67 square meters). The wings’ leading edges are swept aft to 36° 37′. The angle of incidence is 2° 45′ and there is 0° dihedral (the wings were very flexible). The B-47E in standard configuration had an empty weight of 78,620 pounds (35,661 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 200,000 pounds (90,718 kilograms).

The B-47E was powered by six General Electric J47-GE-25 turbojet engines in four nacelles mounted on pylons below the wings. This engine has a 12-stage axial-flow compressor, eight combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The -25 has a continuous power rating of 5,320 pounds of thrust (23.665 kilonewtons) at 7,630 r.p.m., at Sea Level; Military Power, 5,670 pounds (25.221 kilonewtons) at 7,800 r.p.m. (30 minute limit); and Maximum Power, 7,200 pounds (32.027 kilonewtons) at 7,950 r.p.m. with water/alcohol injection (5 minute limit). The J47-GE-25 has a maximum diameter of 3 feet, 1 inch (0.940 meters) and length of 12 feet, 0 inches (3.658 meters) and weighs 2,653 pounds (1,203 kilograms)

The B-47E had a maximum speed of 497 knots (572 miles per hour/920 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), and 485 knots (558 miles per hour/898 kilometers per hour) at 38,600 feet (11,765 meters).

The service ceiling was 31,500 feet (9,601 meters) and combat ceiling 40,800 feet (12,436 meters).

The combat radius of the B-47E was 1,780 nautical miles 2,048 miles (3,297 kilometers with a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilograms) bomb load. Ferry range with 14,720 gallons (55,721 liters) of fuel was 4,095 nautical miles (4,712 miles/7,584 kilometers).

For defense the B-47E was armed with two M24A1 20 mm autocannons with 350 rounds of ammunition per gun. The remotely-operated tail turret was controlled by the co-pilot.

The maximum bomb load of the B-47E was 12,000 pounds (5,443 kilograms). The B-47 could carry up to six 2,000 pound (907 kilogram) bombs, or one 10,670 pound (4,840 kilograms) “Special Store”: a B-41 three-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear bomb with a yield of 25 megatons).

B-47E-25-DT Stratojet 52-166 flies over California's Central Valley farmland as it heads to Castle Air Force Base on the very last B-47 flight, 17 June 1986. (U.S. Air Force)
B-47E-25-DT Stratojet 52-166 flies over California’s Central Valley farmland as it heads to Castle Air Force Base on the very last B-47 flight, 17 June 1986. (U.S. Air Force)

A total of 2,032 B-47s were built by a consortium of aircraft manufacturers: Boeing Airplane Company, Wichita, Kansas; Douglas Aircraft Company, Tulsa, Oklahoma; Lockheed Aircraft Company, Marietta, Georgia.

The Stratojet is one of the most influential aircraft designs of all time and its legacy can be seen in almost every jet airliner built since the 1950s: the swept wing with engines suspended below and ahead on pylons. The B-47 served the United States Air Force from 1951 to 1977. From the first flight of the Boeing XB-47 Stratojet prototype, 17 December 1947, to the final flight of B-47E 52-166, was 38 years, 6 months, 1 day.

B-47E-25-DT Stratojet 52-166 on final approach to land at Castle Air Force Base, 17 June 1986. The braking chute is deployed. This is teh very last time that a B-47 flew.
Douglas-built B-47E-25-DT Stratojet 52-166 on final approach to land at Castle Air Force Base, 17 June 1986. The approach chute is deployed. This was the very last time that a B-47 flew.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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34 thoughts on “17 June 1986

  1. Our Dad, John Addington piloted B-47s out of Homestead AFB February 1959-February 1960, before attending B-52 pilot training at Castle. He then piloted 52s out of Loring July 1960-December 1964. Although he ended his AF career in a B-52, I think he always maintained a love affair with the beautiful 47!

  2. I was at Whiteman AFB, Nebraska from 1956 to 1958. The Strategic aircraft at that time were the B-47 and the KC-97 refueler. I was transfered to RAF Station Fairford in 1958 and stayed there till rotating to SAC Headquarters at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. Both assignments were in the good company of the B-47; at Whiteman in the 340th Bomb Wing Medium, and at RAF Station supporting the reflexed B-47’s from 68th Bomb Wing.

  3. When I was stationed at Oceana NAS in 1969-70 there was a B-47 on the flight line, I don’t know if it was being used by the Navy for weather research or had come in from the Air Force across the bay or what. That was about the coolest looking airplane I’ve ever seen. It looked like a giant fighter.

  4. I was a navigator/bombardier stationed at Homestead AFB outside of Miami. My crew consisted of two great pilots, Bob Hamilton and Richard Wagner. I was there from 1959-1961. We would Reflex to Torrejon AFB, Spain. The B-47 was a wonderful aircraft and I enjoyed this article on its last flight.

    Roger Shatanof
    Coral Gables, Florida

  5. I was stationed at Lincoln AFB, Nebraska from 12/63 until 6/66. I worked in base pay and was one of the last remaining airman before they locked up the base in June 1966. I always enjoyed watching B-47’s take off with JATO bottles…the last plane flew from Lincoln in December 1965 if my memory serves me correctly. We had two bomb wings..the 307th and the 98th. The air crews were always fun to work with at base finance…always gentlemen.

  6. Was at Homestead AFB, Fla. from 58-62. Loved the B-47. Spent many hours with them. Glad they have some of them restored for everyone to enjoy.

  7. I was a B-47 Crew Chief for six years at Smoky Hill/ Schilling AFB Salina Kansas from 1954 to 1960. Spent a lot of hours on the flight line working on these aircraft but was rewarded each time the gears hit the wheel well on takeoff. When that happen my thoughts were my job is done now it’s up to the flight crew to care for it.
    My Son was at Castle going through B-52 Navigators training and watched Gen. Moore land this B-47.

  8. When I was a young Navigator-Bombardier on the FB-111, many of our crewmembers had started out on B-47s, been early cadre on the B-58 (THE coolest USAF acft ever! Got to see a 6-ship MITO (24 afterburners!) at Little Rock!), and then initial cadre on FB-111. They told tales of “Celestial Bomb Runs” in B-47 where the radar was not allowed to be tuned until 60 seconds computed from time to drop! And at NBT, the story was told of the B-47 over the North Pole when the emergency hatch over the Nav-Bomb blew out — taking all the charts with it in the explosive decompression. When the NB finally regained comms, the Pilot asked “What’s the heading?” The NB replied “South!”). They ended up landing on the East Coast instead of the West Coast!

  9. That’s not a “breaking chute” as you call it but an “APPROACH CHUTE”. They allowed the pilots to keep a higher engine RPM on approach in case of a go-around. J47s were notoriously slow to spool up from low RPMs. Wish I could post a photo showing both chutes deployed during the landing roll.

  10. One of the first two Boeing XB-47s had been on display at the Chanute AFB Museum in Rantoul, Illinois. They were the very first examples of the type. After the museum closed it was disassembled and moved to Edwards AFB, CA where it is being restored for display. Like your article says, it is the Grandfather of ALL modern multi-engine jet aircraft featuring swept wings and engines mounted in pods on pylons.

  11. Of the two that were built the single surviving XB-47 is 46-066.
    46-065 was lost during testing.

  12. I saw this aircraft land on this day, and have been back to the Castle Air Museum many times since to see her…

  13. I wonder if that was the same General J. D. Moore that commanded Lowry AFB around that time. I prevented a looney tune former Lt. that he kicked out of the Air Force from gaining entry to the base to shoot him. Never got so much as a “thank you, Sergeant”.

  14. Thanks for the article Brad… Dale it has been my pleasure to have served with and known you as a friend, ski chalet mate and laugh partner at McConnell AFB Witicha, Mather AFB Sacramento, Carswell AFB FT Worth and Plattsburgh AFB. Thanks again for all those memories… Jack Devlin

  15. I saw these beauties every day when I was stationed at Lockbourne AFB, Columbus Ohio (63-66). SAC left there sometime in 64, I believe and along with them the B-47s. Lockbourne became a TAC base at that time.

  16. My Dad worked on the line in Tusa Ok and was sent to Germany to work on some nose problems they were having I don’t know much more I was just a kid but I saw one break up in the air over Tulsa when I was eating breakfast

  17. Does anyone know how many B-47s are on display in various places around the country?
    I know Plattsburgh has one.

  18. Stationed at Clark AFB PI. 1967-69. The 47’s were parked right outside our shop. It seemed like everytime they returned from a “weather” mission. They came in on a emergency. Pretty plane

  19. I was stationed at Morón AB January 1960 – Jan 1963 (15th MMS) and spent those years loading/un-loading thermonuclear weapons and 20mm armament on Reflex B-47’s. Base Commander (and my flight instructor) was Col Henry C. Godman, former personal pilot of Supreme Allied Commander during WW II, Gen Douglas MacArthur (6 degrees of separation).

  20. This article brought a tear to my eye. Maj. George Byrum , navigator Capt. Bernie Stiles, and myself survived a crash of a damaged B-47 on approach to Plattsburgh AFB on Feb. 1964. Can’t say enough for the f ire dept. guys who probably saved our bacon. Lots of memories of reflexing to North Africa out of MacDill and to England out of Plattsburgh. Name Dale Wolfe sounds familiar.

  21. My Dad was a B-47 AC during Cuban Missile Crisis.
    350th BS ” Red Falcons ” 100th BW Pease AFB
    Portsmouth NH.

  22. My 8th grade science teacher and friend Don Kinney was tbe navigator/ bombadier on one
    …wish i knew more…woulda been with SAC around late 60s.

  23. Great to read an article about the B-47! I was a Bomb-Nav Tech. Stationed with the 96th Bomb Wing, Dyess AFB, Abilene, Texas from 1959 to 1961. Not many people know what a B-47 is but it was a very beautiful aircraft in the SAC inventory.

  24. Didn’t actually see the landing at Castle but watched tapes of it. It really was an “arrival” rather than a landing due to starting the flare too high. Touchdown was so hard one of the outboard engine pods actually hit the concrete! A note: The chute is the approach chute and it was deployed for approaches to keep the J-47s spooled up as has been noted but it usually was not jettisoned till after landing along with the brake chute used for the full stop.
    Dale and I started aviation Cadets in class 59-F then I washed back to 59-G after a two week hospital stay with Pneumonia, but we went through B-47 academics at McConnell and flight training at Forbes. Went our separate ways in 47s and 52s then got together again in the cadre for the FB-111. Aside from being one of my early USAF friends he also happens to be my brother-in-law having married my sister who has unfortunately passed on.

    Wayne Wachsmuth

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