19 May 1976

Captain James A. Yule, U.S. Air Force

19 May 1976: A Strategic Air Command Boeing B-52D Stratofortress eight-engine bomber took off from Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas on a training flight. As the airplane’s landing gear was retracting, the hydraulic system failed leaving the right front gear with its 2-wheel bogie partially retracted and unlocked. The hydraulic system failure also disabled the B-52’s steering, brakes and rudder. Captain James A. Yule, an Instructor Pilot, took command of the aircraft. SAC headquarters at Omaha, Nebraska, diverted the airplane to Edwards Air Force Base in California so that the bomber could land on the large dry lake bed there.

Rogers Dry Lake and Edwards Air Force Base, looking south west. Captain Yule landed his B-52 Stratofortress on the dry lake bed. (U.S. Air Force)
Rogers Dry Lake and Edwards Air Force Base, looking to the south west. Captain Yule landed his B-52 Stratofortress on the dry lake bed. The air base and its concrete runways are at the top center of the photograph. (U.S. Air Force)

After a five-hour flight and making several practice approaches, Captain Yule landed the aircraft. With no brakes, it coasted for two-and-a-half miles before coming to a stop. During the roll out, the right front bogie bounced up and down, providing no support. However, with the limited control available, Captain Yule successfully landed the Stratofortress with no damage and no injuries to the crew. He and another pilot received the Air Medal, and the rest of the air crew were awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal.

Boeing B-52D-75-BO Stratofortress 56-0606, the same type bomber flown by Captain James A. Yule, 19 May 1976. In this photograph, the airplane has its landing gear extended and flaps lowered. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52D-75-BO Stratofortress 56-0606, the same type bomber flown by Captain James A. Yule, 19 May 1976. In this photograph, the airplane has its landing gear extended and flaps lowered. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Yule was the recipient of the Mackay Trophy for 1976. Established in 1911 and administered by the National Aeronautic Association, the Mackay Trophy is awarded to the “most meritorious flight of the year” by an Air Force person, persons, or organization. His citation reads:

The Mackay Trophy.
The Mackay Trophy.

For gallantry and unusual presence of mind while participating in a flight as an instructor pilot of a B-52D Stratofortress.

“Captain James A Yule, distinguished himself by gallantry and unusual presence of mind while participating in an aerial flight as an instructor pilot of a B-52D aircraft on 19 May 1976. Captain Yule’s flight developed a unique multiple emergency and he assumed command of the aircraft, and at great personal risk, checked out the hydraulic open wheel well area to detect the problem. Using initiative, he coordinated with ground agencies and crew members and determined that a safe landing could be made after loss of braking and complete failure of steering. Captain Yule’s professional competence and outstanding airmanship under extreme stress resulted in successful recovery of the crew and a valuable aircraft. His courageous acts in landing a malfunctioning aircraft reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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About Bryan Swopes

Bryan R. Swopes grew up in Southern California in the 1950s–60s, near the center of America's aerospace industry. He has had a life-long interest in aviation and space flight. Bryan is a retired commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor.

13 thoughts on “19 May 1976

  1. The USAF gives out medals for anything. In my mind a note from the pilot’s boss saying “well done” is the right level. Routine emergency, handled by the book, no biggy.

  2. Having flown as an HH-53B/C Flight Engineer for 18 years with the USAF Air Rescue Service I know that we had emergency procedures / checklist for any systems failures. If it’s BOLD FACE then you react immediately. The B-52 crew had hours to analize the malfunction so landind where they did with miles of “runway” was just a routine emergency landing as soon as possible.

  3. It pains me to say it but Jim has a point. The Air Medals awarded to Capt. Yule and the other pilot are well deserved but I’m not sure about Commendation Medals for the rest of the crew who were basically just along for the ride.

  4. Easy to say these things about the incident because you were not inside the aircraft when this happened. You either stayed with the aircraft or ejected!

  5. To the guys who aren’t that thrilled that the awards were given to the B-52 crew, I would like to put forward a defense of the actions of the U. S. Air Force.

    You have to give at least partial consideration to the context of the times during which these medals were awarded. In 1976 the United States was just coming off the Vietnam War. Retention rates were low, enlistment was low, pay was low, and morale was in the dumps, most everybody wanted out and nobody wanted in. The country was coming apart at the seams after Nixon resigned. Gerald Ford did his best to keep the country in one piece, and when Jimmy Carter came along everybody finally took a deep breath to relax. The mid to late 70’s were probably the lowest point in US military history, and did not start recovering until Ronald Reagan became President in 1980, he started rebuilding pride and restoring morale to the armed forces.

    In those days the Air Force had a tough job to do, and was looking for any reason to pat somebody on the back, and give them an “atta boy” to build their morale and lift their spirits, individually or collectively. Moreover, it wasn’t confined to just the Air Force, all of the services were under that kind of duress. By today’s standards the reasons for awarding these medals may seem somewhat frivolous but during that time I believe it served a greater purpose, the rebuilding of the Esprit de corps in the Air Force, which had been draining away since the Tet Offensive of ’68.

  6. They need to do story on 1980 incident of B52 that had left wing flaps and torn off and 6″ hole put in wing by Refueling Boom. Both ACFT recovered safely (Mildenhall for B52D). I took many many photography of the B52. They cleaned up the Wing and loaded 10k of fuel and tookoff without flaps and flew it back to Depo. Takeoff reminded me of U2 takeoff at 45 degrees. Two KC135’s tookoff and 1st refueling was after they leveled off. Guess 5k attitude. Amazing how little room is in the B52 for the Crew. Plenty for Bombs.

  7. Jim obviously never serves on a flight crew, nor has any appreciation or understanding of what flight crews do and what they endure. Staggeringly asinine comment from a stunningly obtuse person.
    No one on a flight crew is “along for the ride”, as another equally ignorant person chimed in. Everyone has a role, and each role is important.
    As a person who spent countless hours on that very aircraft, it offends me when ignorant people make uninformed comments.

  8. I am not a B-52 crew member, but I spent 3 years flying as Airborne Battle Staff Member on AWACS. From personal experience, the crew of a multi-person aircraft is a crew – everyone has a job to perform in an emergency, everyone has emergency procedures in their checklist. And the crew as a crew has to solve the problems, not just the pilot and copilot. And with due respect to Mr. Cash’s expertise, in my experience flying search and rescue in light aircraft for the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Civil Air Patrol, there is no such thing as a routine emergency landing. Time for planning the landing helps, a lot, but there is always the potential for cascading failures. The crew has to stay ahead of the airplane and ahead of the situation – when it becomes a routine emergency landing the potential for a bad outcome grows.

  9. Interesting. This was my crew. Jim Yule was my AC. I was not along for the ride because I was not available (I forget why). I find it odd that folks would call this a “routine emergency” (it was not) and say that the crew should not have been given any awards.

    The flight was out of depot (Kelly, I think, not Carswell, although that was our home station). The wrong lines were used for the hydraulic system and blew when the pilots tried to raise the gear.

    The gear was neither up nor down, but flopping in the jet stream. So, they did not know if the gear would collapse on landing. They had only one front main locked down on landing. No breaks? If you fly to Edwards to land, how is that “routine?”

    On landing no steering or brakes, the buff was heading for a fire truck. Jim used the electrical cross wind crab system to turn the gear and steer away from the truck (not normal either). I recall him talking about because you turned the knob right to go left.

    Jim gave the crew the option to bail out, but they stayed. If ever a freaking CM was earned, those were. Jim did not finish an AF career but left to fly for SWA. Our loss, their gain.

    Before you condemn aircrew or the USAF, learn all the facts. One thig is true, we had many “routine” emergencies flying the buff for which none of us got any awards, not even free beer after landing. It was our job. But this landing was not one of them “routine emergencies” (whatever those are).

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