Daily Archives: February 13, 2017

13 February 1950

Convair B-36B-1-CF Peacemaker of the 7th Bombardement Wing. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-36B-1-CF Peacemaker, 44-92033, of the 7th Bombardment Wing (Heavy). This bomber is similar to 44-92075. (U.S. Air Force)

13 February 1950: Two Convair B-36B Peacemaker long-range strategic bombers of the 436th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 7th Bombardment Wing (Heavy), Strategic Air Command, departed Eielson Air Force Base, Fairbanks, Alaska at 16:27 Alaska Standard Time, on a planned 24-hour nuclear strike training mission. B-36B-15-CF 44-92075 was under the command of Captain Harold L. Barry, U.S. Force. There were a total of seventeen men on board.

Also on board was a Mark 4 nuclear bomb.

The B-36s were flown to Alaska from Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas, by another crew. The surface temperature at Eielson was -40 °F. (-40 °C.), so cold that if the bomber’s engines were shut down, they could not be restarted. Crews were exchanged and the airplane was serviced prior to takeoff for the training mission. In addition to the flight crew of fifteen, a Bomb Commander and a Weaponeer were aboard.

After departure, 44-92075 began the long climb toward 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). The flight proceeded along the Pacific Coast of North America toward the practice target of San Francisco, California. The weather was poor and the bomber began to accumulate ice on the airframe and propellers.

About seven hours into the mission, three of the six radial engines began to lose power due to intake icing. Then the #1 engine, outboard on the left wing, caught fire and was shut down. A few minutes later, the #2 engine, the center position on the left wing, also caught fire and was shut down. The #3 engine lost power and its propeller was feathered to reduce drag. The bomber was now flying on only three engines, all on the right wing, and was losing altitude. When the #5 engine, center on the right wing, caught fire, the bomber had to be abandoned. It was decided to jettison the atomic bomb into the ocean.

The Mark 4 did not have the plutonium “pit” installed, so a nuclear detonation was not possible. The conventional explosive would go off at a pre-set altitude and destroy the bomb and its components. This was a security measure to prevent a complete bomb from being recovered.

The bomb was released at 9,000 feet (2,743 meters), north-northwest of Princess Royal Island off the northwest coast of British Columbia, Canada. It was fused to detonate 1,400 feet (427 meters) above the surface, and crewmen reported seeing a large explosion.

Flying over Princess Royal Island, Captain Barry ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. He placed the B-36 on autopilot. Barry was the last man to leave 44-92075. Descending in his parachute, he saw the bomber circle the island once before being lost from sight.

Twelve of the crew survived. Five were missing and it is presumed that they landed in the water. Under the conditions, they could have survived only a short time. The survivors had all been rescued by 16 February.

It was assumed that 44-92075 had gone down in the Pacific Ocean.

On 20 August 1953, a Royal Canadian Air Force airplane discovered the wreck of the missing B-36 on a mountain on the east side of Kispiox Valley, near the confluence of the Kispiox and Skeena Rivers in northern British Columbia.

The U.S. Air Force made several attempts to reach the crash site, but it wasn’t until August 1954 that they succeeded. After recovering sensitive equipment from the wreckage, the bomber was destroyed by explosives.

Bomb, Mark 4. (Nuclear Weapons Archive)
Bomb, Mark 4. (Nuclear Weapons Archive)

The Mark 4 bomb was a development of the World War II implosion-type Mark 3 “Fat Man.” The bomb was 10 feet, 8 inches (3.351 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). Its weight is estimated at 10,800–10,900 pounds (4,899–4,944 kilograms).

The core of the bomb was a spherical composite of plutonium and highly-enriched uranium. This was surrounded by approximately 5,500 pounds (2,495 kilograms) of high explosive “lenses”—very complex shaped charges designed to focus the explosive force inward in a very precise manner. When detonated, the high explosive “imploded” the core, crushing it into a smaller, much more dense mass. This achieved a “critical mass” and a fission chain reaction resulted.

The Mark 4 was produced with explosive yields ranging from 1 to 31 kilotons. 550 were built.

Convair B-36B-15-CF Peacemaker 44-92075 was completed at Fort Worth, Texas, on 31 July 1949. It had been flown a total of 185 hours, 25 minutes.

The B-36B is 162 feet, 1 inch (49.403 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet (70.104 meters) and overall height of 46 feet, 8 inches (14.224 meters). The empty weight is 140,640 pounds (63,793 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 311,000 pounds (141,067 kilograms).

With a wing area of 4,772 square feet (443 square meters) and 21,000 horsepower, the B-36 could fly far higher than any jet fighter of the early 1950s.

A Pratt & Whitney R-4360-41 Wasp Major aircraft engine on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This engine weighs 3,404 pounds (1,544 kilograms). Wikipedia
A Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B4 (R-4360-41) aircraft engine on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. This engine is 9 feet, 1¾-inch (2.788 meters) long and 4 feet, 6 inches (1.372 meters) in diameter. It weighs 3,567 pounds (1,618 kilograms). Wikipedia

The B-36B was powered by six air-cooled, supercharged and turbocharged 4,362.49 cubic-inch-displacement (71.488 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B4 (R-4360-41) four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines placed inside the wings in a pusher configuration. These had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 115/145 aviation gasoline. The R-4360-41 had a Normal Power rating of 2,650 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. Its Takeoff/Military Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., with water injection. The engines turned three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed, reversible propellers with a diameter of 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-41 is 9 feet, 1.75 inches (2.788 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.00 inches (1.372 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,567 pounds (1,618 kilograms).

The B-36B Peacemaker had a cruise speed of 202 miles per hour (325 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 381 miles per hour (673 kilometers per hour) at 34,500 feet (10,516 meters). The service ceiling was 42,500 feet (12,954 meters) and its combat radius was 3,740 miles (6,019 kilometers). The maximum range was 8,175 miles (13,156 kilometers).

The B-36 was defended by sixteen M24A-1 20 mm automatic cannons. Six retractable gun turrets each each had a pair of 20 mm cannon, with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. These turrets were remotely operated by gunners using optical sights. Two optically-sighted 20 mm guns were in the nose, and two more were in a tail turret, also remotely operated and aimed by radar.

In this photograph, two of the B-36's retractable gun turrets are visibile behind the cockpit, as well as the nose gun turret. (Unattributed)
In this photograph, two of the B-36’s retractable gun turrets are visible behind the cockpit, as well as the nose gun turret. The plexiglas “blister” just ahead and below the dorsal turrets is a gunner’s sighting station. The bomb bay doors are open. (Unattributed)

The B-36 was designed during World War II and nuclear weapons were unknown to the Consolidate-Vultee Aircraft Corporation engineers. The bomber was built to carry up to 86,000 pounds (39,009 kilograms) of conventional bombs in the four-section bomb bay. It could carry the 43,600 pound (19,777 kilogram) T-12 Cloudmaker, a conventional explosive earth-penetrating bomb. When armed with nuclear weapons, the B-36 could carry several Mk.15 thermonuclear bombs. By combining the bomb bays, one Mk.17 25-megaton thermonuclear bomb could be carried.

Between 1946 and 1954, 384 B-36 Peacemakers were built by Convair. 73 of these were B-36Bs, the last of which were delivered to the Air Force in September 1950. By 1952, 64 B-36Bs had been upgraded to B-36Ds.

They were never used in combat. Only five still exist.

[Trivia enthusiasts might note that the U.S. military code for a lost nuclear weapon is “Broken Arrow.” In 1950, Academy Award-winning actor Jimmy Stewart, himself a Brigadier General, U.S. Air Force Reserve, and highly decorated World War II bomber commander, starred in the Delmer Daves western movie, “Broken Arrow.” In 1954, Stewart starred as a B-36 aircraft commander in Anthony Mann’s “Strategic Air Command.” Coincidence?]

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 February 1923

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Retired), at Edwards AFB, 14 October 1997, the fiftieth anniversary of his Mach 1 flight. (Photograph © 2010 by Tim Bradley Imaging. Used with permission.)

13 February 1923: Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager, United States Air Force (Retired), was born at Myra, West Virginia.

Who is the greatest pilot I ever saw? Well, uh. . . Well, let me tell you. . . .

The following is from the official U.S. Air Force biography: (Photographs from various sources)

“The world’s first man-made sonic boom told the story. On Oct. 14, 1947, over dry Rogers Lake in California, Chuck Yeager rode the X-1, attached to the belly of a B-29 bomber, to an altitude of 25,000 feet. After releasing from the B-29, he rocketed to an altitude of 40,000 feet. Moments later he became the first person to break the sound barrier, safely taking the X-1 he called Glamorous Glennis to a speed of 662 mph, faster than the speed of sound at that altitude. His first words after the flight were, ‘I’m still wearing my ears and nothing else fell off neither.’

Captain Chuck Yeager on Rogers Dry Lake with the Bell X-1, 1948.
Captain Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, USAF, at Rogers Dry Lake with the Bell X-1, 1948.

“Yeager was born in February 1923 in Myra, W. V. In September 1941, he enlisted as a private in the Army Air Corps. He was soon accepted for pilot training under the flying sergeant program and received his pilot wings and appointment as a flight officer in March 1943 at Luke Field, Ariz.

Aviation Cadet Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

“His first assignment was as a P-39 pilot with the 363rd Fighter Squadron, Tonopah, Nev. He went to England in November 1943 and flew P-51s in combat against the Germans, shooting down one ME-109 and an HE-111K before being shot down on his eighth combat mission over German-occupied France on March 5, 1944. He evaded capture by the enemy when elements of the French Maquis helped him to reach the safety of the Spanish border. That summer, he was released to the British at Gibraltar and returned to England. He returned to his squadron and flew 56 more combat missions, shooting down 11 more enemy aircraft.

Second Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Forces, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

“Returning to stateside, Yeager participated in various test projects, including the P-80 Shooting Star and P-84 Thunderjet. He also evaluated all the German and Japanese fighter aircraft brought back to the United States after the war. This assignment led to his selection as pilot of the nation’s first research rocket aircraft, the Bell X-1, at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.). After breaking the sound barrier in 1947, Yeager flew the X-1 more than 40 times in the next two years, exceeding 1,000 mph and 70,000 feet. He was the first American to make a ground takeoff in a rocket-powered aircraft. In December 1953 he flew the Bell X-1A 1,650 mph, becoming the first man to fly two and one-half times the speed of sound.

Captain Charles E. Yeager, USAF with a North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, Los Angeles, 21 January 1949. (© Bettman/CORBIS)
Captain Charles E. Yeager, USAF with a North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, Los Angeles, 21 January 1949. (Bettman/CORBIS)
Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of the Bell X-1A rocketplane. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of the Bell X-1A rocketplane. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Charles E. Yeager, USAF, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, 1958. (Stars and Stripes)
Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, 1st Fighter Day Squadron, with North American Aviation F-100F-15-NA Super Sabre, 56-3950, George Air Force Base, California, 1958. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, 1st Fighter Day Squadron, 413th Fighter Day Wing, with North American Aviation F-100F-15-NA Super Sabre, 56-3950, George Air Force Base, California, 1958. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, United States Air Force, 306th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, 1958. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, USAF, commanding the 405th Fighter Wing, with crew chief TSGT Rodney Sirois, before a combat mission with a Martin B-57 Canberra during the Vietnam War. (Stars and Stripes)

“After a succession of command jobs, Yeager became commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School (now the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School), where all military astronauts were trained.

Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, in the cockpit of a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 4 December 1963. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, in the cockpit of a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, 4 December 1963. (U.S. Air Force)

“On Dec. 10, 1963, he narrowly escaped death while testing an NF-104 rocket-augmented aerospace trainer. His aircraft went out of control at 108,700 feet (nearly 21 miles up) and crashed. He parachuted to safety at 8,500 feet after battling to gain control of the powerless aircraft. He thus became the first pilot to make an emergency ejection in the full pressure suit needed for high altitude flights. Yeager has flown more than 200 types of military aircraft and has more than 14,000 hours, with more than 13,000 of them in fighter aircraft.

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, United States Air Force, July 1969. (Stars and Stripes)

“Yeager retired from active duty in the U. S. Air Force in March 1975, after serving as the United States defense representative to Pakistan and director of the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center, Norton AFB, Calif.

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, made his final flight as an active duty officer aboard A McDonnell F-4C Phantom II at Edwards AFB, 25 February 1975. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, made his final flight as an active duty officer aboard a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II at Edwards AFB, 25 February 1975. (U.S. Air Force)

“Retirement was never part of his plans. He remains an active aviation enthusiast, acting as adviser for various films, programs and documentaries on aviation. He has published two books, entitled Yeager, An Autobiography and Press On: Further Adventures in the Good Life.”

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, United States Air Force

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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