Tag Archives: Castle Air Force Base

16–18 January 1957

The three Boeing B-52B Stratofortresses at March AFB, 18 January 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
The three Boeing B-52B Stratofortresses at March AFB, 18 January 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

16 January 1957: Operation POWER FLITE. At 1:00 p.m. PST, five Boeing B-52B Stratofortress eight-engine jet bombers of the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command, 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy), departed Castle Air Force Base, near Merced, California, on a non-stop around-the-world flight. 45 hours, 19 minutes later, three B-52s landed at March Air Force Base, Riverside, California, completing the 24,325 miles (39,147 kilometer) flight at an average speed of 534 miles per hour (859 kilometers per hour).

The lead Stratofortress, B-52B-35-BO 53-0394, Lucky Lady III, was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Morris. Morris had been co-pilot aboard Lucky Lady II, a Boeing B-50A Superfortress that flew around the world in 1949. Also aboard Morris’ bomber was Major General Archie J. Old, Jr., commanding 15th Air Force.

Major General Archie J. Old, Jr., U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of B-52B 53-0394. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

Three of the  bombers were considered primary, with two “spares.” Each B-52 carried a flight crew of nine men, including three pilots and two navigators.

A Boeing B-52 Stratofortress refuels in flight from a Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker. The KC-97 had to enter a shallow dive to increase its speed, while teh B-52 flew in landing configuration to fly slow enough to stay with the tanker. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing B-52 Stratofortress refuels in flight from a Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker. The KC-97 had to enter a shallow dive to increase its speed, while the B-52 flew in landing configuration to stay with the tanker. (U.S. Air Force)

Four inflight refuelings from piston-engine Boeing KC-97 Stratotankers were required. More than 100 KC-97s participated in Operation POWER FLITE.

One of the primary B-52s, La Victoria, 53-0397, commanded by Major George Kalebaug, was unable to refuel in flight because of ice build-up in its refueling receptacle. The bomber diverted to Goose Bay, Labrador. A second B-52, a spare, as planned, left the flight over North Africa, diverting to an air base in England.

All 27 crewmembers of the three bombers were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by General Curtis LeMay. The Mackay Trophy for “the most meritorious flight of the year” was awarded to the 93rd Bombardment Wing.

Lucky Lady III was retired to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It was scrapped in 1984. 53-0397 went to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB in 1966, preceded by 53-0398 in 1965.

Flight helmets of the crew of Lucky Lady III, March AFB, 18 January 1957. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.)
Flight helmets of the crew of Lucky Lady III, March AFB, 18 January 1957. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas.)

This record-breaking around the world flight was dramatized in the 1957 Warner Bros. movie “Bombers B-52,” which starred Natalie Wood, Karl Malden and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

Poster for the 1957 motion picture, "Bombers B-52".
Poster for the 1957 motion picture “Bombers B-52” (Warner Bros.)

The 93rd Bombardment Wing (Heavy) was the first operational Air Force unit to receive the B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B 52-8711, on 29 June 1955.

Fifty B-52Bs were built by Boeing at its Plant 2, Seattle, Washington. The B-52B/RB-52B was operated by a six-man flight crew for the bombing mission, and eight for reconnaissance. These were the aircraft commander/pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radar navigator/bombardier, electronic warfare officer and gunner, plus two reconnaissance technicians when required.

The airplane was 156.6 feet, (47.73 meters) long with a wingspan of 185.0 feet (56.39 meters) and overall height of 48.3 feet, (14.72 meters). The wings were mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”) to provide clearance for the engines which were suspended on pylons. The wings had a 6° angle of incidence and 2° 30′ anhedral. The wings’ leading edges were swept aft 36° 54′. The bomber’s empty weight was 164,081 pounds (74,226 kilograms), with a combat weight of 272,000 pounds (123,377 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 420,000 pounds (190,509 kilograms).

Early production B-52Bs were powered by eight Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1WA turbojet engines, while later aircraft were equipped with J57-P-19W and J57-P-29W or WA turbojets. The engines were grouped in two-engine pods on four under-wing pylons. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). These engines were rated at 8,250 pounds of thrust (36.700 kilonewtons), each, Maximum Continuous Power; 9,500 pounds (42.258 kilonewtons), Military Power (30 minute limit); or 11,400 pounds (50.710 kilonewtons) with water injection (5 minute limit). The J57-P-1WA was 3 feet, 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, 13 feet, 1.7 inches (4.006 meters) long, and weighed 4,210 pounds (1,910 kilograms).

The B-52B had a cruise speed of 453 knots (521 miles per hour/839 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), and a maximum speed of 547 knots (630 miles per hour/1,013 kilometers per hour) at 19,900 feet (6,065 meters). The service ceiling with the maximum bomb load was 48,650 feet (14,829 meters), and 55,350 feet (16,855 meters) for a ferry mission.

Tail gun turret of an early B-52 Stratofortress

Maximum ferry range was 6,460 nautical miles (7,434 statute miles/11,964 kilometers). With the maximum bomb load, the B-52B had a combat radius of 2,620 nautical miles (3,015 statute miles/4,852 kilometers), or 3,135 nautical miles (3,608 statute miles/5,806 kilometers) with the design load. With inflight refueling, though, the bomber’s range was essentially world-wide.

Defensive armament consisted of four Browning Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50, AN-M3, mounted in a tail turret with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a combined rate of fire in excess of 4,000 rounds per minute. (Some B-52s were armed with four M24A1 20 mm autocannons with 400 rounds per gun.)

The B-52B’s maximum bomb load was 43,000 pounds (19,505 kilograms). It could carry a maximum of 27 1,000-pound conventional explosive bombs. For strategic missions, the bomber carried one Mark 6 nuclear bomb, which had a yield ranging from 8 to 160 kilotons, depending on Mod, or two Mark 21 thermonuclear bombs, each with a yield of 4–5 megatons.

Boeing manufactured 744 B-52 Stratofortress bombers, with the final one rolled out at Wichita, Kansas, 22 June 1962. As of 27 September 2016, 77 B-52H bombers remain in service with the United States Air Force.

Boeing B-52B-35-BO Stratofortress 53-0394, Lucky Lady III. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 December 1944

Brigadier General Frederick Walker Castle, United States Army Air Forces. (Photographed circa 1943, as a lieutenant colonel.) (U.S. Air Force)

          The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to

BRIGADIER GENERAL (AIR CORPS) FREDERICK WALKER CASTLE

UNITED STATES ARMY AIR FORCES,

for service as set forth in the following

CITATION:

         “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 487th Bombardment Group (H), 4th Bombardment Wing, Eighth Air Force.

Brigadier General Castle was air commander and leader of more than 2,000 heavy bombers in a strike against German airfields on 24 December 1944. En route to the target, the failure of one engine forced him to relinquish his place at the head of the formation. In order not to endanger friendly troops on the ground below, he refused to jettison his bombs to gain speed maneuverability. His lagging, unescorted aircraft became the target of numerous enemy fighters which ripped the left wing with cannon shells, set the oxygen system afire, and wounded two members of the crew. Repeated attacks started fires in two engines, leaving the Flying Fortress in imminent danger of exploding. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, the bail-out order was given. Without regard for his personal safety he gallantly remained alone at the controls to afford all other crewmembers an opportunity to escape. Still another attack exploded gasoline tanks in the right wing, and the bomber plunged earthward, carrying General Castle to his death. His intrepidity and willing sacrifice of his life to save members of the crew were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.”

/s/ HARRY S. TRUMAN

War Department, General Orders No. 22 (February 28, 1946)

Colonel Frederick Walker Castle, U.S. Army Air Corps (center) and Lieutenant Colonel Elliot Vandevanter, Jr. (left), speaking to Brigadier General Curtiss E. LeMay, 10 November 1943. (IWM, Roger Freeman Collection)

Brigadier General Frederick Walker Castle, commanding officer of the 4th Combat Bombardment Wing, Heavy, was flying the lead bomber of the 487th Bombardment Group, on Air Force Mission No. 760, which was an attack against German air fields. This was a “maximum effort” involving three air divisions—a total of 2,046 B-17 and B-24 bombers, escorted by 853 fighters. The 487th was leading the 3rd Air Division. The Group’s target, with a total of 96 bombers, was the airfield at Babenhausen, Germany.

As the Wing’s commander, General Castle flew as co-pilot aboard the lead ship, B-17G 44-8444 of the 487th, with pilot 1st Lieutenant Robert W. Harriman and his lead crew of 6 officers and 3 sergeant/gunners. As the leading Pathfinder, Treble Four carried three navigators.

The combat crew of “Treble Four.” Front row, left to right: Lt. Wilkinson, (not aboard for Mission 760); S/SGT Lowell B. Hudson, Waist Gunner; T/SGT Quentin W. Jeffers, Flight Engineer, Top Turret Gunner; T/SGT Lawrence H. Swain, Radio Operator, Top Gunner; Standing, left to right: 1st Lt. Robert W. Harriman, Pilot, Aircraft Commander; 1st Lt. Claude L. Rowe, Co-Pilot (Tail Gunner, Formation Observer for Mission 760); 1st Lt. Bruno S. Procopio, Radar Navigator; 1st Lt. Henry P. MacArty, Pilotage Navigator; 1st Lt. Paul L. Biri, Bombardier. Not included, Captain Edmund F. Auer, Navigator. Lt. Harriman, Lt. Rowe, T/SGT Swain, were killed in action 24 December 1944. (487thbg.org)

The group began taking off from RAF Lavenham at 0900 and assembled at 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) in what was described as “perfect weather.” En route to their target, the B-17s continued climbing to 22,000 feet (6,706 meters) and leveled off at 1223.

B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers of the 487th Bombardment Group, Heavy, circa 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain, Roger Freeman Collection FRE 6772)

At about this time, Treble Four‘s number four engine, outboard on the right wing, began losing oil and could not produce its normal power. As the bomber slowed, it dropped out of the formation, with General Castle relinquishing the lead to a second Pathfinder B-17. The airplane, now on its own, was quickly attacked by Luftwaffe fighters, putting two engines out of operation and setting the bomber on fire. Two crewmen were wounded in the first attack.

The Battle of the Bulge, a major land engagement, was under way, and Castle’s bomber was overhead American 1st Army formations. The General did not want it to come down among the friendly lines with its full load of bombs.

Lieutenant Harriman and General Castle continued to fly the disabled airplane as the crew was ordered to abandon ship. Six men bailed out. One man was machine-gunned in his parachute by an enemy fighter and was killed. Another lost his parachute and also died. A third died of his wounds at a hospital.

At about 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) the B-17’s right wing came off and Treble Four entered a violent spin. The fuselage broke into several sections. The largest remaining part of the airplane, the forward fuselage, including the bomb bay, left wing and inboard right wing, crashed approximately 300 yards (275 meters) from Chateaux d’Englebermont in Belgium. The wreck was on fire and bombs exploded.

Lieutenant Harriman and General Castle, still in the cockpit, were killed.

Lockheed Vega B-17G-65-VE 44-8444 Treble Four crash site
The wreckage of General Castle’s Lockheed Vega-built B-17G-65-VE Flying Fortress 44-8444, Treble Four. (U.S. Air Force)

Treble Four was a B-17G-65-VE Flying Fortress, built by the Vega Aircraft Corporation (a subsidiary of Lockheed) at Burbank, California. It was delivered to Dallas, Texas, 14 September 1944. After crossing the continent, the new bomber departed Bangor, Maine, 16 October 1944, and headed across the North Atlantic Ocean for England. On 20 November, 44-8444 was assigned to the 836th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 487th Bombardment Group (Heavy), at Air Force Station 137 (RAF Lavenham), near Sudbury, Suffolk, England.

The airplane was a “Pathfinder,” equipped with H2X ground-mapping radar which allowed a radar navigator to locate a target through cloud cover. The rotating antenna replaced the bomber’s ventral ball turret.

The two B-17s in this photograph, both Lockheed-Vega B-17G-20-VE Flying Fortresses, 42-97627 and 42-97555, are equipped with H2X ground-mapping radar. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Frederick Walker Castle (fourth from left) joins Major John J. McNaboe  during the debriefing of 1st Lt. James A. Verinis and his combat crew of the 324th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy). Verinis had previously served as co-pilot of the B-17F Memphis Belle. (U.S. Air Force)

Frederick Walker Castle was born at Fort William McKinley, Manila, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 14 October 1908. He was the first of three children of 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin Frederick Castle, United States Army, and Winifred Alice Walker Castle.

Castle attended Boonton High School, in Boonton, New Jersey, and the Storm King School at Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York.

Castle enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard in 1924. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, as a cadet in 1926. Upon graduating, on  12 June 1930, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, United States Army.

Transferred to Air Corps, 1931, trained as a pilot at March Field, near Riverside, California.

12 September 1936, 1st Lt., Air Corps, 27th Division Aviation

Recalled to active duty at the rank of captain, January 1942. He was assigned to the staff of Major General Ira Eaker, engaged in forming Eighth Air Force in England. He was promoted to colonel, January 1943. He served as chief of staff for supply.

From 19 June 1943, Colonel Castle commanded the 94th Bombardment Group, Heavy, at RAF Bury St. Edmunds (USAAF Station 468), and in April 1944, took command of the 4th Combat Bomb Wing, Heavy. Castle was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, 20 November 1944.

Brigadier General Frederick W. Castle receives his insignia of rank from his staff, 14 December 1944. (IWM, Roger Freeman Collection)

General Castle’s remains was buried at the Henri Chapelle American Cemetery near Welkenraedt, Belgium.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Brigadier General Castle was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters (four awards), and the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics awarded him its Орден Кутузова (Orden Kutuzova, the Order of Kutuzov); Belgium, the Croix de Guerre avec palme; France appointed him an Officier de la Légion d’honneur and awarded its Croix de Guerre avec palme.

Merced Army Airfield was renamed Castle Field, 17 January 1946, in honor of General Castle.

NOTE: A detailed analysis of “The Crash of B-17 44-8444 Treble Four” by Paul M. Webber can be found at: https://web.archive.org/web/20170127032552/http://www.geocities.ws/pmwebber/castle_treble4.htm

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 June 1955

The first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)
The first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711. (U.S. Air Force)

29 June 1955: The first operational Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, RB-52B-15-BO 52-8711, was delivered to the 93rd Bombardment Wing, Heavy, at Castle Air Force Base, Merced, California. The new long-range heavy bomber would replace the 93rd’s Boeing B-47 Stratojets.

Fifty B-52Bs were built by Boeing at its Plant 2, Seattle, Washington. Twenty-seven of these were RB-52B reconnaissance bombers. They were designed to accept a pressurized electronic intelligence and photographic reconnaissance capsule with a two-man crew that completely filled the bomb bay. Without the capsule aboard, the RB-52s were capable of the same bombing missions as their sister B-52Bs. The change could be made within a few hours.

Pressurized two-man RB-52 reconnaissance pod.
Pressurized two-man RB-52 reconnaissance pod. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-52B/RB-52B was operated by a six-man flight crew for the bombing mission, and eight for reconnaissance. These were the aircraft commander/pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radar navigator/bombardier, electronic warfare officer, and gunner, plus two reconnaissance technicians when required.

The airplane was 156.6 feet, (47.7 meters) long with a wingspan of 185.0 feet (56.4 meters) and overall height of 48.3 feet (14.7 meters). The wings were mounted high on the fuselage (“shoulder-mounted”) to provide clearance for the engines which were suspended on pylons. The wings’ leading edges were swept aft to 36° 54′. Their angle of incidence was 6° and there was 2° 30′ dihedral. The RB-52B’s empty weight was 162,969 pounds (73,921 kilograms), with a combat weight of 257,900 pounds (116,981 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 390,000 pounds (176,901 kilograms). (MTOW was later increased to 420,000 pounds.)

The bomb bay of this RB-52B Stratofortress, 52-8012, is open, revealing the reconnaissance pod. (U.S. Air Force)

Early production B-52Bs were powered by eight Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1W turbojet engines, while later aircraft were equipped with J57-P-19W and J57-P-29W or WA turbojets. The engines were grouped in two-engine pods on four under-wing pylons. The J57 was a two-spool, axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7-high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-PW-1 engines had a Normal Power rating of 8,250 pounds of thrust (32.698 kilonewtons) at 9,720 r.p.m., N1, continuous; Military Power, 9,500 pounds thrust (42.258 kilonewtons) at 9,950 r.p.m., N1, for 30 minutes; and Maximum Power, 11,100 pounds of thrust (49.375 kilonewtons) with water injection, at 9,950 r.p.m., N1, 5 minute limit. The J57-PW-1 was 3 feet. 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, 13 feet, 1.2 inches (3.993 meters) long, and weighed 4,210 pounds (1,910 kilograms).

Boeing RB-52B-10-BO Stratofortress 52-013. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-52B/RB-52B had a cruise speed of 517 knots (595 miles per hour/957 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The maximum speed was 542 knots (624 miles per hour/1,004 kilometers per hour) at 19,500 feet (5,944 meters). The service ceiling at combat weight was 47,600 feet (14,508 meters).

The RB-52B had a maximum fuel capacity of 37,385 gallons (141,518 liters). Its maximum ferry range was 6,460 nautical miles (7,434 statute miles/11,964 kilometers). With a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load, the RB-52B had a combat radius of 3,110 nautical miles (3,579 miles/5,760 kilometers). With inflight refueling, the bomber’s range was world-wide.

Tail gun turret of an early B-52 Stratofortress
B-52 tail gun turret

Defensive armament consisted of four Browning Aircraft Machine Guns, Caliber .50, AN-M3, mounted in a tail turret with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. These guns had a combined rate of fire in excess of 4,000 rounds per minute.

The B-52B could carry twenty-seven 750 pound (340 kilogram) bombs, or two 25,000 pound (11,340 kilogram) Special Weapons (thermonuclear bombs).

Boeing manufactured 744 B-52 Stratofortress bombers, with the final one rolled out at Wichita, Kansas, 22 June 1962. As of June 2016, 75 B-52H bombers remain in service with the United States Air Force.

RB-52B 52-8711 remained in active service until 29 September 1965. Today it is on display at the Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska.

A Strategic Air Command alert crew runs to man their bomber, Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711, 22 Bombardment Wing (Heavy), the first operational B-52, at March Air Force Base, California, 1965. (U.S. Air Force)
A Strategic Air Command alert crew runs to man their bomber, Boeing RB-52B-15-BO Stratofortress 52-8711, 22 Bombardment Wing (Heavy), the first operational B-52, at March Air Force Base, California, 1965. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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