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) braking 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. With the braking chute, though, releasing the chute allowed the airplane to climb out as the engines were already operating at high r.p.m.
A strategic bomber, 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-man crew in a tandem cockpit. A navigator/bombardier was at a station in the nose.
The Boeing B-47E Stratojet is 107 feet (32.614 meters) long with a wingspan of 116 feet (35.357 meters), and an overall height of 27 feet, 11 inches (8.509 meters). The wings are shoulder-mounted with the leading edges swept at 35°. It has an empty weight of 79,074 pounds (35,867 kilograms), gross weight of 198,180 pounds (89,893 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 230,000 pounds (104,326 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 J47-GE-25 is rated at 5,970 pounds of static thrust at Sea Level, at 7,950 r.p.m. and 1,250 °F. (677 °C.) turbine outlet temperature (TOT). (7,200 pounds of thrust with water injection). It 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 Stratojet had a maximum speed of 607 miles per hour (977 kilometers per hour) at 16,300 feet (4,968 meters) and 557 miles per hour (896 kilometers per hour) at 38,500 feet (11,735 meters). The service ceiling was 33,100 feet (10,089 meters) and combat ceiling 40,500 feet (12,344 meters).
The combat radius of the B-47E was 2,013 miles (3,240 kilometers with a 10,845 pound (4,919 kilograms) bomb load. Ferry range with 16,318 gallons (61,770 liters) of fuel was 4,035 miles (6,494 kilometers).
For defense the B-47E was armed with two M24A1 20 mm autocannons in the tail. The co-pilot acted as gunner.
The maximum bomb load of the was 25,000 pounds (11,340 kilograms). The B-47 could carry two 7,600 pound (3,447 kilogram) Mark 15 two-stage radiation implosion thermonuclear bombs, each with an explosive yield of 3.8 megatons, or a single 10,670 pound (4,808 kilogram) B-41 three-stage, 25 megaton bomb.
Designed by Boeing, the Stratojet was a high-subsonic speed strategic bomber and reconnaissance aircraft, in service from 1951 until 1977. 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.
© 2016, Bryan R. Swopesby