Tag Archives: Strategic Air Command

12 February 1959

Convair B-36J-10-CF Peacemaker, 52-2827, the last B-36 built. (U.S. Air Force)
Convair B-36J-75-CF Peacemaker, 52-2827, the last B-36 built. (U.S. Air Force)

The Last Peacemaker: This gigantic airplane, a Convair B-36J-75-CF Peacemaker, serial number 52-2827, was the very last of the ten-engine strategic bombers built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at Fort Worth, Texas. It was completed 1 July 1954. On 14 August, it was delivered to the Strategic Air Command, 92nd Bombardment Wing, Heavy, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. Later, 52-2827 was assigned to the 95th Bombardment Wing, Heavy, at Biggs Air Force Base, El Paso, Texas.

The last one built, 52-2827 was also the last operational B-36.

Convair B-36J-10-CF Peacemaker 52-2827 at Amon Carter Field, Fort Worth, Texas, 12 February 1959. (Unattributed)
Convair B-36J-75-CF Peacemaker 52-2827 at Amon Carter Field, Fort Worth, Texas, 12 February 1959. (Unattributed)

On 12 February 1959, after 4 years, 5 months, 30 days service, the Air Force returned the bomber to Fort Worth. 52-2827 departed Biggs Air Force Base at 11:00 a.m., under the command of Major Frederick J. Winter, with 23 persons on board. It touched down at Amon Carter Field at 2:55 p.m.

After a ceremony attended by thousands, the bomber was officially retired. It was then put on display at Amon Carter Field.

After decades of neglect, the bomber was placed in the care of the Pima Air and Space Museum at Tucson for restoration and display.

The last Peacemaker, Convair B-36J-10-CF 52-2827, comes to the end of the assembly line at Fort Worth, Texas. (University of North Texas Libraries)
The last Peacemaker, Convair B-36J-75-CF 52-2827, comes to the end of the assembly line at Fort Worth, Texas. (University of North Texas Libraries)

Convair B-36J 52-2827 is one of 14 “Featherweight III” high altitude variants. It was built without the six retractable defensive gun turrets of the standard B-36, retaining only the two M24A1 20 mm autocannons in the tail. This reduced the crew requirement to 13. It is 162 feet, 1 inch (49.403 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet (70.104 meters) and overall height of 46 feet, 9 inches (14.249 meters). The empty weight is 166,125 pounds (75,353 kilograms) and loaded weight is 262,500 pounds (119,068 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight is 410,000 pounds (185,973 kilograms).

The B-36J has ten engines. There are six air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49 cubic-inch-displacement (71.488 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major C6 (R-4360-53) 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-4360-53 had a Normal Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. Its Military Power rating was 3,500 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., and 3,800 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. with water injection—the same for Takeoff. 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-4360-53 is 9 feet, 9.00 inches (2.972 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighs 4,040 pounds (1,832.5 kilograms).

Four General Electric J47-GE-19 turbojet engines are suspended under the wings in two-engine pods. The J47 is a  single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with a 12-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers, and single-stage turbine. The J47-GE-19 was modified to run on gasoline and was rated at 5,200 pounds of thrust (23.131 kilonewtons).

The B-36J Featherweight III had a cruise speed of 230 miles per hour (370 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 418 miles per hour (673 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 43,600 feet (13,289 meters) and its combat radius was 3,985 miles (6,413 kilometers). The maximum range was 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers).

The B-36 was designed during World War II and nuclear weapons were unknown to the Consolidated-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 3.8 megaton thermonuclear bombs. By combining the bomb bays, one Mk.17 15-megaton thermonuclear bomb could be carried.

Bomb, Mark 17, displayed with Convair B-36J Peacemaker at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Bomb, Mark 17 Mod 2, displayed with Convair B-36J Peacemaker at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Between 1946 and 1954, 384 B-36 Peacemakers were built. They were never used in combat. Only four still exist.

Convair B-36J-10-CF 52-2827 at the Pima Air and Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona. (B-36 Peacemaker Museum)
Convair B-36J-75-CF 52-2827 at the Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona. (B-36 Peacemaker Museum)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 January 1987

Rockwell B-1B Lancer 85-0073, Wings of Freedom, lands at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, 21 January 1987. (U.S. Air Force)
Rockwell B-1B Lancer 85-0073, Wings of Freedom, lands at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, 21 January 1987. (U.S. Air Force)
General John T. Chain, Jr., U.S. Air Force
General John T. Chain, Jr., U.S. Air Force

21 January 1987: The first Rockwell International B-1B Lancer was delivered to the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. The airplane, serial number 85-0073, was named Wings of Freedom. It was flown to Ellsworth by General John T. Chain, Jr., Commander in Chief, Strategic Air Command.

100 B-1B Lancers were built by Rockwell International’s aircraft division at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, between 1983 and 1988

The Rockwell B-1B is 146 feet (44.501 meters) long, with the wing span varying from 79 feet (24.079 meters) to 137 feet (41.758 meters). It is 34 feet (10.363 meters) high at the top of the vertical fin. The bomber’s empty weight is 192,000 pounds (87,090 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 477,000 pounds (216,364 kilograms)

The bomber is powered by four General Electric F101-GE-102 afterburning turbofan engines, producing 30,780 pounds of thrust, each.

The B-1B has a maximum speed of Mach 1.25 (830 miles per hour (1,336 kilometers per hour) at high altitude, or 0.92 Mach (700 miles per hour, 1,127 kilometers per hour) at 200 feet (61 meters). The Lancer has a service ceiling of 60,000 feet (18,288 meters), and an unrefueled range of 7,456 miles (11,999 kilometers).

It can carry up to 84 Mk.82 500-pound bombs, 24 Mk.84 2,000-pound bombs, or other weapons. The B-1B is not equipped for nuclear strike missions.

Currently 62 B-1B bombers are in the active Air Force inventory, with 2 others in the test fleet.

After 21 years of service, 85-0073 was retired to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 24 March 2008.

Rockwell B-1B Lancer, 85-0073, Wings of Freedom, at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, 21 January 1987. (U.S. Air Force)
Rockwell B-1B Lancer, 85-0073, Wings of Freedom, at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, 21 January 1987. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 January 1966

Boeing KC-135A-BN Stratotanker 58-0004 refuels Boeing B-52G-75-BW Stratofortress 57-6741. These are the same type aircraft that were involved in the 1966 Palomares Incident. (Boeing)

17 January 1966: A United States Air Force Boeing B-52G-115-BW Stratofortress, 58-0256, and its 7-man crew, along with a second B-52, were flying an Airborne Nuclear Alert patrol over the Mediterranean Sea. The bomber, call sign “Tea 16,” was armed with four Mark 28 nuclear bombs carried in its bomb bay.

At approximately 10:30 a.m., the two B-52s rendezvoused with two Boeing KC-135A-BN Stratotankers, based at Morón Air Base, Spain, for the second aerial refueling of the mission. The aircraft were at 31,000 feet (9,448 meters) off the southern coast of Spain.

Major Larry G. Messinger, a veteran of World War II, aboard as a relief pilot, was flying Tea 16 from the left seat. The aircraft commander, Captain Charles J. Wendorf, was in the right, co-pilot’s seat, while 1st Lieutenant Richard J. Rooney, the assigned co-pilot, rode in a jump seat behind them.

Major Messinger later said, “We came in behind the tanker, and we were a little bit fast, and we started to overrun him a little bit. . . .”

A boom operator’s view as a B-52 Stratofortress refuels. (John E. Considine/NASM)

B-52G 58-0256 collided with the refueling boom of “Troubadour 14” (KC-135A 61-0273). The boom penetrated the bomber’s fuselage, broke structural members and the left wing broke off. The B-52 exploded. The fully-loaded tanker, on fire, went into a steep dive. At 1,600 feet (488 meters), it also exploded.

The four crewmen aboard the tanker were killed. Three of the seven men on the B-52 ejected, and the co-pilot, who was not in an ejection seat, literally fell out of the disintegrating bomber. The navigator’s parachute did not open and he was killed. Three others were unable to escape the doomed airplane and were also killed.

Wreckage of B-52G 58-0256 at Palomares, Spain, January 1966. (Kit Talbot/The New York Times)

As the B-52 broke apart, the four nuclear bombs it carried in the bomb bay fell free. Three of them fell near the fishing village of Palomares. In two of these, the conventional explosives that “implode” the plutonium to start a chain reaction, detonated on impact, but a nuclear explosion did not occur. However, plutonium was scattered over the area. The third bomb was recovered intact, though it was slightly damaged. The retarding parachute of the fourth Mark 28 opened and it was carried offshore by the wind and fell into the Mediterranean Sea.

A massive recovery operation took place. The fourth bomb was recovered after five months. It had come to rest in an underwater canyon at a depth of 2,550 feet (777 meters).

1,400 tons of soil was packed into more than 6,000 steel drums and taken to the United States.
1,400 tons of soil was packed into more than 6,000 steel drums and taken to the United States.

558 acres (226 hectares) of land in and around Palomares was contaminated. The soil was removed and placed in steel barrels for transportation to the United States for burial at the Savannah River Plant, a nuclear reservation in South Carolina.

Three airmen position a B28Y1 1.1 megaton thermonuclear bomb for loading aboard a B-52 Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force)
Three airmen position a B28-Y1 thermonuclear bomb for loading aboard a B-52 Stratofortress. (TSgt. Boyd Belcher, U.S. Air Force)

The Mark 28 was a two-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear bomb which was designed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory and produced from January 1958 to May 1966. In 1968, it was redesignated B-28. More than 4,500 were manufactured in as many as 20 variants. Explosive yield varied between 70 kilotons and 1.45 megatons. The B-28-Y1 in the photograph above is a 1.1 megaton weapon. The bomb remained in service until 1991.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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

16 January 1957: Operation Powerflite. At 1:00p.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). Two of the bombers had mechanical problems. One returned to the United States and one landed in England.

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. The other two B-52s were 53-0397, La Victoria, commanded by Major George Kalebaugh, and 53-0398, Lonesome George, commanded by Captain Charles W. Fink.

Each B-52 carried a flight crew of nine men, including three pilots and two navigators.

Four inflight refuelings from piston-engine Boeing KC-97 Stratotankers were required.

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.

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)

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 feet, 6.9 inches (47.724 meters) long with a wingspan of 185 feet, 0 inches (56.388 meters) and overall height of 48 feet, 3.6 inches (14.722 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 35°. 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-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). These engines were rated at 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.71 kilonewtons), each, or 12,100 pounds (53.82 kilonewtons) with water injection.

The B-52B had a cruise speed of 523 miles per hour (842 kilometers per hour). The maximum speed varied with altitude: 630 miles per hour (1,014 kilometers per hour) at 19,800 feet (6,035 meters), 598 miles per hour (962 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and 571 miles per hour (919 kilometers per hour) at 45,750 feet (13,945 meters). The service ceiling at combat weight was 47,300 feet (14,417 meters).

Tail gun turret of an early B-52 Stratofortress

Maximum ferry range was 7,343 miles (11,817 kilometers). With a 10,000 pound (4,536 kilogram) bomb load, the B-52B had a combat radius of 3,590 miles (5,778 kilometers). With inflight refueling, the 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.

The B-52B’s maximum bomb load was 43,000 pounds (19,505 kilograms). It could carry a 15-megaton Mark 17 thermonuclear bomb, or two Mark 15s, each with a maximum yield of 3.8 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 (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 December 1972

TSGT Samuel O. Turner, U.S. Air Force, rests his hand on one of four air-cooled Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber aircraft machine guns of a B-52 tail turret. (“Bulldog Bulletin, Fall 1985”)

18 December 1972: On the first night of  Operation Linebacker II, Staff Sergeant Samuel Olin Turner, United States Air Force, the gunner aboard Boeing B-52D-35-BW Stratofortress 56-676 (call sign “Brown 3”), saw a supersonic Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 21 interceptor approaching the bomber from below and behind, with a second interceptor following at a distance.

As the Mach 2 fighter made a firing pass, Turner directed the four Browning AN-M3 .50-caliber machine guns of the bomber’s tail turret at the enemy fighter and opened fire. In a single 6–8 second burst, he expended 694 rounds of ammunition. He saw “a gigantic explosion to the rear of the aircraft.”

Master Sergeant Louis E. LeBlanc, the gunner on another B-52, “Brown 2,” had also seen the MiG 21 and confirmed Turner’s kill.

Staff Sergeant Turner was the first B-52 gunner to be officially credited with shooting down an enemy fighter, and the first aerial gunner to shoot down an enemy aircraft since the Korean War. He was awarded the Silver Star.

The citation reads,

Silver Star

“Staff Sergent Samuel O. Turner distinguished himself by gallantry in connections with military operations against an opposing armed force as a B-52 Fire Control Operator near Hanoi, North Vietnam, on 18 December 1972. On this mission, Sergeant Turner’s aircraft was attacked by numerous enemy fighters. During these attacks he skillfully operated his gunnery radar equipment to train his guns on the attackers and destroyed one of them. By his courage in the face of hazardous combat conditions and outstanding professional skill, he successfully defended his aircraft and its crew and enabled it to complete its mission and return safely to base. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant Turner has reflected great credit upon himself and to the United States Air Force.”

Staff Sergeant Samuel O. Turner is awarded the Silver Star by General John C. Meyer, Commander in Chief, Strategic Air Command, for his actions in combat over Hanoi during Linebacker II. (U.S. Air Force)
The tail gun turret of B-52D 56-676. (U.S. Air Force)
The tail gun turret of Boeing B-52D Stratofortress 56-676. (U.S. Air Force)

Samuel Olin Turner was born at Atlanta, Georgia, 15 August 1942. He was the son of William Edgar Turner and Beatrice Honnicutt Turner. Sam Turner attended Russell High School at East Point, Georgia, then studied at David Lipscomb College, Nashville, Tennessee.

Turner enlisted in the United States Air Force, 13 January 1970, and was trained as a gunner on Boeing B-52s. He served in Southeast Asia for two years. In 1977, Technical Sergeant Turner transitioned to the B-52H Stratofortress, which was equipped with a remotely-operated M61A1 20 mm six-barreled rotary cannon.

The gunner's position in the tail of a Boeing B-52D Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force)
The gunner’s position in the tail of a Boeing B-52D Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force)

Senior Master Sergeant Samuel O. Turner was released from the U.S. Air Force 31 January 1982. In addition to the Silver Star, during his military career Turner had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and a number of Air Medals. He died at Stockbridge, Georgia, 9 April 1985, at the age of 42 years.

The Samuel O. Turner Airman Leadership School at Ellsworth Air Force Base, near Rapid City, South Dakota, is named in his honor.

56-676 was the last Boeing B-52D Stratofortress in service. It is on display at Fairchild Air Force Base, Spokane, Washington.

A Boeing B-52D Stratofortress of the 307th Strategic Wing over Vietnam during Operation Linebacker II, December 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
A Boeing B-52D Stratofortress of the 307th Strategic Wing over Vietnam during Operation Linebacker II, December 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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