22 November 1972: The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers began combat operations in the Vietnam War with ARC LIGHT strikes against enemy troop concentrations and supply lines in June 1966. The B-52s flew so high and fast that they could neither be seen nor heard on the ground. It was more than six years before the first of the eight-engine bombers would be lost to enemy action.
B-52D-65-BO 55-0110, call sign OLIVE 2, was assigned to the 96th Bombardment Wing, Heavy. It flew combat missions from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and the U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, Thailand. On 22 November, -110 was crewed by Captain Norbert J. Ostrozny, aircraft commander; Captain P. A. Foley, co-pilot; Bud Rech, radar navigator; Captain Robert Estes, navigator; Larry Stephens, electronic warfare officer; and Staff Sergeant Ronald W. Sellers, gunner.
Near Vinh, on the central coast of North Vietnam, OLIVE 2 was struck by an exploding S-75 Dvina surface to-air missile (NATO identified the S-75 as the SS-2 Guideline, commonly referred to as a SAM). The S-75 is a Soviet two-stage command-guided surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile. It is 10.60 meters (34 feet, 9.3 inches) long and 0.7 meter (2 feet, 3.6 inches) in diameter. It is liquid-fueled and has a maximum speed of Mach 4 and range of 24 kilometers (15 miles). The missile has a 200 kilogram (441 pound) fragmentation warhead. The loaded weight is 2,300 kilograms (5,071 pounds).
OLIVE 2 was seriously damaged and on fire, and the flight crew turned toward the airfield at U-Tapao.
After crossing the Thailand border, Captain Ostrozny ordered the crew to eject from the stricken bomber. All six crewmen escaped the doomed Stratofortress and were later rescued by a Sikorsky HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant search-and-rescue helicopter.
55-0110 crashed 15 miles (24 kilometers) southwest of Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. It was the first Stratofortress lost to enemy action in more than six years of combat.
The United States Air Force flew more than 125,000 combat sorties with the B-52 from 1966 to 1973. During that time, the bombers delivered 2,949,615 tons of bombs against enemy targets. A total of 31 B-52s were lost during this time. 73 crewmen were killed in action and 33 captured and held as prisoners of war.
My thanks to Colonel Knox Bishop, U.S. Air Force (Retired), for contributing the additional details.
4 November 1962: A Western Electric M6 Nike Hercules air-defense guided missile was launched from Johnston Island in the North Pacific Ocean. The missile was armed with a W-31 Mod 1 nuclear warhead, and had been modified to include a command arm/fire capability, and an automatic disarm feature. At an altitude of 69,000 feet (21,031 meters), 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) south-southwest of the island, the warhead detonated with an explosive yield of 12 kilotons. This nuclear weapon effects test, Dominic Tightrope, was the final test of the Operation Dominic I test series, and was the last atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States.
The Nike Hercules was a long-range, high-altitude surface-to-air guided missile, designed and produced by Western Electric Company and the Douglas Aircraft Company. It was a two-stage missile with a cluster of four Hercules Powder Company M5E1 solid-fuel rocket engines as the boost stage. The second stage was powered by a Thiokol Chemical Corporation M30 solid-fuel rocket engine. The booster stage produced 173,600 pounds of thrust (772.211 kilonewtons)and burned for 3.4 seconds. The second stage engine produced 13,500 pounds of thrust (60.051 kilonewtons) and had a burn time of 29 seconds.
The Nike air defense missile system used multiple radars to track incoming target aircraft and the outgoing missile. Computer systems analyzed the data and signals were sent to guide the missile toward the target. This was a complex system and multiple missiles were based together at missile sites around the defended area.
The Nike Hercules was 41 feet (12.497 meters) long, with a maximum diameter of 2 feet, 6.5 inches (0.775 meters). The maximum wing span was 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters). Its weight was 10,710 pounds (4,858 kilograms). The Hercules could reach an altitude of 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) and had a range of 90 miles (145 kilometers). The missile’s maximum speed was Mach 3.65.
The Hercules could be armed with either a M17 high explosive fragmentation warhead or a W-31 nuclear warhead. Although designed to attack jet aircraft, the Nike Hercules also successfully intercepted guided and ballistic missiles, and had a surface-to-surface capability.
The Western Electric SAM-A-25 Nike B was renamed Nike Hercules in 1956 while still in development. It was redesignated Guided Missile, Air Defense M6 in 1958, and MIM-14 in 1963. (“MIM” is Department of Defense terminology for a mobile, ground-launched interceptor missile.) About 25,000 Nike Hercules missiles were built. Initially deployed in 1958, it remained in service with the U.S. Army until 1984.
The W-31 was a boosted fission implosion warhead designed by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. It weighed 900 pounds (408 kilograms) and had a selectable yield of from 2 to 40 kilotons. About 2,550 warheads were produced and remained in service until 1989.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Lieutenant Colonel James Eugene McInerney, Jr., (AFSN: 0-23452), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as Pilot of an F-105 airplane in the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, 7th Air Force, in action as Leader of a flak suppression flight in action against the Paul Doumer Bridge, a major north-south transportation link on Hanoi’s Red River in North Vietnam, on 11 August 1967. On that date, Colonel McInerney suppressed six active surface-to-air missile sites defending a strategic highway and railroad bridge. Despite concentrated barrages of anti-aircraft fire and three missiles directed against his flight, Colonel McInerney displayed the highest degree of courageous leadership in destroying two missile sites and forcing the other four into sporadic operation. As a direct result of his actions, the strike force suffered no losses and imposed extensive damage to this vital target. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Lieutenant Colonel McInerney reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
General Orders: Department of the Air Force, Special Order GB-123 (March 27, 1968)
Action Date: August 11, 1967
Service: Air Force
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Company: 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron
Regiment: 388th Tactical Fighter Wing
Division: Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Fred Shannon (AFSN: 0-3100995), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-105 Electronics Warfare Officer of the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in action in the lead aircraft of a flak suppression flight near Hanoi, North Vietnam, on 11 August 1967. On that date, Captain Shannon suppressed six active surface-to-air missile sites defending a strategic highway and railroad bridge. Despite concentrated barrages of anti-aircraft fire and three missiles directed against his flight, Captain Shannon displayed the highest degree of courageous leadership in destroying two missile sites and in forcing the other four into sporadic operation. As a direct result of his actions, the strike force suffered no losses and imposed extensive damage on this vital target. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Captain Shannon reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
General Orders: Department of the Air Force, Special Order GB-123 (March 27, 1968)
1 May 1960: Near Degtyansk, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia, a Central Intelligence Agency/Lockheed U-2C, 56-6693, “Article 360,” flying at approximately 80,000 feet (24,384 meters) on a Top Secret reconnaissance mission, was hit by shrapnel from an exploding Soviet S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missile.
With his airplane damaged and out of control, pilot Francis Gary Powers bailed out and parachuted safely but was immediately captured. A trailing MiG-19 fighter was also shot down by the salvo of anti-aircraft missiles, and its pilot killed.
Gary Powers was interrogated by the KGB (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti, the Committee for State Security of the Soviet Union, a military intelligence/counterintelligence service) for 62 days, then prosecuted for espionage and imprisoned at the notorious Lubyanka Prison in Moscow. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment and seven years of hard labor.
After almost two years, he was exchanged for William August Fisher, (AKA Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher) a long-time Soviet intelligence officer who had been captured in the United States in 1957. [This story was recounted in the recent motion picture, “Bridge of Spies,” which starred Tom Hanks. The film received six Academy Award nominations in 2015.]
Francis Gary Powers entered the United States Air Force as an aviation cadet in 1950. He graduated from pilot training and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1952. Powers was then assigned to the 468th Strategic Fighter Squadron, 506th Strategic Fighter Wing at Turner Air Force Base, Georgia, where he flew the Republic F-84G Thunderjet fighter bomber. He received special training in the delivery of the Mark 7 variable-yield tactical nuclear bomb.
In 1956, 1st Lieutenant Powers was released from the U.S. Air Force to participate in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Project Aquatone. He was now a civilian government employee, although he was promised that he could return to the Air Force and that he would keep his seniority and would be promoted on schedule.
After his release from the Soviet Union, Powers was employed as a test pilot for Lockheed, 1962–1970. He then became an airborne traffic and news reporter for several Los Angeles-area radio and television broadcast stations.
Powers was killed in the crash of a Bell 206B JetRanger helicopter at Van Nuys, California, 1 August 1977.
On 24 November 1986, the Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded posthumously to Powers “For Extraordinary Achievement While Participating in Aerial Flight 1 May 1960.”
After reviewing his record at the request of his son, Francis Gary Powers, Jr., on 15 February 2000, the U.S. Air Force retroactively promoted him to the rank of Captain, effective 19 June 1957, and further credited his military service to include 14 May 1956–1 March 1963, the time he was with the CIA. The award of the Prisoner of War medal was also authorized.
On June 15, 2012, General Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, awarded Captain Francis Gary Powers the Silver Star (posthumous).
Article 360 had been built as a U-2A, the last aircraft of the initial production block. It was delivered to Groom Lake, Nevada, 5 November 1956, and was used for test and development until May 1959, when it was converted to the U-2C configuration.
The Lockheed U-2C was a very high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the United States Air Force. It was 49 feet, 7 inches (15.113 meters) long with a wingspan of 80 feet, 2 inches (24.435 meters) and height of 15 feet, 2 inches (4.623 meters). Its empty weight was 14,250 pounds (6,464 kilograms) and gross weight was 24,150 pounds (10,954 kilograms).
The U-2C was powered by a Pratt & Whitney J75-P-13B turbojet engine rated at 17,000 pounds of thrust (75.62 kilonewtons) at Sea Level. Two-spool axial-flow turbojet with 15-stage compressor (8 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine (1 high- and two low-pressure stages).
The U-2C’s cruise speed was 400 knots (460 miles per hour, 741 kilometers per hour) at 65,000 feet (19,812 meters) and its maximum speed was 0.87 Mach at 62,000 feet (18,898 meters), though the airplane was placarded for 0.80 Mach, maximum. The maximum range was 4,600 nautical miles (8,519 kilometers). It could operate ceiling at 76,000 feet (23,165 meters)
The S-75 Dvina (NATO: SA-2 Guideline) is a two-stage ground-controlled anti-aircraft missile. It is 10.60 meters (34 feet, 9.3 inches) long and 0.7 meter (2 feet, 3.6 inches) in diameter. It is liquid-fueled and has a maximum speed of Mach 4 and range of 24 kilometers (15 miles). It has a 200 kilogram (441 pound) fragmentation warhead. The loaded weight is 2,300 kilograms (5,071 pounds).