B-17 Flying Fortress with Ammo

B-17 Flying Fortress with Ammo


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B-17 Flying Fortress with Ammo

Here we see the crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress sitting on boxes containing 46,000 rounds of 0.50in shells, enough for seven B-17s, while the bombardier is sitting on a 2,000lb bomb.


Connecting with family, history in a B-17 Flying Fortress

In between this year’s constant rains, on a spectacular blue fall day, I flew in a B-17.

It meant a lot to me. My father flew them 74 years ago.

He was one of thousands of American GI’s who were stationed at Polebrook, England’s 351 st Bomber Division. The B-17’s would conduct daily bombings of Germany. My Dad called it “the milk run” — and they were on the 23 rd mission when he was shot down on a bombing run of Ludwigshafen, Germany — 430 miles away. His Bomber Group served as “Tail End Charlie” for the 1,000 + Bombers. They were to fly “high” at 29,000 feet.

In youth we are fearless. My Dad was 22 years old – and a pilot for World War II.

He spent the next year in Stalag Luft III located in the present day Polish city of Zagan. Until General George Patton liberated the camp.

By the generosity of the Experimental Aircraft Association, the Aluminum Overcast is more than just an airplane. It is a traveling museum and a connection to the past, the “greatest generation” who built and served heroically on these magnificent warbirds.

Once inside, it was surprising how primitive the plane looks to me today. Sitting next to a machine gun, I saw how they loaded the ammo from bolted wooden boxes. The guidewires to the tail flaps and horizontal stabilizers where literally guidewires. It looked like it could have come off a bicycle. They rattled as the engines lifted the bomber over Manassas. My Dad suffered hearing loss in later years – I am sure these engines didn’t help.

For this Baby Boomer, the interior fuselage was challenging, to say the least. These planes were designed for 22 year-olds to scramble and climb through the narrow catwalk over the bombs and gun turrets.

The flight was very special. I served as a photographer when the Aluminum Overcast came into town for three days of flights, fundraising and fun. Later that night, the plane would serve as a backdrop for a Sock Hop to raise money.

When my father’s plane went down on May 27, 1944, he was the co-pilot that day as Lt. Tedford E. Myers served as pilot. When Myers shouted to everyone to get out as he ditched the plane, my father never forgave him. In later years, in my late father’s mind, he thought the plane could have limped back over the English Channel. But the Shady Lady II would end up crashing into a French farm field.

Shady Lady II in France, May 28, 1944.

The stories of why we fight and how we fight is an honor to celebrate those Americans who step up when asked. We see it everyday – be it First Responders, Nurses, Trauma Surgeons, Police or our Service Members. That will be the goal of the National Museum of Americans in Wartime being planned for Dale City.

But on that one bright rain-less day this fall I was with my father when he was in the sky when we were both young and fearless.


Historical Snapshot

On July 28, 1935, a four-engine plane took off from Boeing Field in south Seattle on its first flight. Rolling out of the Boeing hangar, it was simply known as the Model 299. Seattle Times reporter Richard Smith dubbed the new plane, with its many machine-gun mounts, the &ldquoFlying Fortress,&rdquo a name that Boeing quickly adopted and trademarked. The U.S. Army Air Corps designated the plane as the B-17.

In response to the Army&rsquos request for a large, multiengine bomber, the prototype, financed entirely by Boeing, went from design board to flight test in less than 12 months.

The B-17 was a low-wing monoplane that combined aerodynamic features of the XB-15 giant bomber, still in the design stage, and the Model 247 transport. The B-17 was the first Boeing military aircraft with a flight deck instead of an open cockpit and was armed with bombs and five .30-caliber machine guns mounted in clear &ldquoblisters.&rdquo

The first B-17s saw combat in 1941, when the British Royal Air Force took delivery of several B-17s for high-altitude missions. As World War II intensified, the bombers needed additional armament and armor.

The B-17E, the first mass-produced model of the Flying Fortress, carried nine machine guns and a 4,000-pound bomb load. It was several tons heavier than the prototypes and bristled with armament. It was the first Boeing airplane with the distinctive &mdash and enormous &mdash tail for improved control and stability during high-altitude bombing. Each version was more heavily armed.

In the Pacific, the planes earned a deadly reputation with the Japanese, who dubbed them &ldquofour-engine fighters.&rdquo The Fortresses were also legendary for their ability to stay in the air after taking brutal poundings.

Seventy-five years after the B-17&rsquos first flight, an 88 year-old veteran sent The Boeing Company a letter. After explaining how he returned to England after a bombing raid over Germany with 179 flak holes and only two out of the four engines, he wrote: &ldquoI&rsquom glad to be alive. Thank you for making such a good airplane.&rdquo

Gen. Carl Spaatz, the American air commander in Europe, said, &ldquoWithout the B-17 we may have lost the war.&rdquo

Boeing Plant 2 built a total of 6,981 B-17s in various models, and another 5,745 were built under a nationwide collaborative effort by Douglas and Lockheed (Vega). Only a few B-17s survive today, featured at museums and air shows most were scrapped at the end of the war.


Building the B-17 Flying Fortress

“I have found my focusing upon the Flying Fortress to be an amazing experience. Looking at the combat history of the Flying Fortress and the individual stories of those 12,731 distinct airplanes is truly breathtaking. Likewise was the experience of looking at the production history of those aircraft. The scope is hard to grasp. It is like trying to wrap your mind around counting stars in the sky or grains of sand at the beach. Yet, they were not grains of sand. They were complex mechanisms containing numerous complex submechanisms—and they were a moving target because they and their subcomponents were constantly and quickly changing and evolving.”

Well-trodden ground, you think. Been there/done that, you think. Turns out, there is more to be said and, especially, shown. While the operational and engineering histories are indeed plentiful, the actual bolting together of the apparatus on the shop floor had not yet been exhaustively documented.

It’s been 10 years since the last installment in the “Building the xyz” series and this new book continues in the same format, and, amazingly, at the same low price. If you think in numbers this makes the new book an even better deal. And, if you think in numbers you will recognize the mind-boggling, unprecedented, and likely never to be repeated enormity of the B-17 program: more than 12,700 aircraft of the same type built at three different aircraft makers in a short time, utilizing a vast number of subcontractors building components to ever-changing specs and requirements. That it was wartime helped more than it hindered and in that regards, as Yenne addresses at several places in the book, this makes it “an amazing story among amazing stories.” If you are an MRP, a Master Resource Planner, this is just another day at the office but on anyone else the photos in this book will have an impressive and moving impact of what mountains men can move.

Rosy cheeks and lipstick—one of tens of thousands of Rosies shows how it’s done. The aviation sector took on more women during wartime than any other.

Speaking of men, wartime production means of course women—who hasn’t heard of Rosie the Riveter, that iconic figure especially in the the aviation and munitions industries? And who would have thunk that they were all so uncommonly well coiffed and manicured and quite improbably well turned out on the job? Well, they surely weren’t but these photos are from and by Boeing, meaning they are staged for effect.

Of the ca. 294,000 aircraft built for WW II, the B-17 doesn’t even crack the Top Ten of most-produced. Aside from its emphasis on production modalities this book does a properly good job of explaining the B-17’s virtues in the context of the doctrine of strategic airpower and the tactical lessons learned during WW I. A quick jaunt around the globe to look at early bombers brings us to that great American advocate of airpower, General Mitchell, who was not above calling the military establishment’s lack of vision incompetent and treasonable, getting himself court-martialed for insubordination in the process which in turn forced Congress to pass the Air Corps Act of 1926—without which there would be no B-17. While this is a much bigger story than this book can tell, even as brief talking points there is enough groundwork laid here to connect the dots in bomber development and also Boeing’s place as an industry giant.

The broad overview of why and how the A model evolved to the G almost imperceptibly shifts to a greater level of magnification as model-specific features, improvements, and manufacturing / assembly factors (the Block System is of particular relevance here) are introduced. The A, B, C, D and E models were produced by Boeing which was then joined by Douglas and Vega for the F and G models in what became known as the BDV Committee, each company contributing one initial to that entity.

Hundreds of well-captioned photos and technical/cutaway drawings, mostly from Boeing, show everything from wiring looms to cockpit layout and de-icer boots to painting. One of the two Appendices correlates serial numbers to designations which makes for a handy reference when reading any other B-17 book.

Yenne has put forth many a fine aviation/aerospace book. That a half dozen of those are about the Flying Fortress is not least attributable to the spark lit by his dad working on the B-17 program. Making books that are small punch above their weight range is a special skill Yenne has it.

Chapter 1: Setting the Stage for the Flying Fortress

Chapter 2: Boeing of Seattle

Chapter 3: Enter the Boeing Model 299

Chapter 4: The Life and Times of the B-17B

Chapter 5: The B-17C and B-17D: The Transitional Variants

Chapter 6: The B-17E Brings Changes in Philosophy and Method

Chapter 7: The B-17F and Scaling Up for Production

Chapter 8: The B-17G: The Ultimate Flying Fortress

Appendix I: Diagrams and Cutaway Drawings

Appendix II: All Flying Fortresses by Variant and Block

By the way, ch. 8 says it’s about the 17G but it also includes variants such as the F-9 photo recon models, Navy/Coast Guard-only variants, the USAAF 17H lifeboat version, and mentions a host of others.


US Navy redesigns submarines with women in mind

Posted On April 02, 2018 09:45:54

Every submarine in the U.S. fleet was designed with the height, reach, and strength of men in mind, from the way valves are placed to how display screens are angled.

With women now serving aboard submarines, defense contractor Electric Boat is designing what will be the first Navy subs built specifically to accommodate female crew members.

The designers are doing the obvious things, such as adding more doors and washrooms to create separate sleeping and bathing areas for men and women and to give them more privacy. But they are also making more subtle modifications that may not have been in everyone’s periscope when the Navy admitted women into the Silent Service.

You know what this sub is missing? A girl at the helm! (U.S. Navy photo)

For example, they are lowering some overhead valves and making them easier to turn, and installing steps in front of the triple-high bunk beds and stacked laundry machines.

The first vessel built with some of the new features, the future USS New Jersey, is expected to be delivered to the Navy in 2021.

The Navy lifted its ban on women on submarines in 2010, starting with officers. About 80 female officers and roughly 50 enlisted women are now serving on subs, and their numbers are expected to climb into the hundreds over the next few years.

For now, the Navy is retrofitting existing subs with extra doors and designated washrooms to accommodate women. But Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut, is at work on a redesign of the Navy’s Virginia-class fast-attack subs and is also developing a brand-new class of ballistic-missile submarines, relying on body measurements for both men and women.

Also read: This is what life is like for sailors on a US Navy submarine

“We have a clean sheet of paper, so from the ground up, we’ll optimize for both men and women,” said Brian Wilson, Electric Boat director of the new ballistic-missile sub program.

Electric Boat officials had no immediate estimate of how much the modifications will cost.

As anyone who watches war movies knows, submariners are always turning valves, whether to operate machinery, redistribute water between tanks or isolate part of a system that has been damaged.

So many valves. (Tyne Wear Archives Museums)

On the Columbia-class boats, valves will generally be placed lower, Wilson said. Sometimes there will be an extension handle, and some will be easier to turn. Sailors will be able to connect their masks into the emergency air system at the side of passageways, instead of overhead.

Emergency air masks are being moved on fast-attack submarines, too, but the bulk of the changes on those subs are to ensure privacy.

Seats in the control room on the ballistic-missile submarines will adjust forward a little more so everyone can touch each display and reach every joystick. Steps will be added so shorter people can climb into the top bunk or see into the washers and dryers, since clothes that get stuck in the machines are a fire hazard.

The first Columbia-class ballistic-missile sub is scheduled to join the fleet in 2031.

Related: 27 incredible photos of life on a U.S. Navy submarine

At 5-foot-6, Lt. Marquette Leveque, one of the first women to serve on a submarine, said that she didn’t have any trouble reaching valves and other equipment but that the ergonomic changes will be helpful for shorter crewmates.

Leveque was assigned to a compartment with two other female officers on the USS Wyoming. They shared a washroom with male officers. A sign on the door could be flipped to show whether a man or woman was using it.

With so few women on board, the timesharing worked, she said. But with more on the way, the need for separate spaces is greater, she added.

“Privacy is important anywhere you are,” she said. “We live on this boat, as well as work there.”

More on We are the Mighty

Articles

History & Heritage Race Series features B-17 Flying Fortress

Soaring in as the fourth historical aircraft highlighted for the History & Heritage Race Series is the B-17 Flying Fortress, beginning next month.

As the second-most produced bomber in Air Force history, the retired B-17 is among the most iconic aircraft of World War II. It was greatly relied on in Europe for the strategic bombing campaign against Axis forces.

“We are honored to feature the B-17 Flying Fortress in our History & Heritage Race Series,” said Brandon Hough, the Air Force Marathon director. “The Flying Fortress was one of the most-produced aircraft in aviation history, which is testament to its incredible importance in the history of the U.S. Air Force.”

The Memphis Belle, on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, was the first B-17 to survive 25 combat missions.

The fourth of six virtual races in the History & Heritage series will begin July 1.

Each History & Heritage Race Series participant receives a patch and information card highlighting the featured aircraft for that particular event, finisher’s medal and downloadable completion certificate.

Runners have the option to compete in the marathon, half marathon, 10K or 5K. To upload results, use a GPS-tracking app that confirms time and mileage.


Contents

Origins Edit

On 23 November 1945, Air Materiel Command (AMC) issued desired performance characteristics for a new strategic bomber "capable of carrying out the strategic mission without dependence upon advanced and intermediate bases controlled by other countries". [11] The aircraft was to have a crew of five or more turret gunners, and a six-man relief crew. It was required to cruise at 300 mph (260 knots, 480 km/h) at 34,000 feet (10,400 m) with a combat radius of 5,000 miles (4,300 nautical miles, 8,000 km). The armament was to consist of an unspecified number of 20 mm cannon and 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) of bombs. [12] On 13 February 1946, the Air Force issued bid invitations for these specifications, with Boeing, Consolidated Aircraft, and Glenn L. Martin Company submitting proposals. [12]

On 5 June 1946, Boeing's Model 462, a straight-wing aircraft powered by six Wright T35 turboprops with a gross weight of 360,000 pounds (160,000 kg) and a combat radius of 3,110 miles (2,700 nmi, 5,010 km), was declared the winner. [13] On 28 June 1946, Boeing was issued a letter of contract for US$1.7 million to build a full-scale mockup of the new XB-52 and do preliminary engineering and testing. [14] However, by October 1946, the Air Force began to express concern about the sheer size of the new aircraft and its inability to meet the specified design requirements. [15] In response, Boeing produced the Model 464, a smaller four-engine version with a 230,000 pound (105,000 kg) gross weight, which was briefly deemed acceptable. [15] [16]

Subsequently, in November 1946, the Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Research and Development, General Curtis LeMay, expressed the desire for a cruising speed of 400 miles per hour (345 kn, 645 km/h), to which Boeing responded with a 300,000 lb (136,000 kg) aircraft. [17] In December 1946, Boeing was asked to change their design to a four-engine bomber with a top speed of 400 miles per hour, range of 12,000 miles (10,000 nmi, 19,300 km), and the ability to carry a nuclear weapon in total, the aircraft could weigh up to 480,000 pounds (220,000 kg). [18] Boeing responded with two models powered by T35 turboprops. The Model 464-16 was a "nuclear only" bomber with a 10,000 pound (4,500 kg) payload, while the Model 464-17 was a general purpose bomber with a 9,000 pound (4,000 kg) payload. [18] Due to the cost associated with purchasing two specialized aircraft, the Air Force selected Model 464-17 with the understanding that it could be adapted for nuclear strikes. [19]

In June 1947, the military requirements were updated and the Model 464-17 met all of them except for the range. [20] It was becoming obvious to the Air Force that, even with the updated performance, the XB-52 would be obsolete by the time it entered production and would offer little improvement over the Convair B-36 Peacemaker as a result, the entire project was postponed for six months. [21] During this time, Boeing continued to perfect the design, which resulted in the Model 464-29 with a top speed of 455 miles per hour (395 kn, 730 km/h) and a 5,000-mile range. [22] In September 1947, the Heavy Bombardment Committee was convened to ascertain performance requirements for a nuclear bomber. Formalized on 8 December 1947, these requirements called for a top speed of 500 miles per hour (440 kn, 800 km/h) and an 8,000 mile (7,000 nmi, 13,000 km) range, far beyond the capabilities of the 464-29. [21] [23]

The outright cancellation of the Boeing contract on 11 December 1947 was staved off by a plea from its president William McPherson Allen to the Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington. [24] Allen reasoned that the design was capable of being adapted to new aviation technology and more stringent requirements. [25] In January 1948, Boeing was instructed to thoroughly explore recent technological innovations, including aerial refueling and the flying wing. [26] Noting stability and control problems Northrop was experiencing with their YB-35 and YB-49 flying wing bombers, Boeing insisted on a conventional aircraft, and in April 1948 presented a US$30 million (US$323 million today [27] ) proposal for design, construction, and testing of two Model 464-35 prototypes. [28] Further revisions during 1948 resulted in an aircraft with a top speed of 513 miles per hour (445 kn, 825 km/h) at 35,000 feet (10,700 m), a range of 6,909 miles (6,005 nmi, 11,125 km), and a 280,000 pounds (125,000 kg) gross weight, which included 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) of bombs and 19,875 US gallons (75,225 L) of fuel. [29] [30]

Design effort Edit

In May 1948, AMC asked Boeing to incorporate the previously discarded jet engine, with improvements in fuel efficiency, into the design. [31] That resulted in the development of yet another revision—in July 1948, Model 464-40 substituted Westinghouse J40 turbojets for the turboprops. [32] The Air Force project officer who reviewed the Model 464-40 was favorably impressed, especially since he had already been thinking along similar lines. Nevertheless, the government was concerned about the high fuel consumption rate of the jet engines of the day, and directed that Boeing still use the turboprop-powered Model 464-35 as the basis for the XB-52. Although he agreed that turbojet propulsion was the future, General Howard A. Craig, Deputy Chief of Staff for Materiel, was not very enthusiastic about a jet-powered B-52, since he felt that the jet engine had not yet progressed sufficiently to permit skipping an intermediate turboprop stage. However, Boeing was encouraged to continue turbojet studies even without any expected commitment to jet propulsion. [33] [34]

On Thursday, 21 October 1948, Boeing engineers George S. Schairer, Art Carlsen, and Vaughn Blumenthal presented the design of a four-engine turboprop bomber to the chief of bomber development, Colonel Pete Warden. Warden was disappointed by the projected aircraft and asked if the Boeing team could come up with a proposal for a four-engine turbojet bomber. Joined by Ed Wells, Boeing vice president of engineering, the engineers worked that night in The Hotel Van Cleve in Dayton, Ohio, redesigning Boeing's proposal as a four-engine turbojet bomber. On Friday, Colonel Warden looked over the information and asked for a better design. Returning to the hotel, the Boeing team was joined by Bob Withington and Maynard Pennell, two top Boeing engineers who were in town on other business. [35]

By late Friday night, they had laid out what was essentially a new airplane. The new design (464-49) built upon the basic layout of the B-47 Stratojet with 35-degree swept wings, eight engines paired in four underwings pods, and bicycle landing gear with wingtip outrigger wheels. [36] A notable feature of the landing gear was the ability to pivot both fore and aft main landing gear up to 20° from the aircraft centerline to increase safety during crosswind landings (allowing the aircraft to "crab" or roll with a sideways slip angle down the runway). [37] After a trip to a hobby shop for supplies, Schairer set to work building a model. The rest of the team focused on weight and performance data. Wells, who was also a skilled artist, completed the aircraft drawings. On Sunday, a stenographer was hired to type a clean copy of the proposal. On Monday, Schairer presented Colonel Warden with a neatly bound 33-page proposal and a 14-inch scale model. [35] The aircraft was projected to exceed all design specifications. [38]

Although the full-size mock-up inspection in April 1949 was generally favorable, range again became a concern since the J40s and early model J57s had excessive fuel consumption. [39] Despite talk of another revision of specifications or even a full design competition among aircraft manufacturers, General LeMay, now in charge of Strategic Air Command, insisted that performance should not be compromised due to delays in engine development. [40] [41] In a final attempt to increase range, Boeing created the larger 464-67, stating that once in production, the range could be further increased in subsequent modifications. [42] Following several direct interventions by LeMay, [43] Boeing was awarded a production contract for thirteen B-52As and seventeen detachable reconnaissance pods on 14 February 1951. [44] The last major design change—also at General LeMay's insistence—was a switch from the B-47 style tandem seating to a more conventional side-by-side cockpit, which increased the effectiveness of the copilot and reduced crew fatigue. [45] Both XB-52 prototypes featured the original tandem seating arrangement with a framed bubble-type canopy (see above images). [46]

Tex Johnston noted, "The B-52, like the B-47, utilized a flexible wing. I saw the wingtip of the B-52 static test airplane travel 32 feet, from the negative 1-G load position to the positive 4-G load position." The flexible structure allowed ". the wing to flex during gust and maneuvering loads, thus relieving high-stress areas and providing a smoother ride." During a 3.5-G pullup, "The wingtips appeared about 35 degrees above level flight position." [47]

Pre-production and production Edit

During ground testing on 29 November 1951, the XB-52's pneumatic system failed during a full-pressure test the resulting explosion severely damaged the trailing edge of the wing, necessitating considerable repairs. The YB-52, the second XB-52 modified with more operational equipment, first flew on 15 April 1952 with "Tex" Johnston as pilot. [48] [49] A two-hour, 21-minute proving flight from Boeing Field, King County, in Seattle, Washington to Larson Air Force Base was undertaken with Boeing test pilot Johnston and Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Guy M. Townsend. [50] The XB-52 followed on 2 October 1952. [51] The thorough development, [Note 2] including 670 days in the wind tunnel and 130 days of aerodynamic and aeroelastic testing, paid off with smooth flight testing. Encouraged, the Air Force increased its order to 282 B-52s. [53]

Aircraft deliveries
Fiscal
year
B-52 model Total
A
[54]
B
[55]
C
[56]
D
[57]
E
[58]
F
[59]
G
[60]
H
[61]
Annual Cumulative
1954 3 3 3
1955 13 13 16
1956 35 5 1 41 57
1957 2 30 92 124 181
1958 77 100 10 187 368
1959 79 50 129 497
1960 106 106 603
1961 37 20 57 660
1962 68 68 728
1963 14 14 742
Total 3 50 35 170 100 89 193 102 742 742

Only three of the 13 B-52As ordered were built. [62] All were returned to Boeing, and used in their test program. [54] On 9 June 1952, the February 1951 contract was updated to order the aircraft under new specifications. The final 10, the first aircraft to enter active service, were completed as B-52Bs. [54] At the roll-out ceremony on 18 March 1954, Air Force Chief of Staff General Nathan Twining said:

The long rifle was the great weapon of its day. . today this B-52 is the long rifle of the air age. [63] [64]

The B-52B was followed by progressively improved bomber and reconnaissance variants, culminating in the B-52G and turbofan B-52H. To allow rapid delivery, production lines were set up both at its main Seattle factory and at Boeing's Wichita facility. More than 5,000 companies were involved in the huge production effort, with 41% of the airframe being built by subcontractors. [65] The prototypes and all B-52A, B and C models (90 aircraft) [66] were built at Seattle. Testing of aircraft built at Seattle caused problems due to jet noise, which led to the establishment of curfews for engine tests. Aircraft were ferried 150 miles (240 km) east on their maiden flights to Larson Air Force Base near Moses Lake, where they were fully tested. [67]

As production of the B-47 came to an end, the Wichita factory was phased in for B-52D production, with Seattle responsible for 101 D-models and Wichita 69. [68] Both plants continued to build the B-52E, with 42 built at Seattle and 58 at Wichita, [69] and the B-52F (44 from Seattle and 45 from Wichita). [70] For the B-52G, Boeing decided in 1957 to transfer all production to Wichita, which freed up Seattle for other tasks, in particular, the production of airliners. [71] [72] Production ended in 1962 with the B-52H, with 742 aircraft built, plus the original two prototypes. [73]

Upgrades Edit

A proposed variant of the B-52H was the EB-52H, which would have consisted of 16 modified and augmented B-52H airframes with additional electronic jamming capabilities. [74] [75] This variant would have restored USAF airborne jamming capability that it lost on retiring the EF-111 Raven. The program was canceled in 2005 following the removal of funds for the stand-off jammer. The program was revived in 2007, and cut again in early 2009. [76]

In July 2013, the Air Force began a fleet-wide technological upgrade of its B-52 bombers called Combat Network Communications Technology (CONECT) to modernize electronics, communications technology, computing, and avionics on the flight deck. CONECT upgrades include software and hardware such as new computer servers, modems, radios, data-links, receivers, and digital workstations for the crew. One update is the AN/ARC-210 Warrior beyond-line-of-sight software programmable radio able to transmit voice, data, and information in-flight between B-52s and ground command and control centers, allowing the transmission and reception of data with updated intelligence, mapping, and targeting information previous in-flight target changes required copying down coordinates. The ARC-210 allows machine-to-machine transfer of data, useful on long-endurance missions where targets may have moved before the arrival of the B-52. The aircraft will be able to receive information through Link-16. CONECT upgrades will cost $1.1 billion overall and take several years. Funding has been secured for 30 B-52s the Air Force hopes for 10 CONECT upgrades per year, but the rate has yet to be decided. [77]

Weapons upgrades include the 1760 Internal Weapons Bay Upgrade (IWBU), which gives a 66 percent increase in weapons payload using a digital interface (MIL-STD-1760) and rotary launcher. IWBU is expected to cost roughly $313 million. [77] The 1760 IWBU will allow the B-52 to carry eight [78] JDAM 2000 lb bombs, AGM-158B JASSM-ER cruise missile and the ADM-160C MALD-J decoy missiles internally. All 1760 IWBUs should be operational by October 2017. Two bombers will have the ability to carry 40 weapons in place of the 36 that three B-52s can carry. [79] The 1760 IWBU allows precision-guided missiles or bombs to be deployed from inside the weapons bay the previous aircraft carried these munitions externally on the wing hardpoints. This increases the number of guided weapons (Joint Direct Attack Munition or JDAM) a B-52 can carry and reduces the need for guided bombs to be carried on the wings. The first phase will allow a B-52 to carry twenty-four GBU-38 500-pound guided bombs or twenty GBU-31 2,000-pound bombs, with later phases accommodating the JASSM and MALD family of missiles. [80] In addition to carrying more smart bombs, moving them internally from the wings reduces drag and achieves a 15 percent reduction in fuel consumption. [81]

Air Force scientists are working to arm the B-52 with defensive laser weapons able to incinerate attacking air-to-air or surface-to-air missiles. [82]

Overview Edit

The B-52 shared many technological similarities with the preceding B-47 Stratojet strategic bomber. The two aircraft used the same basic design, such as swept wings and podded jet engines, [83] and the cabin included the crew ejection systems. [84] On the B-52D, the pilots and electronic countermeasures (ECM) operator ejected upwards, while the lower deck crew ejected downwards until the B-52G, the gunner had to jettison the tail gun to bail out. [85] The tail gunner in early model B-52s was located in the traditional location in the tail of the plane, with both visual and radar gun laying systems in later models the gunner was moved to the front of the fuselage, with gun laying carried out by radar alone, much like the B-58 Hustler's tail gun system. [86]

Structural fatigue was accelerated by at least a factor of eight in a low-altitude flight profile over that of high-altitude flying, requiring costly repairs to extend service life. In the early 1960s, the three-phase High Stress program was launched to counter structural fatigue, enrolling aircraft at 2,000 flying hours. [87] [88] Follow-up programs were conducted, such as a 2,000-hour service life extension to select airframes in 1966–1968, and the extensive Pacer Plank reskinning, completed in 1977. [72] [89] The wet wing introduced on G and H models was even more susceptible to fatigue, experiencing 60% more stress during a flight than the old wing. The wings were modified by 1964 under ECP 1050. [90] This was followed by a fuselage skin and longeron replacement (ECP 1185) in 1966, and the B-52 Stability Augmentation and Flight Control program (ECP 1195) in 1967. [90] Fuel leaks due to deteriorating Marman clamps continued to plague all variants of the B-52. To this end, the aircraft were subjected to Blue Band (1957), Hard Shell (1958), and finally QuickClip (1958) programs. The latter fitted safety straps that prevented catastrophic loss of fuel in case of clamp failure. [91] The B-52's service ceiling is officially listed as 50,000 feet, but operational experience shows this is difficult to reach when fully laden with bombs. According to one source: "The optimal altitude for a combat mission was around 43,000 feet, because to exceed that height would rapidly degrade the plane's range." [92]

In September 2006, the B-52 became one of the first US military aircraft to fly using alternative fuel. It took off from Edwards Air Force Base with a 50/50 blend of Fischer–Tropsch process (FT) synthetic fuel and conventional JP-8 jet fuel, which burned in two of the eight engines. [94] On 15 December 2006, a B-52 took off from Edwards with the synthetic fuel powering all eight engines, the first time an air force aircraft was entirely powered by the blend. The seven-hour flight was considered a success. [94] This program is part of the Department of Defense Assured Fuel Initiative, which aimed to reduce crude oil usage and obtain half of its aviation fuel from alternative sources by 2016. [94] On 8 August 2007, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne certified the B-52H as fully approved to use the FT blend. [95]

Flight controls Edit

Because of the B-52's mission parameters, only modest maneuvers would be required with no need for spin recovery. [96] The aircraft has a relatively small, narrow chord rudder, giving it limited yaw control authority. Originally an all-moving vertical stabilizer was to be used, but was abandoned because of doubts about hydraulic actuator reliability. [96] Because the aircraft has eight engines, asymmetrical thrust due to the loss of an engine in flight would be minimal and correctable with the narrow rudder. To assist with crosswind takeoffs and landings the main landing gear can be pivoted 20 degrees to either side from neutral. [97] This yaw adjustable crosswind landing gear would be preset by the crew according to wind observations made on the ground.

The elevator is also very narrow in chord like the rudder, and the B-52 suffers from limited elevator control authority. For long term pitch trim and airspeed changes the aircraft uses an all-moving tail with the elevator used for small adjustments within a stabilizer setting. The stabilizer is adjustable through 13 degrees of movement (nine up, four down) and is crucial to operations during takeoff and landing due to large pitch changes induced by flap application. [98]

B-52s prior to the G models had very small ailerons with a short span that was approximately equal to their chord. These "feeler ailerons" were used to provide feedback forces to the pilot's control yoke and to fine tune the roll axes during delicate maneuvers such as aerial refueling. [96] Due to twisting of the thin main wing, conventional outboard flap type ailerons would lose authority and therefore could not be used. In other words, aileron activation would cause the wing to twist, undermining roll control. Six spoilerons on each wing are responsible for the majority of roll control. The late B-52G models eliminated the ailerons altogether and added an extra spoileron to each wing. [96] Partly because of the lack of ailerons, the B-52G and H models were more susceptible to Dutch roll. [98]

Avionics Edit

Ongoing problems with avionics systems were addressed in the Jolly Well program, completed in 1964, which improved components of the AN/ASQ-38 bombing navigational computer and the terrain computer. The MADREC (Malfunction Detection and Recording) upgrade fitted to most aircraft by 1965 could detect failures in avionics and weapons computer systems, and was essential in monitoring the Hound Dog missiles. The electronic countermeasures capability of the B-52 was expanded with Rivet Rambler (1971) and Rivet Ace (1973). [99]

To improve operations at low altitude, the AN/ASQ-151 Electro-Optical Viewing System (EVS), which consisted of a low light level television (LLLTV) and a forward looking infrared (FLIR) system mounted in blisters under the noses of B-52Gs and Hs between 1972 and 1976. [100] The navigational capabilities of the B-52 were later augmented with the addition of GPS in the 1980s. [101] The IBM AP-101, also used on the Rockwell B-1 Lancer bomber and the Space Shuttle, was the B-52's main computer. [102]

In 2007, the LITENING targeting pod was fitted, which increased the effectiveness of the aircraft in the attack of ground targets with a variety of standoff weapons, using laser guidance, a high-resolution forward-looking infrared sensor (FLIR), and a CCD camera used to obtain target imagery. [103] LITENING pods have been fitted to a wide variety of other US aircraft, such as the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II. [104]

Armament Edit

The ability to carry up to 20 AGM-69 SRAM nuclear missiles was added to G and H models, starting in 1971. [105] To further improve its offensive ability, air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) were fitted. [106] After testing of both the Air Force-backed Boeing AGM-86 and the Navy-backed General Dynamics AGM-109 Tomahawk, the AGM-86B was selected for operation by the B-52 (and ultimately by the B-1 Lancer). [107] A total of 194 B-52Gs and Hs were modified to carry AGM-86s, carrying 12 missiles on underwing pylons, with 82 B-52Hs further modified to carry another eight missiles on a rotary launcher fitted in the bomb-bay. To conform with SALT II Treaty requirements that cruise missile-capable aircraft be readily identifiable by reconnaissance satellites, the cruise missile armed B-52Gs were modified with a distinctive wing root fairing. As all B-52Hs were assumed modified, no visual modification of these aircraft was required. [108] In 1990, the stealthy AGM-129 ACM cruise missile entered service although intended to replace the AGM-86, a high cost and the Cold War's end led to only 450 being produced unlike the AGM-86, no conventional, non-nuclear version was built. [109] The B-52 was to have been modified to utilize Northrop Grumman's AGM-137 TSSAM weapon however, the missile was canceled due to development costs. [110]

Those B-52Gs not converted as cruise missile carriers underwent a series of modifications to improve conventional bombing. They were fitted with a new Integrated Conventional Stores Management System (ICSMS) and new underwing pylons that could hold larger bombs or other stores than could the external pylons. Thirty B-52Gs were further modified to carry up to 12 AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles each, while 12 B-52Gs were fitted to carry the AGM-142 Have Nap stand-off air-to-ground missile. [111] When the B-52G was retired in 1994, an urgent scheme was launched to restore an interim Harpoon and Have Nap capability, [Note 3] the four aircraft being modified to carry Harpoon and four to carry Have Nap under the Rapid Eight program. [114]

The Conventional Enhancement Modification (CEM) program gave the B-52H a more comprehensive conventional weapons capability, adding the modified underwing weapon pylons used by conventional-armed B-52Gs, Harpoon and Have Nap, and the capability to carry new-generation weapons including the Joint Direct Attack Munition and Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser guided bombs, the AGM-154 glide bomb and the AGM-158 JASSM missile. The CEM program also introduced new radios, integrated Global Positioning System into the aircraft's navigation system and replaced the under-nose FLIR with a more modern unit. Forty-seven B-52Hs were modified under the CEM program by 1996, with 19 more by the end of 1999. [115] [116]

By around 2010, U.S. Strategic Command stopped assigning B61 and B83 nuclear gravity bombs to B-52, and later listed only the B-2 as tasked with delivering strategic nuclear bombs in budget requests. Nuclear gravity bombs were removed from the B-52's capabilities because it is no longer considered survivable enough to penetrate modern air defenses, instead relying on nuclear cruise missiles and focusing on expanding its conventional strike role. [117] The 2019 "Safety Rules for U.S. Strategic Bomber Aircraft" manual subsequently confirmed the removal of B61-7 and B83-1 gravity bombs from the B-52H's approved weapons configuration. [118]

Starting in 2016, Boeing is to upgrade the internal rotary launchers to the MIL-STD-1760 interface to enable the internal carriage of smart bombs, which previously could only be carried on the wings. [119]

While the B-1 Lancer technically has a larger theoretical maximum payload of 75,000 lb compared to the B-52's 70,000 lb, the aircraft are rarely able to carry their full loads, the most the B-52 carrying being a full load of AGM-86Bs totaling 62,660 lb. The B-1 has the internal weapons bay space to carry more GBU-31 JDAMs and JASSMs, but the B-52 upgraded with the conventional rotary launcher can carry more of other JDAM variants. [120]

AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response (ARRW) hypersonic missile and the future Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile will join the B-52 inventory in the future. [121]

Engines Edit

The eight engines of the B-52 are paired in pods and suspended by four pylons beneath and forward of the wings' leading edge. The careful arrangement of the pylons also allowed them to work as wing fences and delay the onset of stall. The first two prototypes, XB-52 and YB-52, were both powered by experimental Pratt & Whitney YJ57-P-3 turbojet engines of 8,700 lbf (38.70 kN) of static thrust each. [98]

The B-52A models were equipped with Pratt & Whitney J57-P-1W turbojets, providing a dry thrust of 10,000 lbf (44.48 kN) which could be increased for short periods to 11,000 lbf (48.93 kN) with water injection. The water was carried in a 360-gallon tank in the rear fuselage. [122]

B-52B, C, D and E models were equipped with Pratt & Whitney J57-P-29W, J57-P-29WA, or J57-P-19W series engines all rated at 10,500 lbf (46.71 kN). The B-52F and G models were powered by Pratt & Whitney J57-P-43WB turbojets, each rated at 13,750 lbf (61.16 kN) static thrust with water injection. [122]

On 9 May 1961, B-52H started being delivered to the Air Force with cleaner burning and quieter Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3 turbofans with a maximum thrust of 17,100 lbf (76.06 kN). [98]

Engine retrofit Edit

In a study for the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1970s, Boeing investigated replacing the engines, changing to a new wing, and other improvements to upgrade B-52G/H aircraft as an alternative to the B-1A, then in development. [123]

In 1996 Rolls-Royce and Boeing jointly proposed fitting each B-52s with four leased Rolls-Royce RB211-535 engines. This would have involved replacing the eight Pratt & Whitney TF33 engines (total thrust 136,000 lb) with four RB211 engines (total thrust 148,000 lb), which would increase range and reduce fuel consumption, at a cost of approximately US$2.56 billion for the whole fleet. However, an Air Force analysis in 1997 concluded that Boeing's estimated savings of US$4.7 billion would not be realized and that re-engining would instead cost US$1.3 billion more than keeping the existing engines, citing significant up-front procurement and re-tooling expenditure. [124]

The Air Force's 1997 rejection of re-engining was subsequently disputed in a Defense Science Board (DSB) report in 2003. The DSB urged the Air Force to re-engine the aircraft without delay, [125] saying doing so would not only create significant cost savings, but reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase aircraft range and endurance these conclusions were in line with the conclusions of a separate Congress-funded study conducted in 2003. Criticizing the Air Force cost analysis, the DSB found that among other things, the Air Force failed to account for the cost of aerial refueling the DSB estimated that refueling in the air cost $17.50 per gallon, whereas the Air Force had failed to account for the cost of fuel delivery and so had only priced fuel at $1.20 per gallon. [126]

On 23 April 2020 the USAF released its request for proposals for 608 commercial engines plus spares and support equipment, with the plan to award the contract in May 2021. [127] This Commercial Engine Re-engining Program (CERP) has seen General Electric propose its CF34-10s and Passport turbofans, Pratt & Whitney its PW800, and Rolls Royce its F130. [127]

Costs Edit

Costs per aircraft (US dollars)
Inflation
year
X/YB-52 B-52A B-52B B-52C B-52D B-52E B-52F B-52G B-52H
Unit R&D cost 1955 100 M
Current 966 M
Airframe 1955 26.433 M 11.328 M 5.359 M 4.654 M 3.700 M 3.772 M 5.352 M 6.076 M
Engines 1955 2.848 M 2.547 M 1.513 M 1.291 M 1.257 M 1.787 M 1.428 M 1.640 M
Electronics 1955 50,761 61,198 71,397 68,613 54,933 60,111 66,374 61,020
Armament and
ordnance
1955 57,067 494 K 304 K 566 K 936 K 866 K 847 K 1.508 M
Current 551,317 4.77 M 2.94 M 5.471 M 9.05 M 8.36 M 8.18 M 14.6 M
Flyaway cost 1955 28.38 M 14.43 M 7.24 M 6.58 M 5.94 M 6.48 M 7.69 M 9.29 M
Current 274.2 M 139.4 M 69.9 M 63.6 M 57.4 M 63.6 M 74.3 M 89.7 M
Maintenance cost
per flying hour
1955 925 1,025 1,025 1,182
Current 8,936 9,902 9,902 11,419
Note: The original costs were in approximate 1955 United States dollars. [128] Figures in tables noted with current have been adjusted for inflation to the current calendar year. [27]

Introduction Edit

Although the B-52A was the first production variant, these aircraft were used only in testing. The first operational version was the B-52B that had been developed in parallel with the prototypes since 1951. First flying in December 1954, B-52B, AF Serial Number 52-8711, entered operational service with 93rd Heavy Bombardment Wing (93rd BW) at Castle Air Force Base, California, on 29 June 1955. The wing became operational on 12 March 1956. The training for B-52 crews consisted of five weeks of ground school and four weeks of flying, accumulating 35 to 50 hours in the air. The new B-52Bs replaced operational B-36s on a one-to-one basis. [129]

Early operations were problematic [130] in addition to supply problems, there were also technical issues. [131] Ramps and taxiways deteriorated under the aircraft's weight, the fuel system was prone to leaks and icing, [132] and bombing and fire control computers were unreliable. [131] The split level cockpit presented a temperature control problem – the pilots' cockpit was heated by sunlight while the observer and the navigator on the bottom deck sat on the ice-cold floor. Thus, a comfortable temperature setting for the pilots caused the other crew members to freeze, while a comfortable temperature for the bottom crew caused the pilots to overheat. [133] The J57 engines proved unreliable. Alternator failure caused the first fatal B-52 crash in February 1956 [134] as a result, the fleet was briefly grounded. In July, fuel and hydraulic issues grounded the B-52s again. In response to maintenance issues, the air force set up "Sky Speed" teams of 50 contractors at each B-52 base to perform maintenance and routine checkups, taking an average of one week per aircraft. [135]

On 21 May 1956, a B-52B (52-0013) dropped a Mk-15 nuclear bomb over the Bikini Atoll in a test code-named Cherokee. It was the first air-dropped thermonuclear weapon. [136] This aircraft now is on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, NM. From 24 to 25 November 1956, four B-52Bs of the 93rd BW and four B-52Cs of the 42nd BW flew nonstop around the perimeter of North America in Operation Quick Kick, which covered 15,530 miles (13,500 nmi, 25,000 km) in 31 hours, 30 minutes. SAC noted the flight time could have been reduced by 5 to 6 hours had the four inflight refuelings been done by fast jet-powered tanker aircraft rather than propeller-driven Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighters. [137] In a demonstration of the B-52's global reach, from 16 to 18 January 1957, three B-52Bs made a non-stop flight around the world during Operation Power Flite, during which 24,325 miles (21,145 nmi, 39,165 km) was covered in 45 hours 19 minutes (536.8 smph) with several in-flight refuelings by KC-97s. [138] [Note 4]

The B-52 set many records over the next few years. On 26 September 1958, a B-52D set a world speed record of 560.705 miles per hour (487 kn, 902 km/h) over a 10,000 kilometers (5,400 nmi, 6,210 mi) closed circuit without a payload. The same day, another B-52D established a world speed record of 597.675 miles per hour (519 kn, 962 km/h) over a 5,000 kilometer (2,700 nmi, 3,105 mi) closed circuit without a payload. [89] On 14 December 1960, a B-52G set a world distance record by flying unrefueled for 10,078.84 miles (8,762 nmi, 16,227 km) the flight lasted 19 hours 44 minutes (510.75 mph). [139] From 10 to 11 January 1962, a B-52H (60-0040) set a world distance record by flying unrefueled, surpassing the prior B-52 record set two years earlier, from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, to Torrejón Air Base, Spain, which covered 12,532.28 miles (10,895 nmi, 20,177 km). [61] [140] The flight passed over Seattle, Fort Worth and the Azores.

Cold War Edit

When the B-52 entered into service, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) intended to use it to deter and counteract the vast and modernizing Soviet Union's military. As the Soviet Union increased its nuclear capabilities, destroying or "countering" the forces that would deliver nuclear strikes (bombers, missiles, etc.) became of great strategic importance. [141] The Eisenhower administration endorsed this switch in focus the President in 1954 expressing a preference for military targets over civilian ones, a principle reinforced in the Single Integrated Operation Plan (SIOP), a plan of action in the case of nuclear war breaking out. [142]

Throughout the Cold War, B-52s and other US strategic bombers performed airborne alert patrols under code names such as Head Start, Chrome Dome, Hard Head, Round Robin and Giant Lance. Bombers loitered at high altitude near the borders of the Soviet Union to provide rapid first strike or retaliation capability in case of nuclear war. [143] These airborne patrols formed one component of the US's nuclear deterrent, which would act to prevent the breakout of a large-scale war between the US and the Soviet Union under the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. [144]

Due to the late 1950s-era threat of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) that could threaten high-altitude aircraft, [145] [146] seen in practice in the 1960 U-2 incident, [147] the intended use of B-52 was changed to serve as a low-level penetration bomber during a foreseen attack upon the Soviet Union, as terrain masking provided an effective method of avoiding radar and thus the threat of the SAMs. [148] The aircraft was planned to fly towards the target at 400–440 mph (640–710 km/h) and deliver their weapons from 400 ft (120 m) or lower. [149] Although never intended for the low level role, the B-52's flexibility allowed it to outlast several intended successors as the nature of aerial warfare changed. The B-52's large airframe enabled the addition of multiple design improvements, new equipment, and other adaptations over its service life. [99]

In November 1959, to improve the aircraft's combat capabilities in the changing strategic environment, SAC initiated the Big Four modification program (also known as Modification 1000) for all operational B-52s except early B models. [87] [148] The program was completed by 1963. [150] The four modifications were the ability to launch AGM-28 Hound Dog standoff nuclear missiles and ADM-20 Quail decoys, an advanced electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite, and upgrades to perform the all-weather, low-altitude (below 500 feet or 150 m) interdiction mission in the face of advancing Soviet missile-based air defenses. [150]

In the 1960s, there were concerns over the fleet's capable lifespan. Several projects beyond the B-52, the Convair B-58 Hustler and North American XB-70 Valkyrie, had either been aborted or proved disappointing in light of changing requirements, which left the older B-52 as the main bomber as opposed to the planned successive aircraft models. [151] [152] On 19 February 1965, General Curtis E. LeMay testified to Congress that the lack of a follow-up bomber project to the B-52 raised the danger that, "The B-52 is going to fall apart on us before we can get a replacement for it." [153] Other aircraft, such as the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark, later complemented the B-52 in roles the aircraft was not as capable in, such as missions involving high-speed, low-level penetration dashes. [154]

Vietnam War Edit

With the escalating situation in Southeast Asia, 28 B-52Fs were fitted with external racks for 24 of the 750 lb (340 kg) bombs under project South Bay in June 1964 an additional 46 aircraft received similar modifications under project Sun Bath. [70] In March 1965, the United States commenced Operation Rolling Thunder. The first combat mission, Operation Arc Light, was flown by B-52Fs on 18 June 1965, when 30 bombers of the 9th and 441st Bombardment Squadrons struck a communist stronghold near the Bến Cát District in South Vietnam. The first wave of bombers arrived too early at a designated rendezvous point, and while maneuvering to maintain station, two B-52s collided, which resulted in the loss of both bombers and eight crewmen. The remaining bombers, minus one more that turned back due to mechanical problems, continued towards the target. [155] Twenty-seven Stratofortresses dropped on a one-mile by two-mile target box from between 19,000 and 22,000 feet a little more than 50% of the bombs fell within the target zone. [156] The force returned to Andersen AFB except for one bomber with electrical problems that recovered to Clark AFB, the mission having lasted 13 hours. Post-strike assessment by teams of South Vietnamese troops with American advisors found evidence that the Viet Cong had departed from the area before the raid, and it was suspected that infiltration of the south's forces may have tipped off the north because of the South Vietnamese Army troops involved in the post-strike inspection. [157]

Beginning in late 1965, a number of B-52Ds underwent Big Belly modifications to increase bomb capacity for carpet bombings. [158] While the external payload remained at 24 of 500 lb (227 kg) or 750 lb (340 kg) bombs, the internal capacity increased from 27 to 84 for 500 lb bombs, or from 27 to 42 for 750 lb bombs. [159] The modification created enough capacity for a total of 60,000 lb (27,215 kg) using 108 bombs. Thus modified, B-52Ds could carry 22,000 lb (9,980 kg) more than B-52Fs. [160] Designed to replace B-52Fs, modified B-52Ds entered combat in April 1966 flying from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Each bombing mission lasted 10 to 12 hours and included an aerial refueling by KC-135 Stratotankers. [48] In spring 1967, B-52s began flying from U Tapao Airfield in Thailand so that refueling was not required. [159]

B-52s were employed during the Battle of Ia Drang in November 1965, notable as the aircraft's first use in a tactical support role. [161]

Neil Sheehan, war correspondent, writing before the mass attacks on heavily populated cities including North Vietnam's capital. [162]

On 22 November 1972, a B-52D (55-0110) from U-Tapao was hit by a SAM while on a raid over Vinh. The crew was forced to abandon the damaged aircraft over Thailand. This was the first B-52 destroyed by hostile fire. [163]

The zenith of B-52 attacks in Vietnam was Operation Linebacker II (sometimes referred to as the Christmas Bombing), conducted from 18 to 29 December 1972, which consisted of waves of B-52s (mostly D models, but some Gs without jamming equipment and with a smaller bomb load). Over 12 days, B-52s flew 729 sorties [164] and dropped 15,237 tons of bombs on Hanoi, Haiphong, and other targets. [101] [165] Originally 42 B-52s were committed to the war however, numbers were frequently twice this figure. [166] During Operation Linebacker II, fifteen B-52s were shot down, five were heavily damaged (one crashed in Laos), and five suffered medium damage. A total of 25 crewmen were killed in these losses. [167] North Vietnam claimed 34 B-52s were shot down. [168]

During the war 31 B-52s were lost, including 10 shot down over North Vietnam. [169] Of the losses, 17 were shot down in combat operations, one was a write-off because of combat damage, 11 crashed by accidents, 1 decommissioned because of combat damage, and 1 burned at the airport. However, some of the "crashed in flight accidents" were due to missiles or anti-aircraft guns. When landing at an airfield in Thailand one B-52 was heavily damaged by SAM, rolled off the runway and was then blown up by mines installed around the airfield to protect against guerrillas only one crewman survived. Subsequently, this B-52 was counted as a "crashed in flight accident". [ citation needed ]

Air-to-air combat Edit

During the Vietnam War, B-52D tail gunners were credited with shooting down two MiG-21 "Fishbeds". On 18 December 1972 tail gunner Staff Sergeant Samuel O. Turner's B-52 had just completed a bomb run for Operation Linebacker II and was turning away, when a Vietnam People's Air Force (VPAF) MiG-21 approached. [170] The MiG and the B-52 locked onto each other. When the fighter drew within range, Turner fired his quad (four guns on one mounting) .50 caliber machine guns. [171] The MiG exploded aft of the bomber, [170] as confirmed by Master Sergeant Louis E. Le Blanc, the tail gunner in a nearby Stratofortress. Turner received a Silver Star for his actions. [172] His B-52, tail number 56-0676, is preserved on display with air-to-air kill markings at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Washington. [170]

On 24 December 1972, during the same bombing campaign, the B-52 Diamond Lil was headed to bomb the Thái Nguyên railroad yards when tail gunner Airman First Class Albert E. Moore spotted a fast-approaching MiG-21. [173] Moore opened fire with his quad .50 caliber guns at 4,000 yd (3,700 m), and kept shooting until the fighter disappeared from his scope. Technical Sergeant Clarence W. Chute, a tail gunner aboard another Stratofortress, watched the MiG catch fire and fall away [171] this was not confirmed by the VPAF. [174] Diamond Lil is preserved on display at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado. [173] Moore was the last bomber gunner believed to have shot down an enemy aircraft with machine guns in aerial combat. [171]

The two B-52 tail gunner kills were not confirmed by VPAF, and they admitted to the loss of only three MiGs, all by F-4s. [174] Vietnamese sources have attributed a third air-to-air victory to a B-52, a MiG-21 shot down on 16 April 1972. [175] These victories make the B-52 the largest aircraft credited with air-to-air kills. [Note 5] The last Arc Light mission without fighter escort took place on 15 August 1973, as U.S. military action in Southeast Asia was wound down. [176]

Post-Vietnam War service Edit

B-52Bs reached the end of their structural service life by the mid-1960s and all were retired by June 1966, followed by the last of the B-52Cs on 29 September 1971 except for NASA's B-52B "008" which was eventually retired in 2004 at Edwards AFB, California. [177] Another of the remaining B Models, "005" is on display at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver, Colorado. [178]

A few time-expired E models were retired in 1967 and 1968, but the bulk (82) were retired between May 1969 and March 1970. Most F models were also retired between 1967 and 1973, but 23 survived as trainers until late 1978. The fleet of D models served much longer 80 D models were extensively overhauled under the Pacer Plank program during the mid-1970s. [179] Skinning on the lower wing and fuselage was replaced, and various structural components were renewed. The fleet of D models stayed largely intact until late 1978, when 37 not already upgraded Ds were retired. [180] The remainder were retired between 1982 and 1983. [181]

The remaining G and H models were used for nuclear standby ("alert") duty as part of the United States' nuclear triad, the combination of nuclear-armed land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles and manned bombers. The B-1, intended to supplant the B-52, replaced only the older models and the supersonic FB-111. [182] In 1991, B-52s ceased continuous 24-hour SAC alert duty. [183]

After Vietnam the experience of operations in a hostile air defense environment was taken into account. Due to this B-52s were modernized with new weapons, equipment and both offensive and defensive avionics. This and the use of low-level tactics marked a major shift in the B-52's utility. The upgrades were:

  • Supersonic short-range nuclear missiles: G and H models were modified to carry up to 20 SRAM missiles replacing existing gravity bombs. Eight SRAMs were carried internally on a special rotary launcher and 12 SRAMs were mounted on two wing pylons. With SRAM, the B-52s could strike heavily defended targets without entering the terminal defenses.
  • New countermeasures: Phase VI ECM modification was the sixth major ECM program for the B-52. It improved the aircraft's self-protection capability in the dense Soviet air defense environment. The new equipment expanded signal coverage, improved threat warning, provided new countermeasures techniques and increased the quantity of expendables. The power requirements of Phase VI ECM also consumed most of the excess electrical capacity on the B-52G.
  • B-52G and Hs were also modified with electro-optical viewing system (EVS) that made low-level operations and terrain avoidance much easier and safer. EVS system contained a low light level television (LLTV) camera and a forward looking infrared (FLIR) camera to display information needed for penetration at lower altitude.
  • Subsonic-cruise unarmed decoy: SCUD resembled the B-52 on radar. As an active decoy, it carried ECM and other devices, and it had a range of several hundred miles. Although SCUD was never deployed operationally, the concept was developed, becoming known as the air launched cruise missile (ALCM-A).

These modifications increased weight by nearly 24,000 lb (10,900 kg), and decreased operational range by 8–11%. This was considered acceptable for the increase in capabilities. [184] [ verification needed ]

After the fall of the Soviet Union, all B-52Gs remaining in service were destroyed in accordance with the terms of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMRC) cut the 365 B-52s into pieces. Completion of the destruction task was verified by Russia via satellite and first-person inspection at the AMARC facility. [185]

Gulf War and later Edit

B-52 strikes were an important part of Operation Desert Storm. Starting on 16 January 1991, a flight of B-52Gs flew from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, refueled in the air en route, struck targets in Iraq, and returned home – a journey of 35 hours and 14,000 miles (23,000 km) round trip. It set a record for longest-distance combat mission, breaking the record previously held by an RAF Vulcan bomber in 1982 however, this was achieved using forward refueling. [187] [188] Those seven B-52s flew the first combat sorties of Operation Desert Storm, firing 35 AGM-86C CALCM standoff missiles and successfully destroying 85–95 percent of their targets. [189] B-52Gs operating from the King Abdullah Air Base at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom, Morón Air Base, Spain, and the island of Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory flew bombing missions over Iraq, initially at low altitude. After the first three nights, the B-52s moved to high-altitude missions instead, which reduced their effectiveness and psychological impact compared to the low altitude role initially played. [190]

The conventional strikes were carried out by three bombers, which dropped up to 153 of the 750-pound M117 bomb over an area of 1.5 by 1 mi (2.4 by 1.6 km). The bombings demoralized the defending Iraqi troops, many of whom surrendered in the wake of the strikes. [191] In 1999, the science and technology magazine Popular Mechanics described the B-52's role in the conflict: "The Buff's value was made clear during the Gulf War and Desert Fox. The B-52 turned out the lights in Baghdad." [192] During Operation Desert Storm, B-52s flew about 1,620 sorties, and delivered 40% of the weapons dropped by coalition forces. [193]

During the conflict, several claims of Iraqi air-to-air successes were made, including an Iraqi pilot, Khudai Hijab, who allegedly fired a Vympel R-27R missile from his MiG-29 and damaged a B-52G on the opening night of the Gulf War. [194] However, the U.S. Air Force disputes this claim, stating the bomber was actually hit by friendly fire, an AGM-88 High-speed, Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) that homed on the fire-control radar of the B-52's tail gun the jet was subsequently renamed In HARM's Way. [195] Shortly following this incident, General George Lee Butler announced that the gunner position on B-52 crews would be eliminated, and the gun turrets permanently deactivated, commencing on 1 October 1991. [196]

Since the mid-1990s, the B-52H has been the only variant remaining in military service [Note 6] it is currently stationed at:

    , ND – 5th Bomb Wing , LA – 2nd Bomb Wing (active Air Force) and 307th Bomb Wing (Air Force Reserve Command)
  • One B-52H is assigned to Edwards Air Force Base and is used by Air Force Materiel Command at the Air Force Flight Test Center.
  • One additional B-52H is used by NASA at Dryden Flight Research Center, California as part of the Heavy-lift Airborne Launch program. [197]

From 2 to 3 September 1996, two B-52Hs conducted a mission as part of Operation Desert Strike. The B-52s struck Baghdad power stations and communications facilities with 13 AGM-86C conventional air-launched cruise missiles (CALCM) during a 34-hour, 16,000-mile round trip mission from Andersen AFB, Guam – the longest distance ever flown for a combat mission. [198]

On 24 March 1999, when Operation Allied Force began, B-52 bombers bombarded Serb targets throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, including during the Battle of Kosare. [199]

The B-52 contributed to Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 (Afghanistan/Southwest Asia), providing the ability to loiter high above the battlefield and provide Close Air Support (CAS) through the use of precision guided munitions, a mission which previously would have been restricted to fighter and ground attack aircraft. [200] In late 2001, ten B-52s dropped a third of the bomb tonnage in Afghanistan. [201] B-52s also played a role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, which commenced on 20 March 2003 (Iraq/Southwest Asia). On the night of 21 March 2003, B-52Hs launched at least 100 AGM-86C CALCMs at targets within Iraq. [202]

B-52 and maritime operations Edit

The B-52 can be highly effective for ocean surveillance, and can assist the Navy in anti-ship and mine-laying operations. For example, a pair of B-52s, in two hours, can monitor 140,000 square miles (364,000 square kilometers) of ocean surface. During the 2018 Baltops exercise B-52s conducted mine-laying missions off the coasts of Sweden, simulating a counter-amphibious invasion mission in the Baltic. [203] [204]

In the 1970s, the US Navy worried that combined attack from Soviet bombers, submarines and warships could overwhelm its defenses and sink its aircraft carriers. After the Falklands War, US planners feared the damage that could be created by 200-mile-range missiles carried by Backfire bombers and 250-mile-range missiles carried by Soviet surface ships. New US Navy's maritime strategy in early 1980s called for aggressive use of carriers and surface action groups against the Soviet navy. To help protect the carrier battle groups, some B-52G were modified to fire Harpoon anti-ship missiles. These bombers were based at Guam and Maine from the later 1970s in order to support both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. In case of war B-52s would coordinate with tanker support and surveillance by AWACS and Navy planes. B-52Gs could strike Soviet navy targets on the flanks of the US carrier battle groups, leaving them free to concentrate on offensive strikes against Soviet surface combatants. Mines laid down by B-52s could establish mine fields in significant enemy choke points (mainly Kurile islands and GIUK). These minefields would force the Soviet fleet to disperse, making individual ships more vulnerable to Harpoon attacks. [205] [206]

From the 1980s B-52Hs were modified to use Harpoons in addition to a wide range of cruise missiles, laser- and satellite-guided bombs and unguided munitions. B-52 bomber crews honed sea-skimming flight profiles that would allow them to penetrate stiff enemy defenses and attack Soviet ships. [207] [208] [209]

Recent expansion and modernization of China's navy has caused the United States Air Force to re-implement strategies for finding and attacking ships. Recently, [ when? ] the B-52 fleet has been certified to use Quickstrike family of naval mines using JDAM-ER guided wing kits. This weapon will give the ability to lay down minefields over wide areas, in a single pass, with extreme accuracy, and all while standing-off at over 40 miles away. Besides this, with a view to enhance B-52 maritime patrol and strike performance, an AN/ASQ-236 Dragon's Eye underwing pod, has also been certified for use by B-52H bombers. Dragon's Eye contains an advanced electronically-scanned array radar that will allow B-52s to quickly scan vast Pacific Ocean areas, so finding and sinking enemy ships will be easier for them. This radar will complement the Litening infrared targeting pod already used by B-52s for inspecting ships. [210] [211]

Recent service Edit

In August 2007, a B-52H ferrying AGM-129 ACM cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base to Barksdale Air Force Base for dismantling was mistakenly loaded with six missiles with their nuclear warheads. The weapons did not leave USAF custody and were secured at Barksdale. [212] [213]

Four of 18 B-52Hs from Barksdale AFB were retired and were in the "boneyard" of 309th AMARG at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base as of 8 September 2008. [214]

As of January 2013 [update] , 78 of the original 744 B-52 aircraft were in operation with the U.S. Air Force. [215]

In February 2015, hull 61-0007 Ghost Rider became the first stored B52 to fly out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base after six years in storage. [216]

B-52s are periodically refurbished at USAF maintenance depots such as Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. [217] Even while the Air Force works on a new bomber, it intends to keep the B-52H in service until 2045, which is 90 years after the B-52 first entered service, an unprecedented length of service for any aircraft, civilian or military. [193] [218] [219] [220] [Note 7]

The USAF continues to rely on the B-52 because it remains an effective and economical heavy bomber in the absence of sophisticated air defenses, particularly in the type of missions that have been conducted since the end of the Cold War against nations with limited defensive capabilities. The B-52 has also continued in service because there has been no reliable replacement. [222] The B-52 has the capacity to "loiter" for extended periods, and can deliver precision standoff and direct fire munitions from a distance, in addition to direct bombing. It has been a valuable asset in supporting ground operations during conflicts such as Operation Iraqi Freedom. [223] The B-52 had the highest mission capable rate of the three types of heavy bombers operated by the USAF in the 2000–2001 period. The B-1 averaged a 53.7% ready rate, the B-2 Spirit achieved 30.3%, while the B-52 averaged 80.5%. [186] The B-52's $72,000 cost per hour of flight is more than the B-1B's $63,000 cost per hour, but less than the B-2's $135,000 per hour. [224]

The Long Range Strike Bomber program is intended to yield a stealthy successor for the B-52 and B-1 that would begin service in the 2020s it is intended to produce 80 to 100 aircraft. Two competitors, Northrop Grumman and a joint team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, submitted proposals in 2014 [225] Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract in October 2015. [226]

On 12 November 2015, the B-52 began freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in response to Chinese man-made islands in the region. Chinese forces, claiming jurisdiction within a 12-mile exclusion zone of the islands, ordered the bombers to leave the area, but they refused, not recognizing jurisdiction. [227] On 10 January 2016, a B-52 overflew parts of South Korea escorted by South Korean F-15Ks and U.S. F-16s in response to the supposed test of a hydrogen bomb by North Korea. [228]

On 9 April 2016, an undisclosed number of B-52s arrived at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, part of the Military intervention against ISIL. The B-52s took over heavy bombing after B-1 Lancers that had been conducting airstrikes rotated out of the region in January 2016. [229] In April 2016, B-52s arrived in Afghanistan to take part in the war in Afghanistan and began operations in July, proving its flexibility and precision carrying out close-air support missions. [230]

According to a statement by the U.S. military, an undisclosed number of B-52s participated in the U.S. strikes on pro-government forces in eastern Syria on 7 February 2018. [231]

Production numbers [1]
Variant Produced Entered Service
XB-52 2
(1 redesignated YB-52)
prototypes
YB-52 1 modified XB-52 prototype
B-52A 3
(1 redesignated NB-52A)
test units
NB-52A 1 modified B-52A
B-52B 50 29 June 1955
RB-52B 27 Modified B-52Bs
NB-52B 1 Modified B-52B 1955
B-52C 35 June 1956
B-52D 170 December 1956
B-52E 100 December 1957
B-52F 89 June 1958
B-52G 193 13 February 1959
B-52H 102 9 May 1961
Grand total 744 production

The B-52 went through several design changes and variants over its 10 years of production. [128]

XB-52 Two prototype aircraft with limited operational equipment, used for aerodynamic and handling tests YB-52 One XB-52 modified with some operational equipment and re-designated B-52A Only three of the first production version, the B-52A, were built, all loaned to Boeing for flight testing. [48] The first production B-52A differed from prototypes in having a redesigned forward fuselage. The bubble canopy and tandem seating was replaced by a side-by-side arrangement and a 21 in (53 cm) nose extension accommodated more avionics and a new sixth crew member. [Note 8] In the rear fuselage, a tail turret with four 0.50 inch (12.7 mm) machine guns with a fire-control system, and a water injection system to augment engine power with a 360 US gallon (1,363 L) water tank were added. The aircraft also carried a 1,000 US gallon (3,785 L) external fuel tank under each wing. The tanks damped wing flutter and also kept wingtips close to the ground for ease of maintenance. [232]

The B-52B was the first version to enter service with the USAF on 29 June 1955 with the 93rd Bombardment Wing at Castle AFB, California. [232] This version included minor changes to engines and avionics, enabling an extra 12,000 pounds of thrust using water injection. [234] Temporary grounding of the aircraft after a crash in February 1956 and again the following July caused training delays, and at mid-year there were still no combat-ready B-52 crews. [134]

Of the 50 B-52Bs built, 27 were capable of carrying a reconnaissance pod as RB-52Bs (the crew was increased to eight in these aircraft). [48] The 300 pound (136 kg) pod contained radio receivers, a combination of K-36, K-38, and T-11 cameras, and two operators on downward-firing ejection seats. The pod required only four hours to install. [134] Seven B-52Bs were brought to B-52C standard under Project Sunflower. [235] NB-52B The NB-52B was B-52B number 52-0008 converted to an X-15 launch platform. It subsequently flew as "Balls 8" in support of NASA research until 17 December 2004, making it the oldest flying B-52B. It was replaced by a modified B-52H. [236] B-52C The B-52C's fuel capacity (and range) was increased to 41,700 US gallons by adding larger 3000 US gallon underwing fuel tanks. The gross weight was increased by 30,000 pounds (13,605 kg) to 450,000 pounds. A new fire control system, the MD-9, was introduced on this model. [162] The belly of the aircraft was painted with anti-flash white paint, which was intended to reflect the thermal radiation of a nuclear detonation. [237] RB-52C The RB-52C was the designation initially given to B-52Cs fitted for reconnaissance duties in a similar manner to RB-52Bs. As all 35 B-52Cs could be fitted with the reconnaissance pod, the RB-52C designation was little used and was quickly abandoned. [237]

    76 aircraft in service as of February 2015 [248]
        – Eglin AFB, Florida
          (Barksdale)
          (Barksdale)
          – Barksdale AFB, Louisiana
          – Edwards AFB, California
          – Barksdale AFB, Louisiana
        • Dryden Flight Research Center
          • 1 modified ex-USAF NB-52B (52-008) "Mothership" Launch Aircraft operated from 1966 to 2004. It was then put on display at the North entrance to Edwards AFB. [249]
          • 1 modified ex-USAF B-52H (61-0025) Heavy Lift Launch Aircraft operated from 2001 to 2008. On 9 May 2008, that aircraft was flown for the last time to Sheppard AFB, TX where it became a GB-52H maintenance trainer, never to fly again. [250]
          • On 10 January 1957, a B-52B returning to Loring Air Force Base from a routine instrument training mission broke apart in midair and crashed near Morrell, New Brunswick, killing eight of the nine crew on board. Co-pilot Captain Joseph L. Church parachuted to safety. The crash was believed to have been caused by overstressing the wings and/or airframe during an exercise designed to test the pilot's reflexes. This was the fourth crash involving a B-52 in 11 months. [251]
          • On 11 February 1958, a B-52D crashed in South Dakota because of ice blocking the fuel system, leading to an uncommanded reduction in power to all eight engines. Three crew members were killed. [252]
          • On 8 September 1958, two B-52Ds collided in midair near Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington all 13 crew members on the 2 aircraft were killed. [253]
          • On 15 October 1959, a B-52F from the 492d Bomb Squadron at Columbus AFB, Mississippi, carrying two nuclear weapons collided in midair with a KC-135 tanker near Hardinsburg, Kentucky four of the eight crew members on the bomber and all four crew on the tanker were killed. One of the nuclear bombs was damaged by fire, but both weapons were recovered. [253]
          • On 24 January 1961, a B-52G broke up in midair and crashed after suffering a severe fuel loss, near Goldsboro, North Carolina, dropping two nuclear bombs in the process without detonation. [254] Three of the eight crew members were killed.
          • On 14 March 1961, a B-52F from Mather AFB, California [255] [verification needed] carrying two nuclear weapons experienced an uncontrolled decompression, necessitating a descent to 10,000 feet to lower the cabin altitude. Due to increased fuel consumption at the lower altitude and unable to rendezvous with a tanker in time, the aircraft ran out of fuel. The crew ejected safely, while the unmanned bomber crashed 15 miles (24 km) west of Yuba City, California. [256]
          • On 24 January 1963, a B-52C on a training mission out of Westover Air Force Base, Massachusetts, lost its vertical stabilizer due to buffeting during low-level flight, and crashed on the west side of Elephant Mountain near Greenville, Maine. Of the nine crewmen aboard, two survived the crash. [257][258]
          • On 13 January 1964, the vertical stabilizer broke off a B-52D in winter storm turbulence it crashed on Savage Mountain in western Maryland. The two nuclear bombs being ferried were found "relatively intact" three of the crew of five died. [259]
          • On 18 June 1965, two B-52Fs collided mid-air during a refueling maneuver at 33,000 feet above the South China Sea. The head-on collision took place just northwest of the Luzon Peninsula, Philippines, in the night sky above Super Typhoon Dinah, a category 5 storm with maximum winds of 185 mph and waves reported as high as 70 feet. Eight of twelve total crew members in two planes were killed. The rescue of four crew members who had managed to eject only to parachute into one of the largest typhoons of the 20th century remains one of the most remarkable survival stories in the history of aviation. The crash was also notable, because it was the first combat mission ever for the B-52. The two jets were part of a 30-plane squadron on an inaugural Arc Light mission from Andersen AFB, Guam, to a military target about 25 miles northwest of Saigon, South Vietnam. [260][261]
          • On 17 January 1966, a fatal collision occurred between a B-52G and a KC-135 Stratotanker over Palomares, Spain, killing all four on the tanker and three of the seven on the B-52G. The two unexploded B-28 FI 1.45-megaton-range nuclear bombs on the B-52 were eventually recovered the conventional explosives of two more bombs detonated on impact, with serious dispersion of both plutonium and uranium, but without triggering a nuclear explosion. After the crash, 1,400 metric tons (3,100,000 lb) of contaminated soil was sent to the United States. [262] In 2006, an agreement was made between the U.S. and Spain to investigate and clean the pollution still remaining as a result of the accident. [263]
          • On 21 January 1968, a B-52G, with four nuclear bombs aboard as part of Operation Chrome Dome, crashed on the ice of the North Star Bay while attempting an emergency landing at Thule Air Base, Greenland. [264] The resulting fire caused extensive radioactive contamination, the cleanup (Project Crested Ice) lasting until September of that year. [262] Following closely on the Palomares incident, the cleanup costs and political consequences proved too high to risk again, so SAC ended the airborne alert program the following day. [265][266]
          • On 7 January 1971, B-52C 54-2666 of SAC crashed into northern Lake Michigan at the mouth of Little Traverse Bay near Charlevoix, Michigan, while on a low-level training flight. All nine crew members were lost. [267]
          • On 31 March 1972, a 306th Bombardment Wing B-52D, AF Serial Number 56-0625, sustained multiple engine failures and an engine pod fire shortly after takeoff from McCoy AFB on a routine training mission. The aircraft was not carrying any weapons. The aircraft immediately attempted to return to the base, but crashed 3,220 feet (980 m) short of Runway 18R in a civilian residential area immediately north of the airfield, destroying or damaging eight homes. The crew of 7 airmen and a 10-year-old boy on the ground were killed. [268][269]
          • On 19 October 1978, B-52D 56-0594 crashed on takeoff at March AFB, Riverside, California, due to loss of power on engines 1 and 2, and loss of water augmentation on the left wing. Eight of the nine crew were killed. [citation needed]
          • On 24 June 1994, B-52H Czar 52, 61–0026 crashed at Fairchild AFB, Washington, during practice for an airshow. All four crew members died in the accident. [270]
          • On 21 July 2008, a B-52H, Raidr 21, 60–0053, deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam crashed approximately 25 miles (40 km) off the coast of Guam. All six crew members were killed (five standard crew members and a flight surgeon). [271]

          Data from Knaack, [272] USAF fact sheet, [193] Quest for Performance [273]

          General characteristics

          • Crew: 5 (pilot, copilot, weapon systems officer, navigator, electronic warfare officer)
          • Length: 159 ft 4 in (48.5 m)
          • Wingspan: 185 ft 0 in (56.4 m)
          • Height: 40 ft 8 in (12.4 m)
          • Wing area: 4,000 sq ft (370 m 2 )
          • Airfoil:NACA 63A219.3 mod root, NACA 65A209.5 tip
          • Empty weight: 185,000 lb (83,250 kg)
          • Gross weight: 265,000 lb (120,000 kg)
          • Max takeoff weight: 488,000 lb (219,600 kg)
          • Fuel capacity: 47,975 U.S. gal (39,948 imp gal 181,610 L)
          • Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0119 (estimated)
          • Drag area: 47.60 sq ft (4.42 m 2 )
          • Aspect ratio: 8.56
          • Powerplant: 8 × Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3/103 turbofans, 17,000 lbf (76 kN) thrust each
          • Maximum speed: 650 mph (1,050 km/h, 560 kn)
          • Cruise speed: 509 mph (819 km/h, 442 kn)
          • Combat range: 8,800 mi (14,200 km, 7,600 nmi)
          • Ferry range: 10,145 mi (16,327 km, 8,816 nmi)
          • Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,000 m)
          • Rate of climb: 6,270 ft/min (31.85 m/s)
          • Wing loading: 120 lb/sq ft (586 kg/m 2 )
          • Thrust/weight: 0.31
          • Lift-to-drag ratio: 21.5 (estimated)
          • Guns: 1× 20 mm (0.787 in)M61 Vulcan cannon originally mounted in a remote controlled tail turret on the H-model, removed in 1991 from all operational aircraft.
          • Bombs: Approximately 70,000 lb (31,500 kg) mixed ordnance bombs, mines, missiles, in various configurations.
          • Electro-optical viewing system that uses platinum silicideforward looking infrared and high resolution low-light-level television sensors chaff rocket (1965–1970) [245] Advanced Targeting System [275][276] computer [102]

          A B-52 carrying nuclear weapons was a key part of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 black comedy film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. [277] A 1960s hairstyle, the beehive, is also called a B-52 for its resemblance to the aircraft's distinctive nose. [278] The popular band the B-52's was subsequently named after this hairstyle. [278] [279]


          Homage paid to 100-year-old WWII Conroe veteran with birthday flyover

          WWII Army Air Corps veteran George Waters, left, and Texas Raiders executive officer Nancy Kwiecien watch as B-17 aircrafts are flown during Waters’ 100th birthday celebration June 12 in Conroe. Waters was a B-17 gunner.

          Gustavo Huerta, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

          A B-17 aircraft is flown by the Texas Raiders during a flyover at WWII Army Air Corps veteran George Waters' 100th birthday event, Saturday, June 12, 2021, in Conroe. Waters was a B-17 gunner that spent 15 months as a POW.

          Gustavo Huerta, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

          WWII Army Air Corps veteran George Waters watches as B-17 aircrafts are flown by the Texas Raiders during his 100th birthday event, Saturday, June 12, 2021, in Conroe. Waters was a B-17 gunner that spent 15 months as a POW.

          Gustavo Huerta, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

          A B-17 aircraft is flown by the Texas Raiders during a flyover at WWII Army Air Corps veteran George Waters' 100th birthday event, Saturday, June 12, 2021, in Conroe. Waters was a B-17 gunner that spent 15 months as a POW.

          Gustavo Huerta, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

          Family and friends of George Waters watch as B-17 are flown by the Texas Raiders during a flyover at WWII Army Air Corps veteran George Waters' 100th birthday event, Saturday, June 12, 2021, in Conroe. Waters was a B-17 gunner that spent 15 months as a POW.

          Gustavo Huerta, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

          A B-17 aircraft is flown by the Texas Raiders during a flyover at WWII Army Air Corps veteran George Waters' 100th birthday event, Saturday, June 12, 2021, in Conroe. Waters was a B-17 gunner that spent 15 months as a POW.

          Gustavo Huerta, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

          A B-17 aircraft is flown by the Texas Raiders during WWII Army Air Corps veteran George Waters’ birthday flyover in Conroe.

          Gustavo Huerta, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

          WWII Army Air Corps veteran George Waters watches as B-17 aircrafts are flown by the Texas Raiders during his 100th birthday event, Saturday, June 12, 2021, in Conroe. Waters was a B-17 gunner that spent 15 months as a POW.

          Gustavo Huerta, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

          An image of WWII Army Air Corps veteran George Waters from when he enlisted is seen at his 100th birthday event June 12 in Conroe. Waters was a B-17 gunner that spent 15 months as a POW.

          Gustavo Huerta, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer Show More Show Less

          Conroe wished a World War II veteran happy 100th birthday from the sky on Saturday.

          The Army Air Corps Veteran George &ldquoTruman&rdquo Waters stood in his front yard with a large smile on his face as a silver T6/SNJ advanced trainer and blue Navy JRB transport made a turn above his home.

          &ldquoIt just brings back memories that chances are that I would never have had &mdash had it not been for reliving the old T6,&rdquo Waters said before reflecting on training movements and target practice.

          At the age of 100, his mind remains sharp. He had just turned 21 years old and had been working at an aircraft repair shop in Alabama when he was drafted into the war. He would participate in trainings and tests in various locations , including in Las Vegas.

          That&rsquos where he went up in the T6/SNJ advanced trainer &mdash the first plane he ever left the ground in.

          &ldquoWhen the plane revved up and was fixing to take off, it had run down the runway aways, and I began to wonder &mdash can this thing really leave the ground?&rdquo Waters said. &ldquoIt got in the air, and this just seemed like it was natural. Everything was in place, the power under me, and I felt pretty good about that.&rdquo

          &ldquoBut when it got into the spin, I wasn&rsquot fond of everything going on &mdash I didn&rsquot know it was a spin until we got to the ground and the pilot was shook up,&rdquo he continued. &ldquoSome of my buddies, when I got on the ground said, &lsquoGeorge, you look like you are about to get sick. You don&rsquot look right,&rsquo and I thought, &lsquoI don&rsquot feel right.&rsquo&rdquo

          The trouble would follow him to the war where he served as a B-17 gunner. After flying 14 missions in 22 days, he would be shot down on February 22, 1944. His book, &ldquoNo Thought for Tomorrow,&rdquo details his experiences, including when he had to bail from the B-17 as it fell apart and crashed during combat.

          &ldquoThe floor was cluttered and slick with blood, bodies and debris,&rdquo Waters wrote. &ldquoI reached the waist door, pulled the handle that released the hinge pins, and the door went flying into space. I put my left hand over the middle of the &rsquochute, my right hand in the ripcord handle and jumped backwards from the plane.&rdquo

          &ldquoI never saw the Little Chum again,&rdquo he continued. &ldquoI was too busy. I pulled the ripcord. The pilot &rsquochute came out, pulling the main &rsquochute behind it, all neatly folded. It&rsquos not going to open, I thought.&rdquo

          While he survived the crash with a front-loader parachute that he put on right before the flight, he would ultimately spend 15 months as a prisoner of war in Germany &mdash where he was interrogated and walked over 600 miles across the Nazi-controlled country.

          &ldquoIt gives you a whole new appreciation,&rdquosaid Garrett Brag, who flies with a B-17 group and visited with Waters during the centennial celebration. &ldquoWhen you see an aircraft like this out flying, you realize it is an old aircraft and you realize there is history behind it, but when you&rsquove talked to somebody who has flown the missions then you get into and visually see this man and realize what he went through.

          &ldquoSitting next to the aircraft that George flew in &mdash it was just incredible. It&rsquos realizing that this man spent a good chuck of his important memory and life there and this is something that our generation needs to remember,&rdquo he continued. &ldquoWe read about it in books, we see it on movies, and see it in video games but it is not until you come talk to these guys in person that you realize how real history is.&rdquo

          Today, Waters &mdash who also nearly died as a child from scarlet fever &mdash believes &ldquoignorance is bliss&rdquo and that the secret to living a long life is to &ldquonot dig too much, and when you find yourself in a hole &mdash to stop digging.&rdquo He sat surrounded by family and friends, including his wife, Mavis, 101, who he married the week before the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.

          &ldquoIt&rsquos just something that I never dreamed of, just to have this kind of gathering, and no death involved,&rdquo Waters said.

          The family was ecstatic to see him honored.

          &ldquoWe have been waiting for this, and daddy has been anticipating the 100th birthday for years, we are thrilled,&rdquo daughter Rebecca Waters Shaddix said. &ldquoIt&rsquos so amazing that they have been married for 79.5 years, what they&rsquove been through together, what they&rsquove meant, sticking together &mdash always interested in what&rsquos over the hill, what they can see, and new adventures.&rdquo

          Len Root, a wing leader at Gulf Coast Wing, flew the T6/SNJ advanced trainer, which thousands of Texas airmen learned to fly for combat, over Waters house on Saturday. He was followed by Gulf Coast Wing pilot Chris Jersey in the blue Navy JRB transport.

          The aircraft continued their 2021 flying season at Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport with a one-day opportunity for public flights.

          The event was presented by the Commemorative Air Force&rsquos Gulf Coast Wing, Conroe&rsquos own B-17 Flying Fortress Texas Raiders and the two warbirds. It is sponsored in part by General Aviation Services.

          On board Jersey&rsquos aircraft was the Conroe Mayor Jody Czajkoski, WWII veteran aviator and B-17 Flight Engineer Teddy Kirkpatrick, and an active duty USAF Captain who flies a B-52 bomber at Barksdale AFB in Shreveport.

          &ldquoIt was a true honor to have all them on board and to have together a current USAF pilot with me while we flew a WWII veteran was a dream come true,&rdquo Jersey said.

          Czajkoski also appreciated the experience.

          &ldquoWhat a beautiful way to celebrate WWII veteran George Water&rsquos 100th birthday,&rdquo Czajkoski stated. &ldquoIt was a great experience getting to fly over with Ted Kirkpatrick, spending time with him sharing stories and hearing about how they defended the freedom in our country. We are blessed to live in this country and I am so grateful for these veterans.&rdquo

          Kirkpatrick, 98, of Spring, also served in the Army Air Corps during the war.

          &ldquoMost people only know what Hollywood shows them,&rdquo Kirkpatrick said. &ldquoI try to tell them exactly what all the problems were and what we went through &ldquoI watched a lot of planes blow up. I flew 37 missions. I have a lot of stories.&rdquo

          &ldquoI try to tell people what we went through. &rdquo he continued. &ldquoMost people don&rsquot understand what it was like up there&hellip&rdquo

          The Conroe airport is the home of the 20-foot-tall, 74-foot-long B-17 Flying Fortress Texas Raiders. Mounted guns and radio communications equipment are still inside the aircraft, which has a 104-foot-long wingspan. The bomber was relocated to Conroe in March 2017.

          The B-17&rsquos next public appearance locally will be on Father&rsquos Day weekend on June 19-20 at Ellington Field.

          &ldquoI think it was pretty cool,&rdquo Conroe resident Al Barber, 78, said after attending Saturday&rsquos event at the Conroe airport. &ldquoI was in the Air Force so that is why I am interested in it. We looked at the B-17 out here and we are going to go down to the one in Ellington and book our flight on it. I was a radio operator so I am going to see about getting on board that.&rdquo

          Completed in 1945, Texas Raiders is one of the last 20 B-17's ever built. While World War II combat ended before Texas Raiders flew overseas, the warplane served during the Korean War. The aircraft's military career included scouting, search and rescue, and weather reconnaissance. After the war, the B-17 now in Conroe went on to become a seismic survey aircraft. It was acquired in 1967 by the CAF to be restored to its military configuration.

          Of the 12,731 B-17 aircraft that saw combat, only about nine B-17 bombers still fly, according to information from CAF in a previous Courier article.


          What Was It Like Hitting Nazi Germany's Well-Defended Cities From a B-17 Flying Fortress?

          A B-17 crew of the 390th Bomb Group endured a harrowing gauntlet of German defenses during a November 30, 1944, mission over Merseburg.

          When the call came that morning, it was not unlike the 25 times previously when they had flown, or all those other times when weather intervened and postponement was ordered.

          The door to the Nissen hut bangs open, the dim center-ceiling bulb winks to life, heavy footsteps, a grasp and shake of the shoulder, “OK, sir, mission today, you’re scheduled to go, breakfast at 0500, briefing at 0530.” Hugh Hunter Hardwicke, Jr.’s, leaden eyes open imperceptibly, and to the figure silhouetted against the eerie glow he responds with the traditional, “Go away, just go away, OK.” Nonetheless, he sits up, stretches, scratches, yawns, slides from under his double thickness of wool blankets. He sort of scurries, perhaps shuffles, across the cold, wooden floor, stokes what remains of the fire, barely alive within the cast-iron relic cleverly disguised as a stove, and calls to his co-pilot, “Roll out, Flick, we’re on.”

          “OK, Guys, Up, Up … and Away”

          Gordon (Flick) Flickema’s first task of this new day is to rouse the other two officers of Hardwicke’s crew, navigator Moody (Jack) Jackson and bombardier Charles (Chick) Papousek, with his usual, dutiful, “OK, guys, up, up … and away.” They share this bleak, corrugated-steel, half-cylinder-shaped home with eight additional officers representing two other 568th Squadron crews, all of whom are grousing at the hour, the cold, the damp, the necessity of yet another mission. It is a little after 0400 when Hardwicke and others plod blurry-eyed to the nearby officers’ latrine and notice just a wisp of fog not bad for late-November England, but that may change with inexplicable alacrity.

          The 568th is one of four squadrons, each equipped with Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress bombers and their nine-man crews, plus a multitude of support units that comprise the 390th Bombardment Group (Heavy), within the command structure of the 13th Combat Wing, 3rd Air Division, Eighth Air Force. More than 1,500 officers and enlisted men, and a detachment of WAAFs (Women’s Army Air Forces personnel) share the base, officially Station 153, Framlingham, East Suffolk, East Anglia. The 390th acquired the facility, first used by the RAF, in July 1943. About a year later, Hardwicke and his “replacement crew No. 7” arrived and since then had acclimated themselves to the gently rolling farm country, fields neatly divided by hedgerows here and there a square patch of woods, a shimmering pond.

          Immediately to the west lay the railway station and quaint village of Parham about three miles north, the larger village of Framlingham—imperturable tributes to a placid past, now juxtaposed with the tools and turbulence of war. Throughout, Station 153 retains a uniquely American flavor as recorded by a young English girl who lives nearby. “There are dogs everywhere, big ones, little ones, all colors, every kind, chasing trucks, riding in Jeeps, following the boys to eat, and always around somewhere.”

          Hardwicke Dresses for Combat

          There is little conversation as Hardwicke completes his early-morning ablutions and dresses: long johns, wool shirt, wool trousers, two pairs of wool socks, GI high-top shoes, and wool garrison cap with the silver bar of a first lieutenant pinned neatly on the left side. His A-2 leather flight jacket is complete with squadron insignia on the front, a snarling black panther riding earthward atop a bomb of burgundy against a white cloud/blue sky background. On the back are two rows of 10 bright yellow bombs and one of five, representing 25 combat missions, along with the name of their B-17, “Uninvited.”

          As Hardwicke and other crew members emerge from the Nissen hut, canvas-draped heavy trucks are waiting to transport them to the combat mess. He clambers aboard and finds a place on one of the uncomfortable slatted wood benches that traverse the vehicle from front to rear. The truck lurches forward, and as the ride begins, Hardwicke is gripped by a rush of introspection.

          He shares the universal conviction of all who face combat—he simply will do his job and return home unscathed. Yet now, right now, this sanguine notion is challenged by a cruel paradox not manifest in his Christian resolve and belief in a merciful God. He has seen B-17s disintegrate and fall from antiaircraft hits or incessant fighter attacks he has mourned the dead, many of whom were his friends and prayed for the missing and witnessed the empty cots, the vacant places at the combat mess and officers’ club. He has helped gather personal effects to be shipped home following the most dreaded of telegrams. He recalls the temporary shock when the number of missions needed for rotation Stateside was extended from 30 to 35, and the initial reaction of his crew. “We’ll never make it home now.”

          The Many Ways To Die

          There are so many ways to die. It could happen on the ground—a misplaced bomb, engine failure on takeoff, a blown tire. He has flown over the blazing remains of a B-17 whose crew did not have time to escape before disaster. It could happen during assembly over England, a slight miscalculation in blinding fog or heavy clouds and suddenly the plane above or below or on either wing is too close. There is no time to correct, a searing flash, a fireball, and pieces of airplane start to spiral into the English Channel, the North Sea, or the pastoral English countryside.

          Once the bomber stream turns on its target heading, and today, thanks to the early call, it will be somewhere deep within Germany, safety resides only in one’s mind. Loss of oil pressure, oxygen malfunction, a runaway prop could lead to an abort, and not all aborts return safely.

          Should these problems be overcome, or even better, simply not occur, there remains yet another factor, a hostile reception by the enemy, waiting to unleash its flak and fighters. Yet, as Hardwicke reflects, there are also many ways to live. The B-17G, modified to include a much-needed forward-firing chin turret, an improved tail gun and enclosed, staggered waist-gun positions, much greater ammunition capacity, and enhanced turbo-superchargers to increase high-altitude performance, is perhaps the most advanced and durable of all four-engine bombers in Europe. Its combat record and the battle damage it can sustain are the stuff of legend.

          Hardwicke had come home on three engines after a flak hit over Zeitz in August and was forced to land in Italy about a month later when an antiaircraft shell cut a main fuselage spar just forward of the ball turret. In one of the most celebrated incidents, a B-17 was cut almost in half when it was rammed by a German Messerschmitt Me-109 fighter aft of the waist-gun positions. Miraculously, the “All American” made it home. Many B-17s that did survive were consigned to the graveyard. Their crews, those able to walk at least, returned to duty.

          Commanding a Skilled, Able Crew

          Hardwicke is quietly confident in the abilities of his crew. Each man is a skilled professional with a specific responsibility, part of a smoothly functioning team. Flickema, Jackson, and Papousek are seated next to him on the truck. Soon to join them will be Dale Weaver (radio operator/gunner), John Hammond (waist gunner), Denver (Pappy) Grogg (tail-gunner), Tom Downham (ball-turret gunner), and Waymon Avery (engineer and top-turret gunner). These fliers are from Texas, Maryland, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, California, Illinois, and Hardwicke, Virginia. Their average age is 23, and Pappy Grogg, as his nickname suggests, is an elderly 29.

          Hardwicke and his crew have trained and flown together for nearly a year and for the combat airman to shirk his duty, to fail a buddy, is unthinkable. Hardwicke, as commander, believes the least discipline is best. Treat the men fairly, and they will respond accordingly. Today, November 30, 1944, marks their 26th combat mission together.

          As the truck bounces to a halt, Hardwicke’s sense of foreboding is crystallized by the date. Today is his second wedding anniversary. Not only that, but two months earlier, almost to the day, he turned 23. His grim speculation suddenly takes form, and for an instant he struggles with the very real possibility that he may not celebrate a 24th birthday or a third wedding anniversary. He and Gladys, his hometown sweetheart since spring 1941, had discussed and accepted the risk of wartime uncertainty. He had enlisted in the Army Air Corps in September 1942 and been told to await the call.

          Meanwhile, the couple was wed on November 30, 1942, at Richmond’s Barton Heights Baptist Church and enjoyed their honeymoon in New York City. The call and his opportunity to fly—an abiding passion since childhood—came in March 1943. For the next 10 months, Hardwicke applied himself with purpose and tenacity to become an Army Air Corps pilot. In December, he was commissioned a second lieutenant, presented silver wings, and assigned to fly B-17s.

          “Never Saw the Target … Wish to Hell We’d Get Some Good Weather”

          Flickema nudges Hardwicke’s shoulder, “Come on, Hugh, let’s eat.” Jackson chuckles, “Wake up, Hugh, chow time.” Not to be remiss, Papousek adds, “OK, Hugh, move it.” All four slide from the truck and stroll into the combat mess, already alive with other crews and chatter. The serving line is short, fare basically the same.

          Hardwicke assembles his plate, stainless steel flatware, napkin, and cup, and accepts a heaping spoonful of reconstituted eggs, four slices of crisp bacon, some well-browned toast. Coffee, hot and black, is the final ingredient as they find places at one of the long wooden tables, each equipped with a multitude of individual wooden chairs. Suspended from the ceiling a dozen or so shaded bulbs provide the sole source of illumination, enough to notice the many posters with a central pictorial and verbal theme: “It comes 5000 miles/Eat what you take … Don’t be a chow-hog/Take only what you eat … Eat what you take!” Discussion of a mission to the railroad marshaling yards at Hamm four days earlier elicits general agreement. “Heard the results were OK … had to drop through clouds … never saw the target … wish to hell we’d get some good weather.” Today’s mission was a matter of speculation. “Wonder where the hell they’re sending us today … what kind of opposition you think we’re gonna see … we were up early, expect it’ll be a long one.” Hardwicke checks his watch, it is 0520, about 10 minutes before briefing when these and many other questions will be answered.

          Field Order No. 500, received the previous day at 2040 hours, confirmed an earlier phone alert from 3rd Air Division headquarters. It outlined in terse, impersonal terms the basis for today’s mission it was refined during early-morning planning sessions by the 390th operations staff and soon will be explained in detail to those expected to implement it.

          May His Dust Not Precede That of the Walls

          As Hardwicke approaches the oversized Nissen building’s entrance, he once again glances at the message, flanked by an American eagle, inscribed above the door: “The deeds of the men who pass through these portals shall be remembered long after the walls have crumbled to dust.” He embraces the thought with a mildly amusing caveat: may his dust not precede that of the walls.

          While awaiting official briefing from group leadership, the accepted practice is to light up, smoke a cigarette or two or three, and a dull haze soon envelops the room. Some men already are seated, others are standing casually in the center aisle and around the periphery engaged in idle discourse, sometimes punctuated by a bit of nervous laughter. Hardwicke and Flickema edge their way through the clusters and find a couple of canvas folding chairs midway through the room. Jackson and Papousek are attending concurrent briefings for navigators and bombardiers specifically related to routes, times, bomb load, and run.

          As Hardwicke settles into his chair, he carefully removes from his A-2 pocket his favorite smoking instrument, a well-worn, prewar, genuine Amphora briar pipe. Perhaps it validates his calm and assured persona, perhaps it offers a trapping of maturity, perhaps he simply prefers a pipe to cigarettes, or perhaps it is all three in combination. A few short puffs, a long draw and he turns to Flickema: “Whaddya you think, Flick, where’re we going?” Capable, quiet, reserved, Flickema shrugs, “You know, Hugh, there’s been a big push on oil, so maybe Magdeburg or Bohlen or Ruland or Merseburg.”

          Hardwicke stares forward intently. Resting on the slightly elevated, rough wooden platform is a huge mapboard that clearly depicts the British Isles and continental Europe. For the moment it is obscured by a nearly floor-to-ceiling-length black curtain. The target, details of which he must absorb, is shielded by that curtain.

          At precisely 0530 comes the expected command, “Ten-shun!” They rise in unison as Colonel Joseph Moller, the group’s commanding officer Major Robert Waltz, operations officer and Major Robert Good, air executive, stride briskly to the platform. Colonel Moller pauses a few seconds as three overhead lights come to life, illuminating a dull void surrounding the mapboard. “Good morning, gentlemen, as you were.” Rustling and crinkling, a few coughs, and some throat clearing are heard as the 75 or so men present rearrange themselves.

          “My God, Not Merseburg Again”

          With a snap of the wrist, Moller unveils the detailed National Geographic-like map. A red ribbon, which defines routes to and from the target with small flags to mark points of interest along the way, stretches taughtly from Framlingham, across the North Sea, through Belgium, over the battle line and into Germany, deep into Germany. Destination: Merseburg and the Leuna synthetic fuels complex.

          With target disclosure comes an undercurrent of sentiment that sparks a unanimous, yet-unspoken response, “My God, not Merseburg again.” Hardwicke shares this, as well as the expected vocal dissatisfaction, manifested by a series of groans and “oh-no’s.” Early in 1944, the Eighth Air Force embarked on a maximum effort to destroy German petroleum production deny the enemy oil and his war-making capability will diminish accordingly, it was theorized. German response was predictable: Surround these plants with the most efficient antiaircraft weapons and the most proficient operators maintain an ever-alert Luftwaffe, despite a dwindling base of experienced pilots.

          The paradox of four months past races through Hardwicke’s mind. On July 28, he and his crew began their combat odyssey. Their first mission was to Merseburg and the Leuna complex. They encountered moderate flak, few German fighters, and pathfinder radar was used for bomb aiming from 24,000 feet through solid cloud cover. All returned safely to Framlingham, and Hardwicke recalls an observation by his friend, Red Joyner, after debriefing. “Nothin’ to it, Hugh, I could fly a million of ’em.” Bad news came the next morning at mission briefing by Major Waltz. “OK, fellows, you did a beautiful job on a wheat field yesterday, so today we’ll go back and do it right. No cloud cover, no excuses.”

          On this trip, flak near and over the target was “intense and accurate,” and two B-17s from Hardwicke’s low squadron were hit and went down. Flak was followed by FW-190s, and ME-109s and 110s and Hardwicke’s top turret gunner, Avery, claimed a kill. They limped back to Framlingham and once on the ground, counted more than 200 flak and bullet holes in the left wing and tail surfaces. Following debriefing, Red was a bit less optimistic: “I believe they really got mad at us, Hugh, I quit.”

          Hardwicke’s Confidence Renewed

          Colonel Moller snaps Hardwicke’s momentary lapse. “That’s correct, gentlemen, Merseburg again. This time the mission will, in addition to the 13th, include the 93rd, 4th and 45th combat wings. Overall, we expect to put up around 540 aircraft, of which some 300—including the 390th—will attack the Leuna complex. The 93rd will lead the 3rd Division and Colonel Dolan will be command pilot for our group and wing.” Hardwicke is elated, filled with renewed confidence. Lieutenant Colonel Louis W. (Lucky) Dolan is the 390th’s deputy commander, and he is well known and well respected throughout the Eighth Air Force as one of its most able and experienced combat leaders. He has participated in or led assaults on nearly every major enemy target in Europe. Why, he even looks the part, the handsome prototype of the senior officer. If anyone can take us to and over Merseburg and back home without incident, it just has to be Lucky Dolan, Hardwicke convinces himself. “You’ll be there in about five hours, gentlemen you know what you have to do, let’s go and do it. Major Waltz will provide the details. Good luck to all of you,” Moller concludes.

          “Good morning, let’s make it just the opposite for the Germans,” Waltz begins as mission sheets with A, B, and C Squadron designations are distributed. “As you know, Colonel Dolan is wing lead. He’ll be flying with Captain Gary in 080, A squadron. Major McHenry will lead B squadron with Kenny in 225, and Lieutenant Watts will lead C Squadron with Stene in 013.” Hardwicke scans his mission sheet for the other assignments. He will lead C squadron’s low element, which also includes Goodrich in 337, Norman 807, and Mazzechelli 093 also in C are Tracy 345, Weigand 6143, Sarden 390, Sweeny 026, Coffin 526, Lewis 673, Robison 972, Nash 632. A Squadron shows Dieters in 470, Peterson 407, Jefferson 836, Meigede 7041, Combs 927, Hannold 868, Harris 325, Dognibene 8472, Corcoran 275, O’Conner 375, Booth 519 B consists of Philip 456, Shira 926, Torrance 053, Mitchell 831, Herring 306, Drinkwalter 846, Monit 121, Henry 173, Maddron 274, Kurtz 515, Massa 319, Duppenhaler 967.

          “Zero hour is 1300, bombing altitude 26,000, bomb run from 320 degrees magnetic. Combination PFF and visual, 100-foot intervalometer settings, twenty 250-pound GPs.
          C-1 autopilot for bomb run.” Waltz is resolute, a pragmatist and what Hardwicke needs at exactly this moment is an extra-large dose of pragmatism. “A squadron start engines at 0740, taxi 0750, takeoff 0805, estimated time of departure 0850, estimated time of return 1625. B squadron start engines 0750, taxi 0800, takeoff 0815, ETD 0855, ETR 1625. C squadron start engines 0800, taxi 0810, takeoff 0825, ETD 0905, ETR 1625. Fighter groups will rendezvous at 1100.”

          Mission Checkpoint Locations Not Too Friendly

          The pointer the major uses is a slightly shortened pool cue decorated with a red-and-white circular design along the shaft. As he moves from side to side along the platform, alternating between the map and a large blackboard with squadron designations and alignments, his shadow—enhanced by the harsh lighting—dances ghost-like across most of Europe. “Group assembly at 0930 at 9,000. Your mission checkpoints: 5114-0254 at 1100, 5006-0626 at 1155, 5025-1211 at 1030, target 1320 route and checkpoints home: 5028-0936 at 1400, 5007-0744 at 1424, 5044-0455 at 1452, 5117-0301 at 1543, buncher 28 at 1619, base at 1626.” Hardwicke knows the route in all too well and recognizes the checkpoints as close to some very unfriendly German cities.

          Intelligence is next. Major Ollie Davis—taciturn, dispassionate—and his staff have been sifting information and transposing the field order into a workable interpretation of today’s mission since midnight. His war room is the sepulcher of secrecy where master target data is stored along with a coded index that translates meaningless numbers into: “Your target is the Leuna complex located just outside Merseburg. The target is a closely built-up area some 4,000 by 1,500 yards with the major axis in a north-northwest, south-southeast direction.” In concert with his description, lights are dimmed and a projection screen lowered just in front of the map. Photos of the plant are flashed on the screen as he continues. “This complex is engaged in the production of fuels and synthetic oils and your approach will be across these railway sidings, which will be on your right. We hope this will minimize length of the bomb run and reduce your exposure to flak. Good luck, gentlemen.”

          Lights up, screen up as Captain Robert Lamb takes the platform. His business is weather and he brings with him a vertical cross-section, a layer-cake of clouds and meteorological symbols from ground level to 35,000 feet. “At base,” he explains, “about 5/10s stratus during assembly, winds from 310 degrees at 35. Over the continent, cloud cover is reported to have increased to 7/10s and at the target expect a low haze with reported winds from 320 degrees at 45, thin patches of alto-stratus at 12,000.”

          Major Waltz returns for the final reminder. “You know the Merseburg flak, always intense and accurate, not to mention Zeitz. Expect some 1,500 guns in the Zeitz-Leipzig-Merseburg area. You’ll be subjected to tracking and barrage, and be alert to box barrages just before bomb release. We expect minimum response from the Luftwaffe. Any questions? OK, boys, drop ’em sûr le nez.”

          “On the Nose, Bombs on the Nose”

          Sûr le nez,” Hardwicke muses. “On the nose, bombs on the nose.” A quaint enjoinder, he thinks, considering all the elements that irrevocably conspire to prevent Sûr le nez. “Ten-shun!” They rise in unison as Colonel Moller and the other staff members depart. “We’re going to Merseburg” hundreds of B-17s, thousands of men committed to the single most critical phase of any mission, “sûr le nez.” His pipe has cooled, its contents little more than a crust as he carefully taps the bowl against his palm and returns this symbol of calm to his pocket. He, Flickema, and the other crews, among a few muted profanities, begin their short stroll to the dressing shack. This gray, unappealing structure is divided into two main areas, both indisputable reminders of human frailty and mortality. Just within the entrance, crew members deposit personal effects which, in turn, are recorded by Captain George Nelson and placed carefully in small canvas bags, neatly arranged on a series of floor-to-ceiling shelves.

          Hardwicke empties his pockets—keys, wallet, and any other item that may aid enemy interrogators should the worst-case scenario materialize. Next he removes his John Marshall High School ring, class of 1939, and his wedding band, inscribed “GOH to HHH Jr. 1942.” He declares all except a prized silver dollar, a gift from his father many years ago. The enemy can glean little from an American silver dollar and its presence on his person is a source of comfort his good-luck charm has been conspicuously successful. “Thank you, lieutenant and good luck,” Nelson says as Hardwicke and Flickema move to the next room. Here they collect the considerable array of flight clothing and equipment, all designed to protect them from external considerations, man-made and natural. To resist the intense cold of 50 to 60 degrees below zero while five miles above the Continent in an unheated and unpressurized B-17, layers of specially designed clothing are imperative. By now, as he and Flickema gather their gear, the routine is rote. Bulky and uncomfortable, the jacket and trousers are lined with alpaca and wool and fitted with a series of wires and connectors to permit electrical heating. Their boots are made of canvas duck with rubber soles, and electrically heated gloves usually are worn with an inner rayon liner. Flying helmets are leather with a chamois lining and sound-insulated earphone mountings, and designed to accommodate one-piece goggles with either clear or tinted lens. The kapok-filled earphone mountings support the standard headset with adjustable leather-covered headbands. Throat mikes are retained with a brown elastic neck strap.

          Oxygen mask, parachute and harness, flak vest made of overlapping steel plates and a steel flak helmet complete the outfit. The customary “Mae West,” that wonderful bright yellow inflatable, is necessary along with the model 1911-A1 .45 semi-automatic both Hardwicke and Flickema carry in their russet-brown leather shoulder holsters.

          All Prepared for Contingencies

          They are prepared for the known contingencies. Much of the gear they toss in flight bags they will don it later while awaiting takeoff or approaching enemy territory. Now, joined by Jackson and Papousek, it is time to board the trucks once more, this time for the trip to hardstands that encircle the 6,337-foot main east-west runway and the two 4,400-foot north-south alternate runways. Time, 0705, more than sufficient for the vitally important walk around and preflight checklist. As the truck slows to a stop, Flickema and Jackson pull the tailgate pins and the protective rear cover bangs down. All four toss their flight bags and follow them to the ground.

          As the gray light barely sneaks its way across the English countryside, what has been a sprinkling of haze and mist begins to dissipate. What has been merely a cold, impersonal silhouette begins to take shape as the silver surface of a B-17G. Another truck bobs to a stop and the balance of Hardwicke’s crew—Hammond, Weaver, Avery, Downham, and Grogg—all of whom attended separate briefings, disembark. Avery and Downham are wearing most of their cumbersome flying attire while Hammond, Grogg, and Weaver prepare to suit up on the hardstand.

          Their transportation to and, with good fortune, from Merseburg is well prepared for the journey. Master Sergeant Blumberg, the crew chief, and his four assistants, have devoted most of the past 96 hours to checking and rechecking all the elements so vital to remaining aloft. Hardwicke had noticed problems encountered during the six-hour mission to Hamm four days previous, including the loss of oil pressure on No. 3 engine on the way home. “No, 3’s OK, sir,” Blumberg reports. “Oil pressure, manifold pressure, prop pitch control all checked and repairs made,” he continues. “How about the left wing aileron control and trim tab alignment?” Hardwicke inquires. “Has been set properly and also pitch control on No. 4 adjusted,” Blumberg responds. “And sir, those hundred or so holes have been patched,” he smiles. Hardwicke grins back, “Good job, sergeant.”

          The early-morning light not only discloses surface color, but the more intimate, personal details of this B-17G. Tail number 107176 is found just below the white J within a black square that identifies the 390th as the Square J. The 568th Squadron code—BI—appears in bold, black letters on both sides of the fuselage, almost above the wings and directly in front of the national insignia, a white star on blue background flanked by white rectangular bars outlined in blue the national identification also is prominent on top of the left wing and bottom of the right. A square J also appears on top of the right wing.

          The Bomber Always Safely Returns

          Circling the nose, immediately behind the bombardier’s Plexiglas station, is a 14-inch red band which further identifies the 568th, and below the navigator’s windows and rows of vertical bombs, her names: “Uninvited” and “Missionaires.” Two previous crews have named her, and in the best tradition of good luck, Hardwicke and his crew accepted both. They did, however, select “Uninvited” for the backs of their A-2s, along with ever-increasing strings of yellow bombs. No. 176 is solid, reliable, and has carried them through 14 of their 25 combat missions. No matter the battle damage, thanks to her resilient character and their precise flying skills, always a safe return to Framlingham.

          “OK, Flick, Sergeant Blumberg, let’s look around,” Hardwicke says. The essential visual inspection begins with the right wing. “Aileron, flaps, de-icer boots OK, no fuel leaks, air ducts clear, props look good,” Flickema notes. They check No. 3 and No. 4 engines cowl flaps secure, exhaust systems OK, turbo wheels smooth. Next comes the main wheel tire OK, hydraulic lines, drag link, and strut OK. Around the nose, pitot-tube covers removed, antennae leads connected, trailing antennae retracted, marker beacon secure. Engines No. 1 and 2 OK, left landing gear OK, aileron surfaces and trim tab alignments OK on the left wing, external locks removed. Tail guns in position and locked, gunner’s escape door closed, tail wheel inflated properly, shear pin and slot not rounded or worn. “She looks just fine, Hugh,” Flickema observes, “let’s get aboard.”

          Taking Their Places on Board

          Most of the crew enters through a rear door, but for those with positions on the flight deck and in the nose, “getting aboard” means by way of an emergency hatch aft of the navigator’s station. Described as a “cupid’s leap,” the process requires grasping the upper, outer edge of the opening with both hands, lifting and swinging both legs through while twisting them down the fuselage in the process. With a final heave and squirm, one’s body is deposited with somewhat of a thud.

          Hardwicke and Flickema take the leap first, followed by Jackson and Papousek. A turn and step up and pilot and copilot are ready to occupy their accustomed bucket seats of aluminum construction with padded backs and cushions clearly marked “Do not remove from airplane.”

          They stow their parachutes and flight bags and slide into place, Hugh on the left, behind individual control columns. These are shaped like half-wheels with three spokes connected to a centerpiece properly identified, “B-17 Flying Fortress” above the Boeing Company’s signature, a vertical B-o-e-i-n-g attached at the O with a pair of stylized wings.

          They are surrounded by a maze of instruments, switches, dials, and knobs—to the front, above, and on both sides. The cockpit is far from spacious, but thanks to a design engineer who recognized the need for excellent visibility as well as the psychological value of light, they also are surrounded by windows—to the front, above, and on both sides. As Hardwicke adjusts his feet to the rudder pedals and settles into the position he will occupy for the next seven-plus hours, his thoughts drift for a moment.

          Hardwicke In His “Office”

          Behind the controls he is at home. Although it may be a bland metaphor, the cockpit is his office, a place where he functions best. With some 500 B-17 flying hours and countless more of ground instruction, he glances around with an inner satisfaction. He has not just learned, he has absorbed the instrumentation. Yes, he can, even when blindfolded, identify and render each device properly.

          The console between pilot and copilot holds the tools through which they will gain and sustain flight. The B-17, unlike any other four-engine aircraft in service, incorporates a set of three throttle controls. Grasp the top rung and engines 1 and 4 will respond, while the bottom rung activates engines 2 and 3 the split middle rung, the one most used, offers all four simultaneously.

          Throttles and their base feature a distinctive metallic green color and the adjacent throttle control lock is topped with a white knob. Controls forward of the throttles include fuel mixture and turbo-supercharger, ignition, fuel-boost pump, fuel shutoff, wing flap, landing gear, and light switches. A lower pedestal features the elevator and rudder trim tab wheels, elevator and rudder lock, autopilot flight control panel, and tailwheel lock.

          Above the windshield one finds a clock, compass, and de-icer pressure gauge above and between Hardwicke and Flickema resides their prime radio equipment, command receiver unit, loop, light and volume switches, band selector knob, tuning crank, transmitting key, and channel selector. At Hardwicke’s left, controls range from the windshield de-icer to the aileron trim tab control to his front, a series of instruments: pilot’s directional indicator emergency bomb salvo button radio compass oxygen flow indicator, altimeter, and indicators for airspeed, rate of climb, turn and bank plus directional gyro and prop-feathering buttons.

          To Flickema’s right are found, among others, intercooler controls, engine primer hydraulic hand pump, engine-starting switches, carburetor air filter switch, parking brake, and engine fire-extinguisher controls. And in front, set against a dark panel, pressure gauges of vital consequence: manifold, fuel, oil, along with temperature gauges for oil, carburetor air, free air, and cylinder head also tachometers, fuel-quantity gauges, and flap-position indicator.

          Putting Abilities to the Test for Dreaded Merseburg

          Hardwicke knows that today his ability will be tested yet again, to Merseburg, dreaded Merseburg. Yet, Lucky Dolan is going to lead, and after all, there are two sevens in the tail number, and early on they had been designated as “replacement crew No. 7.” Just for good measure, he finds in his A-2 pocket a certain silver dollar and permits it to slide gently between his right thumb, index, and middle fingers. No. 176, “Uninvited,” may be owned by the Army Air Forces, but she belongs to Hardwicke and his crew, a proprietary interest that began on September 2, when she was assigned as their aircraft. They had logged almost 190 combat flying hours since July, of which a little more than half have been in “Uninvited.”

          Hardwicke adjusts his headset over his flying helmet and goggles, firmly in place over the left ear but set behind the right to better hear Flickema, plugs into the command frequency, and snaps in place his throat mike when word from the tower is received. Prepare for at least a half-hour delay to permit more favorable weather in the target area. C Squadron engine start now 0830, taxi 0845, takeoff 0900, ETD 0945. Flickema nods to Hardwicke in confirmation.

          “Damn,” Hardwicke mutters to no one in particular. Delays always are tedious and sometimes weather closed on the field, as was happening now, or over the target, and in some instances this led to a mission scrub. He checks his watch, 0750. Enough time, he thinks, for an interior inspection something he did rarely because of complete confidence in his crew. But today, everything must be in place, all in readiness. He eases from his seat, “Going to take a look inside, Flick.”

          A check in the nose discloses a somewhat relaxed Papousek and Jackson engaged in casual conversation. “Everything OK?” he inquires. “Current maps, radio facility charts, navigational aids, direction-finding charts?” “Sure, Hugh, all right here,” Jackson responds. As he looks around, portable oxygen bottles in place, ammo stored properly, first-aid packets OK, nose guns secure, bombsight ready. He turns with the traditional OK sign, thumb and index finger locked in an oval, and they return the gesture.

          From nose to the top turret switches in off position, oxygen bottles stored correctly along with fire extinguishers. He navigates the tricky narrow catwalk between bomb racks. This is Papousek’s domain and he is methodical bombs are OK, bomb bay doors closed, no excessive gasoline fumes, hand transfer pump in place.

          Preparing for Flight

          He moves to the radio compartment. “What’s up, Hugh?” Weaver asks. “Just checking.” Extra parachute stored, main oxygen system OK, emergency landing gear hand crank in place and locked, life raft emergency release handles set properly. On to the waist. Ball turret and waist guns secure along with ammo, windows closed, control cables clear. In the tail, drag link screw and assembly in alignment, control cables OK, section neat. He returns to the flight deck satisfied, reassured.

          “Everything OK, Hugh?” “Looks good, Flick, didn’t think it would be otherwise. I just need to be sure,” Hardwicke says as he resumes his position. It is 0805, time for the preflight check. This pilot-copilot ritual, no matter how often orchestrated, is serious and never taken for granted. Flickema has the list in hand and begins in a loud, clear tone with either he or Hardwicke responding. “Pilot’s preflight complete, form 1A checked controls and seats, checked fuel transfer valves and switch off intercoolers cold gyros uncaged fuel shutoff switches open gear switch neutral cowl flaps open right, open left, and locked turbos off, idle cutoff OK, throttles closed, autopilot off, de-icers and anti-icers wing and props off, cabin heat off, generators off.”

          Rudder, elevators, and ailerons are put through the full range of movement and proper direction of operation. Hardwicke and Flickema adjust their seats and safety belts to ensure freedom of movement. It is 0831, green light from tower, time to start engines. Hardwicke goes on the intercom, “All positions check in.” “Tail to pilot OK, waist to pilot OK, radio to pilot OK, ball to pilot OK, top gunner OK, navigator and bombardier OK.”

          Hardwicke and Flickema slide back their side windows and call to the ground crew, “Fire guard clear.” Flickema continues the checklist. “Master switch on, battery switches and inverters on and checked, parking brakes on, hydraulic check OK, carburetor filters open, booster pumps pressure on and checked.” Avery, standing behind the pilots, monitors the process carefully, especially engine instruments and controls.

          Ready To Start the Engines: B and C Squadrons On Their Way

          The engine-starting sequence is left to right, 1 to 4. Hardwicke makes sure both engines on his side have the props pulled through three or four complete revolutions, and Flickema does the same. Hardwicke holds up an index finger, and Flickema responds, “Ready to start No. 1.” Flickema energizes and expels air from the primer until he has a solid fuel charge. Some 12 seconds later Hardwicke calls, “mesh No. 1” and Flickema, while still holding the switch at start, moves the mesh switch to the correct position and continues to prime until the engine fires with a rush of blue exhaust. Hardwicke sets the mixture to autorich and notes the oil pressure is coming up.

          The process is repeated three more times, and now all engines are running smoothly. Flickema returns to the checklist, “Flight indicator and vacuum pressures checked.” He keeps close watch on engine instruments and calls to Hardwicke, “Oil temperature 70 degrees, oil pressure 75 pounds, clock set, magnetic compass float level, flap position checked and ready.”

          The green light flashes from the tower, and it is time to taxi. Hardwicke and Flickema order wheel chocks removed by the ground crew, still alert with fire extinguishers in hand. The engines are performing well, and Hardwicke knows the drill. Keep the inboard engines idling at not less than 500 rpm with just enough friction lock applied to prevent the throttles from creeping. Using throttles, with as little brakes as possible, Hardwicke rolls No. 176 slowly onto the taxiway that surrounds the main and auxiliary runways. As “Uninvited” settles into the engine din and associated vibration, Hardwicke joins the almost apparitional procession: B-17s in front, behind and, it seems, on all sides.

          By now, A squadron has departed and B is well on the way. C Squadron, at 45-second intervals, is next. No. 176 reaches the engine run-up area, and Hardwicke and Flickema begin final checks. “Brakes set,” Flickema confirms. Hardwicke runs up each engine and checks magnetos, rpm, and voltage output as Flickema checks fuel and oil pressure, as well as cylinder-head temperature. The run-up is complete, engines OK.

          Hardwicke steers “Uninvited” into takeoff position on the main runway as he and Flickema watch the preceding B-17 clear a patch of woods at the far end and disappear into the mist that has begun to shroud Station 153. Forty-five-second intervals are just enough to avoid propwash, which, if flown into, may stimulate undesirable aerodynamic characteristics.

          Takeoff, the Most Critical Moment

          “Cowl flaps open, trim tabs set, gyros set, tailwheel locked, autopilot off, brakes set,” Hardwicke and Flickema agree. No. 176 is held stationary as Hardwicke, with the conventional palm-up grasp, advances the throttles to full takeoff power. Engines thunder, the plane shivers as brakes are released and it begins, not a rush to altitude, but a swaddle—in Hardwicke’s view, a sort of proud half swagger, half undignified waddle. Some 65,000 pounds of airplane, fuel, bombs, and crew lurch forward.

          Takeoff is the most critical moment, and one mistake means “Uninvited” becomes their final resting place. The fuel mixture is full rich, and the airplane is in a straight line on the runway as Flickema begins the all-important airspeed calls. He intones, “60, 70,” and with very little pressure on the control column the tail rises “80” and the yoke feels light as speed increases, “90, 100, 110” as the end of the runway rushes toward them, “115, 120” and Hardwicke feels air under No. 176. The plane is past stalling speed, committed to flight. “Uninvited” is airborne, and Hardwicke eases back on the control column. Throttles remain full, mixture full rich, 2,500 rpm as “Uninvited” slices through the fog.

          Once airborne, Hardwicke calls to Flickema, “Wheels up, cowl flaps closed.” Flickema applies brakes slowly to stop rotation on the wheels as they slide gently into wells beneath engines 2 and 3. Both make a visual check. “Gear up left, gear up right.” Flickema closes the cowl flaps and retracts the tailwheel. All is well manifold pressure, oil pressure and temperature, rpm, airspeed at desired levels. Now begins the tedious climb to altitude and assembly.

          They follow a VHF “buncher” beacon, a radio signal designed to guide planes into their proper areas for formation assembly. The crew is on high alert for other aircraft as they rise at 200 feet a minute without visual reference. Their only identification signals are blue running lights on the wingtips, and mid-air collision is a very real possibility. Some groups climb faster, some slower, and an incident of a month or so ago flashes before Hardwicke. Suddenly, a B-17 with a black triangle, not a square J on its tail, popped from the clouds and rushed past them much too close for comfort.

          Up to 7,000 Feet

          It is a busy time in the cockpit. Flickema adjusts fuel mixture he and Avery monitor manifold and oil pressure as they continue to climb in a giant counterclockwise circle. In theory, all 390th aircraft are laboring through the same process.

          At 7,000 feet, they shake free of the murk and suddenly face the glorious evanescent hues of sunrise. During those few transitory moments, Hardwicke lowers his tinted goggles to help shield glare reflecting off the left wing. It is magnificent, exhilarating streams of light from above, generous banks of white clouds below, and Hardwicke’s faith is reinforced. Only God, he assures himself, is capable of such beauty. For the first time since takeoff, other aircraft are clearly visible, their silver forms well defined.

          Hardwicke and Flickema guide No. 176 into its position as C Squadron low-element lead. Throughout this process, and the mission, they will alternate flying “Uninvited” for 20- to 30-minute intervals. Gradually, inexorably, the group takes shape as other ships find and fit into their assigned slots. Jackson becomes the most important crew member his responsibility is to be absolutely certain of their exact location at all times. Others are occupied with checking planes around them. Assembly is nearly complete, and once more Hardwicke marvels at the accomplishment as the 13th Combat Wing, above, below, ahead, and behind, readies itself for the journey to Merseburg.

          The bomber stream is designed with time and space intervals allocated to the many groups. There are maybe a hundred feet between Hardwicke and the squadron elements ahead with 500-foot vertical squadron differentials, necessary separations to avoid propwash and ensure an envelope of reasonably stable air. Today, assembly has required about an hour as they continue to climb, and Hardwicke knows the departure point, Southwold on the North Sea coast will be reached momentarily.

          “Departing English Coast Three Minutes Early”

          “Navigator to pilot, departing English coast three minutes early.” Hardwicke responds and checks the clock, 0942. A few minutes later, at 10,000 feet, he alerts the crew to “go on oxygen.” Each acknowledges and snaps his A-14 rubber mask in place where it will remain for at least the next six hours. Although manufactured with consideration for facial contours, it has become its own oxymoron, a vital irritant. Hardwicke knows this heading will carry them across the North Sea, over Belgium and the battle line, and into Germany. It is not exactly an easy route with enemy fighters and flak batteries on alert to greet them.

          Defense against fighters is characterized as a gleaming three-dimensional sword, its edges tempered by skill and experience. The marksmanship of No. 176 gunners Avery, Grogg, Downham, and Hammond is superior, not to mention Papousek, responsible for the electrically driven chin turret and sharing the two cheek .50s in the nose with Jackson. They represent the initial edge.

          Edge two is the carefully developed staggered, three-plane elements within a squadron and staggered squadrons within a group. They are positioned to provide a compact yet easily maneuverable “box.” This permits maximum, concentrated firepower, sustained by consistently tight formations.

          Edge three is the fighter escort of “Little Friends.” Today, the fighters will be North American P-51D Mustangs, which will rendezvous near the battle line. The fighter pilots, displaying superior combat aptitude in a single-engine aircraft whose range and versatility is unparalleled in European skies, have achieved impressive scores against the Luftwaffe.

          Hardwick’s Defense: Prayer

          Hardwicke has considered ways to defend against flak on a number of occasions during their previous 25 combat missions. He has produced but one answer—prayer, sometimes silent, often articulated with vigor. But he has more important considerations just now. “Pilot to gunners, check ’em.” “Roger,” each responds. As weapons are activated, spent shell casings ricochet throughout each position, muzzle flashes are clearly visible, the odor of cordite noticeable. Each time firing begins, in test or combat, Hardwicke thinks to himself, “Damn well hope old 176 can take the stress one more time and not come unglued.”

          As they continue to climb, fuel conservation is essential, and Hardwicke knows the technique of adjusting a leaner fuel-air mix, as long as cylinder-head temperatures remain at acceptable levels, for just such a purpose. In addition to concentration and composure, combat flying requires enormous stamina physically demanding, it is work for the young. As low-element leader, he must maintain position as smoothly and evenly as possible to ease the flying burden on his two wingmen, as well as the poor soul flying below and behind him in “Purple Heart” corner.

          “Navigator to pilot, just crossed the enemy coast, four minutes early.” “Roger, Jack.” At 15,000 feet, Hardwicke calls for an oxygen and equipment check and exhorts the crewmen to ready their flak helmets and vests. At high altitude, life expectancy without oxygen declines sharply with temperatures hovering between 50 and 60 degrees below zero, any malfunction in the heated suits, gloves, or boots may be catastrophic to one’s extremities. From tail to nose, they acknowledge the check call in the affirmative. Flickema points to his mask and nods as does Hardwicke, and both certify their suits are plugged securely to the heater outlets.

          “Why So Much Essing?”

          Once again, Jackson alerts Hardwicke, “We’re climbing too slowly,” and asks, “Why so much essing?” “Pilot to navigator, think the 93rd was late making altitude, had to wait for them.” Hardwicke knows that sustained essing, slow turns, and leveling off every 5,000 feet, eventually will permit the 93rd to take its position as lead wing he also knows that the practice may stimulate course deviations and interfere with time to target.

          When they cross the battle line there is heightened alert, and the vigil for fighters and flak intensifies. Flickema monitors the escort radio channel and once again chuckles to himself that “Little Friends” are, indeed, quite verbose. At the same time, radio contact within the group and wing is forbidden except in an emergency.

          “Bombardier to pilot, ready to arm.” “Roger, Chick, go.” Papousek collects a portable oxygen bottle, connects his mask and, from the nose, moves past the flight deck, under the top turret, and swings open a door leading to the bomb bay. The catwalk is flanked on either side by bomb racks holding the 20 250-pounders. Papousek braces himself against the sometimes violent and always unpredictable aircraft movement, and carefully places his oxygen bottle in a nearby rack. Now he begins to remove the wires that secure a small propeller on the nose of each bomb. As the finned explosives are disgorged, the propellers twist and, at set intervals, activate the bombs to explode on impact. Papousek completes his work quickly and will add these wires to his already impressive collection, labeled with the date and destination of the 25 previous missions.

          Cruising at 25,000 feet develops a shimmering contrast. The azure blue above forms a stark backdrop for the brilliant-white contrails below, as moisture from superheated engine exhausts freezes into vapor trails that extrude for miles behind each B-17. Hardwicke often ponders how awesome and how terrifying the sight must appear for those on the ground, especially those in close proximity to the target. While contrails may accentuate fear on the ground, in the air they provide excellent cover for German fighters sneaking through to pounce at very close range.

          No Enemy Fighters Yet?

          Enemy fighters have not yet been sighted by the 13th Combat Wing or its Little Friends. Maybe, just maybe, Hardwicke contemplates, Major Waltz was correct in the assessment to expect “minimum response from the Luftwaffe.” What a constructive thought, that German fighter strength had waned to the brink of ineffectiveness. Yet, in a vivid flashback, he recalls their second journey to Merseburg.

          “Tail to pilot, they’re comin’ through the contrails, Jesus, must be 10 or 15, look like 190s and 109s.” Pappy Grogg greeted the intruders with short bursts. “Top to pilot, I see the bastards,” and as they peeled to the left, Waymon Avery followed with his contribution. Later, group intelligence reported that the 390th had been attacked by 12 Focke Wulf Fw-190s, five Messerschmitt Me-109s, and four Messerschmitt Me-110s. Avery claimed a 190, but had to share credit with the top turret gunner of their wingman. German flak was even more productive, sending two B-17s from Hardwicke’s low squadron to earth in flames.

          Hhat was late July. Now in late November, “Navigator to pilot, CP 3 at 1155 we’ve been losing time and our heading has changed. We’re 15 to 20 miles south of the briefed course. If we stay on this heading, we’re going to miss the IP.” “Pilot to navigator, can’t help it Jack, we’ve got to follow the 93rd. Too damn much essing.”

          “Bombardier to Pilot, Flak Comin’ Up”

          Although German fighters mercifully remain absent, the second deadly F, flak, is expected any moment. Hardwicke and crew have become experts: 88s generate a sharp crack and black puff 105s and 155s, muffled booms and gray puffs. Sometimes ground flashes may be spotted from the nose and both Papousek and Jackson keep Hardwicke informed.

          “Bombardier to pilot, flak comin’ up.” Crack, crack, black puffs off the left wing more cracks, more puffs, so far ineffective. A flash, crack, puff sequence comes once more, this time much too close, and with it comes the inevitable concussion as shrapnel hits “Uninvited.” Hardwicke knows shrapnel, from pen cap to softball size, is deadly unto itself he hopes for more pen caps. “Pilot to crew, check for damage.” Their responses are negative.

          Once more, Hardwicke and Flickema check instruments. Indicated airspeed 150, manifold pressure 29 inches, fuel mixture autolean, booster pumps on, props in synch, superchargers OK, rpm 2,000, carburetor air temperature 21 degrees centigrade, cylinder-head temperature 210 degrees centigrade, ship properly trimmed. With flak, each pilot reflexively seeks more space, room to perhaps escape those bursting projectiles. Hardwicke watches aircraft on either wing closely ahead, he sees Tracy and Weigand drifting too close. They correct in time. His low element maintains its integrity.

          When the 13th Combat Wing begins its bomb run to target, Jackson once again alerts Hardwicke—“We’re turning a helluva way past the briefed IP I’d say we’re about 25 miles too far south and 12 minutes behind schedule. Hugh, this heading will take us over Zeitz and we’ll have to fly the bomb run on an elongated approach.” The briefed bomb run was designed for them to cross the target at its narrowest point and avoid as much flak as possible. Now, they will be exposed to the maximum wrath from enemy gunners at both Zeitz and Merseburg. To exacerbate their dilemma, a cruel headwind retards bomb-run speed and offers these gunners even more time to refine range and accuracy.

          The Pounding Starts, Popping Much Too Close

          Above Zeitz the pounding begins in earnest. Crack, crack, crack, boom, boom, boom, black puffs, gray puffs, flashes, and more flashes. It is popping close, much too close. Some flak fragments slice through the fuselage, wings, and tail, so far without significant damage to ship or crew. Tracking flak, barrage flak, pointed flak—they are, indeed, recipients of the most advanced German technology and the gunners’ tenacity to inflict maximum losses on the airborne invaders.

          Hardwicke holds formation, occupied with throttles, rudder control, trim and aileron adjustments Flickema is alert for flak and fighters. “Navigator to pilot, gonna be a damn long bomb run, maybe seven or eight minutes too long.” They are surrounded by dense, black walls of violent bursts, and in the midst of this most vicious assault from the ground, Hardwicke has no time for fear, but there is a thought. “Please God, get us through this, would appreciate a third wedding anniversary and a 24th birthday.”

          Flak batters and buffets No. 176, as yet without major harm. “Pilot to bombardier, since we missed the IP, Chick, more essing necessary. A Squadron’s too close, gotta avoid ’em. Can’t drop ’till they’re clear.” Papousek acknowledges, and three minutes later, “Pilot to bombardier, we’re OK now, we’re clear.” Papousek recognizes it is neither feasible nor possible to drop on the leader as is always the bombing plan. “Bombardier to pilot, bomb doors open, target obscured by haze and smoke.” Within the next minute comes a two-word message always received with enthusiasm by combat aircrews the succinct summation of their mission: “Bombs away!”

          B-17 No. 176, some 5,000 pounds lighter, rises, and Hardwicke, as he has done on 25 previous occasions, compensates. Then, from Weaver, who has an unobstructed view of the bomb bay from his radio room, “Radio to pilot, one hanging, your end of rack.” Hardwicke activates the emergency bomb release, without results. “Pilot to bombardier, still hanging.”

          “Bombardier to Pilot, It’s Salvoed”

          “Bombardier to pilot, on my way.” Once again, Papousek makes the trek from nose to bomb bay, only this time, with open bomb doors, he must overcome wind force and extreme cold as well as steady himself against the unpredictable aircraft pitch and roll. He spots the problem quickly, and with a slight adjustment to the rack the missile drops free. “Bombardier to pilot, it’s salvoed.”

          “Pilot to bombardier, thanks Chick.” Jackson closes the bomb doors and alerts Hardwicke.

          With unanticipated suddenness and ferocity, the carnage intensifies. Hardwicke concentrates on formation integrity, ever aware of the B-17s on either wing and those ahead. Then, the unthinkable happens. It seems to him one massive, sweeping, flak burst strikes just about every plane in A Squadron. As if in slow motion, the lead ship, flown by his friend Dana Gary with Lucky Dolan aboard, inexplicably rises, wings over, and settles upside down on top of his wingman. When they touch, both are obliterated. From the fireball emerges an engine, its prop still spinning, and very small fragments of wing. Hardwicke watches as they fall and exclaims to himself in disbelief, “My God, the bastards got Dolan, they got Dolan.”

          It was inconceivable, impossible, not Lucky Dolan, the one man who could lead them safely to and over Merseburg and then home. Almost simultaneously, another A Squadron ship disintegrates from a direct hit, then another, and yet another. Trails of fire, debris, dead B-17s, dead crewmen litter the sky. No. 176’s intercom comes alive: “Those poor bastards … how many … who … happened so damn fast … see any chutes … no … none … not one.” In a voice steeled by the mixture of adrenaline and inner strength, Hardwicke cuts through the horror. “Pilot to crew, long way to go boys, stay alert, check for flak hits.” Inside, his thoughts are less comforting. “Will any of us survive? Will any of us make it home?” As the gruesome panorama of men trying to annihilate one another swirls around him, Hardwicke relies on a practiced calm and analytical detachment to sustain sanity and control.

          The Relentless Barrage Continues

          In what may have been 60 or so seconds of sustained fury, A Squadron is decimated and in disarray, B Squadron’s leader and two more are missing. Only C Squadron, miraculously, remains untouched by fatal flak hits. The barrage continues. It is relentless and unyielding, and “Uninvited” shudders. A sharp burst under the left wing, and No. 2 engine begins to vibrate and belches a wisp of blue smoke. Calmly and clearly, “Pilot to crew, looks as if we’ve taken a hit in No. 2 engine, will keep you posted.” While there may be a tinge of apprehension, all respond with a tone of confidence, unshakable in the belief that Hardwicke will resolve the situation in their favor.

          Hardwicke and Flickema use the knowledge only many hours of arduous combat flying can provide. Oil and manifold pressure for No. 2 begins to drop, and Hardwicke sees ripples of black liquid seep from under the cowl flap and blow back across the wing surface. So far, no fire, but he knows that No. 2 must be feathered before all oil is lost. The decision made, they begin the all-too-familiar procedure: throttle back, feathering button pressed, mixture and fuel booster off, generator off, turbo off, prop low rpm, ignition off, fuel valve off. Hardwicke watches the prop slowly wind down and stop he signals thumbs up to Flickema. More work is required as Flickema adjusts mixture controls for the other three engines.

          They emerge from what seems an interminable vortex of destruction as the only 390th squadron without loss of aircraft. The remnants of A and B squadrons form on C, which has taken the lead, as they pass the rally point and prepare for the return flight to Framlingham. “Pilot to crew, how many do you count?” Five or so minutes elapse before consensus. “21, counting us, 22.” It does not require a nimble mathematical mind to quickly compute that of 37 ships on the bomb run 14 with around 125 crewmen aboard are, for the moment, missing. Hardwicke knows that some may have joined other groups, some may have crash-landed, and some may land safely. Verifiable losses will not be established until tomorrow.

          “Tomorrow,” and Hardwicke realizes he is thinking demonstrably in the future tense. Less than an hour earlier, tomorrow was an ambiguous, even obscure concept. For the first time since takeoff, he allows himself to relax just a little and signals Flickema to take the controls. Hardwicke removes his flak helmet, lifts his goggles, squints a few seconds, adjusts his oxygen mask, and then wipes the sweat from his forehead and face. As he stretches within the cramped area between seat and controls, “Navigator to pilot, heading 270 degrees, altitude 24,500, ETA 1700.”

          “We’ll Be Home … in Time for Supper”

          “Roger Jack. Pilot to crew, another three hours and we’ll be home … in time for supper.”

          Despite the loss of No. 2 engine, an instrument and control surface check discloses all is well. Further examination of No. 176 by other crew members indicates no additional flak damage of consequence. They follow the 490th group in a gradual descent, one that will carry them over two more checkpoints, the battle line, North Sea, to buncher 28 at Framlingham. The sunset they chase is brilliant for late November, and as far as Hardwicke can see, a harmonious, even synchronous coalescence of silver shapes with but one destination—England.

          They … No, it’s more personal … He has defeated Merseburg. He, his crew, “Uninvited,” have not just endured, they have prevailed. Their 26th mission is nearing completion, and in this knowledge comes a renewed vitality, a resolute confidence that the next nine will be flown without mishap. Yet, today’s price for the 390th alone is significant: Lucky Dolan, Dana Gary and his crew, those aboard 407, Gary’s wingman, and the others who vanished so quickly. In combat an invisible line defines who will live and who will not. Hardwicke now knows, thanks to divine influence, with manifest certainty he will not cross that line.

          A Happy Letter To Write to the Wife

          In almost daily letters to Gladys, Hardwicke has, with unshakable faith, assured her that, no matter what she may hear, he will return to her as soon as the war is over. Survival today over Merseburg has vindicated his optimism. Tonight when he writes, he will employ their code for a successful mission with an understated amendment: “Dearest Gladys, we worked extra hard today.” It is an inadequate tribute to his friends and the others who died, but the censor will not permit expansive personal observations.

          With these thoughts, fatigue yields to a compelling inner strength. Hardwicke adjusts his goggles and oxygen mask, taps Flickema on the shoulder, points to the control column. “I’ll take her, Flick.”

          This article by Milton J. Elliott III first appeared in the Warfare History Network on August 11, 2015.


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