By Walter J. Boyne
As a long time fan of the B-47, I have only happy memories of the airplane, especially since I managed to survive some goofy errors in the airplane. With the reader’s indulgence, I’ll just string together some memories of those days.
I was a low-time pilot, only two years out of flying school, when the B-47 was introduced at Castle Air Force Base. As we took the B-50Ds back to Davis Monthan for storage, I found myself without the prospect of a crew-members job. Filled with the indignation that only a new 1st Lieutenant can muster, I went into the 330th BS’s Orderly Room, walked up to the Adjutant’s desk and demanded that I be sent to Wichita for crew training. To my amazement, I was, and what a place it was—hotter than hell, windswept, and covered with scads of B-47Bs.
We had a variety of first rate instructors, and I was told that on my dollar ride, not to be surprised if all six of the fire-warning lights came on during takeoff. Well, they did, and I was still surprised and scared, but they flickered out, and I had my first experience at the combination of wonderful climb and wonderful cooling that a B-47 had.
I was crewed up with Hal McCarty and John Rosene, both terrific guys, and proceeded to make virtually every mistake a copilot was entitled to, and some that he was not. On one Unit Simulated Combat Mission, we were carrying a unit. The mission was designed to really test the range capability of the aircraft, with in-flight refuelings scheduled at long intervals. Well on the climb-out, the bomb-bay doors didn’t indicate that they were closed. The extra drag of even a slightly open bomb-bay would have ruined the mission, so I volunteered to go down and check it out visually. We leveled off at about 25,000 feet, I unhooked from the parachute, grabbed a walk-around bottle and went down the crawl-way back to where I could see the bomb-bay doors.
What I didn’t know was that while a walk-around bottle had (as I recall, the number could be wrong) about an eight minute supply of oxygen, this was only good if you were sitting down. The activity of crawling down the ladder, etc. made me use it up at a much faster rate–and I passed out. Fortunately McCarty could see my legs, and when they stopped moving, he began an immediate descent. I came to at about 10,000 feet, I guess, climbed back and we flew around a bit to get down to a landing weight and came in. Naturally I was called up to Headquarters for an interview with Colonel Pat Fleming, who I believe was Deputy for Ops at the time. The former Navy ace listened to my story, asked how I was, and that was it–no repercussions.
My next misadventure came about six months later on another UCM, but this time on the way back. We were very short of fuel, and back over the fix at Castle went through the usual checks and lowered the drag gear for the descent. Except the gear didn’t lower. Mac let down slowly until we got to about 18,000 feet, and I again got out of the seat, and went to the manual gear set-up–six large levers in a row as I recall. Anyway, I ratcheted the gear down and lock, and while we were of course pressurized, the activity really tired me. As started to get back into the seat, my parachute activated the left handle of the ejection seat. There was a hell of bang as the first part of the sequence operated–which included depressurization. I was half crouched over the seat, not sure of what happened, but praying that the second handle wouldn’t activate, for if it did, the seat would have cut my body in half as it blew.
Fortunately it did not activate, I put the safety pins in the seat, and we landed without further incident.
Like everyone else, I eventually grew more proficient in the airplane, especially in my second tour in it at Kirtland Air Force Base with the 4925th Nuclear Test Group. There were the finest bunch of fliers in the world there, all B-47 experts for they had been instructors for many years at Wichita. The mission was superb–lots of low level missions, dropping various shapes from altitude over the Salton Sea, but short missions and no-alerts. It was great. And to close on a note that shows me in a less cluck-like light, I can recall flying with another pilot at Kirtland who had just checked out in the B-47 and was on his first night mission as an aircraft commander. I was not an IP but they felt I was experienced enough to go along sort of as a back up for him. He did pretty well, but on one of his landings he hit nose wheel first and bounced hard, beginning what was called a porpoise. With the B-47, you know, there is a certain spot in the bounce where, if you time it just right, you can deploy the brake chute and turn the next bounce into a smooth landing. Well my timing was right, I popped the chute and we touched down. Few things gave me greater satisfaction than that single simple instance, for it told me that I was comfortable in the airplane and pretty much knew what to do.
I have a million memories of the B-47, all of them good, from seeing the dawn break on a 24-hour mission, to the relief of touching down gently when there was a test-missile shape hung-up in the bomb-bay, to just looking out that canopy at a beautiful bright world and realizing that if you saw any other contrails, it was almost certainly another B-47. Great days, indeed.