First B-52 shot down over North Vietnam

First B-52 shot down over North Vietnam

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The United States loses its first B-52 of the war. The eight-engine bomber was brought down by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile near Vinh on the day when B-52s flew their heaviest raids of the war over North Vietnam. The Communistss claimed 19 B-52s shot down to date.

‘Bailout!’ How this American Aircrew Survived a Deadly Flight over Vietnam

A B-52D Stratofortress takes off from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam for a mission over North Vietnam during Operation Linebacker II in December 1972, where Wickline and his crew had just completed operations.

When his B-52 bomber was struck by a North Vietnamese missile, the pilot ordered a bailout, but the navigator’s ejection seat failed and he had just seconds to find another way out of the burning plane.

A B-52 Stratofortress with the call sign Ruby Two, under the command of Lt. Col. Gerald Wickline, flew over North Vietnam the night of Jan. 3, 1973, on a bombing mission. It was supposed to be a milk run, easier and safer than a recent raid. It wasn’t. Since the first B-52s began flying in the early 1950s, only 18 of the 744 planes put into the air have fallen to enemy fire—all in the Vietnam War. The last one was Wickline’s.

Wickline and his crew had just completed a pair of missions that destroyed a railroad on the north side of Hanoi and nearby Phuc Yen airfield as part of Operation Linebacker II. More than 1,000 missiles had shot down 15 B-52s over Hanoi and Haiphong during 11 nights in late December. “There were so many surface-to-air missiles fired at us during those missions, they looked like swarms of fireflies,” Wickline recalled. When the SAM onslaught was finished, 32 crew members were dead and 35 had become prisoners of war.

Wickline’s crew was exhausted, relieved and happy to be alive after 30 combat hours in the air and a long trip from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, to their new station at U-Tapao airfield, Thailand.

On January 3, only three days after his last Linebacker II mission, Wickline was ordered to strike the city of Vinh, a North Vietnamese industrial and agricultural center midway between Hanoi and the South Vietnamese city of Hue on the main north-south coastal highway and rail line. Wickline’s Ruby Two was part of a nineship wave of B-52s that departed from U-Tapao at 2:43 a.m. Vietnam time. Their target, a truck park 15 miles northwest of Vinh, was about an hour and a half away.

Wickline had an experienced crew from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas: Captain Bill Milcarek, co-pilot Captain Myles McTernan, navigator Major Roger Klingbeil, radar navigator Captain Bill Fergason, electronic warfare officer and Tech. Sgt. Carlos Killgore, tail gunner.

Flying toward Vinh, Ruby Two was next to last in the string of aircraft.

“I wasn’t happy to be next to last,” McTernan said. “We’d learned from previous missions that the SAM operators aligned their sights on the first few aircraft. By the time the last planes flew over, they were able to aim their missiles more accurately. But I told myself not to worry it was a milk run, and we were veterans of Linebacker II.”

As the planes drew closer to their target, “we saw lots of triple-A [anti-aircraft artillery] fire over Vinh,” Wickline recalled, “more than I ever saw before, including the two missions over Hanoi. Several missiles were fired at planes ahead of us, and at the other two waves of B-52s hitting targets west and southwest of Vinh.”

At 40 seconds before bombs away, Wickline and Milcarek saw the distant flashes of four SAMs off their left wing. All the missiles appeared stationary in the windshield, which usually meant that the North Vietnamese had locked onto the aircraft with radar, even momentarily, and the SAMs were being guided straight to Ruby Two.

“Ruby Two was the bull’s-eye,” Wickline said. “I maneuvered to avoid the incoming. The first SAM whizzed by our nose and detonated just above us. The tail gunner reported the second missile missed our tail by only 50 feet and exploded just above us. I lost track of the third and fourth missiles, but it didn’t matter. There was no time left to dodge. We were 10 seconds from the target, and I needed to fly straight and level to get an accurate bomb drop.”

As the last of the 108 500-pound bombs fell from the aircraft, one of the North Vietnamese missiles found its target.

“We were rocked by a tremendous explosion directly below our nose,” recalled Wickline. “Three windows on my side of the cockpit shattered and showered us with broken glass. The emergency light for No. 1 engine came on, and unquenchable flames spurted from the engine pod.”

Wickline shut down the damaged engine. “All of my flight instruments, including airspeed and attitude were out,” he said. “The glass in most of the engine instruments on both sides of the cockpit was shattered, and they no longer worked. All hydraulic power to the left wing was out, and all fuel gauges on the left wing were either spinning or stuck. I polled the crew. Everyone answered except Sergeant Killgore. A few minutes later we felt a thump and heard his parachute beeper go off.”

Flames, which the rest of the crew could not see, forced the gunner to bail out on his own. Killgore, riding in the gun turret at the rear of the plane and facing aft, jettisoned the turret, leaving nothing but air in front of his seat, then leaned forward, fell clear of the aircraft and pulled the rip cord to open his parachute.

Catastrophe struck the two men on the lower deck, eight feet below and 15 feet behind Wickline’s seat on the top deck. A fuel-transfer valve above radar navigator Klingbeil’s head was destroyed by shrapnel, and a highly flammable jet propellant, JP-4, poured out, soaking Klingbeil and McTernan, leaving severe chemical burns on their exposed skin. Klingbeil, the most severely burned, screamed in pain.

“The lower deck was floating in jet fuel,” Wickline said. “I worried if they could get out. The escape hatches were filled with JP-4. Any tiny spark could ignite the fumes and destroy the aircraft.”

The crew members were extremely concerned about the leaking fuel. “We didn’t even want to shut down our equipment on the lower deck because we were afraid moving a switch could create that spark,” McTernan said.

Two sister B-52s stayed with Ruby Two as Wickline started the descent. He leveled off at 12,000 feet about 90 miles north of the U.S. base at Da Nang. The huge Stratofortress was barely controllable. Every time Wickline attempted to slow down, the aircraft would start a roll to the right and could be straightened only by increasing the airspeed. “The fire in the No. 1 pod continued to burn intermittently, and I lost control over the No. 8 engine throttle,” he said. “I think it was running at idle. As near as I could tell, the other six engines were working OK, but I didn’t have reliable instruments, so I couldn’t be sure.”

Wickline and co-pilot Milcarek struggled to keep the plane in the air for the next half-hour as they flew toward the safety of the 17th parallel and South Vietnamese airspace. “As soon as I heard over the radio that rescue forces from the USS Saratoga were in contact with Sergeant Killgore,” Wickline noted, “I turned out to sea and ordered bailout about 20 miles east of Da Nang.”

Wickline fired up the big red warning light and shouted over the interphone: “Bailout. Bailout. Bailout.” It was now about 5 a.m., and the crew members prepared to jettison into the pre-dawn China Sea, illuminated mostly by the fire that began to consume their plane.

On the lower deck the spilled fuel still worried McTernan. “I tried not to think that the entire airplane could become an instant fireball if the ejection seat rockets ignited the fumes filling the cockpit,” he said. “I pulled my parachute straps so tight, I must have looked like Popeye.”

His lower-deck companion, Klingbeil, ejected. And at the same time, McTernan yanked the trigger ring between his legs. His seat was pushed back and downward. But the hatch didn’t blow as it was supposed to. “I heard the ejection seat thruster and felt the seat accelerate briefly,” McTernan said, “but there was no wind blast or ruffle of the parachute, and I felt no separation. I opened my eyes and saw the hatch must have been jammed by shrapnel from the missile explosion.” The thruster that normally propels the seat won’t fire if the hatch is not released. McTernan was trapped.

On the upper deck, Wickline heard two thumps below him and assumed that both McTernan and Klingbeil had ejected. By the time he turned his head to check on the electronic warfare officer, 15 feet behind the co-pilot, Wickline saw only a hole where Fergason’s escape hatch had been. Looking across the throttles at Milcarek, he said, “Bill, get the hell out of here.”

The co-pilot nodded, rotated his armrests and squeezed the triggers.

Wickline made a last call on the interphone to confirm that no crew member was still on board. “When no one responded,” he said, “I waited a few interminable seconds, pulled the throttles to idle and ejected.”

No one responded because a desperate McTernan on the lower deck could not reach his microphone switch.

“I heard Wickline call, ‘Anyone still on board?’ McTernan said. “I realized he didn’t know I was downstairs, but I couldn’t key my mic in time to tell him. As I reached for the foot switch, I heard the co-pilot eject, and I panicked. I wrestled with the seat belt so I could let Wickline know my predicament. I took a few seconds to get loose and climbed up to the platform between the downstairs seats. That’s when I heard Wickline eject, and my heart jumped into my throat.”

When Wickline left the plane, he felt a tremendous kick in the seat of his pants, a blast of cold air, a sense of severe tumbling and a sharp jolt, which tore the ejection seat from his hands. Then there was a loud pop, followed by intense silence.

“It all happened in seconds. I looked up, saw that beautiful big orange and white canopy above my head, and said, ‘Wickline, you lucky son of a gun. You’ve got it made now.’ Then I pulled off my oxygen mask and barfed into the South China Sea a few thousand feet below.”

Back in the plane, McTernan was all alone as the burning Stratofortress plunged toward the ocean 10,000 feet below. He knew he would die when it hit the water. McTernan had only seconds to get out.

“My only hope was to bail out through the hole left by the radar navigator’s ejection seat escape hatch,” McTernan said. “I crouched above it, rolled into a ball and fell through the hole into total darkness. I knew I bailed out a couple minutes behind the rest of the crew, and I’d land in the water miles from them. Though I remember nothing, I must have pulled the rip cord.”

As Wickline floated down, the B-52 pilot remembered he left his favorite cigarette lighter in the tray by his window. “I got furious at my forgetfulness,” he said, “but that passed quickly as I glanced at the horizon and saw Ruby Two explode into a huge reddish orange fireball.”

Wickline, Milcarek, Klingbeil and Fergason all reached the water safely, although Wickline had injured his shoulder, making his right arm useless as he tried to get into the life raft that deployed from the ejection seat, along with a survival kit.

“It took me about 15 agonizing minutes to claw my way into the life raft as waves as high as a house washed over me,” Wickline said. “Then I discovered I [had] crawled into the narrow end, which made the raft very unstable. I held on as I got tossed about, pulled out my survival radio, turned it on and waited.”

Wickline remembers sitting in his raft as the sun came up, about 6:10 a.m. Some 20 minutes later, more than an hour after bailout, the four men were picked up by a helicopter. A horse-collar device was lowered and pulled them up to the copter, which flew the men to Da Nang Air Base hospital, where they met up with Killgore.

The gunner had been rescued by the Saratoga and reported no injuries. Co-pilot Milcarek was in good shape. But Klingbeil, the radar navigator, suffered from blistering JP-4 burns. Fergason had a piece of helmet visor in his right eye (the visor must have shattered during ejection) but no permanent damage.

They had no word on McTernan, who, at that moment, was fighting the sea for his survival.

“When I woke up it was daylight,” McTernan remembered. “My chute floated behind me, my life preserver had inflated, and I was covered with blood. I couldn’t remember anything and thought I must have lost consciousness, but later they diagnosed it as pain amnesia.” McTernan’s life raft and survival kit, attached to the failed ejection seat, was back on the aircraft. “Only my life preserver kept me from drowning in 10-foot swells while I waited for rescue,” he said. “My last hope was that the choppers would come quickly.” They didn’t.

For four and a half hours, McTernan attempted to use the equipment from his survival vest worn by all B-52 crews on combat flights.

“Nothing worked, and I wasn’t doing much to help myself either,” he said. “I lost two radios and couldn’t ignite the two flare/smoke canisters. Somehow, I punctured my life preserver and needed to constantly re-inflate it by mouth.”

Barely afloat in the raging sea with no way to alert rescuers, McTernan knew death “might be only minutes away.”

The right side of his face had been smashed in during bailout. He was bleeding, burned by jet fuel and had cuts on all of his fingers. His insides were a mess from all the salt water he ingested, and—someone told him years later—he was in shark-infested waters.

“My parents even got a telegram that same day saying I was missing in action,” McTernan said recently, managing a slight smile.

Not until 10 years later at Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento, California, did McTernan learn how very close he came to being listed as killed in action.

“A fellow officer and I were sharing war stories,” McTernan recalled. “We discovered that he worked in command support at Da Nang at the time of my rescue. He told me the small fixed-wing aircraft searching for me turned back when its fuel approached Bingo [just enough to return to base]. As the craft made the turn to base, the pilot saw a spot of color on the ocean. I must have just hit the top of a wave and became briefly visible. The pilot radioed a helicopter to pick me up.”

McTernan looked thoughtful and added, “If that rescue plane hit Bingo fuel a few seconds later or earlier, or if the pilot made a right turn instead of left, or if I wasn’t at the top of the wave at the right instant, I never would have been found.”

Paul Novak, a decorated former B-52 navigator who teaches creative writing at an adult extension of Arizona State University in Phoenix, wrote about B-52 crews in his anthology, Into Hostile Skies.

Originally published in the October 2014 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.

2 More B‐52's Downed,

SAIGON, South Vietnam, Friday, Dec. 29 — The United States military command re ported the loss of two more B‐52 bombers yesterday as the air attack on North Vietnam that began 12 days ago con tinued without letup.

The new losses brought to 14 the number of 9–52s that the United States says have been shot down since the air raids north of the 20th Paral lel resumed on Dec. 18.

North Vietnam in a broadcast over the Hanoi radio early to day said two more B‐52's were shot down over Hanoi last night, bringing to 33 the num ber of the heavy bombers that it says have been downed by antiaircraft fire and missiles during the current American air offensive.

In announcing the new losses, the United States command re verted once again to its policy of withholding all information on the number of missions flown and the targets against which they are aimed.

On Wednesday the command broke a 10‐day silence by announcing it had flown 147 B 52 missions—a mission consists of three planes that together lay down a carpet of bombs a mile and a half long and half a mile wide—and 1,000 tactical air strikes against 55 military targets in North Vietnam since Dec. 18.

Nineteen of the targets, in cluding the Hanoi railroad yards, the city's power plant and its port facilities, were within 10 miles of the center of Hanoi, the command said.

Seven of the targets among them a shipyard, anoth er power plant and a naval base — were within six miles of the center of Haiphong, North Vietnam's major port.

At least three of the targets, the command said yesterday, had never before been attack ed by American bombers. These were identified as Hanoi's port facilities and two communications installations near the North Vietnamese capital.

The command has consistently refused to comment on civilian installations in North Vietnam that reportedly have been bombed, including several diplomatic missions, a hospital in Hanoi and at least three cargo ships.

The Soviet press agency No vosti said in Moscow yesterday that its Hanoi office was de stroyed by bombs during a raid, on Wednesday.

When asked yesterday if hei would identify targets that had been attacked since the list was made public on Wednesday, Maj. Jere K. Forbus, a military spokesman, said, “I have no de tails to discuss with you at this time.”

He said, however, that the “operation is continuing” and that the command would an nounce further details about, the bombing “as soon as we can.”

Meanwhile, Tin Song a quasi‐official South Vietnamese newspaper, asserted that the United States was preparing to limit the bombing to the area south of the 20th Parallel in a few days to pave the way for the resumption of peace talks in Paris.

The newspaper said that the United States Ambassador, Ells Worth Bunker, and Gen. Fred erick C. Weyand, the American ornmander in South Vietnam, had visited President Nguyen Van Thieu yesterday to inform him of the planned limitation.

Crewmen Missing

Although Government sources confirmed that Ambassador Bunker and General Weyand had gone to the presidential palace to see Mr. Thieu, they were unable to confirm the Tin Song report.

The United States command said one of the two B‐52's re ported lost yesterday crashed Tuesday near Hanoi. The com mand said the crewmen of the bomber were missing, but de clined to disclose the number, of men aboard. Normally B‐52's carry six men.

The command explained that announcement of the loss of the plane had been delayed while a search was conducted for the missing men.

The second plane reported lost yesterday went down in the morning, the command said, near the Royal Thai air base at Nakhon Phanom after being damaged over North Vietnam. The command said the six crewmen aboard the plane, ejected safely.

The command also an nounced yesterday the loss of a CH‐53 rescue helicopter that crashed in Laos as a result of damage it suffered over North Vietnam. Major Forbus said the crew was rescued, but would not disclose how many men were aboard. He said one crew man had been shot in the hand when the helicopter was struck by enemy fire, but he declined to say whether the craft was on a rescue mission.

In a summary of battle cas ualties for last week, the com mand said seven Americans had been killed throughout Indo china compared with one the previous week, and 73 Ameri cans were missing or captured compared with none the previ ous week.

The total of missing or cap tured Americans throughout Indochina is now 1,742.

In a broadcast last night, the Hanoi radio said that “many” American airmen, whom it de scribed as “air pirates,” had been captured. The broadcast added: “The more the United States imperialists step up their war adventures, the more they sustain heavy setbacks. Our people and armed forces are determined to deal the United States Air Force heavier blows and to win greater victories.” Later the Hanoi radio report ed that 10 captured American airmen had appeared at a news conference in Hanoi yesterday. The men were identified as Lieut. Col. William Wilson Col by of Illinois, First Lieut. Rob ert Malcolm Hudson of Kansas, First Lieut. Warnock of Iowa, Maj. Carl Herbaert Jacob of Mississippi, First Lieut. Jef Brad Kremer of Florida, Capt. John Anderson of Oregon, First Lieut. Robert Haydon of Maryland, Maj. John Campbell, Capt. Fran Douglas Lewis of Massachu setts and a sergeant from Okla homa whose name was garbled in the transmission.

The Hanoi radio said Colonel Colby was captured last Fri day. The other men, it said, were captured on Tuesday or Wednesday.

An American flag serves as a backdrop to an image of Capt. Robert J. Thomas and a B-52G Stratofortress. Thomas was the co-pilot of Charcoal 01, the first B-52 shot down during Operation Linebacker II over North Vietnam in 1972. Listed as missing in action for nearly six years, the captain’s remains were identified by the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, and returned to his family in 1978. According to John Q. Public, the image was part of a display given to the captain’s son, Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker Derrick Thomas, during a visit to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, Jan. 27, 1997.

He was the father of Derrick Thomas, a linebacker and defensive end for the Kansas City Chiefs who was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2009. Capt Thomas never got to see his son play football.

Seventy-five Airmen died supporting the operation, 33 of whom died in the 15 downed B-52 Stratofortress bombers – the primary bomber flown during Operation Linebacker II. During the operation, also referred to as the 11-Day War or 11 Days of Christmas, more than 700 sorties were flown out of Andersen AFB and U-Tapao Royal Thai Airbase, Thailand. Fifteen thousand tons of munitions were dropped mainly on military targets in North Vietnam by the completion of the operation.


The first B-52, the XB-52, rolled out on 29 November 1951, and the first flight, by the second aircraft built, was on 15 April 1952.

The initial production aircraft, the B-52A, was delivered to the Air Force a little over two years later, in June 1954, but only three of this model were built, none of which found their way to operational units. They were used as test beds for further type development and one, the first, became the launch vehicle for the X-15 rocket-powered experimental plane.

The first operational model, the B-52B—built in both bomber and reconnaissance versions — entered the Air Force operational inventory on 29 June 1955, when 52-8711 was delivered to the 93rd Bomb Wing at Castle AFB, California.

The B-model was almost identical to the A, but had an improved bombing-navigation system in the MA-6A, a generation beyond the K-system in the B-47 and the B- 52A. Fifty B-52Bs were built before the final one was delivered on 31 August 1956. It continued to serve along with later models until 1966.

While the B-52B was still in production, a follow-on version, the B-52C, made its first flight on 9 March 1956, with delivery to the Air Force some three months later.

There was little external change from the B-model, but two large 3,000 gallon wing tanks were added. In addition, the avionics and bomb-nav systems, the heart of a bomber aircraft, were significantly upgraded.

Only 35 B-52Cs were built, and seven months before the last one was delivered, the B-52D had made its first flight on 14 May 1956. The only difference between the two was a series of strengthening structural changes.

The D-model was the core of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) fleet for a number of years in the late ‘50s and later carried the burden of the conventional bombing campaign in Southeast Asia.

Changes from the D- to the E-model, first flown on 3 October 1957, were again internal and primarily in the bomb-nav systems, giving the aircraft an improved capability to fly and bomb from low altitude, reflecting new tactics made necessary by improving Soviet air defenses.

One hundred Es were built, followed in 1958 by another 89 F-models, with an upgraded J-57 engine delivering 13,750 lb of thrust (vice 12,100 for the B- through E-models).

The delivery of the last D-model to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center in Tucson in October 1983 marked the end of the first generation of B-52s, all of the earlier models having been previously retired.

Listing of B-52 crashes since 1957

December 12, 1957 - A U.S. Air Force B-52 crashes on takeoff at Fairchild AFB near Spokane, Washington. All crew members are killed except the tail gunner. The incident is caused by trim motors that were hooked up backwards. The aircraft climbed straight up, stalled, fell over backwards and nosed straight down.

September 8, 1958 - Two B-52s collide over the town of Airway Heights near Fairchild AFB. Thirteen crew members are killed, while three survive. There were no casualties on the ground.

October 15, 1959 - A USAF B-52F-100-BO, 57-036, collides with KC-135 tanker, 57-1513, over Hardinsberg, Kentucky, crashes with two nuclear weapons on board, killing four of eight on the bomber and all four tanker crew. One bomb partially burned in fire, but both are recovered intact. Bombs moved to the AEC's Clarkesville, Tennessee storage site for inspection and dismantlement. Both aircraft deployed from Columbus AFB, Mississippi.

January 24, 1961: A USAF B-52G-95-BW, 58-0187, on airborne alert suffers structural failure, fuel leak, of starboard wing over Goldsboro, North Carolina, wing fails when flaps are engaged during emergency approach to Seymour Johnson AFB, two weapons on board break loose during airframe disintegration, one parachutes safely to ground, second impacts on marshy farm land, breaks apart, sinks into quagmire. Air Force excavates fifty feet down, finds no trace of bomb, forcing permanent digging easement on site. Five of eight crew survive.

March 14, 1961: Failure of a pressurization system forces USAF B-52 to fly low, accelerating fuel-burn, bomber has fuel starvation at 10,000 feet over Yuba City, California, crashes, killing aircraft commander. Two nuclear weapons on board tear loose on impact but no explosion or contamination takes place.

January 13, 1964: United States Air Force B-52D-10-BW, 55-060, suffers structural failure in turbulence of winter storm, crashes approximately 17 miles SW of Cumberland, Maryland. Pilot, co-pilot, eject, survive. Navigator, tail gunner, eject, die of exposure. Radar nav fails to eject, rides airframe in with two nuclear weapons on board. Both bombs survive intact and are recovered.

January 17, 1966 - A B-52 Stratofortress collides with a KC-135 Stratotanker during aerial refueling near Palomares, Spain in the Palomares hydrogen bombs incident. Seven crew members are killed in the crash, and two of the B-52's Mark 28 nuclear bombs rupture, scattering radioactive material over the countryside. One bomb lands intact near the town, and another is lost at sea. It is later recovered intact 5 miles (8 km) offshore.

January 21, 1968 - A B-52G-100-BW Stratofortress, 58-0188, c.n. 4642256, from Plattsburgh AFB, New York, carrying four hydrogen bombs crashes on the ice seven miles short of Thule Air Base, Greenland. 1 crew member killed all four B-28 weapons are consumed in post-crash fire, extensive contamination of site, several relief workers exposed to radiation. See also B-52 crash at Thule Air Base.

October 9, 1969 - A USAF B-52F-70-BW, 57-0172, of the 329th Bomb Squadron, crashed about 1,000 feet beyond end of runway while doing touch-and-goes at Castle AFB, California. All six crew died in the 11:45 p.m. accident as the Stratofortress exploded on impact.

April 3, 1970 - A USAF B-52 of the 26th Bomb Wing caught fire and crashed during landing at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, skidding into a brick storage building containing 25,000 gallons of jet fuel. Heroic efforts by crash crew save all nine on board, although one suffered broken limbs, and three firefighters were injured. One of the eight jet engines ran for forty minutes following crash.

January 7, 1971 - An unarmed USAF B-52C-45-BO, 54-2666, of the 9th BW, Westover AFB, Massachusetts, crashed into Lake Michigan near Charlevoix, Michigan during a practice bomb run, exploding on impact. Only a small amount of wreckage, two life vests, and some spilled fuel was found in Little Traverse Bay. Bomber went down six nautical miles from the Bay Shore Air Force Radar Site. Nine crew KWF.

March 31, 1972 - Twenty minutes after take-off from McCoy AFB, Florida, a USAF B-52D-80-BO, 56-0625, of the 306th Bomb Wing, suffers in-flight fire in engine number seven which spreads to starboard wing attempts emergency landing at McCoy, crashes one quarter mile short of runway, killing seven on board, injuring eight civilians on the ground, destroys four houses.

February 8, 1974 - A USAF B-52 of the 744th BS, 456th BW, veered off the runway during night take-off from Beale AFB, California, skidded 1,500 feet through a muddy field before overturning, destroyed by four massive explosions and fire. One crew, the first pilot, was thrown free before the fire but seven others perished.

October 19, 1978 - A USAF B-52D-75-BO, 56-0594, of the 22nd Bomb Wing, crashes at 7:30 a.m. in light fog in a plowed field

2 1/2 miles SE of March AFB, near the rural community of Sunnymead, California, shortly after take-off. Five crew killed, but one is able to escape the burning wreckage and was reported in stable condition at the base hospital. Traffic was disrupted on nearby Interstate 15E.

October 30, 1981 - A USAF B-52D-55-BO, 55-078, of the 22nd Bomb Wing, March AFB, California, crashes on the eastern Colorado prairie near La Junta at 6:30 a.m. while on a low-level (400 foot altitude) training mission, killing all eight crew. No weapons were onboard.

November 29, 1981 - Shortly after completing a training mission, a USAF B-52G-130-BW, 59-4766, suffered hydraulics fire in nose gear, exploded at the end of the runway at Castle AFB, California, but crew of nine escaped before it was fully engulfed. Aircraft commander ordered evacuation as soon as he learned of the wheel fire.

January 27, 1982 - Five are killed and eight injured when a USAF B-52G catches fire and explodes at 9:30 a.m. on the ramp at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota. The Stratofortress was undergoing routine maintenance after flying a training mission the previous night.

October 16, 1984 - An unarmed USAF B-52 of the 92nd Bomb Wing out of Fairchild AFB, Washington, crashed about 9 p.m. into a mesa on the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona 13 miles NE of Kayenta, during a low-level training flight. Eight crew eject and recovered in a day one ejects, missing gunner KWF.

December 6, 1988 - A USAF B-52H-150-BW, 60-0040, crashed on the runway at 1:15 a.m. EST at K.I. Sawyer AFB, Michigan, while doing touch-and-goes after a seven-hour training flight. No weapons were aboard the bomber, which broke into three parts. All crew survived, crawling or being helped from the nose section, without sustaining burns.

January 17, 1991 - A B-52 crashed in the Indian Ocean just off the coast of Diego Garcia. Three crew members were killed. The cause of the crash was an electrical system failure. The bomber had been part of the massive air attack on Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. Two B-52's were hit by Iraqi missiles and a third was accidentally hit by a US missile. All three aircraft landed safely.

June 24, 1994 - 'Czar 52', a USAF B-52H Stratofortress, crashes during an airshow practice at Fairchild AFB. After having rehearsed the maneuvers profile that in itself was dangerous to fly in a B-52, the aircraft came into land. Due to a KC-135 Stratotanker still being on the runway, the aircraft was required to make a 'go around'. After beginning a 360-degree turn left, the aircraft exceeded 90 degrees angle of bank, stalled and crashed into the ground. All four aircrew members were killed in the crash.

July 21, 2008 - The aircraft was about to participate in an Liberation Day airshow at the Andersen Air Force Base at Guam when it crashed into the Pacific Ocean at 9:45 AM (2345 GMT), 15 minutes before the parade was about to start. The US Air Force announced the accident saying that the crew of 6 were missing and that a search mission, involving several aircraft and helicopters was under way. The crash took place approximately 25 miles (40 km) northwest of Apra Harbor. The B-52H had its home base at Barksdale and was in Guam as part of a four-month rotation.

​Shot down over Vietnam: POWs share memories 50 years later

WASHINGTON -- This weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the fateful day the first U.S. troops went ashore in South Vietnam. But by then U.S. aircraft had already been bombing North Vietnam for seven months and downed American pilots had fallen into a hell that would last for the rest of the war.

Capt. Hayden Lockhart, the first Air Force pilot shot down over North Vietnam stands with his captors AP

Hayden Lockhart was the first Air Force pilot to fall into North Vietnamese hands. A photograph of Lockhart shows him being paraded through the streets of Hanoi. Lockhart is still alive, although too ill to attend a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of his shoot down.

But in the audience were two former Navy pilots who suffered even longer.

"I was the first," Everett Alvarez told me. "I was shot down August 5, 1964."

Flying off an aircraft carrier in the Tonkin Gulf, Everett Alvarez was shot down on the very first day U.S. jets bombed the North.

"I thought I was going to, to die," Alvarez recalled. "I thought that they were going to kill me."

Robert Shumaker was shot down six months later.

Veterans: Honoring Our Heroes

"By the time the parachute opened, it was only about 35 feet above the ground, consequently I broke my back on landing," said Shumaker.

As the bombing continued, hundreds of American pilots were shot down and captured. Some died in captivity others were brutally tortured, tied into impossible contortions or just left locked in irons.

Robert Shumaker, a former U.S. Navy pilot who spent years as a POW in Vietnam CBS News

"With Hayden they handcuffed his left wrist to his right ankle, and you can imagine how painful that must be after hours and hours, this went on for about two weeks," said Shumaker.

Everett Alvarez, a former U.S. Navy pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam on August 5, 1964 CBS News

The only way to stop the pain was to tell the North Vietnamese something more than just name, rank and serial number.The first time Alvarez broke, he says, he felt like the "lowest form of human in the world."

"I tried to commit suicide to prevent giving more by banging my head against a wall," said Shumaker.

An alphabetical grid prisoners used to tap out messages to each other through the walls of their cells helped saved him.

"It was our lifeline," said Alvarez. "It was what kept us together and keeping together that was, that was the key."

An alphabetical grid the prisoners used to tap out messages to each other through their cell walls CBS News

Alvarez says he can still tap but admits he's not as good he used to be.

After eight years, Alvarez, Shumaker, and Lockhart -- along with 459 other pilots -- were finally released as part of the treaty which ended the war. By then Alvarez was known as "the old man of the North." He was not the oldest POW but he had been there the longest.

The legendary engines that won World War II

Posted On April 29, 2020 15:41:38

Jay Leno has a truly historic engine that he wants to show you: A Merlin 1650-1 engine used in fighters like the P-51 Mustang and Lancaster Bombers used across Europe to drive Germany back toward Berlin.

The engine got its start before the war. It underwent initial testing in 1933 and first took to the skies in 1935. Early models generated about 800 horsepower but increasing requirements in the pre-war years caused Rolls Royce to keep redesigning it, giving it more power and reliability.

The De Havailland Mosquito was powered by two Merlin engines.

(Photo by Wallycacsabre, CC BY 2.0)

Aircraft manufacturers in England kept reaching for the Merlin for their new designs. In 1939, the first production Spitfire rolled off the line packing a Merlin Mk. II engine capable of 1,030 horsepower.

This engine would go on to be used in everything from the Lancaster bomber, which sported four of these beasts, to the De Havilland Mosquito and the P-51 Mustang.

The engine was constantly upgraded with new superchargers and designs, increasing horsepower to 1,150 then 1,480 then 1,515. More importantly, the engines got upgrades in reliability and airflow, helping pilots win fights in altitudes low and high.

The Lancaster bomber boasted four of the massive Merlin engines.

(Royal Air Force photo by Fleet Lt. Miller, IWM)

The low-altitude upgrades would prove essential during the Battle of Britain where English and German planes clashed in fights as low as 6,000 feet.

As it was, the Merlins suffered one big problem that came up during the Battle of Britain and other struggles: it used a carburetor while contemporary German engines were fuel-injected. This meant that the Merlin had a tendency to cut out during dives while the fighters they were opposing did not.

Still, the engine was a literal lifesaver for RAF pilots, and both the Brits and Americans wanted to buy more of them.

A P-51 flies over Virginia. The P-51 was first built with an Allison engine but quickly transitioned to the Merlin with great results.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Ben Bloker)

Britain inked a deal with Ford motor company to start mass producing the engine on the American side of the Atlantic, but Ford later backed out of the deal. The offer was made to Packard, then a luxury car brand in the U.S., who turned out their first Merlin engines in August 1941.

It’s one of these early Packards that Leno is showing off in his garage. They were delivered across the Atlantic both in boxes and already installed in planes like the P-51.

The P-51 was originally ordered by the Royal Air Force in 1940 and sported an Allison engine that produced 1,200 hp, but proved unreliable above 15,000 feet. Since it was supposed to escort bombers, that was a huge issue. The switch to the Merlins greatly increased their power and altitude ceilings.

And, in a lucky coincidence, the Merlin changed the center of gravity of the plane, shifting it slightly back. The engineers added a fuel tank to the front to level it out, also increasing the plane’s range.

World War II buffs love the engine for its effect on the war, but gearheads like Leno can find a lot to love in the engine’s massive power output and throaty sound. As Leno points out in the video below, he actually bought two cars built around the Merlin engine — and both are massive hotrods.

More on We are the Mighty

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9 Pete Mazzola&rsquos Sighting

At the beginning of the Vietnam War, Pete Mazzola was a young soldier. Although not interested in UFOs at the time that he shipped off to the front, Mazzola experienced sightings that made him believe in UFOs.

Throughout his tour, Mazzola noted that he saw many &ldquometeors&rdquo that moved in a way that was unlike a normal shooting star. Later in the war, he even had a direct experience with a UFO.

While on patrol, his squad got pinned down by enemy soldiers. They stayed low and hid, hoping to find a way out of the mess. As they were trying to figure out a way home, they saw bright objects rise up over the paddy fields and hover in the air.

When the objects rose in the air, they took fire from the American warships to the south. But surprisingly, the Vietcong also started shooting at the floating lights. Neither side could touch the objects. Mazzola recalls seeing the shells explode just short of the lights, even though they were right on target. Whatever the lights were, neither the Americans nor the Vietcong recognized them as friendly.

The experience had such an effect on Mazzola that he founded an organization called the Scientific Bureau For Investigation after the war. Based out of New York, Mazzola dedicated his life to researching UFO experiences and other paranormal events.

What It Was Like to Blast Vietnam in a B-52

Listen to rare audio from a dangerous mission over Hanoi.

Last week, crowds of young Vietnamese cheered President Obama as he visited Hanoi and lifted a U.S. arms embargo on Vietnam.

On a Tuesday night nearly forty-four years ago, the parents of those young Vietnamese were doing their best to kill U.S. airmen over Hanoi.

Given that Obama’s trip occurred so close to Memorial Day, it seems fitting to look back at a rare artifact of one the last battles fought between America and Vietnam. Audio tapes recorded the radio and intercom chatter aboard one of the B-52s that struck Hanoi and Haiphong on December 26, 1972.

The big Strategic Air Command bombers were President Richard Nixon’s big stick to compel North Vietnam’s leaders to sign a peace agreement, and finally, finally get the United States out of a conflict that most Americans just wanted to forget. But on that night after Christmas, the big eight-engined bombers ran into an dense Soviet-made network of fighters, anti-aircraft guns and especially surface-to-air missiles that could take down a B-52 from their bombing altitude of thirty-three thousand feet.

Poor U.S. tactics didn’t help. Strategic Air Command planners, accustomed to rigid procedures for aiming nuclear-armed bombers at the Soviet Union, persisted with inflexible bombing missions that sent the B-52s over the same flight paths and the same altitudes, and making it easier for the same North Vietnamese SAM crews to track their targets. Some B-52s lacked adequate jammers to disrupt radar and SAM guidance systems. Two bombers were shot down or fatally damaged, out of a total of fifteen bombers brought down by the North Vietnamese.

Listen to these five YouTube videos that offer a glimpse of what it must have been to fly into an inferno of fiery missiles, exploding bombs and flaming aircraft. In a twenty-first-century world, where airpower consists of a few high-tech planes delivering a few smart bombs, the sounds of a hundred bombers flying into the teeth of a tough air defense network truly seems to belong to a different era, one that has more in common with B-17s over Berlin than F-35s that one day may fly over Syria. But it’s a measure of time’s passage that the Vietnam War is chronologically closer to World War II than the War on Terror.

Either way, what shines from these tapes is the coolness and professionalism of B-52 crews under heavy fire. Let this Memorial Day be a testament to their bravery.

The audio tapes can be found here:

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Chilling Audio: B-52s Being Shot at Over Hanoi

Listen to this tape of B-52 bomber crews as they get shot at by multiple surface to air missiles while completing a bombing run over Hanoi during Operation Linebacker II in late 1972. You can hear both the professionalism and tension in the aircrews’ voices as they fly through countless SAM attacks and endure the loss of one B-52 while dropping their ordnance and exiting the target zone.

Click through the jump for the rare listen into an age of air warfare that bridged today’s modern bombing campaigns and the massive flights from hell that were the original strategic bombing missions of World War II.

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Nice to hear combat radio chatter without all the F bombs that today pilot’s use when under stress.

Times change, for better or worse. My ears are not so sensitive to expletives.

Or selective editing. Then again, by then the air force was a heavily officered military and they could easily pick and choose who flies in the pilot’s seat, especially for strategic bombers meant to fly into the teeth of the Soviet Union and deliver atomic weapons.

I like that one, drop any kind of bomb you want on the people you’re trying to kill, just don’t drop any F-bombs…

Yeah, those F bombs are really important when a service members life is threatened.

I retired in 2005 and spent most of my career flying C-130s, including combat time in five different “wars” on three continents. I don’t ever recall my crews “F bombing” when things got stressful. Today’s combat aircrews are as professional and collected as ever, especially under stress. The Tom Cruise image from Top Gun just isn’t the way it is.

you have to be kidding me. these guys were fighting to stay alive and all you can do is complement on what great crm they had? cmon. really? if a guy is killed in combat he will die a more glorious death if he doesn’t say fuck?

Imagine day after day of that….

Calm professionalism and great CRM.

Kami nga dito ng kapatid ko, felieng nila orange chicken lang kinakain namin. Haha. Chura nilang mga judgmental sila. Kapag asa bus kami may mga Mexikanong magsasabi ng orange chicken! orange chicken! chinese! chinese!

Most loses to BUFFs over North Vietnam came early in the campaign 3 reasons. Due to fear over NVA AAA B-52s flew at very high altitude and where in range of the SA-2s the NVA had. The USAF had a disastrous plan to have the bombers turn right after there bomb release and this broke apart the ECM protection the bombers in formation had together and most B-52 losses where to this. the Air Force soon changed this and allowed the bomber to fly out to the Gulf of Tonkin to turn and loses lowered dramatically. Most B-52s used where B-52Ds older models while newer Gs where used in smaller numbers the G did far better in protection and survivability over the North than the older Ds did.

The coolest fact though that the NVAF MiG-21s once thought to be the biggest threat to BUFFs over Vietnam where only able to Kill 1-2 B-52s and B-52s tail gunners shot down 3 MiG-21s making a favorable kill factor to the B-52s over MiGs.

If I recall the reports correctly (heck only 40 years ago!) they packaged 3 B-52Ds with a B-52G and the G provided most of the ECM for the 4 planes as it had later gear.

Have to admit, I used to know more about Soviet systems then I did US systems.

Lance……I was a B52 crew member. Your email was very good, BUT…the G models did not fare well. Two reasons….their ECM was not up to par with the D model. …also the D model had the tail gunner in the tail end ( positioned under the vertical stablizier and forward of the horizonal stabilizer….the gunner had 9 windows and had a very good observation of the action below…he visually could see the SAM launches and advised the pilots the direction of the missile launch and tell the pilot which way to take evasive action. The G model gunner was located in the forward compartment next to the EWO and aft of the pilots. Gunner had no windows, and one worthless TV screen….which was of no help. I know as I flew both positions. Also MIGS shot down was by D model gunners….two cofirmed and one probable. Thanks for your input. Apache Jack…Arclight 1966,1967, 1968.

Thanks for your service AJ. I can’t believe the brass-balls, nerves of lead ‘Buff’ drivers had to have to make multi missions as this tape reflects. 󈬲, I was in the south w/the A1Es.
As per this tape the gunner was riding the ‘D’ rust bucket’s tail to have the visual the pilot was requesting. With that heading switch, can anyone tell if he was vectoring twd Andersen or places SW?


The biggest reason for B-52 losses was our glorious leaders forgot the lessons learned in WW2. Never ever send all of your bombers over a target on the same flight path and altitude. The Nazis learned to wait and let the first wave pass to see what direction the follow on bombers would be coming and then they massed their AAA and shot down a lot of our plans.

We should never have let those SAM’s off the damn loading docks. Too damned worried about the Russians.

We still have the best air force thanks to these men.

This is what my father did in the Vietnam War. He was an E.W.O (Electronics Weapons Officer) on a B-52. His job was to deflect the missiles (SAMS) that were shot at them from the ground. He participated in the “Linebacker” missions. He use to tell me stories about how the sky would completely light up from all the ordnance shot at them from the ground. He got shrapnel in his back while on a mission when his aircraft flew into the burning wreckage of the B-52 in the front of the formation that had a SAM hit it directly after opening its bomb bay doors. It is very possible that my dad was one of the B-52’s in that formation. I thank God that my dad and his crew came home safely or else I would not be here today.

“Orientals”? Sounds like YOU are the racist!

You’re on decaf from now on. (That said, the view from the recieving end - particularly the civilians -of the bomber flight would make for interesting reading too).

To deviate from the professionalism of the aircrews…STFU A**hole!

War’s pretty hellish no matter how you cut it. The Viet Minh fought a guerrilla war with the Japanese, and before that were likely part of various anti-colonial independence movements. And after France returned, they fought the French and likely didn’t take many prisoners. Look at the POW vs repatriation numbers from Dien Bien Phu.

When they infiltrated South Vietnam they weren’t nice either. They started as get-out-the-vote cadres and when the corrupt RVN government refused to trigger the referendum, the two-state system began and the countdown to unification began. The communists killed government reps, and the government killed as many “sympathizers” as they thought they had on their hands.

In the end, the Vietnamese insurgents and the NVA shot the locals at close range seeing the whites in their eyes. We bombed the hell out of their locals from above using heavy conventional munitions, defoliants and cluster munitions where appropriate. We bombed North Vietnam to make them stop. We bombed Hanoi and mined Haiphong. We bombed Laos, Cambodia and border regions of North and South Vietnam to stop the resupply lines.

Perhaps it would’ve been okay if we expanded the Phoenix program tete a tete with the VC/NVA instead of using bombers? It’s okay if we abduct/kill pro-DRVNs if they can abduct/kill pro-RVNs?

amazing, they are not in a F4 or thundercheif they can’y just zip to the left or right they are just flying along

All B-52s carried a tape recorder at the EW’s position.. It served several purposes - record signals from SAMs and radars, confirm crews followed checklists, provide material for debriefings, etc. I was on Guam with the 43d Bomb Wing (B-52D) and have done extenisve research with now declassified materials about five years ago.
Lance: There were NO B-52s shot down by MIGs. All 15 lost over NVM were to SAMs. Tail gunners got two confirmed kills. May have been more but only two confirmed.
Also, the B-52Ds had the very latest ECM equipment and were best protected. The Gs were a mixed fleet for ECM — some had the same as the Ds, some an older less capable suite.
EW3, there was never a four plane pakage with mixed Ds and Gs. Each flew in “pure” cells of their own types. Some cells of Gs with only older ECM had the hell shot out of them. Qe lost six birds on the third night. This led to different tactics such as simultaneous time over targets across all of the North to stress their defenses and ensuring the G cells had some advanced ECM birds in each cell.
In regard to the radio chatter, SAC crews were highly trained professionals - that comes through here. On the ground at the bar, the “F bomb” was not a rare event. Airborne, always professional - even under fire.
I was and am proud to have served with all of them.

Like I said a long time ago… )

Were you in Guam in June of ’71 ?
If so, did you hear of a green USN ship being order to leave the harbor after causing so much trouble ?

Thank you for your service. I work with them up in North Dakota and I have to say its an honor to work with an aircraft and bomb squadron with such a history.

Welcome home brother. I was an Avionic tech on BUFFS and on maintenance flying status. I wound up on a bird, #2 in a cell out of Guam on the first day.
As I recall the SAMS didn&rsquot use their radar for fear of the Wild Weasels. The NVA would fire the SAMS hoping to hit something. They did put Migs up and try and get altitude, speed, and heading so the ground could try and hit one of our birds. They did manage to take out 15 of them during Linebacker II. Those were the only B-52 loses during Nam to enemy fire.
One of the comments mentioned models of BUFFS that were in Nam. Until Linebacker I and Linebacker II D models were the only ones involved. The G and H models flew out of Guam for both campaigns along with the D models.
I was with the KC-135&rsquos that went in to Bangkok, Thailand in &rsquo65 and spent some part of every year until &rsquo73 at Utapao, Kadena, or Anderson. I was stationed at March AFB with the 22 BW which is where they had the active mothball fleet we had every A, B, & C model in the inventory plus our own D models. At one time or another over those eight years I worked on every B-52 tail number in the AF inventory at that time. I retired in &rsquo83.

I was a nav on 58 Arc Lite missions May-Nov 1969. Hearing the tape carried me back to that time - I can visualize the reel-to-reel tape recorder to the left of the EW at his station. You are correct when you say the tapes are also used to “confirm crews followed checklists.” I remember sitting in the briefing room with the other crews of a cell listening to the tapes when lead dropped on the word “now” instead of the required word “hack” from GCI. We were number 2 and withheld after I advised the crew “he didn’t say ‘hack’.” Poor number 3 didn’t know who dropped and chose to release his bombs to help us if we did release (the run was routine and if all three had released no-one would be the wiser). They were the only crew chastised.

Our tail end Charlie on the 27th had no tape recorder-tac comm was out of them. One of the bomber gunners who was credited with a kill, actually got two. Only one was confirmed.