I flew the B-47 nuclear bomber

The Boeing B-47 Stratojet nuclear bomber first flew in 1947 and changed everything. Though it flew the same year as USAF’s first jet bomber, the North American B-45 Tornado, the B-47 was far superior – and pointed the way to the future. Its influence on later jets cannot be overstated, and every Boeing or Airbus at the airport, as well as the immortal B-52, are descendants of the sleek B-47. Of the 2000+ B-47s built, many were part of LeMay’s Strategic Air Command, the most lethal force in history. Colonel G.Alan Dugard (Retired) flew the B-47 in the 509th Bomb Wing, here he gives the low-down on the bomber that made the modern world, and threatened to destroy it.

Describe the B-47 in three words

Solid, stable platform.

What was the best thing about the B-47?
Compact, and 360-degree-visibility cockpit

..and the worst?
Location of trim items. Wheel for elevator trim was located right side near the throttle quadrant. Rudder trim back of quadrant.

What is the biggest myth about the aircraft?
Lack of manoeuvrability. You could actually roll the B-47

Did you feel confident that the aircraft would have been survivable in a war?
At the stage I flew it, it had high rate of survivability at low level, not at altitude.

What was your most memorable experience flying the B-47
I was flying a normal night mission, programmed for a KC_135 refuelling near the Canadian border going west a nav-leg and a low-level route down south. We had completed a 35,000-pound offload just south of Cleveland and attained our cruising altitude and started our preparation for the nav leg. The co-pilot had dis-engaged his seat to put the sextant in place. When I felt a grabbing to the right, followed by a sever pull to right and a great flash of light. Looking out to the inboard nacelle the # 4 engine was deteriorating from the explosion and the #5 engine was also on fire. Both engines were shut down. I told the co-pilot to return his seat to the locked position and told our “Forth Man”, seating in the lower aisle to fasten his seat belt. I called Cleveland Center, declaring a “Mayday” and asked for the nearest airfield to land at. Our biggest problem was our gross weight due to max onload of fuel. I was told to proceed to Lockbourne AFB in Ohio and was given a heading to the base. I contacted Approach Control for Lockbourne, told them the situation. I asked them if they had a dump area for my wing tanks and after a pause they said yes, but they would have to evacuate the GCA facility before I could drop the tanks. We were dumping fuel as fast as we could and when arriving at the base were still too heavy to land. We were fairly stable and so decide to just burn down to a landing weight, and still dumping*. As the tips emptied we were at the max weight for landing and made a landing, not the best I ever made, but good enough. Examination of the two engines’ showed extensive damage to both nacelles as well as the engines.

*Some have questioned this, asking if the B-47 was capable of fuel dumping, this may have been misremembered

An interesting second choice:
First deployment over the pond and refuelling with a KC-97 Tanker. The 97 had a ceiling of about 15,000 feet and a speed that was within a marginal point of the B-47 stall speed. It was a clear night at altitude, 28,000 flight level, but the refuelling took place at the tanker’s ceiling, and the tops of the undercast was 17,000 feet. The descent from clear skies to the Tanker was a radar rendezvous in the zero visibility clouds. Format speed was ok at the lock-on to the tanker and visual contact with the tanker was gained at about 30 yards. Contact made was realized with some turbulence, making it difficult. As the fuel was coming in and the B-47 gross weight increased it became increasingly apparent, that we were at a marginal speed. The tanker was forced to start a descent to maintain contact. Offload of 30,000# of fuel was finally made and a disconnect was taken. It was a sweat filled mask as we started our climb back to altitude.
What was the role of the B-47 and in which unit did you fly?
The B-47 was the primary deterrent Nuclear Armed aircraft of the initial “Cold
War. The 509th Bomb Wing (The unit that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, ending WWII.

How would you rate it in the following categories?
A. Instantaneous turn rates
It was a very responsive aircraft
B. Sustained turn
You had to work at it one hand of the wheel and the other on the trim wheel.
C. Climb rate
Depending on gross weight, but alighter aircraft could put the nose in the air. Heavy your rate of climb was limited.
D. General agility
I liked flying the B-47. It was very responsive due to the sweep wing
E. High angle of attack performance
It flew like a bomber at altitude, but was very agile at low level and during “pop-up” procedures at low level.
F. Bombing accuracy
Excellent bombing platform. Usually highly accurate bomb results, CE below 500 ft
G. Cockpit layout
Nice cockpit, well arranged for flight instruments, gear and flap handles very convenient.
H. Sensors
Chaff and standard Jamming gear.
I In terms of combat effectiveness and survivability?
A very survivable aircraft at low level, Very vulnerable at high altitude.

Cockpit layout and comfort?

It was not intended for long missions, but it would treat you well for seven-eight hours flight.

What should I have asked you?
Emergency bailout for the Radar Navigator was downward and if on-board the forth man exit was out of the RN’s hole.

Thoughts on range and bombload?
In-Flight refuelling made the B-47 a long range bomber and the bomb load varied according to the type of bombs carried, Nulear load was four to six bombs.

Which weapons did you deploy, and which was the most spectacular from the cockpit?
Never dropped a bomb in anger.

Unofficially what’s the fastest and highest and the aircraft was taken?
.95 Mach, 38, maybe 40 K.

Do you love the aircraft?
I felt very at home in the B-47

What was unusual about B-47 tactics and culture?
It was an aircraft built for the typical role of a bomber at high altitude, but evolved into a most effective low altitude penetrator.

What were B-47 pilots most afraid of?
Loss of an outboard engine on takeoff. A number of takeoff accidents for this occurrence happened. Two at my home Base in New Hampshire and others at other locations. It was discovered that the reaction of pilots to this was to use aileron movement to correct the loss of direction control. Photos later discovered the problem was exacerbated by use of aileron and resulted in a situation called “Roll due to Yaw”. Correction of only rudder would correct the roll.

Did B-47 pilots feel about the absence of defensive weapons?
There was a twin 20 mm cannon in the tail controlled by the Co-pilot.

Tell me something I don’t know about the B-47
Although it was built to deliver nuclear weapons, it had the capacity to deliver conventional bombs and missiles.

What was base life like? How did you unwind?
Ideal location for water and mountain sports. Very family oriented, but a very professional group of crew members. The first jet bomber that incorporated the new jet trained pilots into an older group, of prop driven pilots, both learned from the blending.

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