Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cold warriors at 50,000 feet and 600 mph

Courtesy ERAU 
The B-52.

PRESCOTT - Big subsonic bombers of the Cold War were the topic of two presentations by their former pilots, Dr. S. Harry Robertson and Dr. Frank Ayers, Wednesday evening, Oct. 14, at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Davis Learning Center.

The B-47, built by Boeing, was flown by Robertson, who noted that it had been a while since those days.

"The last time I was with a B-47 was 55 years ago," he said, "so, with my memory, I'm entitled to a little slack."

The B-47 Stratojet was a six-engine jet bomber designed to fly at high altitude that entered service with the U.S. Air Force in 1951.

It was designed to supplant the massive, turboprop-powered bombers of World War II, and the Air Force "wanted to get some new kind of a bomber, one that was primarily jet powered, could fly at high altitudes, could really haul out and get places, and could carry a nuclear bomb."

The B-47 never saw combat, but is directly tied to the development of the later B-52 which is currently in service and has been since 1955.

Robertson talked about the work done by German aerospace scientists, who made significant contributions to the B-47.

"I had the opportunity, as a young man, to do work with some of those guys," he said, "and I never ceased to be amazed at what I could see and learn."

Turns out, the B-47, a swept-wing marvel of an aircraft, wasn't very popular among Boeing's engineers.

"Many of the Boeing employees didn't think this thing was worth a tinker's dam," Robertson said, and the usual rollout of the first one came with an atypical lack of enthusiasm.

One of the launch tactics of the time, the Minimum Interval Take Off, required the planes to follow each other down the runway just seconds apart; given the volume of thick black jet exhaust they left in their wake, Robertson said the experience could be "spooky."

He remembered the fighter-aircraft style bubble cockpit of the B-47 as one that could be "claustrophobic" on long flights.

Ayers, Chancellor of ERAU, picked up the story of the bomber's lineage with his aircraft, the B-52.

He pointed out that the B-52 wasn't the first bomber planned to take over for the B-47, with various "flying wing" designs being the early front-runners, "until the XP-49 crashed, killing" the crew.

Ayers said one of the major pluses, from the point of view of crewmembers, was the B-52's pressurized cockpit, which meant the pilots would not need to wear bulky pressure suits.

Ejection seats were not so popular: while the pilots' rocket-powered seats ejected them upwards, the crew members whose stations were "downstairs" were ejected downward, so the plane had to be at least 250 feet, preferably 500 feet, above the ground before they could escape.

"That was probably not the best design," he said.

Ayers cracked several jokes about the "advanced" technology aboard the B-52, noting that the only "glass" in the cockpit was the windows.

"But it was a good-flying airplane," Ayers said. 

Story and photos:

Courtesy ERAU 
The B-47.

1 comment:

  1. "flying wing" designs being the early front-runners, "until the XP-49 crashed, killing" the crew. YRB-49A, not the XP-49.