“And on the seventh day…” a re-run. Occasional Reader Curtis mentioned the B-36 in comments to another post yesterday and that reminded me that I put up a post on that ol’ piston engined bomber back in EIP’s early days. So… since it’s Sunday, and much more to the point… I’m feelin’ pretty lazy today… here’s that old B-36 post. Enjoy. Or not. (Insert smiley-faced thingie here)
R. Lee Ermey (Mail Call) did one of his periodic hour-long shows last evening; the subject of which was the B-52. As usual, Ermey provided quite a bit of background, including an extensive history of the BUFF, Minot AFB, Strategic Air Command, and a good biographical summary of SAC's architect, Curtis LeMay. Part of the historical background included file footage of the B-52's predecessor, the B-36.That file footage fired off some long-dormant synapses in the ol' brain.
Travis AFB, 1951 - 1952.
My father was stationed at Travis during that time, and my family lived in base housing. The neighborhood boys and I used to ride our bikes all over the base...down to the BX, the theatre for Saturday matinees, over to the flight line, and out to the end of the runway to watch planes take off. The take-offs were the best. Especially B-36 take-offs.
I was always one of a gaggle of small boys, standing beside our Schwinns about 200 yards from the end of the runway. We always stood silent, pie-eyed in wonder and awe at the spectacle before us. We were silent because talk was literally impossible; we could have screamed at each other and we wouldn't have heard a word over the incredible noise made by the combination of six huge Pratt and Whitney piston engines and four GE jet engines winding up in front of us. Each one of those Pratts put out 3,800 hp! The ground literally shook, and when I say "shook," that's exactly what I mean...as in earthquake. The exquisite, Norse-god like sound and feel of large reciprocating mass is simply unbelieveable. Nothing compares, there are no modern analogues.
We'd put our fingers in our ears and wait. After about 30 seconds of engine run-up, the big bomber would begin to move, imperceptably at first, speed increasing to a crawl, then a walk, then a run. Sometimes we'd have to brace ourselves against the prop wash, even at that distance, depending on where we were standing. Most of the time we'd stand off to the side, becaue prop wash isn't pleasant. A minute or two later the bomber would lift off the runway and disappear into the sky, trailing sooty black exhaust from the jets on the ends of the wings. Our ears would ring for five minutes after the plane was gone.
To the best of my knowledge, this is the only remaining large piston-engined bomber still flying. I saw her back in the early '90s when she flew into the Detroit area, along with a B-25, for an airshow. And I told my buddy about standing at the end of the runway at Travis after we watched her leave. "Just imagine," I said, "add two more Pratts and four jets to the sound we just heard..." I wonder if he could. Imagine, that is.