Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Re-Run

“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)

She Was a MONSTER...

(click for larger)
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 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.


  1. I always love your childhood stories. I can just picture you and the guys hanging out to watch the big planes. So after all those planes and a little rock 'n roll, how is your hearing these days?

  2. "prop wash isn't pleasant."

    Ha! Understatement!

    During a Joint Readiness Training Center rotation at Fort Polk, LA, I sat on a little observation post with my radio guy looking over the drop zone, where a field landing strip had been established. With us it was the C-5, watching that monstrous beast take off and land in a ridiculously short distance, on dirt, and not being able to reconcile its size with its agility. The things we build are truly amazing.

  3. Yeah, I'm old too...the '36 was once my favorite airplane!

  4. Buck - I have a friend who was a mechanic back in the early 80's at Minot AFB. I think he said he'd worked on the B-52's... Were the B-36's there then do you know?

  5. That plane is a beast, Buck. I mean that in a nice way, of course. Big. And massive, too.

  6. Lou sez: So after all those planes and a little rock 'n roll, how is your hearing these days?

    Well, that would be a LOT of rock 'n' roll, for starters... ;-)

    I think my hearing's fine, as far as I know. Aside from being selective in that male sort of way, of course.

    Andy: Are you SURE that was a C-5 landing/taking off on dirt? I've never heard of them flying into "unimproved" air fields. The C-17, OTOH, is supposedly capable of that feat...

    Apropos of nothing... some of the best sex I ever had was after The Second Mrs. Pennington and I watched a C-5 land at Yokota AB once upon a time. We were sitting on my mo'sickle at the head of a line of stopped traffic on the perimeter road at Yokota (SOP when an aircraft was on final, due to the tight clearances in the area) when that Aluminum Overcast dropped down on to the runway...seemingly inches from us. TSMP was literally jumping up and down and whooping like a mad woman when it touched down. It was but a short ride home and, as they say, "the rest is history..." ;-)

    Mushy: Yep, we're OLD! ;-)

    Alison: The last B-36 was retired in 1959, well before I entered service.

    Jim: You are OH so correct! It's size was simply mind boggling...

  7. Buck - you may have just nailed me on that one, probably was the 17. Flew in a lot of those, but never landed in one. They're all pretty remarkable, though. And I know that whenever I watch a C-5 fly, I keep waiting for it to just fall from the sky. It's way too big to be doing that!

  8. Never "humped" the 36 as a Sky Cop, but I walked a few thousand miles around the 52s in snow, sleet, sun, wind, and rain.....that is something I could never forget, no matter how long I live.

  9. Pat: I ALWAYS used to feel for you guys, but never more so than when I had to go down to Minot in the dead of winter. Upstate NY winters are bad, but they're NOTHING like the winters in Minot, believe me. I've experienced both...

    Andy: This bit made me laugh: "Flew in a lot of those, but never landed in one."

    Until I thought "Oh, right... paratrooper!" Duh.

  10. One of my best friends lives in Minot....and he's a native(little town north of there called Mohall). And moved back after college.....ya gotta wonder?


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