SAC’s Newest Recruit–the Stratofort

April 1, 1956
The base is Castle Air Force Base, Calif., the wing is the 93d Bombardment Wing, and the airplane is the big one, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. These are the three elements that go to make up the first combat-ready B-52 unit in SAC. Let me tell you about all three.

Although the Castle story may not be exactly typical, it is certainly symbolic of the rapid growth and expansion of SAC’s combat potential. It is the story of a combat wing which in mid-1949 was a typical B-29 unit. In 1950 it had become a powerful B-50 outfit with many times the striking power it had possessed a year before. From 1950 until 1954 it was one of several veteran B-50 combat wings.

In 1954 the 93d Bomb Wing joined the rapidly growing B-47 medium bomber force, with striking power, flexibility, and versatility many times greater than it ever possessed before.

During the twenty months that the wing operated B-47s (June 1954 to January 1956) it flew 24,439 hours without an accident.

In mid-1955 the wing became the first B-52 heavy bombardment unit in the Strategic Air Command.

Thus, in six years, from mid-1949 to mid-1955, the 93d Bombardment Wing had developed from the B-29, with its limited striking power and potential, to the most deadly nuclear striking weapon known in the world today. Throughout this six-year period of transition and growth from Air Command plan, the 93d was maintained as a combat-ready unit, prepared at all times to carry out a war mission if directed.

Although it may seem elementary, the first question to be answered is “Where is Castle AFB anyway?”

Believe it or not, that’s the question most frequently asked. Castle AFB is near Merced, Calif., in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley. Translated into Air Force language, it is about two-thirds of the way from Mardi Air Force Base to Hamilton Air Force Base—just far enough from San Francisco that the wives can’t go shopping every week—just every other week.

The base is named for Brig. Gen Frederick W, Castle, whom many Eighth Air Force veterans will remember as a heroic combat division commander who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for valor in action over Germany in World War II. Merced Army Air Field, as it was known in World War II, trained 13,000 cadets in BT-13 aircraft from 1941-1945.

Castle is a single-wing base of the Fifteenth Air Force. Besides being the home of the 93d Bombardment Wing, it also houses the 2d Strategic Support Squadron and the 4017th Combat Crew Training Squadron. This latter squadron, an integral part of the 93d Wing, trains all combat crews for SAC B-52 wings.

As SAC began picking up the pieces of what was left after the World War II demobilization, the 93d Bomb Group, as it was then called, was assigned to Castle in May 1947. It was equipped with B-29 aircraft and crews, and comparatively speaking, was considered one of the strongest of the Strategic Air Command combat organizations of that time.

In January 1951 the Group was designated the 93d Bombardment Wing in the new terminology of the most famous Strategic Air Command officers, among them Maj. Gen. Robert H. Terrill, Brig. Gen. David Wade, and Brig. Gen. Richard H. Carmichael.

Several years ago, when the B-52 program was still in the planning stages at higher levels, it was decided to convert the 93d into SAC’s first B-52 wing. At the same time it was decided that the Wing would train all crews for succeeding B-52 combat wings.

To accomplish this it was planned to organize the 4017th Combat Crew Training Squadron, and attach it to the 93d Bombardment Wing for this purpose.

We occasionally hear the question: “Why hasn’t this training responsibility been assigned to the Air Training Command, as it was with the B-47 program?” Here is the answer—to make B-52 aircraft available within Strategic Air Command at the earliest possible date it was advisable for the command to handle the training for its own crews.

Thus, the total number of aircraft available within SAC for combat purposes includes those B-52s used for crew training.

In other words, it was not necessary to decrease the SAC inventory of combat aircraft to support the training function. Many Strategic Air Command personnel will remember that this same procedure was used in the B-36 training program at Carswell AFB, Tex., using a unit also designated 4017th CCTS.

The 4017th CCTS is an Operations and Training Squadron only, and has no unit aircraft. The aircraft belong to the three bombardment squadrons of the 93d, and are maintained by these units. Training sorties are furnished to the 4017th CCTS to fulfill the training requirements of that unit.

Extensive construction work to support B-52 operations began at Castle in March 1954, and all major construction has been completed. To those who knew Castle AFB in World War II, the operating portion such as the ramp, taxiways, and runways are no longer distinguishable. They’ve been swallowed up in one or another of the several modernization programs.

Even to those who may have known Castle in the B-29 and B-50 days, many of the old features are hardly recognizable. The main runway has been strengthened and considerably lengthened as well as widened. It was also necessary to strengthen and widen the taxiways and the warm-up aprons at each end of this runway.

The entire main parking ramp has been completely overlaid with sixteen, inches of concrete. And there are many new buildings, such as the king size maintenance hangar, base operations, technical training building, crash station, wing headquarters, new squadron engineering buildings, and the aircraft and engine buildings.

At present the only major construction still in progress in the operating area is the project for post-flight and periodic inspection docks. These docks simplify the maintenance problem to a remarkable degree, in that the aircraft can be nosed into the dock itself and all major components and accessories are completely available for maintenance purposes.

A remarkable fact is that at no time has construction handicapped day-today operations to the extent that the conversion program slowed down.

The conversion of the 93d Bomb Wing into the first combat-ready B-52 wing actually involved two conversion programs.

The 93d began converting from B-50s into B-47s in March 1954, and while the B-47 switch was still in progress wing planning agencies were paving the way for the next conversion to the B-52.

The 93d became combat-ready in B-47s in record time, in the fall of 1954. Many projects relating directly to the B-52 were already in progress at that time, and in June 1955 the aircraft began to arrive at Castle. By then the 4017th CCTS was ready to begin retraining the 93d’s crews.

Instructor crew personnel of the 4017th CCTS had received their B-52 check-out training at Edwards AFB in early 1955 while the Air Force Flight Test Center was conducting Phase VI Evaluation tests on the new bomber. The over-all programming plan included the requirement for 4017th CCTS instructor personnel to receive their preliminary training at Edwards AFB, Calif., and in so doing support the needs of the Flight Test Center for flight personnel to handle testing operations. Wing maintenance personnel, more than 200 in all, also supported the testing phase at Edwards and in the process gained invaluable B-52 maintenance training.

With such background for key flight instructor and maintenance people, the 93d was fully ready for the influx of B-52 aircraft when it began.

Extensive training operations started immediately on the arrival of the first new bomber, and continued on schedule until all 93d combat crews had completed their conversion training.

Today the mission of the 93d is La maintain a state of combat readiness at all times to handle its mission in the Strategic Air Command emergency war plan, and also to support the 4017th CCTS in the training of combat crews for succeeding B-52 combat wings.

Today the B-52 is no longer a strange sight in the western part of the country. Nor is it unfamiliar to CAA control personnel, or to fighter interceptor units of the Western Air Defense Force.

The new bomber looks and performs like its older but smaller brother, the B-47, and is just as much pilot’s airplane.

There are many who say the ’52 is easier to fly than a B-47, but whether it is or not is inconsequential —both aircraft are equally well liked by SAC pilots.

Naturally the B-52 has better performance than the B-47. It is a later aircraft. Although they look alike, there are many radical differences in the systems of these two planes. Beyond their size, the most obvious difference is the side-by-side pilot configuration in the B-52 as compared to the tandem seating arrangement in the B-47. Experience on the B-47 had indicated that side-by-side seating would improve crew coordination and afford more space.

Another innovation introduced in the B-52 is the use of high-pressure “bleed air” from the engines as a source of power. Extensive studies conducted by Boeing indicated that such a system would be lighter than other systems designed to do the same job. Although many developmental problems were encountered in perfecting this new system, it has been highly successful in the operation of the B-52.

Such standard accessories as engine starters, hydraulic power packs, alternator packs, and the anti-icing system all use—as the primary source of power—high-pressure bleed air from the engines themselves. In the engine-starting system, for example, a small jet-type engine on a cart must be used as a source of high-pressure air to start two of the eight jet engines. Once two of the engines have been started, the bleed air from the internal source can then be used to start the remaining engines.

Whereas the B-47 has all boost-operated control surfaces, the B-52 was designed with manually controlled elevator, rudders, and ailerons to introduce a greater reliability factor. The only power-operated control surfaces are the spoilers on the upper surface of each wing. These work in conjunction with the ailerons to provide greater lateral control.

Instead of the familiar bicycle gear on the B-47, the B-52 has a quadricycle gear which retracts forward and aft into the fuselage, with two outrigger gears retracting into the wings.

Another innovation of the Jet Age is the crosswind steering capability of the 13-52. Crosswind positioning of all four main gears is standard equipment on the B-52. It is controlled from a single knob in the cockpit. This feature eliminates all of the critical factors inherent in crosswind landings in all previous types of aircraft. Any experienced pilot will agree that this is a major advance in aircraft design from a flying safety standpoint.

The B-52 carries a crew of six as compared to the B-47’s three-man team. This includes two pilots, radar observer, navigator, radioman, and tail gunner. The pilots and the radio operator occupy the upper flight deck compartment; the observers the lower flight deck; and the gunner rides in “solitary” in the tail.

Eight years were spent in the development of the B-52. The prototype was first flown in April 1952, and by that date more than three million engineering hours had been spent on the design.

The first production model was ready on August 5, 1954, and cost in the neighborhood of $12 million. Today, with the tooling completed and the production line in business, the price of each unit has decreased considerably.

The B-52’s eight Pratt & Whitney J-57 engines, the most powerful in mass production today, produce a thrust approaching the equivalent of 100,000 horsepower.

The B-52 gives America the first jet intercontinental capability in history. It can fly a bomb load to targets on the other side of the world and return, at altitudes above 50,000 feet. Its wingspan and length are both greater than the width of a football field, and the top of its rudder towers almost five stories above the ground. It cruises at more than 600 miles per hour, yet its landing speed compares favorably with conventional airplanes of like size.

Forward crew positions are equipped with the latest type of ejection seat. The crew member has only to pull the “go” handle to find himself floating in space.

Under normal conditions the cabin pressure can be maintained at less than 10,000 feet pressure altitude, even at the most extreme heights.

When the first production model of the B-52 left Boeing’s Seattle factory, Gen. Nathan F. Twining, the AF Chief of Staff, compared it with the long-rifle of frontier days, which he called “the great weapon of the day” that “kept the savage red men from killing our people.”

As General Twining has stated so well, the B-52 is truly the “long-rifle” of our armed forces today. Never before in history has so much striking power been concentrated in one weapon.

The B-52 represents a big investment in money, but if it buys the peace with honor we all desire, it is well worth the cost. The B-52 force is the safest investment I know of today for this nation and the American people.

Brig. Gen. W. E. Eubank, Jr. Born in Welch, W. Va., in 1912, General Eubank attended VPI before entering cadet training in 1936. As commander of the 91st Bomb Squadron, he was evacuated by sub from Corregidor when the Philippines fell in WWII, later helped form the 10th AF. He joined SAC in 1948, commanding the 2d Bomb Group before assuming his present job in 1953.