Archive for October, 2019

From Here and Back

Posted on 10/27/2019. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |


The story is told as seen through the eyes of a young man who grew up on a South Dakota farm and becomes a navigator on a B47 bomber. The story revolves around a mission being flown by the crew, a mission they are trained for but are reluctant to do. This story is fictional and created by the author. The description of the B47 operations and functions during a mission are fictional.


From Here and Back

I’m the only son, only child of Issador and Janice Ilson. I heard my Pa wanted to give me a decent Swedish name like Gotfre, but my Ma insisted on naming me Erick. I’m glad she prevailed.

I cranked up the home-made tractor that my Pa “Issador had cobbled together and would use its power to drive a feed grinder that would grind a mixture of corn and oats to be used for feeding our chickens and pigs.  I started calling the homemade tractor the Ilson. The name stuck. The Ilson used a flat head 60 HP V8 Ford motor and a car chassis with a modified transmission geared down to give more traction and slower forward speed. The two back wheels were spaced seventy-two inches apart in order to straddle two rows of corn. There was a single front wheel.  The body of the Ilson was jacked up so a cultivator my Pa designed that fit between the front wheel and the back wheels could be used to cultivate hip high corn.

However, today I would be using the Ilson to grind grain. In order to have a means to transfer power to the grinder, the left rear wheel of the Ilson had a belt pulley attached to it. I drove the Ilson to a well-marked spot, rolled out a belt from the granary where one end of the belt was attached to the grinder pulley. I then loosened a sort of a kickstand attached to the axle near the left wheel. I started moving the Ilson forward and the left wheel raised off the ground, held up by the kickstand. The belt tightened and the Ilison’s left hind wheel turned freely. All Ilsons power was transferred to the spinning wheel and the grinder started turning. Grain began running out of two spouts from two overhead grain bins feeding corn and oats into the grinder. After the grain mixture reached a certain level in the grinder a prod sensor shut down the spouts down until the grain fell to a level in the grinder where the grain would flow again.

Meanwell the grain that had been ground fell out the bottom of the grinder where a conveyer carried it into a box of another machine my Pa had cobbled together. It was three wheeled also, with the front end being the front half a motorcycle my dad rescued from a junk yard to which he welded it to the back half of a car chassis and used an extended chain and clever gear box to get power to the rear wheels. This was our yard tractor. I called it the Runabout.

You may be getting the idea that my Pa was a tinkerer.  I always considered him something between that and a misplaced genius. He had immigrated from Sweden while in his teens. He was not the oldest son so there wouldn’t be a place for him on the Ilson ancestral farm and saw the United States as an opportunity to better his prospects. Issador worked as a farm hand in eastern South Dakota near Milbank and ended up marrying the farmer’s daughter, my Ma Janice. They inherited the farm at a fairly young age. 

Issadore learned to read and write in the Swedish language and had a propensity for numbers and was a tinkerer, always taking things apart and finding new uses for them. He picked up English quickly. He was eager to learn about all the new mechanical things he was seeing either in person or in pictures and so quickly learned to read as well as speak English. I knew he was not a particularly good farmer. He would get off on some project, taking something apart and making it into something different and loss track of what needed to be done on the farm.

A good example of that was when farmers started converting to using combines after World War Two. He found a farmer moving up to a large self-propelled combine and anxious to have someone take his small combine off his hands. It needed some work and Pa acquired it for fixing some problems the farmer had with a tractor.

The combine needed a tractor with a power take off to drive the combines operations. The Ilson didn’t have a power take off or the power to use it if it had one. That didn’t deter Pa. He had a VW air cooled motor in his junk yard that he had picked up somewhere. He would use it to power the combine. He would mount the motor on the combine and use the Ilison to pull the combine with its own motor through the fields.  

A problem with Pa’s plan was that both his oats and wheat were ready to harvest when he started this project. Pa had me swath the grain crops while he toiled with integrating the motor with the combine. Well, the grain lay swathed for a long time. It rained. By the time he got the combine and motor working most of the grain had spoiled. I didn’t say anything about it, neither did Ma. We both knew Pa had an incurable urge to tinker.

I was usually amazed with some to the things that Pa came up with, not that they worked well or worked better than anything out there, rather that they worked at all. I do have to admit he had more successes than outright failures.   

I went to the Milbank high school. At the time most farm kids didn’t go to high school. Not that the parents were against education. It was expensive. There was no busing for farm kids. The farmers were recovering from the Great Depression and a historic drought. During World War Two they were making money, finally, but they had a lot of catching up to do. However, Pa and Ma were both big fans of education. You wouldn’t think Pa would think like that since he had only spent four years inside a school room, but I think he was even more set on me going to high school than Ma was.   

So, I used to the Runabout to commute. A benefit from this was I would take the milk we accumulated in ten-gallon milk cans and drop them at the small cheese factory in Milbank before classes started. Pa hated those cows, but they provided a steady income our family needed. 

I did ok in high school, especially math. My math teacher, Miss Schwandt, said I should continue my education, go to college. Ma and Pa saw my grades, liked them but didn’t mention college for a good reason. Our family didn’t have the means to send me to college. Farmers had been doing well doing the war and since; but my Pa really wasn’t a farmer, he was a tinkerer. In the best of times we were just getting by.

Miss Schwandt wasn’t ready to concede. She came up with an idea. “At Brookings they have a ROTC, if you qualify you could have most of your expenses paid. I can get the forms you need.”

By Brookings she meant South Dakota State College, a college sixty miles south of Milbank. It was a popular college for students from the Milbank area to attend.  I knew they had an engineering major, which is what I would want so the idea appealed to me.  I thought it was nice of Miss Schwandt to want to help me and I told her so and that I would appreciate having her obtain the forms.

When I got the forms, I found they had both an army and air force ROTC at Brookings. I talked to my folks about the idea. Ma was in favor of the idea right away. Pa seemed to a little hesitant. I suppose he was hoping I would be helping on the farm after high school. It would allow him more time to tinker if I was around to do the work involved with farming. I had thought about that subject myself. What is my long-term goal? Did I have one? I pretty much knew I could partner with my Pa. If I really wanted to be a farmer that might not be a bad idea. I would have pretty much a free hand to do what I wanted with regards to farming if Pa was left with his tinkering. Did I want to be a farmer? That was a question I hadn’t figured out the answer to.

Pa, had listened without comment when I told them about the idea. “It’s not a sure thing,” I explained. “Not everyone that applies is accepted, there is a physical.”  Ma was sure I would be accepted and left no doubt and that she thought I should go for it. Finally, Pa opened with a little cough, “Erick,” he said, “If I had da chance you got, I vould yomp all over it. Can’t get too much education,  Dat much I know.

What would be the best to apply for, the army, the air force? In the army they mostly shoot people. In the air force they fly airplanes. The idea of flying airplanes seemed to fit studying engineering better than shooting people. I filled out the application for the Airforce ROTC.  

I received an acceptance before it was time to register for the fall quarter at South Dakota State. The physical was administered by our regular family doctor and was kind of a joke. The doctor said the main thing he checked is to see if you were too fat. “Your real physical will happen when you go on active duty.”

I had decided that I would go for a degree in mechanical engineering. It was the kind of engineering somewhat related to what Pa did when he was tinkering and something I could relate to since Pa would have me helping sometimes, like when he needed help moving heavy things like car motors from one place to another.

I found myself studying harder that I had ever studied before. I did get
“A’s” in my math courses but they were hard “A’s.” Fortunately the extra classes I had to take for ROTC were easy and the physical training and activity involved were good otherwise I would likely have been going downhill in those categories.  In the summer we would have two weeks of training at some air force facility. It got us familiar with some of the things the air force was doing. Upon graduating in June of 1961, I was commissioned as 2ndL in the United States Airforce with orders directing me to report to Offutt Airforce Base near Omaha Nebraska. 

When at Offutt I got a real physical checkup. I guess your physical would determine what kinds of things you would be able to do in the air force. If I got into something involving engineering, I would be happy.

After the physicals and a bunch of tests I was interviewed and was informed what I would be qualified to do. Physically I was qualified to take pilot training and was encouraged to go in that direction. I also learned that if I took pilot training it would be like signing up for a career. Most other skills paths only required two years active and two years in the reserves. Pilot training itself could be more than two years so you were obligated to serve more active time. I told the interviewer I wasn’t interested in being a pilot or a career in the air force and preferred to do engineering work with a contractor or in a lab, something like that.  

The interviewer seemed surprised, said most people he interviewed would give their left arm to be a pilot. He went on to mention they were looking for more than just pilots to be airmen. The active duty requirements for most non-pilot airmen required only two years of active duty. 

 “We are looking for men like yourself to man large numbers of SAC aircraft  coming off the line.” the interviewer said.

He almost made it sound like it would be my patriotic duty to do this. The interviewer identified a position he described and encouraged me to consider. It was a navigator/bombardier on a B47.  “As a navigator/bombardier on a B47 you would only have the two-year active duty obligation and you also would be getting flight pay.” 

The interviewer showed me pictures of the B47.  In one picture the plane was sitting in a flight line and another one of it flying. I had heard about the B47 but really knew little about the plane. The idea that I would be riding in one of them sharpened my interest and I really studied the pictures. When flying it was a beautiful looking flying machine, like a big fighter plane with six jet engines. Although beautiful, in another way it appeared ominous to me, like something evil.  

However, as a farm boy always wanting to please, I relented and agreed to take the training needed to be a navigator on a B47.  

Soon it seemed I was in a world of quick time. I was ordered to report to the Mather AFB, located near Sacramento California and six months later I was deemed able to perform the duties of a B47 navigator/bombardier and ordered back to Offutt Field and assigned to a wing stationed there.

When I reported back to Offutt after completing navigation training, I saw my first real life B47. It was more imposing than they looked in the photos. It looked unlike anything I had ever seen before, swept back wings that drooped when parked on the ground and flexed up seventeen feet at the wing tips when airborne. It was a fearsome looking, delicate flying machine designed to fly higher and faster than any anything that would oppose it in the air and high enough to be safe from ground-based weapons. It was developed to penetrate Russian airspace and deliver nuclear bombs during the early days of the Cold War.  Those goals, faster and higher than Russian fighters and out of the range of ground-based weapons had priority over durability, crew comfort, survivability or anything else you could think of. 

There only three crew members, pilot, copilot and navigator, a departure from World War Two when heavy bombers would often have nine or more crew members. The difference was a lack of armament. The B47 had two fifty caliber machine guns in the tail which was operated remotely by the copilot. The B47 depended on flying high and fast rather than armament in order to reach targets. The pilot and co-pilot sat in tandem and under a bubble type canopy. They had a good view of the surroundings, but the space was little cramped and reminiscent of a fighter plane cockpit.  My accommodations in the nose cone were more ample but there were no windows. I had a viewing screen which could monitor the outside world, but that is not the same an unrestricted view. Not that I needed to look out a window to navigate, but it would have been nice.

One thing that unnerved me at first was that in case of a bailout the navigator would be ejected down, not up. This required that the plane had to be at an altitude of at least five hundred feet before a downward ejection would work. Worse yet, in practice the downward ejection seemed to have problems at any altitude. After a while I got over worrying about it because I figured I would never have a reason to eject from the plane. That might have been illogical thinking, but it worked.

The crews were a team and would remain a team of three until some event like retirement from active duty or reassignment would cause changes. The crews tended to be young 1st and 2nd Lieutenants. The pilot on our plane was First Lieutenant Richard Douglas. He loved flying, and the air force, and planned to make a career out of it. He was young, not much older than I am, and this was his first aircraft. He thought he was the luckiest man alive to get to fly the B47. Second Lieutenant Bill VanVeen,  was the copilot and waiting to complete his air force active duty commitment so he could fly commercial. The B47 was not an ideal aircraft for commercial training because it was so different. I hoped his plans would work for him.  I was also a Second Lieutenant and the navigator.

When I reported for duty in the spring of 1961 the Strategic Air Force was on a high alert and had planes loaded and ready to take off on a mission to attack Russia.

Every third week the crews of the planes in section I was assigned to would spend the week in a building and area near where our plane sat on a hardstand. Three crews shared a building and it had everything needed accommodate the nine crew members for a week. A contractor furnished people to cook meals, wash cloths, make beds, clean. The crew members had training and information sessions and would fly one mission during the week. Otherwise did pretty much what we wanted except leave the building or immediate area for a week. I started reading and read more books than I ever had before. There was an exercise room, a hobby room with wood working, metal working which I messed around with, also ceramics, painting.

During that week our section of three planes would fly a mission. Soon after being alerted to take off on a mission the crews would sprint to their planes which were already being run up by ground crew members. Our three-man crew hardly had time to settle into our positions before we joined a line of nine planes fully loaded with fuel and nuclear weapons moving toward the runway. There was no hesitation, no calling the tower for permission to take off. When the first plane in the line reached the take off point on the runway it immediately started its takeoff run and with the assistance of JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off) rockets was soon airborne. The following eight B47’s lined up and took off at sixteen second intervals after the first plane. We would be in the middle of the pack, that meant we would be taking off in the wake of the plane ahead of us and a lot of rough air. 

The mission would normally include a refueling over Alaska or north of Greenland. It would be considered a for-real mission to bomb some Russian target. We would have on board the orders to be opened after reaching a point of no return. If we weren’t recalled and ordered back to base and crossed the point of no return we would be on a for real mission with sealed orders to bomb a target designated in our orders.  We never had to open those orders and never expected to have to open them.

When not on alert we would get extended time off to make up for the one-week confinement in alert quarters and after that participate in training exercises and honing job skills. Things had changed since the since the B47 introduction into the air force in 1951. This included a Russian fighter plane and a ground missile that could reach the B47 when it flew at its service ceiling. So, we were being trained to fly low instead of high in order to limit RADAR detection and use a variable track in place of a strait in approach to the target.  When the target area was reached the plane would regain enough altitude to allow the nuclear weapon to detonate at its intended altitude and for plane to escape from being blown up. This change put a strain on the aircraft and on the pilot and navigator due a zig-zag approach and terrain avoidance maneuvers. These kind of activities kept us more than busy most of the time.

In the October of 1962 we started hearing about Russia establishing missile launch sites in Cuba. Airmen that I associated with didn’t get too excited about this news. We were always hearing about the Russia doing this or that and it sounded like another one of those cold war events that came up and then would fade away.

However, this time it seemed to be different. Soon after hearing about the missile launch sites the whole wing at Offutt went into alert status and everyone was confined to the base until further notice. All the aircraft rated ready to fly were loaded with nuclear weapons. Our three-plane section received orders to be ready to take off at 2:00 AM on October 22nd. This was also unusual. Normally there would be no warning, the klaxon would go off and we would race to get to the airplane and take off as fast as we could, like firemen responding to a fire.

Our three plane section joined six other aircraft and took off as scheduled at 2:00 AM and headed north. Normally we would be heading for Alaska or Greenland where we would rendezvous with tankers to refuel. However, this time we would fly almost straight north, north of Canadian territory and a little west of Ellesmere Island, almost to the north pole where we would refuel.  

Once we reached the Arctic region on these flights, I didn’t spend much time thinking of bailing out, or if the downward ejection system would work; it would be a fruitless type of thinking.

Navigating the leg from Offutt to the refueling destination wasn’t much of a challenging. I had LORAN (Long Range Navigation), radio direction finders, gyro compass and unlimited use of RADAR.

The crew was supplied with two C rations each and a thermos of coffee. On this mission the first C ration was breakfast. I usually didn’t eat the second ration but if I did it would be on the return to Offutt. There was very little variety in the C rations so if you ate one you knew what to expect after that.

Refueling was always an exciting part of a mission. No matter how many times it is done it never became routine. The flying boom method was used where we would fly a little lower and in back of the tanker. A combination lights and the tanker boom operator communicating with our pilot would get us in position where the flying probe would mate with our planes refueling coupling. During the refueling our plane had to maintain a position where the probe would stay connected.  Two planes flying hundreds of miles an hour connected together with a fueling prob and restricted freedom to maneuver can be a cause for anxiety. After the connection is made it didn’t take long for the refueling to be completed.

After the refueling was completed on the October 1962 flight we continued on course to complete the mission. I relaxed and waited for the recall that always occurred before we reached the point of no return

Richard, the plane’s pilot was also getting nervous. His voice came on the intercom, “How far to point of no return?”

“Twenty minutes,” I replied. Our track to the point of no return had taken us over the North Pole and we were heading south toward Russia.

Bill, the copilot chimed in, “This story isn’t following the script.”

The pilot agreed, “I have no desire to visit Russia this time of the year.” 

“Ten minutes to go,” I said.

“We could abort, engine problem,” the copilot suggested.  

“Everything Is purring,” the pilot replied.

“I Know, just suggesting,” the co-pilot replied, “Or just hoping.”

“Five Minutes,” I said.

By this time, I knew what would never happen was happening. School children were being taught what to do when this thing that would never happen, happened. People had become used to knowing that a nuclear war would likely be the end of human existence, but they also knew it would never happen. But this crew in this B47 knew it was about to happen.   

“Ok,” I said, “We’ve passed the point of no return. Time to check out our itinerary.” I had a package and the pilot had an identical package. It identified the target, the route to the target, procedure for flying the route to the target and releasing the device. The target was Moscow. It was our directions of how to end life on earth as we knew it. Strange how my mind started working on the details of how we would accomplish this.  

It would be up to our crew to follow the package directions and complete the mission. Everything was in our hands and our B47, a dot in the sky that could destroy a city. My first task would be to navigate the course to the target, no small task when flying low on a zig-zag course at night with only a gyro compass. We would be running silent, no radar, no radio transmissions, no running lights.

The pilot noted that the forecast was for clear sky when we hit the coastline of Russia.

“I appreciate the help” I replied to the pilot’s comment, “It will be dark but with a nearly full moon we will be able to navigate visually.” This would work well since we would be approaching the coast at five hundred feet above sea level and there was a range of low mountains along the coast.

The forecast was clear when we reach the Russian coastline, partial clouds two hundred miles in, rain, light drizzle over Moscow. We will reach Moscow at midnight.

We were at 35,000 feet but dropped to 500 feet as we entered the Barents Sea and approached the Russian mainland about a hundred miles east of Murmansk where an estuary joined the Barents and White Seas.  As predicted there was a  near full moon and we could visually navigate the narrow body of water connecting the Barents and White Seas.

“Man,” I exclaimed, “I don’t know how you could navigate that with instruments!

The co-pilot agreed, “Some of those hills on either side that narrow bit of water were more than five hundred feet by a quiet a bit.”

 The White Sea was a relatively small body of water but provided a path through a low mountains range near the coast to a flat terrain that bordered its southern shore.  We were told snoops continually search for and identify cracks in Russian border RADAR coverage and it seemed to work for us since we had easily penetrated Russian territory. When considering the immensity of the USSR (United Soviet Socialist Republic) it would seem likely there could be some holes in the borders.

We were able to maintain our five-hundred-foot altitude over the flat dark terrain south of the White Sea. We took south westerly track after leaving the White Sea. This pointed us toward Leningrad. We would see a flickering light occasionally, but they were not massed lights like one would see in a village or city. Although it was dark, It was obvious that we weree flying over a lightly inhabited forest.  

There were no swarms of Mig fighters rising to intercept us. We seemed to be alone and unnoticed as we moved through Russian air space. There had to be other SAC bombers attacking but everything seemed peaceful and quiet.

We were flying under scattered clouds when we reached the coordinates where we changed our heading to a southeasterly direction. Those coordinates were based on my best estimates of wind direction and velocity, accuracy of our gyro compass and not much else. It would be nice to have a firm fix on our position before making the turn, but it was not necessary. Finding a bright shiny target as large as Moscow wouldn’t be difficult.

Our track now ran parallel to and about sixty miles to east of a busy highway that connected Leningrad and Moscow. The terrain continued to be flat and ideal for low altitude terrain avoiding flight. gave the mission planners a good grade for selecting ideal conditions for a terrain hugging flight.

There were now more scattered lights and the glow of numerous lights from villages and small towns. We were flying low without running lights so people might think we were a ghost ship in the ski when we flashed by.  Still know obvious defensive activity. This seemed to be easier than it should be.

We started encountering light rain and mist which would make our approach to Moscow more difficult to detect. I alerted the crew to the next course change to happen in half an hour, at 2245 Greenwich Meantime. At that time, we would   turn ninety degrees, a heading that would and put us over the Moscow in fifteen minutes. After the turn we climbed to twenty thousand feet, our drop altitude. As we climbed the copilot and I turned on interlocking switches that needed to be set to arm the nuclear device. After going through the sequence successfully, a red “ready” light lite up on both the copilots and my panel. After this was done only two things remained in order to complete the final arming of the nuclear device. When the device is dropped out of the bomb bay a small propeller device would begin rotating and satisfy one of the remaining arming requirements, the last one would be satisfied when the devise had reached the altitude it was supposed to detonate. The nuclear devise in the bomb bay was set to detonate at one thousand feet above the Moscow surface.

I pulled on my eye protection googles. The cloud cover provided no protection against the intense light and gamma rays that would be emitted when the weapon exploded. All this seemed so surreal.  

 We were above the cloud cover when we reached twenty thousand feet, but Moscow could be seen as a pale glow of light through the clouds, a big bullseye,  adequate since close is good enough when dealing with nuclear devices.  I gave the pilot a heading that would put us over the glow, opened the bomb bay doors, released the bomb to fall approximately in the middle of Moscow. I didn’t feel the lift experienced when an item that weighs ten thousand pounds is dropped from the plane.  

Neither did the pilot, whose voice came on the intercom, “What happened? I didn’t feel a release.”

I looked at my panel and could see the bomb-bay-door-open light was on. The bomb-bay-door should have closed after the devise was released. “Something is wrong” I answered. “Looks like the weapon didn’t release.”

I felt what seemed to be a tremendous load being lifted from my shoulders. We had followed our orders, carried them out successfully until the moment the bomb didn’t release and hundreds of thousands of humans were still alive. If there is a God, thank you.

“What to hell,” the pilot exclaimed, “We have a hot nuke on board,”

The co-pilot asked, “What’s the plan?”

During this conversation the plane continued the heading it had been on when the weapon was to be released. That was ok since that is what was planned, however not with the weapon still in the bomb bay. Further evidence that something was amiss, we had not experienced the bright light emitted when the weapon detonated and being buffeted by the shock waves being emitted. .

There had been a long pause after co-pilots question.  I was thinking, what would my Pa do. This was Pa’s kind of problem and he would have a solution, and one he could fix with the tools he had.

I attempted to set the altitude the nuclear weapon would activate from my weapon control panel, but it didn’t respond. The only thing now needed fully activate the nuclear weapon once it reached a thousand feet above the surface was a small rotating propeller that would complete the activation when the weapon fell away from the aircraft. I told the pilot to drop us down ten thousand feet and gave him a new heading.

 The pilot asked , “Heading to where, what about the lock and loaded nuke in the bomb bay?”

“We will have to take care of the bomb problem on the way to our destination, Incirlic Air Base in Turkey. W will drop down to ten thousand feet so we don’t have to work on our problem when pressurized, but not so far that the weapon could be activated. 

Anybody have a Swiss Army knife?” I asked.

The co-pilot replied, “Wouldn’t ever leave the house without one. Why?”

“Throw it down here,” I replied, “I want to cut a hole in the bulkhead between me and the bomb bay.”

I noted on my nav panel altimeter that Richard had started dropping down from twenty thousand feet. I could start working on breaking into the bomb bay without worrying about cabin pressure when or if I could do it.

I soon determined that the Swiss Army Knife saw couldn’t do the job. The gauge of the Aluminium was too heavy.  

I looked around my space. There was a bombsight mounted next to the navigators table. I noticed it was mounted on a base consisting of two aluminum bars about a foot long, four inches wide and half an inch thick. Philips head screws held the bombsight to Aluminum bars and the bars were held to the plane deck with more Philips head screws. The Swiss Army Knife had a Philips head screwdriver in its repertoire but that looked like a lot of screws for the fragile Swiss Army Knife to handle.  The bombsight was raised on a pedestal about a foot and a half high. Without giving it too much thought I sat down on the plane deck, braced my feet against the navigation table, put my arms around the bombsight and leaned back. One of the Aluminum bars pulled lose, still attached to the bombsight and while the other one stayed attached to the plane deck but detached from the bombsight. I found the screws attaching to the deck and to the bombsight had been loosened up and could be removed using the Swiss Army Knife. I had two heavy pieces of metal to work with.

I used one bar as a wedge and the other one as a hammer. I placed the end of the wedge bar next to a row of rivets and began pounding on the bar used as a wedge with the other bar being used as a hammer.

When I started pounding the pilot wanted to know what in hell I was doing. if I was destroying the aircraft.

I replied that I was trying to break a hole in the bulkhead to get a look at the weapon and then resumed my pounding. After pounding on the wedge bar for a long time I began to wonder if my arm or the aluminum bulkhead would give out first. Finally, a small crack opened in the bulkhead. Then by working on the small crack with the wedge bar I opened a hole large enough to push the wedge bar into it. I then used the wedge bar as a lever to peel back the aluminum far enough to put a hand through or see into the bomb-bay.

I reported to the crew that I had broken a hole large enough to see into the bomb-bay with a flashlight.

Using the flashlight I could see that the weapon tail end hung loose while the front end was being firmly held by the front hanger. Also the hanging tail kept the bomb-bay doors from closing.

The pilot asked what I was seeing, and I described the situation to him.

“How stable does the situation look?” The pilot asked.

“Hard to tell,” I replied. “If the nuke doesn’t fall free before I can reach it with one of my bar and mash the propeller it will be safe. I’m reaching with my bar now. OK, its well mashed up we should be safe. Drop us down to five hundred feet.”  

We were over the Ukraine’s nice flat terrain with few obstacles cruising at five hundred feet.  It continued to puzzle me why there was no  response from Soviet defense forces after flying thousands of miles through Russian airspace.  I mentioned this to the crew.

“Suits me” the co-pilot answered. “I had considered bombing Russia a suicide mission. “

“It is” I answered. “Assuming other planes are successful.”

The pilot agreed,  “Everything seems so quiet and peaceful, this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.”

“Peace on earth, good will to all,” the co-pilot replied.

They reached the Black Sea and continued flying at five hundred feet over the water until they reached a position over international waters where they climbed to ten thousand feet and attempted to make contact on the air force communications network.  

The co-pilot handled the communications. He wasn’t getting any response to his calls to the Airforce base at Incirlic. He went to different frequencies. He tried Turkish airways.  Same result.

Finally he called me on the intercom. “Nav, could you look at our radios. We should be able to communicate with somebody. I’m not getting anyone. Something must be wrong.”  

I had gotten the reputation as the fix it guy in our crew. I could usually fix problems or figure out a way to work around them. Must have inherited some of my Pa’s tinkering ways.

The communications equipment rack was in a un-pressurized portion of the plane but accessible through a access cover which when removed put the planes transmitters and receivers within reach.

After removing the cover I asked the co-pilot to transmit something. There is a power output indicator on front of the transmitter, and it indicated a strong signal when the co-pilot was transmitting. There were two receivers that provided dual redundancy. One receiver had an obvious problem. It was cold, no power, the other one had power. There was a phone jack to connect directly into the receiver. I plugged my earphones into the receiver that had power. A functional receiver would have background noise, this one did not. Back to the other receiver, an obvious problem, a circuit breaker had been tripped. I reset the circuit breaker and I heard background noise. So much for dual redundancy. Both receivers were down for different reasons.

I called up the co-pilot on the intercom, “OK you should be able to communicate” I said.

The co-pilot was soon able to communicate with the Incirlic Airforce base and identified our plane. All of us in the plane were monitoring the conversation. There seemed to be some confusion at the other end, then a voice requested our planes identification again. Then asked for the origin of the of the plane’s  flight. Then it asked for the names of the crewmen.

The co-pilot supplied the information needed and then added that we had a hung nuclear device in the plane.  

There was a long pause in the communications and the pilot came on the intercom, “Do you think?”

I replied, “I do, we might have been recalled and never got the message”

“Damn,” the pilot replied.

Meanwhile the co-pilot who wore many hats, including fuel monitoring, had more good news and informed the pilot that we don’t have enough fuel to make Incerlic.”

About this time two F86 fighter plans appeared on our wing and were looking us over.

Incirlic finally came back and ask for more information.

The co-pilot described the nuclear device hang up and that we couldn’t close the bomb bay because one end of the device was hanging down and preventing closing and that we were running low on fuel and would not be able to reach Incerlic.

There was another long pause and then the voice said the plane could not land at Incirlic with a nuclear device hanging out of the bomb bay.

“Don’t worry,” the co-pilot replied, “We don’t have enough fuel to reach Incerlic, where in Turkey do you want to crash this thing. ” Erich appreciated the sarcasm, They had been flying for twenty hours and being reasonable was becoming difficult.

Incerlic must have gotten the message that the B47 with the hung nuclear device would be coming down in one form or another soon and it would be best if it didn’t happen in a random way. A message was received from Incerlic that a refueling plane was in the air and would soon be in contact with them.

We were approaching the northern coast of Turkey and Turkish airways asking for information. Incirlic interceded and got us cleared for an overfly. We soon made contact with the refueling aircraft and took on fuel.

As we were refueling, I was thinking I hadn’t eaten the second C ration, we had been flying for twenty hours and I wasn’t hungry or tired. We had been surviving on adrenaline for a long time.  It also occurred to me that I was a long way from that farm in South Dakota, in a different world about which I couldn’t talk about and probably wouldn’t want to talk about. Strange, I thought, things happen in one’s life for which you don’t expect, don’t plan for, are not prepared for but you go along with whatever it is , like pulling a lever to releases a nuclear weapon that would have killed hundreds of thousands of people, but for the grace of God who causes it to hang up. Humans are capable of pulling that lever as if it were normal part of a job.  I’m capable of doing that, why, how?  

After refueling Incirlic came up with directions on what to do about the bomb. They instructed us to drop the nuclear weapon off the coast in the Mediterranean near Incirlin in shallow water. .

The co-pilot’s voice sounded exasperated, “We can’t drop it, it is hung up.”

Incerlic said the other option was to ditch the plane in the the Mediterranean near the shore.

The pilot announced on the intercom that we would try the throw the bomb maneuver, something the Airforce had determined should not be done with the B47 because of the strain on its fragile wings. In this maneuver the plane would make a low approach to the target, then pull up steeply and release the bomb when there was a strong gravitation force that would throw the bomb clear of the aircraft. It might work if the plane didn’t fall apart.

We made fast decent to near sea level, picked a lot of airspeed, the pilot pulled back sharply and we shot up pulling a lot G’s which if that didn’t break the nuke lose nothing would. Suddenly the plane began to role, the pilot screamed into the intercom, bail out, we’ve lost a wing!

 I had no choice but to use the unreliable downward ejecting system. I didn’t hesitate, pulled the lever and found myself thrown from the spinning aircraft We were over a thousand feet when the plane broke apart, plenty of time for my chute to open before I hit the water. I saw two other chutes floating down and we all hit the water at about the same time. I got my life jacket inflated and untangled from my chute by the time I was picked up by one of several boats that had been dispatched to the area to respond to whatever occurred.

It took about half an hour for the boat to get us back to a landing where an ambulance met us. By this time, I was feeling the effects of not sleeping for twenty-four hours, having only eaten one C ration during that time and spending over twenty of those hours flying under stressful conditions. A meal and a bed were at the top of my list of things to do. It was not to be. We had our clothing removed, showered, found to be tired, but healthy by the medics. We were given clean uniforms, then we were interviewed by three serious looking Airforce officers. Yes, we had flown through the full width of Russia, prevented from nuking Moscow by a malfunctioning bomb release. We were following Airforce procedures. We had not been recalled from completing the mission, opened our on-board sealed orders and proceeded to carry out those orders. And yes, we had determined that neither of the redundant receivers were functioning when we tried to contact Incirlic Airforce Base.

After completing the interview one of the officers doing the interview, a colonel, reminded us that we all had top secret clearances and that we were aware that we did not divulge information about our missions to anyone unauthorized to know about them and particularly this mission you have just completed.

It seems that two counter balancing failures May have prevented an all-out nuclear war from occurring.  

As far as I know, the Russians may never have known about the almost nuking of Moscow.  If they had they may have suppressed the information, not wanting to admit to the Russian people that a US military aircraft had penetrated Russian airspace and flew undetected across the breath of the country.  

As for myself I returned to Pa’s farm after completing my active duty obligation. We built a state-of-the-art machine shop, and started a company called Original Design. We did custom design work mostly for the agricultural machine manufacturers but also the auto industry. We didn’t do manufacturing but did do protypes and proofing and testing of concepts. We trained some South Dakota farm kids to be become skilled mechanical craftsmen who built and tested prototypes. We also hired an electrical engineer and a couple of technicians as we incorporated electrical and electronic features into our designs. I introduced my Pa to the concept of patents, and we had  a lawyer that spent most of his time in researching, filing and protecting patents we generated.

I never talked to anyone about the missions I flew in the Airforce, and particularly not about where a receiver failure caused the crew to overfly Russia and would have dropped a nuclear bomb on Moscow except that another failure caused the bomb to hang up. I look around our neighborhood which has not changed much during my entire life and think, thank God for failures.

Copyright © 2019 by Alfred Wellnitz

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this short story are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.

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