Personal items found in the wreck of #2075 were identified by markings left by their owner. He was one of the copilots of the plane on the night it was abandoned. Although his name has been published in other accounts of the crash, he has requested that it not be used here.
This interview was made on July 31, 1998 at the gentleman's home.
1. What was your reaction when you learned of the crash site survey and the recovery of your belongings?
A surprise! Although I knew the plane had been found years earlier.
2. Your reaction when you received the items from Doug Davidge?
It brought back memories of my other life with SAC. Since leaving SAC I've never looked back to those days. I have entered other phases of my life that I have always sought to live, and my past experiences are like a closed book that I seldom dwell on. I'm thankful that I have been blessed with three completely different lives during one lifetime.
3. When did you enter the Air Force?
In 1946 after graduating from West Point. My first assignment was at Enid, Oklahoma where I flew B-25's. I was transferred to Carswell in the same year and became a B-29 commander there. I became a B-36 commander in 1949.
4. When did you leave and why?
In 1951 when I left SAC to become Chief of Air Force Flight Test at Convair, Fort Worth. In 1957 I left the USAF to pursue an opportunity in industry, and in 1976 I entered Seminary to become a clergyman.
5. How did you become a commander (of an aircraft)?
By flying as a copilot for several months I would qualify as commander by demonstrating my proficiency with an aircraft. While at the Boeing plant in Wichita, Kansas, I became a B-47 commander after being given a manual for the aircraft to study, and I then flew it a few times with an assistant.
6. Other aircraft you've flown?
B-25, B-29, B-36, B-47, XC-99, and others.
7. Your opinion of the B-36?
I loved to fly it. When the jets were added to later models it was even better. It handled very well and it was well equipped and crewed. I am absolutely convinced that our having the B-36 during the years it was in service is the one thing most responsible for there being peace and stability in the world today. Given the attitude of the Soviets then and the fact that they knew that we were prepared and willing to respond to any aggressive act on their part was the only thing that prevented them from carrying out their goal of forcibly controlling all of Europe and other parts of the world as well. We can thank the B-36 for preventing this.
8. Were flights such as 2075 routine?
No. This was a "developmental" flight to perfect operational procedures for operating out of forward bases in the Arctic.
9. The Carswell/Eielsen roundtrip - describe the first half of it.
I had been at Eielsen for a couple of weeks prior to the flight. The planes were ferried there on the day prior to the flight and outfitted with munitions and equipment in preparation for the exercise. I used the free time to prepare for an exam that I planned to take in order to qualify for future re-assignment to graduate school.
10. What was the weather at Eielsen?
Minus 40 degrees, snow and wind. Miserable.
11. What sort of de-icing was done before takeoff?
De-icing was impossible in those conditions. The engines remained running at all times to provide de-icing heat for the aircraft. If the engines were stopped the oil would solidify.
12. The flight plan seems to call for a flight to Southern California and then to make a simulated bomb run on San Francisco from the south. Why the circuitous route?
I really don't remember our actual flight plan in detail. Perhaps it was to test air defenses along the California coast or to simulate a target approach similar to approaching a target in Russia.
13. Describe the 6 hours of the flight from takeoff to bailout. Your position and function?
Most of the time was spent climbing toward our 40,000 feet cruising altitude. We were very heavy with the full combat configuration and our top speed was less than 200 knots during the climb. I was acting as co-pilot for Capt. Barry. I volunteered to go on the flight as one of the copilots since the aircraft was permanently assigned to me. I wanted to be on the flight to be able to look after my plane.
The crew was busy performing tasks related to the exercise such as testing defensive systems, and gun handling.
14. What was the first indication of problems with the plane?
The flight engineers started reporting problems with the fuel mixtures in the engines. They were starting to run full rich. Any attempt to lean them above idle cutoff would fail. We then started experiencing multiple failures and none of them could be corrected. Then when the fires started in the engines we knew that we had to make plans for leaving the aircraft.
15. What was the reaction of the crew?
From my position in the cockpit it appeared that the crew was functioning normally while making preparations to leave the aircraft. They had been trained to follow procedures for this and they were doing their jobs.
16. Could anything have prevented the incident?
A follow-up investigation concluded that carburetor icing was the cause. The carburetors in most aircraft are located aft of the engine. This arrangement permits warmed air from the engines to flow around the carburetors and will prevent all but throat icing. In the B-36 with the rearward facing engines the carburetors were in front of the engines and thus constantly subjected to outside air temperatures. The carburetor design consisted of two separate chambers for intake air. The air fed two different sections of the carburetors. There was an opening in the baffle plate that separated the two sections that permitted a pressure balance to be maintained. It was conjectured that this opening became covered with ice and thus caused both halves to always run rich. In addition to this, the warm ocean currents that flow along the coast of B.C. causes heavy fog even in the coldest days of winter. This results in an abundance of moisture in the air above the coastline from which the ice would form. The constant rich mixtures soon caused a buildup of raw fuel in the exhaust systems that eventually ignited, causing the fires.
17. What type of bomb is used for a training flight? Why carry a bomb?
A real, fully functional, bomb that used lead for the core instead of plutonium. Without a real bomb the support systems could not be tested. There were some dummy bombs made of concrete that were used for load testing, but we weren't carrying one of those. This mission was to be as real as it gets short of war.
18. Was there a bomb core aboard?
Yes. But it was a "dummy" core made of lead instead of plutonium.
19. With the bomb in the bomb bay, how can the core and/or detonators be removed or installed during flight? Did you have to enter the bomb bay for this?
Installing the detonators is a ground-based job. They are not disturbed during flight. The spare detonators found in the wreck were probably just being flown back to Carswell. There were mechanical systems for handling the core, which were not installed for this flight.
20. What determines if a bomb is to be jettisoned in an emergency?
There are no SOP's for this. It is a judgement call at the time of need. I suggested to Capt. Barry that we must dump the bomb at sea because we were unsure of our position relative to inhabited areas on the ground and he agreed. The large amount of TNT in the bomb could have caused major damage where it would have impacted.
21. Describe the crew's activities after they learned they might bail out.
The plane was steadily losing altitude because of the loss of engine power. The flight engineers continued trying to coax the mixtures to no avail. The radio operator tried to report the situation. We knew that we might be heard only by other planes in the area because we were out of radio range of any ground station. We never knew if our transmissions were heard, as we received no response. Capt. Barry turned the plane out to sea so that we could dump the bomb and the dummy core. As soon as we were safely over the sea we dropped the bomb. It was set to airburst at 3000 feet. We were at about 8000 feet when the bomb exploded so we could see the flash as it exploded. One reason for exploding it was to prevent the Soviets from trying to find it later. The other crewmembers were busy preparing for bailout. They put on their parachutes and removed the observation blisters from the sides of the plane to provide openings from which to exit.
We knew that a water landing would be fatal because of the freezing temperature so Barry turned the plane toward land and ordered everyone out as soon as the radar indicated land beneath us. We were concerned about traveling very far inland before jumping because we believed there were high mountains along the coast that we would impact within a short period of time.
I pointed out to the other copilot, Capt. Schreier, that he had his floatation vest on over his parachute. At this time he and Barry and I were the last ones on the plane. Capt. Schreier was hurriedly removing his vest when Barry ordered me out. Barry exited after me. I never saw Schreier jump, and he is one of the missing men. No one knows if he did or did not jump except Barry, and he is now deceased. It is also interesting to note that the first four men to jump, two from the front and two from the rear, were also never found. It is assumed that the wind carried the first four back out to sea since they may have bailed out too close to shore.
As I jumped, I rolled over so that I could see the plane pass over me before my chute opened. I saw a brilliant blue/white streamer of fire trailing one engine for as far back as the tail of the plane. I thought that the fire had to be from the magnesium heat exchanger on that engine.
I found it incredibly hard to believe that it had crashed at a much higher altitude and 200 miles inland.
22. Could the cause of the plane flying 200 miles inland and gaining altitude before it crashed have been because the engine fires melted the carburetor ice thereby restoring partial power, and it then continued on the autopilot controlled course that was set to guide the plane over the bailout point?
I doubt it, but the functioning engines might have regained enough power to allow the plane to climb 2 or 3 thousand feet. I am very surprised that it could go so far and climb at all.
23. The official report mentions 2075's "sister ship" #2083 flying with you. Where was it and did it try to assist? How?
We didn't know where any of the other planes were. They each left Eielsen about twenty minutes apart and each had different flight plans. All I know is that #2083 was in range of our VHF radio and heard our distress call, but we didn't learn this until later.
24. Were you able to see where you were landing? What survival gear did you have?
No. It was totally dark and foggy. We had the typical survival kits of that time. This included chocolate bars, a first aid kit, a knife, some water and other items. We were still wearing our "dry" suits. The plan called for us to change into "wet" suits during the flight, but we had not done so. The dry suits were made of a porous material that would "breathe" to allow for air circulation and drying of perspiration. This proved to be a major problem for all of us because our clothes soon filled with water and we remained cold and wet until we were rescued.
25. Describe your landing and your first experiences on the ground.
My chute snagged in a tree and I hung there for several minutes. It was dark and foggy and I couldn't see the ground. I hung there for awhile until my chute ripped and dropped me until the chute snagged a lower branch. I could still not see the ground. As my eyes adjusted I could see the snow beneath me so I released the chute first from the lower part of the harness and then from the top. I fell onto a steep slope and started rolling down hill. I immediately stopped my roll and started climbing back uphill. I reached a rock overhang that provided me a dry area free of snow and I wrapped some of my parachute around me and went to sleep.
26. When did you encounter Captain Barry and Sgt. Trippodi?
After daylight I moved downhill to look for a stream that I could follow to the coast. I knew that I would be more visible to rescuers from the coast than from the rugged terrain I was in. After traveling only minutes I heard a gunshot and then a voice. It was Capt. Barry. We eventually met and continued following a stream downslope.
After perhaps an hour of stepping through crusty snow and ice into the water underneath we heard a shout. After a lengthy search we spotted Trippodi hanging upside down from the top of a cliff. He had impacted the cliff face and his chute had snagged the edge of the cliff. Dazed, he evidently released the top of his harness from the chute before releasing the bottom and flipped upside down. His foot became snagged in the cord and he hung there in the cold wind until we found him.
27. Describe Trippodi's situation and how you were able to get him to the coast? How long did you wait on the beach for rescue? Describe your trek to the coast.
Barry reached him before I did and pulled him from the cliff. We found a dry recess in the rocks and made him a bed of tree branches. We made a fire and warmed him up, gave him our rations, and stayed with him. He was very weak and almost delirious. After a long miserable night we realized no one would find us while we were in that location and that Trippodi's only hope was for Barry and me to continue to the coast to find help. The decision for both of us going was based on our survival training that taught us to never strike out alone to find help. A single person will often not survive the journey. Barry and I continued to the coast. Once there we stamped out an SOS in the snow on the beach and filled the impressions with tree boughs so as to make them more visible from the air. We arrived at the coast completely soaked and very cold. Several hours passed and then we saw a local fishing boat and hailed to it. We were spotted and rescued and a mountain team was sent to find Trippodi. They found him near death from exposure but managed to remove him from the mountain.
28. When Lt. Pooler was found, why was his evacuation so difficult?
I was not aware of those circumstances.
29. Can you describe the briefing ordered by Gen. Montgomery concerning any press statements you and the others could make?
There was no briefing that I remember. Since we dealt with secret information routinely, we simply never talked to reporters about anything. There was no reason to have a briefing about this.
30. Were any of the other crewmen close friends of yours? Do you maintain contact with any of them?
Yes, most of them were close friends at the time. No, I have not tried to maintain contact with them after leaving SAC. That part of my life is behind me.
31. Did you fly other missions after this one?
Yes, I flew many missions until I left SAC in 1951 to work as a test pilot in Fort Worth. I learned to love this work and it proved to be the most pleasurable time of my flying career. This also enabled me to pursue my plans to enter into what became a long business career as an engineer and marketer of computer systems.
I had flying experiences that were potentially more dangerous than the bailout in B.C. Once, while landing a B-36 at Carswell, two of the propellers reversed pitch while on final approach. Thankfully they were on opposite sides of the aircraft. Another B-36 had sunk in Lake Worth on the North end of the runway. The pilot of that plane reported that his props had reversed during takeoff and caused that mishap, but the investigation dismissed that as being impossible. With this in mind I managed to land the plane and I instructed the flight engineer to do nothing other than kill the engines. Normally the props are reversed and full power is applied to help stop the plane. After using the entire length of the runway to stop using only the brakes, I ordered the plane to be shut down and we just left it there. The follow-up investigation revealed that some cadmium plating on the limit switches that sensed the prop's position had flaked off and had shorted the wires attached to the switches, causing the prop's control system to erroneously reverse the pitch. This incident resulted in maintenance procedures that prevented future occurrences of this problem.
On another occasion while landing a B-36 at Carswell, as we were only a few hundred yards from touchdown, I heard the flight engineer yelling in my headphones to "Take it back up and go around!" I wasn't aware of any problem at the time, but I moved the throttles to full power and lifted back off. I turned to the engineer and said to him, "What's the problem? A landing abortion is supposed to be the commander's decision". He pointed to a wing and told me that one end of a flap had broken at the hinge and the flap was hanging at a sharp angle from the wing by the remaining hinge. By this time I was experiencing a severe handling problem with the plane trying to fly in a high drag and low power condition. The plane was almost uncontrollable and would not turn sharply, making a go-around impossible. We were flying over the densely populated Ridglea area of Fort Worth. I informed the ground to prepare emergency crews for a possible crash somewhere on the airfield and I managed to align the craft for a down-wind landing. Somehow the slipping turn ended with us on the runway and we managed to stop the plane with the flap dragging the ground.
32. How did the experience (with #2075) change your life?
It was just one of many experiences. My life is the product of all of them.
The most emotional experience I've had concerning my days in SAC was when, long after I had left the service, I stepped from a cruise ship onto the dock of a Russian city that had been one of our targets. Seeing that city from the ground, looking into the faces of the people there, totally overwhelmed me and I was immensely thankful that we never had to do what we had worked so hard to prepare to do. I could not speak with my wife who was with me for quite awhile until I had regained my composure. After thinking about it I realized that SAC, the B-36 and our flight crews are responsible for those people, and millions of others, being alive today
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