The Last B-36 and the people
who saved it from destruction.


 

NOTICE:

This page contains a very brief and highly-condensed version of the story contained in B-36: Saving the Last Peacemaker Third Edition.

 

As time and technology advanced, capabilities of the B-36 were eventually surpassed by aircraft of more recent design.  After a decade of maintaining world peace, the entire B-36 fleet was replaced with the all-jet Boeing B-52.  Convair made a futile attempt to save their bomber program by modifying two B-36 airframes into an all-jet design that was designated YB-60.  During contract competition with Boeing, the performance of the B-52 exceeded the B-60 in all parameters.

 

Photo by Ben Whitaker via 7th Bomb Wing B-36 Association.

 

As the B-52 was phased into the Air Force's inventory, the remaining B-36s, with few exceptions, were sent to Davis-Monthan AFB at Tucson, Arizona for materials reclamation.

 


Stripped and waiting for destruction.

 

Marking the end of its era, B-36J-III-10-CF, s/n 52-2827A, rolled off the Convair assembly line on August 14, 1954, and was then assigned to the 92nd Bomb Wing at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Washington.

The last B-36 was delivered during a public ceremony by retired Gen. Joseph T. McNarney, Convair president, and accepted by Maj. Gen. Francis H. Griswold, vice commander of SAC.

Mason Ripp, navigator on the flight to Spokane, recalls that after the ceremonial speeches were concluded, the crew ran to the plane, started the engines much quicker than normal, took off and then buzzed the reviewing stand after a screaming dive.   They then set a new speed record for the flight from Carswell to Fairchild.  Maj. Laurence M. Nickerson, 33, of Thorndike, Maine, was aircraft commander and headed the 13-man crew.

The airplane was later assigned to the 95th Bomb Wing at Biggs AFB in El Paso, Texas.

On February 12, 1959, less than five years after it was delivered to the Air Force, the last B-36 made its final flight back to Fort Worth as part of an operation officially nicknamed "Operation Sayonara".  The Air Force at that time loaned the airplane to the city of Fort Worth to be placed on permanent display at Greater Southwest International Airport-Amon Carter Field (GSW).

With 23 people onboard, the airplane left Biggs at 11:00 a.m.  An Air Force C-123 had departed earlier and was filled with dignitaries who would participate in a retirement ceremony at Amon Carter Field.

Thousands of GD and Carswell personnel, excused from their duties to witness the flyover, had lined their shared runway for the event that was to include a touch-and-go landing.  Hearing of the cancellation, many wept openly as they returned to their jobs.  Thousands more who waited in downtown Fort Worth for the low-level pass over the city were also disappointed by the cancellation, but cheered loudly as they heard the airplane fly by in the clouds and fog.  As the airplane continued east, schools and businesses in nearby Arlington recessed briefly to permit a glimpse of the bomber as it descended for its final landing.

The airplane touched down on schedule at 2:55 p.m.  Aircraft Commander Maj. Ferdinand J. Winter had been instructed to adjust taxi time after landing to assure an arrival in front of the reviewing stand at promptly 3:00 p.m.

It was met by representatives of the military, local governments, school groups, former crew members, factory workers, the press and a local R.O.T.C. band playing "The National Anthem"  for a tearful decommissioning ceremony under the overcast and foggy sky.

General Curtis E. Lemay, recovering from surgery, sent his apology for not being able to attend the ceremony.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, title to the airplane was transferred to the Air Force Museum and its custody was assigned to the City of Fort Worth.

 

Photo by Frank F. Kleinwechter Jr.
February 12, 1959 at GSW

 

The ceremony ended with the playing of "Taps" for the bomber at 4:25 p.m.

Now officially named "City of Fort Worth", the airplane was rolled across a grassy field on heavy steel matting and placed on display on the main approach to the airport terminal building in a memorial park that was constructed and donated by the Amon G. Carter family through the Amon G. Carter Foundation.  Nearly 4000 people were present for the park dedication ceremony on May 17, 1959.

 

Photo by Roland R. Raven
March, 1959 at GSW

 

Members of the Convair Management Club and hundreds of Convair employees volunteered to prepare the airplane for display.  Several thousand people toured the airplane during the following years.

 


5/70
As it sat for many years at GSW.

 

While being displayed in the park, weather and droppings from thousands of birds that nested in the airplane caused severe corrosion to many parts of the plane.  Vandals and souvenir hunters broke into it numerous times and inflicted heavy damage to the interior and the flight deck.

After hosting thousands of visitors for the next ten years, the airplane was evicted from its park due to closing of GSW.  Of the different plans suggested for its rescue, the most ambitious was made by Sam Ball, a Convair aeronautical engineer.  He proposed  the airplane be restored sufficiently to allow it to fly to nearby Meacham Field where it would be further restored and maintained as a flying museum.  The Peacemaker Foundation was established to achieve this goal and Ball received permission from the City of Fort Worth to restore and fly the plane.

Severe damage to the cockpit and instruments inflicted by vandals who ravaged the airplane with  fire axes and hammers was a major impediment to the flyout attempt.  Only one complete set of engine gauges survived the carnage and they had to be rewired to each engine in turn as they were started.  Work progressed while a world-wide search for instruments was undertaken.

 


2/71
Fuel was supplied from drums as the engines were started.

 

All six piston engines were started before the project was halted.  One engine was allowed to run for 15 minutes and operated flawlessly after sitting idle for nearly 12 years.

Alarmed by the possibility of the airplane becoming airworthy, the Air Force decreed that work cease on the flyout effort.  They explained that the airplane would be a threat to national security and would be a huge safety hazard if allowed to operate under civilian control.  Their announced plan to repossess the bomber launched a long series of negotiations with the City of Fort Worth who came under intense local pressure to save the plane.

During the next two years, work on the airplane scaled down while negotiations continued with the Air Force.  The work performed was primarily to repair vandalism that had inflicted heavy damage to the plane.  The search for instruments continued and intensified by some as many other disheartened volunteers drifted away.

 

Photos by Ed Calvert.  Composite by Bob Harrington.

 

With time running out due to the March 31, 1974 closing date set for the runways, a valiant last effort was made to fly theairplane to a new location.  The Air Force hinted that, under the right circumstances, it might grant permission for a single short flight.  This raised hopes that a future exception might also be received for additional flights so a scramble for volunteers, money, and qualified flight crews ensued.

Several B-36 qualified pilots were located and asked to fly the airplane if they were selected to do so.  Beryl Erickson of Aspen, Colorado, the first man to fly a B-36, agreed to fly it if he was chosen.  Erickson observed that if a flight any longer than 3 miles to DFW were contemplated, the airplane would have to be virtually completely restored.

Key to the success of Ball's venture was obtaining title to the airplane from the Air Force and locating a suitable site for it.  The managers of Fort Worth's Meacham Field by this time were reluctant to have the bomber because they were having a space problem and were even trying to get rid of a derelict PBY.  The new managers of the soon to open DFW Airport were simply too busy to be bothered with it.

The Air Force steadfastly refused to transfer the plane's title to a civilian group and as a result, the Peacemaker Foundation failed to receive tax-exempt status from the I.R.S.  This proved to be the death knell for the Foundation as donations stopped and volunteers quit the project.

With backing from the Department of Defense the Air Force repossessed  the bomber from the City of Fort Worth, again claiming that if it was operational it could be stolen and used for terrorist attacks on nations to our south.  They cited the lack of secure (guarded) storage of the operational strategic bomber as one of many reasons for not wanting it to fly.

Custody of theairplane was then transferred to the new Museum of Aviation Group (MAG) that was negotiating with DFW Airport for space to display the plane.

 

Copyright by Richard Marmo
MAG's volunteers worked quickly to move the airplane from Peacemaker Park.   Facing threats from the City of Fort Worth to scrap the plane, MAG moved it a short distance to a concrete apron adjacent to GSW's terminal building where it was completely reassembled.

 


12/76

 

Negotiations for display space at DFW failed and MAG located a new site just outside the south gate of General Dynamics (formerly operated by Convair) and named it Southwest Aerospace Museum (SAM).

 


4/78
After nearly three years of disassembly and transportation to its new home outside the south gate of General Dynamics, the plane's main wing section waits its turn to be moved.  The wing was moved on November 12, 1978.

 

After the airplane was moved, it was reassembled and displayed, along with other aircraft, at the Museum of Aviation Group's site.  Ironically, the airplane shared center stage at the museum with its nemesis, a Boeing B-52.

Mag's directors later voted to dissolve MAG and incorporated the Southwest Aerospace Museum (SAM).

 

Photo by Wendell Montague
As it was at the Southwest Aerospace Museum.

 

In the years following the plane's reassembly and display at its new home, more hard times befell it.  Lack of maintenance allowed further deterioration and then, with the closing of Carswell AFB, the number of visitors to the site dwindled.   It was suggested the airplane might eventually be scrapped if it was not again rescued.

 


Used with permission of Lockheed Martin

In 1993 SAM and the Aviation Heritage Association merged to save the plane.  With full support from the City of Fort Worth, it was moved into a hanger at Air Force Plant 4, now operated by Lockheed Martin, where it was beautifully restored for a museum that never materialized.  The aircraft was later moved to Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona.

 

The website of JOHN HENDERSON will provide more information and pictures of the restoration.
JOHN'S B-36 PEACEMAKER PAGE

 

ProWeb Fort Worth's website for:
B-36: SAVING THE LAST PEACEMAKER

 


May, 1998 at Carswell JRB open house.

 


 

To learn the status of this aircraft today, see the website of Pima Air & Space Museum.

 

 

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NOTICE

The third edition of
B-36: Saving the Last Peacemaker
will be released in October 2006.

 See www.prowebfortworth.com for details

Watch this website for new information, or E-mail or call ProWeb at (817) 534-0209.

 

Edited 10-01-06