Special thanks are extended to Mr. Bill Plumlee for supplying Convair's photographs of this event and to C. Roger Cripliver for the Air Force photos. The narrative contained in this section was obtained from numerous eye witnesses to the tornado and its aftermath. These witnesses include Mr. Bill Plumlee, Mr. Joe N. Carr, Mr. Ben Fay, Mr. C. Roger Cripliver and a videotaped interview with the late Mr. Thomas Neely. Additional photographs and information on this event can be found in Magnesium Overcast and B-36 Photo Scrapbook, both by Dennis R. Jenkins.
On Labor Day, Monday, September 1, 1952, the 7th and 11th Bomb Wing's fleets of bombers were parked at Carswell AFB. At 6:42 P.M. a tornado made a direct hit on the base and scattered the huge planes like they were empty milk cartons. Thankfully, most base personnel were off-base for the long Labor Day weekend and those who reported for work the next day were turned away by base security due to fear of a major fire from thousands of gallons of avgas spilled from ruptured fuel tanks.1 Flight operations were hurriedly transferred to other military bases and to nearby Meacham Field.2
Approximately two-thirds of our bomber fleet was incapacitated that day, not by enemy action, but by a windstorm. Most of the planes were repaired and flying again in less than five weeks.3
Landing at Meacham Field throughout the night, Air Force officials began arriving at Col. Tom Gerrity's office (Commander of Carswell's 7th Bomb Wing) by 5:30 A.M. Tuesday morning. Starting at dawn and continuing through the day, the Air Force made a thorough assessment of damage and called for a meeting of upper Air Force staff to develop a repair plan. On Wednesday morning a meeting was held with Col. Tom Gerrity, Col. Carl Extrand (DM* 8th AF), General Irvine and General Kingston Eric Tibbetts (SAC DM*). It was decided the repair work would be apportioned 1/3 to SAC personnel, 1/3 to a Kelly AFB repair team provided they could get the money and necessary work platforms out of the War Reserve Stocks and shipped to Carswell, and the remaining 1/3 would be repaired at Convair.
The Generals approved the repair plan and later that day, Wednesday, held a meeting in Augustus Esenwein's (President of Convair Fort Worth Division) office and a one-page letter contract was executed by Col. Jim Ferry, Contracting Officer for General Irvine's staff, and Esenwein on behalf of Convair, for the repair of 25 aircraft. Six were covered under a CCN** to the production contract and nineteen under a repair contract. Never before had an Air Force Contracting Officer issued a one-page letter contract authorizing several million dollars worth of work. The contract issued by Col. Ferry was immediately approved by General Irvine who ordered the expenditure of monies in support of the repair. Later, a conventional contract was issued to replace the Letter Contract.4
Also on Wednesday a team of Convair employees headed by Tom Neely arrived at Carswell to assist Air Force personnel.5
Engineering, Quality and Production emergency response teams were quickly formed at Convair and the plant was put on an intense work schedule to provide assistance to the Air Force.6
Widespread tail section damage resulted in an intense demand for replacement parts. The Master Assembly Fixture for the vertical fin was limited to producing two assemblies per week and was the focus of an attempt to produce additional assemblies. Under the direction of Joe Carr, Manager of fin production, the production rate was increased to satisfy the demand. Other departments responded to the unusual demand in a similar manner and, by working around the clock, were able to provide all of the parts and assemblies that were needed.7
Convair was contracted to repair 25 severely damaged aircraft. 19 of these aircraft were Carswell-stationed aircraft and 6 aircraft were production aircraft still belonging to Convair and awaiting production delivery but were damaged before they could be delivered.8 Working jointly, Convair and the Air Force returned one plane to service in one week and another nine in less than two weeks. 51 more planes were back in service by October 5, and the remaining 19 were towed to Convair for rebuild. The last of these planes was back in the air on May 11, 1953.9
One plane, #2051, was blown completely off the pavement, across a field, and came to rest in a ravine adjacent to the South fence. Its fuselage was broken in half and the left wing and the tail assembly were severed. The plane was partially disassembled and a path was graded to the pavement to allow it to be moved back. Beyond repair, it was later shipped to New Mexico to serve as a ground test vehicle in a nuclear bomb test.10
Another plane, #5712, suffered extensive damage to its nose and cockpit and it was decided to convert it to the NB-36H nuclear reactor test aircraft.11
The photographs of the planes were made by Convair for damage assessment. Of the 419 photos, the 62 here were selected as being representative of the damage. Each picture is about 40K. They are identified by tail number.
* DM = Director of Maintenance
** CCN = Contract Change Notice
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Updated 27 August 2007