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  • Writer's pictureMatt Jolley

Stories From The B-47!

WARBIRD RADIO - Last week I had the privilege of talking to Colonel Fred Watkins (USAF Retired), and one of his many stories included his time in the mighty B-47. This is one of those airplanes you just don't hear much about. Colonel Watkins stories were great, because of the details, like deploying the drag chute before landing, so you could keep the engines spooled up incase of a go-around. Details like this, are being preserved by not only Warbird Radio, but also organizations like The Air Force Historical Foundation.

I honored to moderate the foundation's War Stories webinars, that happen on a bimonthly basis, and recently focused on Colonel Watkin's Vietnam experiences. His B-47 stories reminded me of similar stories told by friends who also flew this incredible airplane. First flown in 1951, the B-47 Stratojet answered the United States call (some say as far back as 1943), for a jet powered aircraft capable of carrying out reconnaissance and bombing missions. According to the a historical snapshot published by the Boeing Company, "The B-47 was the country's first swept-wing multiengine bomber. It represented a milestone in aviation history and a revolution in aircraft design. Every large jet aircraft today is a descendant of the B-47."

This past weekend while visiting the Air Force Armament Museum, I took a few minutes and walked around the B-47 on display, and reminisced about the stories of the B-47. When you're standing underneath it, you really gain an appreciation for the size of the aircraft and how advanced the technology was. The sweep of the wings makes it look fast even though it's parked, and I couldn't help thinking how cool this must have been walking up to it as a pilot for the first time.

Colonel Watkins was a fighter guy, but I don't remember hearing complaints from his interview about the B-47. To me, it's still impressive today. The Boeing Company's publication elaborates on the design and sheds some light on the origin of the design, which really comes as no surprise for aviation design enthusiasts, German. "Near the end of World War II, Boeing aerodynamicist George Schairer was in Germany as part of a fact-finding mission. At a hidden German aeronautics laboratory, Schairer saw wind tunnel data on swept-wing jet airplanes and sent the information home. Engineers then used the recently completed Boeing High-Speed Wind Tunnel to develop and design the XB-47, with its slender 35-degree swept-back wings."

Additional breakthrough designs included the engine pods, according to Boeing, "Another innovation pioneered on the B-47 was the concept of placing the engines in pods (nacelles) suspended under the wings. A pod containing two General Electric J-35 engines (GE J-47 engines for all production models) hung from each wing inboard, and a single engine hung farther out. The B-47 had tandem bicycle-type landing gear under the front and back sections of the fuselage. Small outrigger wheels on the inboard engines kept the airplane from tipping over when it was on the ground."

Today, it still looks graceful and impressive on the ground, but in the air it must have a thing of beauty beyond compare. Boeing says "Once airborne, the graceful jet broke speed and distance records; in 1949, it crossed the United States in under four hours at an average speed of 608 mph (978 km/h). The B-47 needed defensive armament only in the rear because no fighter was fast enough to attack from any other angle."

After walking around the Stratojet this past weekend, I'm on the hunt for some great stories to save for Warbird Radio. Such a pivotal machine, it deserves some attention! If you know of one, please drop me a line. I'd love to hear it.

Matt Jolley

Specifications of the B-47

First flight Dec. 17, 1947 (prototype XB-47) Model number 450

Classification Bomber

Span 116 feet

Length 107.1 feet

Gross weight 133,030 pounds

Top speed 607 mph

Max. range 4,990 miles

Ceiling 40,500 feet

Combat radius 2,358 miles

Power Six 7,200-pound-thrust GE J-47-GE-25 turbojet engines

Accommodation 3 crew

Armament Two 20 mm cannons, 25,000 pounds of bombs

Additional Reference Images

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