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Christmas excitement drawn from past

Noel Allard comments on an archived Mystery Airplane column with the headline: B-36D BOMBER LANDS AT MINNEAPOLIS

 

November 1, 2018

Photo courtesy of Noel Allard

B-36D on the snowy ramp at Minneapolis' Wold-Chamberlain Field, December 23, 1951. Note the props are feathered on two engines; engine shutdowns being the reason for an emergency landing. The tightly cowled Pratt & Whitney R-4360 motors were a constant source of problems for the big bomber.

Going back in the old Mystery Plane Contest files from the days when I wrote the column, I was enthralled by a Christmastime event and the response I received from you FLYER readers. Let me explain.

During the tensions of the Korean War, the US nuclear strike force included an awesome weapon, a high-altitude, long-range, ten-engine bomber which we were fairly certain could strike at the heart of the Soviet Union.

The SAC B-36D aircraft was like nothing else. You only have to watch the opening scenes of the movie, Strategic Air Command to remember the sight and sound of a B-36 flying overhead. The Twin Cities were on the route of these giants as they flew their training missions from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota.

On December 23, 1951, one of these aircraft suffered the loss of two of its reciprocating engines and contacted Wold-Chamberlain Field to make an emergency landing. The field was not the best place to land this heavy bomber – the runways were too narrow and short, the pavement was sufficient for passenger aircraft but questionable for a heavyweight.

Nevertheless, this was an emergency and the ship was welcome to land on runway 29L, which it did with little fanfare. The big plane taxied to the center of the airport, where it was soon surrounded by security guards. It would stay for nearly two weeks as technicians from Ellsworth arrived to undertake maintenance, the bomber crew having a holiday away from home.

It is said that one wheel broke through the concrete as it was undergoing repair and the plane had to be moved to another, firmer spot. Once repaired, the crew boarded and ran up the engines, then, to their satisfaction, taxied to the end of the runway for takeoff.

An Air Guardsman, Bill Brunner, who was a Supply Clerk, was on duty that night and tells the story of eye-witnesses in a wonderful, but unpublished book about the Air Guard "...hello cousin, this is subway..." Brunner and the whole Air Guard workforce were let out to watch the takeoff, as were other airport employees from all over the field. Brunner tells the story:

"Out on the field, they positioned themselves for an unobstructed view of the runway. The sound of the approaching bomber drowned out any possibility of further conversation. An air of expectancy fell over the audience. The lumbering giant paused at the end of the taxi strip to let a commercial DC-3 take off and clear the area. That airliner had a reputation for becoming airborne swiftly and many eyes made a mental note of the point at which its wheels left the runway.

As the DC-3 faded to a black speck in the sky, the B-36 moved onto the runway and paused as though debating whether to try it or not. Surely those SAC pilots must realize the futility of their intention and would turn back while there was still time. This was the moment of truth. It was not their courage that was being tested so much as their judgment.

That terrible noise built up again and the bomber began its take-off roll. While still moving at a snail's pace, there appeared black streams of exhaust from the very tips of the wings (two J-47 jets on each wingtip) – and the nose of the aircraft actually tilted upwards! What followed simply was not believed by those who witnessed it.

That huge metal contraption left the ground at what appeared to be a certain stall speed and proceeded to climb at close to a 45 degree angle! While appearing to be just hanging stationary in space, it continued to rise at that angle until it leveled off at around 5,000 feet.

That B-36 had actually used less runway for take-off than the DC-3 that proceeded it! Impossible and absolutely unbelievable! Except that it happened, witnesses by several hundred pairs of eyes!"

It was said that in the surrounding communities, ceilings cracked, dishes rolled off shelves and people rushed outdoors to see what was going on. Now, here's the fun part for me. I used the picture of the airplane, the same one you see here, in the Mystery Plane column in February, 2000.

In April, I received no less than 40 responses (top that Tom Lymburn). All responders knew the airplane, but only seven recognized the location as Minneapolis. Nine other locations were suggested.

Don't know if you can see it in this picture, but "Mid-Continent" is visible on the hangar in the background. This story was confirmed by several of the respondents who also witnessed the event.

I also received tons of information about the B-36 and its history. I just looked through all forty responses, which I saved, and they came from a lot of the same guys who are still responding to Lymburn's columns! I gave the magazine subscription to Tom Ryan, who wrote his answer from Florida.

 

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