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Comment on RB--47H article.

Reference the very nicely written article by Forrest L. Marion in the Fall 2006 issue of Air Power History, "A Hot Day in a Cold War: An RB--47 vs. MiG--17s, April 28, 1965."

I very much enjoyed the article of a Cold War encounter that is rarely mentioned by writers, rather focusing on the subsequent loss of the Navy EC-121 and the USNS Pueblo. as stated by Dr. Marion, the attack on the RB--47H in 1965 should have led to a much more conservative effort in regard to reconnaissance operations adjacent to North Korea, but it didn't. Not for Colonel Mattison's RB-47H and his crew, nor for the EC-121 or the Pueblo, was any effort made to provide timely air-cover if the need should arise. Sadly, no lessons were learned from the North Korean attack on RB--47H 34-290 by either air force or navy senior leaders of the time.

There are a few very minor issues in the article I would like to address. The lead picture for the article is of an RB--47K rather than an RB--47H--it should have been an H-model. The 55th SRW at that time consisted of three operational squadrons--two squadrons of RB--47H electronic reconnaissance aircraft (38th and 343rd, I served in the latter), and one squadron of RB--47K photo reconnaissance aircraft. The K-model was mostly used for pilot proficiency flying, and not used for PARPRO missions. The H-model was always easily identifiable by its blunt black radome nose, versus the photo nose of the K-model.

Further, the RB--47H was not a Silverking aircraft as stated, rather that was a modification to the electronic reconnaissance suit of the H-model providing improved recording capability among other things. As for Colonel Mattison asking his crew if they wanted to eject "over the runway" that is doubtful. The three Ravens in back had downward ejection seats, and any ejection, if attempted, would have taken place over water. I've flown over 100 PARPRO missions while serving in the 55th SRW, including many out of Yokota Air Base, and none of my pilots would have asked us Ravens to punch out over a runway. Mattison was one of our very best--without doubt, an ejection, if attempted, would have taken place over water.

Finally, the aircraft had a severe center of gravity problem caused by the cannon shell that punctured one of the rear fuel tanks. Non-flyers may not appreciate the importance of knowing your center of gravity, but it is fundamental to aircraft control. All Mattison knew is that he was getting nose heavy. Mattison also knew if he touched down nose-wheel first that he and his crew would most likely end up in an ever worsening porpoise leading to a fireball--the fate of many a B--47 crew. But at the very end Mattison did lose control, the aircraft got away from him, drove its nosewheel into the runway, and then began its deadly porpoise. How Mat and Hank kept that airplane under control is a mystery, but one of the great aerial achievements of that year which should have been honored with the Mackay Trophy or an equivalent. I am sure neither pilot ever forgot that landing, not to mention the three Ravens sitting in the aisle below the pilots.

Finally, to provide some perspective, I would like to note that in this secret war of reconnaissance, we the United States and the United Kingdom together only lost one aircraft over-flying the USSR, the U--2 of Gary Francis Powers on May 1, 1960. In contrast the peripheral PARPRO missions were far more deadly, and many US Navy and Air Force aircraft were lost over the years. Thank you for a fine article.

Col. Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, USAF (Ret.), Fairfax Station, Virginia.
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Author:Samuel, Wolfgang W.E.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Mar 22, 2007
Words:622
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