There were extenuating circumstances for the topsy turvy B-47 program. As Maj. Gen. Albert Boyd, the Wright Air Development Center's Commander, explained in 1952:
"There is a limit to what we can do, or for that matter, what anyone can do, toward developing a radically new airplane in record time, and we, no more than anyone else, are capable of pulling a rabbit out of our hats or cranking out a new aircraft that meets all the desires of the operating activities."
Yet, the impact of the B-47 slippage was serious from the start. To prepare for, operate, and maintain a weapon system as revolutionary as the B-47 presented a tremendous challenge.
SAC confronted numerous problems, some of them crucial. Bases had to be prepared for the B-47, particularly by lengthening runways. Since the aircraft's range did not meet requirements, air refueling was a necessity. This complicated matters. Extra troop housing, maintenance facilities, equipment and supply were needed to support B-47 squadrons and their accompanying KC-97 tankers. Taining problems came to the fore. Even the first 90 B-47s, finally earmarked for Air Training Command, were fitted with receptacles to teach both B-47 and KC-97 trainees the ticklish air refueling mating of a fast jet and a slow tanker. Briefly stated, the all jet B-47, with its crew of 3, played havoc with SAC personnel policies. Large numbers of people became excess, whereas hundreds of others were needed to fill specialties peculiar to jet aircraft. All kinds of mechanics and supervisors had to be retrained for the B-47. Moreover, SAC and other USAF commands never had used pilot observers. Since the B-47 demanded quadruple rated aircrewmen, ATC had to turn pilots into proficient navigators, bombardiers, and radar operators.
The production delay meant that conversion plans had to be shuffled many times over. SAC was told in 1949 to get ready for the early conversion of certain units to B-47 aircraft. It learned in September that 108 B-47s would be forthcoming during the years 1950 and 1951. In the spring of 1950, when, as some put it, if the Air Force was in the "jam;" it was because of the B-47, SAC refused to get into further trouble programming for conversions too far in advance of aircraft delivery dates. The command chose to go ahead with the 306th and 305th conversions, but to postpone deciding which other wings would convert to B-47s and in what order. Meanwhile. SAC had inherited a new problem. After both air and ground crew training had been rushed, SAC wondered how to keep crew proficiency when it had no planes to fly or to look after. Of small consolation, no such coverages existed in the K system and armament category where, besides technical factors, personnel training fagged for lack of tools, test equipment, and parts.
Then, slippage of the refinement program, which now appeared unavoidable, would further dilute the command's readiness. Each month lost forced SAC to be ready to fight with even more outmoded B-29s and B-50s. To make it worse, everyone knew that when at long last available, the modified B-47Bs would give SAC only a basic combat aircraft and that considerable modifications were still to come.
The program, due to begin in January 1952, involved the modification of 310 B-47Bs. Instead of 400, the first 90 aircraft went to Air Training Command as they were. The command later received 90 other B-47s. These planes had been through the refinement program, but their modification did not include the addition of the interim B-4 fire control system that was fitted in every B-47 modified for SAC. SAC expected its first modified planes in July and a monthly input of 75 by year's end. This was optimistic. As predicted by AMC, the Grand Central Depot of T1lcson could not possibly handle such a workload without greatly expanding facilities and manpower. This would take time and money, and neither could really be spared. The Air Force found a way out of its new dilemma. Boeing agreed to modify 90 of the aircraft (for about $10 million) and Douglas was also asked to help. Douglas agreed to modify 8 aircraft per month in Tulsa. Boeing promised to fix the planes in Tuscon, but saturation of the existing facilities changed this planning. To keep its commitment, Boeing shifted the work to Wichita. The contractor was actually able to modify 40 of the planes directly on the assembly line.
The original modification schedule nevertheless slipped. First, it proved difficult to assemble the necessary modification kits. Then, there were not enough kits. In September 1952, SAC's few B-47s were grounded because of serious fuel cell leakages. This again slowed the refinement program, since it obviously required an extra inspection of the aircraft being modified.
Yet, despite its shaky start, the program fulfilled its requirements. SAC received its first batch of modified B-47s in October-a 3 month slippage that was to prove of slight importance. The last modified B-47s flowed from the Douglas modification center in October 1953.
Back in late 1951, mechanical failures and a myriad of minor obstacles had caused the B-47 production to slip again. Yet, in the face of persistent shortages of contractor furnished equipment and government furnished parts, production took a turn for the better in the spring of 1952. The improvement soon gained momentum. By mid 1953, production was running smoothly and Boeing was rolling out new configurations (B/RB-47Es). Just getting started, Douglas, Tulsa, had already built 10 B-47Bs; Lockheed, Marietta, 7. In addition, two projects were in progress since January 1953. The first and most important one was Baby Grand. It was conducted by Boeing and would add the A-5 fire control system in 54 new B-47s (units 400-454). The other, Field Goal, was in the hands of Douglas. It would improve 86 (units 1-86) of the 90 unmodified B-77s, first allocated to Air Training Command.
Even though all modifications covered by the refinement program were incorporated into the production line of the 410st and subsequent B-47's, much remained to be done. Despite the Baby Grand modification, these aircraft, as well as the modified B-47Bs, did not meet the Air Force's expectations. There were other problems. In the hope of improving performance quickly, complex engineering changes had been introduced into the production line at approximately every fifth aircraft. This had essentially resulted in making the aircraft's maintenance far more difficult and its logistical support almost nightmarish. A standardization conference was held at Wichita in April 1953. There, Boeing's 731st B-47 production, a B-47E referred to as WIBAC Unit 731, was established as the SAC standardization bomber.
In June the Air Council reaffirmed the April decision and officially endorsed Boeing's WIBAC Unit 731 as the "improved combat configuration." It took the other 2 contractors little more than a year to follow suit. Douglas Unit 125, delivered in September 1954, and Lockheed Unit 128, delivered 1 month before, were the same as WIBAC Unit 731.
In the same month, Headquarters USAF approved Turn Around, an AMC modification plan that would bring 114 new B-47s (units 617-730) to the 731st configuration. The Turn Around plan was clever. The Air Force would conditionally accept the 114 aircraft, but leave them at the Boeing plant for modification. The same procedure could be followed on other occasions. In this first case, it would save more than $7 million by eliminating the costly process of bringing back 114 aircraft for modernization after delivery. Turn Around, however, did not address the problem presented by in service B-47s. This was to be covered by High Noon, a major modification and IRAN (inspect and repair as necessary) maintenance program, approved before the end of May.
SAC was always the first to seek further B-47 improvement. In the meantime, however, the command intended to make ample use of its newly assigned planes. After testing exhaustively in early 1953 the modified B-47B under simulated combat conditions, SAC decided the 306th (its first fully equipped wing) was ready for a 90 day rotational training mission to England. The 306th's deployment originated at MacDill and involved equal flights of 15 B-47s on 3, 4, and 5 June. Establishing a precedent that would be followed many times in the future, the B-47s staged through Limestone AFB, Maine, where they remained overnight before going on the next day. They landed at Fairford Royal Air Force Station on the 4th, 5th, and 6th of June. The 306th Air Refueling Squadron's KC-97s, crammed with support personnel and equipment, deployed on the same dates as the B-47s.
MacDill's 306th Air Refueling Squadron was the first unit to begin equipping with the KC-97 tanker. Its first aircraft, a KC-97E, was delivered on 14 July 1951. Outfitted with a flying boom and loaded with fuel tanks, the 4 engine, propeller driven KC-97 could fly fast enough to match the minimum speed of the B-47. It transformed the B-47 into an intercontinental bomber. Each KC-97 squadron was authorized 20 aircraft.
As far as SAC was concerned, proper support of the B-47s was of prime importance. In this regard, past production slippage had alleviated anticipated problems. Lagging supply programs had been able to pull abreast, and in some cases exceed wing requirements. For instance, the 306th had on hand nearly 90 percent of its equipment items by the end of 1951. Later, Snowtime, a project conceived by SAC, minimized supply difficulties. Snowtime required storage in only 1 depot (Rome, Griffiss AFB, N.Y.) of parts and equipment that would be needed at B-47 bases at the time of conversion. Sea Weed, a similar project for the overseas B-47 bases, after a tough debut, also helped.
The 306th stopped overnight at Ernest Harmon AFB, Newfoundland, and then flew on to Mildenhall Royal Air Force Station. Maintaining 1 or more bomb wings in the United Kingdom was nothing new. B-29 and B-50 wings had been rotating there since 1948. Just the same, the 306th rotational deployment was a milestone. Although a handful of specially modified B-45s had arrived in England in 1952, the move of the 306th there was the first routine deployment of a fully operational jet bomber wing. Moreover, the policy of maintaining at least 1 B-47 wing in England at all times would continue until early 1958. Once started, the deployments were uninterrupted. When the 306th's 90 day rotation was over, the 305th was ready. By the time the 305th's tour was nearing its end, the 22d Bomb Wing had completed the transition to B-47s and was poised for departure.
Although modified B-47Bs were indispensable either at home or overseas, the Air Force did not lose sight of its April 1953 standardization decision. Yet, SAC operational priorities made it necessary to adjust the High Noon program that was due to modernize the bulk of the early airplanes. As finally approved in June 1953, 165 (units 235-399) of SAC's 289 modified B-47s would first go to High Noon. High Noon was the code name assigned to the major modification and maintenance program, approved in May 1953. To the maximum extent possible, the rest of the early planes, including those remaining in SAC's inventory, would also be brought to the 731st configuration. This would be done under Ebb Tide, now organized as High Noon's second phase, but would not affect the AMC's 2 year IRAN maintenance program that had been attached to High Noon from the start. Ebb Tide was another code name, the use of which, like that of High Noon, simplified matters when dealing with a complicated standardization project of exceptional scope.
The High Noon contract was assigned to Boeing. The choice was logical since the first 399 B-47s had all been assembled by Boeing from Boeing parts. Moreover, AMC was confident Boeing could do the work better, faster and cheaper than anyone else. High Noon was essentially a retrofit kit installation. Nevertheless, it was a complicated task, calling for removal, rebuilding, and reinstallation of many component systems, as well as major revisions of the aircraft nose and cockpit. B-47s earmarked for High Noon began arriving at WIBAC in June 1954, and 36 of them had entered the modification line by February 1955. The first renovated B-47 emerged from its "face lifting" operation on 2 March. It featured ejection seats for all crew members, a bombing navigation system with improved reliability, (This was still the K system, but it had become more dependable as a result of Reliable, a separate modification project that had also simplified its installation and maintenance.) water-alcohol injection for thrust augmentation, an expanded rack for rocketbottle take off assist units, a modified bomb bay that could house the single sling, high density, thermonuclear bomb as well as more general purpose bombs, a reinforced landing gear for increased take off weight (202,000 pounds), the A-5 fire control system (in place of the B-4), the AN/ARC-21 long range liaison radio, (The problem of obtaining a satisfactory high frequency radio dated back to 1950 and remained of great concern to General LeMay in 1954. Because the AN/ARC-21 long range liaison radio was not available and its production continued to slip, 13 SAC wings used the Collins 18S-4. The command, however, did not relish having more aircraft fitted with this interim equipment.
Fortunately Project Big Eva, an accelerated test of the AN/ARC/21, concluded in February 1955 that the set perfomed creditably and would not require new maintenance skills.) and better electronic countermeasures equipment. There were no major problems during the High Noon modification of SAC's 165 B-4711s. The Boeing contract met its early 1956 completion date and was immediately replaced by Ebb Tide, which also took place in Wichita. Ebb Tide addressed itself to the first 324 B-47s built by Boeing. The program did not cover all the aircraft. Only specific lots, or about two thirds of the 324 planes, went to Ebb Tide. 3 Of these, selected from units 135-234, would undergo the same transformation as the High Noon planes and return to SAC in the configuration of WIBAC Unit 731. Another 108 of the early productions, out of units 1-134, would be modernized for Air Training Command. (The Air Raining Command planes, subsequently known as TB-47s, closely resembled SAC's B-47s, but they carried no defensive armament or electronic countermeasures equipment. They could not be air refueled and could not drop bombs. Also, take off and range were unimproved) In the process, they would exchange their J47-23 engines for the more powerful J47-25s of the other B-47Bs. Finally, 30 planes would be brought to the High Noon standard and be converted to director aircraft (DB-47Bs) for the forthcoming Rascal missiles. The DB-47Bs would carry the missiles to within 90 nautical miles of the target before launching and guiding them.
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