What's looking for a space on a shelf?
Shakin' rattlin' and rollin'!
Legends need at the very least some elements of truth, and this one was told by the RAF Liason Officer at 4 FTS Penhold in 1955, so of course it must be true. He had been an instructor with CFS at Little Rissington at the time when B-47s getting airborne from their base nearby flew through the CFS flying area; Little Ris ATC would when needed broadcast a general warning to all those on a local frequency when this was imminent. One day an intrepid pupil then asked the tower where exactly the smoking beast was, and was rewarded with a transatlantic voice announcing that it was on the runway "a-shakin', a-rattlin' and a rollin'!" I don't think that this was just an entry in the CFS line-book.
The B-47 Stratojet was indeed a fabulous beast, looking different from anything else, especially its early British contemporaries, when it appeared; with the exception of the Northrop XB-49 flying wing all its American competitors showed a direct relationship with their WW II predecessors. The introduction of sweepback and the consequent mounting of the jet engines under the swept wing resulted in a dramatic appearence and a succession of technical and development problems; the "bicycle" undercarriage alone helped the aircraft to stand out.
The Stratojet has featured in many of the books on my shelves since it was the sort of futuristic design that young aviation enthusiasts goggled at, but it wasn't until I started working through this very comprehensive life story that I discovered how many problems it presented its crews and engineers with. Seeing its appearances in the photos in Aeroplane and Flight it seemed to offer just with its futuristic shape a reassurance that it would present a swift and accurate response to any challenge; the use of some of the new data garnered from recent German research took Boeing in to realms of higher speed, and presented new problems covered in the very thorough account of its design, construction and development.
The story of its operations is equally extensive, notably for the variety of roles which the Stratojet was asked to take on in its fifteen years of service; and I was impressed particularly by the coverage of the attrition suffered by the type. This is set out in a substantial appendix with full accounts of each occurrence, and would be a fascinating book in its own right. The photo coverage is as always with Crecy extensive and well reproduced, and my early impression was that it was all in black and white; a more careful look revealed more colour than I had spotted, though for me and other enthusiasts of the era the b&w is redolent of the early cold war era, and the large proportion of the aircraft are finished in metal with white lower fuselages. For modellers the more colourful aircraft are those used for testing purposes, and there are some "weather" WB-47s with higher-visibility fnishes. I recall making the Hasegawa/Frog Stratojet on its appearance many years ago, and there has been a recent reappearance, though for space reasons it may be more attractive in 1:144th, in which scale Anigrand have produced some of the projected variants. My What If? head was intrigued to learn that the 47 was offered to both RAF and RAAF, and after some consideration politely declined; the sole example in non-US markings wore a maple leaf as a test-bed for Canada's Orenda engine, mounted in a nacelle on the side of the rear fuselage.
Given the novelty of so much of the design of the B-47 the development of airframe, engines and equipment took much time. The first aircraft flew on 17 December 1947, with the first operational crews trained towards the end of 1951. To those of us fron this era it's always been an "atom bomber", but it wasn't till six months after its first that the decision was made to fit the Stratojet with nuclear weapons. Its use was extended for various aspects of reconnaisance, some of which accounted for a variety of designations and a variety of lumps and bumps added to the original sleek airframe. As well as serving in its operation roles the aircraft saw considerable use and a testbed for for weapons and equipment both for itself and for other aircraft, and the many ways in which the multplicity of missions were fulfilled are covered in considerable and fascinating detail, as always one of the major strengths of this Specialist/Crecy series.
As well as the very complete and comprehensively illustrated narrative, there are four appendices, the first covering the production of the Stratojet airframe by airframe with painstakingly assembled detail; this is followed by an equally impressive account of attrition, its length reflecting the considerable number of aircraft built and the difficulties it encountered, not least because of the unknown areas in to which its design and handling led.
Jolly Old England revisited
At the time the USAAF returned to England it didn't seem long between the departure of the Eighth Air Force and the arrival of Strategic Air Command in much of the USAAF's old stamping ground of the south-east of England ; and of course there was a direct link in the formidable shape of Curtis LeMay. It was a welcome return, appreciated by many of us who took an interest in military aviation and the safety of Britain to which it was a major contribution until the final maturing of the V-Force, and it seemed like a reinforcement of what was thought of by many as a special relationship. The B-29 and B-50 seemed familiar, even though they hadn't been part of the Mighty Eighth, while the B-47 Stratojet became a major symbol of the SAC armoury while it awaited the expected substantial force of the B-52, and while still needing the accompaniment of its tankers brought the bombers considerably closer to their planned targets.
For many of us the B-47 is the persistent image of SAC operations in the UK, and author Robert S Hopkins III is also the co-author of the recent splendid tome on the Boeing bomber which became an icon in spite of the drawbacks the became evident in service. In the early days of SAC though - it was launched on 21 March 1946 - it was the earlier Boeings, the B-29 and B-50, that visited Britain firstly as bombers and subsequently as tankers and reconnaisance aircraft, both functions becoming prime roles for the command's British-based assets. The initial introduction of SAC aircraft was with small groups of visiting aircraft, and it took a while for the facilities to become established for the American aircraft on identified bases, and then for permanent locations to be established; though these were always named as RAF stations with an RAF station commander the facilities, both operational and domestic, grew more recogniseably American.
My instinctive reation to the mention of SAC , especially in the UK, it to think of them as being populated by bombers and their associated tankers, and indeed an epilogue is headed "It's all about the bombers"; but this book emphasises how much of the command's effort was associated with reconnaisance and intelligence gathering taking advantage, like their offensive wings, of relative closeness to their proposed targets. The first of three chapters on these tasks covers the big jets of various types - including the RAF-marked B-45s - and are profusely illustrated with maps clearly illustrsting their various operations, and there's a similar chapter each on the U-2 and the SR-71. Another covers the commands use of F-84s, both as escorts and later bombers, and of transports, including the mighty, if slow, C-124. Appendices, which are always a useful section in Crecy books, cover the SAC UK bases, including maps of the airfields, and the losses.
The political nature of SAC's being based in the UK, both in its internation ramifications and those with the host country, runs right through the book. Its many deployments and operations is comprehensively covered and as an aside for me given the secrecy in which all these activities were concerned I've always thought that the way in which these code names were devised and allocated had a fascination of its own. As with so many of the books in thse series from Crecy and Specialist Publications, while an invaluable source of nuggets of inspiration they deserve and repay being read as part of the narrative of our history.
And then there might have been...
You will have seen a reference or two by now to my shelves devoted to Crecy Publications' output with a strong core of real What If? designs, some of which have occasionally resulted in a few optimistic models, at least from me. One of the major threads of the my modelling is the chance to feature those unit - usually squadron - markings which are no longer worn, mostly those of fighter, and occasionally bomber, squadrons, a long-standing personal prejudice. The contents of this latest book in this series may offer me less opportunity for this, but some of the designs included are somewhat unusual and with a distinct if bizarre charm of their own; cover artists have an unerring eye for the eye-catching which I really appreciate. With one or two exceptions - that on the right being a prime example - most of them come with a high wing on a capacious fuselage, with either turboprop or jet engines paired with straight or swept wings respectively; these are notable examples of form following functions, which illustrates their prime task to carry vehicles or people to war.
This account starts with the entry of the United States in to the hostilities in 1941 - when the USAAF had about 30 DC-2s - and reaches a pause at the formalisation of the Cold War with the Cuban missile crisis (although it does include early supersonic designs); further progress will come with the second volume, in 2020. Many of the earlier "airfreighters" were conscripted civilian designs which had by 1945 evolved in parallel in to the foundation of the blossoming airline industry and which became familiar in Europe with the establishment of the Berlin Airlift.
By the end of the war the American industry was already producing prototypes designed to carry vehicles as well as troops, with the first to be produced in considerable numbers being the Fairchild C-82, its pod and twin boom layout being an influence for many years; and other prototypes were being prepared with some features fron WWII German designs, culminating in the Lockheed Model 206 with high wing and loading ramp as part of the lower fuselage below a high tail. The first Lockheed C-130 flew in August 1947, and with continual incremental development is still in production, still recogniseable, seventy-two years later. Its influence has been world wide, and even much more modern designs with wide variations in size and power have recogniseable points of similarity in both shape and operations.
The authors' summary of this volume points out that by the beginning of the 'sixties the airlift needs of the ground forces were being met by only three types, the C-123, the C-130 and the C-133 all of which were turboprop-powered, and the 123 was a powered version of an assault glider that originated in early 1946. At a first look through this book it seems to cover, with a few very notable exceptions, many similar-looking aircraft; a thorough read will reveal many variations on familiar themes, unsurprising perhaps when the majority originate from the project offices of Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed, and offer fascinating subjects for the aviation historian and enthusiast to study. The What If? modeller who truffles through the astonishing number of photos, sketches and line drawings will I suspect have to consider sticking to 1:144th; the end of this book foreshadows the C-5 Galaxy and the giant transports that the US Army needed to carry not only larger numbers of GIs but their substantial tanks and mechanised transports. Secret American Projects 3 will cover their development and introduction, facilitated by the arrival of the large jet engine which was equally responsible for the surge in civilian air transport. This next book in the series will I hope be with us later in 2020; and if you get a look at the proposed painting on the cover, your imagination will be gripped again!
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