Aircraft Commander 1st Lt. Oliver Hildebrandt, Pilot 1st
Lt. Walter Ross, Co-pilot Captain Wilbur Evans, and a crew of thirteen took
off from Carswell AFB in B-36B, 44-92035 of
the 7th Bomb Wing at 5:05 A.M. on November 22,1950. The
planned 30-hour training mission consisted of air-to-air gunnery, bombing,
simulated radar bombing, and navigational training.
Immediately after take-off, the #4 electric alternator
would not stay in parallel with the other three alternators, so it was
taken off-line and de-excited just three minutes into the mission.
About one minute after the #4 alternator was shut down,
flames 8 to 12 feet long erupted from around the air plug of the number-one
engine. The left scanner reported the flames
to the pilot.
Six minutes after take-off, the flight engineer shut down
the number-one engine, feathered its propeller, and expended one of its
Methyl bromide fire extinguishing bottles.
The mission continued on the power of the remaining five
engines, the B-36B cruised to the gunnery range on Matagorda Island at an
altitude of 5,000 feet. It arrived at 7:00 A.M.
And the gunners began practicing.
Radar Observer S/Sgt. Ray Earl manned the tail turret. The
charger for the right gun burned out, so he expended just half of his
ammunition. Then the APG-3 radar for the tail turret started acting up, so
S/Sgt. Earl shut it down.
Aircraft Commander 1st Lt. Oliver Hildebrandt noted that
the aircraft vibration from firing the 20mm cannons had increased
significantly during the fourth gunnery pass. Immediately afterward, radar
operator Captain James Yeingst notified Hildebrandt that the APQ-24 radar
set blew up and was smoking. The vibration from the firing of the guns
caused electrical shorting between the internal components of the radar.
Then the liaison transmitter failed.
The cannons in the left forward upper turret and the left
rear upper turret malfunctioned and stopped firing. The gunners attempted
to retract the gun turrets, but they failed to retract. Gunner S/Sgt. Fred
Boyd entered the turret bay, but other failures began to take precedence.
And Boyd was called away before he could manually crank the turrets down.
At 7:31 A.M. The number-three engine suffered some
internal failure and its torque pressure fell to zero. the engine’s fuel
flow dropped off, and the flight engineer could not stabilize
its engine speed. So the pilot shut down the number-three
engine and feathered its propeller.
The B-36B had only one operating engine on the left wing, so
the pilot aborted the remainder of the training mission and set course for
Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Flight engineer Captain Samuel Baker retarded the spark
timing, set the mixture controls to ” normal ” and set the engine RPMs to
2,500 to increase the power from the remaining engines. Unknown to Captain
Baker, the vibration from firing the guns had disabled the electrical
systems controlling the spark settings and fuel mixture. He immediately
discovered that the turbocharger control knobs no longer increased engine
The B-36B could not maintain its airspeed on the power of
the four remaining engines, and it descended about 1,000 feet even as its
airspeed bled off to 135 miles per hour.
The pilot called for more power. The flight engineer
attempted to increase engine speed to 2,650 RPM and enrich the fuel mixture,
but got no response from the engines except for severe backfiring. The fuel
mixture indicators for all of the engines indicated lean.
The second flight engineer, M/Sgt. Edward Farcas, checked
the electrical fuse panel. Although the fuses appeared to be intact, he
replaced the master turbocharger fuse and all of the individual engines’
Kelly Air Force Base had a cloud overcast at just 300
feet and the visibility was restricted to 2 miles. The weather at Bergstrom
AFB was not as bad, with scattered clouds at 1,000 feet, broken clouds at
2,000 feet and 10 miles visibility. Carswell AFB was clear with 10 miles
visibility, but it was 155 miles farther away. Air traffic control cleared
all airspace below 4,000 feet ahead of the crippled B-36B. Aircraft
Commander Hildebrandt began flying on instruments in thick clouds.
The poor weather at Kelly Air Force Base convinced
Hildebrandt to change course Carswell, passing by Bergstrom on their way
in case the airplane could not make it to Carswell.
Bombardier Captain Robert Nelson made two attempts to
salvo the 1,500 pounds of practice bombs in the rear bomb bay, but the bomb
bay doors would not open by automatic or manual control . . nor by using
There was no way to dump fuel to reduce the weight of the
B-36B. The flight engineers resorted to holding down the fuel primers in an
attempt to increase fuel flow to the remaining engines. M/Sgt. Edward
Farcas held down the prime switches for the number-two and number-four
engines while Captain Baker held down the prime switch for the number-five
engine and operated the flight engineer’s panel. The configuration of the
switches did not allow them to prime the number-five engine and the
number-six engine at the same time.
The high power demand made the cylinder head temperatures
of the remaining engines climb to nearly 300 degrees centigrade. Flight
engineer Baker jockeyed the throttles, decreasing the throttle setting of
the engine with the worst cylinder head temperature until one of the other
engines grew even hotter. The high temperature caused the gasoline/air
mixture in the cylinders to detonate before the pistons reached top dead
center, diminishing power and heat-damaging the struggling engines.
Despite the critical situation with the engines, Aircraft
Commander Hildebrandt decided to ease past Bergstrom on the way to Carswell.
Bergstrom was overcast. But more threatening . . its longest runway was only
6,000 feet long. Carswell offered a much longer runway.
Now the remaining engines’ pre-ignition backfiring . . now
increased in noisy violence. The number-2 . . number-5 . . and number-6
engines . . were running at 70% power . . while number-4 engine was
producing only 20% power.
The airspeed further diminished to 130 statute mph.
Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt attempted to restart the
number-1 engine that had spouted flames on take-off, however fuel refused to
enter its induction system.
He tried to restart the number-three engine, but was not
able to unfeather its propeller. A few minutes later, the B-36’s right
scanner reported dense white smoke, oil, and metal particles coming from
engine number-five. It lost power, and Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt
feathered engine number-5’s propeller when the sick B-36 was still
twenty-one miles away from Carswell.
The B-36B could not stay airborne on the power of the
three remaining failing engines. It was flying at just 125 mph, [ 7 ] seven
miles per hour above stall, and losing both altitude and airspeed.
And Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt ordered his entire crew
to bail out [ of the morphed metal grave yard. ]
Bombardier Captain Robert Nelson had bailed out of
airplanes on two previous occasions. He had crash landed twice and ditched
once. And he was the first man to bail out from the forward crew
compartment. He suffered contusions of his lower spine when he hit the
ground under his chute.
Radar Operator Captain James Yeingst responded to stress
with laughter and jokes. He was a bit giddy before the bailout. Yeingst was
the second man to exit from the forward crew compartment. His parachute ‘
roman candled ‘ after he pulled the rip cord. Captain Yeingst’s parachute
mushroomed open just before he hit the ground, and he suffered fatal
Co-pilot Captain Wilbur Evans was the third man to exit
from the forward crew compartment. He had bailed out of airplanes twice
before and crash landed several times during WW-II. This time he fractured
his lower right leg.
Navigator Captain Horace Stewart had previously tried to
get off flying status because he felt that the B-36 was too dangerous. An
hour before the bail out, he was tense, nervous and chain-smoking. He was
the fourth man to bail out from the forward crew compartment. In his fear
he instantly pulled his rip cord when he exited the forward hatch. His
parachute opened and hauled him directly into the B-36’s propellers. Killed
Radio Operator Cpl. Paul Myers followed Captain Stewart
out the forward escape hatch and landed with minor injuries. Flight Engineer
M/Sgt. Edward Farcas jumped head first
through the exit hatch of the forward crew compartment right
after Cpl. Myers. His parachute did not open when he pulled the rip cord.
With his hands and fingers he was able to rip
his parachute out of its pack . . and this true survivor
landed with only minor injuries.
Radar Mechanic Robert Gianerakis and Flight Engineer Captain
Samuel Baker were the next to escape from the forward compartment. Each one
received only minor injuries.
Radio Operator Sgt. Armando Villareal bailed out after
Captain Baker. Villareal did not trust his parachute to open, so while he
was standing near the open escape hatch he pulled
his rip cord, then held his parachute in his arms as he
jumped feet first through the open hatch. Despite his unorthodox method of
escape, Villareal landed and received only scratches.
Pilot 1st Lt. Walter Ross was the next to last to leave
the forward compartment. He landed with only minor injuries. Gunner S/Sgt.
Andrew Byrne and Radar Observer S/Sgt. Ray
Earl were the first two crew members to bail out of the rear
crew compartment. Both landed with only minor injuries.
Gunner Cpl. Calvin Martin was the third man to exit the
rear crew compartment. He was swinging under his parachute as he hit the
ground and broke his right ankle. Then he fell backward onto a protruding
rock, fracturing his third lumbar vertebra and painfully compressing his
Gunner S/Sgt. Ronald Williams followed Gunner Martin out
the rear escape hatch. He landed with only minor injuries.
Gunner S/Sgt. Fred Boyd was the last man to exit the rear
crew compartment. He called to Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt over the
intercom to let him know that everyone had escaped from his aft
compartment. But when he turned back to the exit hatch, it had fallen shut.
But he was able to open the hatch again to make his escape. He broke the
fibula of his
left leg when he landed north than the other crew members.
After S/Sgt. Boyd reported that all other crew members had
bailed out of the rear compartment, Aircraft Commander Hildebrandt set the
autopilot and jumped clear when the bomber was less than 1,000 feet above
the ground. Lt. Hildebrandt and nine other crew members escaped from the
B-36B with only minor injuries.
With no one aboard, the B-36B descended straight ahead in
a nose-high attitude for a mile after the Aircraft Commander excited the
The big bomber stalled, pitched nose down, and broke off the
cockpit as it impacted in a terraced field . . 14 miles short of the
Carswell’s long runway.
The forward crew compartment separated and collapsed
beneath the rest of the sliding fuselage. Then the tail section broke off,
and the rear crew’s compartment broke way from the
mid-fuselage as the remaining wreckage slid 850 feet in the
dirt . . then altered its journey with a sliding turn to its right.
The rear sections of the B-36 remained largely intact. The
elevation at the crash site was approximately 700 feet. Mr. W. Doggett
witnessed the bail-out and crash from his house. He drove to the crash site
in his pickup and helped round up the surviving crew.
The wreckage smoldered for about eight minutes . . before a
fire broke out in the number-six engine.
The 15,000 gallons of remaining fuel consumed the B-36’s
forward fuselage and its wings. The civilians and crew members were driven
away from the crash site by exploding ammunition and the knowledge of the
presence of 1,500 pounds of bombs aboard.
Read this the next time you think you are having a bad day
(Thanks Gary – Ed)