|Feb 13, 1950, Eielson Airbase, Fairbanks Alaska:
A Convair B-36 bomber (Flight 2075) of the US 436 SAC squadron left the airbase at
5:25 PM for a run to its home base at Carswell Air Force base at Fort
Worth, Texas. The flight was to take 16 hours and was to include a
"simulated combat profile" mission. The route would take the
it non-stop via Washington State and Montana. Here the B-36 would
climb to 40,000 feet for a simulated bomb run to southern California and
then to San Francisco. It would then continue its non-stop flight to Fort Worth,
Six hours into the flight, something went wrong.
The B-36 was,
in its day, the largest production bomber ever built
anywhere in the world. In every dimension it was bigger than the B-52,
and its wing span of 230 feet was larger than that of a Boeing 747. The
B-36B was powered by six pusher-prop engines. Later versions had four
added to the six piston engines. These long range heavy bombers were in service with the US Air Force for
about ten years. With the advent of the Boeing B-52, the B-36 was
gradually phased out and completely replaced by the year 1959.
Six hours after takeoff from Eielson Airbase, Flight 2075 was
experiencing icing conditions and multiple engine fires. Distress messages came in quick succession
on the live answering
first distress signal came at 11:25 PM. It said the aircraft was in
difficulty while flying at 40,000 feet. They were climbing down to
"One engine on fire. Contemplate ditching in Queen Charlotte Sound
between Queen Charlotte Island and Vancouver Island. Keep a careful
lookout for flares or wreckage."
Apart from having icing problems, the instruments were failing. But
soon the problem got even worse: two of the engines had caught fire. A
third engine had to be feathered, thus the aircraft was flying at half
power. According to the pilot, Captain Barry, the plane was iced up at
15,000 feet. When trying to climb, a fire broke out in No. 1 engine. Two
minutes later No. 2 engine burst into flames. The bomber started to lose
altitude, dropping at 300 feet a minute. Shortly after a fire started in
No.5, and then No. 3 stopped with a plugged line.
The final message from
the plane indicated their position as 90 miles south of Prince
Rupert. The plane was going to ditch in Queen Charlotte Sound. Before
jumping, the radio operator, Staff Sergeant Trippodi, had tied down the
transmitter key. A steady signal would enable rescue units to get a
quick "fix" on the bomber's last position. The aircraft was
put on auto pilot to fly southwest. After the third of the six engines
died, the men bailed out.
H.L. Barry, the pilot who was the last man to jump, landed in a shallow
pond on Ashdown Island. The other two pilots, Captains W.M. Phillips and
T.F. Schreier were among the missing crewmen. According to Captain
Barry, as the crew drifted down on their parachutes, the plane had
circled over the island once. It was assumed that the aircraft went down
and sunk somewhere in the ocean.
By the morning of February 15, two days after Flight 2075 left
Eielson Airbase in Fairbanks, Alaska, five crewmen were lost and
presumed dead, a nuclear-capable bomb (The Fat Man was the same bomb
used at Nagasaki, Japan in 1945) was lost and the plane itself could not
So what went wrong?
In an interview in 1998 with, Lt.
R.P. Whitfield, one of the co-pilots of Flight 2075, the questions was
put by Researcher Don Pyeatt.
|Q. What was the first indication
of problems with the plane?
A. The flight engineers started reporting
problems with the fuel mixtures in the engines. They were
starting to run full rich. Any attempt to lean them above idle
cut off would fail. We then started experiencing multiple
failures and none of them could be corrected. Then when
the fires started in the engines we knew that we had to make
plans for leaving the aircraft.
Q. Could anything have prevented the incident?
A. A follow-up investigation concluded that
carburetor icing was the cause. The carburetors in most
aircraft are located aft of the engine. This
arrangement permits warmed air from the engines to flow around
the carburetors and will prevent all but throat icing. In
the B-36 with the rearward facing engines the carburetors were
in front of the engines and thus constantly subjected to outside
air temperatures. The carburetor design consisted of two
separate chambers for intake air. The air fed two
different sections of the carburetors. There was an
opening in the baffle plate that separated the two sections that
permitted a pressure balance to be maintained. It was
conjectured that this opening became covered with ice and thus
caused both halves to always run rich. In addition to this, the
warm ocean currents that flow along the coast of B.C. causes
heavy fog even in the coldest days of winter. This results
in an abundance of moisture in the air above the coastline from
which the ice would form. The constant
rich mixtures soon caused a build up of raw fuel in the exhaust
systems that eventually ignited, causing the fires.
What happened to the bomb?
In the same interview, Whitfield tells
us the story:
|Q. Describe the crew's activities
after they learned they might bail out.
A. The plane was steadily losing altitude
because of the loss of engine power. The flight engineers
continued trying to coax the mixtures to no avail. The
radio operator tried to report the situation. We knew that
we might be heard only by other planes in the area because we
were out of radio range of any ground station. We never
knew if our transmissions were heard, as we received no
response. Capt. Barry turned the plane out to sea so
that we could dump the bomb and the dummy core. As soon as
we were safely over the sea we dropped the bomb. It was
set to airburst at 3000 feet. We were at about 8000 feet
when the bomb exploded so we could see the flash as it exploded.
One reason for exploding it was to prevent the Soviets from
trying to find it later. The other crewmembers were busy
preparing for bailout. They put on their parachutes
and removed the observation blisters from the sides of the plane
to provide openings from which to exit.
Five crewmen were lost and presumed dead. The speculation was
that the first four airmen, Capts. W.M. Phillips and T.F. Schreier; Lt.
A. Holie and Staff Sgts. E.W. Pollard and N.A. Straley, out of the plane
jumped to close to the BC shore and were blown into the ocean where they
died of exposure or drowning.
Of the recovered men, the most
critically injured was Radio Operator Trippodi, who was found hanging
upside down fouled in parachute. Trippodi had sustained facial and
shoulder injuries and, while trying to unbuckle his parachute, got
flipped upside down, and there he hung for 12 hours before being rescued
by Capt. Barry and co-pilot Whitfield.
In an interview later ,
"They managed to get me
out of the tree, but I couldn't walk because of frostbitten
feet. So they made me comfortable at the foot of the tree
and told me they couldn't stay with me. They had to go
find help for the others, but that they would be back for me.
lay there in that ice and snow for a day or two until I was
found by a Canadian rescue team. who got me to a ship."
Where did the plane end up?
When the crew bailed out, Captain
Barry, aimed the plan southwest and set the autopilot. On June 23,
1956, Doug Craig of Whitehorse, a 22-year-old participating in Operation
Stikine, a field-mapping program of the Geological Survey of Canada,
found the bomber.
During a traverse of Kologet Mountain, at about 1,650 metres, Craig
came upon the remains of the bomber scattered among the rocks and
snowfields. These included olive drab cloth and a five-gallon drum
attached to a parachute. It also had a pillow on its base to cushion its
Inside was a geiger counter.
The images included with this story come from " ENVIRONMENTAL
IMPACT STUDY OF CRASH SITE OF USAF BOMBER" written by
Doug Davidge in 1998 (http://www.cowtown.net/proweb/brokenarrow2.htm).
include the map of the crash area, a photo of the crash material, a
photo of a recovered spare firing mechanism for the Fat Man bomb.
The plane was found 200 miles away from its last reported position
and crashed at an altitude almost 2000 feet higher than last reported. It
was conjectured that after the bailout the engines restarted and the
plane circled in an arc and flew northeast due to an error in the
Since 1956 the wreck has been examined by US and Canadian experts and
has also been pillaged by souvenir hunters.
Was there ever any danger
of a nuclear explosion from the payload of Flight 2075?
The records show that
there was no nuclear material aboard 2075. She was carrying a live
Fat Man bomb but it had a lead core. The reason they carried the
bomb was that the maneuvers they were on required their plane to have
the flight characteristics of an actual flight and the weight of the
bomb was needed.
Flight 2075 was not the only Broken Arrow reported
over Canada. Mysteries of Canada hopes to uncover these added
stories over time.
As an interesting final note to this story, consider
this. On the flight of the survivors back to Fort Worth, the twin
engine Air Force plane carrying the men lost one of its engines, but