Vito Lasala’s B-36 COLD WAR SHIELD: NAVIGATOR’S JOURNAL
Book review by Dennis D McDonald
This book provides a nuts and bolts feel of what it was like to work for Curtis Lemay in the Cold War U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command. It’s what a navigator did day in and day out to keep the giant 10 engine B-36 bomber ready to deliver a hydrogen bomb.
The author describes what his responsibilities were to keep the giant bomber on course in the days before navigational satellites and electronic computers. A 20 hour flight with a crew of 15 was not unusual. Navigation depended on sun and star sightings, map reading, dead reckoning, and occasional reliance on the obsolete LORAN system of radio beacons.
Every 20 or 30 minutes star or sun sightings would be taken and calculations made. Then a radio conversation would take place with the flight deck recommending a course correction of a few degrees as the bomber droned along at an altitude between 20,000 and 40,000 feet and at a speed just over 400 mph.
This is not a romantic view of flying or of technology. Training was constant, flights were long, tiring, and boring. Occasionally unreliable engines could spell doom and terror for the giant bomber and its crew. Throughout the book the author expresses a constant awareness that actual delivery of the thermonuclear device to a distant target would be, most likely, a one-way trip.
Historically, the US had to rely on the B-36 for delivery of the huge hydrogen bombs even though the aircraft design was pre-World War II in concept. The bomber was developed in case it was necessary to conduct trans-ocean bombing raids from the continental U.S. By war’s end it was becoming clear that the B-29s would not be large enough to deliver next-generation nuclear weapons. The B-36 with six propeller and four jet engines was the only thing in the arsenal able to do the job (at least till the B-52 jet bombers entered into service). As a result the B-36 and its infrastructure were stopgap measures as war planners deep in the Pentagon researched how vulnerable it would be to rapidly advancing jet and missile attack. Plus, intercontinental ballistic missiles were under development for ground and submarine launch; they would make over reliance on aircraft delivery all but obsolete.
There's a human cost of all this we see this represented in these pages. Multiply this times all the U.S. and Soviet airmen involved in such exercises along with all the ground support necessary to keep all related weapons systems at standby. You then have a very sobering view of how that how nasty and wasteful the 1950’s really were in order for "nuclear deterrence" to work.
Review copyright (c) 2016 by Dennis D. McDonald. To find more reviews like this scroll down. To find out more about my consulting services go here.