Review by Takis Diakoumis.
Strategic Air Command’s General Curtis LeMay was not partial to the B-47, preferring the older B-36 for its longer legs, proclaiming it could not go where he wanted it to go – the Soviet Union. The B-47 would nonetheless become SAC’s most numerous bomber, with almost 2000 examples across all variants, and a critical step to the later, hugely successful B-52.
Development and initial service proved challenging beyond even LeMay’s range concerns. The aircraft was underpowered at take off, to keep weight down there was no effective crew extraction mechanism on the high-production B-model (a partial outcome of LeMay’s range criticism), and the aircraft suffered significant early structural fatigue. Compounding this were Air Force demands on specification and delivery Boeing could not meet even after instituting a six-day work week. Further, it was well into its initial flight testing that the Air Force considered arming the aircraft with nuclear weapons – a capability pivot that further compounded development and testing.
Despite a more than troubled beginning, the B-47 matured into an effective weapons and intelligence platform serving across the globe, including reconnaissance missions during the Vietnam War. In fact, beyond the traditional bomber, it was as intelligence gathering, via the RB-47, that would prove of significant worth with frequent clandestine operations along the Iron Curtain and the extremities of the Soviet Union, including overflight missions.
As an early pioneer in mass production of large, complex jet aircraft, the B-47 experience was critical to the later effective development and production of the B-52 and KC-135 that would eventually swell SAC bases across the US, Europe and Asia. SAC’s early experience in fielding its first large, all-jet bomber would also pave the way for the operational success of later years.
This latest work, by SAC researcher Mike Habermehl and former SAC pilot Robert Hopkins, fills a huge gap in the coverage of this important strategic bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. The book explores the B-47’s early trouble and later success in fine detail, covering all major events and milestones and including an incredible number of unique photos and detailed mission maps. The level of detail covering the many variants and specific missions of the reconnaissance type in particular is a real treat and forms an important addition to the SAC story as we know it today.