Quite often, the B-36 would be called upon to demonstrate how quickly it could get off the ground, especially when loaded with a minimum amount of fuel. On a Sunday afternoon in October 1954 a group of firemen were having a convention in town and were on a tour of the Base. In order for a person to draw his flight pay he was required to fly at least fours a month, and 100 hours each year. Thad Neal's crew was scheduled for a two or three week leave in October, so in order to get in the required flying time this pilot proficiency mission was set up for the crew. I believe it was on a Sunday afternoon.
Before leaving home for the Base that morning, Thad called and told me to have Rin (my wife) standing by with the movie camera. I knew he had visitors and that he wanted them to get a good look at the plane, so I expected that it would be a low flyover but had no idea just how low he planned on making it.
The visiting firemen were on the ramp at the time of our take off so Thad was directed to make a maximum performance takeoff and then come around with the low pass over. With a minimum fuel load the B-36 really got off the ground in a hurry. We taxied onto the runway heading south and set the brakes. Thad called for full power on the six recips and four jet engines. That old bird started to stutter and seemed to skid until the brakes were released. I don't think we used a thousand feet of runway before breaking ground. We leveled off at four thousand and headed to the north end of Eagle Mountain Lake at 4,000' before turning south and heading for the north end of the runway. When over Eagle Mountain Lake the plane turned south. With "six turning and four burning" the plane headed directly for the north end of the runway. In a shallow dive with full power the plane skimmed down the runway at almost no altitude. I don't know how fast we were going but it had to be at least 180 mph. Thad kept right on the deck for the whole length of the runway. I was sitting in the glass nose and had a good view. The operators in the GCA shack along side the runway took a dive for the ground as the plane approached with the props almost ticking the concrete.
Thad had originally planned on flying directly over his house. Between the Base and West Ridglea the ground rises maybe a hundred feet so. Thad could not get a true bead on his house from the low altitude so he flew down the road where Ridgmar Mall sits today. Climbing over the small ridge he soon spotted his house just a wee bit off to the left. Still following the terrain he pushed the nose down a bit again but did not dare to drop the wing in a turn. After crossing he ridge, the land gradually gets lower until it reaches Mary's Creek. We stayed on the deck all the way and then part way down highway 377. Then we climbed back to altitude and my log book show we flew for six hours.
Trinka was in her front yard filming the approach, until frightened, when she dropped the camera. Rin had heard us takeoff so she got our camera and sat on the back porch to wait for the next event. It came so fast and caught her by surprise so that all she could do was step off the porch and shoot between the two houses. She did get a short blip of film as we passed about a block away. She did run out front and got a few feet as we few down the hill to the Creek, then she went in the house and poured herself a stiff drink.
As we flew down the highway I recall seeing cars stop and people head for the ditches. Several years later I was telling this story to some co-workers at General Dynamics and one man told me that he was one of those that had sought shelter in a ditch.
We landed and went home to prepare for our vacation not realizing the furor that was going on in Headquarters. One man had called in demanding that his TV antenna be returned. He claimed that a jet pod had removed it from his roof. One character even claimed that the jet exhaust had set fire to a phone pole. There were claims about cracked plaster and pictures that had fallen from the walls.
There was such a fuss raised that General Jack Ryan the 19thAD CO had to take some action. Early the following morning before we could get away, Thad called and said not to leave. General Ryan wanted to talk with all of us. We met at his office and one by one had to go in to give our version of the whole episode. When it was all over he had to fine Thad. I believe it was for $250.00 and he was taken off the promotion list for a couple of years, but as he left the General's office, General Ryan told Thad that was the best buzz job he had ever heard of. It didn't hurt his career either. He would serve as a Commander at Wichita Falls, and then in the Pentagon before going to Florida. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Thad was killed in a crash in the early 60's while training in C-123's in Florida. The training was preparing him for duty in Viet Nam, defoliation, I think they called it. In the middle of a low altitude turn he lost an engine and went down.
HISTORY OF THE PEACEMAKER
The Convair B-36 "Peacemaker"[N 1] was a strategic bomber built by Convair and operated solely by the United States Air Force (USAF) from 1949 to 1959. The B-36 was the largest mass-produced piston engine aircraft ever made. It had the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft ever built (230 ft, 70.1 m), although there have been larger military transports. The B-36 was the first bomber capable of delivering any of the nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal from inside its two bomb bays without aircraft modifications. With a range of 16,000 km (9,900 mi) and a maximum payload of 33,000 kg (73,000 lb), the B-36 was the world's first manned bomber with an unrefueled intercontinental range. Until it was replaced by the jet powered Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, which first became operational in 1955, the B-36 was the primary nuclear weapons delivery vehicle of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), and the B-36 set the standard for range and payload for subsequent U.S. intercontinental bombers