Forty-Seven Years in Aviation: A Memoir; Chapter 9: Strategic Air Command, Part 1
This was a bare-bones application of the probe-and-drogue method that was applied to a number of modified B-29s in the post-WWII years, when extending the range of the recip-powered bomber fleet was of critical importance.
The next step in the progression toward larger, faster and more efficient tanker airplanes involved the Boeing B-50 Superfortress. As these airplanes were released from their assignments as bombers, a number of them were modified for use as tankers; the KB-50 still employed the probe-and-drogue system, but was capable of simultaneously refueling three fighters. Three major developments in the early 1950s enabled SAC to take a giant step toward fulfilling its stated mission of providing long-range bombing capability: The first was the initial delivery of Boeing B-47s to the 306th Bomb Wing at MacDill AFB; the second was the near-concurrent delivery of the first Boeing KC-97 tankers to the 306th Air Refueling Squadron, also located at MacDill; and the third development was the flying boom. This combination of aircraft -- with tankers at strategic locations -- held the Russian bear at arm's-length by permitting SAC to maintain a nuclear-armed bomber force in the air 24/7 with enough fuel to reach their targets in the Soviet Union.
The flying boom -- a rigid, telescoping, fuel-delivery line, maneuvered into position by a boom operator in the tail of the tanker -- was an integral part of a refueling pod installed in place of the rear cargo doors of the C-97 cargo aircraft; a receptacle in the receiver airplane locked the fuel nozzle in place during refueling.
My introduction to the KC-97 consisted of a considerable amount of classroom training in aircraft systems and procedures, a lot of sitting-in-the-airplane familiarization and three flights; the first lasted a bit more than four hours (all of it after dark), the second went on for nine hours (half of it at night) and the third was four and a half hours. This was a portent of things to come: A typical refueling mission averaged four to five hours and about half of the flights took place after the sun went down ... SAC flew a lot at night. There was the occasional local flight set aside for transition training and currency. Shortly after my three "dollar rides," I was sent to West Palm Beach AFB (long since deactivated) to attend the C-97 simulator program operated by the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). At that time, the term "simulator" was rather loosely interpreted as any sort of device that was capable of providing instrument indications and control responses to help aircrews familiarize themselves with a particular aircraft's flight characteristics; today, the MATS simulator at West Palm Beach -- with no motion and no visuals, just frosted cockpit windows to simulate flying in clouds -- would probably be classified as a "training device." I remember a couple of airmen standing outside the sim, one shaking a sheet of metal to simulate thunder, the other producing simulated lightning by flashing a bright light on and off. Its shortcomings notwithstanding, this was state-of-the-simulator-art in 1956 and provided valuable training with zero hazard and much less expense than actual flight. The C-97 (cargo version) was nearly identical to the tanker in almost all respects, so we were able to acquire a good understanding of airplane systems and procedures. The Palm Beach simulator program was very busy, operating nearly 24 hours a day, which meant students would inevitably be scheduled for early morning classes. On one such occasion I showed up at 5 a.m. for the first sim session of the day, settled myself in the left seat, started all four engines and prepared for takeoff. The engine-noise generators did their thing, the airspeed indicators came to life and at the proper speed my mate in the right seat called out "rotate." I applied a bit of back pressure on the yoke, at which point red lights came on all over the instrument panel, all four engines quit and everything died. The instructor reset the sim for takeoff and said, "Let's try that again," whereupon we got the same result when I tried to raise the nose. Totally confused, I quickly reviewed the takeoff procedure but couldn't find anything out of order. Now the instructor made his point: "Lieutenant, I don't know what else I can do to wake you up; take a look at your attitude indicator." Something did indeed look different; under the wings of the airplane symbol on the attitude indicator were two little projections intended to represent the landing gear; but instead of being under the wings they were on top. I don't know if my instructor set me up or if the previous instructor had rolled the sim inverted and put it to bed upside down; either way, it proved that clever instructors could do amazing things with the simulator, that one should pay more attention to the flight instruments (especially at 5 o'clock in the morning) and that applying normal flight control pressures to an inverted airplane was not a good way to get off the ground. I still wonder what would have happened if I had realized what was going on and pushed forward on the yoke. [Continued with Chapter 10.]