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Vintage aircraft tell tales of a different era

  • Published
  • By Roy Utley
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Editor's Note: This is the first in a six-part series highlighting the history of the 33 aircraft in Dyess' Airpark. The Airpark is open for tours the second Friday of each month.

Like silent sentinels, they line Arnold Boulevard as if waiting for their next mission to come, so they could once again rev their engines and take to the skies. But the fate of the 33 aircraft that make the Dyess Airpark their home prevents them from ever seeing this Earth from above.

The Dyess Airpark is divided into roughly six sections that highlight some of the aviation history of Dyess and the Air Force during it's more than 50 years in Abilene.

The first aircraft visible to Dyess visitors and assigned personnel is the F-111A Aardvark, which sits almost directly behind the P-40 Warhawk outside the perimeter fence. The Aardvark was the first production aircraft to employ the swept-wing concept. Some say it is essentially a precursor to the B-1 Bomber now assigned to the 7th Bomb Wing here.

The aircraft on display, number 67-0057, was delivered to the Air Force Nov. 13, 1968, and flew 2,130 flights for a total of 4,975 flight hours before it was retired from the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, on Aug. 31, 1990. After its retirement, it served as a ground trainer at Sheppard AFB, Texas, until Feb. 4, 2000, when it was transferred to Dyess for display in its current location. A little-known fact about this aircraft is that the 9th Bomb Squadron was one of the first operators of the F-111.

The P-40 Warhawk nicknamed "Kibosh," sits outside the perimeter fence and is the only aircraft in Dyess AFB's collection that was never an operational aircraft. It is a replica of the aircraft that Lt. Col. Edwin Dyess used during his tour of duty on the Philippine Islands during World War II. The model was commissioned and donated by the city of Abilene. It was unveiled in March 2006 for the 50th anniversary of Dyess.

Entering the Dyess main gate, the B-1 and C-130E "Spirit of Abilene" stand watch and represent the current operational assets of the 7th Bomb Wing and the 317th Airlift Group, respectively. The "Star of Abilene" was the first B-1 delivered to Dyess in 1985.

The B-1B was one of seven originally built by Rockwell at different plants across the United States. According to Richard "Doc" Warner, 7th Bomb Wing historian, the original seven 1983 models were hand-built separately resulting in individual parts varying slightly and thus were not interchangeable. All B-1B Lot II aircraft, seven total, were deactivated and transferred to museums.

The C-130E model on the left side of the road upon entering was dedicated to Dyess on Aug. 23, 2004, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the prototype C-130s first flight. The C-130 was first designed in July 1951when the Air Force agreed to purchase the aircraft from Lockheed. In its lifetime, through all the various models, there have been more than 70 variations of the stable airframe. The C-130 on display was used as a maintenance trainer at Dyess for many years.

"The wings had been removed to be used on other aircraft that were still flying, so in the maintenance world this aircraft was affectionately known as 'STUBBY," Warner said. "When it was selected for static display, a set of unserviceable wings were located and installed for the display."

The first section of aircraft after entering the base is called the Strategic Air Command circle. The grouping represents bombers and a refueling aircraft.

The B-17G, Warner says, would be deployed in a formation of 1,000 aircraft at a time to carry out one bombing mission during World War II. "And to think, back then they considered a 10 percent loss as acceptable. That meant losing 100 men per mission (10 crewmembers per aircraft) was considered acceptable losses," Warner noted.

Following the path through the Airpark, visitors next encounter a peculiar looking aircraft that resembles two aircraft bodies that were smashed together. The KC-97L Stratofreighter tanker was born at the end of the World War II and had difficulty refueling jets due to its propeller engines. This aircraft was fitted with two additional jet engines to help it close the speed gap of emerging jet aircraft in the Air Force inventory. Even with the additional power, the aircraft still had to do a maneuver called "tobogganing." In order to match and maintain speed with the jets it was tasked to refuel, both aircraft would have to enter a downward dive to allow gravity to provide the extra speed the KC-97L needed to complete the refueling mission.

Next in the line of aircraft is the venerable B-52D Stratofortress. In service since the 1950's, the B-52 served with distinction in the Cold War, Vietnam Conflict and the Gulf War. The B-52 on display was on a combat mission over Vietnam when a surface-to-air missile sliced through its right wing. For unknown reasons, the SAM did not detonate upon impact and left a gaping hole in the wing. The B-52 was able to return to base and underwent seven months of repairs before becoming airworthy again.

Also on display with the B-52D is the AGM-28A, nicknamed the Hound Dog. This long-range, stand-off, air-to-ground nuclear strategic missile was carried in pairs under the wing of B-52s. They were, in essence, the first generation of cruise missiles according to Warner. "The Hound Dog could go 600 mph for 600 miles," he noted. A unique feature of the Hound Dog was that the pair could be used to augment the B-52s engines on takeoff and later be refueled from the B-52s fuel tanks. The missiles were a Cold War deterrent and were never used for their intended wartime purpose.

Moving on in the Airpark, the aerial refueling KC-135 rests just more than a mile from its heyday location on the Dyess ramp. The aircraft on display was assigned to the 917th Air Refueling Squadron and deployed from Dyess in 1990 in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. It flew 38 combat sorties.

Rounding out the SAC Circle of aircraft is the EB-47E Stratojet. This aircraft was the first all-jet production bomber in the Air Force. It was classified as a medium-range bomber even though it was capable of inflight refueling. The aircraft on display was one on of only two planes used by the Navy for electric countermeasure testing until it was retired from service in 1977.

While some of the aircraft in the Linear Airpark have direct ties to Dyess, such as the B-1 and C-130, B-52, B-47 and KC-135 were assigned here, some have links to squadrons that used to be part of the Dyess landscape. Others, such as the O-2, F-105, HU-16, F-84, F-89, F-86 and A-26, have no ties to Dyess but were part of a 1980s Air Force initiative called Project Warrior to display Air Force heritage at various bases using aircraft from the Air Force Museum inventory. Prior to the Linear Airpark's construction, many of the aircraft on display were stationed outside the squadrons in which they were once flown.