A Grounded Giant

As we drove around Lake Champlain yesterday, Kish and I passed through Plattsburgh, New York, and saw this gleaming behemoth, glinting in the noonday sun.

The enormous plane, labeled “The Pride of the Adirondacks,” is a Boeing B-47 Stratojet — the mainstay aircraft of the U.S. Strategic Air Command during the Cold War.  In those pre-intercontinental ballistic missile days, these planes and their pilots and crew members were the tip of America’s nuclear spear.

Looking at the specifications of the aircraft, it is not hard to see why.  The B-47, which pioneered a “swept wing” jet engine design, used six huge turbojets and had a wingspan of 116 feet.  Although the plane was more than 100 feet long, it was designed for only a three-man crew, because the vast majority of the plane’s storage space was intended for fuel and explosive ordinance.

The B-47 could carry 25,000 tons of bombs and had a fuel capacity that gave it a maximum range of nearly 5,000 miles.  In short, it could make the long-distance flights and then deliver the bomb payloads that were needed to make the strategy of nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction a viable reality.

This B-47 is now parked next to a traffic roundabout by the deserted, moderately overgrown remains of brick outbuildings of the old Plattsburgh Air Force Base, which closed more than 15 years ago.  The somewhat shabby surroundings stand in sharp contrast to the majesty of this enormous plane, whose glittering fuselage is showing signs of rust and wear and tear.  It seems like an unseemly end for a plane that served the United States for so long, and so well.

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