BEHIND THE SCENES: SAC Bombing Navigation Competition

posted in: Blog Post | 0

The 1959 World Series of Bombing, officially known as the SAC Bombing, Navigation, and Air refueling competition, was set to be a rather large event upon news of its announcement on 15 July 1959. Operations Plan 31-60A outlined that four crews from each competing wing would be selected to compete and that the crews “will be divorced of all duties not pertinent to the competition training as of August 1.” A total of 47 bomb wings and, for the first time, 47 tanker squadrons would compete, each selecting four crews. One of those competing wings was the 307th Bomb Wing from Lincoln AFB, Nebraska, and its selection of four B-47 “Stratojet” bomber crews. Also among those of the 307th BW was Ed Siudinski, a maintenance worker who was part of the 307th Operational Maintenance Squadron. Wearing his set of all white coveralls, now in the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum’s collection, Ed and other maintenance workers in the 307th OMS were critical to the success of the bombers and their crews. Although not personally chosen to be part of the maintenance crew attending the competition, Ed and other 307th OMS members would cheer from home.

Ed Suidinski’s maintenance overalls from his time at Lincoln AFB.
-Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum collection/archives


Two of the 307th’s competing crews flew practice missions on 5 August, while the other two flew on 6 August. Each of the crews flew three B-47s to determine the aircraft they would fly in the competition. The three B-47s in question, 53-2134, 53-2416, and 53-2392, were selected for their most recent high-performance records and reliability. On 19 August, the four crews went to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, for competition briefings and practice. Unfortunately, the 307th lacked KC-97 tanker support, and the only other available tanker support was from the competing 98th Bomb Wing. A call went out to Azores, Portugal, recalling one of the KC-97 tankers located there. Two tanker crews, who had just returned to the Azores from another mission, were selected for the competition and assigned the tanker aircraft #52-2804.

B-47 crew chiefs battle over rights to represent Lincoln during the 1959 SAC Bombing and Navigation Competition.
-Lincoln Air Force Base Legacy Project


On 29 September, the four 307th BW competition crews competed against each other in a final cut to determine which two teams would go to the Bomb Competition. Each crew flew one mission consisting of night celestial navigation and three bomb runs. Ensuring all rules were followed, an umpire occupied the B-47’s fourth man position. The final cut lasted a week with the top two crews commanded by Captain Richard Mitchell and Dale Christian. The selected B-47 they would both command for the competition was 53-2134 which was nicknamed City of Lincoln. While one crew flew the City of Lincoln to McCoy AFB, Florida, for the competition, the other bomber crew, tanker crew, and ground crews flew aboard KC-97 52-2804. After landing and emptying the crew and equipment, 52-2804 departed for Homestead AFB, Florida, the base for the tankers during the competition.

At 1000 hours, 10:00 am, on 24 October, the Bomb Competition started with special guest SAC Commander-in-Chief General Thomas Power speaking at the welcoming ceremony. General Power reminded them of the importance of the week-long competition.

There were 188 crews from 47 SAC wings representing the best of Strategic Air Command.

Ground crews prep a B-47 for the next lap in the competition.
Combat Crew December 1959, Volume X, Number 6
-New York Public Library


At 1400 hours, 2:00 pm, the crews attended a general briefing to go over the rules of the competition and mission routes. Two weeks before the competition, each team was given a mission folder with targets and flight routes to study and prepare. Poor planning and preparation could result in lost points. All flights occurred at night with air refueling, navigation leg, and bomb runs. All activity performed during the mission would count toward their final scores and be relayed to McCoy AFB and placed on the large scoreboard.

A drawing conducted by the wing commanders determined the flight schedule. The 307th BW’s commander, Col. Read, drew the first and last nights of the B-47 run, which would go on after the B-52’s had their run. As the 307th waited its turn, the ground crews made last-minute adjustments to the City of Lincoln to make sure she was mechanically sound and eliminate any surprises. Unlike previous years, the performance of the maintenance crews was more important than ever. Each aircraft had only one chance to make their competition run and even the slightest technical error could result in a late takeoff time or malfunctioning aircraft systems.

The first crew to fly, led by Captain Mitchell, scored 390.5 points out of a possible 500, putting the 307th in a high position from the start. By the final night of the competition, on October 28, the 307th was in the lead by only 14.5 points. Everyone back at Barksdale watched the updated scores with anticipation while the B-52s made their final runs and the last runs of the competition. With 772 points, the 307th BW won the competition and the Fairchild Trophy.

On October 30, the final day of the competition, CINCSAC General Power handed congratulated winners at the awards ceremony at McCoy AFB. He praised both the winners and losers, stating that “the real strength of SAC lies in its highly skilled and dedicated personnel.” He also emphasized the importance of safety and cooperation between the plane crews and their ground maintenance personnel, and that “we must never go so far as to affect flying safety. In everything we do, the safety of our personnel and materiel must be our prime consideration.”

SAC Commander-in-Chief General Thomas Power presents the Fairchild Trophy to Col. Elkins Read, Jr., commander of the 307th Bomb Wing, Lincoln AFB.
Combat Crew December 1959, Volume X, Number 6
-New York Public Library


Presented the Fairchild Trophy by GEN Power, the 307th’s Col. Elkins Read, Jr., with an uncharacteristic smile, raised it above his head for all to see with a huge smile. Word quickly spread throughout the 307th BW back home at Lincoln AFB, Nebraska, including Ed Suidinski.

Ed, and the other 307th OMS workers there, may have missed the competition but knew they were still part of the winning team.

The Fairchild Trophy
Combat Crew December 1959, Volume X, Number 6
-New York Public Library