Thursday, June 10, 2021


I stumbled across an interesting article this morning while looking for pictures of the tailgunner's station in a B-52...
The first American to shoot down five enemy aircraft was Frederick Libby, an ex-cowboy from Colorado who joined the British Royal Flying Corps in 1916 and served as an observer-gunner in FE-2B two-seat pusher aircraft.

FE gunners used two machine guns, including a rear-facing Lewis gun, mounted on a steel pole, which required them to stand up on their seats when firing. “Only your grip on the gun and the sides of the nacelle stood between you and eternity,” said Libby years later.

That sounds like an acrophobe's delight, right there.

The reason I was looking for the photo was because of this photo of the exterior of the gun position, along with one very cool dude:

SSgt Sam Turner is apparently the founding member of a very elite club

The guy in the photo, SSgt Turner, had the first confirmed kill from the tail gunner position of a B-52.

During Operation Linebacker II, one of the last big conventional strategic bombing campaigns...
USAF B-52s flew 729 sorties and dropped 15,000 tons of bombs on 34 targets. Fifteen bombers were shot down, all by North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles. During this period B-52 gunners claimed five MiG kills. Only two were confirmed. The first was Turner’s aerial victory.
I wondered how many other times a tail gunner in a jet bomber might have scored. I looked around, thinking maybe an Il-28 Beagle gunner might have gotten lucky over the Strait of Taiwan or in one of the various Indo-Pakistani or Egypt v. Libya scuffles, but I'm coming up empty-handed. The number of gun kills from defensive gun positions on jet bombers is truly tiny. More dudes have driven dune buggies on the moon than have scored a confirmed gun kill from a jet bomber.

Interestingly, the B-58 Hustler originally had a tail gun, too, and one that spawned an amusing urban legend, claiming that the bomber was so fast that the rounds fired from the tail gun would actually move backwards relative to the ground when fired. A little math will show that the Hustler's maximum airspeed was about 1,900 feet per second, while the muzzle velocity of the Vulcan in the rear was something close to 3,500fps, so that's a myth busted.