I was pretty young, maybe six or seven. At that age, Taft's Field in the Highlands neighborhood of Holyoke, Massachusetts was a great place to play. I was already a "spotter" by then, and knew all about the C-47s and C-54s coming and going from busy Westover AFB a couple of miles to the east. But all the WINGS bubble gum cards in my collection had not prepared me for what was about to happen-the planes they illustrated were too small and harmless.

I remember that I was over in the tall grass, probably catching grasshoppers in a jar with holes punched in the lid. A sound caught my attention. A sound different than any I had heard before. It seemed to emanate as much from the ground as it did from the sky. It grew louder and louder, gnawing a path in the sky towards me. Then, this horrible vibrating machine, this prehistoric monster lurched over the hills into my line of sight. Its passage was accompanied by a creshendo of sound I will never forget. I was speechless. It began a slow turn, as if to come back and subject me to more horror! I ran crying to my grandmother's apartment as fast as I could go. She assured me it wasn't after me personally, adding, "It was an awful thing now, wasn't it?"

"Do-Do Bird" B-36H 50-1088
on display at the Westover AFB
May 1956 Open House. Good
details of the retractable 20mm
turrents on this view

Grandmother's opinion pretty well summed up the experience for many of Holyoke's residents,who were to learn in the next day's Transcript-Telegram newspaper that this was the first B-36 to arrive in New England. Some malfunction or other had caused it to make an emergency landing at Westover. I wasn't surprised by the '36 again. There were early-warning techniques I practiced. I learned to listen for the tell-tale rattle of the coffee cups in their saucers. The apartment's windows were also good detectors. A little growl, then quiet. A second low drone, then quiet again. Then steadily, the sound would build. The world would bear witness to this audible passage of the Peacemaker for a decade. I grew to love it. As I got a little older, I learned that at times the contrails from these aircraft at high altitude would be visible long before the sound began to arrive.

In 1956 I toured "The Do-Do Bird," a B-36 from Loring that was on display at the annual Westover Open House. I got to see the long tunnel that ran from the front to the rear pressurized sections of the large bomber. I got to look out of the gunsight blisters and imagine what it would be like to be a crewmember. That day, nine of the bombers flew around the northeast performing flyovers at air bases. By then it was music to my ears. Late in 1958, I learned the B-36 was about to be retired.

Starboard jet pod photo showing
color details and closed intake
doors for the two J-47 engines.
Blue Jeans rolled way up were "in"

That was quite a few years ago. In the interim, I served 24 years in the Air Force and its reserve components. The emergency landing I witnessed as a child was not the last I would see. One foggy night in early 1966 when I was undergoing Air Force training, I thought I heard the rumble of the big props again. But these big props belonged to the large Douglas C-133 transport, climbing out of Brookley AFB, Alabama. This aircraft, the Cargomaster, was the only other American aircraft to replicate the audio signature of the B-36. However, sound of the big bomber from Ft. Worth went on to become part of Air Force legend, and any time your are in the presence of older Air Force veterans, you will hear it mentioned. If I want to experience it again, or or if you want to hear a reasonable facsimile of it for the sirst time, just slip in a DVD of 1955's classic movie, Strategic Air Command......about 3 minues into the movie, Jimmy Stewart hollers, "Hey, Leo!" to his baseball-playing buddy.......and once more you can hear the rumbling Peacemaker slowly approach........and once more it will raise the hairs on the back of my neck.


The images that accompany this story were scanned from 45-year old Kodachromes. Unfortunately, the identity of the photographer is unknown