The Crash of B-52F “DOE11”


14 MAR 1961, Yuba City CA–  A United States Air Force B-52F-70-BW Stratofortress bomber, AF Serial No. 57-0166, call sign DOE11,of the 72d Bombardment Squadron, 4134th Strategic Wing crashed after fuel starvation.

The aircraft, carrying two nuclear weapons departed from Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento. Major Raymond V Clay, pilot and aircraft commander.  Twenty minutes into the flight  the pilot first noticed excessive hot air coming from the pilots’ vents. All attempts to control this hot air were unsuccessful. Seven hours into the flight cabin temperature had climbed to 125 degrees.  Mather control room contacted the aircraft and Wing guidance was to “continue mission as long as you can; call us back after second refueling tonight and advise us of your status, if it gets intolerable, of course, bring it home.” 

Fourteen hours into the flight Major Clay’s window shattered and the aircraft proceeded without cabin pressure.

An hour later, 1st/Lt Robert Bigham began to suffer stomach cramps and Capt William Hart severe knee pain.  Major Clay turned the aircraft to return to Mather AFB.  The ETA was 22 hours after take off.

For the next hour DOE11 made several course corrections to avoid bad weather.  At this point fuel levels became critical and Major Clay requested a tanker.  Mather Control said they would launch the tanker if the fuel state got below 10,000 pounds.  The fuel gauge was stuck at 10,050 but no one noticed that. When the fuel low level warning lights came on the crew noticed the stuck gauge and the KC-135 callsign DEMOCRAT was launched.

Image result for b-52f crash 57-0166
B-52 being refueled by a KC-135.

DEMOCRAT contacted the aircraft on HF advising, “McClellan is requesting your present position.” Major Clay advised, ” . . . just coasted in and looking for our tanker.” This was the last contact with DOE11.

DOE11 was two miles behind the tanker and trying to join up when the engines flamed out.  The bailout sequence began at approximately 7,000 feet with an outside temperature of approximately 42 degrees, and was normal except the gunner could not jettison his turret despite full strength pull on the inner emergency release handle. The gunner was called forward and bailed out the navigator hatch, using the spare chute in the forward compartment. The pilot continued to guide the aircraft toward a clear area. The crew continued to bail out in order of navigator, spare navigator, spare pilot, EW, gunner, co-pilot and radar navigator. The pilot bailed out at 4,000 feet. The aircraft was trimmed and calculated to be at approximately a 21:1 glide ratio at this time. The aircraft made one complete 360 degree left turn and crashed into a clear flat barley field area 15.75 miles west of Yuba County Airport, California, at approximately 22:50 after takeoff. The aircraft struck the ground at a 15.3 degree left bank and an estimated attitude of 5 degrees nose down at an indicated airspeed of approximately 200 knots. Impact angle was approximately 45 degrees.

Pilot/Commander: Maj Raymond V Clay USAF bailed out eight at 4,000 feet.
Co-pilot:1st/Lt Robert Bigham USAF bailed out sixth.
Rad/Nav: Capt William Hart USAF bailed out seventh.
Nav: Maj. Morris Levy USAF bailed out first at 7,000 feet
EWO: T/Sgt Alexander Baltikauskas USAF bailed out fourth.
3rd/pilot:Capt Joseph Ethier USAF bailed out third.
2nd/Nav: Capt Robert Dobson USAF bailed out second.
AG:T/Sgt Stephen Oarlock USAF bailed out the navigator hatch bailed out fifth.


LTC Earl McGill [1], a retired SAC B-52 pilot, claims that the aircrew, after an inflight refueling session that provided inadequate fuel, refused the offer of an additional, unscheduled inflight refueling, bypassed possible emergency landing fields and ran out of fuel. The crew ejected, the aircraft broke up and four onboard nuclear weapons were released. The weapons’ multiple safety interlocks prevented both a nuclear explosion and release of radioactive material. LTC McGill, based on his SAC experience, blames the aircrew failures on the use of Dexedrine to combat fatigue on the 24-hour flight preceding the accident.



  1. McGill, LTC USAF (Ret), Earl J. (2012). “Chapter 13”. Jet Age Man: SAC B-47 and B-52 Operations in the Early Cold War. Casemate Publishers. ISBN 9781907677465.
  2. Crash Report
  3. Watch American Troops Pick over a B-52 Crash Site

The Only Air-to-Air Kill for the British Phantom

On May 25th 1982, Lt. Roy Lawrence and his RIO  Lt. Alistair Inverarity of RAF 92 Squadron were sitting in their McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR.2 XV (SN: XV422) on ZULU alert at RAF Wildenrath.  The airbase was conducting an exercise to prepare for an upcoming NATO TACEVAL (Tactical Evaluation).  It was tense in those days and aircraft of ZULU alert were, exercise or not, armed with live weapons, lest the Russians picked that day to attack.

During exercises it was normal for NATO aircraft to practice on each other.  The Wing Commander of the base exercising would invite his neighbors to attack his base.  I vividly remember a day at Hahn AB when four Canadian F-18’s roared over our hangar “attacking” the base.  For air to air combat it was a free for all.  Anyone could jump anyone in mock dogfights until one side cried Uncle by wagging their wings.

Lawrence and Inverarity were launched on a training intercept mission.  After completing their mission they were returning to base when they spotted  a pair of RAF SEPECAT Jaguars .  Lawrence rolled into the attack.  Maneuvering  into the six o’clock position, Lawrence fired what he thought was a training shot.  Both men were horrified to see an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile leap off its rail and guide straight into the trailing Jaguar (SN: XX963/AL) flown by Flight Lt. Steve Griggs of  RAF 14 Squadron.  Griggs had been busily trying to land his aircraft.  He never saw it coming.  As his aircraft exploded around him, he ejected safely.


Like any mishap, a chain of events led to the catastrophe.   The RAF Wing Commander authorized aircraft armed with live weapons to participate in the exercise. To prevent fratricide, the Master Arm switch should have been covered in white tape.  It wasn’t.  To disable the missile launch system, the RIO would pull the circuit breaker removing the power.  In the event, Inverarity is heard pulling the CB and Lawrence acknowledging  the action prior to the engagement.

During the investigation, the circuit breaker in question was found to be faulty.  In the pulled position, the slightest pressure would depress it and complete the circuit.  It was felt by the Board that the G Forces during the initial maneuver was enough to do this.

At a lengthy and public board of enquiry the blame fell squarely on the crew who had pulled the trigger and achieved the RAF’s only air-to-air kill with the mighty FGR.2. Both crew were found to be guilty and punished.

Prosecutor Capt. Christopher Eadie told the hearing:

‘A Phantom fitted with eight live missiles has a capacity for dealing death and destruction which imposes an onerous duty to take maximum care.’

The Board’s final determination was:

“A breakdown of safety checks led to the pilot getting the ‘growl’ in his headset, squeezing his trigger…and getting the ‘Kill’.”


Both men could have been sentenced to jail terms of two years each under the charges, but were only reprimanded by a judge advocate .