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

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