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B-47 Bomber Crash of 1960

On the morning of March 31, 1960, aircraft number 52-1414A was set to take off from the Little Rock Air Force Base (LRAFB) in Jacksonville (Pulaski County). This B-47E was part of the 384th Bombardment Wing, which was established at the LRAFB on August 1955. The aircraft was destined for Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana. The typical B-47 crew consisted of three crew members: pilot, co-pilot, and navigator. However, this flight was carrying four crew members on the morning of March 31: Captain Herbert J. Aldridge (pilot, Air Force Reserve), First Lieutenant Thomas G. Smoak (co-pilot, Air Force Reserve), Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds S. Watson (navigator, Air Force Reserve), and Kenneth E. Brose (civil engineer, Regular Air Force.)

With pre-flight checks complete, the aircraft took off from Runway 24 at 5:55 a.m. local time. Shortly after takeoff, the aircraft began to disintegrate in mid-air. Following the initial breakup of the aircraft over Little Rock (Pulaski County), calls and reports began streaming in. A clear line of debris and destruction could be seen from Allsopp Park, where the nose of the aircraft was found, to the intersection of Summit Street and Maryland Avenue, where the fuselage of the plane came down with such force that it created a crater that was six and a half feet deep and thirty-five feet across.

Located nine blocks west of the impact zone along Appianway, debris caused damage to five homes. An almost intact wing carved a path of destruction down 8th Street and Appianway. The only surviving crewman, First Lieutenant Thomas G. Smoak, who was injured and burned, was able to parachute out of the aircraft before becoming entangled in a tree in the backyard of what is now 510 Martin Street. The Hillcrest neighborhood sustained a significant amount of damage to structures due to falling debris and fire. Alta Lois Clark at 211 Colonial Court in Hillcrest was the lone civilian fatality there; Jimmy Hollobaughs died at 1920 Maryland near the Arkansas State Capitol.

Debris was scattered across the Hillcrest area, with one of the ejection seats landing on the Pulaski Heights Junior High schoolyard. Only a few houses away, one of the six turbojet engines was “reported to have fallen in the 300 block of Crystal Courts. Fred McCulloch, [of] 320 Lynwood Court, said the motor was buried ‘almost level with the ground’ in the back yard of a Mr. Davies.” Two of the other jet engines were found in the front yard of Frederica Scott’s home at 314 Ridgeway, while two other engines were found at 3618 Hill Road. A section of the wing was found in the front yard of Dr. B. James Reaves at 4 Edgehill, while other larger pieces of debris and wreckage were found throughout Allsopp Park. These larger pieces of debris included the nose section of the B-47 and one of the jet engines. Smaller pieces of debris, like a microphone, were found, or at least reported, as far away as Riverside Elementary School in North Little Rock (Pulaski County).

Looting of the accident sites was the only major problem experienced by the crash investigation team, as people took valuable parts and pieces that could be helpful in the investigation. The air force put out a plea to the citizens to refrain from “collecting crash items as souvenirs.”

By the middle of the day on April 2, 1960, First Lieutenant Smoak was able to tell his story to the media. He stated that pre-check and take-off all went normally. During the climb over Little Rock, Smoak was doing paperwork when he “looked up and saw that the plane was in a pretty steep turn to the left.” Smoak then “notified the pilot of the situation and he attempted to correct it.” It was during this correction that Smoak heard a “thud” and was then surrounded by fire.

The accident report released following the investigation stated that only thirteen minutes after takeoff, the Aircraft 52-1414A began a nose-down, high-speed, left-bank turn that the pilots were unable to pull out of at the time, overstressing several of the aircraft’s structural members. The report also identified pilot inattention or distraction as a contributing cause of the crash, allowing the aircraft “to progress from a normal flight altitude to a nose down, left bank, high speed condition” that was unrecoverable.

At 1:30 p.m. on April 2, 1960, a memorial service was held for the three fallen airmen at the Little Rock Air Force Base chapel.

For additional information:
“Air Force Crew Claims Engines from B47.” Arkansas Democrat, April 3, 1960.

“B47 Engine Removed from Allsopp Park.” Arkansas Democrat, April 3, 1960.

“Bomber’s Wing Gashes Homes 9 Blocks Away.” Arkansas Gazette, April 1, 1960, 1A.

Boyne, Walter J. “The B-47’s Deadly Dominance.” Air Force Magazine 96 (February 2013): 79–83.

“Crew Chief a Victim.” Arkansas Gazette, April 3, 1960, p. 2A.

Knaack, Marcelle Size. Encyclopedia of U.S. Air Force Aircraft and Missile Systems, Vol. 2, Post World War II Bombers 1945–1973. Washington DC: Office of Air Force History, 1988.

Lewis, Bill, and Patrick J. Owens. “Jet Explodes over Little Rock; Crash Sets Homes Afire; 5 Die.” Arkansas Gazette, April 1, 1960, p. 2A.

Ratermann, Travis. “‘A Living Hell’: The Story of a B-47 Bomber Crash that Devastated Little Rock Neighborhoods.” Pulaski County Historical Review 66 (Spring 2018): 2–18.

“These Big Fragments of the B-47 Came Down in Pulaski Heights.” Arkansas Gazette, April 1, 1960, p. 7A.

Troutt, Bob. “…I Was Being Burned Alive.” Arkansas Democrat, April 2, 1960, p. 1.

Worthington, Rodney. “Heights Area Hard Hit by Air Tragedy.” Arkansas Democrat, March 31, 1960, p. 2.

Travis Ratermann
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated 9/10/2018

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