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The MiG and the B-50 Bomber

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 24, 2023 3:02 am

The MiG and the B-50 Bomber

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 24, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, at the height of the Cold War a Russian MiG and an American weather plane meet over the North Pole. Richard Muniz tells the rest of the story.

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See terms and conditions at That's U-N-E-S-T.C-O. This is Our American Stories. And our next story comes to us from our regular contributor, Richard Muniz. Rich is a listener on WHO in Des Moines. And today he shares with us a story told to him by a veteran who flew on weather planes close to Russia over the North Pole.

Take it away, Rich. When I first met James, he was already an old man. And what he had done was he had signed up with our internet service as a customer.

Well, this is back in the early 90s, actually, mid 90s, somewhere around in there. And people of James Caliber didn't exactly take nicely to computers. So sometimes they did things they needed some help with. Well, he called and I realized that I needed to drop by and help him. Well, in this case, he was living in senior housing. And it wasn't that far from the college.

I told him I dropped by after work. And he was living in one of the senior citizens apartments, nothing too too exciting, you know, his computer sitting there on a bottom Kmart desk. Now one of the things I noticed right away when I walked in was his furnishings. One of the walls was an air chart. And it had what looked like the northern coast of the Soviet Union on it.

And here's penciled in in red is a course. And it's skirted the coast, barely inside international airspace. Yeah, navigational slide roller there, he has some other things there. And he had a photograph of what at first glance looked like a B 29 bomber.

He scored me away real quick on it. He said, no, it's not a B 29. You ever heard of the B 50?

Of course I had. The B 50 was an attempt by Boeing to keep the production line going. Now these were the same guys that built a B 29. And they were always doing upgrades on the plane and stuff like that. Well, what they did was they took the B 29, gave it a higher tail service, better metal, more powerful engines, that kind of stuff. And they said it was a whole new bomber. Well, the Air Force bought it.

Why? Because they needed something to be able to deliver the atom bomb to Russia if they needed it to. Now it turned out the B 50 would be the last of the fully piston powered bombers the Air Force ever had. After that, they would replace it with things like the B 36, the B 47, and of course, ultimately the B 52. So now that they had these airplanes sitting around that were basically new, they gave them other missions.

Maybe not as a bomber, but certainly they could do reconnaissance work and they could do weather work. Well, James went on to tell me, he said, I was a navigator on what they call a WB 50. Now the W stands for weather. I looked at the map a little bit and said, that's the Russian coast. He said, yeah, it is, isn't it? What he's telling me is that they used to fly the B 50 up over the pole to collect weather data. And he said it was important for a couple of reasons. One, he said they had to go out there and know what the weather is just in case something kicked off between the United States and Russia. So they know what the weather looked like for our bombers going in. Now, some of the work he did helped make things like the U-2 flights possible, you know, like one of the Francis Gary Powers did.

Of course, I was very familiar with Gary Powers in his disastrous flight. Another thing he told me was they sniffed the air looking for evidence of atomic testing. If he saw an increase in fallout, it was a pretty sure bet that the Russians had tested an atomic bomb someplace. He also said that some of the B 50s were fed out to monitor radio transmissions, radar transmissions. The idea was to go in there and you'll be able to get what the frequencies were on their radars and stuff like that, anything particular about that way they had a better chance of defeating it. Some had high resolution cameras.

They looked for things. But his plane, they're all about weather. Now, one thing he pointed out, he said their job was extremely ticklish. I mean, they're flying right there, right there on the cusp of international airspace.

Off a little bit, maybe a mile or so. Well, guess what? They're in Russian airspace. At that point, it became legal prey for Russian fighters. And he said the problem is, is that incidents had happened.

Everybody in the military community knew about it. That's not both sides of the equation. The Russians are doing the same thing to us. We didn't intercept them down some of the aircraft. They intercept them down some of our aircraft.

Why? Because of navigational errors and stuff like that. So too close in, they're prey for the fighters. Too far out, they don't know what the weather looks like.

So he had to be on the ball on his course. They had to fly right along the edge there. Now, he's pretty sure the Russians didn't like them being there. After all, this is a bomber. He's flying right there on the edge of their airspace. So they didn't actually see him as a direct threat. They probably are pretty sure it was a weather plane. Like I said, since he was a bomber, they had to make sure.

And so every once in a while, they'd get company. He said they were flying over the pole during the middle of the day. And he remembered the sky was amazingly clear. I mean, it was so clear.

It was, you know, it was astonishing. Not a single cloud anywhere. And they're flying along at about 25,000 feet. And of course, the B-50 was pressurized, so you didn't have to wear masks and stuff. And if you looked out the window of where he was sitting, he could look out and see this huge expanse of ice. He could see lines crossing it, you know, where it looked like roads, but really where were pressure ridges, where the ice was coming together and buckling up and stuff like that. He looked out the other side, he could see Russia.

I mean, he could see snow, he could see mountains, and in places, he could even see sunlight glinting off of glass or metal or something like that. So far, their flight had been routine. Nothing exciting, nothing to write home about. The engines were going, they were doing their job, talking back and forth. He kept checking their position constantly. He said they had to make absolutely certain they were inside International Airspace. And then he remembers the pilot making an announcement.

We've got company. And he got up, he looked out a small portal, and off to one side, maybe 100, 150 yards out, was a MiG-19. And he said he could see the red star painted on it.

Here's the pilot. You can see the pilot, you know, the pilot's got his goggles on, he's got an oxygen mask on. He's looking at the B-50 like, oh my God, what a big target. And then somebody else said, we've got another on the other side. And he went and looked out the other one, and sure enough, there's another MiG out there. And he said we flew that way for several minutes. He kept looking out the fire off one wing, look at the other one and stuff. And he noticed the one on one side was starting to get a little bit closer to him. It was like he was trying to hurt him into Russian airspace. He reported that the pilot said, yeah, I've been watching him.

He started to crowd just a little bit. But the thing was, you maintain your course. I mean, the instinctive thing is to try to maintain your distance. The problem is if they try to maintain their distance, you know, he'd hurt him right into Russian airspace. And at that point, guess what?

It's open season on him. And finally, the MiG stopped, maybe 20 meters beyond their wings, stuff like that. And it flew that way for several minutes. And, you know, he's sitting there, you know, this is really getting kind of nervous for him because he knew the B-50 set up a little bit of a slipstream. And it would be very easy for something as small as the MiG to get sucked into it.

If that happened, there was a danger of an air collision and both sides would lose. You know, he just knew that it was scary and he had to do something about it. And he's there nervous like that. Finally, he did the only thing he could think of. He held his middle finger out, put it up to the window and held it towards the plane. He says he doubts very much the Russian ever saw it.

I mean, to be honest about it, the Russians out there, bright sunlight, he's sitting inside a dark airplane, you know, sunlight glitting off the metal, stuff like that. No chance he ever saw it. But he said it sure made him feel good. After that, he saw more MiGs.

Sometimes they maintained their distance, sometimes they wouldn't. He compared it this way. He said, you know, it was routine, but at the same time, there was nothing routine about it. He just kind of got used to it. He says it's a little bit like a shark following a sailboat.

As long as no one does anything stupid, it's going to be okay in the end. And that's James' story about the MiG. And what a story that Richard Muniz told about his pal James. And I can just see James in my own mind flipping a Russian MiG pilot, the bird. Whether he saw it or not, what a beautiful image. And of course, we know what the MiGs were trying to do, right?

Crowd him into Russian airspace so they could take him down. We love telling these stories. This one again comes from WHO.

A listener there, Richard Muniz. Thanks so much for your contribution. If you have stories about American heroes, men, women, in combat or non-combat positions, share them, send them to They are truly some of our favorites.

The story of James and his B-50 bomber and a Russian MiG here on Our American Stories. Download the Roto app or check out when you're not playing a sport. The easiest way to buy or sell a car right from your phone. This February, Xfinity Flex is unlocking premium entertainment for you to try every single week, no strings attached. Celebrate during Black History Month with shows like Unsung the Decades. Snuggle up during Valentine's Day with a Lifetime Movie Club pick like Harry and Meghan of Royal Romance or crank up the action with Godfather of Harlem from MGM Plus. Get down and funky with the Classic Soul playlist from iHeartRadio. Easily discover new free content each week across the best streaming app. Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote. This is Kevin Costner and if you're an avid traveler like me, you've got to download my new app, Auteo. That's audio with a T. A-U-T-I-O. Enjoy a new way of traveling with stories activated by your location. So when you're driving through a new town, discovering a national park, or just curious about the origin of your city's name, you can listen to a quick three to five minute story covering our history from the first peoples to famous places and insights only locals would know.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-24 04:21:44 / 2023-02-24 04:27:14 / 6

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