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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wichita pilot Chuck Fisher, ‘Mr. B-52,’ saved plane from crash

By Beccy Tanner
The Wichita Eagle

They called him “Mr. B-52.”

An experimental test pilot for 27 years at Boeing, Wichita’s Chuck Fisher became a media sensation in 1964 when he was piloting a B-52 bomber about 500 feet over mountainous terrain in southeastern Colorado. The bomber suddenly hit wind turbulence. He climbed the plane to 14,300 feet when turbulence again hit the plane, this time tearing the tail fin off.

Fisher quickly ordered his three fellow crewman — Richard Curry, Leo Coers and Jim Pittman — to prepare to abandon the plane as it went through a dangerous bank and dive. For five hours, Fisher kept the plane aloft before landing safely at Blytheville Air Force Base in Arkansas.

“The teamwork, coordination and discipline was most apparent in the first hour after the encounter, when we didn’t have a direct assessment of damage,” Fisher told The Wichita Beacon in an article published March 3, 1964.

His daughter, Lisa Bultmann of Andover, was 11 when her dad’s famous flight took place. She remembers coming home from school that day.

“There were all these reporters at the house and all these Boeing people. My mom was very upset,” Bultmann said. “It was just chaos, very confusing.

“I don’t know if he had just landed or was about to bring it down. Nobody was giving me much information. They were more concerned with my mother.”

As the plane began its route back home to Wichita, the winds in the area turned especially turbulent. Because the approaching flight path would be over populated areas in Wichita, Fisher diverted the stricken plane to the Air Force base at Blytheville.

The fact he was able to land the plane without incident was amazing. Fisher, however, was more concerned Boeing would fire him for nearly destroying a $50 million test plane.

“I was scared to death that day,” Fisher told The Eagle in 1999. “If I had been my boss, I’d have fired me. Instead, they turned me into a hero.”

In Washington, the Defense Department considered the event over Colorado and Kansas significant enough to release photos of the aircraft.

“Aviation leaders expect to obtain vital aid in coping with the nation’s greatest air hazard from data acquired because of the cool skill of a civilian test pilot in an emergency situation,” The New York Times reported on March 3, 1964.

In 1999, Fisher wrote of his life and times as Boeing’s top B-52 test pilot in the book, “High, Low, Jack and the Game.” He has since died.

“I was always afraid when he was flying,” said Bultmann, his daughter. “He used to fly stuff that was secret, and he couldn’t be forthcoming about where he had gone, especially during the Vietnam War years. I always worried about what could have happened.”

Last week, Bultmann flew a B-52 simulator at the Kansas Aviation Museum to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the planes being manufactured in Wichita and her father’s historic flight.

“I kept crashing on landing but the whole time I just adored it,” she said. “I kept thinking how difficult and exciting it was and how good he had to have been to fly that thing. It gave me a whole new respect for what he did.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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