In the 60’s SAC began an extensive training on low level flight to give its pilots much needed skills to penetrate Soviet radar coverage and to avoid being shot down by anti-air defences. There were a special training routes set in the Continental United States – an ‘Oil Burners’ (sometimes crews flew this routes 300 feets or 91 metres above ground) which allows to experience a difficult approaches and to learn how to overcome a turbulence on such low altitudes.
Earl McGill mentioned an episode about one of such routes:
[…] there was another Oil Burner that was every pilot’s favorite. From the entry point near Farmington NM we flew west across the Navajo Reservation at low altitude, detouring to avoid Navajo Mountain, before dipping into the Grand Canyon, terrain following the Colorado River until popping up over the rim and attacking the RBS (radar bombing score) train at St. George, UT. It was a fabulous experience, as well as unbelievable that we were being paid to fly through the top-rated wonder of the world. One day we were wending our way down the mighty Colorado below the canyon rim. I was feeling smug and full of myself for accomplishing such a ‘daring feat’ when I spotted a civilian sightseeing Goonie Bird several hundred feet below us. Another time we popped over the North Rim and scattered the largest herd of deer I’ve ever seen – a sighting that took place literally in the blink of an eye. I loved the Grand Canyon Oil Burner for its scenic wonders, but the Navajo said we were desecrating their holy mountain and gave us the boot – boot – rightfully so, I believe.
Excerpts from Earl J. McGill’s book ‘Jet Age Man: SAC B-47 and B-52 Operations in the Early Cold War’.
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