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SAC Ends Use of Tail Gunners

September 17, 1991 GMT

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AP) _ The era of the tail gunner, who sat in the back to protect the plane’s rear, came to an end Monday as the Strategic Air Command announced the position would be eliminated on its B-52 bombers.

The move, which takes effect Oct. 1, will trim 525 SAC positions and help the Air Force save money in an era of defense budget cuts, said Tech. Sgt. Alan Dockery, a spokesman at SAC headquarters near Omaha.

Dockery said it was difficult to determine exactly how much money would be saved. Tail guns will be salvaged for possible use on other aircraft.

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For Albert E. Conder and about 1,000 other members of Air Force Gunners Association, who once flew backward and stared at approaching enemies with a pointed gun, the news marked the end of an era.

″It was a fantastic view in the tail of an airplane,″ Conder said in a telephone interview from his home in Atwater, Calif. ″You never knew where you were going. You always knew where you had been.″

Conder, 65, retired from the Air Force as a chief master sergeant in 1967 after 24 years of service that included work as a gunner on B-17s in World War II and on B-29s in the Korean War. He is president of the gunners association.

The history of the tail gunner dates back to the early days of wartime flying. By World War II, gunners were positioned on the tail, waist, upper turret and other parts of the B-17s.

″To be a gunner was to protect the aircraft,″ Conder said. ″Of course, if you were in the tail of an aircraft when it was attacked you were in a very vulnerable position, but you had the best position to shoot back.″

Modern tail gunners actually sat in the front with the rest of the crew on B-52s, operating tail-mounted, radar-aimed guns.

SAC said the move will cut 325 gunners and 200 maintenance positions. Gunners and those who work to maintain tail guns will be retrained for other jobs in the Air Force but eventually the move will help the Air Force to reduce its total number of positions, Dockery said.

The bases and numbers of cuts were: Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, 1; Barksdale, La., 63; Carswell, Texas, 77; Castle, Calif., 102; Ellsworth, S.D., 20; Fairchild, Wash., 43; Griffiss, N.Y., 54; KI Sawyer, Mich., 43; Loring, Maine, 38; Minot, N.D., 43; Offutt, 2; Wurtsmith, Mich, 39.