Today marks the 37th anniversary of the start of Operation Linebacker II aka Christmas Bombings so it was only appropriate that I e-interviewed Robert Harder, author of Flying From the Black Hole: The B-52 Navigator-Bombardiers of Vietnam.

What inspired you to write Flying From the Black Hole: The B-52 Navigator-Bombardiers of Vietnam?

After reading Marshal Michel’s “The 11 Days of Christmas”, I realized that not only had no one told the story of Linebacker Two from the navigator-bombardier viewpoint, no one had told the full story of USAF rated non-pilot flying officers. I decided to wrap both major topics into one package. I was fortunate; Naval Institute Press was my first choice as a publisher; and was the first and only press I submitted it to.

How does Flying From the Black Hole fill a void in aviation historiography?

Explaining American post World War Two heavy bomber history from the viewpoint of the B-52 navigator-bombardier, the mainstay heavy bomber in the USAF from 1955 to present day. While several vanity books have written about this topic, from this navigator-bombardier slant, Black Hole is the only book to deal with it from a national royalty press.

What were some of your more insightful sources?

My primary information came from my personal files and experience. Michel’s “11 Days” was the most important printed source; following closely on its heels were dozens of email interviews with World War Two, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, and Linebacker Two veterans.

How does writing your first book compare to your 145 combat missions during the Vietnam War?

Not comparable really. I could not have written about my experiences in the manner I personally wished for at least a quarter century due to classified material concerns. And then it took me another 20 years for me to realize that it was something that cried out to be done, for the sake of all the USAF rated nonpilot flying officers. It really came home in 2004 when the Air Force and Navy said that all the former positions in those rated nonpilot fields (RIOs, navigators, bombardiers, electronic warfare officers,observers, etc) would be discontinued and that such related cockpit positions still remaining would in the future be manned by Combat Systems Operators (CSOs) and Weapon Systems Officers (WSOs). I was also very heavily encouraged (indeed mentored) by aviation historian and best selling writer, Walter Boyne. Boyne has long lamented the lack of documentation of the work of the B-52 navigator-bombardiers. I am very grateful for his confidence and support.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Air Force, Books

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  • Philip J Woeber

    I found your book by accident and have ordered from
    Thanks for writing about us.
    I graduated from UNT, Class 62-19, Harlingen AFB, TX. There were only three classes behind me before the base was closed and moved to Waco. I did EWO training at Mather but managed to navigate in my first two assignments.
    I was a C-135/C141 navigator in MAC 44th ATS 1963-65, an EB-66C navigator 41TRS in Thailand 1966 (100 missions) and a B-52 EWO in the 5th BW 1967-68 and 68th BW 1975-77. While in the 68th BW, I worked with a lot of veterans of the Guam-based B-52 crews that flew in Linebacker. I got credit for a combat tour in the Vietnam War but none of the B-52 crews got combat tour credit and got no overseas return date like I did. Most of the guys flew more than 100 missions out of Guam and had served 2-4 179 day TDY tours. My average mission over North Vietnam lasted 4.5 hours. All the Guam missions were at least 18 hours. One of the EWOs I flew with in 41TRS was later died during Linebacker in one of the few B-52’s shot down. His name was Nutter J Wimbrow III. A really fine officer and a good friend. I finished my flying career in 68th BW in June 1977.

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