Chet Buckenmaier spent 10 years working on B-1A bomber during ‘Cold War’

Chet Buckenmaier of Burnt Store Marina sits beside a picture of a B-1 Bomber he helped design and build while serving in the Air Force for almost 20 years. Sun photo by Don Moore

Chet Buckenmaier of Burnt Store Marina sits beside a picture of a B-1 Bomber he helped design while serving in the Air Force for almost 20 years. Sun photo by Don Moore

Chet Buckenmaier comes from a military family. His grandfather rode with Teddy Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” in Cuba during the Spanish American War of 1898. His uncle was a Navy fighter pilot in World War II. He served for almost 20 years in the Air Force. His son is an Army doctor currently serving at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. His granddaughter is in ROTC at Dickinson College.

Chet went on active duty after graduating from Penn State University in 1955 with a degree in engineering psychology. His poor eyesight washed him out of pilot training. In July 1959 he took navigation training at Logistics Technical School in Amarillo Air Force Base, Texas.

“After that I was sent to Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base in Oklahoma, a Strategic Air Command base, where I became a supply liaison officer,” Buckenmaier said. “I did that for four years until I was reassigned to the Air Force Institute of Technology in January 1963 for 18 months.”

He was about to complete his four year hitch in the service when he learned there was a program where he could take advanced studies if he signed up for three more years in the Air Force. He signed up.

“I received a degree in Human Factors Engineering and was relocated to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. I went to work at Systems Command.”

It was during this period Buckenmaier worked on technology for the B-1 “Lancer” Bomber. Before he was through he spent a decade helping get the strategic bomber airborne.

“The B-1 was originally designed to be a high speed, high altitude strategic bomber to replace the B-52 ‘Stratofortress,’ four engine bomber. Because it used so much fuel it had the same problem as the B-52. It couldn’t fly from the U.S. to the Soviet Union without being refueled.”

The Soviets had greatly improved their SAM (Surface to Air) missiles. Having U.S. bombers flying high in the sky wasn’t nearly as effective as it once had been.

“So the Air Force switched its assignment for the B-1 and made it a low level strategic attack aircraft. It would hug the ground and fly fast to elude enemy missiles and aircraft,” he said.

“A special rocket was built for the B-1 designed to knock out Soviet ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles) at low altitudes.”

Buckemaier was involved in the design of the ejection system for the B-1. It took a lot of planning and redesign, but eventually a system was developed for getting the four-man crew of a B-1 ejected safely.

In 1976 he was assigned to the Pentagon in charge of the Air Force’s flight simulator program. Congress appropriated millions that allowed the Air Force to upgrade its flight simulator program.

“We had to use the money Congress appropriated within three years or return it so someone else could use it,” Buckenmaier recalled. “We built a state-of-the-art computer system to train pilots.

“Today, because of the improvement in flight simulators, much of the training of Air Force pilots is done on the ground in simulators,” he said.

In 1979 a civilian company, Stinger-Link, offered him a job he couldn’t refuse in the private sector. After nearly 20 years in the Air Force, Buckenmaier retired as a lieutenant colonel, and went to work for them for the next five years.

After that he spent the next three years with Science Application International Corp. where he worked as a design engineer. He worked a couple of years for naval architects on sea systems. The last eight years of his working career he was employed by Computer Technology Associates. They worked with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Buckenmaier and his wife, Carolyn, moved to Burnt Store in 1998. They have two grown children: Chet III is an Army doctor and Erich is a financial advisor for a firm that works with banks throughout the country.

Buckenmaier’s File

Name: Chet Buckenmaier
D.O.B: 27 August 1936
Hometown: Boston, Mass.
Currently:  Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service:  25 January 1959
Discharged:  31 December 1979
Rank:  Lt. Col.
Unit:  4123 Strategic WG(H)
Commendations:  Meritorious Service Award-2 Commendations, Air Force Outstanding Unit Commendation-3 awards

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, May 12, 2014 and is republished with permission.

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