Airman Francis Williams trained to fix F-100 Jet Fighters’ RADAR, but put ‘A-Bombs’ in B-57 Bombers

Francis Williams of Port Charlotte graduated from high school in 1954 in St. Clair, Mich. The following year he joined the Air Force and trained as a RADAR technician. He thought he would be repairing the RADAR units in F-100 “Super Sabre” jet fighters. Instead he and a small crew of workmen ended up loading atomic bombs in the bellies of B-57 “Canberra” twin-jet bombers during the “Cold War” in the 1950s in France.

Sampson, N.Y. is where Williams took basic training. From there he went to Denver, Col. where he received technical training on RADAR units.

“The F-100 fighters I was supposed to be working on at Little Rock Air Force Base in Bentonville, Ark. had no RADAR units,” he recalled. “Instead, 100 pounds of sandbags were placed in the belly of each plane that took the place of RADAR.”

Since the Air Force lacked technical employment for him in Bentonville, Williams got menial jobs. When he wasn’t pulling K.P. he was cleaning the officers’ sidearms.

“Air Force officers didn’t clean their own guns. They didn’t know how to take a .45 caliber pistol apart,” he said. “It was my job to clean all the firearms aboard a B-57 bomber. That included .50 caliber machine-guns, carbines, and grease guns.”

Williams is standing on the wing of an F-100 fighter-jet he never worked on because they lacked RADAR units. Photo provided

For almost a year he worked at Little Rock cleaning guns. Then he got a break. Williams volunteered from a European assignment.

“I spent almost 23 months of my service time at a base in Léon, France. My job was to help put A-Bombs into American B-57 bombers. The bombs were three or four feet in diameter and they were round. We used a hydraulic lift to put them in the belly of the planes.

“The bomb bay doors were open and we would slide the bombs onto a track inside the B-57s. There was a sergeant in charge of the crew and three or four airmen like me who worked for him.

“We put 20 A-bombs in bombers a month at Léon Air Force Base. Of that number four of the bombs were armed, but we never knew which four.

“While working with these bombs, I was told if one of the bombs crashed with A-bombs aboard they wouldn’t explode. I loved that since I was working with similar bombs.”

Shortly before his discharge Williams returned to the States and relocated to England Air Force Base in Alexandria, La.

This is a B-57, twin-engine jet bomber like the one Williams loaded “A-Bombs” into. Photo provided

“It was 1958 and we were having a Cuban problem,” he said. “Because I loaded A-Bombs for the Air Force in Europe they wanted me to do the same thing stateside. I ended up at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The Air Force wanted to make sure these bombs were available if things blew up in Cuba.”

“For about 10 days, in October of 1958, I loaded A-Bombs for Cuba into the bellies of B-57s at Eglin. Then something happened and everything was called off.

“In June 1959 I was discharged from the Air Force at the base in Alexandra, La. When I got out of the service it was between the Korean War and the Vietnam War. There were no G.I. benefits. I went to work for Western Bell Telephone and worked for them for 20 years.“

Williams moved to Port Charlotte in 1989. Ten years ago he married Donna.

Name: Francis Derr Williams
D.O.B: 4-8-37
Hometown: St. Clair, Mich.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: Jan. 23, 1955
Discharged: June 1959
Rank: Airman 2nd Class
Commendations: Good Conduct Medal
Battles/Campaigns: “Cold War”

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018 and is republished with permission.

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  1. This gentleman was in grade-school classes with me… I thought he’d gone on to college somewhere else when I then attended DUS & after went to MSU. My mother knew his parents, and lived across a short 60′ street in St. Clair Shores from them. Never know who’ll show up from your past!

    This is #3 – one man I was acquainted with in college became an F-105 pilot stationed in Japan; the other, who was on War Tales – crewed on the “Glomar Explorer” when they raised half of the Russian Sub NE of Hawaii, and later at Nevada’s Area 51 developing guidance & counter-measures on the 117 Blackbird – both times employed by Honeywell; previously he served in the US Army as an artillery spotter during the battle of “Pork-chop Hill” in Korea.

    I was to know Hank Ostyn years after – as he worked with me in Sailors Outfitting Service in St. Pete during the mid-70’s – ’96. He passed away in July at ’84. We had one chance to visit at the Bay Pines Veterans Hospital two weeks before. Phil


  2. Hi My Dad Major James L Depew was assigned to fly the last 4 black b-57 out of Leon ,like the ones you loaded. He was a Master Navigator on the B-17-25-29. Id love to share my pictures if you like. Nice pictures and thanks for your service

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