A Bomb Group Again

In January of 1972, though, a different announcement was made. Instead of the RF-4s, the 190th was to have the B-57Gs being withdrawn from Vietnam . There were 14 left of the original 16. It was something of a blow, but the Pentagon's reasoning was sound enough. The G models were to remain in the inventory and in use, so that the equipment could be studied and used elsewhere if needed. Someone had to fly the planes, and the regular Air Force was already losing units. It would have to be a reserve or guard unit, and what unit in the country knew more about the B-57 than the 190th TRG, whose A models were due to be replaced in any event? By late spring, 1972, Vietnam vets (actually from Udorn AFB, Thailand ) were appearing at Forbes Field.

In May of 1972, the RB-57s, which the unit had flown for almost 14 years, began their last flight. Ten of them went to Aberdeen Proving Ground for a destruction-testing program. The remainder of the unit went to Davis-Monthan AFB, where they sit on a runway yet. It was a sad day for many of the men of the 190th, especially the pilots. As LtCol Render put it, "I've had this bird for quite a few years. I'm proud of it." There was work to be done, men to train, even a new unit insignia to go up everywhere, but the predominant tone was set by one of the pilots: "You know, you feel a little sad."

On 12 June 1972 , the unit began a new mission under a new name. The 190th TRG became the 190th Bomb Group (Tactical). It became a night bombardment force, armed with the only B-57Gs in the world.

The greatest burden in the change fell on armament, maintenance and aircrew elements. Navigators were changed to weapons systems officers, new weapons had to be learned and maintained, and complex new electronic equipment had to be mastered. This included forward-looking radar and infrared detection systems, low light level television, and a weapons delivery computer. Much of this equipment is now in widespread use, but in 1972 it was first generation and experimental - that is, heavy, bulky and complex. Much sympathy should go to the pilots, though. Where the RB-57As had been a dream to fly, and long-range aircraft, the G's carried much more weight (about three tons) and carried it very poorly. Of necessity, most of it was concentrated in the nose, so the controls had to be fought every moment to keep the aircraft on course. Nor were the missions anything to compensate for this. They consisted of endless runs over the same nearby bombing range where, so the pilots claim, the weapons systems officers had all the fun.

Nonetheless, it was a new mission and a necessary one, and the men of the 190th learned their new tasks quickly and well.

On 21 Dec 1972 , Captain Armour, pilot and 1st Lt Chapman were taking off as the second aircraft in a four-ship flight when the right engine exploded. Both crewmen ejected safely from the crippled aircraft, but the crash marred the end of over eight years of accident-free flying for the 190th and 117th. Details, again, are available on a need to know basis.

While the unit was still adapting to a new aircraft and unit mission, the Air Force complicated life by deactivating Forbes AFB. By October 1973, the men and women of the 190th were moving about the abandoned buildings of Forbes like the last few inhabitants of a budding ghost town. Wildlife began to make a comeback (as opposed to wildlife, which never entirely left any base with service personnel).

Forbes AFB was only briefly Forbes ANGB, though. Soon the bulk of the old SAC installation was sold to the city of Topeka , and the 190th began its retreat into the north end of the base, which continues as of this writing. By late 1978 or early 1979, the entire unit will be in a compound of its own, and all functions will be in walking distance of one another. Being the host unit of Forbes, though, imposed numerous responsibilities on the men of the 190th through two changes in equipment.

The drive to make the ANG section of Forbes a compact, self-sufficient base had involved the largest construction program thus far in the history of the unit. An estimated 5.7 million dollars are being spent to put up new buildings or renovate existing ones. (No doubt the construction of a two-story structure for maintenance, supply and dispensary within Hangar 662 fits one or the other of the categories). Not only will these structures make the 190th more efficient by providing better facilities, they will greatly reduce the wasted time spent going from one section to another. At the same time, concentrating the unit functions will make it possible to establish an effective perimeter guard and limit access to the base. It was not clear, when the projects first go underway, how important this ability would soon become.

Some of the construction, it is worth noting, has been in the planning stage longer than other parts. When the 190th was stationed at Hutchinson , plans were made for certain new buildings, and some blueprints were actually drawn up, only to be shelved when the unit was redeployed to Forbes AFB. Six years later, when the 190th once more the only flying unit assigned to its home field, the plans were dusted off and the buildings constructed accordingly.