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Crew Chief to Two of the Air Force’s Fastest Bombers

Welby Smith was one of the first to join the newly named United States Air Force. The former Army Air Forces became the U.S. Air Force on September 16, 1947. Army Air Fields were renamed Air Force Bases and new personnel were issued new uniforms with new rank insignias. Welby was born on November 18, 1930 in Boswell, OK. He joined the Air Force at age 17 in December of 1947 and was sent to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The ambitious young man first trained in fire rescue, but couldn’t get promoted very quickly, so he went into the air police. He found that he couldn’t get promoted quickly there either, so he went into aircraft maintenance.

Most of his training was “on-the-job” for fire rescue and air police. He spent three years at Burtonwood AFB, England. Burtonwood was reverted to the USAF in 1948 to support US European bases and it undertook the entire major servicing for the C-54 Skymaster aircraft involved in the Berlin Airlift. From June 24, 1948 to May 12, 1949, the U.S. and her allies flew over 200,000 flights. They provided West Berliners over 6700 tons of necessities each day such as food and fuel due to a Soviet blockade. With the airlift clearly working, the Soviets lifted the blockade.

Welby came back to the states and went into the air police at Brooks AFB in San Antonio. After a stint as an air policeman, he went into aircraft maintenance school at Amarillo AFB, Texas. After spending time at Hunter AFB in Savannah GA, he was assigned to Nouasseur AFB near Casablanca, Morocco where he was an aircraft maintenance man on the B-47 Stratojet. The B-47’s distinctive swept-wing design was developed by Boeing from test results found in a German lab in May 1945. The B-47 medium bomber became the foundation of the Air Force's newly created Strategic Air Command. Between 1947 and 1956, a total of 2,032 B-47s in all variants were built. The jet broke speed and distance records. In 1949 it crossed the United States in under four hours at an average speed of 608 mph. The B-47 was so fast that it only needed defensive armament in the rear, because no fighter was fast enough to attack it except from the rear. B-47’s were in service from 1951 until 1977.

Welby was transferred to Carswell AFB in Ft. Worth, Texas. He joked that he “could not stay out of Texas!” Here he would become a crew chief on one of the Convair B-58 Hustlers which was the first operational supersonic jet bomber capable of Mach 2 flight. The B-58 set no fewer than 19 world speed records, including coast-to-coast records, and one for the longest supersonic flight in history. On 12 January 1961, Major Henry J. Deutschendorf (singer John Denver's father) commanded a B-58 crew from the 43rd Bombardment Wing that set three world speed records. In 1963 it went from Tokyo to London (via Alaska), a distance of 8,028 miles in 8 hours, 35 minutes, 20.4 seconds, averaging 938 mph. As of 2016, this record still stands. Welby also did maintenance on bombers in Guam in the late 1960’s that flew missions during the Vietnam War. After a nearly 21-year career, he retired as a Master Sergeant in March 1968.

As a teenager, Welby was smitten. His friend Kenneth introduced him to his sister Lajuana, whom he described as “the most beautiful girl in the world”. Welby’s affection for her grew, and although he did not personally get to take her to a dance, he once “arranged” for the corsage purchased by her date to come up missing, so she would have to wear the one he’d bought for her.

After both were widowed from previous marriages, Welby “married up”. Lajuana would become his best friend and partner for the last half of his life. They have already spent 26 years to date in wedded bliss. With his first wife he had 4 children, and Lajuana had 3 from her first marriage. Welby and Lajuana beam with pride as they describe loving and positive family relations and communication. Even now, when they enter a store, he will walk up to a staff person and ask them, “Do you see that beautiful woman over there? That’s my wife.”

Welby speaks in the community about patriotism and provides hundreds of copies of Russ Murphy's "Welcome Home Soldier" on CD to his listeners and other people he meets. Welby knew Russ from Indiana Avenue Baptist Church, and the song was written in 1996 about Chad Gross, who had been involved in 120 combat missions. It has won numerous awards.

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