Advanced Praise for "Flying from the Black Hole: The B-52 Navigator-bombardiers of Vietnam

"No one ever worked as hard or as long at a dangerous task than B-52 navigator-bombardiers. They fought their battles in dark cold discomfort and were absolutely vital in making the B-52 an effective weapon. In this long overdue account, distinguished combat veteran Bob Harder tells the amazing story of skill, dedication, and valor of the men who were most feared by the North Vietnamese, and he tells it well!"
Colonel Walter J. Boyne, USAF (Ret.), Command Pilot, B-52 aircraft commander, former Director of the National Air & Space Museum, 2007 Inductee into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, best selling author of over 40 books on aviation including his most recent novel, "Hypersonic Thunder," released in April, 2009.

"This book will complete your Vietnam air war library. Splendid research and a tale well told."
Robert Coram, author of "Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art Of War" and "American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day."



"Be prepared for a sensory overload; whining gyros, whistling slipstream, screaming engines, jet-fuel and electronic odors, stomach churning turbulence, and palm-sweating fear of SAMs. Robert Harder's brilliant account sings with authenticity."
Robert Vaughan, New York Times and Publisher's Weekly best-selling author with over 20 million books in print, including "Andersonville," "Brandywine's War," "Touch The Face Of God," "The Masada Scroll," and its sequel "Armor of God."



"The book accurately traces the development of navigation and bombing techniques from the earliest days of aviation to the defining Vietnam War air battle over Hanoi. Must-read heavy bomber history, artfully told from the B-52 navigator-bombardier's point of view."
Brigadier General John J. "Joe" Allen, USAF (Ret.), night forward air controller in Laos during Vietnam War, C-130A instructor navigator, Air Force academy instructor navigator, Director of Civil Engineering at Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Civil Engineer at Headquarters Air Combat Command (ACC), Langley Air Force Base, VA.


Book Reviews for "Flying from the Black Hole"

From the December/January 2009/10 issue of the
Smithsonian's AIR & SPACE MAGAZINE

THE WHITE-HOT BLAST of a surface-to-air missile’s fragmentation warhead marks the climax of Robert O. Harder’s tribute to Vietnam-era B-52 combat crews. The author flew 145 combat missions in the “Black Hole” of the title: the deafening, cramped workplace of the two men responsible for putting a B-52’s bombs precisely on target. In this dark hell of screaming turbines
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From the Winter 2009 Issue of Air Power History, a quarterly publication of the Air Force Historical Foundation (Two Reviews)

From 1965 to 1973, B-52s dropped nearly three million tons of bombs on Southeast Asia and dwarfed any single-aircraft campaign statistic. This manuscript attempts to "set the record straight" about the crucial roles played by non-pilot aircrew members-specifically, B-52 navigators and bombadiers.

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From the American Aviation Historical Society's AAHS Flight Line, #169,
Fourth Quarter 2009

As a former navigator, he writes with a unique perspective. His view of bombing operations is one that has not been as widely known to the press and the American public. As such, his story may seem to some as politically incorrect. However, it also is written by someone who obviously has,”been there, done that.”

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From "Vietnam" magazine, published by the Weider Group, December, 2009 Issue

In Flying from the Black Hole, Robert O. Harder gives the first comprehensive account of the navigator-bombardier's war, which climaxed in December 1972 with Operation Linebacker II, in which the B-52s revived their long-neglected strategic role by bombing North Vietnamese cities. Rather than focus on the pilots dodging SAMs and MiGs, Harder tells the tale from his enclosed perspective: the screens and charts within a foul-smelling little compartment with no view of the outside world, from which he directed the bombs to their target.


From "History: Reviews of New Books," reviewed by James H. Willbanks, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, July,2010

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Review by Ronald Barrett, President/Historian of the Air Force Navigator-Observer Association (AFNOA)

If you are at all interested in the Vietnam Air War, buy this book.

Fall, 2009 Newsletter

From the September 2009 issue of Italy's aviation magazine, JP4 mensile di Aeronautica (Written in Italian)

September 2009 Issue

From the April 2010 issue of Truppendienst Bundesheer, the Austrian Federal Army's Military ForcesService magazine (written in German)

April 2010 Issue

2012 Air and Space Power Journal, Book Reviews

Air Force Research Institute


Book Reviews for "The Three Musketeers of the Army Air Forces"

From the Journal of America's Military Past, Spring/Summer 2016 Issue
Reviewer: Stuart McClung
“The Three Musketeers of the Army Air Forces”: From Hitler’s Fortress Europa to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by Robert O. Harder. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2015. 288 pp., $39.95.

The bombing missions that forced Japan’s surrender, finally ending World War II, have been covered by many authors in the past seventy years, including multiple publications, memoirs, and autobiographies by the participants themselves. Robert O. Harder, however, has included the story of those attacks with that of the personal lives and relationships of the three primary individuals who were instrumental in fulfilling the objective of the Manhattan Project. He also covers the interpersonal controversies, conflicts, and jealousies with others surrounding the careers, actions and decisions of the “Three Musketeers”: Paul Tibbets, Tom Ferebee, and Ted “Dutch” Van Kirk; the pilot, bombardier, and navigator of the Enola Gay.


The first three chapters include short biographies of each man, his early fascination with flying and other personal information. The fourth chapter describes how they came to be united in training at the Sarasota Army Airfield, in Florida. Tibbets was the only one who seemed to have what it took to complete flight training and be rated a pilot, while the other two ended up in the then relatively rudimentary navigation and bombardier schools established by the War Department. With training complete, it was off to Europe to begin flying missions against enemy targets. What many don’t realize is that the three were there for the start of the Army Air Forces’ strategic bombing campaign in mid-1942. Serving together even through their participation in the North Africa Campaign, Operation Torch, that fall Tibbets transported much of the brass—Eisenhower, Mark Clark and others—from England.


The trio was separated for a time, when Tibbets was ordered back to the United States to take command of what would become the initial atomic strike force, the 509th Composite Group. Given the green light to assemble crews as he wished and the authority to requisition what he needed anytime, anywhere (using the codeword “silverplate”), Tibbets and compatriots were reunited at Wendover Army Airfield, Utah. They began training for their final mission in specially modified B-29s, once the bugs had been worked out of a project that could have become a financial and technological disaster for the Army Air Force.


Operating under the strictest secrecy and security, many came to resent and puzzle over the seemingly innocuous operations of this group. But security was maintained and the training was completed. They were dispatched to the Mariana Islands, where additional training and orientation was the order of the day, and again the group encountered resentment and jealousy for the apparent “milk runs” the 509th was flying. As far as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks are concerned, the author has done his best to sort out the myths, fabrications, misconceptions, and unknowns through multiple interviews with each of the “musketeers.” As perfectly as the initial mission went off, the second in Bockscar was plagued by several problems, as described in the book’s one appendix. As Tibbets later admitted, he should have selected a different aircraft commander than Maj. Charles Sweeney.


Hostilities over, the trio broke up yet maintained their close friendship over the years. Van Kirk resigned his commission and worked for the DuPont Company, but the other two remained in the service and made successful careers until they retired. Tibbets was among the first to establish executive jet service (Learjet), even while they all continued to make personal appearances and give interviews. Unfortunately, as they aged, their actions came under criticism with the advent of the anti-nuclear movement and concomitant proliferation issues. The controversial Smithsonian Institution’s Enola Gay exhibition twenty years ago set off another firestorm, this time by the veterans themselves, resulting in its eventual cancellation. Lack of contemporary education on World War II hasn’t helped understanding what these men did or why—something they always maintained was necessary. With the passing of “Dutch” Van Kirk in 2014, the “Three Musketeers” are all now at rest, having no longer a burden to carry for themselves, their families, or country.


As a qualified B-52 navigator and radar bombardier, the author knows whereof he speaks. Although some of the technological descriptions of navigating and bombardment may be above the comprehension of some, his knowledge of and familiarity with same are apparent. Employing his many interviews with his subjects, as well as consulting the Tom Ferebee papers at the North Carolina Museum of History, he has probably gotten as close as anyone can to providing the story of these men who were at the forefront of one of the most historic events of the Twentieth Century.


Although the bibliography is not especially extensive, the author has made the most of the primary and secondary sources employed. This is an easily readable text, which is neither verbose nor lengthy. In many instances, the notes include additional information and clarification to the text. There are no maps, but an eight-page photographic section has multiple shots on each page, including a diagram of the Norden bombsight.


This is a sometimes intimate look at the lives of three of the “Greatest Generation,” whose immense responsibilities can only be imagined in a wartime situation, yet were just as human as anyone else in wanting to end the war, enjoy peace, be with their families and live long, healthy and productive lives. This is certainly a testament to those who survived the Great Depression and went on to help eliminate the immediate threat of world domination by European fascism and Japanese imperialism.


From the Daedalus Flyer, Spring, 2016
Reviewer: James W. Kellogg, Col, USAF (Ret)

Robert Harder, a Vietnam combat veteran as a radar navigator and bombardier, adds his personal knowledge to an in-depth effort of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He sorted through conflicting stories and information to produce a factual, well written biography of the crew and the mission to end WWII.


Harder follows the lives of Paul Tibbetts, Tom Ferebee, and Ted “Dutch” Van Kirk from teenage years through their later lives after WWII. He details how they came together as a B-17 crew in the early days of the war in Europe and their transition to the B-29 in the Pacific. In so doing, he chronicles the challenges they faced with the early B-17 missions in both Europe and North Africa. He follows them through their end of tour assignments and subsequent reformation in the B-29.


The detailed description of the secrecy, training and preparations leading up to the atomic attacks are quite informative. Harder gives an accurate account of the planning, Hiroshima mission briefing and description from take-off to debriefing of the Enola Gay on 6 August 1945. For all of us who used the E-6B computer or circular slide rule, it brings back memories. This is a fascinating story and well worth reading.


From the Air and Space Power Journal, Fall, 2016
Reviewer: Douglas G. Ruark, Captain, USAF
                  U.S. Space Command, Thule, Greenland

From World War II History, October, 2016
Reviewer: Christopher Miskimon

Long before Paul Tibbets, Tom Ferebee, and Ted Van Kirk helped end World War II by leading the world's first nuclear strike force, they were just three of the thousands of men the United States trained to fly its bomber fleet. After training in the U.S. came missions over Europe from bases in England during 1942. Tibbets was quickly promoted to lieutenant colonel for his leadership ability. In October, 1942, Tibbets and Van Kirk flew General Mark Clark to Gibraltar for his secret mission related to the Torch landings in North Africa that November. Afterward Tibbets was attached to the famous General Jimmy Doolittle's staff for a time before receiving the assignment that would make him famous. He was placed in charge of the mission that would deliver the atomic bomb. This meant training in the U.S. followed by a move to the Pacific island of Tinian, where the three aviators prepared for one of the most daunting--and destructive--missions in history.

Drawing on his own experience as a navigator and bombardier aboard a B-52 bomber during the Cold War, the author brings together the stories of these three men using in-depth interviews, well thought out research, and technical accuracy. He dispels several of the mistakes about the atomic missions that have crept into the accepted narrative over previous decades. Overall, the book is well written, clear, and engaging, a fascinating look at America's original atomic warriors.


From Aviation History magazine, March, 2017
Reviewer: Philip Handleman


From Aerospace, publication of the Royal Aeronautical Society, January, 2017
Reviewer: Trevor Nash

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