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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Too bad there's not pictures or video....

Michigan Air Force pilot flew bomber under Mackinac Bridge on this day 59 years ago
Updated Apr 24, 1:38 PM; Posted Apr 24, 12:04 PM
By Brandon Champion [email protected]

MACKINAW CITY, MI - Today marks the anniversary of a Michigan pilot's dangerous, and illegal, stunt in the Straits of Mackinac.

It was April 24, 1959 when Air Force Capt. John S. Lappo interrupted a calm Friday afternoon in the region by spontaneously flying a state-of-the-art Boeing B-47 jet underneath the Mackinac Bridge.

A native of Muskegon who had an otherwise distinguished career in World War II, Korea, and flying spy planes over Russia, the stunt cost Lappo his wings. He never flew for the Air Force again.

MLive published a detailed account of the day's events in 2017. STORY HERE

Lappo was ultimately accused of violating Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice at general court-martial in Aug. 1959.

Specifically, Air Force regulation 60-16, according to Shepherd. At that time, it stated, "Except during take-off and landing, aircraft will not be flown at less than 500 feet above the ground or water. His stunt stuck with him until his final days and even after.

"Mr. Lappo made headlines in August 1959 when he flew a B-47 bomber under the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan," his obituary published in the Anchorage Daily News on Nov. 22, 2003 reads.

Flying any aircraft under the Mackinac Bridge is illegal to this day.

10,183 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
From the other linked story (HERE), here's the actual account:

According to historical weather data available for 24 April 1959, it was clear and mild that Friday as Capt. Lappo and his crew were returning from a routine nighttime simulated bombing and celestial navigation mission. It was early afternoon when their flight home neared the Mackinac Straits over Lake Michigan.

The sun glistened off the occasional mild whitecaps of the great lake below, almost a mirror reflection of the sky that held Capt. Lappo's RB-47E aloft, like a glider gently floating, lifting slightly with every burst of air. The roar of the bomber's six engines seemed silent in contrast to the serenity of the moment. Afterall, the world's first swept-wing Stratojet should perform no less gracefully then it was at that very moment in time.

This was precisely the reason Capt. Lappo joined the Army-Air Force. Where else could a man retreat and see all the mountain tops at a glance, borderless land masses, and forget the hustle and bustle of the asphalt jungle. The world's longest suspension bridge connecting Mackinaw City in the south with St. Ignace in the north appeared no larger than a one-lane country road from high aloft. Only two vehicles were on the bridge, a car and a truck, both heading north. The bridge's towers climbed more than 500 feet, and her wire cables spanned the strait for more than a mile and a half.

Then, quicker than the sun's rays could cast the bomber's shadow onto the waters beneath it, the silence was broken. The Strategic Air Command bomber headed nose first toward the blue surf below, stretching its wings like a majestic eagle, defiantly making its descent toward the mighty 'Big Mac.' The thrusts of its engines were deafening, but everyone aboard heard Capt. Lappo exclaim, "I'm taking her under!"

The crew was filled with excitement, save one. On this day his trusted friend and usual navigator, Harry B. Wolfe, wasn't onboard. He had transferred and a new navigator, not yet brought into the fold, had augmented the crew instead.

The RB-47 continued to descend and came within 75 feet of reaching the deck when Lappo, heading east with the afternoon sun at his back, leveled her out and raced his way above the whitecaps at speeds that seemed to leave the plane's shadow in its jet stream.

Then at the blink of an eye it was all over, he had shot through the 199-foot clearance beneath the bridge's deck and flew the plane up in a trajectory ascent reminiscent of an Apollo take-off from Cape Kennedy. The crew gave out a reverent, yet subtle hoorah knowing that they had just participated in one of the most beautiful pieces of flying ever undertaken by an Air Force pilot.

When asked whether there were any objections to him doing it Lappo said, "Yeah, the navigator recommended against it. Of course, I had no idea at the time that he was the general's son and that he was going to go rat on me once we got back to Lockbourne."

This wasn't Lappo's first demonstration of flying bravado. A few years earlier he gave a booming salute to his old community back in Muskegon when he swooped down over the town's airfield in another B-47 just to say hello. The switchboard at the police station stayed lit up for nearly an hour after that stunt.

When asked why he did it, he said, "why do men climb mountains? Or what motivates them to go into space? It's just a sense of adventure that some men have and some don't." He added, "I've always wanted to fly under a big bridge. I thought it would be the Golden Gate. When I was flying missions to the Far East, I was a co-pilot, and I wanted to fly under the Golden Gate at night. But I couldn't induce the pilot to do it."
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