Sixty years ago a daring Air Force pilot made headlines after he flew his Boeing B-47 jet underneath the Mackinac Bridge
on April 28, 1959, The pilot, Air Force Capt. John S. Lappo flew the six engine U.S. Air Force nuclear bomber between the spans of the bridge, barely clearing the structure.
He did not have permission to perform the dangerous stunt but the Muskegon native pulled it off.
The stunt ended the pilot’s flying career and was roasted in the local press, declared the incident as “capricious” and “foolish.”
The illegal move eventually ended up with Lappo being accused of violating Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice at a general court-martial in Aug. 1959.
At the time, pilots were not allowed to fly the plane less than 500 feet from the ground or water except during takeoff and landing.
Despite having just 155 feet of clearance, Lappo was able to fly under the bridge. A veteran of the Air Force, Lappo flew many dangerous missions during his time as a pilot. However, the move to fly under the bridge would be the last time he ever flew for the Air Force.
Although he never flew again for the Air Force, he eventually retired at the rank of Lt. Col in 1972. He died in 2003, but even in his death, the story of his stunt would be shared.
The Mackinac Bridge is five miles long but there is only 155 feet maximum clearance between the bottom of the deck and the waters of the Great Lakes (Lake Huron and Lake Michigan) below. The B-47 bomber is 28 feet high, meaning there wasn’t much margin for error in Lappo’s flying.
The B-47 was one of America’s first jet-powered bombers, first flying in 1947 and quickly becoming the U.S.’s primary medium-range nuclear bomber until 1965. The B-47 could cruise at 550 miles and hour and carry 25,000 pounds of bombs. In a nuclear war, it could carry two Mk. 15 thermonuclear bombs, each of which had an explosive yield of 3.8 megatons. More than 2,000 of the bombers were produced.
Watch The B-47 and Jimmy Stewart “Strategic Air Command”