THE INVISIBLE KILLER
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MUSTANG ACE 75 YEARS MIA
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ON THE COVER: Showing the alternate paint scheme that adorned some 55th FG Mustangs, this photo catches the pair in perfect stacked-up formation. (Photo by John Dibbs/ planepicture.com) THIS PAGE: Military Mustangs had an 85-gallon fuel tank behind the seat, where civilian Mustangs often have a passenger wedged into position. The more than 500 pounds of fuel made the aircraft slightly unstable in pitch, so it was quickly burned off before getting into combat. (Photo by Paul Bowen)
CONTENTS FLIGHT JOURNAL | JUNE 2018
10 ‹ Vanished Hero The Mystery of Lt. Col. Elwyn Righetti FLIGHT JOURNAL (USPS 015-447; ISSN 1095-1075) is published bimonthly by Air Age Inc., 88 Danbury Rd., Wilton, CT 06897 USA. Copyright 2018, all rights reserved. Periodicals postage paid at Wilton, CT, and additional mailing offices. Canada Post Publications Mail Agreement No. 40008153. SUBSCRIPTIONS: Go to FlightJournal.com. U.S., $29 (1 yr.); Canada, $35 including GST (1 yr.); international, $41 (1 yr.). All international orders must be prepaid in U.S. funds; Visa, MC, Discover, and AmEx accepted. EDITORIAL: Send correspondence to Editors, Flight Journal, 88 Danbury Rd., Wilton, CT 06897 USA. Email: email@example.com. We welcome all editorial submissions but assume no responsibility for the loss or damage of unsolicited material. All material contained herein is protected under the terms of U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction in any form, including electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the publisher’s written permission. Copyright 2018 Air Age Inc. All Rights Reserved. ADVERTISING: Send advertising materials to Advertising Dept., Flight Journal, 88 Danbury Rd., Wilton, CT 06897 USA; 203431-9000. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. CHANGE OF ADDRESS: To ensure that you don’t miss any issues, send your new address to Flight Journal, P.O. Box 420134, Palm Coast, FL 32142-8685 USA, six weeks before you move. Please include the address label from a recent issue, or print the information exactly as shown on the label. For faster service, go to FlightJournal.com and click on the customer service link. POSTMASTER: Please send Form 3579 to Flight Journal, P.O. Box 420134, Palm Coast, FL 32142-8685 USA.
by Jay A. Stout
20 ‹ Flak—Survival Was a Matter of Luck, Not Skill
4 ‹ Editorial 6 ‹ Airdrop 58 ‹ Gallery Unlikely Survivor: Northrop’s N-9MB
World War II’s Greatest Killer
by Frank B. Mormillo
by Donald Nijboer
64 ‹ Review Runway
32 ‹ U-2 in Trouble
66 ‹ Tailview
He Was on Top of the World Until He Wasn’t by Col. Joseph M. Gaines, USAF, Ret.
Cosmic Connections by Budd Davisson
44 ‹ Of Bombers and Boneyards Aircraft Graveyards through the Ages by Frederick A. Johnsen
3/1/18 12:19 PM
EDITORIAL A man with a large folding camera joins two other spectators beside an upended stack of airplanes to be burned in France after World War I. The nearest pile includes Fokker D.VII fighters, beyond the needs of the fledgling Air Service, which sent other Fokkers back to the States for use. (Photo courtesy of Greg VanWyngarden)
BY BUDD DAVISSON
gain, without meaning to, we’ve given an issue a theme. But we didn’t realize it until the art was laid out and we could see what we had created. It became evident that every article, in one way or another, keys in on the way in which the warriors’ mechanical steeds, either quickly or slowly, are fated to disappear. They die in combat. They are destroyed in operational accidents. Sadly, if they survive a war, they get no graceful retirement. After every conflict, a new technological generation replaces them, and they are given a section of desert to occupy until their turn comes at the shredder. It’s a sad but irrevocable truth. At least some are in the traces and pulling hard, however, when their end comes. After successfully bellying his beloved Mustang, Katydid, into a German farm field, Lt. Col. Elwyn Righetti keyed the mike. Oil and coolant streaked the fuselage as he broadcast to the Mustangs circling overhead, “Tell the family I’m OK. Broke my nose on landing. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun working with you, gang. Be seeing you a little later.” That was the last trace of the Eighth Air Force’s highest-scoring strafer and 7.5-kill aerial ace. He simply disappeared and not a single clue to his fate has been found in the more than seven decades since. Jay Stout’s article, “Vanished Hero,” tells his story. But it’s a tale with no ending. Col. Joseph M. Gaines, USAF, Retired, not only lived to tell his tale but also has given readers a blow-by-blow account of what it is like to have total engine failure in a U-2 “Dragon Lady” spy plane at 68,000 feet over a completely weathered-in Korea. In “U-2 in Trouble,” we not only learn a lot about the fabled aerial-reconnaissance platform but also
are given a rare view into the thoughts of a pilot faced with diminishing choices, none of them good. The Germans’ defense of their homeland gave birth to the densest antiaircraft defense system that has ever been created. It destroyed thousands of Allied aircraft and crewmen, and it scared bombing crews far more than the Luftwaffe’s fighters did—and for good reason. A bomber crew could protect itself against fighters, but bombers were nothing more than slow-moving targets for the thousands of flak guns far below. A crew’s skill and experience meant nothing against flak. It was all about luck. And for thousands of crewmen, their luck ran out. In the article “Flak—World War II’s Greatest Killer,” Donald Nijboer extracted information from his recently published book on the subject that fleshes out the story of the Nazis’ aerial artillery and, through first-person bomber-crew accounts, describes its terrible efficiency. While the vast majority of aircrew, pilots, and others survived every war and every period of America’s aerial expansion, the vast majority of airplanes didn’t. As technology and conflicts passed them by, the old warriors were too often flown home to be reduced to their primary elements, as fodder for pots and pans. Precious few made it to museums. In his article, “Of Bombers and Boneyards,” Fred Johnsen, who has photographically chronicled the boneyard fates of hundreds of aircraft, takes us on a tour through aerial graveyards, beginning with World War I’s “million-dollar bonfires” up to today’s desert enclaves of dead and dying aircraft. Some of the photos are sad in the extreme but display an integral part of our aerial history. And on that happy note, I’ll leave you to turn the page and discover what we have in store for you. I think you’ll like it.
3/1/18 12:44 PM
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I am writing on behalf of my cousin Alfonso
We welcome your comments and suggestions. Letters may be edited for brevity and clarity.
Perrotta, who lives in Rome, Italy, and is currently authoring a book on the bombardment of our hometown, Paola, Italy, in 1943. I was wondering if any members have a blog where they can elicit/ enquire from the readership if anyone has notes, photos, or other records mentioning a possible error in striking the intended target of the train station on July 24, 1943. According to local witnesses, on July 24, 1943, the 320th Bombardment Group with Squadrons 441, 442, 443, and 444 bombed the town center of Paola. We cannot find, however, any U.S. military records to that effect. We have looked at http://320thbg.org/1943_missions.html and afhra .email@example.com but have found nothing for the town center. All records point to Marina di Paolo (sic) and nothing on the paese, or center, of Paola. I would appreciate any assistance on this matter and look forward to any information or suggestions. I can be reached by email at perrotg@ yahoo.com. Gerardo Perrotta Can anyone out there help Gerardo?—BD
Flight Journal Air Age Media 88 Danbury Road Wilton, CT 06897
I was especially pleased to see Thomas
McKelvey Cleaver’s piece “Destroy Truk!” in the April 2018 issue. I’ve been reading aviation history and WW II history since I was old enough to read, some 60-plus years, and I have a special interest in the war in the Pacific. I have read about the attacks on Truk in many books and countless articles, but this is the first one I’ve seen that has photos with sufficiently wide angles to actually see what the place looked like. Mick Morrissey
When a U.S. Navy (USN) pilot became an ace with his five victories, did the USN celebrate the event (as the French Navy does), and how? I noticed on some pictures (taken in 1943) that Navy pilots were wearing patches on their helmet, such as a black four-leaf clover or a red stripe (as well as red headphones). Were these patches a sign of the squadron/group or only of the leaders, or were they personal patches? And were there any other such patches in the Navy? Philippe Pinard The USN had no official ace designation and I’ve never heard of it being publicized (as in “Ensign Torquelson got his fifth kill yesterday.”). I don’t know about helmet markings but maybe there were some for division leaders?—Barrett Tillman
I am the third generation of licensed pilots
in our family. After reading “Still Flying After All These Years” in the April 2018 issue, I was pleasantly reminded that, before I was born, my grandfather owned an American Eagle, also powered by the costar of the article: the workhorse OX-5. In fact, I have his laminated card proclaiming him a member of the OX-5 Club. Bob Souders Jr., Hermosa Beach, CA Glad to see you’re carrying on the family tradition.— BD
Myth #8: B-26 Expanded
My uncle, who was in the Army Air Corps in
WW II, told me another name for the B-26: “The Baltimore Whore,” because it had no visible means of support. Dale Rush No comment!—BD
We’re with you, Mick. These are the first overall photos we’ve seen as well.—BD
WW II Navy Helmet Markings?
Congratulations on your magazine, which I’ve
been reading for many years. I’m a journalist and am currently writing a story about the war in the Pacific, especially on the USS Lexington and the VF-16 (from June 1944 in the Mariana Islands). I have a few questions for which I have not found an answer in my reading on the subject (for example, in memoirs of pilots like McCampbell).
Help! WW I Aircraft ID
The man standing next
to the airplane (photo, right) is my paternal grandfather, Dominic Naretto, who was an aircraft mechanic in the Italian Air Force during WW I. Can one of your aviation history experts tell me what type of aircraft that is in the picture? I would also appreciate any information regarding my dear old grandfather. He inspired me to study aeronautical engineering and to earn my private pilot’s license. Thank you for anything you may uncover. Charles Naretto, Prescott, AZ How about it? Any sharp-eyed readers out there recognize the airplane?—BD
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WW II Aircraft ID’d
I thought that I knew every plane from
JUNE 2018 | VOLUME 25, NO. 3
WW II, but one photo has me stumped! On page 48 of the February 2017 issue, the top photo shows a U.S. Army Air Forces “Edna” drone. But what airplane is the yellow fighter in the top right of the photo? It has a huge radial engine, a 4-blade prop, what looks like twin 20mm cannons in the wing, and a fixed radio antenna. Being yellow means that it might be a captured fighter or an experimental type. Folding wings suggest a Navy fighter. I’ve looked at Japanese fighters, and the “Oscar” only had a 3-blade prop and the antenna was on the right side of the fuselage; the “George” only had the antenna behind the cockpit, as did the “Raiden.” I’m not sure many, if any, had folding wings. Any ideas? Gary Moline, Fort Lauderdale, FL We asked our resident WW II airplane expert, Barrett Tillman, and he says it’s an SB2C Helldiver. It looks weird and hard to identify in yellow. We have no explanation for that.—BD
We Forgot about Pitcairn
I was reading through the December 2017
issue and noted the Tailview piece, “Harry Atwood: Aerial P. T. Barnum.” As a docent at the Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum in Horsham, Pennsylvania, and a former career Navy flier, I have a long association with and passion for aviation history. If you check the history books, you will see that James G. Ray, chief pilot and vice president for operations of Pitcairn Aviation, Inc., landed a PCA-2 autogyro on the White House lawn to receive the Collier Trophy from President Herbert Hoover on April 22, 1931. Dick Avery Right you are, Dick. Good catch! And in 2015, Doug Hughes, a Florida mail carrier, landed a gyro on the capital lawn to make a statement. He flew almost completely across Washington, D.C., and the defense radar never saw him!—BD
Curious Cat on the T-Cat
That’s a great photo of the VFA-113 Hornet in the article “Jet-Age Naval Warfare” (April
2018 issue). But my eye was drawn to the F-14 in the background. Can any of your readers give me some background information regarding the special paint, which is different from other VF-3 aircraft next to it? Karl Hoffer Our best guess is that it’s the Air Wing Commander bird.—BD
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Slow Buzz Job
I thoroughly enjoyed the “Buzz Job” article (February 2018 issue) and thought of a story that might be of interest to your readers. It’s the early 1970s at the U.S. Coast Guard (CG) Air Station in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, with the CG tower controllers. Due to our relatively remote location, other services frequently sent jets to practice various procedures with little traffic in the pattern. One day, two such jets, each in turn, requested permission for a low-level, high-speed flyby over the field, which was granted. The first jet “zoomed” down the runway. The second jet “zoomed” down the runway. Then the pilot of the CG HU-16E “Albatross” amphib that was in the pattern requested permission for a low-level, high-speed pass (140 knots being considered high speed). Permission granted. Just abreast of the tower, the pilot got on the radio and called out, “Boom, boom.” The pilot got the expected laughs and earned a permanent nickname. William Seibt Bwahahahaha! Perfect! A true sonic (or would it be “verbal”?) boom!—BD
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Katydid’s crew chief, Millard “Doak” Easton, recalled that Elwyn Righetti was easy to satisfy. (Photo courtesy of Jay Stout)
THE MYSTERY OF LT. COL. ELWYN RIGHETTI BY JAY A. STOUT
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The chatter in the yard quieted as neighbors, towns people, and other ranchers from the surrounding valley turned their attention to Elwyn Righetti, the oldest son of the host family. It was summer 1944, and Lt. Col. Righetti was a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). Only five years earlier, he drove a dairy truck on the rural roads that threaded through the hills and valleys that made up this part of California’s central coastal region. “It was a farewell barbecue,” said Dennis Perozzi, who lived nearby. “Elwyn was headed overseas. He gave a nice talk and then said that he was either going to make a name for himself, or he was going to be killed. Turned out, he did both.”
Righetti came into the war late enough that the “D” model Mustang was in full strength. All 55th FG aircraft had the checked band around the nose, and some got the all-over green fuselage seen here. (Photo by Paul Bowen)
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VANISHED HERO—LT. COL. ELWYN RIGHETTI
In the Beginning
Pilots and mechanics alike struggled through the brutal European winter of 1944-45. (Photo courtesy of Jay Stout)
Elwyn G. Righetti was born at home on April 17, 1915, in the Edna Valley, just southeast of San Luis Obispo, the area’s main ranching and agricultural center. The grandson of a Swiss immigrant and the oldest son of a large ranching family, Righetti’s growing up was typical of the time. With the rest of his family, he worked hard at making the land produce, and he loved to hunt the game—especially deer—that roamed the countryside. He grew to be a well-proportioned, leanmuscled, and good-looking young man. A thick shock of brown hair framed a symmetrical face that featured a smile with even white teeth. Aside from work, hunting, and school, Righetti made time for girls as he matured into adulthood—and they made time for him. “He was so handsome!” remembered his sister Doris. He was smart and energetic, graduating from high school two years early and subsequently earning a college degree at California Polytechnic School. Despite the stifling economy of the Great Depression, he scrabbled for work and found jobs as a truck driver, a used-car salesman, and a shop worker. Always anxious to try some-
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Righetti included one of the Huckepack (Piggyback) composite aircraft in his tally. It is unknown whether he was given one or two victories. The forward com partment of the Ju 88, dubbed Mistel (German for “mistletoe”) in this use, was converted into a two-ton warhead, and explosive bolts separated the two when they reached the target area. (Photo courtesy of Donald Nijboer)
thing new and exciting, and inspired by aviation heroes such as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Wiley Post, Righetti scrimped and saved (when scrimping and saving was hard to do) and earned his private pilot’s license. That dogged zeal and energy that was such a part of his character later earned him the nickname “Eager El.” The United States was readying for war when Righetti enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1939 as an aviation cadet. He was at the vanguard of a great crush of young American men that would ultimately see the service’s unprecedented expansion from fewer than 50,000 men in 1939 to nearly 2.5 million in 1944. Training was necessarily compressed, but Righetti graduated near the top of his class and was awarded his wings and a commission as a second lieutenant on July 26, 1940.
Texas beauty, but also was given assignments of increasing responsibility and the rank to go with them. By 1944, he was a lieutenant colonel and in charge of training half the fighter-pilot instructors in the entire USAAF. He also was the father of a lovely two-year-old daughter, Kyle. Those successes notwithstanding, Righetti chafed to get overseas and into combat. Many of
Lt. Col. Elwyn “Eager El” Righetti of the 55th FG in his P-51D Mustang at Wormingford in October 1944. (Photo courtesy of Jack Cook)
Learning While Teaching
Righetti was immediately made a pilot instructor as there was no way that the existing cadre could create an air force big enough for the coming job. He loved the work and described—tongue in cheek—his first class of students: “I now have a full-fledged class of cadets: Cobeaga, Hayes, Stockett and Pound—two of them poor, and two of them worse. I had hoped for a little natural talent to start out with, but no such luck.” Righetti’s hard work, pilot skills, and charming personality worked to his advantage as he not only married Cathryn Davis, a willowy south June 2018 13
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VANISHED HERO—LT. COL. ELWYN RIGHETTI
The flight deck of a P-51D. The cylindrical throttle handle twisted and altered the circle of diamonds displayed in the K-14A computing gunsight, giving ranging information to the pilot. (Photo by John Dibbs/planepicture.com)
his students—and students of his students—had already seen combat and returned. Or had been killed or been shot down and captured. “I’m going off to war now, Mom,” he wrote when he finally wrangled orders from his superiors. “Not because I have to from the Army’s angle—they’d prefer that I stay here—but because I have to from my angle. I’m terribly tired of this war and feel very strongly that I can do a great deal more toward ending it where the shooting’s going on.” His effort to assuage her fear that he might be killed was not reassuring. He noted that, “You don’t get knocked off until your number comes up. And when that time comes, there’s nothing you can do.”
It wasn’t until early October 1944 that Righetti arrived in England; he had feared the war might end before he saw combat. Friends shopped him around the Eighth Air Force, and he was mightily pleased to be assigned to the 55th Fighter Group, which flew P-51 Mustangs out of Wormingford. “I am so very happy with my assignment that I gotta tell someone about it,” he wrote home. “If I had picked over all the jobs in the E.T.O. [European Theater of Operations], I’m sure that this would have been my first choice. Am flying the pilot’s dream airplane, which really means a lot. If I don’t get to the top of the heap in a few months, it won’t be because
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The missile worked as planned and hit just aft of the bridge; the warhead caused a serious explosion. The ship went dead in the water. of a bad starting break.” Capt. Darrell Cramer was the 55th’s leading ace at that point and was assigned to introduce Righetti to combat operations. He was keen on Righetti. “True, he was older than most of us, but he did not look or act older. He had a boyish grin and a pleasing personality, and he was a pleasure to have around. He had a very good sense of humor, and he could laugh and joke with the best of them.” Cramer’s observations were typical of those who came to know Righetti. One of the group’s lieutenants declared, “I liked him. He was friendly and he listened to what you had to say.” Righetti’s first combat mission on October 30, 1944, was aborted due to weather. On Novem-
ber 2, the day of his second mission, the 55th crossed a formation of 100 German fighters southwest of Merseburg. Cramer, with Righetti on his wing, led a flight from the 55th’s 338th Fighter Squadron down through a cloud deck, where they found nothing but a locomotive, which they promptly shot up. A lone Me 109 was spotted. Righetti recalled, “The bandit was called by Captain Cramer, who immediately pulled up toward the enemy aircraft. The Me 109 started a turn to the right, and Captain Cramer fired one burst, getting strikes.” The German made a diving turn for the ground and leveled out directly in front of Righetti. “Since I had outrun Captain Cramer on
After V-E Day, the 55th moved to Station Kaufbeuren in Germany and later received P-80s while in occupation. Its surviving P-51Ds were returned to RAF Wormingford for disposition, as seen here. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
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VANISHED HERO—LT. COL. ELWYN RIGHETTI his pull-up and had turned sharply left, I became positioned in between my leader [Cramer] and the 109.” Righetti closed in on the enemy aircraft. “I fired a three-second burst and observed numerous strikes in the vicinity of the cockpit.” The Me 109 bellied into the ground, hit a hedgerow, spun around, and came apart. Righetti had scored during his first combat, but he was censured afterward by the more junior Capt. Cramer. “Righetti was as excited as any new lieutenant would have been after his baptism under fire. I did not want to dampen his excitement with what I had to say to him, so I waited until we were alone.” In fact, Cramer had to hold his fire as Righetti—his wingman—flew in front of him to knock down the enemy plane. “I gave him a chewing out like he probably had not had in his military career.” Righetti took Cramer’s scolding manfully and acknowledged his mistake. “And he promised it would never happen again.” Cramer noted, “On the remaining missions, during which Righetti flew under my supervision, his performance was excellent and there was never another breach of air discipline.”
Now a Leader
Once he was introduced to combat, Righetti was as zealous as a star athlete held in reserve until the final moments of a championship matchup. He flew at every opportunity, honed his considerable flying and leadership skills, and in less than a month was made the commander of the 55th’s 338th Fighter Squadron. “By the time he became a squadron commander,” Cramer recalled, “he had already established himself as a very capable pilot and an aggressive combat leader. He was the kind of leader whose attitude was ‘come follow me,’ and we were glad to follow him.” Righetti was especially pleased when he was assigned his own aircraft: S/N 44-14223. He named it Katydid, one of the nicknames for his wife, Cathryn. He had the nose painted with a curiously sexy caricature of a katydid sporting perky bare breasts and long legs shod with high heels. He loved it: “My ship is the Katydid with one large sexy green grasshopper painted thereon, and it’s the sweetest piece of equipment in the world.”
Enemy aircraft didn’t meet the American bomber streams in the numbers they once had, and consequently Righetti led his men against whatever worthwhile ground targets he could find. Germany’s war effort was dependent on the railways, and Righetti had tallied 19 locomotives by the time the Battle of the Bulge was underway in mid-December 1944. His enthusiasm for attacking them was obvious in his letters home: “...the prettiest things when they burst. They most always see you coming, so if possible they put the steam to it. You hit them broadside, starting firing at 300–400 yards, and close in to probably 25 to 30. You’re on the deck all the way
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and pull up to go over them. If you’re right, they go all to pieces—chunks of plate all over. Many, however, just break inside and all the steam goes out the stack. We try not to hit the crew, but occasionally get too eager.”
Air-to-Air Combat and Ground Pounding
Righetti scored in the air again on December 24, during a melee that took him to the deck with a handful of other 338th Mustangs. There, they spotted a formation of 20 FW 190s, which they immediately attacked. “I closed on the nearest 190, which was in a tight left turn.” Righetti
fired and noted strikes on the enemy’s left wingtip. As he pursued the Germans, he “saw two FW 190s directly ahead, belly in, one heading due west and the other northwest. Both raised large dust clouds as they hit, but did not explode. Their airspeed was in excess of 150mph.” He continued to pursue the FW when, from an altitude of 600 feet, it dove into the ground and exploded. Righetti sprayed his guns at two other aircraft and damaged them as he chased a third FW 190 that was shooting at his wingman, Ken Griffith. Righetti’s guns sent Griffith’s attacker down in flames, but his wingman did not survive a crash landing. Righetti finished the
Righetti stands by his P-51D-10 s/n 44-14223 CL+M Katydid at Wormingford in February 1945. The wear and tear evident on Katydid underscored the fact that Righetti flew whenever he could. (Photo courtesy of Jack Cook)
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VANISHED HERO—LT. COL. ELWYN RIGHETTI
Righetti shot down an Me 109 on January 13, 1945; it was his first, fully credited shootdown. He eventually scored 7.5 aerial victories. (Photo courtesy of Jay Stout)
day credited with three aerial victories. Enter the Mistel The Luftwaffe’s scarcity in the air Righetti shot down a lone Me 109 on January 13, compelled Righetti to go after it on but aerial encounters through the rest of the the ground. Because German airfields month were virtually nonexistent. On February 3, were typically heavily defended, such he led his men across the German countryside at attacks were exceedingly dangerous. low level, eager for any sort of action. He spotted On January 6, 1945, Righetti led the a locomotive and positioned his flight for a firing 338th against Giebelstadt airdrome, pass when he caught sight of a formation of six where he destroyed a twin-engine strange-looking “pick-a-back” aircraft: Me 109s Ju 88 on his first pass. The scene mounted atop Ju 88s. The Ju 88s were converted quickly turned into a maelstrom of into flying bombs, which the fighter pilot was smoke and fire, laced with streams of charged with guiding to a target. Known as antiaircraft fire that reached after his Mistel (German for “mistletoe”), the concept was squadron’s silvery P-51s. unwieldy and achieved little during the closing Righetti made another firing run months of the war. but was forced to snatch Katydid Righetti had no idea what they were but skyward when antiaircraft fire blasted quickly gave chase. He missed one of them away a foot-wide section of his windwith two short deflection shots but continued screen. Notwithstanding the breathhis pursuit. “As I swung into trail and closed to snatching hurricane that buffeted point-blank range firing a long burst, I saw many his cockpit, he dropped back to the excellent strikes on the fuselage and empennage deck and destroyed two more Ju 88s. of the large aircraft and scattered strikes and a Eager El indeed. small fire on the fighter.” The odd contraption Those types of seemingly reckless fell to the ground and exploded. attacks brought notoriety to Righetti. A Banking slightly left, Righetti latched onto few pilots thought he was too careless another one of the combinations. “As I was with not only himself but also his men. closing to fire, the heavy aircraft seemed to be Still, his mandate was not to keep his jettisoned, went into a shallow diving turn to the squadron out of harm’s way but to kill left, and crashed and burned in a small hamlet.” the Nazi war machine. Many of his Righetti chased after the newly freed fighter and pilots loved him for it. One lieutenset it afire with a couple of bursts. Meanwhile, ant recalled, “You could bet you were his flight knocked down the rest of the enemy going to be shooting at something formation. somewhere. He was always looking for Righetti and his men were excited about the targets of opportunity—and finding encounter. “Got a special commendation from them.” He further described Righetti as “a good General Doolittle,” he wrote home, “and my leader who had our deepest respect—he led us! pictures [gun camera film] will make national He didn’t tell you how to do it—he showed you newsreels on account of targets were pick-a-back by doing it.” jobs—no one [in the Eighth Air Force] had nailed In fact, Righetti’s aggresany before.” Righetti was siveness percolated through ultimately credited with the group. Following his three aerial victories for his arrival, the 55th’s reputation work that day. grew from that of a middling organization into a headline“Tell the Family grabbing team, most famous I’m OK” for shooting up Germany’s Command of the 55th rolling stock. Indeed, the passed to Righetti on Februunit received special recogniary 22, 1945; he was only tion from Carl Spaatz, the 29 and now led a combat commander of U.S. Strategic organization that included Air Forces, as “one of the nearly 2,000 men and more hottest train-busting units in than 70 aircraft. Although the Eighth Air Force.” One of his new duties restricted his the 55th’s squadron comability to fly as much as he manders recalled, “Righetti would have liked, his fame was an inspiration from the as a strafer of enemy airfields time he arrived. He was a grew. Notwithstanding the go-getter. And when he took extreme danger, he racked over, the attitude changed up a score of 18 aircraft even more—he really fired destroyed on the ground. Despite his beautiful wife and child, Righetti was keen the group up.” Moreover, he was credited to get into combat. (Photo courtesy of Jay Stout)
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with destroying 7.5 enemy aircraft in aerial combat during a time when many pilots never even saw a German aircraft in flight. Righetti led a bomber escort mission to Dresden on April 17, 1945—his 30th birthday. The Luftwaffe failed to make an appearance, and Righetti went looking for it. He found part of it parked at the airfield at Riesa, about 20 miles northwest of Dresden. With his wingman, he ripped the airfield to pieces. When Katydid was finally hit by antiaircraft fire, causing it to lose coolant and oil, he had already flamed eight enemy aircraft. Incredibly, with his engine only minutes away from failure, Eager El swung Katydid around for one more firing pass. Dodging the antiaircraft fire that had already holed his beloved ship, he set a final plane ablaze before winging away from the conflagration he had
created. The nine aircraft he scored that day made him the Eighth Air Force’s top strafer. Righetti’s engine finally seized only a short distance from Riesa, and he was forced to crashland. “Tell the family I’m OK,” he called on the radio as his Mustang lurched to a rest. “Broke my nose on landing. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun working with you, gang. Be seeing you a little later.” During the succeeding seven decades, no trace of Elwyn G. Righetti, America’s strafing king, has ever been found.
Confident and capable, Righetti was only 29 when he took command of the nearly 2,000 men and more than 70 aircraft of the 55th Fighter Group. (Photo courtesy of Jay Stout)
Jay A. Stout’s most recent book, Vanished Hero: The Life, War and Mysterious Disappearance of America’s WW II Strafing King, is a detailed look at the life of Elwyn G. Righetti. J
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FLAK Survival Was a Matter of Luck, Not Skill
WORLD WAR II's GREATEST KILLER BY DONALD NIJBOER
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A 15th Air Force B-17G wends its way through heavy flak over Augsburg on February 27, 1945. Between December 1942 and April 1945, the Eighth Air Force recorded an astonishing 54,539 aircraft damaged by flak— 20 percent of all sorties dispatched. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
ou see the flashes of the guns on the ground and then you sweat out the flak burst, wondering where in hell they’re going to crack. You see the ships ahead of you going through the flak barrage and know that you have to go through the same thing.”—Lt. Ralph G. McConnell, B-26 bombardier “FLAK, always a major cause of loss and damage, has steadily increased in relative importance to become the greatest single combat hazard in presentday operations. For instance, in June, July and August 1944, data based on interrogation of returning crew members of lost bombers as well as from crew members who returned safely to base...indicate that many more bombers were lost to flak than to fighters. In the same period, flak damaged 12,687 of our bombers and only 182 were damaged by fighters.”—“An Evaluation of Defensive Measures Taken to Protect Heavy Bombers from Loss and Damage,” Operational Analysis Section, November 1944.
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FLAK—WORLD WAR II'S GREATEST KILLER
Waist gunner’s view of a B-17G over Graz, Austria, on March 3, 1945, running through heavy flak bursts. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
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Self-Defense Was Basically Impossible The air battle that raged over German skies during World War II has often been described as a battle between fighter versus fighter and fighter versus bomber. But what has frequently been missed by historians on all sides was the impact of German antiaircraft defenses, or flak. Often dismissed as ineffective and a waste of valuable material and personnel, the German flak arm, in fact, made a major contribution to the defense of Germany. The numbers are sobering. At least half of the American aircraft shot down over Germany was due to flak (5,380 lost to flak; 4,274 by fighters; a further 2,033 were lost due to other causes), and according to the official history of the Royal Air Force (RAF), it was estimated that flak accounted for 1,229 out of 3,302 of Bomber Command’s missing aircraft between 1942 and 1945. The numbers speak for themselves, but they also hide other important facts. Antiaircraft fire had two roles to play. One was to shoot down enemy aircraft, and the other (more important) one was to force bombers to drop their bombs sooner or from a higher altitude, thus reducing bombing accuracy. Flak also damaged aircraft causing them to slow down and lose altitude, making them easy pickings for German fighters.“ Ahead of us a lone B-17 was limping along. A flight of three Messerschmitts were harassing it, darting in and out but not attacking it. Finally, all three swooped in and fired for a long time at the bomber. And those three small planes kept attacking that plane, receiving no damage to themselves till finally the B-17 caught fire. It was with a hapless feeling that we saw our last ally turn over, spin slightly and the burst into a huge fireball.”—Lt. Harry Crosby, 100th BG German flak defenses played a major role in the defense of Germany. At its peak, the Luftwaffe had 6,387 heavy and 9,333 light flak guns as well as 5,360 searchlights defending the airspace over Germany. Day after day A Flakvierling 38 antiaircraft and night after night, Allied gun mounted aircrews had to fly into this on a Sd.Kfz. 7/1 jagged curtain of steel. It was half-track. The fourwhat they feared the most. barreled Flak 38 was an extremely effecEnemy fighters they could tive weapon against shoot back at; there was a low-flying Allied sense of control, a way to hit fighter-bombers. (Photo courtesy of back. Flak, on the other hand, Donald Nijboer) arrived unannounced—cold,
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RENTAL BAD GUYS Stick forward, houses get bigger. Here, an L-159 screams down vertically. The(Photo most numerous Luftby Jose M.heavy Ramos) waffe flak gun was the legendary 88mm. Here, crews are ready to fire their gun at an incoming raid. The gun pit is typical, with ammuÂ nition racks built into the wall pits. The white bands on the barrel denote 11 shootdowns. (Photo courtesy of Donald Nijboer)
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deadly, and indifferent. You had to sit and take it, unsure if you would be next. “All the missions scared me to death. Whether you had fighters or not, you still had to fly through the flak. Flak was what really got you thinking, but I found a way to suck it up and go.”—William J. Howard, B-17 waist gunner, 351st Sq., 100th BG
Building Up Flak Technology
At the beginning of the war, the Luftwaffe’s flak arm included 657 heavy flak gun batteries, 560 light gun batteries, and 188 searchlight bat teries. Early British incursions into German airspace were limited and ineffective. After suffering heavy losses in daylight raids, the RAF switched to night bombing. By the summer of 1940, the RAF realized that German night defenses, both in the air and from the ground, were rudimentary and the greatest threat to RAF bombers was the weather. The reason for the flak’s ineffectiveness was simply technical. The sound detectors used by the Luftwaffe were extremely limited in what they could do; weather conditions adversely affected their performance and it was difficult to distinguish between German fighters and British bombers flying at night. As British night raids increased, the Germans rushed into service experimental gun-laying radar. From the beginning of the war, the Germans had already produced some of the most effective antiaircraft guns of the war. The most infamous was the 88mm Flak 18–41. Much has been written about this weapon, much of it nonsense. The 88’s performance was comparable to the British
3.7-inch and American 90mm antiaircraft guns. Next in line was the 105mm Flak gun. Resembling a scaled-up version of the 88mm gun, the 105 was heavier and a more complex weapon to manufacture. Its performance was only slightly better than the 88. The most effective heavy antiaircraft gun of the war was the massive 128mm Flak 40. The 128mm averaged 3,000 rounds per aircraft shot down. This was half as many as the 105 and less than one-fifth for the older 88 models. When it came to light flak guns, the Germans also excelled. The 20mm Flak 38 was a superb light antiaircraft gun and was employed as a single mount or in the quad (four-barrel) configuration. Motorized versions proved the most effective and were a constant threat to Allied fighterbombers (between June 1944 and May 1945, Typhoon losses in the Second Tactical Air Force amounted to 570 aircraft due to flak). When the 37mm Flak 18 first entered service in 1935, it was regarded as a medium-caliber antiaircraft weapon. Similar to the Swedish 40mm Bofors gun in per-
The Gefechtsturm IV flak tower was the first to be built from the outset with the new 128mm Flak 40 Flakzwilling heavy flak guns. Secondary armament consisted of twenty 20mm cannon Flakvierling 38 automatic cannons. (Photo courtesy of Donald Nijboer)
Day after day and night after night, Allied aircrews had to fly into this jagged curtain of steel. It was what they feared the most. Enemy fighters they could shoot back at; there was a sense of control, a way to hit back. Flak, on the other hand, arrived unannounced—cold, deadly, and indifferent. You had to sit and take it, unsure if you would be next. June 2018 25
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To bolster the defense of Luftwaffe airfields, the Germans developed the FlaSL 151, an inexpensive pedestal mount armed with three MG 151 15mm aircraft cannon. (Photo courtesy of Donald Nijboer)
formance, the 37mm was used extensively by the German army, navy, and air force units. It’s clear that before war broke out in Europe, the Germans had put a greater emphasis than the Allies on antiaircraft gun defenses. In 1939, the Air Defense Zone was created to defend the Ruhr from bomber attack. It was one of the first attempts to create an integrated air-defense network using ground-based defenses working in conjunction with a force of fighter interceptors. At the beginning of 1941, RAF Bomber Command was growing in numbers and experience. In February, it was able to launch 265 aircraft in a single raid, 56 more than it achieved in September 1940. While the British were increasing their force, the Germans were reacting as well. Gun-laying radar was steadily equipping flak batteries and provided gunners with the eyes to see at night. Before the introduction of radar, the flak arm was forced to use “barrier fire,” which, while effective in reducing bombing accuracy, resulted in the expenditure of large quantities of ammunition. In the first four months of 1941, the flak arm was credited with 144 enemy aircraft
Because of the loss of personnel in Africa and the Soviet Union, the Germans were now forced to use women and young men in the flak arm. In 1943, 116,000 young women replaced regular Luftwaffe men employed in air-defense duties.
shot down. In fact, the British realized that German light flak was far more effective than they had earlier thought. Bomber Command’s antiaircraft liaison officer suggested flights between 9,000 and 10,000 feet would be the safest, but Air Commodore J. W. Baker reported that German light flak appeared to be effective up to 16,000 feet, the maximum ceiling for early models of the 37mm Flak 18. By the end of September 1941, RAF losses stood at 1,170 aircraft destroyed. These losses included all causes, but German antiaircraft defenses accounted for the vast majority.
More Aerial Targets, More Guns, More Gunners
“Going into the target, you would become very apprehensive and nervous. The searchlights, flak, the fighters, the danger of collision, the danger of getting hit with your own bombs. If you had time to stop and think about being frightened, you weren’t doing your job. Especially when you’re flying at night for hours and hours in total darkness and then when you get over the target it was lighter than day. All hell was breaking loose. The Germans knew that we dropped TIs [target indicators] and we all had to fly over those indicators at a designated height and time.
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The Germans knew this, so they just fired their flak through the bloody TIs.”—Warrant Officer Second Class Fred Vincent, Air Gunner, 189 Sq., 5 Group RAF The arrival of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in the spring of 1942 did not immediately tip the balance in favor of the Allies. Now, instead of having to engage the RAF at night and relying on gun-laying radar, the Luftwaffe anti aircraft defense would soon have a large number of targets with which they could engage using optical sights. By the end of 1942, ground-based air defenses remained a critical cog in the Luftwaffe’s air-defense system. The Allied decision at Casablanca to use strategic bombing as a means of destroying German military and economic targets set in motion the greatest aerial conflict the world had ever seen. By March of 1943, the USAAF was able to mount daylight raids of just over 100 bombers on a consistent basis. RAF Bomber Command was able to send 400+ bombers deep into Germany. The German flak arm would now fight its greatest
battles. During the first three months of the year, flak units accounted for 90 aircraft shot down, compared with 96 by fighters.
It Became a Numbers Race
Because of the loss of personnel in Africa and the Soviet Union, the Germans were now forced to use women and young men in the flak arm. In 1943, 116,000 young women replaced regular Luftwaffe men employed in air-defense duties. The Germans were also forced to shorten their training programs and strip their flak schools of much-needed equipment. The scales were beginning to tip, but the flak arm continued to grow. By the end of June 1943, there were 1,089 heavy flak batteries compared to 659 in January. Flak gun production had almost tripled between 1941 and 1943. The Germans also proved adept at modifying captured enemy weapons. Between 1939 and 1944, the Luftwaffe used 9,504 captured flak guns of all calibers and almost 14 million rounds of ammunition. By the end of May 1943, the RAF bomb-
After taking a direct flak hit over Cologne, this B-17G of the 601st BS/398th BG was miraculously flown home by Lt. Lawrence W. Delancey with no instruments, losing only his togglier. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
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FLAK—WORLD WAR II'S GREATEST KILLER
An internally exploding 88 shell almost severed this 391st BG Marauder, killing one gunner and forcing a belly landing with a full bomb load and no hydraulics or radio. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
ing campaign against the Ruhr had achieved significant levels of destruction. But it came a great price. In the second quarter of 1943, German flak accounted for 229 aircraft shot down compared to 348 by fighters; they also damaged a further 1,496. While it was an admiral achievement, it highlighted a dramatic shift. Only a year earlier, such losses would have crippled Bomber Command. But now, replacement crews and new aircraft were in such numbers that Bomber Command actually grew in strength. While doing a good job at shooting down bombers, the flak arm was also causing many Allied crews to miss their targets. In March, Bomber Command reported that only 48 percent of aircrews were placing their bomb loads within three miles of the target. Evasive maneuvering due to flak was to blame. USAAF crews also used evasive action to avoid flak, and this led to an
even greater dispersal of bombs. Col. Curtis E. LeMay of the Third Air Division castigated his commanders for using evasive action on their bomb runs. But once on the bomb run, crews had little choice. For new crews on their first mission, the introduction to flak was both fascinating and frightening. “Suddenly the bombardier called out: ‘Flak nine o’clock low!’ Huge puffs of black smoke began to burst around the formation. Because we were on the bomb run, it meant we had to fly straight and steady for several minutes to provide a stable platform for the bombardier and the Norden sight. BAM! The ship rocked and I saw a nearby burst of orange followed by boiling, black smoke. I had been told that the crew would not hear the shell bursts. Well, I heard that one! Mostly I saw only black smoke explode into large globs and heard pieces of shrapnel
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striking the aircraft.”—Sgt. John Commer, B-17 flight engineer, 533rd Sq., 381st BG One of the greatest victories obtained by the German flak arm was the famous Ploieşti Raid. On August 1, 1943, a force of 176 B-24 bombers conducted what was supposed to be a surprise low-level attack on the Ploieşti oil facilities in Romania. During the run up to the target, a navigational error alerted the Germans. The 15 heavy and 12 light flak batteries swung into action and decimated the attacking B-24s. Forty-one Liberators were shot down, and 13 failed to return from the mission. In one of the most famous raids of the war, the crews not only flew into the target see the flak close up but also saw the German gun crews firing and loading their guns while they themselves fired back. “Everything but the kitchen sink began to rise from the ground at us. I dived behind a row of trees and told the men in the nose to stand clear. We had to shoot our way in. I lifted over the trees and opened up with the fixed front guns. My tracer streams glanced off the ground a mile ahead. I saw naturallooking haystacks unfold like daisies, with guns spouting fire at us. On our right a flak train moved at full speed down the track with guns belching black puffs at us. They were shooting eightyeights like shotguns, with shells set to go off immediately after they left the gun barrel.”—Col. John Riley Kane, 98th BG
The German Ground Game Improved
That same month, the Eighth Air Force struck the Ruhr for the very first time with a force of 243 bombers. Twenty-five were shot down, a loss rate of 10 percent. This was the only mission flown by the Eighth into the heavily defended Ruhr in all of 1943. The flak defensives over the Ruhr were so intense that
An American soldier from the U.S. 7th Armored Division stands beside a captured 37mm Flak 36 gun. This emplacement was the standard configuration with the outer wall of wood planks and the space between filled in with dirt. Ammunition lockers were placed on the periphery of the gun pit, with one locker used for equipment storage. (Photo courtesy of Donald Nijboer)
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FLAK—WORLD WAR II'S GREATEST KILLER Ninth Air Force medium bombers were prohibited from attacking targets there. On October 14, the Americans returned to Schweinfurt for the second time, with a force of 291 bombers. Two hundred twenty-nine bombed the target, but 60 were shot down. Flak was responsible for 22 percent of the aircraft brought down, with a further 17 receiving major damage and 121 damaged but repairable due to antiaircraft fire. February 1944 would see the Luftwaffe’s groundbased defenses swell to a wartime high of 13,500 heavy flak guns, 21,000 light guns, 7,000 searchlights, and 2,400 barrage balloons. The increase in the numbers of weapons did not necessarily translate directly to more aircraft being shot down. Part of the reason was the increased use by the Allies of electronic countermeasures, like Window, or chaff and active radar jamming using a device code-named “Carpet.” The Germans were also beginning to suffer shortages of antiaircraft ammunition. With the huge losses on the eastern and southern fronts, the flak arm was forced to rely heavily on foreign volunteers, the largest group coming from Croatia and Italy. They also pressed into service 51,000 Soviet prisoners of war. By 1944, the flak arm was not the elite formation it once was.
The Allies’ Air Game Improves
Razorback P-47 from the 9th Air Force attacks a flak tower in occupied France. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
At the beginning of 1944, a new player had entered the stage: the long-range fighter. The introduction of the USAAF’s P-38, P-47, and P-51 escorts tipped the balance and sealed the fate of the German air defenses. The introduction of the long-range escort fighter quickly took its toll on the German fighter arm. Already exhausted from years of operations, the fighter arm was forced to use hastily trained
pilots who could do little more than take off and land. The burden of the German defense now fell to the flak arm. In response to the daylight threat, the Germans increased the number of super batteries throughout the Reich. These batteries consisted of at least 24 heavy guns. Most of these batteries were situated around vital targets, such as synthetic-oil plants. Around Berlin alone, there were 24 super batteries, including 12 of the formidable two-barreled 128mm flak guns mounted on three massive flak towers. The massed firepower of these batteries greatly improved the effectiveness of the flak arm in the spring of 1944. During that period (January to April), the Eighth and 15th Air Forces lost 315 bombers shot down by flak and 10,563 were damaged. But it wasn’t just the bombers that were suffering. In January, the Eighth Air Force abandoned the “close escort support” of the bombers in favor of “ultimate pursuit.” Thus, fighters could attack enemy aircraft wherever they could be found, both in the air and on the ground. Most American pilots did not realize how well protected Luftwaffe airfields were, and as the war progressed, the Germans created numerous flak traps—airfields packed with useless aircraft and lots of antiaircraft guns. Many pilots took the bait and lost their lives in the process. Before this controversial policy was put into place, the loss of fighters due to flak before January 1944 stood at just one; after that, 2,449 were shot down by flak, compared to 1,691 shot down by enemy aircraft. While flying a mission down the Danube Valley, Maj. Edward Giller of the 343rd Fighter Squadron was hit by flak and was lucky to make it home. “I had to make a third pass to position myself on a target that I had observed. It turned out to be a Ju 88; I came in on it in the same pattern from south to north, and although I observed many strikes all over the aircraft, I could get it to burn. As I pulled up from this last pass, a 20mm flak shell came flying through the left side of my canopy and exploded, wounding me in the left shoulder. I was dazed and bleeding rather badly, so I called my flight together and we set course for home.” Each fighter group developed its own methods of attacking ground targets, and all of them learned the hard way. “Let me stress above all that none of our flights went down on an objective that was not worth the risk of a P-38 and its pilot. This, in my opinion, is the most impor-
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tant lesson we can learn about ground attack.”— Col. Roy Osborn, commanding officer, 364th FG More VIII Fighter Command pilots fell to ground fire than were lost in air-to-air combat. Indeed, most of the American aces that failed to return from a mission were due to flak.
Slugging Out the Final Innings
By January 1945, the end of the war was in sight. Allied forces were squeezing Germany on three fronts. In the last eight months of the war, the Luftwaffe transferred 555 heavy and 175 medium/ light flak batteries to the fighting fronts. This left huge areas of Germany with no flak protection. Even Berlin was not immune. In January, the Luftwaffe ordered the transfer of 30 heavy and 13 light flak batteries to other fronts. In the last great airborne operation of the war, the Allies had set their sights on crossing the Rhine. Operation Varsity was conceived as a massive airborne and river assault across the Rhine for late March 1945. On the morning of March 24, 1945, one of the greatest airborne operations of the Second World War was launched. Flying in 1,795 troop transports and 1,305 gliders towed by 1,050 tugs were just over 14,000 troops from the British Sixth and American 17th Airborne Divisions. The sky was bright and clear as the first troop transports arrived over the drop zones—and then came the flak. In the next 10 minutes, more
than 8,000 British and American airborne troops were dropped; this was followed minutes later by the 2,355 tugs and gliders. Despite the antiflak program and preliminary artillery bombardment, the response from German antiaircraft guns was devastating. As the slow, lumbering transports and gliders made their way to their drop zones, the German gunners had hundreds of targets. The transports and gliders were raked with machine gun and cannon fire. Many of the transports were shot down in the first few minutes; as for the helpless gliders, they simply folded up under the withering fire. On that day, the Allied air forces flew 7,700 sorties for a loss of 56 aircraft and 80 gliders, which included 15 B-24s shot down on the follow-up supply drop. Even at this late stage of the war, the German flak arm was still capable of inflicting heavy damage. In the end, the German flak defenses could not, by themselves, successfully defend German airspace. While high expectations had been placed on the flak arm by Hitler and the Luftwaffe, its valuable contributions cannot be overlooked. Without the thousands of heavy and light flak guns defending the Reich, German cities and factories would have been quickly blasted into ruin. While the Allied air forces contributed a great deal to final victory, they never conquered the German flak artillery. J
Beaming for the Speed Graphic, 1st Lt. James T. Fisk stands in what used to be the wing gun bay of his 31st FG Mustang. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
For more information on the subject: Flak in World War II • Hardcover: 272 pages • Publisher: Stackpole Books (September 1, 2018) • Language: English • ISBN-10: 0811719928 • ISBN-13: 9780811719926 Donald Nijboer Aviation Author/Historian
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U-2 in trouble
He Was on Top of the World Until He Wasnâ€™t By Col. Joseph M. Gaines, USAF, Ret.
U-2 pilots must use a special pressurized David Clark flight suit due to the extreme operational altitudes in which they fly. The yellow box is their environmental control system that goes along with them. (Photo by Ted Carlson/ fotodynamics.net)
My mission on January 26, 2003, began much like my previous 80 U-2 highaltitude flights: with a high-protein meal, a mission briefing with my mobile officer and supervisor of flying (both fully qualified U-2 pilots), a short flight physical, suiting up, and two hours of breathing 100 percent oxygen. Weather was typical of a Korean winter: low IFR (instrument flight rules) ceilings and cloud tops around 25,000 feet. There was light snow forecast for later in the day. It was Super Bowl Sunday and only two days before the Presidentâ€™s State of the Union speech, but by the end of the day, this routine mission would be the top story on nearly every media outlet.
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Delivered in November 1985 as a TR-1A, #80-1082 was converted to U-2S standard in January 1997. It has been reported lost on landing in June 2005 at Al Dhafra, United Arab Emirates, due to a power takeoff shaft failure with pilot loss. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)
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U-2 IN TROUBLE
A glance at the vertical velocity indicator showed it pegged at more than 6,000 feet per minute, although I knew it was actually running uphill at 12,000fpm. It was quite a ride! Just Another Mission
Sundays were generally quiet at Osan Air Base, with almost everyone not involved with the U-2 mission off for the weekend. There were no delays during startup and taxi. Holding in position on runway 27, the mobile officer, driving a radioequipped Chevy Camaro, slowly circled the U-2, visually inspecting my aircraft and confirming that the ground crew had removed the pins from the outboard wheels (or “pogos”), allowing them to fall away during takeoff roll as the wings, filled with nearly 3,000 gallons of fuel, began to generate lift. With a takeoff clearance from tower and Mobile’s thumbs-up, I was ready to go. Yoke held slightly aft, with rudder and ailerons neutral, I released the brakes and smoothly advanced the throttle to full military power, a throttle position I planned to maintain throughout the nine-hour mission until it was time to descend for home. The GE F118 turbofan accelerated quickly to 100% rpm, and the aircraft surged forward under the influence of 17,000 pounds of thrust. At about 90 knots, the U-2’s 104-foot wing bit deep into the freezing sea-level air, and the 40,000-pound aircraft leapt off the runway in less than 1,000 feet, leaving the pogo wheels bouncing down the runway while the plane accelerated rapidly toward a 160-knot climb. With my left hand still holding the throttle full forward, I continued to pull the nose up to nearly 30 degrees above the horizon to maintain 160 knots; in this configuration, 180 knots was redline, and beyond that lay structural failure of the lightly built airframe. Entering the clouds at 600 feet, I shifted my attention inside to the 1970s-era flight instruments arrayed before me. On speed, with wings level and climbing, I raised the gear. A glance at the vertical velocity indicator showed it pegged at more than 6,000 feet per minute, although I knew it was actually running
uphill at 12,000fpm. It was quite a ride! At max power, holding 160 knots, the U-2 climbed aggressively upward with relatively little forward travel. The echoing thunder of the engine, tailpipe still pointed toward the base, could often still be heard for several minutes after takeoff even as the mobile officer and pogo crews were walking back into the squadron building. I smiled with satisfaction knowing I had just announced to a sleeping base that even on Sunday the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron “Blackcats” were on the prowl. At 10 DME (distance measuring equipment), I
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The Phantom was pre-glass cockpit and relied on steam gauges and the pilot to do its job. There were no computers to help the pilot. (Photo by Ted Carlson)
began a slow turn toward the northeast, com pleted my after-takeoff checks, and set up for entry on the track I was to fly that day. Passing 25,000 feet, climb performance slackened and though the throttle was still full forward, vertical velocity was less than half that of takeoff and pitch was now down to only 10 or 12 degrees to maintain my climb speed. I began turning on mission equipment, completed my communi cation checks, and generally settled in for the nine-hour flight ahead. Passing 52,000 feet and still heading northeast, I engaged the autopilot, coupled it to the INS (inertial navigation system)
and selected “Mach Hold,” commanding the autopilot to maintain a constant Mach number versus the 160 KIAS (knots indicated airspeed) I had hand-flown until now. As fuel was consumed and the weight of the aircraft decreased, the autopilot would now keep the aircraft at the se lected Mach number, producing a slow continu ous climb throughout the mission, resulting in altitudes higher than 70,000 feet by day’s end. The mission progressed normally for the next six hours. I monitored the aircraft systems, confirmed my position, and completed flight logs while occasionally sipping Gatorade through a
The U-2’s long wings produce great lift, giving the aircraft the ability to efficiently fly very high, to altitudes exceeding 70,000 feet. (Photo by Ted Carlson/ fotodynamics.net)
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U-2s still carry out top secret reconnaissance missions and are treated as high-priority assets when on the ground. (Photo by Check Six/GNH)
long straw inserted into the feeding port of the helmet. Below, the clouds remained an unbroken sea of white stretching from horizon to horizon with clear blue sky above. Now cruising in the high 60s, the U-2 performed flawlessly, as this was her realm. Thirty-five-thousand feet below me, the speck of a westbound airliner pulled a long contrail across the peninsula. I was flying above the jet stream, so the winds were nearly calm, and the U-2 maintained a slow climb, unbroken since takeoff, with its nose gently rising and falling as the Mach hold adjusted for minute changes in the -73°C atmosphere.
At approximately 1352L (local time), as I was cruising comfortably above 68,000 feet, the engine suddenly stopped. Without any warning, the sound of a healthy turbofan engine inflight turned to a gut-wrenching low groan, shuddered, and then ceased. The rpm went from 100% to near zero in less than two seconds. A cross-check of the engine instruments confirmed the worst. Engine compressor speed, fuel flow, oil pressure, and EGT (exhaust gas temperature) were all zero
or heading in that direction. I immediately placed the engine mode switch to SEC (or secondary mode) and cycled the throttle Off, then back to Idle in a feeble attempt to recover the engine. The rpm remained about 6% as the engine-driven generators dropped offline. The nose dropped, and I quickly turned southwest, establishing a 120-knot flameout glide toward home. I selected Emergency on my transponder to squawk 7700, and made a radio call to our operations, “Black Ops, ILKA 12 Emergency…Engine failure!” The SOF (supervisor of flying) responded immediately, asking me, “Confirm engine failure?!” When I replied that I had indeed lost the engine, he said almost nonchalantly, “Stand by; we need to run some checklists.” I wanted to say, “No s**t!” He began reading the high-altitude engine-failure checklist and gave me the best glide speeds for a flameout pattern. A call to check the weather produced a promising report, with ceiling and visibility good enough for a possible flameout pattern and landing. I was surprised and encouraged with the weather report and worked to complete the checklist items while receiving radar vectors to Osan.
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I continued to glide southwest, with vectors from Osan Approach. The controller would inter ject with a vector and heading corrections, as our Ops team read me the emergency-procedures checklist. The help from Approach Control and our Ops was crucial as I now descended through perhaps 65,000 feet and the canopy seals deflated. Without engine bleed air, cabin pressure rose past 35,000 feet, and I felt the pressure suit begin to inflate and the neck ring rise up to my chin, effectively trying to take the helmet off my head. I countered with a few sharp pulls on the helmet hold-down device, a pulley system attached to the pressure suit designed to hold the neck ring down when the suit pressurized. With the suit fully inflated, I could barely move my arms. What had been a pliable six-layer pres sure suit was now a rock-hard balloon trapping a 35,000-foot environment around my body to prevent my blood from boiling while I sat in the unpressurized cockpit at more than 65,000 feet. Like pressurization, gone too was the cabin heat, and the canopy began to frost over on the inside. While the front windscreen was heated through the emergency battery, the Plexiglas
canopy over my head frosted over, leaving me only a narrow view straight ahead over the long nose. I tried scrubbing the frost off, but it re-formed almost as soon as I stopped scraping. The stiff sleeves of the inflated pressure suit made that task even more difficult, and I was gulping oxygen with the strenu ous effort in the rarified air of the U-2’s cockpit. Soon, the attitude indicator and gyro compass began to drift as their gyros slowly spun down. I shifted my cross-check to the standby attitude indicator and magnetic compass. I could still see some of the horizon through the windscreen straight ahead and tried to recall the basics of making turns while referenc ing a magnetic compass: leads north, lags south…accurate passing east and west…right? Throughout the glide, I also referenced a handheld GPS most U-2 pilots kept rubber-banded to the canopy frame. This was a first-generation civilian GPS, about the size of a TV remote control. With the pressure suit fully inflated, my glove fingers were too stiff to work the unit. I used my pencil eraser to push the buttons and confirm my ground track toward home. With my pressure suit inflated, the canopy iced over, and the gyros tumbled, I flew on toward Osan. The U-2 had two batteries, with approxi mately one hour of combined life to run the emergency systems. I shed unnecessary power, turning off any systems I didn’t need, and kept my responses to radio calls as brief as possible.
Inbound: Is a Landing Possible?
On the ground, the squadron commander began to position everyone required for an emergency recovery. Our mission planner and mobile officer manned the Ops-room radios and checklists, and a call was made to alert the Jolly Green HH-60 rescue detachment. As the SOF departed ops to take up his position in the control tower, he immediately saw that the weather was not good enough for a flameout approach; it was still very much IFR. This was confirmed by a Navy F/A-18, which put the weather at 700 overcast— almost exactly where it had been for takeoff that morning. I needed close to 1,500 feet for a flameout pattern. A landing at Osan was a no-go. Hearing this information, the commander
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extension checklist, manually releasing the gear uplocks and allowing the single main gear and tailwheel to free-fall into place. Without electrical power, the gear only indicated “in transit.” I would only find out if it was down and locked if and when I found a runway to land. I had been gliding for more than 30 minutes when I entered the cloud tops about 25,000 feet. Now, the challenge of hard-instrument flying really began, as I lost what little horizon I had and went head down, fully fixated on the small standby instruments and Osan Approach’s radar vectors. I had to fight the reflexive urge to reference the now-useless main ADI (attitude director indicator) and HSI (horizontal situation indicator). Several times, I caught myself attempting corrections off the failed instruments, and I had to shake it off and return my cross-check to the standby gauges. The U-2 emergency air-start system uses highpressure hydrazine to spin the engine for a restart, giving the pilot one shot at restarting a failed engine. The procedure must be initiated below 25,000 feet at a speed greater than 90 knots. I
The U-2 pilot’s office shows the periscope viewer (the large, round optical window). This U-2 has some “glasscockpit” displays added into the older analog U-2R cockpit. The ejection seat is noteworthy. The cockpit is similar to that flown by the author. Note the small standby attitude indicator and mag compass on the left side of the instrument panel. All USAF U-2s are now upgraded with all-glass cockpits. (Photo by Ted Carlson/fotodynamics.net)
directed that I proceed to the controlled bailout area at the Koon-ni range, just off the east coast of South Korea. That would allow the aircraft to crash into the Yellow Sea or at least an unpopulated land area if I ejected. Passing 45,000 feet, I now changed course for Koon-ni range, thinking of ejection. At that time, the last successful U-2 ejection had occurred 19 years earlier, in 1984. There had been four ejections since then, and all had resulted in fatal injuries to the pilot. But I had known that fact coming into the U-2 program, right? Painted portraits of these brave men, wearing their distinctive yellow pressure suits, hung in the squadron Heritage Room at Beale Air Force Base (AFB). Passing about 33,000 feet, the pressure suit mercifully began to relax as cabin pressure equaled then exceeded the suit pressure. Osan Approach notified me I was over the range, and I rolled into a shallow right bank to stay over the controlled bailout area. I now descended in holding and completed the landing-gear emergency-
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The U-2 emergency air-start system uses high-pressure hydrazine to spin the engine for a restart, giving the pilot one shot at restarting a failed engine. prepared for the air start, with backup from the mobile officer. I hit the air-start button and advanced the throttle to idle. I heard the “whoosh” of hydrazine rush through the engine, spinning the compressor. The rpm initially increased to approximately 17%, and I held my breath hoping for a light off. Nothing. The engine stalled at 17%, making an awful grinding noise and vibrating severely. After several seconds, I placed the throttle back to Off, fearing a fire or worse and waited for the hydrazine to complete its cycle. The noise was terrible, and I was glad when the hydrazine was finely depleted and the engine spun down to near zero again.
Time for the Silk Elevator
After the failed restart attempt and now passing 10,000 feet, I had run out of options. I had resigned myself to an ejection in Koon-ni range when Ops advised me that the U.S. Army airfield at Camp Humphreys was reporting a 4,000-foot ceiling and directed me to attempt a flameout landing there. Camp Humphreys was about seven miles south of Osan, and with a
vector from Osan Approach, I diverted a second time. The weather was heavier now. Clouds had become dark gray and freezing rain pelted the windscreen, as I continued my struggle to fly the standby instruments. The SOF called me again with altitudes for a flameout pattern, and the Mobile chimed in, reminding of ejection minimums if I didn’t break out. Seconds later, things suddenly got very quiet. Airspeed was indicating a solid 110 knots, but the wind rush of the glide was gone and the yoke felt loose and unresponsive in my hands. I attempted a slight right and left deflection of the yoke. It felt as if I were in a full-stall landing flare at 80 knots—not the 110 knots that was still indicated. In a split second, I realized the battery was now likely depleted and the Pitot tube was iced up. I had a false airspeed indication, and I was about to stall! I was too low to deal with a stalled U-2 on standby instruments and a frozen airspeed indicator. I sat bolt upright, threw my head back against the headrest, and with both hands gripping the ejection ring between my legs, I pulled as hard as I could. For an instant, the
While the long wings allow the U-2 to fly high, they are also a bit of a curse for landings. The robust longwing lift performance makes it challenging for pilots to plant the jet back on earth. High-speed chase cars with transceiver-equipped pilots onboard are required to aid the flying pilots for all U-2 landings. With 17,000 pounds of thrust and 104 feet of wing, a U-2 will lift off in less than 1,000 feet and climb at more than 12,000 feet per minute. (Photo by Ted Carlson/ fotodynamics.net)
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U-2 IN TROUBLE The first series of U-2A through H models used a fuselage design that originated from the F-104 Starfighter. The U-2Rs and TR-1As (later upgraded into U-2S models) were an overall larger U-2 than the smaller predecessor, including the wingspan and fuselage. (Photo by Ted Carlson/ fotodynamics.net)
portraits of men in yellow pressure suits flashed through my mind. When I pulled the handle, I had been gliding for one hour and six minutes, was down from more than 68,000 feet to approximately 7,000 feet, and had covered more than 100 nautical miles. Instantly, the canopy smoothly departed the aircraft, and for a moment, I was riding along in an open cockpit, with a perfect view no longer obscured by a frosted canopy. Then BANG! I blacked out briefly, as the ejection seat fired and I
was catapulted up and out of the aircraft. Still in the chair, my eyes opened again to the sight of the big black airplane below me gliding onward and disappearing into the dark gray clouds. There were now more pops and bangs, as I separated from the seat and the drogue from my backpack parachute fired and deployed, then I heard the swishing sound of nylon as the drogue deployed the 32-foot main chute. There was a sharp tug of opening shock and suddenly all was quiet, as I floated in the clouds without sight of the ground or horizon. Looking around, I saw debris in the sky around me. I saw the empty ejection seat falling away under its own drogue chute, and bits and pieces of debris tumbled about. Still in the clouds, I could not tell up from down, but I soon realized that while I had a good chute, I was swinging wildly under the canopy. I began to feel a dull, burning ache in my lower back. â€œCanopy, visor, seat kit, LPU (life-preserver unit), six-line, steer, prepare, release.â€? The postejection checklist rang in my head. I looked up and confirmed a good chute. I popped open the sealed visor of the pressure-suit helmet and reveled at fresh air now filling my lungs and washing across my face. I kicked the spur cables free from my boots and reached for the handle of the seat survival kit tucked firmly against my backside. Pulling the handle should have released the kit to fall and hang on a 20-foot strap while deploying a single-man life raft. But the handle was jammed and would not release. I tugged at the handle, unable to get good leverage while hanging beneath the chute; additionally, the pain in my back worsened with each
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The accident investigation later determined that the failure of the number four bearing in the rear of the engine resulted in complete and nonrecoverable engine failure. tug. I stopped and rested, noticing that I was still swinging pretty significantly under the canopy. I pulled the six-line jettison lanyards on the back of each riser, releasing six pairs of the chute’s rear shroud lines, allowing air to spill freely from the back of the chute. This stopped the swings and provided a knot or two of forward drive. Again, I tugged hard on the seat-kit handle, and it finally opened but only enough to fall about one foot and come to rest just behind my knees. I kicked at the kit and had finally worked it down another foot or so when I began to see the ground through the broken cloud deck. I left the kit alone and began trying to pull the left riser down in an effort to turn into the wind and slow my ground speed before the inevitable collision with the ground. My efforts were futile as the pain in my back prevented me from holding the riser down for any length of time; the oversize chute simply rolled back and ran with the wind. The ground was now coming up faster, and I could see a series of rice paddies, with a large raised dike separating them. A paved road with a power line ran along the top of the dike, and at first glance, I thought I would clear the power lines and land in the field on the other side. Then I realized that I would not clear the lines and that I might even be headed straight for the pole! I turned sideways and braced for impact, but about 100 feet in the air and just short of the lines, the wind suddenly died and I drifted straight down to a textbook parachute-landing fall. Terra firma at last! As I lay there on my back, I gave a weak smile. After one hour and 10 minutes of gliding, flying using standby instruments, holding over Koon-ni range, running checklists, diverting twice, and finally ejecting, I was alive!
Cell Phone to the Rescue
Impact with the ground opened the seat kit, and I scrambled to take inventory of the survival gear. I tried to sit up but couldn’t—my lower back was shot. I was not in any severe pain but knew that I had injured something and it was probably best not to move. I lay back and pulled the survival kit toward me. I located the PRC-90 radio and portable GPS, and switched them on. As I was doing that, a Korean civilian driving past me on the road stopped his car and came down into the field. He spoke no English but offered me the use of his cell phone. I called our operations landline and, in the background, heard them calling me on the UHF radio as our mission planner answered the phone. I told him I had ejected and hurt my back. I read him my GPS coordinates, and he said he would pass them to the Jolly Greens, who were just getting airborne. When I hung up, the Korean gentleman calmly asked for
his phone back, placed it in his pocket, walked back to his car, and drove off! The HH-60 was overhead a few minutes later and, after landing to drop off two pararescuemen, took off again and circled the field. In the meantime, a Korean woman happened by, and she came down to the field to see if I was OK. Sirens began to sound, and a fire truck and ambulance arrived. A crowd began to gather. The scene was
getting busy, so the helo was called back to get us out of there before the LZ (landing zone) got too crowded to land. A short helicopter ride later and we were on the ramp at Osan, and although still stretcher bound, I was soon shaking hands with my commander and the Ops team as I was loaded into an ambulance. The accident investigation later determined that the failure of the number four bearing in the rear of the engine resulted in complete and nonrecoverable engine failure.
The author back in the saddle. Then Lt. Col. Gaines went on to fly more than 400 additional hours in the U-2 and commanded the 99th Expeditionary Recon naissance Squadron. (Photo courtesy of the author)
And Life Continues
Ahead, lay six months of recovery, physical therapy, back braces, and X-rays. The ejection had crushed two vertebrae by nearly 20 percent, borderline acceptable for returning to the cockpit. There was talk that I might not fly again and certainly not in an ejection-seat aircraft. But I was determined to do so, and with the unwavering support of my commander and the heroic efforts by flight surgeons at Osan and back home at Beale AFB, I was granted an ejection seat waiver. With a clean bill of health, I returned to Beale for a short requalification course. I returned to Osan, and by August, I was rolling down the runway on another routine U-2 mission. J June 2018 41
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Of Bombers and
Boneyards AIRCRAFT GRAVEYARDS THROUGH THE AGES
BY FREDERICK A. JOHNSEN
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The primordial aircraft boneyard is easy to conjure. Imagine a Wright employee or a Bleriot or Curtiss worker pushing an early airframe to the back of the shed to make room for an improved version. But that early contraption still had valueâ€”those turnbuckles could be salvaged, that strut was the same dimensions as on the new machineâ€”and so was born the aircraft boneyard. Aviation enthusiasts have had a love/hate relationship with aircraft boneyards for decades. Emotionally, some want to save all the aircraft from scrapping, like the desire to save all the kitties and puppies that just need good homes. Yet there is also a competing and undeniable fascination with the end times for aircraft, especially mammoth military machines.
On a brooding desert day, thereâ€™s something undeniably compelling about fallen giants, like this C-141B Starlifter at Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). It was knocked to the ground in February 2005, not far from where the C-124s that it replaced were sliced for the smelter more than three decades before. (Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)
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OF BOMBERS AND BONEYARDS
Wildcats and birdcage Corsairs jump off the page in this image of a Navy storage yard at NAS Jacksonville. After being picked clean and superseded by newer types, aircraft like these could be more headache than historical back in the day. (Photo courtesy of Jack Cook)
Aircraft boneyards are not a modern invention. Every conflict generates its own aerial graveyards. Minutes after this image was captured, a match was applied and the first â€œmillion-dollar bonfireâ€? consumed what would eventually be viewed as historical artifacts. (Photo courtesy of Greg VanWyngarden)
The Birth of Million-Dollar Bonfires
The first time an aircraft boneyard caught the public eye was after World War I, when Brig. Gen. Mason Patrick was charged with disposing of American air assets still in France. Even after the U.S. Army Air Service shipped home 2,000 airplanes of all types, the War Department
ordered the sale or destruction of about 2,300 remaining aircraft deemed unworthy of returning to the United States. The same machines that had no use in the United States found no market in Europe, so the task of disposing of them fell to Patrick. He had
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A couple of oxygen cylinders still hang in the fuselage of the B-24M that has just been pulled in two by the slicing action of a cable noose hooked to a bulldozer at Spokane, Washington, in 1945. The bomberâ€™s retracted ball turret is still inside; soon it will all be junk for the scrap dealer. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army)
June 2018 47
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OF BOMBERS AND BONEYARDS
The tail code for Edwards AFB suggests this stored B-1B Lancer at Davis-Monthan reached the end of its test life, and its storage could prove to be a lifesaver for operational B-1s later. (Photo by Ted Carlson/fotodynamics.net)
the surplus aircraft surveyed several times so that usable parts, like engines, guns, propellers, bomb racks, and instruments, could be removed and put to new use. What remained were only effigies of airplanes, incomplete shapes of wood and fabric. The commanding officer of the First Air Depot in France, Col. O. C. Aleshire, advised his supe-
riors and administered the destruction of those aircraft deemed unsuitable after scavenging useful components. Aleshire estimated that the total cost of crating and shipping a plane from France to the United States would run about $1,000. After the best machines had been skimmed for shipment home, the dregs were not worth it. But Patrick rightly predicted that the burning
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Brig. Gen. Mason Patrick had the surplus aircraft surveyed several times so that usable parts, like engines, guns, propellers, bomb racks, and instruments, could be removed and put to new use. of the hulks, piled high, would ignite controversy back home. The spectacle, viewed in photos of the burning airframes, came to be known as the â€œmillion-dollar bonfire.â€? The Air Service, and later U.S. Army Air Corps, did not have huge fleets of thousands of surplus aircraft between the wars. The spectacle of the million-dollar bonfire would not be repeated, as
obsolete military aircraft were quietly scrapped in smaller quantities. Photos and debris found on the old Muroc desert ranges show how some vintage Keystone biplane bombers were used as targets in bombing experiments in the 1930s. Other Keystones, as captured in a snapshot, rode a barge out to sea from Hawaii, where they were unceremoniously dumped overboard.
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OF BOMBERS AND BONEYARDS
Rows of McDonnell F-101 Voodoo jet fighters spelled an end to this supersonic mainstay of the Air National Guard as seen in 1980. Initially preserved with Spraylat patches, it was later determined no further users would require F-101s and they were scrapped, save for a few display examples. (Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen)
Monuments to Massive Production: Smelters Rather than Gravestones
Not until the unprecedented military buildup of World War II did the spectacle of aircraft salvage become commonplace and even legendary. Front-line fighters and bombers evolved rapidly. Older, sometimes war-weary, aircraft filled both static and flying-training needs stateside. But when their utility was through, the people responsible for them had reasons to get rid of
them. Anyone who has ever been held responsible for an inventory record does not want the burden of caring for something no longer useful; even derelict aircraft required some accountability, so scrapping them removed that problem. Additionally, the wartime ethos championed the reuse of valuable strategic metals, like aluminum; it just made sense to get rid of the old. Archival photos from Keesler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi, showing freight cars piled with
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recognizable parts of B-24 Liberators and other warplanes destined for the furnace, while heartbreaking by todayâ€™s standards, are completely normal for the war years. During and immediately after the war, surplus bomber bones made it into the communities surrounding air bases, particularly those with a depot mission or large training activity. For decades, pieces from B-24 turrets could be found in workshops and barns around Walla
Archival photos from Keesler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi, showing freight cars piled with recognizable parts of B-24 Liberators and other warplanes destined for the furnace, while heartbreaking by todayâ€™s standards, are completely normal for the war years. June 2018 51
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OF BOMBERS AND BONEYARDS
The notion of air museums preserving selections of full-size aircraft was not common in the 1940s. The Smithsonian Institution and the USAAF made some pioneering efforts to preserve a copy of many warplanes, but in spite of the efforts of proponents, Seattle, Washington, could not see fit to preserve the famous B-17 â€œ5 Grand,â€? which went to the Kingman smelter instead. Above: Neat rows of jets, like these retired TA-4 Skyhawks, are a hallmark of Davis-Monthan, where the vibe is more outdoor warehousing than ramshackle dumping. (Photo by Ted Carlson/fotodynamics.net)
Walla, Washington; Spokane, Washington, fostered whole civilian scrapyards based on the B-17s, B-24s, P-39s, and other aircraft salvaged there. Hill Field, near Ogden, Utah, had acreage devoted to flyaway storage of B-24s that might be needed again. Once the need passed with V-J Day, those Liberators either migrated to the quintessential boneyard at Kingman, Arizona,
or became scrapped hulks in situ. Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, and Altus, Oklahoma, gained huge temporary fleets of surplus warplanes at the end of hostilities. Kirtland Field in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hosted a field of surplus B-24s, B-17s, and the occasional P-39. Correspondence between U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) leaders acknowledged the deleterious
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Between 2007 and 2009, the Navy visibly shredded F-14 Tomcats, like these in storage at AMARG. The only other user of F-14s was Iran, and the deliberate reduction of retired U.S. Navy F-14s into bits of scrap metal ensured no critical parts would find their way to Iran. (Photo by Ted Carlson/fotodynamics.net) June 2018 53
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Above: Methods for dismantling World War II bombers ranged from the cables used at Spokane, Washington, to explosives at some surplus fields as well as heavy steel guillotine blades, like the one about to drop on this B-17. (Photo by William T. Larkins, courtesy of Stan Piet) Top right: The Navy maintained its own boneyard of B-29s from the 1950s well into the 1970s at China Lake in California’s Mojave Desert. The aircraft were flown on one-way sorties to China Lake, where they were expected to be expended as ground targets in weapons tests. In January 1978, a handful of B-29s remained from as many as 200 delivered. Several museum pieces came from the China Lake Superfortresses, and two are now flying; none remain in the desert today. (Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen) Bottom right: Although the postwar boneyard at Kingman, Arizona, is celebrated for the fleets of B-17s and B-24s that dotted the desert, other rarities, like this dual-control TP-40N, briefly populated Kingman after the war. (Photo by William T. Larkins, courtesy of Stan Piet)
effect large numbers of WW I aircraft and engines had on the growth and development of the Air Service well into the 1920s. Gen. “Hap” Arnold and his peers did not want to be saddled with thousands of the aircraft that won the last war if they had to fight the next one. With jet bombers on the way, it made sense for the USAAF to erase the fleets of B-17s and B-24s while hedging a bit with B-29s, many of which were put into long-term storage instead of being scrapped. The notion of air museums preserving selections of full-size aircraft was not common in the 1940s. The Smithsonian Institution and the USAAF made some pioneering efforts to preserve a copy of many warplanes, but in spite of the efforts of proponents, Seattle, Washington, could not see fit to preserve the famous B-17 “5 Grand,” which went to the Kingman smelter instead. It has been said that a number of returning veterans who passed by Kingman on their way east between 1945 and ’48 saw the acres of aircraft, and some assumed the icons would be in the desert forever. Not so—the contractor charged with the responsibility of scrapping the Kingman fleet reduced more than 5,000 warplanes into aluminum ingots and small parts in less than three years.
The Birth of Aero Recycling
The Cold War saw evolution in military-aviation boneyards. Some aircraft types proved useful for more years than many of their earlier compatriots. The Navy stored and reused aircraft at Litchfield Park Naval Air Station near Phoenix, Arizona. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) concentrated such efforts at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base farther south in Arizona, at Tucson. By 1965, all branches of the military consolidated their aircraft storage and salvage operations in the desert at Davis-Monthan. The operation was called the “Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center” (MASDC) for two decades; in 1985, it became known as the “Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center” (AMARC), and since 2007, the “Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group” (AMARG). The last two appellations have a more upbeat sound and speak to the services’ increased use of these stored aircraft to economically keep the
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OF BOMBERS AND BONEYARDS
Stateside Army Air Bases accumulated boneyard airplanes for a variety of reasons. Some were crashed carcasses; others were aged-out airframes that had been training devices at bases like Keesler Field, Mississippi. During the last half of 1944, increased emphasis was given to salvage at Keesler, with scrap often sent by train to Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army)
fleet airworthy. But to many, it will always be the “boneyard.” This is no short-term scrapyard; the acreage at Davis-Monthan has accommodated more than 4,000 aircraft, some for many years. The caretakers have learned ways to minimize the deterioration of airframes. It is not unusual to see jet fighters phase out of service and into storage at Davis-Monthan only to emerge later as drones for testing and targeting. If evolving weapons, tactics, and potential adversaries make it feasible for the services to fly fewer aircraft in support of national security, that means the stored aircraft of the same types could be economical sources of parts for those still flying. Reusing has been especially true with the gradual aging of the fleet. The B-24 was a viable
Air Force bomber for only about five years; the F-86 Sabre had an American operational life of 16 years, and the B-36 served barely a decade. Contrast that with B-52s and KC-135s well past a half-century in service. It has been reported that, in 2017, the average age of USAF fighters was more than 23.5 years, compared to 8.5 years in 1967. When computer-controlled systems, avionics, and weapons upgrades can keep the same fighters viable longer, the value of a storage facility for spares is immense. Whether one encounters images of a bonfire of WW I aircraft carcasses, freight cars filled with WW II pieces sliced and diced to fit, or today's ongoing storage and reclamation operations in Arizona, it’s still the boneyard and it’s still compelling.
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Above: Starting life before World War II as a B-24A, this early Liberator ended its days at Kingman as a transport transformed to virtual C-87 standard. (Photo by William T. Larkins, courtesy of Stan Piet)
Above: By 1946, the second atomic bomber, “Bockscar,” was stored at Davis-Monthan in anticipation of eventual display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (Photo by William T. Larkins, courtesy of Stan Piet). Below: One of the most famous denizens of the desert at Kingman, Arizona, was the B-17G “5 Grand.” The 5,000th Flying Fortress built in Seattle, Washington, this B-17 carried into combat the painted names of all who helped build it. (Photo by William T. Larkins, courtesy of Peter M. Bowers collection)
June 2018 57
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UNLIKELY SURVIVOR Northrop’s N-9MB TEXT & PHOTOS BY FRANK B. MORMILLO
truly unique and pioneering aircraft, the Planes of Fame Air Museum’s Northrop N-9MB is the only survivor of a World War II program intended to provide the U.S. Army Air Forces with an intercontinental bomber employing Jack Northrop’s revolutionary flying-wing concept. The last of four 1/3-scale development aircraft (a 60-foot wingspan) intended to investigate various aspects of the flight-control systems that would be used in the 172-foot wingspan bombers, the N-9MB flew for the first time in 1944. It was the first airplane to use a fully hydraulic flight-control system with airspeedsensitive feedback. The other 1/3-scale Northrop flying-wing development aircraft were two N-9Ms (the first of which took to the air for its initial flight on December 27, 1942) and the N-9MA. The N-9Ms and the N-9MA were powered by a pair of 275hp Menasco C-6S-4 6-cylinder, air-cooled inline engines, while the N-9MB flew with a pair of 300hp Franklin 0-540-7 6-cylinder, air-cooled opposed engines. With the engines in pusher configuration, the N-9Ms featured steel-tube center sections covered with wood and metal panels, and wood outer-wing sections. They had tricycle landing gear with an extended, retractable tailwheel bumper to prevent damage to the propellers on takeoff rotation.
Ron Hackworth flying the restored Northrop N-9MB over Southern California.
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The Flying Wing restoration project was undertaken at a location remote from the Planes of Fame Air Museumâ€™s headquarters in Chino, California, so that the volunteers could work without distraction. They liked talking with visitors about the project.
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Above: Don Lykins performed the test flights of the restored N-9MB and was even allowed to work from a hangar at Edwards Air Force Base for three days during the high-speed portions of that test program, intended to revalidate Jack Northropâ€™s work. (This photo was taken over the normally dry lake at Edwards AFB, which was flooded with winter rainwater at the time.) Left: The cockpit of the restored N-9MB.
The N-9M made about 50 flights for a total of 30 hours in the air before being lost in early 1943 in a fatal crash, possibly due to aerodynamic forces inducing full-aft pressure on the control column. The remaining three N-9Ms flew successfully, however, for hundreds of hours in a three-year program that provided valuable information for the Northrop B-35 Flying Wing bomber (the prototype of which flew for the first time on June 25, 1946). They also provided prospective flying-wing bomber pilots with experience in the handling characÂ teristics of flying-wing aircraft. A program steeped in controversy, the piston-powered B-35 and jet-powered B-49 Flying Wings were advanced for their time and the subject of legend. At one time, as many as 270 of the big bombers (including prototypes and development aircraft) had been ordered in nine distinct variations. The piston-powered B-35s had four 3,000hp Pratt & Whitney R-4360-17 Wasp Major engines in pusher configuration, while the jet-powered B-49s came in eight- (4,000-pound thrust Allison J-35-A-15 turbojets) and six-engine (5,600-pound thrust Allison J-35-A-19 turbojets) configurations. It appears, however, that only 28 of the bombers were actually built or under construction, and only six of them ever flew (two XB-35s, one YB-35, two YB-49s, and one YRB-49A) before the majority of the program
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Above: The volunteer crew spent 13 years working on the N-9MB restoration. Above left: The nose gear of the N-9MB has a step on the strut to make it easier for the pilot to get aboard. Below left: A retractable tail bumper wheel protects the pusher propellers during takeoff and landing rotation.
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Ron Hackworth flies the N-9MB near the San Gabriel Mountains, north of the Chino Airport.
Left: Split flaps at the tips of the N-9MBâ€™s wings serve as speed brakes when operated jointly and as rudders when operated individually. Right: The N-9MB is powered with two 300hp Franklin 0-540-7 6-cylinder air-cooled in-line engines driving pusher propellers.
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was canceled on October 29, 1949, although work did continue on the sole YRB-49A reconnaissance variant until 1951. All the aircraft involved in the Flying Wing bomber program were ordered to be scrapped, with the YRB-49A being the last to go, in October 1953. The N-9MB somehow survived the scrapping order, however, and was eventually obtained by Edward T. Maloney, founder of the Planes of Fame Air Museum, in the 1950s. The remains of the largely wooden airplane languished for three decades before a team of museum volunteers began the daunting task of restoring the historic aircraft to flying condition in 1981. After 13 years of dedicated work, the restored N-9MB made its first taxi test at the
airport in Chino, California, on November 6, 1994, and its first public flight at Chino on November 11, 1994. The pilot for the Flying Wing’s early flights was Don Lykins, the museum’s chairman of the board, but Ron Hackworth, director of the N-9MB’s restoration effort, became its primary pilot for the next two decades. Airline pilot and museum volunteer David Vopat is now the Flying Wing’s primary display pilot. The N-9MB is a regular participant in the annual Planes of Fame Airshow at the Chino Airport, and frequently flies at other events as well, some as far as 500 miles away. With its bright yellow-and-blue color and unique configuration, the N-9MB stands out wherever it goes.
Above: Volunteers of the Planes of Fame Air Museum work on the restoration of the N-9MB. Almost all the badly rotted wood airframe had to be re-created, with the deteriorated parts used only for patterns.
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Blackbird: A History of the Untouchable Spy Plane By James Hamilton-Paterson (Pegasus Books, 232 pages, $26.95)
ho isn’t fascinated by the story of the SR-71 “Blackbird” spy plane, aka the fastest manned aircraft in the history of aviation? Conceived by Lockheed in the late 1950s by the company’s secret “Skunk Works” division, the Blackbird was designed from the onset to be the world’s fastest and highest-flying aircraft—a goal it achieved in spades! The super-secret project was under the management of famous aircraft designer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. Once fully developed in 1964, the Blackbird represented the pinnacle of jet-aircraft flight and technology. It was designed fly above 85,000 feet and at more than three times the speed of sound. It has an unrefueled flight range of 3,200 nautical miles. The SR-71 was extensively used over Vietnam and in later conflicts, and not a single one was ever shot down; it flew successfully until it was retired in 1999. The capabilities of the Blackbird spy plane seem unlikely to ever be surpassed. As successful as the spy plane was, it was eventually retired because its missions were replaced by spy satellites and, more recently, with less-expensive unmanned aerial vehicles. It is highly unlikely that any other human-carrying jet aircraft with similar flight and speed capabilities will ever again be developed. James Hamilton-Paterson documents not only the hardware development for the most famous spy plane in history but also the times and political history of the day. Touching on the needs of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to obtain sensitive aerial reconnaissance, the Blackbird project was specifically designed to meet strategic objectives in the aftermath of the shooting
Shady Lady: 1,500 Hours Flying the U-2 Spy Plane By Lt. Col. Rick Bishop (Crecy Publishing, 304 pages, $24.95)
eveloped during the Cold War by Lockheed’s “Skunk Works” division, the amazing high-altitude U-2 spy plane has been in continuous military service for more than six decades. No other American spy plane has been as successful at gathering vital and highly classified intelligence. Author Lt. Col. Rick Bishop tells his story as only a former U-2 pilot can. Taking us into the super-secret world of high-altitude recon missions, Bishop explains the many challenges he encountered while flying his advanced and secretive plane. A compelling read, this book introduces the reader, in layman’s terms, to the culture and camaraderie of military pilots involved in the designing, building, and flying of one of the most sophisticated aircraft ever included in the U.S. inventory. Bishop flew for more than 50 years as a civilian, Army, and Air Force pilot, amassing more than 16,000 hours in the air. Voluntarily
down of the U-2 piloted by Gary Powers by the Soviet Union in the 1960s. Lockheed actually manufactured four versions of the aircraft. At a cost of $20 million each, the A-12 variant was the first ordered by the CIA (code name “Oxcart”). Lockheed built 13 of these single-seat spy planes. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) ordered a prototype for a highspeed, high-altitude fighter/interceptor. The two-seat YF-12A, the second variant, was followed by a short-lived drone-launching platform, the M-21. As a follow-on to the YF-12A, the USAF ordered 32 SR-71 surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. The most intriguing part of the author’s narrative is the description of the technical challenges involved in the designing and manufacture as well as the test flying of this 78-ton aircraft. To make the aircraft operate properly at such high speeds and altitudes, ordinary jet fuel, oil, and hydraulic fluids could not be used, and new material needed to be developed. Because the aircraft’s surface temperatures at cruising speed ranged from 440 to 950°F, all the outer skins had to be made out of titanium. Even the tires required special manufacturing processes to survive in such harsh environments. In addition, the pilots chosen to fly the Blackbird had to be of the highest caliber, both physically and mentally. Over the duration of the flight program, only 141 pilots passed the high standards and earned the rating to fly the Blackbird. Written in easy-to-understand language, Hamilton-Paterson does an excellent job presenting the history of the SR-71 that all aviation lovers can enjoy. With 20 black-and-white and 19 color images, this publication is a great addition to any enthusiast’s book collection.—Gerry Yarrish pegasuspublishing.com
joining the Army in 1967, he saw action in Vietnam, as an Army aviator piloting heavylift helicopters, before joining the Air Force in 1974. He then flew jets for four years, until he was selected to join the U-2 program. During the next 13 years, he rose to commander of the 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, prior to further advancement preceding his retirement in 1991. The author covers his entire career as a U-2 pilot, including life at the squadron level and what it’s like to sit in the cockpit operating Lockheed’s “Dragon Lady” at the top edge of the earth’s atmosphere. Bishop’s candor and openness, along with more than 100 photos, give you the feeling you are learning something secret, with an honest attempt to let you in on what it was really like. I particularly liked the in-cockpit photos and the detailed illustrations of the aircraft. Add to this the absolutely amazing high-altitude photos taken of the earth from the cockpit and you get a real sense of what it was like to be flying the Dragon Lady. At 304 pages, there’s a lot of material to enjoy in this book, and at $24.95, it’s an excellent value that should be in everyone’s aviation library.—Gerry Yarrish specialtypress.com
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Read 20 of the Flight Journal editors’ favorite stories from our 20-year archives. The subject matter covered varies widely. It ranges from an SR-71 having a severe emergency at Mach 3.0 to a bush pilot bowling over a bear with water from his de Havilland Otter on floats. Legendary test pilot “Corky” Meyer entertains with some of his misadventures while flying Grumman fighters, and renowned test pilot Eric Brown gives his evaluation of the Bf 109. There are more than 100 pages of one-of-a-kind aviation adventures! SKU: FJ2020, $6.99 Available as a digital download AirAgeStore.com Want to see your product or service in FlyBuys? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Cosmic Connections A Circular Bit of History BY BUDD DAVISSON
nance types who had access to machinery. Each knife was unique to the craftsman and varied from being crude to lethally artistic, but all would perform defensive duties, if it came to that. One of the frustrating aspects of those kinds of knives is that you never know who made them or for whom they were made. They may have played a role in history, but they just lay there, revealing nothing about their past. It’s maddening! You wish they could talk. Then I saw a listing for two knives that had the owner’s name, Lt. A. Linde, and his service number, O-930832, on the sheaths. It took only a little computer sleuthing to find out that he had been copilot on B-24s in Italy as part of the 55th Bomb Wing, 456th Bomb Group, most likely Tavoliere in the Foggia complex. The knives were either made by or The person I bought them from was an made for 2nd Lt. Arlyn Linde while flying B-24s in Italy. antique dealer in Wisconsin, and she said that she had bought a foot locker at an estate sale that contained Linde’s personal military effects, including his dog tags and uniforms. I was aghast that anyone would sell something so identified with their ancestor. And I said so in no uncertain terms in an article in a generalaviation magazine where I wrote about the importance of family history. Personally, I’d walk through fire to find something with unassailable provenance like that that tied any artifact of any kind to my bloodline. I felt so strongly about it and used such firm verbiage that it irritated the young great-grandson. I was assailing his family, and he didn’t like it. I totally redeemed myself, however, with the last paragraph of the piece. It said, “If there are descendants of Arlyn F. Linde, Lt. USAAF, reading this and you can prove your family connection, contact me and the knives and clippings will be on their way to you, free of charge! They belong in your house. Not mine.” Young Julian, “What was his name, and where was he from?” I knew the himself an Army vet who had been deployed, was surfing the answer but wanted to see it. Web, read the article, including the last paragraph, and was “Second Lieutenant Arlyn Linde. He flew B-24s in WW II taking advantage of it. He was absolutely ecstatic. and lived in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.” A message in a jourIt took only a few bits of conversation with Julian to disnalistic bottle that I had launched some six years ago had cover that he and his family held Lt. Linde in high regard. found its way into the right hands. I absolutely couldn’t Some wires had gotten crossed, however, and all of his believe it! WW II material had been sold in a yard sale. The young man Some background: I have a bad habit of bingeing on eBay, said that he was trying to retrieve as many artifacts as posfocusing on oddball items that interest me but are ignored sible that have his great-grandfather’s DNA attached to them by most of the world. The result is that I have a complete set and bring them back into the family fold. And now he has. of colonial hewing axes in my office. And a 3-foot, 33-pound A Priority Mail package containing two knives, some open-end wrench. And the computing gunsight from a B-17 newspaper clippings about Julian’s great-grandfather, and ball turret. You get the picture. One of those binges focused photos of his dog tags left here a couple of days ago. Lt. on “theater knives.” In every WW II theater of operation, Arlyn Linde is, in some ways, back with his family—as it combat troops, both aerial and ground pounders, would should be. often have custom knives made by rear-echelon mainte-
t was the night before last Thanksgiving, and I was eating a pizza in bed watching television with my wife. My phone made its insistent you-have-a-text sound, and as I hit the button, I didn’t know that one of the more unusual mini episodes of my life was about to come full circle. “Is this Budd?” an unknown texter asked. “Depends. Who is this?” a wary pizza eater said. “My name is Julian. I found an article that you wrote online. I believe you have my great-grandfather’s knives.” I sat up in bed. I was just a little startled. I knew who this had to be but didn’t believe it! I needed proof.
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