mulberry style purse Aviation incidents during World War II
This aviation incident happened during World War II. As I have indicated in earlier articles, we were training first pilots and flight instructors at a four engine B 24 Air Base in Tennessee. A staff sergeant crew chief on an airplane I occasionally flew, told me about this scary incident with his airplane by one of our cocky flight instructors. The crew chief was fortunate to be alive to tell the story. This is how it happened.
The instructor and two officer students were on the local daylight flight in the four engine B 24 Liberator. The cocky flight instructor decided to show off for his new students. He feathered all four props and stopped his engines. Suddenly, he had a “lead sled” glider, coming down fast! Since he was descending faster than he expected, the dimwit instructor had to quickly unfeather the propellers and restart the engines or crash. However, with his power plants not operating, the electric generators couldn’t provide the necessary electric current to unfeather the props. The batteries were too weak for that purpose.
Fortunately, the B 24 had another source of electricity in the Bombay. It was a four cylinder gasoline generator. The alert crew chief sergeant rushed to the Bombay and quickly got it running. By the time the instructor restarted two of the four engines, the aircraft was close to the tree tops. Barely maintaining his altitude and close to stalling, he was able to get all four engines running and flew safely back to the airbase. After landing, the crew chief promptly reported the incident, and the reckless flight instructor was immediately sent somewhere, because we never saw him again. I’m sure he paid a penalty.
Another incident my student pilots and I endured at the same four engine bomber base during World War II, is firmly in my memory to this day. I already mentioned the four cylinder gasoline generator in the Bombay of the B 24. In those days, we didn’t have the more efficient alternator but used generators on the engines for electric power. Unfortunately, the generators wouldn’t produce electricity unless the engines were operating 1,400 1,500 RPM. Using that much RPM on four engines on the ground caused the airplane to taxi too fast, which was wearing on the brakes.
The problem was worse at night for taxiing, as there was an added burden on the electric system with wing lights and landing lights to aid in ground vision, radio, etc. The battery couldn’t handle the demand for the additional electricity and at slow taxiing, everything operated by electricity would quit. It was not a nice situation. This is where the gasoline generator came into use. It provided the necessary electricity for this need.
One dark night, we were taxiing out to fly with everything electric operating, including the gasoline engine generator in the Bombay. Suddenly, the entire airplane filled with dense choking smoke. I yelled to the crew to abandon the airplane through the bomb doors for best exit away from the propellers. The engines were shut down as I waited for all the crew to get out. However, when my turn came, the smoke was so bad I couldn’t see and I could hardly breathe. Descending into the Bombay, the smoke was worse. It was necessary that blinded, I shouldn’t get confused and walk into any props still turning. Fortunately, I felt my way to the rear and got out safely. The firemen arrived and put the smoking fire out. Someone had carelessly left an oily rag near the exhaust of the gasoline engine generator in the Bombay, resulting in it smoking badly and catching fire.
One week later, an identical incident happened at night with another smoke filled B 24. All the crew but the flight instructor went out to the rear safely. In a panic, the young flight instructor failed to cut his engines, apparently blinded and confused by the smoke, exited toward the front of the bomber and the props killed him.
Two thousand, five hundred and fifty five Army Air Corps personnel were killed in training during World War II. Dead is dead, whether in combat or in training.