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Survival Over The "HUMP" Part One
First Lieutenant Art Tuttle our flight engineer yelled over the inter-phone; “Doc, our number 4 engine is dropping oil pressure and showing an increase in cylinder head temperature. “Keep an eye on it Art and let me know if your numbers go south,” said our pilot Captain Doc Waller.
As the co-pilot of the flight I knew that B-29 engine and other defects had become a problem for many other airmen stationed out of Piardoba, India. We often have 140,000lbs to 160,000lbs of gross weight overload, causing the engine to overheat.
Girlfriend, loss and pin up
The rapidly forming clouds below caught my attention. But, as I spent eighteen hours of B-29 flight time in the China Burma theater, I realized that each mission gave us all a lot of time to think; Wives and Friends “Love Boat B-17 over Walker Field, my wife, Betty Ann, dropping a big bomber from the sky over the Michigan/Ohio State football game, my time in the Cavalry and my new assignment as aide to General Smith. Lt. Edward Pierce, Flint Northern football Star and a 3-year letter winner at Michigan State, in the mountains of French Morocco… Then, First Lt. Charles Hill (MSU halfback), piloting a Liberator over Germany stuck me like a knife to return a month later.
Pierce, Hill and I all lived together in camps and bases through 14 transfers from the Cavalry to the Armed Forces and then to the Air Force. We all got our wings walking the same route and I mourned him and his crew. Heartbroken, their widows of newborns carried on… and believed that their loved ones would return.
The choice of nose art was crucial to crew bonding… the spirit and pride of each crew. The more personal, intimate and irreverent the better for 19- to 24-year-olds in this war. Perhaps a pinup on the side of the plane would cause the enemy to pause (with laughter or desire) in trying to shoot down our plane and give our gunners a chance to nail it first. The Playboy pinup or worse conviction was exciting to most and comforting to some. Themes range from cheesy or sexual to cartoon/caricatures, person, logo/name and just name themes. What the hell the more garish the better. If he drops some tension and we tear it up. It was great fun and suddenly every man became an artist for a representative coat of arms at every aircrew drive.
Clash of the Star Duster
SSgt James Lynch, our right gunner suddenly shouted over the inter-phone; “Doctor, our number 4 is smoking.” Here we go again, I thought, as our pilot, Captain Doc Waller, told Jimmy to keep an eye on the flames and First Lieutenant Art Tuttle, the flight engineer, to go to the gauges, monitor temperature and pressure, and his emergency checklist. .
The No. 4s couldn’t have worse timing. We were at 34,000 feet in the Himalayas. This is not a bombing campaign but a cargo flight. We carry eight rubberized fuel tanks secured in bomb racks, 2900 gallons directly to our advanced base in the Cheng Tu Valley after another 13 hours of direct flight… in preparation for bombing the Japanese homeland.
Carrying so much fuel on board was a long way from home. The prospect of engine fire from intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire on Kyushu and Yokohama was now even more frightening.
I looked at Doc, calmly focused on his next task. He was going through his emergency procedures and options and reversing course – just in case the worst happened. He knew that twelve people depended on his life or death decision. Doc asked me to take the yoke and I flew the “STARDUSTER” on our new heading. I kept an eye on No. 4 while checking Art Tuttle for engine performance numbers and asking for constant updates from our engine eyes in the back.
We set out through the early morning darkness. None of us expected that our mission would come off unscathed, or that our own aircraft would have a better chance than others of getting out unscathed. The question we’ve all thought…so? And the answer to what would happen if it actually happened appeared… soon.
Engine number 4 was slowly losing power and now we could smell gas in the nose of the aircraft. With a sudden dramatic yawn to the right, our senior gunner TSgt Alden Huisjen yelled, “We’ve got thick black smoke coming out of No. 4 now.” Quickly, I turned to confirm our problem child on the starboard wing. The doctor gave me that look and I nodded to confirm the reality of our problem. Our converted B-29 tanker was now in real trouble.
Doc immediately reduced power after hearing smoke coming from the engine, though Art noted that all engine instruments showed normal indications. The smoke had subsided due to the power cut but within 10 minutes a large column of oil and smoke suddenly erupted from the upper nacelle. SSgt Don Carter, our radio operator, went to the forward bomb bay to investigate the gas fumes. Doctors feared that the plane would be filled with fog and that all the crew could be affected.
“Fire, fire coming out of No. 4 now,” Alden yelled, “flames rising.”
Suddenly, there was another shudder and Kala looked at the tachometer, notifying the pilots that the MAP/RPM on No. 4 was falling rapidly. Then the engine shook violently and stopped all together …
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