Yesterday – as in literally, yesterday — in Aviation

Air Chathams Convair 580, the last one in active passenger service worldwide, was permanently grounded yesterday after 64 years of operation

 

The All American

A mid-air collision on February 1, 1943, between a B-17 and a German fighter over the Tunis dock area, became the subject of one of the most famous photographs of WWII.

An enemy fighter attacking a 97th Bomb Group formation went out of control, probably with a wounded pilot then continued its crashing descent into the rear of the fuselage of a Flying Fortress named “All American”, piloted by Lt. Kendrick R. Bragg, of the 414th Bomb Squadron.

When it struck, the fighter broke apart but left some pieces in the B-17. The left horizontal stabilizer of the Fortress and left elevator were completely torn away. The two right engines were out and one on the left had a serious oil pump leak. The vertical stabilizer (tail) and the rudder had been damaged, the fuselage had been cut almost completely through, connected only at two small parts of the frame and the radios, electrical, and oxygen systems were damaged. There was also a hole in the top that was over 16 feet long and 4 feet wide at its widest and the split in the fuselage went all the way to the top gunner’s turret.

Although the tail actually bounced and swayed in the wind and twisted when the plane turned and all the control cables were severed, except one single elevator cable still worked, and the aircraft still flew! The tail gunner was trapped because there was no deck connecting the tail to the rest of the plane. The waist and tail gunners used parts of the German fighter and their own parachute harnesses in an attempt to keep the tail from ripping off and the two sides of the fuselage from splitting apart. While the crew was trying to keep the bomber from coming apart, the pilot continued on his bomb run and released his bombs over the target.

When the bomb bay doors were opened, the wind turbulence was so great that it blew one of the waist gunners into the broken tail section. It took several minutes and four crew members to pass him ropes from parachutes and haul him back into the forward part of the plane. When they tried to do the same for the tail gunner, the tail began flapping so hard that it began to break off. The weight of the gunner was adding some stability to the tail section, so he went back to his position.

The turn back toward England had to be very slow to keep the tail from twisting off. They covered almost 70 miles to make the turn home. The bomber was so badly damaged that it was losing altitude and speed and was soon alone in the sky. For a brief time, two more Me-109 German fighters attacked the All American. Despite the extensive damage, all of the machine gunners were able to respond to these attacks and soon drove off the fighters. The two waist gunners stood up with their heads sticking out through the hole in the top of the fuselage to aim and fire their machine guns. The tail gunner had to shoot in short bursts because the recoil was actually causing the plane to turn.

Allied P-51 fighters intercepted the “All American” as it crossed over the Channel and took the picture shown. They also radioed to the base describing that the appendage was waving like a fishtail and that the plane would not make it and to send out boats to rescue the crew when they bailed out. The fighters stayed with the Fortress taking hand signals from Lt. Bragg and relaying them to the base. Lt. Bragg signaled that 5 parachutes and the spare had been “used” so five of the crew could not bailout. He made the decision that if they could not bail out safely, then he would stay with the plane to land it.

Two and a half hours after being hit, the aircraft made its final turn to line up with the runway while it was still over 40 miles away. It descended into an emergency landing and a normal roll-out on its landing gear. When the ambulance pulled alongside, it was waved off because not a single member of the crew had been injured. No one could believe that the aircraft could still fly in such a condition. The Fortress sat placidly until the crew all exited through the door in the fuselage and the tail gunner had climbed down a ladder, at which time the entire rear section of the aircraft collapsed. This old bird had done its job and brought the crew home and all in one piece.

 

Another, Different Account

“If you come across something awful happening, you always think, ‘My God, it’s just like a movie,’ and that’s what I thought. I had a feeling that the planes weren’t really falling and burning, the men inside them weren’t really dying, and everything would turn out happily in the end. Then, very quietly through the interphone, our tail gunner said, ‘I’m sorry, sir, I’ve been hit.’

I crawled back to him and found that he’d been shot in the side of the head and blinded by bursting plexiglass. He was still able to use his hands, so I ordered him to fire his guns whenever he heard from me. I figured that a few bursts would keep Jerry off our tail, and give the kid something to think about besides the fact that he was dying.

Then, screaming in from someplace, a 20 mm cannon shell exploded in the nose of our plane, hitting me in the shoulder.

Two more shells had hit the waist of the plane, exploding the cartridge belts stored there, wounding the waist gunner in the forehead and jugular vein. We had no plasma aboard, so there wasn’t much of anything else I could do besides plug his artery with my fingers and give him morphine.

When we reached England, I prayed and thanked God.

On the following mission, the waist gunner was now a new, young kid; like the kid, I’d been six months before.

He wasn’t a bit scared – just cocky and excited. Over Saarbriicken he was wounded in the foot by a shell, and I had to give him first aid. He acted more surprised than hurt. He had a look on his face like a child who was cheated by grownups.

That was only the beginning for him, but it was the end for me.” –1st Lt. Joseph Hallock, 22 years old, 306th BG, 8th Air Force, May 1944.

 

Liquidator

B-17G Fortress “Liquid-8-Or” of 569th Bomb Squadron dropping cases of “10 in 1” rations into Holland during Operation Chowhound aimed at breaking the famine in western Holland, May 3, 1945.

 

Identify the Mystery Aircraft

 

Goodyear Inflatoplane

An inflatable aircraft for the hobbyist flyer and downed airmen from the 1960s…

You know that they had a big tire patch kit that came with the airplane.

 

Not unlike this in concept – not really.

USS Macon Flying over New York Harbor, circa Summer 1933. The southern end of Manhattan Island is visible in the lower left-center.

 

15 COMMENTS

  1. I spent four hrs yesterday working on a cultipacker so we could seed down a food plot. My knees were screaming. I smashed my hand. I pissed and moaned. But I had a cup of coffee and my dogs were nearby. God bless those men.

  2. Your opening picture caught my eye. Triangle K is the 379th BG. My dad’s group was the 447th BG, square K–

    http://www.447bg.com/

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USAAF_unit_identification_aircraft_markings

    Re: B-17 “All American”. True story, however some internet versions have been embellished a bit. They did RTB to their base in Biskra, north-central Algeria. They did not have the range to make England even if they had wanted to. Here is the Wiki article which makes some other corrections under “Mythology”. If You scroll to reference #5 and click on the archive, you can read bombardier Ralph Burbridge’s first hand account–

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_American_(aircraft)

  3. Convair 580. Had many a ride (1960-70) on Frontier (two – three bankruptcies ago) and North Central (several mergers ago). I believe the Allisons were torque limited but on a hot day in Denver those Convairs would get off the ground quicker than anything else.

          • As a civilian employee of the Air Farce, my long departed Father turned wrenches on Convair T-29 “flying classroom” aircraft that were versions of the 240, itself predecessor of the 580, a trade he learned in the Navy during WWII. This at Harlingen AFB in South Texas. He learned to fly on the G.I. Bill and eventually worked up to a commercial rating. Anyway, to tie all this old stuff together a little better, there was an old pilot down there nicknamed “Pappy” who possessed a pilots license the number of which was a single digit. I don’t think I ever met him and don’t recall the name, but presumably some dude named Orville or Wilbur signed off on his airmanship.

            It is amazing to me that many of us here grew up when stories like this were commonplace and certainly nothing remarkable.

    • A friends father flew for North Central. “The Blue Goose” airline. Used to see them flying over all the time growing up back in Illinois.

  4. Texas Air had them back in the day. I ‘think’ there is at least one DC-3 still flying pax, but I’m not sure it’s a real airline… 🙂 And yes, French Navy Rafele

  5. Too bad to see the 580 go. I flew in one from Detroit to Appleton Wisconsin, once. Quiet, smooth, big windows, comfortable seats. Only commercial plane I’ve ever flown in that circled to gain altitude, like in the old days.

    -Kle.

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