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Enola Gay: Pilot’s-eye View

By Karen Jensen
8/6/2015 • World War II Magazine

IF I LIVE A HUNDRED YEARS, I’ll never quite get these few minutes out of my mind,” Robert A. Lewis wrote shortly after the B-29 he was copiloting, the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In August 1945 the confident and rambunctious Lewis was 27, with sturdy, all-American good looks and a reputation as a skilled pilot and determined ladies’ man. Lewis had enlisted in the Army Air Corps early in the war; electronics experience got him a gig testing weapons systems on a bomber under development, the B-29 Superfortress. Another pilot in the B-29 program, Lieutenant Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, selected Lewis to join him in a combat force—the 509th Composite Group—training in secret to use the bomber to deliver a weapon of unprecedented power.

A stylized drawing by Enola Gay copilot Robert A. Lewis (right)—likely derived from sketches at an August 4, 1945, briefing by the B-29’s weaponeer, William “Deke” Parsons—shows the B-29’s approach to the target, bomb release, and abrupt departure in a diving, 155-degree turn. Lewis quotes Parsons as saying, “now let’s look at these sketches, and you will better understand this designed maneuver and why every second is critical.” The aftermath of the bombing was the most dangerous part of the mission for the B-29’s crew: no one knew if the massive bomber could withstand the shock waves from the blast. (Bonhams)
A stylized drawing by Enola Gay copilot Robert A. Lewis (right)—likely derived from sketches at an August 4, 1945, briefing by the B-29’s weaponeer, William “Deke” Parsons—shows the B-29’s approach to the target, bomb release, and abrupt departure in a diving, 155-degree turn. Lewis quotes Parsons as saying, “now let’s look at these sketches, and you will better understand this designed maneuver and why every second is critical.” The aftermath of the bombing was the most dangerous part of the mission for the B-29’s crew: no one knew if the massive bomber could withstand the shock waves from the blast. (Bonhams)

Lewis, later a settled family man with five children, spent a lifetime reflecting on the mission. “He would place items on the dining room table and then we would spend most of our day together discussing them in detail,” Lewis’s youngest son, Steven, recalled. The elder Lewis gave the artifacts on these pages to Steven; they went up for sale last April at New York’s Bonhams auction house, where the collection brought in $112,000, and offered a revealing look at one man’s war story.  

Originally published in the September/October 2015 issue of World War II magazine. Subscribe here.

One Response to Enola Gay: Pilot’s-eye View

  1. […] sky of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 one of his major concerns was to execute a fast, tight 155 degree turn to escape the effects of the blast from ‘Little Boy’.  There is some dispute over the precise […]

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