Remembering the B-29
The B-29 article by Stephen Wilkinson in the September issue [“Superbomber’s Achilles’ Heel”] was excellent. After graduating from Air Force pilot training in 1955, I was sent to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, where I trained with the B-29. I remember the flight engineer had to uncowl and inspect every engine before each flight. We had two airmen in the waist primarily to check the engines, a very rudimentary fire warning system. The cockpit was akin to sitting in a greenhouse—extremely hot in the Texas summertime.
After 40 years in the flying business, I consider the B-29 the most awkward and ungainly aircraft that I ever flew. The B-29 was designed to do just one thing, deliver bombs over long distances, and it did that. I have the greatest respect for the men who flew this aircraft during WWII. They overcame insurmountable hardships and delivered the coup de grâce in the form of the atomic bomb that forced the end of the war.
I would recommend that readers seek out a well-written book about the B-29, The Point of No Return: The Story of the 20th Air Force, by Wilbur H. Morrison.
Ocean Township, N.J.
The article on the B-29 hit home. As a prop specialist in a service group attached to the Twentieth Air Force, based at Kharagpur, India, I witnessed the kinds of incidents described in the article. I saw engine fires on the ground, with a soldier standing by with a fire extinguisher at each engine start. I also saw a B-29 lose an engine on takeoff, its full bombload exploding after the left wingtip caught on a rise in the terrain during a banking left turn. (When the call went out for a body recovery team, I could not join them; some of the crew were my friends.) Your article also brought back memories of the teamwork and camaraderie I enjoyed with my fellow mechanics and the B-29 aircrews.
As for the R-3350, mechanics dubbed it “the externally lubricated engine.” Before starting each one, we manually turned it a few times using the props, hoping to distribute the oil that had accumulated in the bottom cylinders. Even so, at engine start, a cloud of burnt oil blew out of the exhausts. The majority of my pulling and reinstalling props was due to engine replacements.
I have thoroughly enjoyed every issue of your outstanding magazine. No other comes up to your standards. In the September 2010 issue, you wrote: “It is our hope that Aviation History’s ‘service career’ will extend for another 20 years and beyond.” Let me tell you, with enough devoted fans like myself, you will achieve that goal.
Key West, Fla.
The September article about B-29s is the reason why I read this magazine: It provided excellent background with contemporary context in the fields of politics, economics, human nature and engineering in regards to technological challenges. To have all that in an article that was so hugely enjoyable and informative will keep me reading your magazine. Hats off to author Stephan Wilkinson.
Rudel’s Surrender Flight
I enjoyed “Eagle of the Eastern Front” in the July issue. In the article it mentioned that Colonel Hans-Ulrich Rudel “surrendered” at an American-held airfield. To be precise, Rudel surrendered 3½ hours before the war officially ended—to my grandfather, Lt. Col. Edgar J. Loftus, group executive officer of the 405th Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force, at R-6 Kitzingen Airfield, Germany.
Rudel’s seven aircraft—three Stukas and four Fw-190s—intentionally crash-landed on the field while 2,500 men of the 405th were lined up for review on the tarmac in dress uniforms, complete with band, parade and fly-by. Twenty German soldiers and one woman piled out of those planes. My grandfather reported that Rudel said he and his officers had no intention of surrendering, and if the Americans wanted to take them prisoner, that was their affair. Rudel gestured toward the men standing in formation and thanked Loftus, assuming that the review had been ordered in his own honor. Following an interrogation session and a meal, Rudel was handed over to the MPs.
Michael Loftus Langdon
Thanks for your letter, and for the photo showing Rudel (in white jacket) with fellow officers after his surrender. Look for more on this incident in an upcoming issue.
In reference to your “Milestones” article in the September issue, the pilot of that DC-8, the first transport to go supersonic, was Bill McGruder, an exceptional aviator who was also a first-class gentleman. Unfortunately he was not a politician, and he rubbed the brass of the Douglas Flight Test Division the wrong way. I knew Bill personally—in fact he checked me out in the DC-8 when I was an engineering test pilot for Douglas, based at Edwards Air Force Base. McGruder’s flight made the headlines, but little was said about Bill then or later. A heart attack caught him early, and a great test pilot and aeronautical engineer was lost. I consider myself very lucky to have had Bill as a co-worker and good friend.
H. “Dix” Dixon
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