A FINAL TRIBUTE TO PAUL
TIBBETS, PILOT OF ENOLA
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He was ordered to find the best pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and supporting crewmen and mold them into a unit that would deliver that bomb from a B-29.
In his memoir "Now It Can Be Told," Lieutenant General Leslie R. Groves Jr., who oversaw the Manhattan Project, said that General Tibbets had been selected to train the crews because "he was a superb pilot of heavy planes, with years of military flying experience, and was probably as familiar with the B-29 as anyone in the service."
He took command of the newly created 509th Composite Group, a unit of 1,800 men who trained amid extraordinary security at Wendover Field in Utah salt flats.
In the summer of 1945, General Tibbets oversaw his unit's transfer for additional training on Tinian in the Northern Marianas. On July 16, an atomic bomb was successfully tested in the New Mexico desert, and when Japan ignored a surrender demand issued at the Potsdam Conference, General Tibbets completed final preparations to drop a uranium bomb.
On Aug. 6, 1945, he and his crew spent six hours aloft with the bomb before reaching Hiroshima around 8:15 a.m. The 5-ton atomic bomb whistled down several thousand feet, exploded about 1,900 feet above the city, and sent a mushroom cloud funneling skyward.
In his memoir "The Tibbets Story," he told of "the awesome sight that met our eyes as we turned for a heading that would take us alongside the burning, devastated city."
"The giant purple mushroom, which the tail-gunner had described, had already risen to a height of 45,000 feet, 3 miles above our own altitude, and was still boiling upward like something terribly alive," he remembered.
Because of the bomb's force, General Tibbets was told he could not fly straight ahead after it exploded but would have to turn 159 degrees to the expanding shockwave and leave the area fast. He said he practiced at great altitudes - with the plane's tail shaking wildly - and eventually was able to turn the large aircraft in about 40 seconds.