Jets Shoot Down Crippled B-29 in China Sea after Crew
This story provided courtesy of William F. (Bill) Welch
HQ.TWENTIETH AF, Okinawa. A flight of F-80 jet-propelled
fighter-interceptor aircraft shot down a B-29 aircraft of the 31st Photo
Reconnaissance Squadron 15 miles out in the China Sea at sunset Friday
night after a 12-man crew had bailed out over Kadena Air Base in a tense
drama witnessed by hundreds of spectators.
THE B-29 had been practicing GCA approaches, After a pass
over the field in which the gear had been let down, the gear jammed
as it was being retracted. All efforts to fully lower or retract the
gear failed. Operations officers in the Kadena tower noted that the
gear was fouled in such a way that any attempt to land the aircraft
would result in a major accident and serious if not fatal injuries to
many of the crew aboard.
The decision was made to have the crew abandon the aircraft
and for the pilot to put the plane on automatic pilot, head it out to
sea, and then jump.
ORDERS WERE also issued to the Headquarters 51st Fighter
Interceptor Wing to assemble fighters to destroy the disabled plane.
Five F-80 jets took off immediately and were soon in contact.
Meanwhile, the flight surgeon, together with his assistants,
fanned out on the flight line to be ready to assist any crewman in the
event of injury on landing. A helicopter of the 2nd Air Rescue Squadron
also hovered about to spot any man who might drift too far after bail-out.
THIS ACTIVITY, together with the low flying B-29 which
was obviously in trouble, made airmen engaged in softball and other
after-supper games, abandon their play and rush to points of vantage.
At 7:35 p.m. the plane made its first bail-out run over
the airfield and four jumped from the escape hatches. A second pass
was made five minutes later and four more men jumped. Three chutes opened
almost immediately but the fourth seemed to be in trouble. Hearts seemed
to stop beating as all eyes watched the body gather speed and come closer
to the runway. Suddenly, when it seemed almost too late, the silk was
seen to billow and the man landed safely.
HE WAS SGT. Arley Russell of Richmond, Va. who had made
a combat jump during the war. When asked what had happened, Russell
nonchalantly replied, "Nothing. I was just trying to get my feet together
so I wouldn't lose my new boots."
The plane, which was affectionately know as the "The Heap"
was a 1942 model and the oldest in point of service on Okinawa.
TWO MEN WERE injured. Sgt Paul V. White of Dallas, Texas,
suffered a compound leg fracture when he landed on the runway and Lieutenant
Kastilahn had a laceration of the ear and a possible injury to his ankle.
All men were members of the 31st Photo Reconnaissance
Squadron. Their names and home towns are as follows:
1st Lt. Wesley F. Butler, Tulsa, Okla. 1st Lt. William Kastilahn,
Chicago, Ill.; 1st Lt. Howard G. Glover, Harrison, Ark.; 1st Lt. Theodore
Stern, New York, N.Y.; M/Sgt. James S. Jones, Little Rock Ark.; T/Sgt.
Jack R. Nichols, Fort Worth, Texas; S/Sgt. Howard L. Carroll, Sumner,
Iowa; S/Sgt. Harold R. Rhodes, Lexington, Texas; Sgt. Arley Russell, Richmond
Va.; Sgt Paul White, Dallas, Texas; Cpl. Curtis C. Franks, Bunkie, La.;
Cpl. Wayland Mayo, Washington, N.C
Editor's notes from Bill Welch.
RB-29 Aircraft 42-0903. "The Heap"
Paul White ended up losing his leg after developing gangrene.
When I arrived on Okinawa after a seventeen day voyage
in the bowels of a Liberty Ship, I was assigned to the 31st Reconnaissance
Squadron (Photo) based at Kadena Air Base. My duty assignment was as
a camera repair technician, maintaining the aerial cameras used in the
planes of our squadron.
Across the flight line ramp from the Quonset hut housing
Camera Repair, sat an RB-29. It had no propellers or engines. The empty
engine nacelles stared, like four black eyes, out at the world. When
I asked a ground crewman about it, he said, "Shhhh. That's our newest
secret weapon. It's a jet B-29." ————Yeah sure.
One day I walked over to look at the forlorn airplane
without engines. I noticed that just ahead of the scanners blisters
there were wrinkles in the aluminum skin of the fuselage. And when I
walked back across the ramp, I turned and took one more look. The horizontal
stabilizer did not match up with the wings! It was several degrees off
horizontal. When I looked closely, I could see that the vertical stabilizer
and rudder was also a couple degrees out of kilter. I was very curious
about this cockeyed airplane and asked several people until I finally
found a crew-chief who had been on Oki for a while. "Yeah," he said.
"About a year or so ago, they were jacking it up to work on a landing
gear, and someone goofed. It actually twisted the fuselage out of whack.
Nobody thought it would fly like that so the engines were cannibalized
for other planes."
I thought no more about the plane, it was just a permanent
landmark on the ramp. Over the next several months I tried, and finally
succeeded, in cross-training as an aerial-photographer-gunner. I had
been trained as a photographer, photo lab technician, and camera repair
technician. Since getting out of school nearly a year earlier, I had
worked in camera repair at Forbes Air Force Base, in Topeka Kansas,
before going to Okinawa. My NCIOC in the 31st was SSgt Tom DeHaven,
and with his help I was finally put on flying status and began OJT (on-the-job-training).
I already knew aerial camera operation thoroughly but had to learn the
in-flight procedures, plus learning a lot about the B-29. To be a qualified
scanner-gunner I did a lot of flying that had nothing to do with photography,
including firing the fifty-caliber guns at an air-to-ground range on
an island off shore.
In early May, 1950, our squadron prepared to run an ORT
- Operations Readiness Test - later in the month. As part of the “Maximum
Effort” to put as many planes as possible into the air, aircraft 903,
the cock-eyed engineless ramp queen, was to have engines and props hung
and put in flyable condition. I helped out some on the effort. There
was a lot of unskilled corrosion-control work to be done. Mainly scrubbing
salt-air corroded parts of the aircraft with steel wool and painting
the spots with zinc-chromate paint.
It was during this time that the ground crew started calling
903 “The Heap” after a comic book character that became a super-hero
after being resurrected from a pile of junk. Using the readily available
zinc-chromate paint, I painted the name on the nose.
903 had been built in 1942, one of the original B-29 models.
It was different from later versions in that many things, the landing
gear included, were electrically operated, as opposed to hydraulic.
The emergency procedure for lowering the gear, if the primary system
failed, was to plug in a portable electric motor into each landing gear
and run it down. There was no procedure for manually cranking the gear
down, as was the case in later B-29 models. This proved to be the fatal
flaw in 903.
During the mission that resulted in the bail-out and shoot-down,
the main gear motor burned out as the gear was being lowered for an
approach. The emergency motor was hooked up and one main landing gear
fully lowered successfully. Then the motor was moved to the other side
and started lowering it. When the gear was half-way down, the emergency
motor burned out!
The plane now had one main gear fully down and the other
stuck half-way with no possible way of moving either.
The crew tried everything they could from repairing the
motor to short-circuiting them, but nothing worked.
So, this is what I remember about RB-29 #903, “The Heap”,
prior to its flaming end far out over the East China Sea.
In a recent e-mail, Stadille mentioned an incident with
a cocked nose wheel on Okinawa, and did I remember it. I sure do!
I was on Lt. Ambrose's crew. If I remember correctly, this happened
not long after the bail-out incident and I was thinking "Oh no, not
I have attached a transcript of an article out of Stars
and Stripes about it. (I'm beginning to feel like a re-write editor)
Standing at entrance of camera repair shop, Kadena AB, Okinawa. Both men were Photo/Gunners on RB-29s
Another Stars and Stripes Article, this one from
The RB-29 developed trouble in the form of a cocked
nose wheel while shooting transition landings. The ship took off at
8:45 a.m. on a 12 hour training flight. At approximately 5:30 p.m.
the trouble began when the the nose wheel became cocked.
For an hour and a half Lieutenant Ambrose circled the
field attempting all emergency means of correcting this trouble. His
attempts were not successful, so Lieutenant Ambrose advised (sic)
to make an emergency landing.
His touchdown was on the aircraft main gear and just as smooth as glass. The damaged nose wheel was held off the ground as long as possible and then lowered very gently to the runway. Fortunately for all concerned the wheel straightened out immediately upon contact and a normal landing roll was the result.