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Survival Over The "HUMP" Part One
1st Lt. Art Tuttle, our flight engineer, shouted into the intercom; “Doc, our number 4 engine is showing a drop in oil pressure and an increase in cylinder head temperature. ‘Keep an eye on it Art and let me know if your numbers continue to drop,’ Captain Doc commanded Waller, our pilot.
As the co-pilot of the flight, I knew that B-29 engines and other bugs had become problems for many other crews stationed in Piardoba, India. We were often overloaded with 140,000 to 160,000 pounds of gross weight, causing the engines to overheat.
Girlfriends, losses and pin-ups
The cumulus clouds forming rapidly below hold my attention. But, I realized that eighteen hours of B-29 flying, per mission, in the China Burma Theater gave us all plenty of time to think; wives and girlfriends the “Love Boat B-17 over Walker Field, my wife, Betty Ann, coaxing the big bomber into the sky over the Michigan/Ohio State football game, my time in cavalry and my new assignment as an aide to General Smith. The loss of Lt. Edward Pearce, a football star from Flint Northern and winner of a 3-year letter to Michigan State, on the mountainside in French Morocco…then, First Lt. Charles Hill (MSU half-back), flying a Liberator over Germany failed to return a month later stabbed me like a knife.
Pearce, Hill and I all stayed together through 14 transfers to camps and bases, going from cavalry to armed forces and then to the air force. We all received our wings together following the same path and I mourned them and their crews. Heartbroken, their widows with a newborn baby carried on…and kept faith that their loved ones would return.
Nose art selection was important to crew cohesion…the spirit and pride of each crew. The more personal, intimate and irreverent it is, the better it is for 19 to 24 year olds in this war. Maybe a pinup on the side of a plane would make the enemy stop (from laughter or desire) in their pursuit to shoot down our plane, giving our gunners a chance to pin it down first . A playboy pin-up or worse was certainly exciting for most and a relief for some. Themes ranged from naughty or sexual themes to cartoons/cartoons, people, logo/name and names only. What the heck the more garish the better. If that relieved some tension and we let it tear. It was a lot of fun and suddenly every man became an artist in every crew race for a representative crest.
Star Duster’s Struggle
SSgt James Lynch, our right gunner, suddenly shouted into the intercom; “Doc, our number 4 smokes. Here we go again, I thought, as Captain Doc Waller, our pilot, told Jimmy to keep an eye on the flames and 1st Lt. Art Tuttle, flight engineer, to get on the gauges, watch the temperatures and pressures and its emergency checklist.
Number 4’s timing couldn’t have been worse. We were 34,000 feet above the Himalayas. This is not a bombing mission but a cargo flight. We are carrying eight rubberized fuel tanks secured in the bomb racks, 2900 gallons to be unloaded after another 13 hours of flying directly to our forward base in the Cheng Tu Valley… in preparation for the push to bomb the homeland of Japan.
We were far from home with so much fuel on board. A possible engine fire was now scarier than being shot down over Kyushu and Yokohama by intense and accurate anti-aircraft.
I looked at Doc, quietly concentrating on his next task. He ran through his emergency procedures and options while descending and reversing his course – in case the worst happened. He knew that twelve men relied on his life and death decisions. Dock told me to take the yoke and I piloted “STARDUSTER” to our new course. I kept an eye on number 4 while probing Art Tuttle for engine performance numbers and asking for constant updates from our rear engine eyes.
In the early morning darkness we continued. None of us expected that our missions would go through without causing casualties or that our own plane would have a better chance than the others of making it out without damage. The question we’ve all asked ourselves… What if? And that sounded like the answer to what could become a reality…shortly.
Engine number 4 was slowly losing power and now we could smell gasoline fumes in the nose of the plane. With a sudden and dramatic yaw to the right, TSgt Alden Huisjen, our lead gunner, shouted, “We now have thick black smoke coming out of Number 4.” Quickly, I turned to confirm our child problem on the starboard wing. Doc gave me that look and I nodded to confirm the reality of our problem. Our converted B-29 tanker was now in serious trouble.
Doc immediately reduced power upon hearing smoke coming out of the engine even as Art reported that all engine instruments were showing normal indications. The power reduction had reduced the volume of smoke but within 10 minutes a large column of oil and smoke suddenly escaped from the upper nacelle. SSgt Don Carter, our radio operator, went to the forward bomb bay to investigate the gas fumes. Doc feared the fumes would saturate the plane and affect the entire crew.
“Fire, fire now coming out of number 4,” Alden shouted, “Flames growing.”
Suddenly there was a second shiver and Art looked at the tachometer and informed the pilots that the MAP/RPM on number 4 was dropping rapidly. The engine then shook violently and stopped suddenly…
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