Tag Archives: Bomber

9 August 1945

Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

9 August 1945: Three days after an atomic bomb had been used against the Japanese industrial city of Hiroshima, a second attack was made on Nagasaki. Major Charles W. Sweeney, in command of the Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, named Bockscar, departed Tinian Island in the Marshal Group at 3:47 a.m., and flew to Iwo Jima where it was to rendezvous with two other B-29s, The Great Artiste and The Big Stink, the instrumentation and photographic aircraft for this mission.

Like its sistership, Enola Gay, 44-27297 was a specially modified “Silverplate” B-29. The Silverplate B-29s differed from the standard production bombers in many ways. They were approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) lighter. The bomber carried no armor. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the rear bomb bay. The bomb bay doors were operated by quick-acting pneumatic systems. The bomb release mechanism in the forward bomb bay was replaced by a single-point release as was used in special British Lancaster bombers. A weaponeer’s control station was added to the cockpit to monitor the special bomb systems.

Bockscar had four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-41 (Cyclone 18 787C18BA3) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with direct fuel injection. The R-3350-41 had a compression ratio of 6.85:1 and required 100/130 aviation gasoline. It was rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m, for take-off. The engines drove four-bladed Curtiss Electric reversible-pitch propellers with a diameter of 16 feet, 8 inches (5.080 meters), through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-41 was 6 feet, 2.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,725 pounds (1,236 kilograms).

With the exception of the tail gunner’s position, all defensive armament—four powered remotely operated gun turrets with ten .50-caliber machine guns—were deleted. Their remote sighting positions were also removed. Enola Gay carried 1,000 rounds of ammunition for each of the two remaining Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns in the tail.

With these changes, the Silverplate B-29s could fly higher and faster than a standard B-29, and the fuel-injected R-3350-41 engines were more reliable. Bockscar had a cruising speed of 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 365 miles per hour (587 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 31,850 feet (9,708 meters) and its combat radius was 2,900 miles (4,667 kilometers).

Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, in flight. Note "Triangle N" tail code. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, in flight. Note “Triangle N” tail code. (U.S. Air Force)

44-27297, Victor 7, was assigned to aircraft commander Captain Frederick C. Bock and his crew. Major Sweeney and his crew ordinarily flew The Great Artiste. Sweeney’s B-29 had been the the instrumentation aircraft for the Hiroshima mission and there was not time to remove that equipment and re-install it aboard Bock’s bomber, so the crews switched airplanes. For operational security, Bockscar‘s normal identification was changed from the number 7 on the fuselage to 77. The 509th’s tail code of a circle surrounding a forward-pointing arrow was changed to another unit’s “Triangle N” identification.

All of these last minute changes resulted in confusion in contemporary reports as to which B-29 had actually dropped Fat Man on Nagasaki.

Boeing B-29 crew photo taken Aug. 11, 1945, two days after the Nagasaki mission. Note there is no nose art on the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Major Charles W. Sweeney’s B-29 crew. (U.S. Air Force)

In Bockscar‘s forward bomb bay was a 10,213 pound (4,632 kilograms) bomb called Fat Man. This was a completely different and much more complex weapon than the Little Boy (Mark I) atomic bomb dropped by Colonel Paul Tibbet’s Enola Gay on 6 August. Designated Mark III, the egg-shaped weapon contained a 6.2 kilogram (14 pound) sphere of Plutonium Pu 239, surrounded by a high-explosive charge. The explosives were formed in “lenses” that would direct the force inward in a very precise manner. The purpose was to compress—or implode— the Plutonium to a much greater density, resulting in a “critical mass.”

The Mark III "Fat Man" bomb loaded on its carrier, 8 August 1945.
The Mark III “Fat Man” bomb being loaded onto its carrier, 8 August 1945.

In the conduct of this mission, Major Sweeney made a number of serious errors that nearly caused the mission to fail, and might very well have led to the loss of the bomber and its crew.

Prior to takeoff, the B-29’s crew chief informed Sweeney that a fuel transfer pump was inoperative which made it impossible to transfer 625 gallons (2,366 liters) of fuel from one fuel tank. This meant that nearly 9% of the total fuel load of 7,250 gallons (27,444 liters) was unusable. Chuck Sweeney decided to go anyway.

Next, though under direct orders from the 509th Composite Group commander, Colonel Paul Tibbets, to wait at the rendezvous no more than 15 minutes, when The Big Stink failed to arrive on schedule, Sweeney elected to stay 30 minutes beyond that.

Meanwhile, the two weather reconnaissance B-29s, Enola Gay and Laggin’ Dragon, were over Kokura, the primary target, and the secondary, Nagasaki. Weather over both cities were within the mission parameters.

During the 45 minutes that Sweeney waited at the rendezvous, weather over Kokura had deteriorated. By the time Bockscar arrived overhead, clouds covered the city. The bomber made three attempts to bomb the city over a 50-minute period, but the bombardier was not able to see the target.

Now an hour and twenty minutes behind schedule, Sweeney diverted to the secondary target, Nagasaki. Because of the delays and the unusable fuel as a result of the failed fuel pump, Sweeney reduced engine power to try to conserve fuel during the twenty minute flight to the alternate target. But weather there had also deteriorated.

Sweeney decided that they should bomb through the clouds using radar, but at the last minute, the bombardier was able to see the aim point. The Fat Man was dropped from 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) at 11:01 a.m. After falling for 43 seconds, the atomic bomb detonated at an altitude of 1,950 feet (594.4 meters). It missed the intended target point by nearly 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) and exploded over the Urakami Valley, halfway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works and the Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works.

Nagasaki, 9 August 1945, photographed by Joe Kosstatscher, U.S. Navy.
Nagasaki, 9 August 1945, photographed by Joe Kosstatscher, U.S. Navy.

The estimated force of the explosion was 21 kilotons—equivalent to the explosive force of 21,000 tons of TNT (19,050 metric tons)—nearly 20% greater than the Hiroshima bomb. The surrounding hills contained the explosion, protecting a large part of the city. Still, approximately 60% of Nagasaki was destroyed and 70,000 people were killed. By December 1945, at least 80,000 of the city’s 250,000 residents had died.

Atomic cloud rising over nagasaki, japan, 9 August 1945, photographed from Koyagi-jima. (Hiromichi Matsuda)
Pyrocumulus cloud rising over Nagasaki, Japan, approximately 20 minutes after detonation, 9 August 1945, photographed from Koyagi-jima, a small island southwest of Nagasaki. (Hiromichi Matsuda)

Now critically low on fuel and unable to reach the emergency B-29 recovery field on Iwo Jima, Sweeney headed for the airfields of Okinawa. When Bockscar touched down on the runway, one engine quit due to fuel starvation. As they turned off the runway, a second engine ran out of fuel. Charles Sweeney had cut it very, very close.

B-29 44-27297 on Tinian Island, August 1945. The nose art was applied to the airplane after the August 9, 1945 bombing mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO 44-27297 on Tinian Island, August 1945. The nose art was applied to the airplane after the August 9, 1945 bombing mission. (U.S. Air Force)

Five days after the bombing of Nagasaki, the Emperor of Japan—recognizing that his country now faced total destruction—agreed to surrender. World War II was over.

In 1946, Bockscar was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan Army Air Field, Tucson, Arizona. On 26 September 1961, the B-29 was flown to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, where it remains in the museum’s collection of historic aircraft.

Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force base, Tucson, Arizona, 1959. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin-Omaha B-29-35-MO Superfortress 44-27297, Bockscar, in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 1959. The identification markings, “89” on the aft fuselage are those of another Silverplate B-29, The Great Artiste. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 August 1945

Silverplate Martin-Omaha B-29-45-MO Superfortress 44-86292, “Dimples 82,” at Tinian, Marshall Islands, August 1945. Note the “Circle Arrowhead” tail code. (U.S. Air Force)

6 August 1945: At 0245 hours, a four-engine, long range heavy bomber of the 509th Composite Group, United States Army Air Forces, took off from North Field on the island of Tinian in the Marshall Group, on the most secret combat mission of World War II.

Colonel Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr., United States Army Air Forces, Commanding Officer, 509th Composite group, and aircraft commander of the B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr., United States Army Air Corps, Commanding Officer, 509th Composite Group, and aircraft commander of the B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay. (U.S. Air Force)

The Martin-Omaha B-29-45-MO Superfortress, 44-86292, under the command of Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., was carrying Bomb Unit L-11, the first nuclear weapon to be used during war. This was a 9,700-pound (4,400 kilogram) “gun type” fission bomb, the Mark I, code-named Little Boy. It contained 64 kilograms (141.1 pounds) of highly-enriched uranium. The bomb was 120 inches (3.048 meters) long with a diameter of  28 inches (0.711 meter). Although it was a very inefficient weapon, it was considered to be such reliable design that it had not been tested.

Code named "Little Boy," the Mark I bomb unit L-11, prior to loading aboard Enola Gay, 5 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Code named “Little Boy,” the Mark I bomb unit L-11, prior to loading aboard Enola Gay, 5 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

On the morning before the mission, Colonel Tibbets had his mother’s name painted on the nose of the airplane: Enola Gay. He had personally selected this bomber, serial number 44-86292, while it was still on the assembly line at the Glenn L. Martin Company plant at Bellevue, Nebraska, 9 May 1945. The B-29 was accepted by the Army Air Corps on 15 May and flown to the 509th’s base at Wendover, Utah, by Captain Robert A. Lewis, a B-29 aircraft commander who would act as Tibbets’ co-pilot on the atomic bombing mission.

The B-29 Superfortress was designed by the Boeing Airplane Company as its Model 345. Produced in three major version, the B-29, B-29A and B-29B, it was built by Boeing at Wichita, Kansas and Redmond, Washington; by the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Marietta, Georgia; and the Glenn L. Martin Company at Fort Crook (now Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Nebraska. A total of 3,943 Superfortresses were built.

The B-29 was the most technologically advanced airplane built up to that time, and required an immense effort by American industry to produce.

The B-29 Superfortress was 99 feet, 0 inches (30.175 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.053 meters) and an overall height of 27 feet, 9 inches (8.458 meters). The standard B-29 had an empty weight of 74,500 pounds (33,793 kilograms) and gross weight of 120,000 pounds (54.431 kilograms).

Enola Gay at Tinian, with crew members.
Enola Gay at Tinian, with crew members.

The Silverplate B-29s differed from the standard production bombers in many ways. They were approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) lighter. The bomber carried no armor. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the rear bomb bay. The bomb bay doors were operated by quick-acting pneumatic systems. The bomb release mechanism in the forward bomb bay was replaced by a single-point release as was used in special British Lancaster bombers. A weaponeer’s control station was added to the cockpit to monitor the special bomb systems.

Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., waves from the cockpit of the Silverplate Martin-Omaha B-29-45-MO Superfortress Enola Gay, 44-86292, just before starting engines at 02:27 a.m., 6 August 1945. (Sergeant Armen Shamlian, United States Army Air Forces. National Archives and Records Administration)

Enola Gay had four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-41 (Cyclone 18 787C18BA3) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with direct fuel injection. The R-3350-41 had a compression ratio of 6.85:1 and required 100/130 aviation gasoline. It was rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m, for take-off. The engines drove four-bladed Curtiss Electric reversible-pitch propellers with a diameter of 16 feet, 8 inches (5.080 meters), through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-41 was 6 feet, 2.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,725 pounds (1,236 kilograms).

With the exception of the tail gunner’s position, all defensive armament—four powered remotely operated gun turrets with ten .50-caliber machine guns—were deleted. Their remote sighting positions were also removed. Enola Gay carried 1,000 rounds of ammunition for each of the two remaining Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns in the tail.

With these changes, the Silverplate B-29s could fly higher and faster than a standard B-29, and the new engines were more reliable. Enola Gay had a cruising speed of 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 365 miles per hour (587 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 31,850 feet (9,708 meters) and its combat radius was 2,900 miles (4,667 kilometers).

At 09:15:17 a.m., (mission time, 8:15 a.m., local), Enola Gay was at 31,000 feet (9,450 meters) over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on the island of Honshu, an industrial center with a population of about 340,000 people. The bombardier initiated the automatic release sequence and the the atomic bomb was dropped. It fell for 44.4 seconds and detonated at an altitude of 1,968 feet (600 meters), about 800 feet (244 meters) from the aiming point, the Aioi Bridge over the Ota River.

The mushroom cloud rises over Hiroshima, Japan, 2–3 minutes after detonation. Photographed 6,500 meters from hypocenter (Seizo Yamada)
The mushroom cloud rises over Hiroshima, Japan, 2–3 minutes after detonation. Photographed 6,500 meters (4 miles) from hypocenter (Seizo Yamada)
A mushroom cloud rises over the devastated city Hiroshima, Japan, 2–3 minutes after detonation, 6 August 1945, photographed by Technical Sergeant George R. Caron, U.S. Army Air Corps, tail gunner of the B-29 Enola Gay, using a Fairchild Camera and Instrument Company K-20 aerial camera with a 6-3/8" f/4.5, 4" × 5" film negative. (National Archives RG 77-AEC)
A mushroom cloud rises 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) over the devastated city of Hiroshima, Japan, 2–3 minutes after detonation, 6 August 1945, photographed from Yoshiura, looking southward, by Technical Sergeant George R. Caron, U.S. Army Air Corps, tail gunner of the B-29 Enola Gay, using a Fairchild Camera and Instrument Company K-20 aerial camera with a 6-3/8″ f/4.5, 4″ × 5″ film negative. (U.S. Air Force)
Pyrocumulus cloud seen from ground level.
Two-tier cloud 2–5 minutes after detonation, seen from Kaitaichi, 6 miles east of Hiroshima. Photographer unknown. (The Atlantic)
Pyrocumulus cloud rising over Hiroshima. Photographer unknown. (Atomic Heritage Foundation)
A pyrocumulus cloud from the firestorm spreads laterally as it reaches the upper atmosphere. (U.S. Air Force)
A pyrocumulus cloud from the firestorm spreads laterally as it reaches the upper atmosphere. (U.S. Air Force)
Hiroshima photoggraphed by a reconnaissance airplane several hours after the explosion. (U.S. Air Force)
Hiroshima photographed by a reconnaissance airplane several hours after the explosion. (U.S. Air Force)

Ground Zero, the point on the surface directly below the explosion, was the Shima Hospital. The overpressure is estimated to have been 4.5–6.7 tons per square meter. The two-story brick building was completely obliterated. Of the patients, technicians, nurses and doctors inside, nothing remained.

The entrance to Shima Hospital is all the remained following the detonation of the atomic bomb.

The resulting explosion was approximately equivalent in explosive force to the detonation of 16,000 tons (14,515 metric tons) of TNT (16 “kilotons”). An estimated 70,000 people were killed immediately, and another 70,000 were wounded. As many as 160,000 people may have died as a result of the atomic bombing by the end of 1945. More would follow over the next few years.

The shadow of one of the victims of the atomic bomb is etched onto the steps in front of a destroyed building.
The shadow of one of the victims of the atomic bomb is etched onto the steps in front of a destroyed building.

An area of the city with a radius of 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from the point of detonation (“hypocenter”) was totally destroyed, and combined with the fires that followed, 4.7 square miles (12.17 kilometers²) of the city were destroyed. 69% of all buildings in Hiroshima were completely destroyed and another 6% damaged.

Hisroshima photographed in March 1946. (National Archives)
Hisroshima photographed in March 1946. (National Archives)

As soon as the bomb was released, Colonel Tibbets turned his B-29 away to avoid the blast. It was just over 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) from the detonation point when the shock waves hit, but no damage resulted. The bomber was then flown back to Tinian, landing after an elapsed time of 12 hours, 13 minutes.

Col. Tibbets’ B-29, Enola Gay, 44-86292, landing at Tinian Island, 6 August 1945. Note: “Circle R” identification on tail. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin-Omaha Silverplate B-29 Superfortress 44 86292, Enola Gay, taxis to its hardstand after returning to Tinian, 6 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Martin-Omaha Silverplate B-29 Superfortress 44 86292, Enola Gay, taxis to its hardstand after returning to Tinian, 6 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

Enola Gay was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan Army Air Field, Tucson, Arizona, 26 July 1946, and was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution just over one month later, 30 August 1946. For decades it sat in storage at different locations around the country, but finally a total restoration was performed. Today, the B-29 is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and Space Museum.

Martin-Omaha B-29-45-MO Superfortress 44-86292, Enola Gay, at teh Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Martin-Omaha B-29-45-MO Superfortress 44-86292, Enola Gay, at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution )

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 August 1939

The flight crew of the FAI World Altitude Record-setting Boeing Y1B-17A. Left to right: Captain Pearl H. Robey, Captain Clarence S. Irvine and R. Swofford. (FAI)

1 August 1939: Captains Clarence S. Irvine and Pearl H. Robey, United States Army Air Corps, used the Boeing Y1B-17A Flying Fortress (Model 299F), serial number 37-369, to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude with a 5,000 Kilogram Payload. The bomber climbed to 34,026 feet with a payload of 11,023 pounds.¹

On the same day, Irvine and Robey flew the Y1B-17 from Dayton, Ohio to St. Jacob, Illinois, setting an FAI World Record for Speed Over 1,000 Kilometers with a 5,000 Kilogram Payload, averaging 417.46 kilometers per hour (259.40 miles per hour).²

The flight crew of the FAI World Speed Record-setting Boeing Y1B-17A. Left to Right: Capatain C.J. Crane, P.G. Miller, Captain Clarence S. Irvine and Captain pearl H. Robey. (FAI)
The flight crew of the FAI World Speed Record-setting Boeing Y1B-17A. Left to Right: Captain Carl J. Crane, P.G. Miller, Captain Clarence S. Irvine and Captain Pearl H. Robey. (FAI)

The single Y1B-17A (Boeing Model 299F) was originally ordered as a static test aircraft, but when that was determined to be unnecessary, it was then used as an engine test aircraft. It was equipped with four 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Wright R-1820-51 (Cyclone G59) single-row nine-cylinder radial engines. Moss/General Electric turbo-superchargers were installed, initially on top of the wings, but were moved to the bottom of the engine nacelles.

Boeing Y1B-17A 37-369. (FAI)

The supercharged Wright R-1820-39 (Cyclone R-1820-G5) engines of the YB-17s were rated at 805 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., at Sea Level, 775 horsepower at 14,000 feet (4,267 meters), and 930 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., for take off. By contrast, the YB-17A’s R-1820-51 engines were rated at 800 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,000 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. for take off. But the turbochargers allowed the engines to maintain their sea level power rating all the way to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). Both the -39 and -51 engine had a 16:11 propeller gear reduction ratio. The R-1820-51 was 3 feet, 9.06 inches (1.145 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.12 inches (1.375 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,200.50 pounds (544.54 kilograms). 259 were produced by Wright between September 1937 and February 1940.

Boeing Y1B-17A 37-269. (U.S. Air Force)

The turbo-superchargers installed on the YB-17A greatly improved the performance of the bomber, giving it a 55 mile per hour (89 kilometer per hour) increase in speed over the supercharged YB-17s, and increasing the bomber’s service ceiling by 7,000 feet (2,132 meters). The turbo-superchargers worked so well that they were standard on all following B-17 production models.

Boeing Y1B-17A 37-369. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Boeing Y1B-17A was 68 feet, 9 inches (20.955 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9–3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and height of 14 feet, 11–5/16 inches (4.363 meters). Its empty weight was 26,520 pounds (12,029 kilograms). The maximum gross weight was 45,650 pounds (20,707 kilograms)

The Model 299F had a cruise speed of 230 miles per hour (370 kilometers per hour), a maximum speed of 271 miles per hour (436 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 295 miles per hour (475 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The service ceiling was 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). The maximum range was 3,600 miles (5,794 kilometers). Carrying a 4,000 pound (1,814 kilogram) load of bombs, the range was 2,400 miles (3,862 kilometers).

The Y1B-17A could carry eight 600 pound (272 kilogram) bombs in an internal bomb bay. Defensive armament consisted of five .30-caliber machine guns.

Following the engine tests, 37-369 was re-designated B-17A.

The Boeing Y1B-17A in flight near Mt. Rainier on 28 February 1938. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8318

² FAI Record File Number 10443

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 July 1935

Boeing Model 299, NX13372, photographed during its first flight, 28 July 1935. (The Boeing Company)
Boeing Model 299 NX13372, photographed during its first flight, 28 July 1935. (The Boeing Company)
Boeing test pilot Les Tower. (Boeing)
Boeing’s Chief Test Pilot Leslie R. Tower.

28 July 1935, At Boeing Field, Seattle, Chief Test Pilot Leslie Ralph (“Les”) Tower and Louis Waite took off on the maiden flight of the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, a prototype four-engine long range heavy bomber. For approximately one-and-a-half hours, Tower flew back and forth between Tacoma and Fort Lewis. When he landed, he said, “It handles just like a little ship—a little bigger, of course.”

The Boeing Model 299 was designed to meet a U.S. Army Air Corps proposal for a multi-engine bomber that could carry a 2,000 pound (907 kilogram) bomb load a distance of 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers) at a speed greater than 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour). Design of the prototype began in June 1934 and construction was started 16 August 1934. The Air Corps designated it B-299, and later, XB-17. It did not carry a military serial number, being marked with civil registration NX13372.

The Boeing Model 299 with Mount Rainier. (U.S. Air Force)
The Boeing Model 299 with Mount Rainier. (U.S. Air Force)

The Model 299 was 68 feet, 9 inches (20.955 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9–3/8 inches (31.633 meters) and height of 14 feet, 11–5/16 inches (4.554 meters). Its empty weight was 21,657 pounds (9,823 kilograms). The maximum gross weight was 38,053 pounds (17,261 kilograms).

The prototype was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,690.537-cubic-inch-displacement (27.703 liter) Pratt & Whitney Hornet S1E-G nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. The S1E-G was rated at 750 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., and 875 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. for takeoff, using 87-octane gasoline. They turned 11 foot, 6 inch (3.505 meters) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The S1E-G was 4 feet, 1.38 inches (1.254 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.44 inches (1.383 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,064 pounds (483 kilograms)

Boeing Model 299. (U.S.  Air Force)

In flight testing, the Model 299 had a cruise speed of 204 miles per hour (328 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 236 miles per hour (380 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The service ceiling was 24,620 feet (7,504.2 meters). Its maximum range was 3,101 miles (4,991 kilometers). Carrying a 2,573 pounds (1,167 kilograms) load of bombs, the range was 2,040 miles (3,283 kilometers).

Boeing 299 NX13372, all engines running.
Boeing 299 NX13372, all engines running.

The XB-17 could carry eight 500 pound (226.8 kilogram) bombs in an internal bomb bay. Defensive armament consisted of five air-cooled Browning .30-caliber machine guns.

Nose turret of the Boeing Model 299, photographed 24 July 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
Nose turret of the Boeing Model 299, photographed 24 July 1935. (The Boeing Company)

NX13372 was destroyed when it crashed on takeoff at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 30 October 1935. An Army Air Corps pilot making his first familiarization flight neglected to remove the control locks. This incident led directly to the creation of the ”check list” which is used by all aircraft crew members.

Waist gun position of the Boeing 299. (U.S. Air force)
Waist gun position of the Boeing 299. (The Boeing Company)

Designated XB-17 by the Army Air Corps, this airplane and the YB-17 pre-production models that followed would undergo several years of testing and improvement before entering production as the B-17 Flying Fortress, a legendary airplane of World War II. By the end of the war 12,731 B-17s had been built by Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed Vega.

Boeing Model 299 NX13372, designated XB-17, at Wright Field, Ohio, 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing Model 299 NX13372, designated XB-17, at Wright Field, Ohio, 1935. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 July 1943

Second Lieutenant John Cary Morgan, United States Army Air Corps, is awarded the Medal of Honor by Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker, commanding 8th Air Force, 18 December 1943.. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

MORGAN, JOHN C. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 326th Bomber Squadron, 92d Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Europe, 28 July 1943.¹

Entered service at: London, England. Born: 24 August 1914, Vernon, Texas.

G.O. No.: 85, 17 December 1943.

Citation:

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, while participating on a bombing mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe, 28 July 1943.¹ Prior to reaching the German coast on the way to the target, the B17 airplane in which 2d Lt. Morgan was serving as copilot was attacked by a large force of enemy fighters, during which the oxygen system to the tail, waist, and radio gun positions was knocked out. A frontal attack placed a cannon shell through the windshield, totally shattering it, and the pilot’s skull was split open by a .303 caliber shell, leaving him in a crazed condition. The pilot fell over the steering wheel, tightly clamping his arms around it. 2d Lt. Morgan at once grasped the controls from his side and, by sheer strength, pulled the airplane back into formation despite the frantic struggles of the semiconscious pilot. The interphone had been destroyed, rendering it impossible to call for help. At this time the top turret gunner fell to the floor and down through the hatch with his arm shot off at the shoulder and a gaping wound in his side. The waist, tail, and radio gunners had lost consciousness from lack of oxygen and, hearing no fire from their guns, the copilot believed they had bailed out. The wounded pilot still offered desperate resistance in his crazed attempts to fly the airplane. There remained the prospect of flying to and over the target and back to a friendly base wholly unassisted. In the face of this desperate situation, 2d Lt. Officer Morgan made his decision to continue the flight and protect any members of the crew who might still be in the ship and for 2 hours he flew in formation with one hand at the controls and the other holding off the struggling pilot before the navigator entered the steering compartment and relieved the situation. The miraculous and heroic performance of 2d Lt. Morgan on this occasion resulted in the successful completion of a vital bombing mission and the safe return of his airplane and crew.”

Lieutenant John Cary (“Red”) Morgan, 482nd Bombardment Group, with a B-17 Flying Fortress. (Imperial War Museum)

John Cary Morgan was born 24 August 1914 at Vernon, Texas, the first of four children of Samuel Asa Leland Morgan, an attorney, and Verna Johnson Morgan. He was educated at the New Mexico Military Institute, and also attended Amarillo College, West Texas Teacher’s College and the University of Texas at Austin.

“Red” Morgan traveled to the South Pacific in 1934, working on a pineapple plantation in the Fiji Islands. He returned to the United States in 1937, arriving at the Port of Los Angeles from Suva, Fiji, aboard the Matson passenger liner S.S. Monterey, on 6 September, after a 12-day voyage.

One of Matson Lines’ “white ships,” S.S. Monterey, arrived at Sydney Harbor, 14 June 1937. (Royal Australian Historical Society)

Morgan married 20-year-old Miss Margaret Wilma Maples at the First Methodist Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 3 December 1939. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Lewis N. Stuckey.

Morgan registered for Selective Service at Oklahoma City, 16 October 1940. He was described as being 6 feet, 2 inches (1.88 meters) tall, weighing 180 pounds (81.7 kilograms), with red hair and blue eyes. Morgan had broken his neck in an oil field accident before the United States entered World War II, and had been classified 4-F by the draft board: “not qualified for military service.”

Morgan went to Canada and on 4 August 1941, enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. After flight training, he was sent to England and assigned to RAF Bomber Command. Flight Sergeant Morgan flew twelve combat missions with the RAF. He was then transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps with the warrant rank of Flight Officer. On 23 March 1943, Red Morgan was assigned to the 326th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 92nd Bombardment Group (Heavy), at RAF Alconbury (Army Air Force Station 102), at Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England.

The original “Ruthie,” Lockheed Vega B-17F-35-VE Flying Fortress, 42-5910, 326th Bombardment Squadron, landing at RAF Chelveston (AAF Station 105), Northamptonshire, England. (Imperial War Museum UPL 19152)

The incident for which Morgan was awarded the Medal of Honor occurred during his fifth combat mission with the 326th Bombardment Squadron. He was the co-pilot of a Boeing B-17F-70-BO Flying Fortress, serial number 42-29802, named Ruthie II.

2nd Lieutenant John Cary (“Red”) Morgan being interviewed by Lieutenant Joe Graham, ETO Radio Department. (Imperial War Museum)

Promoted from flight officer to 2nd lieutenant, John C. Morgan continued to fly combat missions, now with the 482nd Bombardment Group (Pathfinder). On 6 March 1944, the H2X radar-equipped B-17 on which he was co-pilot, Douglas-Long Beach-built B-17F-70-DL 42-3491, was hit by an 88-millimeter anti-aircraft artillery shell and shot down. The aircraft commander, Major Fred A. Rabo, Lieutenant Morgan, and two others escaped as the airplane exploded. Six airmen were killed, including Brigadier General Russell A. Wilson.

Douglas-built B-17F-70-DL Flying Fortress 42-3491, call sign “Chopstick G. George,” was shot down near Berlin, Germany, 6 March 1944. The bomber exploded immediately after this photograph was taken. (U.S. Air Force)

The survivors were captured. Lieutenant Morgan spent the rest of the war as a prisoner at Stalag Luft I. He is the only Medal of Honor recipient to have been held as a Prisoner of War after being awarded the Medal.

Lieutenant Morgan was separated from active duty 29 January 1946, but remained in the Air Force Reserve. He was promoted to major in July 1950. Recalled to active duty during the Korean War (from June 1951 to August 1953), he was assigned to the Technical Training Command. Morgan was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in August 1957.

Red Morgan married to Chris Ziegler from 1947. They had one son. According to an obituary in the New York Times, Morgan had a third wife, Gladys, at the time of his death.

Lieutenant Colonel John Cary Morgan, United States Air Force, died at Papillon, Nebraska,  17 January 1991, at the age of 76 years. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Second Lieutenant John C. “Red” Morgan, USAAF, at Stalag Luft I, 1944.
“12 O’Clock High”

Authors Beirne Lay, Jr., and Sy Bartlett used Morgan as the model for the character of “Lieutenant Jesse Bishop” in their novel, Twelve O’Clock High, and the Academy Award-winning 1949 motion picture adaptation that followed. The Jesse Bishop character was played by actor Robert Patten, a USAAF navigator during World War II.

¹ “Although both the original fact sheet and the official Medal of Honor citation give the date as 28 July 1943, official records of the 92d Bombardment Group pinpoint it as 26 July.  See Memo, Lt. Col. Andre R. Brosseau, Operations Officer, Headquarters, 92d Bombardment Group to Commanding Officer, 92d Bombardment Group, subj: Report on Planning and Execution of Operations for Mission 26 July 1943, Hannover, Germany, 27 July 1943, Air Force Historical Support Division, Reference Branch documents.  The memo does not detail Flight Officer Morgan’s actions but does pinpoint the mission to Hannover on 26 July 1943.” —Air Force Historical Support Division

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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