16 January 1942: Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc., Flight 3, was a transcontinental passenger flight enroute to Los Angeles, California from New York City.
The airplane was a Douglas DC-3-362, registered NC1946.
The pilot in command was Captain Wayne C. Williams, an 11-year employee of T&WA. He had 12,204 hours total flight time with more than 3,500 hours in DC-3s. He had flown 204 hours at night within the previous six months. The co-pilot was S. Morgan Gillette, who had been with T&WA for a little less that 1 year, 6 months. He had 1,330 hours of flight time with 650 in DC-3s.
After a refueling stop at Las Vegas Airport, the airliner departed at 7:07 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, on the final leg of the flight to the Lockheed Air Terminal at Burbank, California (officially, the Bob Hope Airport, but now known Hollywood Burbank Airport). It was dark, but the weather was clear. Because of wartime regulations, the lighted airway beacons on the route had been extinguished.
At 7:20 p.m., PST, Flight 3 crashed into a vertical cliff face on Potosi Mountain, an 8,517-foot (2,596 meters) mountain 32 miles (51.5 kilometers) southwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. The DC-3 was completely destroyed and all 22 persons aboard were killed, including actress Carole Lombard, Mrs. Clark Gable.
In planning the flight, the crew had made an error in the compass course for this leg of the flight. Their written flight plan, filed with the airline’s operations department, indicated a compass course of 218° which took them directly to the mountain.
Carole Lombard (née Jane Alice Peters) was one of the most successful motion picture actresses in Hollywood. She was born at Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1908, and had her first motion picture role in 1921. At age 16, she was under contract to the Fox Film Corporation and as was customary, was given a more dramatic name. She was primarily a comedic actress though she also had several dramatic roles.
Lombard was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in “My Man Godfrey” which starred William Powell, to whom she was married 1931–1933. In 1938, Lombard married actor Clark Gable.
Carole Lombard had been on a War Bonds tour and was returning home to Hollywood. She was seated in an aisle seat in the third row, next to a U.S. Army private. Her mother, Elizabeth Peters, was seated directly across the aisle.
NC1946 was a DC-3-362, c/n 3295, built in February 1941 for Transcontinental and Western Air by the Douglas Aircraft Company at Santa Monica, California. It was an all-metal, twin-engine civil transport with retractable landing gear. The airplane was operated by a pilot and co-pilot and could carry up to 21 passengers.
The DC-3-362 was 64 feet, 5 inches (19.634 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet (28.956 meters). It was 16 feet, 11 inches (5.156 meters) high. The airplane weighed approximately 18,000 pounds (8,165 kilograms) empty and had a gross weight of 25,200 pounds (11,431 kilograms).
NC1946 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 GR-1820G202A nine-cylinder radial engines with compression ratio of 6.7:1. These engines had a Normal Power rating of 1,100 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for Takeoff, burning 91/96 octane aviation gasoline. They drove three-bladed, constant-speed, full-feathering Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propellers through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The GR-1820G202A was 4 feet, 2.04 inches (1.271 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,310 pounds (594 kilograms).
The DC-3 had a cruise speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 237 miles per hour (381 kilometers per hour) at 8,500 feet (2,591 meters). The airplane had a service ceiling 24,000 feet (7,315 meters), and its range was 1,025 miles (1,650 kilometers).
The Douglas DC-3 was in production for 11 years with 10,655 civil and C-47 military airplanes built, and another 5,000 license-built copies. Over 400 are still in commercial service.
4 May 1943: VIII Bomber Command Mission No. 54 was an attack on the Ford and General Motors plants at Antwerp, Belgium. 79 B-17s of the 1st Bombardment Wing were assigned, with another 33 staging a diversion off the coast. Each B-17 was loaded with five 1,000-pound (453.6-kilogram) high explosive bombs. Between 1839–1843 hours, 65 B-17s had reached the target and dropped 161.5 tons (146.5 metric tons) of high explosive bombs from an altitude of 23,500 feet (7,162.8 meters). Results were considered very good.
Sixteen B-17s were damaged by anti-aircraft artillery and German fighters, with 3 American airmen wounded. Gunners on board the bombers claimed ten enemy fighters destroyed and one damaged. They expended 21,907 rounds of .50-caliber machine gun ammunition. The mission lasted 4 hours, 30 minutes.
The lead ship of a composite group made up from squadrons from the 91st, 303rd and 305th Bombardment Groups was Boeing B-17F-27-BO Flying Fortress 41-24635. It had been named The 8 Ball Mk. II by its crew, led by Captain William R. Calhoun, Jr. (Captain Calhoun’s first The 8 Ball, 41-24581, had been damaged beyond repair, 20 December 1942.) It was assigned to the 359th Bombardment Squadron, 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy). Captain Calhoun was the aircraft commander while Lieutenant Colonel W.A. Hatcher, newly-assigned commander of the 351st Bombardment Group (Heavy), flew as co-pilot.
After the mission, Captain Calhoun said, “It was a good mission as far as I am concerned. My bombardier, Captain Robert Yonkman, told me that the bombing was really something.” Lieutenant Colonel Hatcher said, “It was my second raid and it was a hell of a lot better than the first one which was Bremen. They tell me that the bombing was perfect. I am learning a lot each time.”
The 8 Ball Mk II was slightly damaged on this mission. Navigator 1st Lieutenant Joseph Strickland reported, “A 20 mm shell cut my flying boot almost in half. . . I believe it was as good bombing as we have done. Never saw so many fighters in my life. Both ours and the Germans.”
Also on board The 8 Ball Mk II was Captain Clark Gable, United States Army Air Corps. After his wife, Carole Lombard, had been killed in an airliner crash, 16 January 1942, world-famous movie actor Gable enlisted in the Army Air Corps intending to become an aerial gunner on a bomber. Soon after enlisting, though, he was sent to Officer Candidate School and after graduating was commissioned a second lieutenant.
General Henry H. Arnold assigned Lieutenant Gable to make a recruiting film about gunners in combat. Gable was then sent to aerial gunnery school and following that, to photography training. He was placed in command of a 6-man film unit and assigned to the 351st Bombardment Group (Heavy) as they went through training and were sent on to the 8th Air Force England.
Clark Gable, now a captain, wanted to film aboard a bomber with a highly experienced combat crew, so both he and his group commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hatcher, flew with Captain Calhoun’s crew.
The mission of 4 May 1943 was Gable’s first combat mission. As a qualified gunner he manned a .50-caliber Browning machine gun. Clark Gable’s recruiting film was completed several months later. It was titled, “Combat America.”
Colonel William R. Calhoun, Jr., U.S. Air Force, was born at Birmingham, Alabama, 10 November 1919. He graduated from Howard University in 1941 with an A.B. (Bachelor of Arts) degree.
William Calhoun entered the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet, 26 August 1941. At that time, Calhoun was 5’7″ inches (170 centimeters) tall and weighed 136 pounds (61.7 kilograms). He trained as a pilot at Brooks Army Airfield, Texas, as a member of Class 41-I. Calhoun completed flight training and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant, 12 December 1941. He was advanced to 1st lieutenant, 1 February 1942.
Lieutenant Calhoun was assigned to the 359th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot. He was promoted to captain, 22 September 1942. He and his crew arrived at Station 107 (RAF Molesworth, Cambridgeshire, England) 20 October 1942 aboard their Boeing B-17F-25-BO Flying Fortress, 41-24581, The 8 Ball.
Two months later, 20 December 1942, during a bombing mission to Ronilly-sur-Seine, France, The 8 Ball was heavily damaged. Arriving over England, Captain Calhoun ordered the crew to bail out, then he and co-pilot Major Eugene Romig crash landed the bomber at RAF Bovington, Hertfordshire. The airplane was damaged beyond repair.
Captain Calhoun commanded the 359th Bombardment Squadron from 6 March to 22 November 1943. He was promoted to major, 5 June 1943. He was next assigned as Director of Operations and Executive Officer of the 41st Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy).
Major Calhoun completed his 25-mission combat tour on 19 August 1943. He then volunteered for a second tour. His final combat mission of World War II, his 32nd, took place 28 July 1944.
Calhoun was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, 28 December 1943, at the age of 23 years. The silver oak leaves, insignia of his new rank, were pinned on by Captain Gable. He remained at the 41st Bombardment Wing until 23 December 1944.
Following World War II, Lieutenant Colonel Calhoun commanded the 6th Troop Carrier Squadron and the 374th Troop Carrier Group. On 5 December 1948, while flying a Douglas C-54 Skymaster from Okinawa to Spokane, Washington, Calhoun was forced to ditch the airplane in the Pacific Ocean, about 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers) southwest of Hawaii, when two of the airplane’s engines failed. 33 of the 37 on board the transport survived. Colonel Calhoun and his crew spent 40 hours in two life rafts before being rescued by the escort carrier, USS Rendova (CVE-114).
Colonel Calhoun married Dondena Blaylock, 17 November 1950. They had two children, but divorced in 1974. In 1983, Colonel Calhoun married Virginia Ruth Smith.
Colonel Calhoun served as deputy commander of the 11th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and commander, 26th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy). He was then assigned as Director of Operations 19th Air Division; Director of Operations Eighth Air Force; and served in the Directorate of Operations, United States Air Force.
Colonel Calhoun was the base commander of Larson Air Force Base, Moses Lake, Washington, and vice commander of the 4170th Strategic Wing. He next commanded the 4128th Strategic Wing (later redesuignated the 461st Bombardment Wing (Heavy) ) at Amarillo, Texas, followed by the 379th Bombardment Wing (Heavy).
During his career with the United States Air Force, Colonel Calhoun was awarded the Silver Star with oak leaf cluster (two awards); the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters (four awards); The Air Medal with four oaks leaf clusters (five awards); The Purple Heart; the Presidential Unit Citation; and the Croix de Guerre.
Colonel William R. Calhoun, Jr., United States Air Force, died at Fort Worth, Texas, 20 March 1991 at the age of 72 years.
The bomber flown by Colonel Calhoun 4 May 1943, Boeing B-17F-27-BO Flying Fortress 41-24635, The 8 Ball Mk. II, was scrapped 8 February 1945.