Tag Archives: Douglas Aircraft Company

25–29 November 1945

Colonel Joseph Randall Holzapple, commanding officer, 319th Bombardment Group, Light, at Okinawa, 1945.

25–29 November 1945: Colonel Joseph Randall (“Randy”) Holzapple, U.S. Army Air Force, commanding officer of the 319th Bombardment Group, Light, departed Savannah, Georgia, as the pilot of a Douglas A-26C Invader twin-engine light attack bomber. His co-pilot on this flight was Lieutenant Colonel Charles R. Meyers. The navigator was Lieutenant Otto H. Schumaker and Corporal Howard J. Walden was the airplane’s radio operator.

The A-26 headed west, and kept heading west. 90 hours, 54 minutes later, Colonel Holzapple and his crew arrived at Washington National Airport, Washington, D.C. They had flown completely around the world, covering 24,859 miles (40,007 kilometers). The flight time was 96 hours, 50 minutes.

The A-26C Invader was built by Douglas Aircraft Company at its Long Beach, California and Tulsa, Oklahoma plants. It was 51 feet, 3 inches (15.621 meters) long with a wingspan of 70 feet, 0 inches (21.336 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.639 meters). It was designed to be flown by a single pilot, with a navigator/bombardier and a gunner. The A-26C weighed 22,690 pounds (10,292 kilograms) empty an had a maximum takeoff weight of 37,740 pounds (17,119 kilograms).

Power was supplied by two air-cooled, supercharged 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp 2SB-G (R-2800-27) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-27 had a Normal Power rating of 1,600 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 5,700 feet (1,737 meters), 1,450 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters), and 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m for takeoff. War Emergency Power was 2,370 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at Sea level. The engines turned three-bladed propellers with a diameter of 12 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-27 was 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms).

The A-26 was a fast airplane for its time. It had a maximum speed of 323 knots (372 miles per hour/598 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The service ceiling was 20,450 feet ( meters) and its range was 1,510 nautical miles (1,738 statute miles/2,797 kilometers) carrying a 4,000 pound (1,814 kilogram) bomb load.

Armament varied. The attack bomber could carry as much as 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms) of bombs in the bomb bay and 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) on underwing hardpoints. Two Browning AN/M2 .50-caliber machine guns were mounted in upper and lower remotely-operated power turrets for defense, and as many as 14 forward-facing fixed .50-caliber machine guns were installed, with eight in the nose and three in each wing.

This Douglas A-26C-20-DT Invader, 43-22494, at the Pima Air And Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona, is marked as an aircraft of the 319th Bombardment Group, Light, at Okinawa, 1945. (Pima Air and Space Museum)
This Douglas A-26C-20-DT Invader, 43-22494, at the Pima Air And Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona, is marked as an aircraft of the 319th Bombardment Group, Light, at Okinawa, 1945. (Pima Air and Space Museum)
Randall Holzapple (The 1932 Crest)

Joseph Randall Holzapple was born 7 September 1914 at Peoria, Illinois. He was the fourth of five children of Nathaniel A. Holzapple, a blacksmith, and Annetta Ritchie. He attended Pekin Junior High School, then Peoria High School, where he was a member of the French Club, Science and Math Club, and Drama Club. In his high school yearbook, Holzapple was called “refined” and “handsome.” He graduated in 1932.

In 1938, Randy Holzapple graduated from Bradley Polytechnic Institute, also in Peoria, with a bachelor of science degree in business administration. He then worked as an insurance salesman.

Joseph R. Holzapple enlisted as an aviation cadet in the Air Corps, United States Army, 31 December 1940. At the time, he was 5 feet, 8 inches (1.68 meters) tall and weighed 146 pounds (66 kilograms). He completed his flight training and on 16 August 1941, was commissioned a second lieutenant, Air Reserve.

On 25 March 1942, 2nd Lieutenant Bradley was appointed to the rank of 1st lieutenant, Army of the United States (Air Corps). Six months later, 11 September 1942, he was promoted to captain, A.U.S. (A.C.).

Captain Holzapple was assigned as operations officer of the 319th Bombardment Group (Medium), Eighth Air Force, in England. The group was equipped with the twin-engine Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber. Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, began on 8 November 1942, and the 319th deployed to Saint-Leu Airfield, northeast of Oran, Algeria, as an element of XII Bomber Command.

The wartime military often brought rapid advancement to qualified officers, and Holzapple was promoted to the rank of major, A.U.S. (A.C.), 5 February 1943. He took command of the 319th Group 13 August 1943, then in Tunisia. Major Holzapple was promoted to lieutenant colonel, A.U.S. (A.C.), on 13 September 1943. He was advanced to colonel, A.U.S. (A.C.), on 1 August 1944.

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Randall Holzapple in the cockpit of a Martin B-26B-15-MA Marauder, 41-31753, circa 1943–44. (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 32425)

In November 1944, the 319th transitioned to the North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bomber, but the group was returned to the continental United States in January 1945. It was then equipped with the Douglas A-26 Invader and redesignated the 319th Bombardment Group (Light).

On 1 March 1945, Colonel Holzapple married Miss Lois M. Miller in a ceremony at the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Peoria. They would have two daughters, Nancy and Lynn.

The 319th redeployed to Okinawa in July 1945. It was was the first unit to be transferred from Europe to the Pacific as a complete unit.

This Douglas A-26C-30-DT Invader, 44-35281, was assigned to the 319th Bombardment Group at Naha, Okinawa, 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

Colonel Holzapple flew 91 combat missions in North Africa and the Mediterannean, and another 8 over Japan and China. For his service during World War II, he was awarded  teh Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster (a second award), and the Air Medal with 17 oak leaf clusters (18 awards). He was also awarded the British Empire’s Distinguished Flying Cross and the Croix de Guerre by France.

Colonel Holzapple remained on active duty following the war. While he continued to hold his wartime rank, his permanent rank in the Air Corps, United States Army, was advanced to 1st lieutenant, on 5 July 1946, with date of rank from 7 September 1942.

Holzapple was assigned to a number of staff positions, before being sent to the Armed Forces Staff College, 1949–50. He was next assigned to the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, the military agency responsible for maintenance, storage, security, handling and testing of nuclear weapons. In 1954, Colonel Holzaple was appointed assistant chief of staff for Operational Readiness at the Air Research and Development Command headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. He also attended the National War College.

In 1955 Colonel Holzapple was assiged as commanding offier of the 47th Bombardment Wing, then based at RAF Sculthorpe, near Fakenham, Norfolk, England. The group was equipped with the North American Aviation B-45 Tornado four-engine jet bomber, and the Douglas B-26 Invader. ¹

From England, Holzapple went to Germany as deputy chief of staff for operations at Headquarters, United States Air Forces in Europe. Promoted to brigadier general, in 1958 he was appointed chief of staff, USAFE.

Brigadier General Holzapple returned to the weapons systems management with ARDC at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

From 1969–1971, General Holzapple served as Commander in Chief, United States Air Forces Europe, based at Wiesbaden, Germany.

General Holzapple retired from the U.S. Air Force 1 September 1971.

General Holzapple collapsed and died while playing squash at The Pentagon Athletic Center, Arlington, Virginia, 14 November 1973. He was 59 years old. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

General Joseph Randall Holzapple, United States Air Force.

¹ The Martin B-26 Marauder was withdrawn from service following World War II. Most of them were scrapped. In 1948, The Douglas A-26B and A-26C Invader light bombers were then designated B-26A and B-26B.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 November 1953

NACA test pilot Scott Crossfield in the cockpit of the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket after his record-setting flight, 20 November 1953. (NASA) 20 November 1953: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, NACA’s High Speed Flight Station research test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., rode behind the flight crew of the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress as it carried the Douglas Aircraft Company D-558-II Skyrocket supersonic research rocketplane to its launch altitude. As the four-engine bomber climbed through 18,000 feet (5,486 meters), Crossfield headed back to the bomb bay to enter the Skyrocket’s cockpit and prepare for his flight.

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket Bu. No. 37974, NACA 144, on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

The Douglas D-558-II was Phase II of a United States Navy/Douglas Aircraft Company/National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics joint research project exploring supersonic flight. It was a swept-wing airplane powered by a single Reaction Motors LR8-RM-6 four-chamber rocket engine. The Skyrocket was fueled with alcohol and liquid oxygen. The engine was rated at 6,000 pounds of thrust (26.69 kilonewtons) at Sea Level.

There were three Phase II aircraft. Originally, they were also equipped with a Westinghouse J34-W-40 turbojet engine which produced 3,000 pounds of thrust (13.35 kilonewtons). The Skyrockets took off from the surface of Rogers Dry Lake. Once the D-558-II reached altitude, the rocket engine was fired for the speed runs.

As higher speeds were required, the program shifted to an air launch from a B-29 (P2B-1S) drop ship. Without the need to climb to the test altitude, the Skyrocket’s fuel load was available for the high speed runs.

NACA 144. a Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)

The D-558-II was 42.0 feet (12.80 meters) long, with a wingspan of 25.0 feet (7.62 meters). The leading edge of the wing was swept at a 35° angle and the tail surfaces were swept to 40°. The aircraft weighed 9,421 pounds (4,273 kilograms) empty and had a maximum takeoff weight of 15,787 pounds (7,161 kilograms). It carried 378 gallons (1,431 liters) of water/ethyl alcohol and 345 gallons (1,306 liters) of liquid oxygen.

The mothership, NACA 137, was a Boeing Wichita B-29-95-BW Superfortress, U.S. Air Force serial number 45-21787. It was transferred to the U.S. Navy, redesignated P2B-1S and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics number 84029. Douglas Aircraft modified the bomber for its drop ship role at the El Segundo plant.

Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No., 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)
Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, Bu. No. 37974, NACA 144, is dropped from the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress, Bu. No. 84029, NACA 137. (NASA)

Going above the planned launch altitude, the Superfortress was placed in a slight dive to build to its maximum speed. At the bomber’s critical Mach number (Mcr), the Skyrocket was just above its stall speed. At 32,000 feet (9,754 meters), Crossfield and the Skyrocket were released. The rocketplane fell for about 400 feet (122 meters) before the rocket engine ignited and then it began to accelerate.

A Douglas D-558-II drops away from the Boeing Superfortress mother ship. (Der Spiegel/Schenectady Museum; Hall of Electrical History Foundation/CORBIS)

Crossfield climbed at a steep angle until he reached 72,000 feet (21,946 meters), and then leveled off. Now in level flight, the D-558-II continued to accelerate, quickly passing Mach 1, then Mach 1.5. Crossfield pushed the nose down and began a shallow dive. The Skyrocket, still under full power, built up speed. As it passed through 62,000 feet (18,998 meters) the Skyrocket reached its maximum speed, Mach 2.005, or 1,291 miles per hour (2,078 kilometers per hour).

Scott Crossfield and the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, with their support team: two North American F-86 Sabre chase planes and the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress mothership, at the NACA High Speed Flight Station, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1 January 1954. (NASA)
Scott Crossfield and the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket, with their support team: two North American F-86 Sabre chase planes and the Boeing P2B-1S Superfortress mothership, at the NACA High Speed Flight Station, Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1 January 1954. (NASA)

Scott Crossfield was the first pilot to fly an aircraft beyond Mach 2, twice the speed of sound. During his career as a test pilot, he flew the Douglas D-558-II, the Bell X-1, Bell X-2 and North American X-15. He made 112 flights in rocket-powered aircraft, more than any other pilot.

NACA Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield on Rogers Dry Lake. (NASA)
Albert Scott Crossfield, Jr., Aeronautical Engineer and Test Pilot, 1921–2006. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 November 1967, 12:00:01.263 UTC, T plus 0.263

Apollo 4 Saturn V (AS-501) on the launch pad at sunset, the evening before launch, 8 November 1967. (NASA)
Apollo 4 Saturn V (AS-501) on the launch pad at sunset, the evening before launch, 8 November 1967. (NASA)

9 November 1967: The first flight of a Saturn V took place when the unmanned Apollo 4/Saturn V (AS-501) was launched from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket lifted off at 12:00:01.263 UTC.

AS-501 consisted of the first Saturn V launch vehicle, SA-501, with Apollo Spacecraft 017 (a Block I vehicle with Block II upgrades), and included the Launch Escape Tower, Command Module, Service Module, Lunar Module Adapter, and Lunar Module Test Article LTA-10R).

The Saturn V rocket was a three-stage, liquid-fueled heavy launch vehicle. Fully assembled with the Apollo Command and Service Module, it stood 363 feet, 0.15 inches (110.64621 meters) tall, from the tip of the escape tower to the bottom of the F-1 engines. The first and second stages were 33 feet, 1.2 inches (10.089 meters) in diameter. Fully loaded and fueled the rocket weighed 6,200,000 pounds (2,948,350 kilograms).¹ It could lift a payload of 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms) to Low Earth Orbit.

The first stage was designated S-IC. It was designed to lift the entire rocket to an altitude of 220,000 feet (67,056 meters) and accelerate to a speed of more than 5,100 miles per hour (8,280 kilometers per hour). The S-IC stage was built by Boeing at the Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, Louisiana. It was 138 feet (42.062 meters) tall and had an empty weight of 290,000 pounds (131,542 kilograms). Fully fueled with 203,400 gallons (770,000 liters) of RP-1 and 318,065 gallons (1,204,000 liters) of liquid oxygen, the stage weighed 5,100,000 pounds (2,131,322 kilograms). It was propelled by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines, producing 1,522,000 pounds of thrust, each, for a total of 7,610,000 pounds of thrust at Sea Level.² These engines were ignited seven seconds prior to lift off and the outer four burned for 168 seconds. The center engine was shut down after 142 seconds to reduce the rate of acceleration. The F-1 engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation at Canoga Park, California.

A Rocketdyne F-1 engine is being installed on a Saturn S-IC first stage. (NASA)

The S-II second stage was built by North American Aviation at Seal Beach, California. It was 81 feet, 7 inches (24.87 meters) tall and had the same diameter as the first stage. The second stage weighed 80,000 pounds (36,000 kilograms) empty and 1,060,000 pounds loaded. The propellant for the S-II was liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The stage was powered by five Rocketdyne J-2 engines, also built at Canoga Park. Each engine produced 232,250 pounds of thrust, and combined, 1,161,250 pounds of thrust.³

The Saturn V third stage was designated S-IVB. It was built by Douglas Aircraft Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds. The third stage had one J-2 engine and also used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant.⁴ The S-IVB would place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.

Eighteen Saturn V rockets were built. They were the most powerful machines ever built by man.

Apollo 4 Saturn V AS-501 lifts off at 12:00:01 UTC, 9 November 1967. (NASA)
Apollo 4 Saturn V (AS-501) lifts off at 12:00:01 UTC, 9 November 1967. (NASA)

¹ The AS-501 total vehicle mass at First Motion was 6,137,868 pounds (2,784,090 kilograms).

²  Post-flight analysis gave the total thrust of AS-501’s S-IC stage as 7,728,734.5 pounds of thrust (34,379.1 kilonewtons).

³ Post-flight analysis gave the total thrust of AS-501’s S-II stage as 1,086,396 pounds of thrust (4,832.5 kilonewtons).

⁴ Post-flight analysis gave the total thrust of AS-501’s S-IVB stage as 222,384 pounds of thrust (989.2 kilonewtons) during the first burn; 224,001 pounds (996.4 kilonewtons) during the second burn.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 November 1962, 06:30 GMT

Dominic Tightrope fireball, 00:00 GMT, 4 November 1962. (Nuclear Weapons Archive)
Dominic Tightrope fireball, 06:30 GMT, 4 November 1962. (Nuclear Weapons Archive)

4 November 1962: A Western Electric M6 Nike Hercules air-defense guided missile was launched from Johnston Island in the North Pacific Ocean. The missile was armed with a  W-31 Mod 1 nuclear warhead, and had been modified to include a command arm/fire capability, and an automatic disarm feature.

At an altitude of 69,000 feet (21,031 meters), 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) south-southwest of the island, the warhead detonated with an explosive yield of 12 kilotons.

This nuclear weapon effects test, Dominic Tightrope, was the final test of the Operation Dominic I test series, and was the last atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States.

The Nike Hercules was a long-range, high-altitude surface-to-air guided missile, designed and produced by Western Electric Company and the Douglas Aircraft Company. Douglas manufactured the missile at Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a two-stage missile with a cluster of four Hercules Powder Company M5E1 solid-fuel rocket engines as the boost stage.

The Nike Hercules had an overall length of 41 feet, 1.35 inches (12.531 meters). Its weight was 10,710 pounds (4,858 kilograms). The Hercules could reach an altitude of 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) and had a range of 90 miles (145 kilometers). The missile’s maximum speed was Mach 3.65.

The booster stage was 14 feet, 2.845 inches (4.339 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 3 feet, 7.25 inches (1.099 meters). There were four stabilizing fins spaced at 90°. The fin span was 11 feet, 5.88 inches (3.502 meters). The leading edges were swept aft 24.23°. The booster stage produced 173,600 pounds of thrust (772.211 kilonewtons) and burned for 3.4 seconds.

Nike Hercules second stage.

The second stage was 26 feet, 10.500 inches (8.192 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 2 feet, 7.50 inches (0.800 meters). It had four triangular wings and four small “linealizer” fins, which were also spaced 90°. The maximum wing span was 7 feet, 4.00 inches (2.235 meters). The missile was powered by a Thiokol Chemical Corporation M30 solid-fuel rocket engine which produced 13,750 pounds of thrust (61.163 kilonewtons) and had a burn time of 29 seconds.

A Nike Hercules air defense missile launch. (U.S. Army)
A Nike Hercules air defense missile launch. (U.S. Army)

The Nike air defense missile system used multiple radars to track incoming target aircraft and the outgoing missile. Computer systems analyzed the data and signals were sent to guide the missile toward the target. This was a complex system and multiple missiles were based together at missile sites around the defended area.

The Hercules could be armed with either a M17 high explosive fragmentation warhead or a 20–40 kiloton W-31 nuclear warhead. Although designed to attack jet aircraft, the Nike Hercules also successfully intercepted guided and ballistic missiles, and had a surface-to-surface capability.

The Western Electric SAM-A-25 Nike B was renamed Nike Hercules in 1956 while still in development. It was redesignated Guided Missile, Air Defense M6 in 1958, and MIM-14 in 1963. (“MIM” is Department of Defense terminology for a mobile, ground-launched interceptor missile.) About 25,000 Nike Hercules missiles were built. Initially deployed in 1958, it remained in service with the U.S. Army until 1984.

The W-31 was a boosted fission implosion warhead designed by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. It weighed 900 pounds (408 kilograms) and had a selectable yield of from 2 to 40 kilotons. About 2,550 warheads were produced and remained in service until 1989.

A battery of U.S. Army Nike Hercules SAM-A-25 surface-to-air guided missiles. (U.S. Army)
A battery of U.S. Army Nike Hercules MIM-14 surface-to-air guided missiles. (U.S. Army)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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Medal of Honor, Second Lieutenant Robert Edward Femoyer, Air Corps, United States Army

Second Lieutenant Robert Edward Femoyer, Air Corps, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

2 November 1944: The 8th Air Force sent 638 B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers, escorted by 642 P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lightning fighters from their bases in England, over 500 miles to attack the I.G. Farben Leunawerke synthetic oil refinery at Leuna, a 3-square-mile facility a few miles from Merseberg, Germany.

The Leuna refinery used a hydrogeneration process to produce aviation gasoline from coal. This was the most heavily defended target in all of Germany, surrounded by more than 1,700 88 mm and 105 mm antiaircraft guns (“flak”) in 36-gun batteries. According the the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, “Aircrews viewed a mission to Leuna as the most dangerous and difficult assignment of the air war.

One B-17 pilot described it: “When I describe the flak over Leuna as a cloud, I don’t mean just a wall of smoke; it was a box, the length, width, and depth of our route to the ‘bombs away’ point.”

On the 2 November attack, the bombers were under “intense” anti-aircraft fire for 18 minutes, and heavy fire for 30 minutes. They were also attacked by a record 700 Luftwaffe fighters including the new Me 262 twin-engine jets. The 8th Air Force lost 38 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers and 28 fighters. An astonishing 481 bombers were damaged.

Second Lieutenant Robert E. Femoyer was the navigator on one of those B-17s, commanded by Second Lieutenant Jerome Rosenblum. B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress 42-38052, Hotshot Green, of the 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy) based at RAF Rattlesden, was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire and fell out of formation.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
to

FEMOYER, ROBERT E.

(Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, 711th Bombing Squadron, 447th Bomber Group, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Place and date: Over Merseberg, Germany, 2 November 1944.

Entered service at: Jacksonville, Fla. Born: 31 October 1921, Huntington, W. Va.

G.O. No.: 35, 9 May 1945

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty near Merseburg, Germany, on 2 November 1944. While on a mission, the bomber, of which 2d Lt. Femoyer was the navigator, was struck by 3 enemy antiaircraft shells. The plane suffered serious damage and 2d Lt. Femoyer was severely wounded in the side and back by shell fragments which penetrated his body. In spite of extreme pain and great loss of blood he refused an offered injection of morphine. He was determined to keep his mental faculties clear in order that he might direct his plane out of danger and so save his comrades. Not being able to arise from the floor, he asked to be propped up in order to enable him to see his charts and instruments. He successfully directed the navigation of his lone bomber for 2-½ hours so well it avoided enemy flak and returned to the field without further damage. Only when the plane had arrived in the safe area over the English Channel did he feel that he had accomplished his objective; then, and only then, he permitted an injection of a sedative. He died shortly after being removed from the plane. The heroism and self-sacrifice of 2d Lt. Femoyer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

B-17 Flying Fortress bombers under anti-aircraft artillery fire over Merseberg, Germany. (U.S. Air Force)
B-17 Flying Fortress bombers under anti-aircraft artillery fire over Merseberg, Germany. (U.S. Air Force)

Robert Edward Femoyer was born 30 October 1921 at Huntington, West Virginia. He was the first of two children of Edward Peter Femoyer and Mary Elizabeth Kramer Femoyer. After graduating from St. Joseph’s Central Catholic High School in Huntington, Femoyer attended Marshall College for one year before transferring to the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute (better known as Virginia Tech), at Blacksburg, Virginia, as a member of the Class of 1944.

In February 1942, when he registered with the draft board, Femoyer was an employee of the Hercules Powder Company, a manufacturer of explosives. He was described as having brown hair and eyes, was 6 feet tall and weighed 150 pounds. Femoyer joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps at Roanoke, Virginia, 11 November 1942. He enlisted as a private in the Air Corps 4 February 1943 at Miami Beach, Florida, where he received basic military training.

Aviation Cadet Robert Edward Femoyer, Air Corps, United States Army, 1943. (Imperial War Museum)

After aircrew training at the University of Pittsburgh, March through June, 1943, Aviation Cadet Femoyer was sent to the Mississippi Institute of Aeronautics, Jackson, Mississippi, for flight training. He did not qualify as a pilot but was recommended for training as a navigator. He trained at Selman Army Airfield, near Monroe, Louisiana, and attended aerial gunnery school at Fort Myers, Florida. On graduation, 10 June 1944, Robert Edward Femoyer was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Following combat crew training at Lincoln, Nebraska, he was deployed to England in September 1944. Lieutenant Femoyer was assigned to the 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Rattlesden, southeast of Bury St. Edmunds Suffolk, England.

Second Lieutenant Robert Edward Femoyer’s body was returned to the United States in 1949, and buried at the Greenlawn Cemetery, Jacksonville, Florida. A residential building at Virginia Polytechnic Institute was built following the war and named Femoyer Hall.

Douglas B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress 42-38052, 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Rattlesden, Suffolk, England. At the time of this photograph, the airplane carried the name, Lucky Stehley Boy. (Mark Brown, U.S. Air Force)
Douglas B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress 42-38052, 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Rattlesden, Suffolk, England. At the time of this photograph, the airplane carried the name, Lucky Stehley Boy. (Mark Brown, U.S. Air Force)

B-17G-25-DL 42-38052 was one of 2,400 B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers built by the Douglas Aircraft Company at Long Beach, California from 1943 to 1945. 2,395 of these were the “G” variant, with its distinctive “chin” gun turret. -052 was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1943. In January 1944, the new bomber was assigned to the 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at U.S. Army Air Forces Station 126 (RAF Rattlesden), Suffolk, England. The new bomber flew its first combat mission 4 February 1944.

The B-17G was camouflaged with the standard U.S.A.A.F. olive drab sides and upper surfaces, with neutral gray underneath. The vertical fin and wing tips were painted yellow and two vertical green stripes circled the aft fuselage. The four engine cowlings were painted blue, and a blue chevron was painted on the top of the right wing, indicating that this B-17 belonged to the 711th Bomb Squadron. The 447th’s group identification, a white letter “K” surrounded by a black square, was painted on the upper portion of the fin. Below this was its abbreviated serial number, “238052.” A black capital “L”, identifying the individual airplane, was painted at the bottom of the fin.

42-38052 was a replacement aircraft and was flown by several crews. It carried the names El Mal Centavo (“The Bad Penny”) and Lucky Stehley Boy, (“. . . so named in honor of Dr. Stehley of Cumberland. . . .”—Grant County Press, Petersburg, West Virginia, Thursday, 31 August 1944, Page 1, Column 6.)

This Vega Aircraft Corporation-built B-17G-105-VE Flying Fortress, 44-85784, seen at Rotterdam, May 1985, is painted in the markings of the 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (Jan Arkesteijn)
This Vega Aircraft Corporation-built B-17G-105-VE Flying Fortress, 44-85784, seen at Rotterdam, May 1985, is painted in the markings of the 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (Jan Arkesteijn)

On 27 March 1945, -052 crash-landed at B-53, a forward airfield near Merville, France, when its left main landing gear failed to extend. It was repaired and survived the war.

B-17G-25-DL 42-38052, with one main gear extended, just before crash landing at B-53, 1340 hours, 27 March 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
B-17G-25-DL 42-38052, with one main gear extended, just before crash landing at B-53, 1340 hours, 27 March 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

The veteran bomber was flown back to the United States and on 15 August 1945, arrived at the reclamation center at Kingman, Arizona. It was scrapped 8 November 1945, after less than two years of service.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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