Tag Archives: Soldier’s Medal

22 December 1954

Captain Richard James Harer, United States Air Force. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Captain Richard James Harer, United States Air Force. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

22 December 1954: At Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of southern California, test pilot Captain Richard James Harer was flying a Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire, serial number 50-962.¹ Harer was accompanied by fellow test pilot Captain Milburn G. Apt in a chase plane.

Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire 50-966, the same type airplane flown by Captain Richard Harer, 22 December 1954, is accompanied by Lockheed F-80C-1-LO Shooting Star 47-176 chase plane. (Lockheed)
Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire 50-966, an all-weather interceptor of the same type flown by Captain Richard J. Harer, 22 December 1954. The Starfire is accompanied by a Lockheed F-80C-1-LO Shooting Star chase plane, 47-176. (Lockheed Martin)

The Lockheed F-94 was the first U.S. production fighter aircraft to be equipped with a drag chute to provide aerodynamic braking on landing. (Drag chutes had been in use on larger aircraft since the 1930s.) There was speculation that the sudden deceleration provided by a drag chute might be useful during air-to-air combat.

Captain Harer’s test flight was to determine what would happen when the drag chute opened while the airplane was traveling at 600 miles per hour (96 kilometers per hour).

In this scene from the motion picture "Toward The Unknown" (Toluca Productions, 1956) which starred William Holden and Lloyd Nolan in a story about test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, a Lockheed F-94C Starfire has released a drag chute in flight, simulating Captain Richard Harer's test flight of 22, December 1954.
In this scene from the motion picture “Toward The Unknown” (Toluca Productions, 1956), which starred William Holden and Lloyd Nolan in a story about test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, a Lockheed F-94C Starfire has released a drag chute in flight, simulating Captain Richard J. Harer’s test flight of 22 December 1954. (Toluca Productions)

 LIFE Magazine described the test in the following excerpt:

LIFE Magazine, 18 June 1956. . . A captain named Richard J. Harer was assigned to make the test in an F-94C, capable of flying 600 miles an hour. The plane was equipped with a manual release, so Harer could get rid of the parachute after the test. In the event that the manual release failed, Harer could get rid of the parachute by detonating a small explosive charge which was wired to the rope that secured the parachute to the plane. If both of these devices failed, Harer could still get rid of the parachute by going into a dive and maneuvering the parachute into the blast of flame from his afterburner. In sum, a thoughtful arrangement of affairs. Harer got into his plane and took it up to 20,000 feet, closely followed by a chase aircraft flown by another captain named Milburn Apt. Harer opened the parachute, began to tumble crazily across the sky and then—as far as anyone knows—must have tried the manual release. It failed. Then, because he was a cool, skillful pilot, Harer must have kept his head and tried the explosive charge, although no one is sure what he did. In any case, the charge did not explode. By this time Harer was plummeting out of control toward the dry lake bed at perhaps 500 miles an hour, with Captain Apt flying right beside him shouting advice over the radio. Harer’s plane continued down, wallowing, gyrating, the deadly parachute never quite getting into the flame of the afterburner. Harer crashed. His plane burst into flames.

Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire 50-1041 deploys its drogue chute on touchdown. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire 50-1041 deploys its drag chute on touchdown. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Apt landed on the lake bed at almost the instant of the crash. The two planes, one burning, one under control, skidded along beside each other. As soon as he came to a halt, Apt leaped out of his plane and ran over to Harer’s. “It was nothing but fire,” Apt remembers. “The only part of the plane I could see sticking out of the flames was the tip of the tail.”

Apt dashed around to the other side of Harer’s plane. Strangely, this side was not burning. Apt was able to climb up onto the plane and look through the Plexiglas canopy into the cockpit. It was filled with smoke, but he could see Harer inside, feebly, faintly moving his head. Apt grabbed the canopy release, a device on the outside of the plane designed for just such and emergency. It failed.

Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire 50-1034 with its drogue chute deployed for aerodynamic braking on landing. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire 50-1034 with its drag chute deployed for aerodynamic braking on landing. (U.S. Air Force)

The dry lake bed has absolutely nothing on its surface except the fine-grained sand of which it is composed. No sticks, no stones, nothing that Apt might have picked up to smash the canopy. He tried to pry it off with his bare hands, an effort that, had it not been for the circumstances, would have been ludicrous. He smashed it with his fists and succeeded only in injuring himself. Meanwhile he could see Harer inside, the fire beginning to get to him now.

Captain Richard J. Harer's Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire, 50-962. The airplane has an air data boom mounted on teh nose for flight testing, and carries jettisonable fuel tanks under its wings. (U.S. Air Force photograph via Million Monkey Theatre)
Captain Richard J. Harer’s Lockheed F-94C-1-LO Starfire, 50-962. The airplane has an air data boom mounted on the nose for flight testing, and carries jettisonable fuel tanks under its wings. (U.S. Air Force photograph via Million Monkey Theater)

As Captain Apt smashed his fists on the canopy, a single jeep raced across the lake bed toward the plane at 70 miles an hour. Reaching the plane, the driver leaped out and ran over to it, carrying the only useful piece of equipment he had: a five-pound brass fire extinguisher, the size of a rolling pin. He could as well have tried to put out the fire by spitting on it. Apt and the jeep driver shouted contradictory instructions at each other above the growing roar of the fire. The jeep driver emptied his extinguisher on the forward part of the plane, then handed the empty container to Apt. Apt raised it above his head and smashed it down on the canopy. It bounced off. He pounded the canopy again and again, as hard as he could, and each time the extinguisher bounced off. “It was like hitting a big spring,” he says forlornly. “I couldn’t break it.”

Meanwhile, 9,950 men on the base quietly pursued their jobs, unaware of the accident. The obstetrician said, “Come back Thursday, Mrs. Smith,” Robert Hawn worked on his YAPS, and Smith, Douglas S., changed a tire. The only immediate spectators, aside from Apt and the jeep driver, were the Joshua trees growing all along the edge of the lake bed, very old and mournful.

By this time Captain Harer’s flesh was on fire. The jeep driver dashed back to his vehicle and returned with a five-gallon gasoline can. “My God.” Apt thought. “No, no,” the jeep driver cried, “it’s full of water. It’s all right.”

Apt hefted the can, which weighed nearly 50 pounds. He raised it high in the air and smashed it down. The canopy cracked. Apt hit it again, opening a hole in it, letting out the smoke inside. In a few seconds he had broken a large jagged opening through which Harer could be pulled out. “It was a tough job,” Apt says. “Harer was a very tall man.” Was a tall man. Not is, but was.

“He’s not tall now,” Apt says. “Both his feet were burned off.” Captain Harer lived. Today, he gets around very well on his artificial feet. He has been promoted to major and will soon be honorably retired from the Air Force with a pension. He has no memory whatever of the accident. He recalls flying at 20,000 feet and popping open the parachute, and his next memory is of awakening in a hospital two weeks later. . . .

Excerpted from “10,000 Men to a Plane,” LIFE Magazine, 18 June 1956.

Captain Milburn Grant Apt, United States Air Force, with a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star. (LIFE Magazine)
Captain Milburn Grant Apt, United States Air Force, with a Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star at Edwards Air Force Base, 1956. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Soldier's Medal
The Soldier’s Medal

For his heroism in the face of great danger, Captain Mel Apt was awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the highest award for valor in a non-combat mission for Army and Air Force personnel.  The regulation establishing the award states, “The performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy. Awards will not be made solely on the basis of having saved a life.”

Mel Apt would continue as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, and on 26 September 1956, he would be the first pilot to exceed Mach 3 when he flew the Bell X-2 rocketplane to Mach 3.196 (2,094 miles per hour/3,377 kilometers per hour) at 65,589 feet (19,992 meters). Just seconds later, the X-2 began uncontrolled oscillations and came apart. Mel Apt was unable to escape from the cockpit and was killed when the X-2 hit the desert floor. He was the thirteenth test pilot to be killed at Edwards since 1950.

Richard James Harer was born at Painesville, Ohio, 8 October 1924. He was the son of Otto H. Harer, a foundry manager, and Edith Mynchenberg Harer. He had a younger sister, Marilyn.

Harer graduated from Harvey High School in Painesville in 1941. He was a member of the debate club and the Hi-Y club. (Harer’s father was president of the Painesville Board of Education.)

In 1942, Harer was a student at the University of Ohio. A member of the Class of 1945, he studied engineering and was a member of the Phi Eta Sigma (ΦΗΣ) fraternity.

World War II interrupted Harer’s education. On 4 December 1942, he enlisted as a private in the Air Corps Enlisted Reserve Corps. On 2 March 1943, Private Harer was selected as an Aviation Cadet and assigned to flight training. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 7 January 1944. On 6 November 1944, Harer was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S. On 25 September 1945, First Lieutenant Harer was transferred to the Air Corps Reserve. In 1947, the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service. Richard Harer was appointed a second lieutenant, U. S. Air Force, with his date of rank retroactive to 8 October 1945.

During World War II, Lieutenant Harer flew 31 combat missions in the European Theater of Operations. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.

Following the war, Richard Harer returned to his studies, now at the University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio. He was a member of the Sigma Beta Phi (ΣΒΦ) fraternity, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Engine Club. He  earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology, and a second master’s degree in systems management from the University of Southern California.

On 21 January 1948, Lieutenant Harer married Miss Barbara Alice Heesen at Lucas, Ohio. They would have four children.

After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, Captain Harer was assigned as a test pilot at the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. He conducted performance testing on the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. Harer flew an F-84F in the Bendix Trophy Race, 4 September 1954. He made one flight in the Bell X-1B rocketplane, 4 November 1954.

1954 Bendix Trophy Race. Captain Richard J. Harer is second from left. (San Bernardino Sun. 4 September 1954, Page 1, Columns 5–7)

Richard James Harer died 20 November 2019 at the age of 95 years.

¹ Several sources list the U.S. Air Force serial number of the F-94C flown by Captain Harer as “50-692,” however that serial number is actually assigned to a Boeing C-97C-35-BO Stratofreighter four-engine medical transport. It is apparent that the numbers have been transposed.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

30 October 1935

The Boeing Model 299 X13372 (XB-17), prototype four-engine heavy bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Ployer P. Hill, U.S. Army Air Corps (1894–1935)
Major Ployer P. Hill, U.S. Army Air Corps (1894–1935)

30 October 1935: While undergoing evaluation by the U.S. Army Air Corps at Wright Field, northeast of Dayton, Ohio, the Boeing Model 299 Flying Fortress, X13372 ¹—the most technologically sophisticated airplane of its time—took off with Major Ployer P. Hill as pilot.

The largest land airplane built up to that time, the XB-17 “seemed to have defensive machine guns aimed in every direction.” A Seattle Times newspaper reporter, Roland Smith, wrote that it was a “flying fortress.” Boeing copyrighted the name.

Major Hill was the Chief of the Flying Branch, Material Division, at Wright Field. This was his first flight in the airplane. The co-pilot was the Air Corps’ project pilot, Lieutenant Donald Leander Putt. Boeing’s Chief Test Pilot Leslie R. Tower and company mechanic C.W. Benton were also on board, as was Henry Igo of the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company.

Immediately after takeoff, the 299 suddenly pitched up, stalled and crashed, then caught fire. Three men, Igo, Benton and Putt, were able to escape from the wreck despite injuries.

The wreck of the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, burns after the fatal crash at Wright Field, 30 October 1935. (U.S. Air Force)
The wreck of the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, burns after the fatal crash at Wright Field, 30 October 1935. (U.S. Air Force)

First Lieutenant Robert K. Giovannoli, a test pilot assigned to the Material Division at Wright Field, saw the crash and immediately went to help. He made two trips into the burning wreck to rescue Hill and Tower, though later they both died of their injuries.

On October 30, 1935, a Boeing plane known as the “flying fortress” crashed during a military demonstration in Ohio — shocking the aviation industry and prompting questions about the future of flight
Lt. R.K. Giovannoli
Lt. Robert K. Giovannoli

Lieutenant Giovannoli was awarded the Soldier’s Medal and the Cheney Award for his heroic rescue of two men from the burning wreck of the Boeing Model 299. His citation reads:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Soldier’s Medal to First Lieutenant Robert K. Giovannoli, United States Army Air Corps, for heroism, not involving actual conflict with an enemy, displayed at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 30 October 1935. When a Boeing experimental bomber crashed and burst into flames, Lieutenant Giovannoli, who was an onlooker, forced his way upon the fuselage and into the front cockpit of the burning plane and extricated one of the passengers. Then upon learning that the pilot was still in the cockpit, Lieutenant Giovannoli, realizing that his own life was in constant peril from fire, smoke, and fuel explosions, rushed back into the flames and after repeated and determined efforts, being badly burned in the attempt, succeeded in extricating the pilot from an entrapped position and assisted him to a place of safety.

General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 4 (1936)

Burned-out wreck of the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, still smoldering after the crash at Wright Field, Ohio, 30 October 1935. (U.S. Air Force)

The Cheney Award is a bronze medal awarded annually to honor acts of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest performed in connection with aircraft (not necessarily military). It memorializes U.S. Army Air Service Lieutenant Bill Cheney, who was killed in action on 20 January 1918. The award was initiated by his family. It has been called the “Peacetime Medal of Honor.”

The official investigation of the crash determined that the prototype bomber’s flight crew had neglected to release the flight control gust locks which are intended to prevent damage to the control surfaces while on the ground. Test Pilot Tower recognized the mistake and tried to release the control locks, but could not reach them from his position in the cockpit.

Cockpit of the Boeing Model 299. (U.S. Air Force)
Cockpit of the Boeing Model 299. (Boeing)

Experts wondered if the Flying Fortress was too complex an airplane to fly safely. As a direct result of this accident, the “check list” was developed, now required in all aircraft.

After several years of testing, the Model 299 went into production as the B-17 Flying Fortress. By the end of World War II, 12,731 B-17s had been built by Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed Vega.

Hill Air Force Base, north of Salt Lake City, Utah, was named in honor of Major Ployer Peter Hill, U.S. Army Air Corps. The co-pilot, Lieutenant Putt, remained in the service and eventually achieved the rank of Lieutenant General, U.S. Air Force. He died in 1988.

Robert Giovannoli, 1925. (The Kentuckian)

Robert Kinnaird Giovannoli was born at Washington, D.C., 13 March 1904, the second of two sons of Harry Giovannoli, a newspaper editor, and Carrie Kinnaird Giovanolli. His mother died when he was six years old.

Giovannoli graduated from Lexington High School at Lexington, Kentucky, in 1920 and then attended the University of Kentucky, where, in 1925, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (B.S.M.E.). He was a member of the Phi Delta Theta (ΦΔΘ) and Tau Beta Phi (ΤΒΦ) fraternities, treasurer of the sophomore class, and president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. He was employed by the General Electric Company at Schenectady, New York.

Giovannoli enlisted in the United States Army in 1927. After completing the Air Corps Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, and the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, both in San Antonio, Texas, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserve, 20 October 1928. Lieutenant Giovannoli was called to active duty 8 May 1930. In 1933, he was assigned to a one year Engineering School at Wright Field. He then was assigned to observe naval aircraft operations aboard USS Ranger (CV-4) in the Pacific Ocean.

On 8 March 1936, just a few days after returning from his temporary assignment with the Navy, Lieutenant Giovannoli was killed when the right wing of his Boeing P-26 pursuit, serial number 32-414, came off in flight over Logan Field, near Baltimore, Maryland.

At the time of his death, Lieutenant Giovannoli had not yet been presented his medals.

First Lieutenant Robert Kinnaird Giovannoli, Air Corps, United States Army, was buried at the Bellevue Cemetery, Danville, Kentucky. In 1985, the Robert Kinnaird Giovannoli Scholarship was established to provide scholarships for students in mechanical engineering at the University of Kentucky College of Engineering.

A formation of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses during World War II. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ At that time, experimental and restricted category aircraft were prohibited from displaying the letter “N” at the beginning of their registration mark.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

2 April 1944

Boeing B-29-10-BW Superfortress 42-6331, “Gone With The Wind,” taking off from Chikulia Airfield, India, 4 July 1944, for enemy targets during Battle of Imphal. (United States Army Air Forces A-52133 A.C./World War Photos)

2 April 1944: The first Boeing B-29 Superfortess to arrive in the China-Burma-India Theater was B-29-10-BW 42-6331, Gone With The Wind, under the command of Colonel Leonard F. Harman, commanding officer, 58th Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy). 42-6331 landed at Chukulia Airfield, south west of Chukulia, India, after a 7-day journey. 42-6331 had departed Pratt Army Airfield, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Wichita, Kansas, on the morning of 26 March 1944.

From Kansas, Gone With The Wind flew non-stop to Gander, Newfoundland. It then crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Marrakesh, Morocco, on the northwest shoulder of the African Continent. Next, the B-29 crossed North Africa to John Payne Field at Cairo, Egypt, and then on to Karachi, India (now, Pakistan). The final leg was to Chikulia, in the Purbi Singhbum District of the State of Jharkhand, India.

The flight  of “Gone With The Wind,” 26 March-2 April 1944. Great Circle Routes from Pratt AAF, Kansas, to Gander, Newfoundland, 2,320 statute miles (3,734 kilometers); to Marrakesh, Morocco, 2,681 miles (4,315 kilometers); to Cairo, Egypt, 2,334 miles (3,756 kilometers); to Karachi, India. 2,215 miles (3,565 kilometers); and finally, to Chukulia, India, 1,249 miles (2,010 kilometers). 10,799 statute miles (17,379 kilometers), total. (Great Circle Mapper)

Gene Gurney wrote:

     “According to schedule, all the B-29s were to arrive between the first and the fifteenth of April. At noon, Sunday, April 2, at Chikulia, General Kenneth B. Wolfe, commander of the 20th, and his staff assembled to await the arrival of Harman’s plane. Twice before false alarms had brought them rushing to base operations, but this time Colonel Harman himself had radioed his ETA—estimated time of arrival. Because this was a “historic” first, public relations officers staged an elaborate welcome with a fighter escort aloft and reporters and photographers on the ground. Suspense, mounting by the minute, burst in a roar when the plane was spotted in the west. It flew steadily in, buzzed the field in a thunderous earth-shaking dive, swung around and settled smoothly on the long runway. Jake Harman and the crew of his Number 663 slid out of the silver belly to the enthusiastic greetings of the administrative, ground and maintenance men of Chikulia.”

B-29 Story: The Plane That Won The War, by Gene Gurney, Fawcett Publications, 1963

By May 1944, more than 120 Superfortresses had arrived in the CBI Theater. Their first combat mission took place on 5 June 1944.

Boeing B-29-10-BW Superfortress 62-6331 at Xinjin, China, June 1944. Note the code “K-40” on the forward fuselage. (U.S. Air Force/AirHistory.net)

42-6331 (Boeing serial number 3465) was a B-29-10-BW Superfortress which had been built at Boeing’s Wichita, Kansas, Plant II. It was delivered to the United States Army Air Forces 28 January 1944, and assigned to the 25th Bombardment Squadron (Very Heavy), 40th Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy), 58th Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy) at Pratt Army Air Field, Kansas.

After a number of combat missions, Gone With the Wind was modified to transport gasoline over the Himalaya Mountains to forward air bases in China.

On the night of 21 December 1944, Major Robert E. Moss, 45th Bombardment Squadron (Very Heavy), 40th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy), was flying Gone With The Wind near the port city of Chittagong, Burma. A Royal Air Force Bristol Beaufighter Mk VI D, E8710, flown by Squadron Leader R. R. Morrison, No. 89 Squadron, was vectored to intercept the bomber by ground controllers. Approaching from down moon, Morrison did not recognize the aircraft as an Allied B-29. He fired several bursts while closing from 700 to 500 feet (213 to 152 meters) and observed strikes along the center of the fuselage. The bomber’s fuel tanks caught fire. All 11 members of the bomber’s crew were able to escape, but the navigator, 1st Lieutenant David Lustig, was killed when his parachute did not open. 42-6331 crashed into the Bay of Bengal. The ten survivors were rescued. (MACR 10589)

Boeing B-29 Superfortress

The B-29 Superfortress was the most technologically advanced—and complex—aircraft of World War II. It required the manufacturing capabilities of the entire nation to produce. Over 1,400,000 engineering man-hours had been required to design the prototypes.

The Superfortress was manufactured by Boeing at Seattle and Renton, Washington, and Wichita, Kansas; by the Glenn L. Martin Company at Omaha, Nebraska; and by Bell Aircraft Corporation, Marietta, Georgia.

Boeing B-29 production line. (U.S. Air Force 050607-F-1234P-077)

There were three XB-29 prototypes, 14 YB-29 pre-production test aircraft, 2,513 B-29 Superfortresses, 1,119 B-29A, and 311 B-29B aircraft. The bomber served during World War II and the Korean War and continued in active U.S. service until 1960. In addition to its primary mission as a long range heavy bomber, the Superfortress also served as a photographic reconnaissance airplane, designated F-13, a weather recon airplane (WB-29), and a tanker (KB-29).

The B-29 was operated by a crew of 11 to 13 men. It was 99 feet, 0 inches (30.175 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.068 meters). The vertical fin was 27 feet, 9 inches (8.305 meters) high. The airplane’s empty weight was 71,500 pounds (32,432 kilograms). Its maximum takeoff weight of 140,000 pounds (63,503 kilograms).

The B-29’s wings had a total area of 1,720 square feet (159.8 square meters). They had an angle of incidence of 4° and 4° 29′ 23″ dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft to 7° 1′ 26″.

B-29 3-view illustration with dimensions. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-29 was powered by four air-cooled, turbocharged and supercharged, 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone) 670C18BA4 (R-3350-23A) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ration of 6.85:1. These engines had a Normal Power rating of 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., for takeoff. They drove 16 foot, 7 inch (5.055 meter) diameter, four-bladed, Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-23A was 6 feet, 4.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,646 pounds (1,200 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the B-29 was 353 knots (406 miles per hour/654 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), though its normal cruising speed was 216 knots (249 miles per hour/400 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The bomber’s service ceiling was 40,600 feet (12,375 meters) and the maximum ferry range was 4,492 nautical miles (5,169 statute miles/8,319 kilometers).

B-29 internal arrangement. (U.S.. Air Force)

The Superfortress could carry a maximum of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) of bombs in two bomb bays. For defense, it was armed 12 Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns in four remotely-operated and computer-controlled gun turrets and a manned tail position. The bomber carried 500 rounds of ammunition per gun. (Some B-29s were also armed with an M2 20 mm autocannon at the tail.)

In this rear 3/4 view of 42-6331 somewhere in China, the 20 mm autocannon in the tail turret can be seen. (U.S. Air Force)

A number of B-29 Superfortresses are on display at locations around the world, but only two, the Commemorative Air Force’s B-29A-60-BN 44-62070, Fifi, and B-29-70-BW 44-69972, Doc, owned by Doc’s Friends, Inc., are airworthy.

The restored Boeing B-29 Superfortress, 44-69972, “Doc,” photographed in 2019. (Ducatipierre)
Leonard Harman

Leonard Franklin Harman was born at Auburn, Nebraska, 22 December 1902. He was the second of three children of William Bascomb Harman, an insurance agent, and Georgia Eva Horn Harman. The Harman family later moved to Boise, Idaho, where Leonard grew up. He attended Boise High School, graduating in 1921.

On 28 February 1928, Harman joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as a Flying Cadet. He was trained as a pilot at air fields in Texas. He graduated from the Air Corps Primary Flying School in 1928, and the Advanced Flying School’s Bombardment Course in 1929. Leonard Harman was commissioned a second lieutenant, Air Reserve, 28 February 1929. He was then assigned to active duty, 1 March–11 June 1929.

Harman received a commission as a second lieutenant, United States Army Air Corps, 2 May 1929.

In 1929, Lieutenant Harman married Miss Ruth Isabelle Veasey (1904–1999). They would have a daughter, Helen Jean Harman (1930– ).

Second Lieutenant Harman graduated from the Air Corps Engineering School in 1932. The following year, he received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering (BSME) from the University of Idaho.

From 19 July to 20 August 1934, Harman participated in the Air Corps’ Alaska Flight, in which ten Martin B-10 bombers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Harley (“Hap”) Arnold were flown from Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., to Fairbanks, Alaska. For the next month, numerous flights were made over Alaska, including photographing 23,000 square miles (59,570 square kilometers) of the territory. The trip crossed more than 7,000 miles (11,265 kilometers). (Arnold was awarded the Mackay Trophy for this operation. He later served in the five-star rank General of The Army and General of the Air Force.)

 

Officers of the 1934 Alaskan Flight. Kneeling (L to R) are Capt John D. Corkille, Capt Harold M. McClelland, Capt Ray A. Dunn, Capt Westside T. Larson, Lt Ralph A. Snavely, Lt Nathan F. Twining (not flight member), Lt John S. Mills (not flight member), Lt Hez McClellan. Standing (L to R) are Lt Lawrence J. Carr, Lt Charles B. Howard, Maj Malcolm C. Grow, Maj Hugh J. Knerr, Lt Col Henry H. Arnold, Maj Ralph Royce, Lt John S. Griffith, and Lt Leonard F. Harman. Of the 16 men shown, 10 went on to become general officers in the Air Force. Arnold made 5-stars and was the commanding general of the Army Air Forces during World War II. Twining achieved the rank of general (4-stars) and served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1957. Grow, McClelland, Larson, Mills, and Knerr all made major general. Dunn, Snavely, and Carr all became brigadier generals. (Photo courtesy of NARA)

Harman was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant, 1 October 1934.

Lieutenant Harman was at Wright Field, northeast of Dayton, Ohio, on 30 October 1935 when the prototype Boeing XB-17 crashed after takeoff. With the B-17 on fire, Lieutenants Harman and Robert Kinnaird Giovannoli pulled survivors from the wreckage.

The wreck of the Boeing Model 299, NX13372, burns after the fatal crash at Wright Field, 30 October 1935. (U.S. Air Force)

Both Harman and Giovannoli were awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the Army’s highest award for valor in a non-combat situation. “The Soldier’s Medal is awarded to any person of the Armed Forces of the United States or of a friendly foreign nation who, while serving in any capacity with the Army of the United States, including Reserve Component soldiers not serving in a duty status at the time of the heroic act, distinguished himself or herself by heroism not involving conflict with an enemy. The performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy. Awards will not be made solely on the basis of having saved a life.”

Lieutenant Harman’s citation reads: “The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Soldier’s Medal to First Lieutenant (Air Corps) Leonard F. Harman, United States Army Air Corps, for heroism, not involving actual conflict with an enemy, displayed at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 30 October 1935. When a Boeing experimental bomber crashed and burst into flames, Lieutenant Harman forced his way upon the fuselage of the burning plane and assisted in the removal of the pilot and a passenger, despite the knowledge that his own life was in constant peril from fire, smoke, and fuel explosions. During the performance of the act, Lieutenant Harman suffered severe burns.”

Harman had crawled into the XB-17’s cockpit and freed the feet of Major Ployer P. Hill, which were caught in the bomber’s rudder pedals. Both Harman and Giovannoli were treated at the base hospital for 1st and 2nd degree burns, then transferred to the Miami Valley Hospital. Harman was presented the Soldier’s Medal by Major General William E. Cole, Commanding General, Fifth Corps, United States Army, at Wright Field on 12 May 1936. (Lieutenant Giovannoli was killed in the crash of a Boeing P-26 at Logan Field, near Baltimore, Maryland, 8 March 1936, before he could be presented with his medal.)

In 1939, Harman attended the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama. On 2 May 1939, he was promoted to the rank of captain.

Captain Harman was promoted to the temporary rank of major, U.S. Army Air Corps, 15 March 1941. On 10 October 1941, he was appointed a major in the Army of the United States (A.U.S.). Shortly after the United States entered World War II, on 5 January 1942, Harman was advanced to the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army Air Forces, followed on 1 February 1942 by his promotion to lieutenant colonel, A.U.S. On 1 March 1942, he was promoted to colonel, A.U.S.

Throughout 1942 and 1943, Colonel Harman was very involved in the program to bring the Boeing B-29 Superfortress into production and active service in the War. On 27 November 1943, Colonel Harman was assigned Commander, 58th Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy) at Smoky Hill Army Air Field, Salina, Kansas.

On 15 June 1944, Colonel Harman lead 75 Twentieth Air Force B-29s on the first air raid against Japan since the Halsey-Doolittle Raid of 18 April 1942. The target was the Imperial Iron and Steel Works at Yawata, in northern Kyushu.

Major General Kenneth Bonner Wolfe (left), Chief of Engineering and Procurement, Air Technical Service Command, presents awards to Lieutenant Colonel George A. Stinson, Colonel Leonard F. Harman, Colonel A.D. Olson and Major Charles R. Able. (The Dayton Herald, 5 April 1945, Page 9)

On 4 April 1945, Major General Kenneth Bonner Wolfe, who had met Colonel Harman when he arrived in India, 2 April 1944, presented him with the Distinguished Flying Cross for “a lone B-29 flight without fighter escort over enemy-occupied territory,” 7 July 1944.

Following the end of the War, on 2 May 1946 Harman reverted to his permanent Army Air Forces rank of major.

Having suffered a disability in the line of duty, on 30 November 1946, Harman retired from the U.S. Army Air Forces with the permanent rank of colonel.

During his military career, Colonel Harman had been awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Soldier’s Medal. He was rated a command pilot and command aerial observer.

Leonard Franklin Harman died at Laguna Hills, California, 2 March 1977, at the age of 74 years. After a memorial service held at MCAS El Toro, in southern California, his remains were cremated.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

TSGT Sator Sierra (“Sandy”) Sanchez (22 March 1921–15 March 1945)

“In what was to be the last picture ever taken of him, highly-decorated Staff Sergeant Sator Sierra “Sandy” Sanchez poses in Lucera, Italy, in March 1945.” (University of Texas at Austin, Moody College of Communication)

15 March 1945: Technical Sergeant Sator Sierra (“Sandy”) Sanchez, 353rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 301st Bombardment Group (Heavy), 15th Air Force, based at Lucera Air Field, Italy, volunteered for his 66th combat mission. He flew as the top turret gunner of a Lockheed-Vega B-17G-25-VE Flying Fortress, 42-97683. The mission was to attack the Braunkohle-Benzin AG synthetic oil refinery at Schwarzheide, Ruhland, Germany.

A Lockheed-Vega B-17G Flying Fortress assigned to the 301st Bombardment Group, Heavy, Lucera, Italy, 1944. Note the letter “Y” at the top of the vertical fin. (U.S. Air Force)

Visibility was unlimited above a 10,000 foot (3,048 meters) 7/10th undercast. While approaching the target at about 1415 hours, the B-17 was attacked by fighters and anti-aircraft guns. Its number two engine (inboard, left wing) was damaged and caught fire. It could not be feathered. Fire spread all along the wing. The aircraft commander, 1st Lieutenant Dale Thornton, ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. Nine of the crew were able to bail out, but with Sergeant Sanchez still aboard, the bomber pitched up, rolled over, then exploded. Sandy Sanchez was killed. His remains were never located. The survivors were captured and held as prisoners of war at Stalag Luft VI-A.

“At Bad Muskau, Germany, in April, 1996, World War II pilot Dale Thornton, second from left, and airmen from Spangdahlem Air Base cart part of the tail section of Thornton’s aircraft that was shot down at the end of the war to a nearby truck.” (Ken George/Stars and Stripes)

In 1993, four of the crew of 42-97693, pilot (former 1st Lieutenant) Dale Thornton, co-pilot (2nd Lieutenant) Edward Naracci, navigator (1st Lieutenant) Leslie J. Tyler and radar navigator (2nd Lieutenant) Stephen J. Stofko, returned to Germany to search for the crash site of their bomber. A portion of 42-97683’s vertical fin was found near Bad Muskau, Germany, near the border with Poland. It was recovered by the 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron, based at Spangdahlem Air Base, then placed in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Part of the vertical fin of Lockheed-Vega B-17G 42-97683, in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Sanchez’ final mission was flown during his third combat tour. After completing his first combat tour of 25 missions with the 334th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Air Force, during which he had shot down six enemy fighters as a tail and top turret gunner, he volunteered for a second tour. (At that time, after completing 25 missions, bomber crew members in the 8th Air Force were rotated back to the Unites States for rest, recuperation and eventual reassignment.) He then flew 19 more missions. In addition to the six enemy aircraft destroyed, Sanchez was also credited with two probably destroyed and one damaged.

TSGT Sator Sierra (“Sandy”) Sanchez with Boeing B-17G 42-97290, “Smiling Sandy Sanchez.”

In recognition of his 44 combat missions, a brand new Boeing B-17G-45-BO Flying Fortress, 42-97290, was named Smilin’ Sandy Sanchez in his honor, and emblazoned with the number “44.” This was the first time that a bomber had been named after an enlisted man.

Technical Sergeant Sanchez was sent back to the United States as a gunnery instructor. Repeatedly volunteering for a third combat tour, he was returned to the European Theater of Operations, assigned to the 301st Bomb Group in Italy. He flew his 45th combat mission in November 1944.

Sergeant Sator Sierra “Sandy” Sanchez, U.S. Army Air Forces, circa 1943. (University of Texas at Austin, Moody College of Communication)

Sator Sierra Sanchez was born at Joliet Township, Illinois, 22 March 1921. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was two years old, and his father was shot to death when he was eight. He and his sister were raised by their stepmother until she also died in 1934.

In high school, “Sandy” Sanchez participated in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC). After graduating, he worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps, then enlisted in the United States Army, 20 December 1939, at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. He was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division. In May 1941, he was transferred to the Army Air Corps and trained as an aircraft mechanic.

On 14 March 1943, while working on the flight line at Merced Army Airfield, California, Sergeant Sanchez observed an empty, runaway Vultee BT-13 Valiant trainer. He ran toward it but was hit in the back by the airplane’s horizontal stabilizer. Trying again, he succeeded in climbing into rear cockpit. He shut off the engine and fuel and turned it away from a hangar filled with other aircraft and men. Although the BT-13 crashed into another airplane, undoubtedly Sergeant Sanchez had saved many lives. For this action he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal. This is the highest honor that a soldier could receive for valor in a non-combat situation.

When he completed training as an aerial gunner at Las Vegas Army Air Field, Sanchez was promoted to staff sergeant. He was then sent to England to serve with the 95th Bomb Group. He flew his first combat mission 15 September 1943 as the waist gunner of a B-17. After two missions he was assigned to the crew of Boeing B-17F 42-29943, Situation Normal.

Technical Sergeant Sator Sierra Sanchez, U.S. Army Air Forces. (Sanchez Family Collection)

On 10 October 1943, Staff Sergeant Sanchez flew as tail gunner on Situation Normal during an attack on Munster, Germany. He shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and a Junkers Ju 88. Several members of the crew were wounded. Sanchez was awarded the Silver Star.

Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress 42-29943, “Situation Normal.” (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 15472)

Sandy Sanchez was promoted to technical sergeant 15 April 1944.

In addition to the Silver Star and Soldier’s Medal, Technical Sergeant Sandor Sierra Sanchez was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster (two awards, one posthumous), and the Air Medal with two silver and one bronze Oak Leaf Clusters (12 awards).

“Sandy” Sanchez sits on the nose of the B-17G Flying Fortress named in his honor.(American Air Museum in Britain UPL 19239)
Boeing B-17G-45-BO Flying Fortress 42-97290, BG H. (95th Bomb Group)

The B-17G named after Technical Sergeant Sanchez, 42-97290 (MSN 7792), was built Boeing’s Wichita, Kansas, Plant II. It was delivered to the United Airlines Modification Center at Cheyenne, Wyoming, 15 February 1944. It arrived at the staging base at Kearney Field, Nebraska,  27 February, 1944. On 11 March 1944, the B-17 was flown to Presque Isle, Maine, and then across the North Atlantic Ocean to England. Initially assigned to the 398th Bombardment Group at RAF Nuthampstead (USAAF Station 131), 22 April 1944, 42-97290 was transferred six days later to the 334th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Horham (USAAF Station 119), in East Anglia. It was given the squadron marking BG-H. On its twenty-third mission, 19 May 1944, Smilin’ Sandy Sanchez was damaged in combat near Berlin, Germany. The crew flew the bomber to Akesholm, Sweden, where they and the B-17 were interned. 42-92790 was later scrapped.

B-17G Flying Fortress heavy bombers at the United Airlines Modication Center, Cheyenne, Wyoming. (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 41030)

The B-17G on which Sanchez flew his final mission, 42-97683 (MSN 17-7048), had been built by the Lockheed-Vega Corporation at Burbank, California. It was delivered to the Continental Airlines Modification Center at Denver, Colorado, 26 January 1944, then on 7 March 1944, to the 1st Search and Attack Group (AAF Antisubmarine Command) at Langley Army Airfield, Hampton, Virginia, for crew training. (Presumably, the bomber was equipped with AN/APS-15 (H2X) ground-scanning radar.¹) Finally, on 7 April 1944, the bomber arrived at Grenier Army Airfield, Manchester, New Hampshire, to be ferried across the North Atlantic Ocean to England. On 8 April 1944, it was assigned to the 335th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 95th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Horham and given the squadron marking OE-M. As the lead airplane on an Operation FRANTIC IV shuttle bombing mission from Poltava Air Base (USAAF Station 559), Ukraine, USSR, to attack an airfield at Szolnok, Hungary, 18 September 1944, 42-97683 was was hit by anti-aircraft gunfire and damaged. Its number four engine (outboard, right wing) caught fire and failed. Four crewmen bailed out and were captured. The bomber continued on to Foggia, Italy, where it crash landed. After being repaired, on 28 October 1944, 42-97683 was assigned to the 352nd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 301st Bombardment Group (Heavy).

Camouflaged B-17s of the 335th Bombardment Squadron, 95th Bombardment Group. The airplane closest to the camera is B-17G 42-38140, “Dolly’s Daughter.” (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 19459)

The B-17G was the final production variant of the Flying Fortress. It entered service with the United States Army Air Forces in 1943.

The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress was a four-engine heavy bomber operated by a combat crew of nine to ten men. It was 74 feet, 8.90 inches (22.781 meters) long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9.38 inches (31.633 meters) and an overall height of 19 feet, 1.00 inch (5.187 meters). The wings have 3½° angle of incidence and 4½° dihedral. The leading edges are swept aft 8¾°. The total wing area is 1,426 square feet (132.48 square meters). The horizontal stabilizer has a span of 43 feet (13.106 meters) with 0° incidence and dihedral. Its total area, including elevators, is 331.1 square feet (12.18 square meters). The B-17G had an empty weight of 35,972 pounds (16,316.6 kilograms), and the maximum takeoff weight was 67,860 pounds (30,780.8 kilograms).

The B-17G was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone C9GC (R-1820-97) nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.70:1. The engines were equipped with remote General Electric turbochargers capable of 24,000 r.p.m. The R-1820-97 had a Normal Power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for Takeoff and Military Power. The engine could produce 1,380 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., War Emergency Power. 100-octane aviation gasoline was required. The Cyclones turned three-bladed, constant-speed, Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) through a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-97 engine was 3 feet, 11.80 inches (1.214 meters) long and 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).

Boeing B-17G-45-BO Flying Fortress 42-97246, from the same production block as “Smilin’ Sandy Sanchez”. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-17G had a cruising speed of 172 knots (198 miles per hour/319 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The maximum speed was 285 knots (328 miles per hour/528 kilometers per hour) at 26,700 feet (8,138 meters). The service ceiling was 38,450 feet (11,720 meters) at maximum power.

The B-17G had a fuel capacity  of 2,780 gallons (10,523 liters) in twelve wing tanks. Two “Tokyo tanks” could be installed in the bomb bay, increasing capacity by 820 gallons (3,104 liters). The B-17G combat radius of 689 nautical miles (793 statute miles/1,276 kilometers) with max bomb load, and a maximum ferry range of 2,624 nautical miles (3,031 statute miles/4,878 kilometers).

The B-17G was armed with thirteen Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns for defense against enemy fighters. Power turrets mounting two guns each were located at the nose, dorsal, and ventral positions. Two guns could be installed in flexible mounts in the nose compartment, one in the radio compartment, two in the waist and two in the tail. 5,970 rounds of ammunition were carried.

The maximum bomb load of the B-17G was 12,800 pounds (5,806 kilograms). The internal bomb bay could be loaded with a maximum of ten 1,000 pound bombs,  eight 1,600 pound (725.75 kilogram) bombs or two 2,000 pound bombs. The physical size of each type limited the number that could be carried in the bomb bay.

The B-17 Flying Fortress was in production from 1936 to 1945. 12,731 B-17s were built by Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Company and Lockheed-Vega. (The manufacturer codes -BO, -DL and -VE follows the Block Number in each airplane’s type designation.) 8,680 of these were B-17Gs, with 4,035 built by Boeing, 2,395 by Douglas and 2,250 by Lockheed-Vega.

Boeing B-17G-45-BO Flying Fortress 42-97246, from the same production block as “Smilin’ Sandy Sanchez.” (U.S. Air Force)

A more complete report of Sator Sanchez’ life by Master Sergeant Barry L. Spink can be read at:

https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/AFEHRI/documents/HispanicAmericanAccomplishment/SatorSanchezWWIIGunnerandHero.pdf

In this grainy photograph of the crew of the Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress “Situation Normal,” Technical Sergeant Sator Sierra Sanchez may the man standing at the left end of the back row. (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 19273)

¹ After transferring its antisubmarine warfare mission to the United States Navy’s Tenth Fleet in 1943, the 1st Search Attack Group conducted specialized training in low altitude bombing and H2X radar operations with the B-17 and B-24.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

8 March 1936

Boeing P-26 32-414 at Barksdale Field, 23 January 1934. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Robert K. Giavannoli

8 March 1936: First Lieutenant Robert Kinnaird Giovannoli, United States Army Air Corps, a test pilot assigned to the Material Division at Wright Field, Ohio, was killed when the right wing of his Boeing P-26 pursuit, serial number 32-414, came off in flight over Logan Field, near Baltimore, Maryland.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported:

DAYTON HERO

Air Crash Victim.

Robert Giovannoli Dies At Baltimore Field

When Wing Of Plane Falls Off—Lexington, Ky., Man An Army Lieutenant.

     Baltimore, March 8—(AP)—Lieutenant Robert K. Giovannoli, 31 years old of Lexington, Ky., hero of the spectacular bombing plane crash during army tests at Dayton, Ohio, last October, was killed today in the crack-up of his army plane at Logan Field, here.

     Giovannoli’s single-seated pursuit plane lost its right wing coming out of a glide and hurtled down in a crazy spin from an altitude of less than 500 feet [ meters]. It rolled over after hitting the landing field and was demolished.

     Lieutenant Giovannoli received a medal for his heroism in rescuing two men from the flaming wreckage of the Boeing “flying fortress” after it crashed in the army bomber tests at Wright Field, Dayton.

     The Wright Field hero was taking off for the Middletown, Penn., air station when his plane plunged him to death at Logan Field.

QUIZ TO BE BEGUN.

     The flier had arrived here yesterday.

     Lieutenant Colonel H.C.K. Nuhlenberg, air officer of the Third Corps Area and in command of Logan Field, said an Army Board of Inquiry would be summoned promptly to investigate the fatal crash.

     Nuhlenberg, who had just landed at the field himself, said Giovannoli had gotten his craft under way and turned back to fly over the field at a low altitude.

     The wing of Giovannoli’s plane wrenched off, Nuhlenberg said, just as the craft was coming out of the glide and starting a zoom to regain altitude.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, Vol. XCV, No. 334, Monday, 9 March 1936,  at Page 7, Column 1

Lt. Robert K. Giovannoli

Lieutenant Giovannoli had been awarded the Soldier’s Medal and the Cheney Award for his heroic rescue of two men from the burning wreck of the Boeing Model 299, which had crashed on takeoff at Wright Field, 30 October 1935. His citation reads:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Soldier’s Medal to First Lieutenant Robert K. Giovannoli, United States Army Air Corps, for heroism, not involving actual conflict with an enemy, displayed at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, 30 October 1935. When a Boeing experimental bomber crashed and burst into flames, Lieutenant Giovannoli, who was an onlooker, forced his way upon the fuselage and into the front cockpit of the burning plane and extricated one of the passengers. Then upon learning that the pilot was still in the cockpit, Lieutenant Giovannoli, realizing that his own life was in constant peril from fire, smoke, and fuel explosions, rushed back into the flames and after repeated and determined efforts, being badly burned in the attempt, succeeded in extricating the pilot from an entrapped position and assisted him to a place of safety.

General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 4 (1936)

The wreck of the Boeing Model 299, X13372, burns after the fatal crash at Wright Field, 30 October 1935. (U.S. Air Force)

Robert Kinnaird Giovannoli was born at Washington, D.C., 13 March 1904, the second of two sons of Harry Giovannoli, a newspaper editor, and Carrie Kinnaird Giovanolli. His mother died when he was six years old.

Robert Giovannoli, 1925. (The Kentuckian)

Giovannoli graduated from Lexington High School at Lexington, Kentucky, in 1920 and then attended the University of Kentucky, where, in 1925, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering (B.S.M.E.). He was a member of the Phi Delta Theta (ΦΔΘ) and Tau Beta Phi (ΤΒΦ) fraternities, treasurer of the sophomore class, and president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. He was employed by the General Electric Company at Schenectady, New York.

Giovannoli enlisted in the United States Army in 1927. After completing the Air Corps Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, and the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, both in San Antonio, Texas, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserve, 20 October 1928. Lieutenant Giovannoli was called to active duty 8 May 1930. In 1933, he was assigned to a one year Engineering School at Wright Field. He then was sent to observe naval aircraft operations aboard USS Ranger (CV-4) in the Pacific Ocean. He had returned just a few days prior to the accident.

At the time of his death, Lieutenant Giovannoli had not yet been presented his medals.

First Lieutenant Robert Kinnaird Giovannoli was buried at the Bellevue Cemetery, Danville, Kentucky. In 1985, the Robert Kinnaird Giovannoli Scholarship was established to provide scholarships for students in mechanical engineering at the University of Kentucky College of Engineering.

Boeing XP-936 No. 3 in flight. This airplane would be designated P-26, serial number 32-414. It is the airplane flown by Lieutenant Robert Kinnaird Giovannoli, 8 March 1936. (Boeing)

The P-26, Air Corps serial number 32-414, was the last of three prototype XP-936 pursuits built by Boeing in 1932. Boeing’s chief test pilot, Leslie R. Tower, conducted the first flight of the type on 20 March 1932. Leslie Tower was one of the two men that Lieutenant Giovannoli had pulled from the burning Boeing 299.

The Boeing P-26 was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane. It was the first all-metal U.S. Army pursuit, but retained an open cockpit, fixed landing gear and its wings were braced with wire. The airplane was 23 feet, 7 inches (7.188 meters) long with a wingspan of 28 feet (8.534 meters). The empty weight of the prototype was 2,119 pounds (961.2 kilograms) and gross weight was 2,789 pounds (1,265.1 kilograms).

The first of three Boeing Model 248 prototypes, XP-26 32-412. (Boeing)

The Y1P-26 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-1340-21 (Wasp S2E), a single-row, nine-cylinder radial engine. The P-26A and P-26C were powered the Pratt & Whitney R-1340-27 (Wasp SE), while the P-26B used a more powerful, fuel-injected R-1340-33 (Wasp D2). Each of these engines were direct drive and had a compression ratio of 6:1. The engine was surrounded by a Townend Ring which reduced aerodynamic drag and improved engine cooling.

The R-1340-21 had a Normal Power rating of 600 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters); 500 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. at 11,000 feet (3,353 meters); and 500 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. for takeoff. It required 87-octane gasoline. The –21 had a diameter of 3 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) and weighed 715 pounds (324 kilograms).

The R-1340-27 had a Normal Power and Takeoff power rating of 570 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., to 7,500 feet (1,524 meters), using 92-octane gasoline. The –27 was 3 feet, 7.25 inches (1.099 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.50 inches (1.308 meters) in diameter and also weighed 715 pounds (324 kilograms).

The R-1340-33 was rated at 575 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 600 horsepower at 2,120 r.p.m. for Takeoff, with 87-octane gasoline. It was 3 feet, 10.75 inches (1.187 meters) long, with the same diameter as the –27. It weighed 792 pounds (359 kilograms).

The engines drove a two-bladed, Hamilton Standard adjustable-pitch propeller.

19th Pursuit Squadron commanding officer’s Boeing P-26 in flight over Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 6 March 1939. (NASM)

The pursuit had a maximum speed of 227 miles per hour (365 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and a service ceiling of 28,900 feet (8,809 meters).

As a pursuit, the P-26 was armed with two air-cooled Browning M1919 .30-caliber machine guns, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.

Boeing built 136 production P-26s for the Air Corp and another 12 for export. Nine P-26s remained in service with the Air Corps at the beginning of World War II.

A Boeing P-26, A.C. 33-56, in the Full-Scale Wind Tunnel at the  National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, 1934. This “Peashooter,” while assigned to the 6th pursuit Squadron, ditched north of Kaluku, Oahu, Hawaii, 14 December 1938. (NASA)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes