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Survival Over The "HUMP" Part One
First Lieutenant Art Tuttle, our flight engineer, shouted over the intercom; “Doc, our #4 engine is showing a drop in oil pressure and a rise in cylinder head temperature. “Keep an eye on it Art and let me know if your numbers continue to go south,” commanded our pilot Captain Doc Waller.
As a flight co-pilot I knew that B-29 engines and other bugs had become problems for many other crews stationed out of Piardoba, India. We were often overloaded at 140,000 lbs to 160,000 lbs gross weight, causing the engine to overheat.
Girls, losses and pin-ups
The rapidly building cumulus clouds below held my attention. But I realized that eighteen hours of B-29 flight time, per mission, in the Chinese theater in Burma gave us all a lot of time to think; women and girls “The B-17 Love Boat over Walker Field, my wife, Betty Ann coaxing the big bomber into the sky over the Michigan/Ohio State football game, my time in the cavalry and a new assignment as aide to General Smith. the loss of Lt. Edward Pierce, a football star from Flint Northern and a three-year letterwinner at Michigan State, on a mountain side in French Morocco…then, 1st Lt. Charles Hill (MSU halfback), piloted a Liberator over Germany failed to return a month later, stabbed me like a knife.
Pierce, Hill and I all stayed together through 14 transfers to camps and bases, going from the cavalry to the armed forces and then to the air force. We all received our wings together the same way and I mourned them and their crew. Heartbroken, their widows with their newborns carried on… and kept faith that their loved ones would return.
The choice of nose art was important to bond the crew…the spirit and pride of each crew. The more personal, intimate and ungodly, the better for 19-24 year olds in this war. Perhaps a pinup on the side of the plane would make the enemy pause (in laughter or desire) in their quest to shoot down our plane giving our gunners a chance to get it first. Playboy pinup or worse must have been exciting for most and a relief for some. Themes ranged from raunchy or sexual to cartoon/caricatures, people, logos/names and name only themes. What the hell the flashier the better. If it released a little tension and we let it rip. It was great fun and suddenly every man became an artist in every aircrew in the drive for the representative coat of arms.
Star Duster’s Fight
SSgt James Lynch, our right gunner suddenly yelled over the intercom; “Doctor, our number 4 is smoking.” Here we go again, I thought, as Captain Doc Waller, our pilot, told Jimmy to watch the flames and 1st Lt. Art Tuttle, the flight engineer, to get on the gauges, monitor temperature and pressure, and his emergency checklist.
The timing of #4 could not have been worse. We were 34,000 feet above the Himalayas. This is not a bombing mission, but a cargo flight. We carry eight rubberized fuel tanks attached in bomb racks, 2900 gallons to unload after another 13 hours of flight directly to our forward base in the Cheng Tu Valley… in preparation for bombing the Japanese homeland.
We were a long way from home carrying this much fuel on board. A possible engine fire was now more formidable than the fire over Kyushu and Yokohama from intense and accurate anti-aircraft missiles
I looked at Doc, quietly concentrating on his next task. He went through his emergency procedures and options as he descended and changed course – in case the worst happened. He knew that twelve people were counting on his life or death decision. While he told me to take the yoke and I flew the “STARDUSTER” on our new direction. I kept an eye on #4 while quizzing Art Tuttle for engine performance numbers and asking for constant updates from our engine eyes in the back.
We continued on through the early morning darkness. None of us expected that our missions would go without casualties or that our plane would have a better chance than the others of getting out unscathed. The question we’ve all thought about… What if? And it seemed to answer the question of what if it could become a reality… soon.
Engine number 4 was slowly losing power and now we could smell gas fumes in the nose of the plane. With a sudden dramatic turn to the right, TSgt Alden Huisjen, our senior gunner yelled, “Dense black smoke coming out of #4 now.” I quickly turned to confirm our problem child on the starboard wing. The doctor looked at me and I nodded in confirmation of the reality of our problem. Our converted B-29 tanker was now in real trouble.
Doc immediately reduced power when he heard smoke coming from the engine, even as Art reported that all engine instruments were showing normal indications. The reduction in power reduced the volume of smoke, but within 10 minutes, a large column of oil and smoke suddenly evaporated from the upper nacelle. SSgt Don Carter, our radio operator, went to the forward bomb bay to investigate the gas fumes. Doc was concerned that the fumes would saturate the plane and the entire crew could be affected.
“Fire, fire coming out of number 4 now,” Alden shouted, “Flames growing.”
Suddenly there was another shudder and Art looked at the tach and informed the pilots that the MAP/RPMs on number 4 were falling rapidly. The engine then shook violently and everyone stopped together…
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