The antiquated Douglas B-18 type aircraft used a wobble pump to increase fuel pressure while starting an engine on the ground. It also was used in flight when transferring fuel between tanks and when air starting an engine. It was standard procedure to use the pump as the fuel gauge reading approached zero when the Pilot emptied a fuel tank, or when the fuel selector switch was moved to another tank. The pump handle fit into a slot in the floor between the pilot's seats, and was operated by raising it from the slot and pumping it vigorously up and down.

In July 1942, Lt. Harold Schramm and I flew a triangle-shaped mission from France Field, Panama, to Roncador Cay south of Jamaica, to San Andres Island, then return to France Field. Such a mission was called a Round Robin flight. We cruised at 1,000 feet altitude and maintained a visual search for German U-boats since the plane was not equipped with radar. Just before the fuel in the first tank was depleted, the Radio Operator called for help in decoding a message. I turned control of the plane over to Schramm, and moved toward the Radio compartment.

The Navigator's table blocked the passageway, so Navigator Lt. Mike Egan raised the writing surface until I passed by, then lowered it. A moment later, the plane entered a heavy rain squall and was buffeted by severe turbulence. While Schramm concentrated on flying by instruments, I was working with the radio message. We both forgot the fuel tank.

Just as the radio message was decoded, the fuel tank went dry. Both engines stopped without the normal stuttering coughs that gave the Pilot time to change the tank selector switch, and to work the wobble pump. Schramm had to fly with one hand while groping for the selector switch with his other. I was blocked by the table while the Navigator fumbled with the latch, and when I finally arrived in the pilot's compartment, Schramm yelled, "Grab the wobble pump!" I switched fuel tanks and frantically pumped until fuel pressure was restored.

Meanwhile, the plane was descending rapidly through 400 feet as both engines coughed a few times, then settled into a steady hum. The red fuel warning lights went out as I advanced the throttles to climb power, and told Schramm to level off at 1,000 feet. He looked at me and asked, "What took you so long?" I explained about the Navigator's table, and then I said, "Don't worry, everything is O.K. now." Schramm smiled weakly and said, "Next time, don't leave me with an empty tank. It's kinda hard to fly this beast in severe turbulence with one hand and work the wobble pump with the other."

* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *