THE THREE-MAN CREW
Our B-29 aircrew completed its combat tour with the 40th Bomb Group in the China-Burma-India Theater in 1945. Our next assignment was to fly a war-weary B-29 to Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, Florida. Upon arrival at Morrison Field, we were debriefed and issued orders to remain overnight then fly the plane to Davis-Monthan Field, Tucson, Arizona. From the moment we received our orders, the local authorities lost all interest in us and in the B-29. We were entirely on our own.
Eight of the 11 members of our crew came from Central, Eastern, and Southern States. During our first night in Florida, these eight men asked me to have another crew fly the plane to Arizona so that they could go directly to their homes by train instead of flying away out west to Arizona. After a lengthy discussion, we decided to ignore our military orders. We planned to brake or bend many military and civil air regulations by having three men fly our B-29 to Arizona while the other eight men would go to town and take trains to their respective homes.
Our three-man crew would be composed of myself as Pilot, the Bombardier as Copilot, and the Tail Gunner as Flight Engineer. The Bombardier could act as Copilot since he had flown light planes before the war and had often relieved the regular Copilot and me during long combat missions. The Tail Gunner was qualified to be our Flight Engineer because he had been trained as a Flight Engineer before being assigned to a gunnery school.
The next morning we took our baggage to Base Operations where I filed a flight plan and a loading list of 11 names. Again, local authorities ignored us so we went to our plane, unloaded the baggage, and dismissed the truck driver. As the truck drove away, a wonderful feeling of freedom from combat and military restraint filled all of us. At last we were back in the States where a wonderful adventure was about to begin.
The baggage of our three-man crew was quickly loaded on the plane and the remaining baggage was placed off the parking ramp. After all 11 of us preflighted the plane, we assembled next to the nosewheel of the plane for the last time ever for a short but emotional round of goodbys and well wishing. My three-man crew climbed aboard, started the engines, and taxied away from the ramp. Our eight buddies flagged down a passing truck that took them to the town's railway station.
The eight-hour flight to Tucson was uneventful. We really were fortunate that our tired, war-weary plane did not develop a serious in flight malfunction. When we landed at Davis-Monthan Field, a cheerful Mexican gentleman driving a follow-me jeep from the base transient section, led us to a remote parking space out in the desert. He thought it was a bit odd that only three people with their baggage came down the front entrance ladder. The Bombardier told him the others were cleaning up the inside of the plane, and that they would come down later. He told the driver that the three of us wanted to hurry to Base Operations to turn in the plane's papers and the Top Secret bombsight. By then, the others would be ready for a ride. The driver accepted that arrangement.
When the driver finished helping us unload our baggage at Base Operations, he headed out to the desert storage area to pick up the "other crew members." I quickly turned in our flight plan and the B-29 papers; the Bombardier quickly turned in the Norden bombsight; the Tail Gunner quickly loaded our baggage into a vehicle that would take us to town. In less than thirty-minutes, we were at the Southern Pacific train station.
I have often wondered what the Mexican driver thought when he could not find anyone at our B-29. Did he finally realize that only three crew members flew a B-29 to his field, or did he assume that the other crew members found another ride? If he reported the incident to his superiors, they probably ignored it the same way we had been ignored by military authorities from the time we landed in Florida.
In later years, my Bombardier and I speculated that our flight from Florida to Arizona was the only time a B-29 was flown by three people. If so, we set a Guinness Book of World Records for a three-man B-29 flight for distance, altitude, speed, endurance, etc. Does the reader think it is too late for us to file a certified flight plan with the International Aviation Authorities, claiming credit for all those records?
One final thought. Before I do that, I should make sure that the statute of limitations has expired for all the infractions of the rules we broke flying a B-29 with a Three-Man Crew
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *