Few men in the Army Air Force were closer to the development and deployment into combat of the B-29 Superfortress than Colonel AIva L. Harvey (left). Eddie Allen, Boeing Airplane Company's famed test pilot had made the first flight in a B-29 on September lst of 1942, before Colonel Harvey reported for duty at the Boeing plant in Seattle, Washington, as the Air Force's B-29 Project Officer. Thus October 1, 1942 became a date closely associated with the success of the airplane that was to become the nemesis of the Japanese homeland.
Colonel Harvey's association with the Superfortress is told here in an excerpt from his autobiography.
New assignments in the military are at times surprising and challenging. I learned of my most challenging assignment in September of 1942 and looked forward to it with great enthusiasm. It was to the Bombardment Section at Air Force Headquarters, the Pentagon, with duty station at the Boeing Company's factory in Seattle, Washington as project officer on the B-29.
I reported on October 1st. The B-29, known as the Superfortress, was being built for employment against the Japanese mainland. My responsibility was to study and make recommendations pertaining to the combat employment of the aircraft; armament and bomb carrying capabilities; equipment required for maintenance at overseas bases; size and composition of aircrews and units; and to keep in close liason with Air Force Headquarters.
Boeing continued building the B 17 in large numbers which required testing and delivery to modification centers. The opportunities -- testing and delivering B17's-satisfied my flying desires. Early in 1943 I moved to the Boeing plant at Wichita Kansas where production of the B-29 was in progress.
A good part of my time was consumed in acceptance test flights of the .new aircraft and checking out pilots. Each flight was a thrill in itself. The Wright R-3350 engines, each delivering 2,250 horsepower, and built especially for the B-29, were not perfected. If we returned to base with three of the four engines running, that was considered par for the course. Engine failures came mostly from overheating and the hot mid-summer days of Kansas did not add favorably to the problem. It was a delight to observe those enthusiastic young pilots, eager to fly the Superfoxtresses. This was grim serious business for we would all soon be off to combat.
In mid-summer of 1943 the first of the B-29 bombardment wings was organized, designated the 58th, and commanded by Brigadier General K.B. Wolfe. In the initial planning the 58th and 73rd Bomb Wings were destined for India and assigned to the XX Bomber Command under General Wolfe. Plans were changed and the 73rd was sent to Saipan. Brigadier General Bernie Saunders took command of the 58th, and was succeeded in February 1945 by Brigadier General Roger Ramey.
The 58th Wing, which was the first wing of the 20th Air Force, was further organized into four bombardment groups -- the 40th, 462nd, 444th, and the 468th. Group commanders were: Colonels Lew Parker, Dick Carmichael, Al Harvey, and Howard Engler, respectively. They were selected from those officers having seniority and broad experience.
Training bases were prepared for the groups at Pratt, Walker, Great Bend and Salina Kansas. Salina was the headquarters base. Personnel, aircraft and equipment soon filled these bases and a period of concenuated training got under way. In January of 1944 the B-29's were grounded for a series of modifications which would better prepare them for combat All other training continued relendessly. The ground units departed to ports of embarkation for ship voyages to India some by way of Australia and other via Algeria
During the period our B-29's were grounded for modiflcation, Lew Parker and I were sent to England to observe bombardment techniques being used against German targets. We each flew five bombardment missions with the 8th Air Force. Our fifth mission was the first daylight raid on Berlin, on which the 8th dispatched 800 B-17 and B-24 bombers. This strike force was composed of two wings: the B-17 wing was commanded by Colonel Curtis LeMay and the B-24 wing by Colonel Bob Williams. Eighty bombers were lost to German fighter planes and anti-aircraft fire. I flew on this raid with the 100th Bombardment Group which was commanded by Colonel "Chick" Harding. Of the 30 B-17's that this group sent our fifteen went down over Germany.
It was a thrill-packed, breathtaking nine hours -- bombers spinning out of formation, some in flames. Hermann Goering's fighter aircraft attacked our formations viciously. They came at us from out of the sun -- from twelve o'clock high -- their guns flaming, spitting fire and fury .Our own fighter escorts were right there, dealing a devastating blow to the German fighter force. Lew Parker went down with one of the B-17's; fortunately, his life was spared and he spent the next two years in a German prison camp.
I returned soon thereafter to my 444th Group at Great Bend. The B-29's were again operational and all was in readiness for our movement to India and China where the aircraft and their crews would be exposed to the crucial test of combat.
B-29 bases were constructed in India and China for our combat operations against the Japanese. The rear bases were in the Calcutta area and the forward bases were in ....
B-29 bases were constructed in India and China for our combat operations against the Japanese. The rear bases were in the Calcutta area and the forward bases were in the Hsinching-Pengshan-Chengtu area in the province of Szuchwan, China. Movement of the four groups to these bases began at the end of April 1944. Our route of flight from Kansas was via Bangor, Maine; Marrekech, Morocco; Cairo, Egypt; Karachi, Pakistan; Calcutta, India; and Chengtu, China. These long flights gave our crews needed experience in long-range operations of the B-29, experience they were sure to need on their future combat missions. In the Calcutta area groups were deployed on former Royal Air Force bases. New bases were built in the Chengtu area by the Chinese.
From our India bases we flew bombing and mining missions against Japanese held installations in Burma and along the Malay Peninsula as far south as Singapore. From Chengtu many of our strikes were against targets on the Japanese mainland. Two were flown against the Japanese steel mills at Harbin, Manchuria. The enemy met us with strong fighter aircraft resistance at many of the targets. Their naval bases were strongly defended by both fighter aircraft and radar-laying anti-aircraft guns. This combination provided them strong defensive action.
Most of the missions were of long duration, requiring up to 21 hours in flight. The longest B-29 bombardment and mining mission of the war took place on August 10-11 of 1944 -- from the RAF base at China Bay, Ceylon to Palembang, Sumatra where we bombed the oil refineries and mined the Moesi River. The crews would return from these long missions requiring hours of rest and sleep. They slept -- not in comparison to Washington Irving's "Old Rip" -- just deep, restful sleep. These were courageous, well-motivated men, "men you could ride the river with." Inevitably, some aircraft and crews were lost shot down by enemy aircraft or anti-aircraft fire. Losses are to be expected in war; nevertheless, our hearts were always heavy after the loss of these valiant young men.
Flights made from Calcutta and Chengtu required that we cruise at high altitudes, normally 25,000 feet when crossing the rugged Himalaya Mountains the "Hump," or "Roof of the World" -- and usually in the clouds. Some days we encountered severe turbulent winds that would toss our B-29's around like a cork on the sea. On other days, when the snow-capped peak of Mount Everest was visible, the flight was much more enjoyable. Although Mount Everest was located within the ancient land of Tibet some 150 miles north of our flight path, the airmen could revel in its majestic beauty. Winds of 200 to 250 miles per hour were recorded over the hump, these were later called the "Jet Stream."
We found strange customs in some localities. It wasn't unusual to see groups of families bathing fully dressed in streams along with their cattle, pigs, and water buffalo. In one area the burial custom was somewhat surprising. When a death occurred, the body of the dearly departed was tossed over a high stone wall that formed an enclosure of about two acres. At Chengtu food shops were operated in the open .Freshly butchered beef, port and fowl were hung in the open, readily available for inspection. The pesky flies had a field day, but this didn't appear to deter the customers.
We had to rough it a bit at Chengtu. we lived in tents and had relatively no recreation facilities. The mess was run by the Chinese, which was far short of being a wise decision no matter who made it. the Chinese cooks would take the best loin of beef and cut it up and cook it with bean sprouts and other vegetables unknown to us from the Western world. The result was anything but appetizing, to say the least Some of the more enterprising Chinese established short-order stands around the base. Fresh eggs -- they called them "eggeses"-were plentiful, so I practically lived on "eggeses."
By late 1944 and early 1945, air bases had been built in the Mariana Island group. The B-29 bombardment wings began operations from Guam, Saipan, and Tinian Islands, all part of the XXI Bomber Command under the command of Major General Curtis LeMay.
The Mariana bases were nearer the Japanese mainland and targets could be reached in much less time than from Chengtu. With the supply situation being critical in China, the 58th Wing with its four bombardment groups was ordered to move to Tinian. We made the move in May of 1945 and the first mission from West Field Tinian took place on May 10th.
Living conditions on Tinian were vastly more enjoyable than those at Chengtu. Even though we still slept in tents, the climate was milder. Our mess was run by Air Force personnel movies were shown each night, baseball teams were organize and the crystal clear waters along the beaches drew our troops in great numbers to get in a swim and enjoy a few relaxing moments between missions.
Some organization changes were made. I moved up to duty as Deputy Wing Comman&r of the 58th. The wing commanders were: Generals Tommy Power (314th), Jim Davies (313th), Roger Ramey (58th), Rosey O'Donnell (73rd), and Frank "Twelve O'Clock High" Armstrong (315th). Although it was an interesting experience working with the top brass, my heart remained with my old 444th Group. Our 58th Wing became an integral part of the XXI Bomber Command.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt had declared that we would destroy the Japanese military and naval forces. We would accept nothing less than total surrender, and he ordered that all military and industrial effort be directed to that achievement The five B-29 wings in the Marianas had been increased in strength with both aircraft and crews, permitting Major General LeMay's XXI Bomber Command to strike at the heart of the Japanese mainland with ever increasing force.
Due to the adverse weather conditions, tactics -- some say philosophy -- had been changed from high altitude & daylight precision bombing to low altitude night attacks using demolition bombs and the new incendiary bombs which were proving to be very effective. Hundreds of aircraft were repeatsdly dispatched on night missions resulting in everything within a huge area of the target being literally destroyed and burned to the ground.
By July of 1945, rumors began to spread that the Japanese sought an end to the war. The Empire had suffered great losses. Most of their shipping had been destroyed as a result of the B-29 mine laying missions in Japanese waters ad their industrial plants were in ashes. They could no longer defend their homeland and naval and military bases against the mighty U.S. air power. However, it required the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima (August 6th) and Nagasaki (August 6th) to convince them to throw in the towel.
"Old Iron Pants," as his men affectionately called Curt LeMay because he personally led so many combat missions, was the greatest fighting leader of the American Air Forces in World War II.
Arriving in England in 1942 as a Colonel commanding the 305th Bomb Group, LeMay quickly developed formation procedures and bombing techniques which were adopted throughout the Eighth Air Force. As the Eighth slowly grew in size, LeMay, now a Brigadier in command of the Third Air Division, led the famed Regensburg raid, a B-17 shuttle mission had originated in England, heavily damaged the Messerschmitt factory deep in Germany, and flew on to Africa.
In July 1944, LeMay went to the Pacific to direct B-29 missions of the 20th Bomber Command in the China-Burma -India Theater, then moved to command of the 21st Bomber Command based on Guam. Here he made one of the war's boldest gambles by stripping his B-29s of defensive guns and gunners to save weight on the Long flight to Japan and sending the planes in at night, at 5,000 feet instead of the usual 30,000, loaded with incendiary bombs to burn out sixteen and a half square miles of largely wood and paper Tokyo. Chief of Staff of the Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific at war's end, he piloted a B-29 non-stop in a record flight from Hokkaido to Chicago.
In 1947, after two years in the Pentagon, LeMay was appointed commander of the U. S. Air Forces in Europe and organized air operations for the Berlin Airlift. Back again in 1948, he took command of the new Strategic Air Command, whose headquarters at Offutt Air Base, Nebraska, became the nerve center of a world-wide bomber-missile force, combining all-jet bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
After ten years as SAC Commander, General LeMay in 1957 became Vice Chief of Staff of the U. S. Air Force, and in 1961 Chief, retiring four years later.
In the previous essay, Colonel Beirne Lay has pointed out that while we had a sound theory of strategic warfare, we lacked the equipment to carry out the theory and the trained people to do the job.
Let me now cover some of the operational problems we faced proving in combat the equipment we had, learning how to fight this new kind of war, trying to inflict what damage was possible on the enemy while conserving your forces so that the survivors could teach the new crews coming into combat so that the day would come when your forces would be adequate to do the job and you could really go to war and finish it. Living through the frustrations of building something, only to see it "shot down" transfers back home to form new units or to other tasks in other theaters became a. difficult way of life.
Lay has also alluded to my inexperience in command when I landed at Prestwick, Scotland, in November 1942 with the 305th Bomb Group. My awareness of this fact went deep.
Command is a soul-searching experience that, as I was to discover, never ends. You keep asking yourself: "Have I thought of everything? Can I do more? And do it better? Can I avoid repeating a mistake? Am I really qualified to lead these men into combat? If not, can I learn in time?"
With misgivings like these foremost in my consciousness, I leaped at the chance to hear the lowdown from a veteran of many combat missions who said that he could spare a few minutes to talk to us while he was waiting for his airplane to take off for Washington, D. C.
I hastily summoned all of my crews to listen to the "oracle." We hung on every word. And the word was grim.
"The flak is murder. If you fly straight and level through it for more than ten seconds, you're a dead duck."
Hell's bells, I said to myself, if you cannot fly straight and level for more than ten seconds, how are you going to get bombs on the target?
It was an utter impossibility, under even the best of circumstances in peacetime against a practice circle in the desert not enough time to stabilize the gyro of the Norden bombsight and feed in your rate (ground speed) and drift (cross-wind). Yet this was what the veterans of four months of combat had been trying to do when flak was heavy, in their overriding concern for survival, by taking evasive action changing direction and altitude systematically while on the bomb run between the Initial Point and the target.
From that moment the veteran's words 'haunted me, breaking through my preoccupation with all of the incessant demands on my attention that were an inevitable part of getting the 305th organized (if that is the right word) in the mud and 'confusion of our temporary base at Grafton Underwood, before moving to Chelveston, our permanent station.
I lay awake nights, wrestling with the problem. Something was wrong terribly wrong. Finally I had a brainstorm just before our first mission against the sub pens at St. Nazaire, got out of bed, went to my foot locker and pulled out a copy of an old ROTC artillery manual and started scribbling figures.
I based my calculations on probability of hits from a French 75-millimeter cannon on a target the size of a B-17 at a range of 25,000 feet (four to five miles straight up) for the Jerry flak gunners with their roughly comparable 88-millimeter flak batteries. The answer came out to 273 rounds fired per hit on a B- 17.
By golly, I told myself, those are pretty good odds. I am going to try flying straight and level on the bomb run even if it takes minutes instead of seconds. Otherwise we might as well all stay at home.
Group Commanders were, at that stage, free to advise their own tactics. So the 305th's first bomb run was from the time the target was identified until the bombs dropped. The bombs landed on target. No losses to flak. It worked. And it became S.0.P. (Standard Operating Procedure), for all groups, with the endorsement of Brigadier General Laurence S. "Larry" Kuter, Wing Commander, after statistics submitted to him and other Group C.O.'s showed that we had fewer losses to flak (but more battle damage) and far better bombing.
Having slain my first dragon, I took on others of varying sizes, and with varying degrees of success, with fresh confidence.
1. The Field Order. This was the blueprint for a mission, teletyped to all Groups from VIII Bomber Command (through Wing), and prepared by earnest but inexperienced non-bomber pilots, overwhelmed by new problems. It was a hodgpodge. I visited Wing headquarters and furnished the Operations section with a sample copy of the Field Order which had been S.0.P. in the 2nd Bomb Group at Langley Field, grouping all pertinent operational information under sub-headings of five paragraphs, always the same. -You could find what you needed to know without hunting through the whole field order. It made sense and was adopted.
2. Standardization of group formations. When I arrived, each group commander was going his own way with formations flown, and Wing tactics consisted of little more than groups "getting together" en route to and over the target.
Since we had never had enough airplanes in our training period of three months to fly a formation, the first day the weather permitted I scheduled a practice mission using a type of formation I considered best at that time. It was a complete debacle. The pilots simply did not have the training to fly it.
The next day I got on the radio in the top turret and started with my ship placed with two aircraft on my wings one about fifty feet above and behind me and the other fifty feet below and behind me. Then I placed another three-ship element above and behind the first. This formed the first (lead) squadron. The second squadron was placed above and behind the first squadron and the third squadron below and behind the first. Either the right or the left wing man could fly in the high position.
Most fighter attacks came out of the sun, so you could echelon away from the sun, thus uncovering all guns in the formation to meet the fighter attacks.
This formation was easy to fly with untrained crews, was effective our loss rate was lower than the other Groups and was finally adopted as standard in the Eighth Air Force.
3. Group and Wing integrity. The Wing comprised always two, and normally three Groups. (Postwar, in SAC, the Group became known as the Wing .) My policy was that a following Group never under any circumstances abandoned its Lead Group, even if it became obvious that its commander was off course or heading into other trouble. It was permissible to break radio silence in an attempt to correct him, but, regardless, you stuck with him. It was part of the rigid discipline of "the larger good."
By the same token, for example, Group integrity forbade a pilot's breaking formation to "cover" a crippled buddy. The reasoning behind the rule was amply borne out, before it was adopted, by bitter experience; when a crew left formation, for whatever laudable motive, something worse invariably happened' than if it had remained in formation doing its part to defend the group. For instance, you would lose two crews to fighters instead of one, or the weakened group formation would suffer extra losses because your defensive fire power was reduced by ten more guns.
A classical example of Wing Integrity was underlined on his first mission by Captain James M. Stewart (he of movie fame), while leading a Croup of B-24s. Jimmy Stewart received a commendation from his Wing Commander for sticking with him after Stewart repeatedly warned him (correctly) that he was wandering off course. Under a subsequent heavy fighter attack, and without the support of Stewart's defensive fire power, the errant Group would have been faced with annihilation. In fact both Groups could have been lost if Stewart had tried to lead his Group back to the main bomber stream alone.
4. Lead crews. I soon became convinced that it was totally unrealistic to expect bombardiers and navigators and pilots to become instant experts on unfamiliar targets after the target was disclosed at the briefing. Therefore I set up schools wherein the best qualified pilots, navigators and bombardiers were able to study all available target information, so that when a target was announced it was already an old friend. You had already studied the landmarks surrounding it until it was as familiar as your back yard the bend in the river at the Initial Point and the racetrack adjacent to the factory to be bombed.
These specially trained personnel soon became known as "Lead" crews and bore the brunt of tough missions, with every bombardier in the Group "toggling" his bombs when the lead bombardier released his on the bomb run. At one stroke you raised the accuracy of the whole Group from the common denominator to the level of your best man, and navigation improved accordingly. Pilots became skilled as human "automatic pilots" in case of failure of the real auto pilot from malfunction or battle damage, able to maintain heading, airspeed, altitude or rate of climb (during assembly) to very close tolerances.
5. Bad weather. Two kinds of weather plagued us in the ETO, both over England and the Continent lousy and worse from fogged-in air bases to cloud cover over the targets to winds aloft sometimes reaching one hundred miles per hour, harassing navigators and bombardiers on the bomb run, and sometimes jeopardizing the safe return of the entire force, faced with a mass ditching in the North Sea, out of fuel. Fortunately, it never happened.
Mark Twain notwithstanding, I tried to do two things about the weather. First, we experimented with crude radar bombing devices through the overcast, with indifferent results. Too much accuracy was compromised, resulting in "area" bombing of a "precision" target, and we were critically short of trained radar maintenance men.
Secondly, and this was crucial to the timing of the Regensburg-Schweinfurt mission of August 17, 1943, which I led, I had for some time required all takeoffs to be simulated blind takeoffs. The biggest bugaboo was the lack of ILS (Instrument Landing System) or GCA (Ground Controlled Approach) equipment, but we did have in the cockpit two reliable instruments the DG (Directional Gyro) and the Artificial Horizon. The pilot lowered his seat at the head of' the runway, concentrated on that faithful DG to hold him on a straight line down the runway, while his copilot acted as a safety measure to take over visually if the pilot got into trouble. Once airborne, the pilot ascended still relying on instruments as he circled around an assigned "splasher beacon" for a reference point, and for safe separation from other aircraft, until he broke out on top. Then different colored flares were fired to identify each Group leader.
The realistic practice program paid off on the Regensburg mission, when the fog forced you to follow a jeep to find the runway, yet all of my Groups were able to assemble roughly on time above the overcast. The Schweinfurt force, however, waited out the fog for about three hours before getting off to follow most of my route over Germany. The delay completely nullified the planned timing (fifteen minutes behind me) and allowed the Luftwaffe to land, rearm and refuel in time to meet the Schweinfurt force, after subjecting my force to the fiercest attack of the war. Nonetheless, we clobbered the ME-109 factory at Regensburg and the 1st Air Division severely damaged the ball-bearing complex at Schweinfurt, but our lack of resources with which to follow up swiftly softened the blows. (AIbert Speer, in his memoirs, expresses amazement at our apparent underestimation of the damage done.)
On the whole, we never came close to an all weather capability, for lack of sophisticated ground equipment, and the impact,on crew morale of a mission scrubbed because of the weather at the last moment continued to represent a dreadful let-down for taut nerves.
6. Major Repair. I fought a running, and losing, battle with the Air Service Command to speed up the repair of our battle-damaged aircraft. They owned the bird while it was in their hands and until they were good and ready to return it. I was fortunate, however, in having a master scrounger and do-it-yourself genius of a line chief turned Engineering Officer named Ben Fulkrod and a crackerjack Armament Officer, Ralph Cohen. Fulkrod had managed to smuggle into England some priceless machine tools and other metal-working equipment and could replace a whole wing that would have been "contracted" to the manufacturer in peacetime. Through judicious bartering (helping out another Group in return for a couple of spare generators), he kept me in better shape than my envious neighbors.
The gist of it was that we were faced with a wholesale problem of repair, in combat, compared to a retail problem in peacetime, when if an aircraft was out of commission it did not fly until it was repaired no deadline. Here in the U. K. we were snowed under by the demand for "maximum efforts," and the problem was not eased until the flow of replacement aircraft from home finally caught up with us in 1944. (I will say one good thing for bad weather: it helped us to catch up on maintenance and repair).
7. Training of New Groups. When I rose to Wing and then Air Division Commander, I followed the practice of putting new Group commanders under the aegis of an experienced Group for Indoctrination, easing the transition into combat. New lead crew members flew on actual missions, as individuals, with the parent group, and fairly realistic practice missions were flown over England at combat altitudes and distances. There was practice in group and wing assemblies and training in the latest wrinkles in radar bombing and gunnery. We still had to compensate for the time lag in the acceptance of combat lessons back home and perform some of the very latest modifications on arriving aircraft ourselves.
Beirne Lay has described to me the vivid contrast between my arrival in 1942 and his return in March 1944 as C.O, 487th Bomb Group, one of the last to reach England:
"We left our operational training base at Alamogordo, New Mexico, with seventy-two (versus thirty-six) brand-new aircraft and seventy-two crews trained to fly group formation. Every crew member was far better trained than in 1942, thanks to lessons learned in combat, and most of the latest aircraft modifications had been performed at the factory. We flew individually to Kansas, to Florida, to South America and over the South Atlantic route surveyed just before the war by LeMay and General George Brett, with excellent briefing facilities at every stop, to Dakar, Marrakech, thence to England.
"Remarkably, to my mind, every one of my seventy-two pilots arrived safely, new though they were to intercontinental navigation and the responsibility for a crew of ten and a four-engine aircraft.
"We received every assistance from LeMay's staff at Elvedon Hall. By no stretch of the imagination were we combat-ready upon arrival, but we were incomparably better off than the early groups. One example: if one of my aircraft was seriously battle-damaged, a brand new replacement came in from the depot the next day. Another: I was unhappy with my Flight Surgeon, an important cog in the Group machinery. After a considerable hassle, LeMay's A- 1 (personnel) section sent me down a real winner as a replacement."
8. Mission Report. Early on, I started sending up detailed mission reports to give Bomber Command a comprehensive accounting of where each bomb had landed, whether on target or a gross error, and other useful information. I also initiated critiques after every mission so that we could hash over our mistakes and profit by them next time out.
9. Gunnery. I was never satisfied with either our proficiency or equipment in gunnery results obtained in the ETO. Prewar, we simply had not devoted enough time or attention to the problem. With a battery of ten lethal fifty-caliber machine guns on each bomber (sometimes twelve), we should have been able to defend ourselves more efficiently than we did, granted that we still needed escort fighters, also an area of neglect in peacetime. We even had to teach our gunners to lay off all of the traditional oiling of their pieces; the excess oil froze at high altitude and caused malfunctions.
I sent many a letter, both in and out of channels, to the Training Command back home in an effort to introduce more realistic training for the gunners. There was some improvement, but never enough.
Postwar, we learned that our claims of enemy fighters destroyed were grossly exaggerated understandably enough when duplicate or even quadruplicate claims were reported from the heat of combat.
I hope that the foregoing practical considerations of a Group, Combat Wing and Air Division Commander's job will provide some understanding of what it actually took to translate the "visionary" doctrine of strategic bombing into day-to-day practice. Carrying out the theory so neatly projected by the theorists came to me, to quote our British cousins, as a "sticky wicket."
I doubt that any more complicated way to fight a war has ever been devised. The ramifications were endless. Just converting a country's peacetime industry to the production of aircraft, building huge new plants, greatly enlarging existing plants, and resorting to converted auto plants was a mighty challenge to begin with. Then, training a bomb Group in the first place, assembling hundreds of overloaded B-17s and B-24s in the congested air space over England for a mission and getting them to the target against desperate defenses and back home to fight another day would have curled the hair of a General Douhet, with his optimistic pen. I would say that it represented a practical achievement of major proportions, logistically, even had there been no enemy opposition whatever. We would have taken our losses if we had sent a thousand bomber stream on a mission to Greenland and back, unopposed.
Let it be said that command of the 305th left an indelible mark on my heart and mind. The triumphs, and the scars too, will live with me always. But for the purposes of this essay I must move on to the area of higher command, beginning with my promotion to Brigadier and later Major General in command of the 3rd Air Division at Elvedon Hall, there being eventually two other Air Divisions the 1st and the 2nd (B-24s) as the Eighth Air Force expanded to maturity, all three Air Divisions comprising about sixteen bomb groups each.
Even at that level I was not always privy to the background of the fierce struggle behind the scenes engulfing Eaker in his efforts to keep the concept of daylight strategic bombing alive. Churchill, Sir Archibald Sinclair of the Air Ministry and Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal of the RAF were all critical of our seemingly slow progress; at home, the Army and Navy were keeping Hap Arnold constantly on the defensive, anxious to divert part (or all) of our resources to their own ends. In a nutshell, strategic bombing was not proving itself, yet.
I did not see the confidential memoranda that were being circulated between the powers-that-were (nor, indeed, was Eaker always apprised). But I heaved a sigh of relief when Eaker won the "Battle of Casablanca" in early 1943. Roosevelt had already announced to Churchill that he would go along with the latter's desire to merge the American bombing effort with the RAF's night bombing strategy. Hap Arnold sent posthaste for Eaker to fly down to the Conference from London to defend the daylight concept. Eaker, with his aide Major James Parton as fact-finder and proof reader, worked day and night at Casablanca preparing a twenty-three page summary (based on Intelligence material provided by Colonel Harris B. Hull, A-2). Aware of Churchill's impatience with long-winded documents, Faker boiled it down and presented it orally. Surprisingly, Churchill changed his mind, taking a particular fancy to the phrase, "by bombing the German devils around the clock, we can prevent them from getting any rest."
In a pivotal decision, the "Casablanca Directive" was officially adopted, becoming the basis for the "Combined Bomber Offensive."
From then on, we had a firm foundation for our daylight policy, although there continued to be shifting emphases on target priorities. Production of Luftwaffe fighter aircraft (and their destruction in the air and on the ground) continued to be given top priority, followed by transportation (primarily rail) and oil. In retrospect it appears that oil should have received a higher priority, since petroleum shortages finally sounded the death knell of the Third Reich, immobilizing both Hitler's tanks and grounding his aircraft.
Shortages of ball bearings, though acute, did not prove to be as crippling as hoped; Germany continued to receive the full output of ball bearings from neutral Sweden and Switzerland, plus the reduced output of Schweinfurt. In any case, the price had been too high, for the time being. From the end of 1943 to the Big Week in February, 1944, strategic daylight bombing perforce ground to an abrupt halt, while the Eighth Air Force waited on delivery of satisfactory long-range fuel tanks to give our fighter escorts full range to the target and back. It was a vindication of Major General Claire Chennault's foresight back in the thirties, at the old Air Corps Tactical School at Montgomery, Alabama, when he championed the fighter cause in debates with Hal George. The Eighth simply could not risk repeating the unacceptable losses incurred on deep penetrations, naked over German skies for want of fighter protection.
And then there was the surprising German recuperative power from bombing attacks. You might say that we gave them a thorough course in repairing battle damage, primarily because Eaker had no choice but to violate a pertinent principle of war mass. For too long, playing catch-up, he lacked the resources to follow up initial attacks soon enough, and with sufficient mass, as after the Regensburg and Schweinfurt missions.
Throughout my tour in the ETO, there were drains on the strategic bombing mission from many quarters: the diversion of our Bomb Groups to other theaters, i.e. to North Africa in support of Ike's ground war, the campaign against submarine pens and the use of bombers on anti-submarine patrols. And again, after I left and General James H. Doolittle took command of the Eighth, there was the diversion of bombing to support the invasion and the ground offensive. All of these diversions, though important to the Army and Navy, were at the expense of our main objective strategic bombardment of the German war production capability. Spaatz and Doolittle were opposed but had to go along.
Summing up, we paid the price of unpreparedness, when forced by a variety of considerations to fight before we were ready to wage war by true air power, until the arrival of Jim Doolittle in early 1944. The Eighth could now attack in thousand-bomber (plus) streams and apply the principal of mass. Jim was there for the "kill," and he grasped the opportunity with that high caliber of leadership which has characterized all of his endeavors in war and peace.
In the summer of 1944, on the eve of the payoff of strategic bombing in Europe, I was ordered to India to get into the B-29 program.
Why the B-29? Our planners, while there was still a chance of losing England in 1940 as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier," during the Battle of Britain, had busied themselves with drawing-board schemes for the contingency of falling back on heavy bombers of intercontinental range the experimental Boeing B-15 and the Douglas B-19 (under powered and lacking in performance), the Consolidated B-32 and the Consolidated B-36. The B-32, though unpressurized, was put into limited production, while the B-36 was too far in the future for a "worst case" situation (postwar it became the early mainstay of SAC, before the B-47 and the B-52). So we put our chips on the pressurized B-29, the best bet. Curiously, even at this late stage of the war, Britain was the only other participant engaged in strategic bombing; Hitler, after losing the Battle of Britain for lack of a strategic bomber, never corrected his error; the Soviet Union, France, Italy and Japan never really attempted strategic bombing.
When I checked out on the B-29 in an effort to determine the best way to fly it (if there was one), the aircraft was in the throes of horrendous difficulties stemming from all-out efforts to come up with modifications for its defects. Engines overheated, swallowed valves, cracked their casings and caught fire with disturbing regularity. Blisters (bulging "glass windows") blew out under pressurization sometimes catapulting crew members out into the atmosphere to boot and they fogged over. There were bugs in the central fire-control system for gunnery, and there seemed to be no end to lesser problems.
But the B-29 could potentially haul a very big load of bombs a very long way at very high altitudes, and I believed that it represented a tool with which we could get results against Japan.
Within the confines of a short essay, I can hope only to touch on the high spots of my B-29 experience, which began in India near Calcutta, with a jump-off forward base at Chengtu, were we fueled up a logistical nightmare that entailed seven B-29 flights to deliver sufficient fuel for one B-29 sortie. China was mostly in Japanese hands. The over-all logistical facts of life were insurmountable, topped by the fact that the B-29 just was not ready. (We never did get all of the bugs out of it right up to the Japanese surrender.) Yet history must record that it sufficed, after I was transferred to the XXI Bomber Command in the Marianas, within range for the strategic bombing of the home islands of Japan, with Guam, Tinian, Saipan and Iwo Jima at last in our hands.
When I took command on Guam on January 19, 1945, I knew without being told what was expected of me. We had not been getting results. It was going to be up to me to get results or let Hap Arnold down.
Arnold had achieved a miracle in getting personnel allocated for the B-29's, getting it built and, above all, getting a strategic force out from under the theater commanders and directly under the Joint Chiefs (although still Dependent on General Douglas McArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz for logistical support). At long last the dream of autonomy fostered by General Frank Andrews with his GHQ Air Force, prewar, had come true: central direction of air power by airmen. For me, in many ways, it was the European experience all over again but with a difference. This time I had the "muscle" to carry out my basic ideas. I got aircraft-in commission on a maximum scale through PLM (Production Line Maintenance), introduced radar operator schools and installed GCA (Ground Controlled Approach) radio installations on Iwo Jima. The first reaction of pilots was predictable: "I'm not about to put myself in the hands of some meathead on the ground," but skepticism changed overnight to amazement after B-29 pilots, struggling home from Tokyo through bad weather, battle-damaged, were "talked" into safe landings at Iwo. (After the war, in SAC, I made it S.0.P. for pilots to execute instrument takeoffs and GCA landings on every flight, routinely.)
I demanded, and supervised, the creation of an instrument for the destruction of every worthwhile target in the Japanese islands. The deed was done in seven months, with an average force of four hundred aircraft, exploiting every human and mechanical resource to its capacity. Japanese targets being largely inflammable, we hit vulnerable areas with fire bombs. Let me emphasize that this was not a deliberate deviation from precision to area bombing. We only hit areas when enemy war making capacity was spread over large areas, as in the "cottage industries" surrounding factories or when weather forced us into radar bombing, visual precision being impossible. Helpfully, Frank Armstrong's 315th Combat Wing arrived with much improved radar equipment toward the end.
To save weight for additional bombs, we inaugurated low altitude bombing without ammunition for defensive fire power on our devastating incendiary missiles, and we got our operational rate per bomber up to I20 hours per month versus 30 hours normally flown in the ETO. In fact, we ran temporarily fresh out of the munitions with which Admiral Nimitz was supposed to supply us he did not believe I could use them up at the optimistic rate I predicted. We took our losses, but the chances of completing a combat tour proved to be actually better than surviving training accidents at home with the B-29.
"Tooey" Spaatz, triumphant in Europe, arrived in August 1945, under orders from Arnold to take over the latter's command of the Twentieth Air Force; after a thorough briefing and inspection he was satisfied that we were "getting results," sending the following telegram to Lorry Norstad, his Chief of Staff:
HAVE HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO CHECK UP ON BAKER-29 OPERATIONS AND BELIEVE THIS IS THE BEST ORGANIZED AND MOST TECHNICALLY AND TACTICALLY PROFICIENT MILITARY ORGANIZATION THAT THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN TO DATE.
Arnold sent me back to Washington to brief the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the unpopular theme (with the Chiefs) that no invasion of Japan was now necessary. There was really nothing left to bomb, and Japan was at our mercy. I met with a cool reception. Marshall's plans for an invasion had already been made and would be carried out.
Events overtook that decision when one of my B-29s, Paul W. Tibbetts's Enola Guy, dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 (Arnold alone voted against it as unnecessary.) The Japanese were already suing for peace through channels in neutral Switzerland, via the Soviets, on the strength of the damage wrought by our conventional bombing, but our ally never mentioned it to us. Stalin had other fish to fry, a share of the victor's spoils, and presumably wished to place the moral onus of dropping "The Bomb" squarely on the United States.
I do not regret President Truman's decision it speeded up the denouement but I considered dropping the bomb no more necessary than the planned invasion of Japan. The jig was already up. Neither, for that matter, did I agree with the decision to invade Europe. I believed that once we had the complete upper hand in the air we could have waited for an inevitable German capitulation. And if we had made it clear that no invasion was planned Hitler could have transferred his West Wall divisions to the Eastern Front to stem the advance of the Soviets, far from Berlin, until a German collapse resulted in surrender to Allied policing forces. I think that the findings of The Strategic Bombing Survey, published after the war, tend to bear me out.
So there you have it. We proved, certainly the hard way, that strategic warfare by air in World War II was the indispensable element in victory. However, to be effective you must have a strategic force in being to carry out its mission in defense of this country.
We almost lost World War II by being so unprepared for it, in disregard of the advice of our first Commander in Chief that "the best road to peace is to be prepared for war." The basic lesson of World War II, hence, is that our nation must always be ready to fight, when forced to, and win.
The Twentieth Air Force and the B-29s it used to bomb Japan shortened the war by months, perhaps years, and saved, it has been reliably estimated, a million or more U.S. casualties by ending the war before a planned invasion of the heavily defended Japanese homeland was undertaken an invasion that was scheduled to begin November 1, 1945, less than three months after Japan capitulated. That invasion would undoubtedly have taken place had the B-29 program been delayed or had it and the bombing of Japan not been pushed as fast as humanly possible in spite of the cost in lives and the very difficult odds, choices and problems that were encountered.
Throughout the chronicle that follows, I believe that you will be struck by the number of close calls that the B-29 program itself had events that could have very easily terminated or mortally compromised the program or the capabilities of the B-29 airplane had it not been for the outstanding courage, foresight and abilities of a relatively few key people-both military and civilian. Two of the very tough choices they made were to put the B-29 into production even before the engineering was completed and to commit them to combat before developmental testing could get them more fully debugged.
This story is about the early development of the XB-29 and particularly about a very important man to that early development the famous experimental test pilot and Boeing Director of Flight and Research, Edmund T. Allen (photo), who lost his life trying to make the B-29 combat ready as quickly as possible. Without Eddie Allen the B-29 program might never have succeeded. B-29 (42-24519), THE EDDIE ALLEN, flown by the 40th Bomb Group was named posthumously in honor of Eddie.
The unsurpassed experience and ability that Eddie Allen applied make the B-29 into the awesome giant that it became can best be appreciated by a look at Eddie's aeronautical experience.
Before we entered World War I, Eddie Allen worked for three years, after his father died, to help support his family. He then finished one year at the University of Illinois. In 1917 we entered World War I when he was 21. Eddie enlisted in the Army, learned to fly, became a flight instructor and taught advanced aerobatics. He was sent to the British flight test center in England to learn British aircraft flight testing techniques. Before the armistice in November 1918 he returned to the Army's flight test center at McCook Field to apply his flight experience and overseas observations. After the armistice he became the first test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics -- forerunner of today's NASA. In 1919 he returned to the University of Illinois for a year, studied aeronautical engineering for two years at M.I.T. and topped that off by entering glider competitions in England and France in a glider he built while at M.I.T. From 1923 to 1925 he did free lance test piloting and became a civilian test pilot at McCook Field. From July 1925 to mid 1927 Eddie flew rebuilt WWI DeHavilands as an air mail pilot for the Post Office Department over the treacherous Rocky Mountains routes between Cheyenne and Salt Lake City-sometimes under extremely adverse conditions. Starting on September 1, 1927 when the Post Office Department got out of the flying business, Eddie joined Boeing Air Transport flying Boeing 40-As an air mail pilot on their new Chicago -- San Francisco run. Over the next five years Eddie began to do more and more test flying particularly for Boeing Airplane Co., an affiliate of Boeing Air Transport which later became United Air Lines. By 1932 Eddie Allen was a recognized, established, highly respected, independent test pilot and consulting aeronautical engineer. In the years that followed his accomplishments became legendary from landing a Northrup Beta with jammed aileron controls out of a barrel roll to developing the first ever effective cruise control techniques based on some 200 hours of flight testing on the DC-2 to being a widely published author mostly on test flying but a few just plain good flying stories but all with a serious message. He worked for most if not all of the major aircraft manufacturers at one time or another and for Eastern Airlines and Pan American Airways.
For at least some insurance companies, Eddie Allen's blessing on a new aircraft was a prerequisite to them insuring it. If Eddie was to make the first flight and do the initial testing on a new design, the insurance premiums would be substantially lower and the manufacturer could have great confidence that his creation would come back in one piece. Over the years Eddie made initial flights on over thirty different new models of aircraft. These included the Boeing Model 83 in 1928, the forerunner of the famous F4Bs and P-12s; the Douglas DC-2 in 1934; the Sikorsky S43 in 1936; the Boeing XB-15 in 1937; the Boeing B-17B, C, D, E and F in 1939 to 1942; the Boeing XPBB-l and XB-29 in 1942; and the Lockheed Model 049 Constellation on January 9, 1943, just 39 days before his death in the Number 2 XB-29 crash. That Eddie Allen should be taken by the Air Corps from his vital job at Boeing to make the first flight on the Lockheed Constellation is a further testimonial to the high esteem with which he was regarded.
Between December 31, 1938 and January 20, 1939 Eddie Allen, still as a free lance test pilot, test flew the new Boeing 307 thirty three passenger Stratoliner. Two months later on March 18,1939 on its 19th test flight the 307 crashed killing all on board. Boeing chief test pilot, Julius Barr was in the pilot's seat an engineer for a prospective airline customer was in the copilot's seat. That engineer had been pressing Boeing hard to find out what would happen if the airplane were stalled with the No. 1 and No. 2 engines throttled and the No. 3 and No. 4 engines at take off power. Boeing refused to demonstrate such a dangerous, unrealistic condition but did agree to approach the condition cautiously. One can only speculate as to just what went on in the cockpit and what really caused the stall, spin, partial recovery, airplane breakup and crash that occurred. Eddie returned to Seattle to testify at the April 3, 1939 CAA Air Safety Board hearing on the crash. He was there as an expert witness, a highly respected test pilot and the man who had made the first 15 of the 19 test flights prior to the accident.
While in Seattle for the CAA hearings, Eddie had a conversation with Bob Minshall, Boeing Vice President and General Manager. Eddie told Minshall that calling in a test pilot to fly a new design after the airplane was built was no longer a proper approach. Eddie felt that the real need in the aviation community was for exhaustive aeronautical research both on the ground in laboratories and wind tunnels and in flight with sophisticated instrumentation and equipment and specialized flight crews. Ground and flight research needed to be carefully coordinated to complement each other. The results should be combined with the expertise of the specialized flight crews and engineering test pilots and be applied during the design of any new airplane. Eddie felt that Boeing was in a unique position to do it. Boeing had the big airplanes needed to carry all the instrumentation, equipment and specialized crews. It had the need-its real future was in big airplanes where it already had an enviable background. Minshall liked the concept and so did Claire Egtvedt, Boeing President. The grim reality of the recent Stratoliner accident added emphasis to Eddie's ideas. On April 26, 1939 Edmund T. Allen became Boeing's first and only Director of Aerodynamics and Flight Research a position which he held for almost four crucial years. It was a fortunate, far reaching event for Boeing and our country. The timing was fortuitous. His beneficial impact on the B-17, B-29 and even today's jet fleets would ultimately touch the lives of literally millions of people most of whom never knew his name or realized his contributions. This is no exaggeration when one considers the huge B-17 fleets that bombed Germany and the massive B-29 raids on Japan and the lives that were saved and otherwise touched by their parts in bringing WWII to an earlier end. Modern worldwide aerodynamic and flight research which is such a vital part of today's multifaceted aerospace industries, including modern commercial jet transports, have their roots in and evolve from the ideas that Eddie Allen brought to Boeing in April 1939 and implemented shortly thereafter.
In April 1939 Boeing was many things. It was already a superb designer of the big airplanes Eddie had referred to such as the B-15 and B-17 bombers, the 314 Pan Am Clippers and the 307 Stratoliner. It had only a so-so production reputation, particularly with the Army whose B-17Bs were behind schedule. The 314 deliveries were well underway and the second 307 was nearing flight test stage. Boeing was losing money, was in deep financial trouble and was struggling to survive. It was a company with people who were courageous, full of vision, imagination, integrity, determination and a dedication to design airplanes that were superior and right. Boeing designs were innovative but at the same time, conservative. Boeing would not pursue a poor or even a mediocre design even though it might appear to be the politically desirable course.
In late 1938 Boeing had started thinking about a superbomber an airplane for which, at that time, there was no established military requirement and no money also, an airplane which no one knew how to build. The Army's Oliver Echols and Bob Olds talked about an airplane with a 5,000 mile range capable of hitting an enemy aircraft carrier when it was still at least two days offshore. The B-17 could strike a comer that was only one day out -- too close for comfort. The key to a successful superbomber would be to get the drag way down. Many preliminary design studies were run on numerous configurations including such ideas as new flat liquid cooled engines buried in the wing. Some were tempting but none would really make a good airplane -- so the studies were continued in an attempt to find an idea that would give the needed breakthrough.
Eddie Allen's reputation now combined with Boeing's commitment to a serious, full time scientific aerodynamic and flight research program was a strong attraction for some of the best brains in the country. Noticeable among them was George Schairer who wanted to work for Eddie at Boeing. Schairer was M.I.T. educated, had been an aerodynamicist at Consolidated and would leave his mark on Boeing airplanes for decades to come. His first job for Eddie was to put a new Stratoliner model Eddie had built into the wind tunnel to try to find a way of improving the 307 so that even if it were very badly mistreated a repeat of the 18 March accident could be avoided. A famous Boeing trademark, the dorsal fin, was George's answer. It went on all Stratoliners and B-17s after the B-17D. It greatly reduced the possibility of stalling the vertical tail even under very extreme yaw conditions and made the B-17 a much safer and more stable bombing platform. The somewhat shortened dorsal fin used on the B-29 provided similar benefits for the flight crews of the Twentieth Air Force.
Eddie now had George Schairer apply his talents to the struggling superbomber drag problem to which a satisfactory answer had still not been found in the many configurations that had been considered. It was Schairer who proposed, promoted and developed the solution. It lay in abandoning the up to then conventional approach in favor of concentrating first on developing a wing with the lowest possible drag. Schairer's view was that the wing is typically the big drag item on an airplane and therefore provides the greatest potential for drag reduction The result was, for its time, a thin, very high aspect ratio (long and narrow) wing with a very high wing loading (small wing for the weight it carried). The airfoil section was also very critical. George was familiar with the, at the time, controversial Davis wing which was planned for the B-24. When efforts to obtain permission to use the Davis patents dragged on, Boeing decided to develop its own wing, which George Schairer did. The Boeing "117" wing was the result. Very large high lift wing flaps also developed by Schairer were added to permit takeoffs and landings in reasonable distances with the smallest possible wing. The fuselage, nacelles, fairings, equipment, etc. were now designed so that they added a minimum of drag.
By August 1939 there finally was a superbomber configuration that Boeing could be proud to propose to the Air Corps. It was called the Model 341. It would later grow into the Model 345 and eventually become the B-29. The wind tunnel work, the research and development done by Eddie Allen, George Shairer and their people had finally paid off. Later as the detail design progressed, Eddie and George applied the same painstaking "try, try, try again" philosophy and effort to developing the flight control system and other details that needed attention.
The B-29 was the first (and only) airplane that Eddie Allen could participate in and watch evolve from concept through initial flight testing and into large scale planned production which was designed under the philosophy and in the environment that Eddie first proposed to Bob Minshall that April 1939 day in Minshall's Seattle office. Admittedly the B-29s had their problems, however, it is noteworthy that the aerodynamics of the thousands of B-29s that were built remained essentially unchanged from those of the first XB-29 on its initial flight. The B-29 crews of the Twentieth Air Force who managed to control and get their sometimes badly damaged B-29s from over Japan to safe landings owe their successes to a substantial degree to the work, philosophies and contributions of Eddie Allen. Needless to say there were many other people, civilian and military, who also played vital roles in the B-29 program. Space here does not allow for the adequate recognition they deserve.
The model 341 superbomber configuration breakthrough came just in time. The Army began showing real interest in the fall of 1939 as a result of the shock of Hitler's 1 September invasion of Poland and the coincidentally simultaneous completion of a special Air Board study of hemisphere defense that emphasized the need for a flexible, long range bomber fleet.
Support for a superbomber spread rapidly. On 5 February 1940 Boeing was one of several aircraft manufacturers to receive from the Army an invitation to bid on a high altitude, high speed bombardment airplane with a requirement for a 5,333 mile range with a 2,000 pound bomb load. A month later Boeing proposed the Model 341 with a gross weight of 85,000 pounds to meet the requirement. Four 2,000 horsepower Pratt and Whitney engines would be used. The wing loading would be a whopping 64 pounds per square foot double what had previously been considered acceptable by the experts. Eddie Allen had convinced the doubters that with a very big, properly designed wing flap they could get away with it. The fact that Eddie's aerodynamics group would have to develop the flap, that Eddie would fly the airplane and that he was confident of success won the day. In addition, extreme measures would be required to further reduce drag as much as possible. Among many other things flush rivets and butt joints would be required and that would add to the manufacturing problems. But confidence was high that the 341 would be a good airplane.
Several agonizing weeks passed with no word on the superbomber competition. Then the Air Corps announced that none of the proposals were acceptable. The requirements had changed as a result of lessons being learned in Europe. The superbomber must have more armament, powered gun turrets, armor plate, self sealing fuel tanks, higher cabin pressures, a 16,000 pound bomb load capability for shorter flight and no decrease in performance! A revised proposal was required in 30 days. Back to the drawing board!
The Boeing Model 341 became the Model 345. The gross weight went from 85,000 pounds to 112,000 pounds (and later to a maximum overload design gross weight of 120,000 pounds). The wing span increased from 124 feet to 141 feet. More power was required and the new 2,200 horsepower Wright R-3350 engines would have to be used instead of the 2,000 horsepower Pratt and Whitney. The 2,200 horsepower Wright was an undeveloped engine and there were serious reservations about whether it would be a good engine. Boeing was very uncomfortable about the Model 345 -- about being pushed too far into unexplored areas. To make things even worse, there was now serious talk about ordering large production quantities before an experimental prototype could be built The risks were becoming very high. Boeing came very close to proposing a smaller airplane with which they would be more comfortable but which would not be what the Air Corps said was required. On the other hand, the war was spreading rapidly in Europe and threatened to spread much further. The expanded superbomber requirements of the Air Corps might very well prove necessary even though the technological risks were very high. After careful soul searching with the war in mind, Boeing uncharacteristically decided to submit the Model 345 configuration with a strong determination to do everything possible to make it successful. The Model 345 proposal was submitted on 11 May 1940. Within weeks the Air Corps told Boeing they were issuing a contract for engineering, wind tunnel models and a mock-up of the Model 345 which would be the B-29. Furthermore, production contracts for perhaps 200 B-29s would be let long before an experimental prototype could be flown. Clearly the Air Corps had joined Boeing in a desperate gamble on the success of the Model 345 design. After Paris fell on 14 June 1940 Congress was asked for money for 990 B-29s. The ante had just been raised! On 6 September 1940 a formal contract for two XB-29s was released. Engineering studies which had started with only a few people in late 1938 had now grown into a full scale production design effort which would require 1,433,026 engineering manhours before the first XB-29 would fly. Eddie Allen and George Shairer were kept busy with literally hundreds of wind tunnel and flight research investigations to everlastingly reduce drag and to feed the design project the necessary aerodynamic and flight test data to permit the design to move forward as rapidly as possible -- and to confirm design decisions and minimize the risks wherever possible. A PT-19 experimental wing flight test program and three specially configured B-17s conducted flight tests of many different configurations of developmental items for the B-29 such as propellers, cowling, turbo superchargers, empennage, rudder, elevators, ailerons and flaps. These tests helped to find the best configurations and to optimize such things as control forces and control balance and to reduce the technical risks.
Additional growth during the B-29 design phase increased the design maximum overload gross weight to 120,000 pounds and the corresponding wing loading to 69 pounds per square foot.
There were to be two more serious "wing loading crises" long before the XB-29 ever got off the ground. The first was when a new Air Corps "Plane X" with only a 53 pound per square foot wing loading was a "dog" to fly and in addition would not get above 28,000 feet. The Air Corps intently questioned Boeing about the wing loading on the B-29. The second and even more serious crisis was when a respected aircraft manufacturer's engineers reviewed Boeing data and told the Air Corps that Boeing was very wrong in its predicted B-29 performance. They said that the B-29 would be 40 miles per hour slower, would have a 5,000 foot lower ceiling and would have 1,000 miles less range than Boeing had predicted. In the face of such criticism, it took real courage and confidence on the part of Boeing and Air Corps principals involved not to increase the B-29 wing area to substantially reduce the wing loading from the planned 69 pounds per square foot -- a step which Boeing firmly maintained would be catastrophic to performance and, by then, to production schedules. Again it was Eddie Allen's and George Schairer's work that was being challenged and who needed to defend their positions if they really had confidence in their predictions. The price for being wrong either way would have been catastrophic to the B-29 successes of the Twentieth Air Force. They had the courage of their convictions and commanded sufficient respect to convince their inquisitioners that they were right and to continue the rapidly expanding B-29 program without change. Again a catastrophe was averted. It is interesting to note that in combat the B-29s were frequently successfully flown at 140,000 pounds gross weights unheard of wing loading of over 80 pounds per square foot!
While the many B-29 problems were being addressed, Eddie Allen had had another extremely important task to accomplish. That was to build the kind of a Flight Research operation that he had outlined to Bob Minshall in his office in early April 1939. At that time no one realized how crucial it would be to the all out war effort that was to come.
In the following three years Eddie built a sophisticated Boeing flight research capability that was second to none. His basic purpose was to safely, economically and quickly obtain and disseminate accurate, quantitative flight test data. This would help find, develop and prove the best possible configurations from perhaps hundreds of candidates. The data would be used to determine the safety of the article being tested, the degree to which it met its guarantees and requirements, its adequacy for the purpose intended, areas needing improvement, ways of improving the existing article or making the next design as good as possible and, finally, the best way of operating the equipment in service. To accomplish these goals he hired the best people he could get with as close to the qualifications he wanted and then trained and developed them into the skillfully expert team that was required to accomplish his vision. Most of the flight crew members and a high percent of the flight test department ground personnel were engineers. Each had weeks of formal, structured classroom training tailored to specific assignments. There was "hands on" training in the altitude chamber and in the appropriate airplanes and with test and safety equipment. There was periodic recurring training as necessary to maintain the highest possible skill level to minimize personnel risks and to obtain high quality data.
It should be noted here in passing that there were three completely separate flight test groups at Boeing with entirely different people reporting through different organizational lines. One was Production Flight Test which was responsible for flying every new production airplane to make sure there were no manufacturing or quality control problems and to make any necessary adjustments before turning the airplane over to the customer for acceptance. Another was the customer flight acceptance group. In the case of B-17s and B-29s they were Air Corps officers who flew and accepted the airplanes for the Army. The third was the Research Flight Test Department which was Eddie Allen's creation and is referred to throughout this paper. It conducted engineering, experimental and research flight testing. In the purest sense those were really three different kinds of flight testing that were all conducted in Eddie Allen's department. For the most part all three were done by the same people using the same methods although it was recognized that certain tests in any of the categories might potentially require specialized or exceptional skills and thus warrant selective picking of specific flight crew members. First flights on new models of airplanes fell in this category. Because of the similarities in methods and crews and the fact that some flights might involve engineering, experimental and research testing, the three terms are often used interchangeably with something less than precise regard for the differences.
Eddie Allen's Flight Research Department was under Al Reed, Chief of Flight Test and Chief Test Pilot. It was organized into functional groups such as: pilots and copilots; the other specialized flight crew members, for the most part flight test engineers; the instrumentation group who was responsible for obtaining or designing and making, calibrating, installing, servicing and maintaining the vast amounts of standard and specialized instrumentation and photographic equipment required to measure and record the many variables that needed to be measured; the analysis group who transcribed, corrected with calibration data, plotted or tabulated the corrected data, analyzed the results and prepared the final reports for distribution; the liaison group who worked with the mechanics and shops to make sure that the airplane configuration and instrumentation were in accordance with the requirements established by the Project Flight Test Engineer in charge of each test airplane; a flight equipment group to service, store and maintain items such as parachutes, oxygen masks, bailout and walk-around oxygen bottles, etc.; and an administrative support group.
Prior to each flight the airplane was prepared to conform with the very specific written test and configuration requirements. A very detailed, specific Plan of Test setting forth each test condition was prepared for each test flight, given to each of the some 10 flight crew members and then gone over in detail in the pre-flight conference so everyone knew exactly what to expect and what was expected of him in flight.
During normal flight the basic flight crew performed their duties in the conventional manner. During the flight test phases the Project Flight Test Engineer would be slightly aft of and between the pilot and copilot to provide the best possible communication and awareness between those three people and, in the case of the B-29, the flight engineer as well. A normal flight test crew on B-17s and B-29s consisted of about 10 people. The additional people manned the special instrumentation and equipment involved in the test. All had inter phone contact. A typical instrumentation load might include two photo recorders with 40 or so instruments and a camera in each; two or three manometer boards to record 40 or 50 pressures; one or two potentiometers to record 50 to 100 temperatures; a Brown recorder that could be selectively set for continuous recording of any one of many different potentially critical temperatures; and perhaps an oscillograph to record strain gage or vibration data on structural demonstration or flutter flight tests. Large bundles of wires or tubing connected each instrument with the appropriate transmitters on propellers, engines, nacelles, wings, control surfaces, etc. Manual and photographic recording of data was routine. Frequency of recording depended upon the requirements of the test condition that was set up. For instance, automatic recording once a second for perhaps three minutes during a stabilized performance condition was common and produced a lot of performance and cooling data to be analyzed. The Project Flight Test Engineer coordinated the activities of the entire crew, kept a master log of events and set the appropriate recording frequency of all cameras from his master control. At every recording station there was a coordination light and a coordination counter that clicked over once a second that provided precise coordination of all manual and photographic data from before takeoff to after landing. Typically one pilot would concentrate entirely on flying the airplane to precisely stabilize and maintain the planned flight condition. The other pilot would set up the engine power, set cowl or wing flap positions, maybe operate special equipment such as an engine water injection system and monitor everything going on inside and outside the airplane to be able to anticipate and react immediately to cope with any emergency. In the XB -29 the flight engineer helped with particularly the power plant related tasks.
Immediately after every flight there was a highly structured but pretty informal post-flight conference that was recorded verbatum in its entirety by a court type stenotypist. The conference was attended by the entire flight crew and any key ground personnel who had a direct interest in the flight. These could include: design project and staff engineers who had requested specific test conditions and who might have to design corrections or request additional tests based on problems encountered and the data obtained; technical and management representatives from outside suppliers whose components were being tested such as engines, propellers, carburetors, accessories, brakes, armament; flight test instrumentation engineers who wanted to know how their instrumentation worked and what they needed to do before the next flight; the data analysis supervisor whose people would have to take the vast amounts of manual and recorded data and sort out what should be processed; the shop foreman and quality control supervisor who wanted to know of any airplane problems and any special actions needed from them for the next flight; customer representatives, usually at least an Air Corps quality control supervisor and for particularly important flights perhaps high level company and customer management. A post-flight conference might have as few as a dozen or as many as forty or more people. It might last for only five minutes or as long as a couple of hours. The Project Flight Test Engineer or perhaps the Project Test Pilot was chairman. The short items were usually disposed of first so most of the people could leave and get back to their work. The test conditions that were run were each reviewed using the Plan of Test as the agenda. Any unusual events were noted. Any clarifying questions were asked and answered while circumstances were still clearly remembered. Plans for the next flight were tentatively made before the conference adjourned.
Before their day was over the steno typists (sometimes two alternated) would have transcribed their verbatim recording of the post-flight conference so that it could be distributed the next morning to all those with a need to know. The Project Flight Test Engineer would make every effort to complete and distribute his "Report of Test" also on the following day. It was a written summary of the test flight conditions run along with his log sheet The system was not allowed to get bogged down. Flight test data promptly got to those who needed it.
Eddie Allen said "Flight Testing Is A Sound Business" and wrote a paper proving it. It is also an expensive business usually involving heavily instrumented airplanes that would be hard, expensive, and time consuming to replace. Sometimes they are one of a kind. With the highly organized, structured approach that Eddie developed, risks, costs and time were minimized while results and accuracy were maximized.
Eddie's drive to make airplanes as safe as possible extended to the special needs of military aircraft. He and Boeing worked particularly hard to design and build combat damage tolerant aircraft. It allowed many B-17 and B-29 crews to get to safety in spite of extreme combat damage.
When Pearl Harbor hit on 7 December 1941, Eddie Allen had his organization set up as described. It was operating smoothly and he was in the process of expanding it. Including Eddie, there were only four pilots at that time doing engineering flight testing at Boeing. In early January 1942 I started working for Eddie along with six other new copilots and twice that many new flight engineers. We were moved quickly through school and the formal training program and acquired B-17 experience with the production acceptance crews. Most of our engineering flight test efforts in 1942 were spent trying to find out how to make the B-17 work at altitude and how to make crews safer and allow them to operate more efficiently while unpressurized at altitudes to add a little above 35,000 feet. Between April and the end of 1942 I flew a number of times with Eddie as his copilot on the B-17 and XPBB-l twin engine flying boat.
When I first met Eddie in January 1942 I was surprised. Although I had no preconceived ideas, I did not expect the world renown test pilot to be of so slight a build and so unassuming. He weighed about 145 pounds and was about 5'8" tall. In those first moments he fit better my image of a naturally friendly, soft spoken, mild mannered midwestern farmer. It was hard then to visualize him skillfully controlling the sometimes huge, sometimes balky airplanes he had tested.
As I got to know Eddie better over the subsequent 14 months, I came to have very great respect, admiration and affection for him. I have never heard anyone say an unkind word about Eddie Allen. On the contrary, there have been many very complimentary words used to describe Eddie. They include: calm, competent, skillful, precise, earnest, ingenious, courageous, intensely curious, dedicated, sincere, pleasant, congenial, gentlemanly, retiring, friendly, unassuming, generous and the list goes on and I'll bet there is at least one story or act of Eddie's to fit each word. No wonder his people were so dedicated to him. In spite of his great personal ability, he let me, his copilot, do most of the flying when I was with him. He was a kind but precise teacher. I learned a lot from him in flight and on the ground. He made me feel that he had great faith in me. I believe he was the same with most of us. It made one determined to do everything possible to justify that faith and confidence. Although he ran a tight ship with highly structured procedures, I don't ever remember feeling resentment or rebellion against the discipline perhaps because it seemed so right, so logical, so proper. He was a great team leader and a tremendous inspiration to us.
Eddie was a conservative test pilot -- not prone to take chances. He understood his limitations and those of the equipment he was testing. He did not like the then common Hollywood depiction of a test pilot as a brash, wild, flamboyant daredevil. He felt keenly responsible for protecting the huge investment that an experimental airplane and its crew represented. He said that he was afraid to take risks! He felt that fear is healthy, whereas panic is debilitating. He stayed cool under pressure.
This, then was the man and the organization he had built which was to begin flight testing of the first XB-29 in September 1942.
There had been many tough decisions made and significant risks taken in the short three years since the Model 341 concept had sparked real hope for a superbomber. It was only two very compressed years since the contract for two XB-29s had been signed. Now, after investing more than 1,400,000 engineering manhours in the XB-29, flight testing was about to begin:-- flight testing which would prove whether Eddie Allen and George Schairer had been right in their many decisions including defending a 69 pound per square foot wing loading;-- whether the Air Corps had been right in building two new plants, in starting B29 production by Boeing, Bell and Martin in four plants in Wichita, Renton, Marietta and Omaha, and in already ordering 764 B-29s before the first XB-29 ever flew;-- and whether the thousands of other decisions that had been made were right.
Everyone had been under tremendous pressures and time had not allowed as much pre-flight development testing as most would have liked. For instance, the engines which Eddie was about to fly with had been cleared for only 35 hours! The need for flight test answers was enormous.
The pressure was really on Eddie Allen and still he "kept his cool" in spite of it all. Eddie estimated that with an all out effort it should take 5 months and 200 flying hours to do a reasonable job of shaking down the XB-29, determining its capabilities and getting the minimum performance and operating data the Air Corps needed to start training and place the forthcoming production airplanes in service.
Taxi tests and a couple of very short hops were made by Eddie on the relatively short 5200 foot runway at Boeing Field in Seattle in the first part of September 1942. Although there were some system problems, Eddie felt that meaningful testing in flight could be conducted while solutions to the identified problems were being worked on.
On 21 September 1942 the first XB-29 flew for the first time, and Al Reed was Eddie's co-pilot. Eddie climbed to 6000 feet and checked lateral, directional and longitudinal stability and control. He checked controllability and general performance with #1 engine throttled. Power off stalls were checked. Control response, forces and effectiveness were noted. Everything that should be checked on a first flight was satisfactorily accomplished in the 1:15 flight. It was a pretty uneventful flight and first indications were certainly favorable. But Eddie and the others knew there was a great deal of work ahead.
There were to be very few additional uneventful flights. The troubles started adding up. By 28 December Eddie had been able to make only 23 flights in 27 hours of flying. There had been 16 engine changes, 22 carburetor changes and 19 exhaust system revisions in those 3 months. In addition there were propeller governing and feathering difficulties, runaway engines that over sped to 3600 RPM and a host of lesser problems. The longest flight was 2:19. The average flight was only 1:10 long. It was almost impossible to get much meaningful quantitative data when flights were that short-particularly when much of the time was spent fighting the problems and getting back to the field. One of the few bright spots was that the aerodynamics of the airplane seemed to be just what Eddie and George Schairer had worked so hard to achieve. Later testing would confirm that early assessment. Performance and handling qualities were excellent. No significant aerodynamic changes were ever made except for research work on the rudder which resulted in being able to simplify and improve the airplane by eliminating the rudder boost. Eddie and George were vindicated.
The flight on 28 December was intended to check the service ceiling and get performance data. #1 engine failed at 6800 feet and the flight was terminated after 26 minutes. Ground inspection of #2 engine showed metal chips in the sump -- it too was about to fail. That was the last time Eddie Allen or Al Reed would fly the #1 XB-29. Subsequent events kept the airplane grounded for more than seven months -- until August.
There is an interesting personal sidelight to that 28 December flight. Six days before on 22 December I flew with Eddie as his copilot on the 62,000 pound XPBB-l twin engine flying boat. It turned out to be the last time Eddie flew the XPBB-l and also the last time I ever flew with Eddie. The purpose of the flight was to complete a few tests prior to flying final demonstration for the Navy in a few days. Eddie let me fly the airplane including the required power off landing which called for cutting the ignition on both engines at 1000 feet. The high drag boat came down like a brick! It was the first time I had ever done that!! Eddie just sat there and watched. Fortunately it was a good landing in spite of the extremely steep glide path. I had no inkling that that would be my checkout flight (and I doubt that Eddie did) until the morning of 28 December when Eddie came to my desk and very casually asked me to fly final demonstration for the Navy that day on the XPBB-l because he and Al Reed needed to fly the XB-29. I managed, in my amazement, to stammer something like "I'd be glad to." The demonstration went well and I have always been extremely grateful to Eddie for giving me that opportunity and for placing that much trust and confidence in me. Incidentally, he let me have the fun of making the delivery flight to the Sand Point Naval Air Station two weeks later.
On 30 December the #2 XB-29 (AAF 41-003) was ready for its initial flight It too had engines that were cleared for only 35 hour in positions # 1, #3. and #4. It was to be a thorough functional check of the airplane and its extensive instrumentation. The weather was marginal. The functional check proceeded normally until #4 propeller would not feather and governing was erratic. Eddie elected to discontinue the flight and immediately headed back to Boeing Field at which time he was advised that the weather was deteriorating rapidly. About 6 minutes out, #4 engine caught on fire, the propeller over sped to 3500 RPM, the propeller would not feather and smoke, sparks, and flame were coming from the exhausts. Shutting off the fuel and use of the fire extinguishers were ineffective. The fire continued to get worse. About 2 minutes out the fire was burning fiercely in the accessory compartment. Flames were pouring from the nacelle access door and from the intercooler exit area. Heavy smoke and long fingers of flame were trailing off the wing. In the meantime heavy smoke was pouring from the bomb bay into the cabin making it increasingly difficult to see or breathe. Eddie landed downwind, choking, partially blinded, on the 5200 foot long 200 foot wide runway. The intense fire was put out by fire equipment on the ground. Eddie later received the Air Medal for his skill and bravery during that harrowing 32 minute flight. Ground inspection showed more trouble a fire had just started in #1 engine and #3 engine was close to failure too. Those three 35-hour engines each had less than 3 hours total ground and flight time. Because of engine shortages, 2 of the 3 engines had to be replaced with engines cannibalized from the #1 XB-29 which was laid up for some modifications. In addition the fire in #4 had been so severe that the #4 nacelle had to be replaced with the #4 nacelle also cannibalized from the #1 XB-29. At least the #2 XB-29 now had 4 so called "unlimited" engines.
Unfortunately, engine/nacelle fires similar to the #4 fire continued to occasionally haunt production B-29s and caused at least 19 serious B-29 accidents between February 1943 and September 1944. While Boeing and Wright tried hard to find and correct the cause or causes, there was a natural tendency for each to blame the other. It was 15 months before there was positive proof that the R-3350 was susceptible to induction system fires which could very rapidly get out of hand and become uncontrollable magnesium fires which then destroyed the evidence of the fire's origin. That proof came on 24 March 1944 when I had an induction system fire on #4 engine during a routine test flight on the #1 XB-29. I was fortunate enough to get the engine feathered and the fire out before it broke out of the blower section or the intake pipes and became an external fire. The partially burned magnesium impeller and interior of the blower case were irrefutable evidence. In the face of that evidence Wright developed the fuel injection system to eliminate the potential for induction system fires.
It was almost a month before the #2 XB-29 flew again on 23 January 1943. In the next three weeks emphasis was on engine, propeller, governing, and airplane performance testing. Catastrophic engine failures eased up but that was about all. During descent for landing on 2 February there was a strong odor of gasoline emanating from the bomb bay into the cabin. A thorough inspection uncovered nothing conclusive. On a flight on 17 February there was a bad fuel leak over the wing from #4 fuel filler cap. The leaking cap was fixed.
By 17 February 1943 the #2 XB-29 had made 8 flights totaling 7:27 hour an average of only 56 minutes per flight. In the 5 months since the first XB-29 flight on 21 December, there had been only 31 flights totaling 34:27 -- a long way from what Eddie had estimated in September would be done. And with an overall average flight time of only 1:07 the amount of meaningful test data was pretty sparse from that meager 34:27. As hard as everyone was working to solve the problems the answers were coming painfully slowly. As Eddie and his Project Flight Test Engineer left the airplane that afternoon and walked across the ramp to the post-flight conference, Eddie expressed to him the grave reservations he had about continuing flight testing unit at least the more serious of the XB-29 problems could be fixed. Unfortunately, the fastest, and maybe the only way to fix some of them was to try out the various fixes in flight the "try, try, try again" approach that had been so successfully used by Eddie and George Schairer over the years. But now Eddie faced a real dilemma. The B-29 was potentially a fine airplane. It was urgently needed in the Pacific. It was committed to production -- 1600 B-29s were now on order at 4 separate plants. Flight test was way behind its expected schedule and the data was badly needed to: -- prove the airplane; quickly find and correct the problems; minimize production disruptions; develop training and operating procedures and manuals. But it was currently a dangerous airplane. Major improvements were badly needed. Temporary grounding would be the normal, prudent thing to do. But they were not normal times. The sooner the B-29 could be used in combat, the sooner the war would end and the sooner the casualties and carnage would stop. Eddie concluded that he must continue flight testing as rapidly as possible. His entire crew had to also know the risk to a man they stayed with him.
The primary objectives of the 18 February 1943 flight were to measure climb and level flight performance and get engine cooling data with 4 and 2 engines operating. Maximum altitude would be limited to 25,000 feet because of the excessive trouble that had been encountered with low engine nose oil pressures above that altitude. The effectiveness of fixes for some of the past problems would also be evaluated. Takeoff would be at the normal design gross weight of 105,000 pounds with full fuel tanks -- 5,410 gallons of gasoline.
Eight minutes after the 12:09 PM takeoff to the south while climbing through 5000 feet with rated power, afire was reported in #1 engine. Mixture and fuel to #1 engine were cut off, propeller was feathered, cowl flaps were closed, a CO2 fire extinguisher bottle was discharged and a descent and return to Boeing Field was initiated. Since the fire appeared to have been put out and everything seemed under control, Eddie elected to make a normal landing pattern and land from the north on runway 13 (128 degrees magnetic) to the SSE into the 5 MPH wind rather than making a downwind landing on the 5200 foot runway with a heavy airplane. At 12:24 PM the radio operator routinely reported altitude at 1500 feet at a point 4 miles NE of the field. They were on the downwind leg, headed NNW and starting a left turn onto base leg. No one suspected the drastic change that would take place in the next 2 minutes. At 12:25 they had just completed turning onto base leg, had just crossed the heavily populated west shore of Lake Washington about 5 miles NNE of the field, were at about 1200 feet altitude and were heading SW approaching the commercial and industrial south side of downtown Seattle. At that point ground witnesses heard an explosion that sounded like a loud backfire and a piece of metal fell from the airplane. About that time the radio operator, who could see into the forward bomb bay and the wing center section front spar, was overheard by the Boeing tower on an open microphone circuit to say: "Allen, better get this thing down in a hurry. The wing spar is burning badly." He told Boeing Radio on a different frequency: "Have fire equipment ready -- am coming in with a wing on fire. "About a mile down the flight path from the explosion, burned parts of a deicer valve, hose clamps, and instrumentation tubing were later found. They had come from an area normally inside the wing leading edge, ahead of the front spar, and just outboard of #2 nacelle near the #2 fuel tank filler neck which was rubber like the self sealing fuel cell. The airplane now turned south on an oblique final approach in a desperate effort to reach Boeing Field just 4 miles away. Eddie was about 250 feet high and ground witnesses later reported that part of the wing leading edge between #1 and #2 engines was missing. In the next mile the flight engineer's data sheet was found and three of the forward compartment crew members left the airplane too low for their parachutes to open. At 12:26 PM, only 3 miles from Boeing Field, the #2 XB-29 crashed into the Frye Meat Packing Plant killing pilots Eddie Allen, Bob Dansfield and the other 6 crew members still on board. The crash and resulting major fire killed an additional 20 people on the ground and destroyed much of the airplane and the plant. There was clear evidence that fire and dense smoke had gone through the bomb bay and into the cockpit in the last moments before impact. Burns on the bodies and clothing of the 3 crew members who bailed out just before impact were a part of that evidence. Eddie Allen and his crew died serving their country the best way they knew how. In 1 minute the fire had gone from undetectable to catastrophic.
At 12:26 P.M. on that 18th day of February 1943, the saga of Eddie Allen ended. However, not so his legacy which has continued to this day to benefit his fellow men for whom he always showed such great respect.
The scientific flight testing methods which Eddie Allen developed continued to serve his country well throughout the war. And they have continued to this day to evolve and improve and keep pace with technology and to serve man -- just as Eddie Allen would have wanted.
The flight test team that Eddie had assembled and trained was decimated, devastated, and demoralized. Some of its members would probably never completely get over his loss but they did put the pieces back together and continued to "fight the battles" and get the answers as Eddie would expect them to.
EDITORS' NOTE: On 23 April 1946, three years after Eddie Allen's death in the 18 February 1943 crash of the #2 XB-29, he was posthumously awarded the Air Medal-of Honor rarely bestowed upon a civilian by direction of the President of the United States.
The medal was presented to Florence Allen Howard, Eddie's widow, by Major General Benjamin T. Chidlaw, Deputy Commander for Engineering for the Air Material Command at Wright Field, during ceremonies at the Boeing Plant ##2. At Mrs. Howard's request, General Chidlaw pinned the medal on Turney Allen, the six-year old daughter of the late pilot.
The Citation reads:
"To Mr. Edmund T. Allen, Civilian Test Pilot, for meritorious achievement in aerial flight on 30 December 1942. On this occasion while piloting an Army Air Force XB-29 type aircraft under extremely unfavorable flying conditions, an uncontrollable fire developed in the number four engine. In spite of the fact that he would have been justified in abandoning the airplane under such conditions, Mr. Allen elected to remain at the controls and attempt to safely land it. As a result of his skill and daring invaluable test data and a prototype airplane were saved, the loss of which would have immeasurably retarded the entire B-29 Program at a crucial time in its development."
It is signed by President Harry S. Truman.
In his presentation remarks, General Chidlaw said:
"In the course of a great war such as we have only recently concluded, there are a great many unsung heroes -- men who labor and work in relative obscurity while others garner the laurels of combat accomplishments. Of course, the men who flew the planes in combat and met the enemy on his own ground deserve the plaudits which have been accorded them. But in the air war there were other men without whose work and without whose sacrifice it would not have been possible to get into combat the planes that finally won the war. Especially this was true in the case of the aircraft test pilot the men who took the planes in their experimental stages, tested their potentialities, ironed out their defects and brought in the reports that made it possible to fashion these airplanes into formidable weapons of war. Theirs was the contribution of a scientific objectivity combined with the daring and fearlessness of the pioneer, and the contribution was a magnificent one. They have earned the admiration and the respect of the men who flew the planes that grew out of their efforts and accomplishments and, as a matter of fact, they were really a part of the great Air Force team that bombed the enemy to defeat.
"Eddie Allen was outstanding among these men."
At 12:26 PM on the 18th day of February 1943, the fortunes of the B-29 program disastrously hit rock bottom. At that instant, Boeing research test pilot Eddie Allen, his crew and the heavily instrumented #2 XB -29 were destroyed in a crash.
This is the story about the painful aftermath, the road to recovery, the ultimate success of the XB-29 flight test program, and some of my involvement therein.
After Eddie's accident, of course all of the XB-29 pre-crash problems remained and now there were a lot of new ones. Eddie Allen, his crew and the #2 XB-29 were gone. The cause or causes for Eddie's accident had somehow to be found from the meager remains in all the devastation and they had to be fixed before the #1 XB crony other B-29 flew again. And every effort had to also be made at the same time to fix the many problems that had plagued Eddie. The remaining XB-29 and presumably the B-29s filling the production lines were too dangerous to fly without major modifications.
Boeing flight test was decimated, devastated, demoralized. In less that eight years Boeing had lost three chief test pilots and three big experimental airplanes and crews: Al Reed, Eddie's Chief of Flight Test and chief pilot was now the only man alive who had ever piloted a B-29. To the best of my knowledge, Al never flew again after Eddie's accident. Al Reed left Boeing a few weeks after Eddie's death and dropped from sight.
The end of March a man by the name of N.D. Showalter became the new Chief of Flight Test. He had been Boeing Chief Military Projects Engineer and deeply involved in both the B-17 and B-29 programs. He had flown with Eddie Allen on the testing of the #2 Stratoliner after Julius Barr had been killed in the 1939 crash of the first one. N.D. was a good pilot but had not pursued that as a profession and did not have much opportunity to fly. When he could he would fly occasionally with some of us as copilot. Under N.D.'s skillful guidance, morale improved and flight test gradually got back on its feet.
In the meantime a very comprehensive investigation into the cause or causes of Eddie's crash was underway. Witnesses were interviewed, fallen bits and pieces along the flight path were collected and studied, debris from the crash site was sifted through for all the evidence that could be found, the remains of engines and propellers were disassembled and examined and many, many ground tests and engineering analyses were run.
Extensive airplane modifications resulted. Possible conditions which could cause fuel leaks were eliminated. Fuel filler necks were relocated, fire stop bulkheads were installed, better sealing in some places and better ventilation in other places was provided. Dams and overboard drains were also provided to get rid of any fuel that might leak. These and many other improvements were incorporated in the #1 and #3 XB-29s and all production airplanes.
Shortly after Eddie's accident, Brigadier General K.B. Wolfe was directed by General Arnold to take over all aspects of the B-29 program. One of his directives was that the Army Air Corps would take over the entire B-29 flight test program and that the #1 XB-29 flight test program would be done at Wichita where conditions were much more favorable. The weather was better, runways were longer and wider, approaches were clearer and good alternate fields were relatively close. The Boeing Wichita plant would provide support. The #1 XB29 pilot and copilot would be Air Corps officers. Other than that the airplane would be operated and maintained in accordance with Boeing flight test procedures and by Boeing people who were familiar with the large amount of highly specialized instrumentation. I was asked to be the primary interface between the Air Corps pilots and the Boeing test crews essentially to be the Flight Test Project Pilot but without any piloting duties. Unresolved was any consideration of whether I would ever be allowed to fly the airplane.
On 30 August 1943 the #1 XB-29 was flown from Seattle to Wichita by Col. Olson. Since the loss of the #2 XB-29, this was the only heavily instrumented B-29 in existence -- a very valuable airplane from which a lot of data was needed in a hurry. Col. H.S. Estes was the copilot. They very generously signed me on also as a copilot and let me fly for a couple of hours on the way to Wichita. In Wichita they arranged for me to get some transition time. My first flight there was with Major Sullivan on 3 September 1943 from Wichita to Salina in the brand new YB-29 service test airplane #41-36963 about which John Mitchell wrote in the story, SERVICE TESTING OF THE EARLY B-29'S on page 17 in Volume II of THE GLOBAL TWENTIETH -- small world! Major Sullivan gave me four flights, five takeoffs and six landings on the third and fourth of September at Smoky Hill and Walker in "Sixty Three."
In the weeks of #1 XB-29 flight testing that followed, I was allowed to fly as copilot on every flight and given the opportunity to get as much experience with the airplane as our test requirements permitted. On 8 October Col. Estes checked me out as Aircraft Commander and Ed Martin as my copilot, and, except for a few additional flights with us over the following two weeks, turned the #1 XB-29 flight test program over to us in its entirety. From 21 October on the #1 XB-29 flight test program was a total, 100 per cent Boeing responsibility once again.
By 28 October 1943 we had finished the initial testing with the #1 XB-29. The airplane and testing had gone extremely well. In 5 1/2 weeks we had made 24 flights in 72 hours of flying. There had been no engine failures and no significant problems. We had gotten large amounts of crucial performance and engine cooling data and made takeoffs up to 130,000 pounds. We flew a 3,000 mile, 14 hour simulated bombing mission with a 10,000 pound simulated bomb load. There was no longer any doubt that the B-29 was going to be a fine airplane. And the severe trauma suffered by the Boeing Flight Test Organization from Eddie Allen's 18 February crash was largely healed. N.D. Showalter, the superb Boeing manager and Chief of Flight Test, had restored the Flight Test Organization to the superb team that Eddie Allen had built He had also earned the respect of K.B. Wolfe and the Air Corps. N.D. had stayed in Wichita during the entire time the #1 XB-29 was there to do everything possible to help achieve the huge successes that had been realized. It was time to take the #1 XB-29 back to Seattle for configuration and instrumentation changes so we could get on with the next series of tests and to explore new ideas and potential improvements to make the B-29 fleet as safe and as combat effective as possible. It was a triumphal return.
In December we flew 37:25 more and still had no engine failures. Things were going great -- a far cry from the fierce problems Eddie Allen had been fighting a year before.
The #1 XB-29 had earned the right to a name. After careful consideration and in view of its past and probable future of experimentation and exploration, it seemed right to name her "The Flying Guinea Pig." To the end, it was an appropriate name.
On 15 August 1945 when the war ended, there had been 9,062 B -29s ordered of which 3,970 were completed.
After the war ended we continued #1 XB-29 flight testing at a somewhat slower pace.
The last time I ever flew "The Flying Guinea Pig" was on 9 May 1947 when we used it as a landing simulator for the XB-47 Stratojet on which I was to make the first flight that December.
On 11 May 1948 the #1 XB-29 was scrapped. It had a total of 576 hours on it. Eddie Allen had flown it 21 hours. I had been on board a total of 545 hours and had been pilot-in-command for 496 of those hours. From 21 October 1943 to the end of the war on 15 August 1945, I had been the Project Test Pilot and aircraft commander on every #1 XB-29 flight -- 312 flights totaling 458 hours in 22 months.
`The Flying Guinea Pig" in the scrap yard fading away. After four years of very close association and being almost my entire life's work for two of those years, it is saddening to see something that served mankind so well just be left in solitude, ignored, to fade away alone. She started as an incorrigible; developed to serve mankind well; was fun to fly. And while she has physically passed into oblivion, her memories continue on. I'll never forget the #1 XB-29 program.
However, I was fortunate that my next program, the XB-47 Stratojet, was even more fun to fly and even more exhilarating. Also it was the biggest peace time bomber program, ever. Over 2,000 B-47s were built But that story will have to wait for another time and place.
 Drag is the resistance, the friction, load decellerating the plane, a constant load for the engines.
 Nacelles are the aerodynamic housing about the engines.
 Fairings are the aerodynamic transitions from a wing to fuselage, a nacelle to wing, etc
 Empennage is the aft end of the fuselage, the body, it is the section which which holds the tail members such as horizontal stablilizer and vertical fin.