Briefing had concluded and transportation was waiting to take me to the hardstand (parking area) where the B29 assigned to the crew was located. I loaded my flight gear on board, and then proceeded to check all the navigation instruments and equipment for proper operation. Once I had checked out the navigator's station I checked with the radar operator (he was also trained as a navigator) and other members of the crew for possible problems with any equipment.
The B29, like most large aircraft, was a complex machine, with a lot of equipment and parts dependent on each other. Everyone on the crew tried to make certain that all equipment was working properly before takeoff. That involved the pilots, flight engineer, bombardier, navigator radio operator, and the gunners. If any problems arose, the crew chief and mechanics were consulted about repairs and whether or not the mission would be affected.
In my opinion the ground crews that kept those big birds flying were the best in the business. In 36 missions I do not remember aborting a mission before takeoff due to problems with the plane or equipment.
The B29 bomber was very different from a commercial passenger plane. It was a bare necessity aircraft with no frills, designed and built to deliver the maximum payload of high explosives over the greatest practical distance. There were no flight attendants on board, the closest thing to a TV set was the radar screen and a toilet, as such, did not exist. The only conversation was between crewmembers via intercom.
The pressurized compartments allowed the crew to work without wearing oxygen masks and heated flying suits that were necessary on the B17, B24 and other high altitude aircraft used in WWII. It was a big improvement but it had an element of risk also. The pressurization could be lost because of mechanical failure of parts on the plane but the major concern was the possibility of severe damage from enemy aircraft attacks or anti-aircraft fire, leading to what was called "explosive decompression" (a sudden and complete loss of cabin pressure). Such an event at high altitude could cause the crew to lose consciousness in a matter of seconds unless they donned oxygen masks quickly.
Considering those planes were the same B29s that were based on Guam during World War II and had flown many missions (some with more than 200) over Japan, it was remarkable they were still capable of flying combat missions over Korea.
In addition to the ground crew many other people were involved in preparing the aircraft for a mission before the flight crew arrived. The plane had been refueled (almost 7000 gallons of high octane gasoline) from the tank trucks, bombs, 50 cal ammunition for the 10 machine guns and shells for the 20 mm cannon had been loaded on the plane by armament crews and a box lunch for each crew member was provided by Mess Hall personnel.
After all preflight checks were completed and the plane had passed inspection the pilot approved the aircraft for flight by signing the aircraft logbook for the crew chief. We were right on schedule and my first mission over Korea was about to become a reality.
My immediate duties were finished until the plane was airborne so I had a few minutes to reflect on my feelings and thoughts about the mission. There was some apprehension concerning the flight, as with any new job, but that passed as takeoff time neared.
Fortunately, the job ahead was enough to keep my mind occupied and left no time to think of the hazards involved. The possibilities for disaster were almost endless and could cause a lot of stress unless you learned to dismiss thoughts of them. Such things as engine failure, either on take off or while airborne, enemy fighter attacks or AA fire that could cause the plane to crash, mechanical failure of equipment, running out of fuel, weather, and the all too real possibility of human error were factors in the stress equation. I could not afford to let emotion or thoughts of personal welfare cloud my thinking at that point because I was responsible for guiding the plane, with it's crew, to Korea and back to Kadena and a clear head was a must.
I had "been there, done that" in WWII and survived but I also believed that my "number" could be "called" at any moment in time. Earlier in the story I mentioned I was scared to death about returning to combat and had told Betty how I felt. I really did not expect to return alive from another combat assignment because the odds were not favorable for me after 30 missions over Germany during World War II. Only time would tell.
The sound of the engines starting brought me back to the job at hand and signaled the beginning of a long day in cramped quarters with the constant roar of the engines ringing in my ears. It would be good to get "home" that night.
Chapter Five----Combat Mission
We proceeded toward the runway and lined up with the other planes waiting for take off clearance. We watched each plane ahead of us for any sign of trouble as it rolled down the runway and lifted off. Take off was a critical time because the planes were close to maximum weight and the engines were a major concern.
That day each plane had a full load of high-octane fuel and a heavy load of bombs that brought the gross weight to 130,000 lbs. That was only 5,000 lbs. below maximum allowed take off weight and when combined with high air temperature would require almost the entire length of the runway for us to become airborne.
Once the plane reached the "no abort" speed there would not be enough space to stop on the runway, so it was either fly or crash. Engine failure on takeoff created a serious situation. Fuel and bombs could not be dumped to lighten the aircraft enough for the remaining engines to maintain flight. If it happened before "no abort" speed chances of stopping were good. If it happened afterwards you crossed your fingers and hoped everything held together long enough to burn off fuel and get rid of the bombs to permit a landing.
Fortunately no one had a problem that day. All aircraft ahead of us were off the ground safely and then it was our turn. I quickly checked my instruments one last time and made certain my seat belt was fastened as the Control Tower cleared us to the runway. The pilot lined up the plane on the centerline stripe, set the brakes, brought up the engine power, released the brakes and applied full engine power as we rolled down the runway. Once underway the co-pilot monitored the speed, calling out the numbers for the pilot who was fully occupied with the takeoff.
The flight engineer was monitoring the engines for any sign of a malfunction and the gunners were visually checking the engines for any indication of oil leaks or mechanical failure from their positions in the rear compartment. The speed of the plane steadily increased and at the right moment the co-pilot announced "no abort" over the intercom.
We were committed to flying as the plane continued to accelerate down the runway. The gunners reported all clear and the pilot lifted the plane off just before the end of the runway. The plane continued a slow climb to our flight altitude for the first leg of the mission and we were on our way to North Korea.
I made the first log entry at time of takeoff, which was 0646. The pilot was flying a compass heading of 058 deg. and the plane was climbing. I recorded all instrument readings and entered the ETA at the coast in point, which was Tongyang (South Korea). At 0652 we reached an altitude of 4,500 ft. and I gave the pilot a new compass heading of 359 deg. The new heading would put us on the Flight Plan course of 004 deg. and take us to Tongyang. I also entered the time and the point at which we changed heading and put a note "turning on course" in the log. I entered all the navigation instrument readings but made no entries in distance/time run columns since we had just begun the mission. I drew a line across the log sheet to indicate the beginning point of data for the first leg of the flight.
Because of the takeoff heading and the fact we had been climbing to a safe altitude before turning, we were about 9 miles east of our intended track and flying parallel with it. I obtained a visual ground position (fix) at 0700 and recorded the instrument readings. Our altitude was 8,000 ft and my data indicated we had flown 33 nautical miles since takeoff. Our ground speed was 195 knots and our ETA at Tongyang was 0927. I continued to monitor the instrument readings and record them on the navigation log, as it was too early in the flight to make corrections.
We reached our assigned altitude of 9,600 ft. at 0704 and all readings were entered. I calculated a DR position from log data, plotted it on my flight chart to show our position in relation to the Flight Plan course and entered it as "level off point". I decided to continue on the same compass heading and calculated a new ETA of 0920 at Tongyang. I obtained another "fix" at 0717 and my E6B yielded a new ground speed of 205 knots using time and distance flown entries. The new arrival time at Tongyang was entered as 0919.
I plotted and recorded another position at 0727.At that time I also used the Drift Meter to determine the plane's motion relative to the earth's surface and found it to be neg.7deg. The neg. drift reading indicated the wind was coming from our left and would push the plane to our right. Using our heading, ground speed, air speed, altitude and drift I determined the wind direction to be 289 deg. with a velocity of 27 knots and entered it in the log as 289/27. That was very close to the forecast of 280/30 and did not require any change in our heading. A reminder note for myself was entered that the ETA at Danjo Gunto (a small cluster of islands in the East China Sea) was 0831 ½. A new ETA at Tongyang was 0922 ½.
We had been flying just over an hour and there was only the East China Sea below us. There were no landmarks to confirm our location so I had to rely on instrument readings and previous log information in order to determine our position and make any changes required to remain on course.
A DR position calculated at 0750 indicated we were about 10 miles to the right of course. Another DR point was established at 0815 and I began to look for the Danjo Gunto cluster, as it would provide a good visual reference point. We passed about 3 miles to the right of O- Shima (a small island in the Danjo Gunto group) at 0830 and I plotted it on the chart. I asked Lt. Davis (radar) to calculate the wind D/V to compare with my figures of 276 deg at 34 knots. Radar wind was 357 deg at 11 knots, which did not check with other data and was not used.
We were 167 miles from Tongyang and because of a change in wind we had drifted further to the right of our intended course. It was time to make a correction in our heading to put us back on course at the coast in point. I computed the new course and heading to the coast in point from a DR position at 0900 and notified the pilot in advance to alter our heading to 347 deg at 0900. The new ETA at Tongyang was 0919 ½ and we passed over the coast in point at that time as noted in the log.
The double log entry at 0919 ½ served to close out the previous leg and start the next segment of the mission. At that time I called the pilot on intercom to give him the heading of 355 deg. that would take us to the Control /Assembly Point where we would join the other planes in our squadron.
Up to that point in the flight we had remained at a relatively low altitude because of the heavy load of bombs and the necessity to conserve fuel. The Flight Plan called for us to start ascending to bombing altitude when we reached 38-10N Latitude on that leg of the flight. Routine instrument readings were logged at 0930. I visually determined our location at 0946 on a navigation chart of Korea and the flight was going well.
I was happy we were on course and there had not been any problems with the plane or equipment. At 0956 one of the crew reported sighting a B29 low on our left side and to the rear of us. At 1005 another B29 was sighted low on our right and to the rear of us. They were our squadron mates and we would take our place in the formation with them shortly. We reached the climb point at 1016 but the pilot had to leave the cockpit briefly, as noted in the log, so there was a slight delay in beginning that phase of the mission.
At 1018 a friendly fighter plane was reported in the area. A routine entry was made at 1023, a position was plotted to confirm the "climb point", and the pilot was informed he could begin the climb to bombing altitude. Our heading for this phase was 353½ degrees and I estimated we would reach bombing altitude of 14,000 ft. at 1028. At 1030 ½ we leveled off at 14,000 ft. and a DR position was entered with a note we had reached the L.O. (level off) altitude. I drew a line across the log sheet to signal a new beginning for flight data.
At that time I asked the pilot to fly a "double drift" pattern so I could determine the wind D/V at our new altitude. I made note of the double drift, the wind D/V as determined by drift readings on 3 headings, and the fact we were joining the flight formation. I closed that phase of the mission with a line and waited for all the planes to join the formation while we orbited the Control Point.
The Flight Plan also included a control time of 1100, which meant we had to cross the Control Point on course for the I.P. at 1100 hrs. The lead plane flew over the C.P. at that time with all planes in the group bombing formation following every move it made.
At that time I began recording instrument readings in order to keep up with our position since the navigator in the lead plane was navigating for the entire group. We played "follow the leader" as we left the C.P. on course for the I.P. We reached the I.P. at 1131 and turned onto the bombing run. We flew over the target at 1138 but the lead bombardier did not release any bombs (a "dry run" as I noted in the log). Weather was "CAVU" at that time and I suspected he had difficulty identifying the correct aiming point. At 1144 we circled to our left and returned to the I.P. for another run on the target.
I entered a note that 25 rail cars were seen in the marshalling (freight) yards south of Tanchon (could be of interest to Intelligence personnel). At 1158 the lead bombardier released his bombs and the other bombardiers followed suit. Unfortunately none of the bombs hit the target and a return visit at a later date would be necessary. The North Koreans did not take any defensive action and I was not about to complain.
Meantime the #3 aircraft crew reported they failed to drop their bombs on the primary target and would go to the secondary target for another attempt. The formation remained nearby until #3 dropped its bombs at 1222. At 1249 the formation broke up and each plane proceeded alone to Kadena AFB. After we left the formation I plotted our course from a fix at 39-35N, 127-38E to the coast out point at Yosu and gave the heading to the pilot.
At 1303 ½ I obtained a fix at 38-50N, 128-05E and gave the pilot a new compass heading and ETA at Yosu. The pilot began descending to a lower altitude for the flight home. At 1325 we were off course and I informed the pilot of the new heading and ETA Yosu. Shortly after, at 1333, two Navy fighter planes were sighted and though we didn't need their help at that time it was good to know we had friends close by. Routine log entries were made until we arrived at Yosu at 1413 ½.
We began the final leg of the mission with a change in heading and an ETA at Kadena of 1648 ½. Wind values at that time were 249/20 and would have to be monitored closely over the East China Sea. Most of the mission was behind us and my job settled into routine navigation procedures to make certain we remained on track to Kadena.
The remainder of the log entries consisted of a series of positions plotted and a calculated wind of 288/37 at 1558. We had drifted left of course due to a change in wind D/V (indicated by the drift readings and the position fixes) and I gave the pilot a new heading for Kadena at 1606. We were almost home and at 1610 we started letting down (losing altitude) for the landing at Kadena. My latest ETA at Kadena was 1637 ½ and we arrived over the AFB at 1635 ½. I drew the final line on the log and entered "log closed" and my signature to make it official. My last entries included the time of landing and engines off and would be recorded as they occurred. The plane touched down at 1649 ½ and after the pilot parked on the hardstand and shut down the engines we were home.
But the mission was not complete at that point. We had spent 10 hrs. 4 minutes in the air and after I packed my flight gear and left the plane it was time for debriefing. Once that was finished I returned to my quarters, took a shower, put on my uniform and went to the Club for dinner.
After dinner it was time to unwind and I breathed a sigh of relief that my first mission in the Korean War was behind me. I wrote a letter to Betty and told her I had just completed my first mission over North Korea and everything went well. When I finished the rather long and personal letter I called it a day and hit the sack. I was too tired to think about the next day.