Wednesday, August 29, 2012

B-29 pilot recounts 35 missions: He may have been the luckiest pilot in World War II

In his 35 missions as a B-29 pilot, Col. Charles Chauncey said he never once took a hit in his B-29 “Goin’ Jessie.”

Chauncey, who won the Distinguished Cross, was guest speaker at the B-29 Museum open house at Pratt Regional Airport on Saturday, Aug. 25.

Chauncey spoke in the Pratt Army Air Field parachute building that is currently undergoing renovation to become a B-29 Museum on the airport.

The open house featured a variety of displays including period flight suits, a bomber tire, numerous pictures of PAAF as well as other B-29 and WWII events. Airplane models, a variety of historical books and other items were also on display.

While the display items got a lot of attention, visitors to the event were drawn to Chauncey who provided a living link to the B-29 bombing runs over Japan.

Chauncey flew 32 of his 35 missions in the B-29 “Goin’ Jessie” a name that means going very fast in WWII slang. Of all his missions, he flew 22 at nighttime. In all of his missions he never took a single lick.

In daytime missions, many planes could fly in formation and attack a target with multiple strikes from many planes.

Nighttime missions were different. Because the planes couldn’t fly with lights, it was impossible to have formation attacks so B-29s had to fly solo missions at night, Chauncey said.

The missions were 98 percent over water and the average mission lasted 14.8 hours, without refueling, with the longest mission at 17 hours and 20 minutes. Fully loaded the plane weighed 141,000.

Some missions covered 1,500 miles. They had very little fuel reserves to play with on these flights.

Their first large group mission included four targets: Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe.

When the mission was announced, there was a big commotion in the room because the mission was scheduled at 5,000 feet and many crews figured it was a suicide mission.

During the Tokyo portion of the mission, the planes set fire to 16 square miles of the city with napalm bombs. It is estimated that 230,000 people died in Tokyo in that one raid.

That night a total of 32 square miles in the four cites were burned. By wars end, they had burned 70 cities in Japan.

While over Nagoya, he was flying at 6,500 feet on just three engines. He could actually see handgun fire aimed at the plane. But getting hit was not his biggest concern.

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