As the big engines of the B-29 “Doc” came alive on Wednesday morning at the Terre Haute regional airport, Jan Manuel was able to feel what his father must have experienced as a co-pilot of the same type of bomber during the Second World War. .
His father, US Army Air Force 1st Lieutenant Edward Helm, was the co-pilot of the B-29 “Southern Belle”. Manuel said his father, based at an airfield in Tinian in the Mariana Islands, carried out 13 bombing missions against Japanese islands, as well as a 14th mission that ended up turning around. Helm was in his twenties when he flew the plane.
“He was there when Japan surrendered,” Manuel said. “Every time they got home, in October of something, between Hawaii and California, they lost an engine on their way back, but they sure came back.”
Helm grew up in Loogootee in Fayette County, Illinois.
“He had never been on a plane or trained or anything, but [he] enlisted and he was there on that plane in Tinian in the Mariana Islands, ”Manuel said.
Manuel had the opportunity to board the same type of plane her father flew on Wednesday, something she said was heartwarming but inspiring.
When she got on the plane, “I got very emotional because he was there, he was sitting on the plane, he was flying on this plane. I hear what he heard and I feel what ‘he felt,’ Manuel said of his father.
“It was like a circle of sorts. I just wish he knew I was here, but maybe he knows I’m here.
Manuel brought a photo of her father’s B-29 flight crew in 1945 and one of her father in uniform when she arrived at the airport.
As Manuel flew in the front end of the plane, Ryan Wells from West Union, Illinois. flew into the rear section, giving him the opportunity to watch from the rear gunner position, as well as look out through an open escape hatch, used to parachute from the bomber if necessary. As the escape hatch was open, the wind was blowing strongly through the hatch opening.
Taking off his sunglasses, his baseball cap and putting down his cell phone, Wells leaned against the opening and looked towards the front of the plane. As he did so, his hair was pushed back against his scalp, the skin on his face quickly waving, making the 21-year-old look 90 years old.
“It was pretty wild,” Wells said. “I felt like my teeth were going to fall out.”
Thinking back to World War II, Wells said being in a B-29 made him feel what American soldiers felt over seven decades ago.
“It would be hard to imagine – but at the same time it would be easy to imagine (having been on the plane), but it would not be easy to do,” he said of his posting to the bomber.
Jordan Brown, co-owner of Hoosier Aviation, stepped down as the pilot of the B-29 on Wednesday’s morning first flight. Brown followed a safety start procedure while the passengers listened on headsets.
Brown said each of the plane’s four engines – with 16-foot-7-inch-long propellers – contained 75 gallons of oil, which Brown said he wanted to make sure each engine went through on start-up.
He increased the power of each engine to test its thrust. The plane on this 30-minute flight had 2,600 gallons of fuel.
Mark Novack, who usually flies the B-29, is a former US Air Force veteran who flew the B-1 bomber, introduced in 1986. Novack said the flight controls for the B-29 and B- 1 “are very similar,” while the modern bomber has more power and maneuverability. Novack added that the bombing procedures for both planes are the same.
“We are using a point about 5 miles from the target, so you planned it with the angle and time, because you know your speed, so from that point to where you dropped the bombs, it takes maybe 3 minutes, “he said. for the B-29. “We do the same in the B-1 … but it’s usually 10 miles because we’re going 90 miles a minute.”
The B-29 “Doc” is one of only two B-29 superfortresses still airworthy and in flight. It is based in Wichita, Kansas, where Boeing has produced 1,644 B-29s. A total of 3,970 B-29 bombers were manufactured by Boeing.
Terre Haute was the second stop on the B-29 Doc History Restored tour in July, which includes visits to seven cities in five states. The tour started in Saint-Louis. After Terre Haute, the tour goes to Cincinnati and Cleveland in Ohio; Kalamazoo in Michigan; and Oshkosh and Appleton, Wisconsin.
Journalist Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or [email protected] Follow on Twitter @ TribStarHoward.