1st Lt. Art Tuttle our flight Engineer yelled over the inter-phone; “Doc, our number 4 engine is showing a drop in oil pressure and a rise in cylinder head temperature. ” Keep an eye on it Art and let me know if your numbers continue to go south,” Captain Doc Waller our pilot commanded.
As the flight’s co-pilot I knew that B-29 engines and other bugs had become problems for many other aircrew stationed out of Piardoba, India. We were often overloaded to 140,000lbs to 160,000lbs gross weight, causing the engines to overheat.
Girlfriends, Losses, and Pin Ups
The rapidly building cumulus clouds below held my attention. But, I realized that eighteen hours of B-29 flight time, per mission, in the China Burma Theater gave all of us a lot of time to think about; wives and girlfriends the “Love Boat B-17 over Walker Field, my wife, Betty Ann coaxing the big bomber through the skies over the Michigan/Ohio State football game, my time in the cavalry and new assignment as aide to General Smith. The loss of Lt. Edward Pearce, a football star from Flint Northern and 3 year letter winner at Michigan State, on a mountain side in French Morocco… then, First Lt. Charles Hill (MSU halfback), piloting a Liberator over Germany failed to return a month later stuck me like a knife.
Pearce, Hill and I all remained together through 14 transfers to camps and bases, moving from the Cavalry to the Armed Forces and then to the Air Force. We all received our wings together following the same path and I mourned them and their crews. Heartbroken, their widows with new born carried on… and kept the faith that their loved ones would return.
The selection of nose art was important to crew bonding… the spirit and pride of each crew. The more personal, intimate and irreverent the better for 19 to 24 years olds in this war. Maybe a pinup on the side of an aircraft would cause the enemy to pause (in laughter or desire) in his pursuit of shooting down our plane giving our gunners a chance to nail him first. A playboy pinup or worse sure was exciting to most and a relief for some. Themes ran from saucy or sexual to cartoon/caricatures, persons, logo/name, and name only themes. What the hell the more garish the better. If it relieved some tension and we let it rip. It was a lot of fun and suddenly every man became an artist in each aircrews drive for a representative coat of arms.
Star Duster’s Struggle
SSgt James Lynch, our right gunner suddenly yelled over the inter-phone; “Doc, our number 4 is smoking.” Here we go again, I thought, as Captain Doc Waller, our pilot, told Jimmy to keep an eye out for flames and 1st Lt. Art Tuttle, Flight Engineer, to get on the gauges, monitor temps and pressures and his emergency check list.
Number 4s timing could not have been worse. We were at 34,000 feet over the Himalayas. This is not a bombing mission but a cargo flight. We carry eight rubberized fuel tanks secured in the bomb racks, 2900 gallons to off load after 13 more hours of flight direct to our advanced base in the Cheng Tu Valley… in preparation for the push to bomb Japan’s homeland.
Were a long way from home carrying this much fuel on board. A possible engine fire was now more frightening that being shot at over Kyushu and Yokohama from intense and accurate anti-aircraft
I looked over at Doc, quietly concentrating on his next task. He was going through his emergency procedures and options while descending and reversing course – in case the worst happened. He knew twelve men were counting on his life or death decisions. Dock told me to take the yoke and I flew “STARDUSTER” on our new heading. I kept an eye on number 4 while probing Art Tuttle for engine performance numbers and asking for constant updates from our engine eyes in the back.
Through the early morning darkness we pressed on. None of us expected that our missions would come without casualties or that our own plane would have any better chance than the others to emerge without damage. The question we all pondered… What if? And it looked like the answer to what if might become a reality… shortly.
Number 4 engine was slowly losing power and now we smelled gas fumes in the nose of the aircraft. With a sudden dramatic yaw to the right, TSgt Alden Huisjen, our senior gunner yelled, “We’ve got thick black smoke coming out of number 4 now.” Quickly, I turned to confirm our problem child on the starboard wing. Doc gave me that look and I nodded a confirmation of the reality of our problem. Our converted B-29 tanker was now in real trouble.
Doc immediately reduced the power upon hearing of the smoke coming out of engine even while Art reported that all engine instruments showed normal indications. The power reduction had reduced the volume of smoke but within 10 minutes, a large column of oil and smoke suddenly steamed out of the upper nacelle. SSgt Don Carter, our radio operator, went to the forward bomb bay to investigate the gas fumes. Doc was worried that the fumes would saturate the plane and all of the crew might become affected.
“Fire, fire now coming out of number 4,” Alden yelled, “The flames are growing.”
Suddenly, there was a second shudder and Art looked at the tachometer and notified the pilots that the MAPs/RPMs on number 4 were falling fast. The engine then shook violently and stopped all together…