B-29 Pilot Recounts 35 Missions
Gale Rose Posted August 29. 2012 5:14PM
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
"My greatest fear was having to ditch the plane," Chauncey said.
On his luckiest mission, they barely got airborne, flew 50 miles before they could gain altitude, swallowed a valve on the engine, had a runaway prop, still had some power from damaged engine, oil pressure dropped an hour from target, flew at 7,300 feet with spotlights so bright they could read a newspaper from the light, were taking hand gun fire between the engine nacelles and the fuselage but still hit their target.
Sometimes planes changed altitude and speed with very dramatic results. In an updraft the speed could drop to just 160 mph but if they hit a downdraft the speed could hit 330 mph. Those changes were so violent that planes were literally coming apart including a cracked wing on "Goin' Jessie."
Besides bombing runs, Chauncey and his crew also did mining runs for the Navy. Those bombing runs help cut Japanese shipping.
Chauncey always flew with the same crew and that was important. The crew knew they were the eyes for the pilot to tell him what was happening with the plane in areas where the pilot couldn't see.
The B-29 was the first bomber to be pressurized so it could also be heated, an important factor since the temperature was often minus 40 to minus 50 degrees. The jet stream was discovered during WWII because the planes could fly higher.
Chauncey took his flight training at McCook, Neb. with the 9th Bomb Group. His plane, "Goin' Jessie" was B-29 number 724 to roll out of the Wichita plant.
Besides the open house, demonstrations of remote control model aircraft were presented at the south end of the runway.
Unfortunately, bad weather at Wichita and Alva, Okla. prevented any of the scheduled World War II aircraft from attending a scheduled fly-in held in conjunction with the open house. On tap were a 1943 Cessna UC-78 Bobcat and a 1943 Fairchild PT-23 from the Commemorative Air Force. Also slated were two P-51 Mustangs.