COMBAT ENGINEER'S DAY
My pilot, Charley Irwin, was more liberal than some in what he allowed and expected of me. Other engineers may have different memories than those I recall. My mornings were pretty much the same when a mission was scheduled. There was an early wake-up call by the CQ fumbling in the dark to dress and then a hurried shave. I'd usually see Chaplain Gannon on his bike on my way to breakfast. The briefing would always bring moans and groans. After that, it was the walk to the dry room to dress and draw my gear. It consisted of a parachute, oxygen mask, heated suit, Mae West, etc. Then I would pick up the escape kit along with gum and hard candies in a waxed paper box. The Intelligence Officer insisted we were to carry no personal things like letters or pictures which we surrendered. They were returned after the mission.
A truck would take us to the hardstand. I would pull the props through, do a preliminary pre-flight check. The pitot covers would be removed and I would check the fuel loading and see that gas caps were safety wired. The supercharger waste gates were checked for free movement. When the pilot and copilot, bombardier and navigator along with the radio operator arrived after attending special briefings, we would go through a more thorough preflight and check list. The put-put, a small gasoline engine that makes a 'putput' sound, would be started, I would climb through the open top hatch to check all flight control movements while the pilot moved them through their full range. Back on the flight deck I would report all the aspects of the check list for which the engineer was responsible.
At the briefed time for starting engines the pilot, co-pilot and I would start engines and complete the check list. I would turn off the auxiliary power unit and as our turn came, we taxied out to the runway. I would sit up in the top hatch to keep the pilot advised of the closeness of other planes or any structures near his wing tips. When in position, I would close the hatch and take my place between the two pilots to give what assistance I could.
After take-off the three of us would be involved in trimming up the ship: checking wheels up, superchargers, trim tabs, prop settings at 2700 rpm and viewing the shadow of the propeller's arc for synchronization. Once the plane was fully trimmed and the formation joined, I would take my place in the top turret. The turret systems and movement' would be checked and when over the English Channel the copilot would call for all guns to be checked.
I was in the top turret for most of the mission except to drop down and help the bombardier pull the pins on the bombs. Then it was back in the turret to watch for enemy fighters. I would fight the sun's glare and try to monitor the formation, unless some emergency to the plane would require my attention. So many things could happen: the bomb bay doors might, have had to be opened manually, we could have had to transfer the fuel and we may have had wounded aboard and flares would have been fired.
When we reached the Channel on the way home, the guns would have to be cleared. I would leave the turret to join the pilots for letting down on the way to Flixton. If it came over the interphone: "Bandits in the area" I remained in the turret with guns at the ready. Then we would go through the landing check list, and the crew would take their stations. I would see that the nose was clear. The radio antenna was brought in and the ball turret was retracted into the belly of the plane. I turned on the auxiliary power unit and put the landing gear down. I would go to the waist windows to make certain the main landing gear was down, then crawled through the tunnel to check the nose gear. Wing flaps would be checked for the degree of lowering as the copilot responded to the pilot's call. Finally, I would call out the air speed to the pilot on our final approach.
At the end of the landing roll, I would open the top hatch to check wing clearances as we taxied to our hardstand. Once there, it was necessary to check that all switches were off, the gear handle down and strapped in place. Flight controls had to be locked, the APU turned off. Outside we checked with the ground crew and assessed the damage to the plane. We then reviewed any mechanical problems encountered during the flight. We would then jump on a truck for the ride to the interrogation building for debriefing. There we would get sandwiches, coffee and medicinal whiskey. I would take the shots of the non-drinking crew members, go to the drying room to store the gear and surrender the escape kit. We then picked up our personal belongings, hiked or took the truck to our site, hit the sack to sweat out the next mission.
Reprinted from "The 446th Revisited"