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Short Stories

Charlie Tail's Last Flight
by Stan Murphy
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The date was October 2, 1951 and the aircraft was Charlie tail #44-35939. Jesse James was almost FIGMO. He had finished his required 55 combat missions but he hadn't yet received his orders sending him home. He was not required to fly any more but as a favor to Col. Belser, the 13th CO, Jesse agreed to give a night local check ride to a newly assigned pilot.

The new pilot was an experienced multi-engine pilot so Jesse figured the flight would be a routine piece of cake and so it was -- almost. Just before going out to the plane, a young airman in maintenance, Sgt. Richard Lang, knowing the flight was to be local, asked if he could go along. Unfortunately for the airman, Jesse said yes.

Jesse James
Jesse James

The new pilot did a good job flying the plane. He completed all the various requirements of the check ride in an acceptable manner. The last item to accomplish was a simulated single engine approach and then it would be Miller Time. The pilot retarded the left throttle to simulate the engine loss but nothing happened. The engine continued to run at the same power setting.

The throttle was jiggled back and forth several times but still no response from the engine. Jesse and the pilot decided that somehow the throttle linkage had become disconnected. The solution of course was to shut off fuel to that engine, feather the prop, and make an actual single engine approach, which they did.

(Above) "Charlie" in better days.
(Right) "Charlie" in the boneyard.
"Charlie" in the Boneyard

Jesse said everything went by the book. They turned base, dropped quarter flaps, turned final, and when it looked like the runway was made they dropped the gear and full flaps. Just as they were approaching the end of the runway the new pilot, for some unknown reason, poured the coal to the right engine. Jesse was so taken by surprise he didn't have time to take any corrective action.

The aircraft immediately rolled sharply to the left and then contacted the ground well to the left of the runway. When the aircraft finally came to a stop it was totally demolished. The pilot was seriously injured and the airman was killed. At some point while the plane was destroying itself, Jesse was miraculously thrown clear of the aircraft, somewhat injured but alive. Don't ask Jesse how it happened: You will have to ask God.

-- Stan Murphy
Stan Murphy