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Short Stories

A Few Terrifying Moments
by Charles Hinton
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It was May 4, 1952 in Korea. I was riding as a navigator in the nose of the soft nosed B-26 (similar to the one pictured below) while we searched Purple 11 route near the Yalu for trains and trucks. Austin Ayotte was pilot. One technique used by the "Commies" was to catch a B-26 in the searchlights so the anti-aircraft gunners could see us.

a soft-nosed B-26I need to set the stage for the rest of this story. A navigator enters a glass nosed B-26 through a trap door under the nose. You climb into the nose and reach down and pull up the trap door, latch it, and then lay a hinged, flat sheet of aluminum down over the trap door. In the front of the nose is a Norden Bombsight sitting out on a platform surrounded by the Plexiglas.

This B-26 had a sheet metal shelf on the left side of the nose, and on the right an APN-9 LORAN set. Behind the trap door was a 6" platform that you sat on for takeoffs and landings. Throughout most of the mission you kneeled on the aluminum sheet leaning over the bomb sight so you could have a good view of the action.

Some searchlights had us and Ayotte was making a dive for a valleys. As we scrambled to get out of this situation we are hosed by some anti-aircraft fire. The 20mm and 40mm fire looks like somebody is using a hose to squirt you with red golf balls. You can watch them arc up at you - starting out slowly and seeming to speed up as they get closer.

Austin AyotteThis gunner was good. Ayotte (pictured at right) had some throttle on the airplane while in this gentle dive. The shells seem right on us and I think some are going over us and some under us. I was hiding behind my bullet proof map - which was my usual practice.

Then BLAMM. I have a steady blast of air through my compartment.

I announce "Pilot - we're hit"!

Ayotte comes back calmly and says; "I don't think so. The airplane seems to be flying normally."

I have a hurricane of air through my compartment so something is wrong. I think this problem through. Where is that air coming from?

Oooohhhh Boy! My trap door is gone and all that is between me and a hike across North Korea is a flimsy piece of aluminum. I stick one elbow on top of the LORAN set on my right and the other elbow on the aluminum shelf to my left and squeeze the mike and tell Ayotte, "For Christ's sake don't pull any Gs. My trap door is gone."

Hanging by your elbows over North Korea while you try to inch back to something solid is hard. You should try it!

Finally I get back to my platform. I lifted up the trap door cover and the door is closed. Hmmmmmm. I still have a gale of wind through the compartment. I traced the blast of air forward and find there is a hole in front of the bomb sight, but it is not really a hole but a hinged sheet of plate glass to provide a perfect view for the bomb sight optics.

Somehow the air pressure on the nose from our high speed dive to get out of the searchlights had caused the catch to release and let the plate glass cover open up.

Hell, I wasn't in any danger at all, but why was I shaking so much?

-- Charlies Hinton
13th Navigator
Charles Hinton