September 12, 1994 Frank Corder’s Last Flight

There must have been damage done to more than a few professional reputations.

the_white_house_as_targetFor Frank Eugene Corder, life took a turn for the worse in 1993, around the time the truck driver was fired for reasons unknown.   That April, Corder was arrested for theft. Another arrest that October, this time on illegal substance charges, led to a 90-day sentence to a drug rehab center.

The following August, Corder’s third wife Lydia left the room the couple shared at Keyser’s Motel in Aberdeen, Maryland, never to return.

It’s impossible to know what was on the man’s mind.  Perhaps he was bent on suicide.  Maybe he wanted nothing more than a publicity stunt.  Like the time that German kid flew his Cessna from Helsinki to Red Square back in 1987, and embarrassed the Soviet surveillance state.

In the small hours of September 11, 1994, Frank Corder stole a single-engine Cessna 150L aircraft. Fewer than 24 hours later, he crashed the thing into the White House.

PIPER CRASHES IN THE WHITE HOUSE GARDENS
12 Sep 1994, Washington, DC, USA — PIPER CRASHES IN THE WHITE HOUSE GARDENS — Image by © Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma/Corbis

The wreck was a national media event at the time, reported as an assassination attempt on President Clinton, or possibly a terrorist attack. It was most likely, neither.

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By this time, Corder’s personal problems were out of control.   This was one man’s suicide, performed in a manner that got himself a measure of fame on the way out.  President Clinton wasn’t even there.  At the time, there were ongoing renovations to the White House.   He was in residence at the Blair House.

Frank Corder’s death was the only fatality recorded in the incident, but there was a second, that of a Magnolia tree, planted by President Andrew Jackson.

While those were the only two killed in the wreck, there must have been damage done to more than a few professional reputations. I don’t believe anyone ever explained how a severely intoxicated man, piloting a slow, low altitude single engine aircraft, could have gotten past the vaunted air space defenses surrounding Washington DC. Let alone crashing the thing into the White House.

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September 9, 1942 If we Knew each other

The old pilot never forgot a promise made to the place he had once tried to burn down.

In the months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the B-1 type submarine I-25 quietly slipped from her dock, departing Yokusuka on November 21 and joining three other Japanese subs on patrol, in the waters north of Oahu.

The B-1 type was a fast cruiser submarine, built for long range and carrying on her bows a small aircraft hanger and deck catapult, designed to store and launch a single two-seater Yokosuka E14Y reconnaissance floatplane, known to the allies as a “Glen”.

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With twenty of them built, the B-1 series was the most numerous of some thirty nine distinct submarine types, employed by the Japanese in WW2.  The type was fairly successful, particularly in the beginning of the war. I-26 crippled the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga in August of 1942, and I-19 sank the aircraft carrier USS Wasp that September, at the same time damaging the battleship USS North Carolina and the destroyer USS O’Brien, which later sank.

I-25 launched the only piloted aircraft during World War II, to successfully attack the American mainland.

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Nobuo Fujita

Lieutenant Commander Meiji Tagami turned the I-25 into the winds off the Oregon coast on the morning of September 9, 1942, and launched the Yokosuka E14Y floatplane, piloted by Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita and armed with two 168-lb thermite bombs.

Fujita had hoped the target would be Los Angeles or San Francisco, payback for the Doolittle raid that April but, no chance of that.   Lumbering along at 90MPH, such an aircraft is way too slow to attack such a heavily defended target.

Fujita’s target this day, was the vast forested region along the Oregon coast, near the California border.  With a little luck, the incendiary bombs would burn down a large section of the forest and a string of coastal towns along with it, diverting American resources from the war effort.

That day, the luck was on the American side. A recent rain in the Siskiyou National Forest had left the place wet, at low risk for fire. Howard “Razz” Gardner watched the aircraft come in, from the fire lookout tower on Mount Emily. He never saw the bombing itself but the plume of smoke, was easy enough to follow. Razz was able to hike to the scene while the Forest Service dispatched lookout Keith Johnson, from a nearby tower. The pair was able to keep the blaze contained overnight, and the crew arriving the next morning, put it out.

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The following day, area commander Lieutenant General John DeWitt announced “The Western Defense Command is investigating the circumstances surrounding the discovery on Sept. 9 of fragments of what appears to have been an incendiary bomb. These fragments were found by personnel of the United States Forestry Service near Mt. Emily nine miles northeast of Brookings, Or. Markings of the bomb fragments indicated that the missile was of Japanese origin”.

Fujita and his observer made a second attack on September 29, but the damage was negligible.  Not at all the regional conflagration he had hoped for.  Late in the war, Japanese authorities released hundreds of balloon bombs into the gulf stream, in a sustained attack on the continental United States.  One managed to kill a Sunday School class and its teacher but, the earlier attacks flown by Nobuo Fujita remained the only piloted attack on the US mainland, of WW2.

Years later, the junior chamber of commerce in Brookings Oregon, the “Jaycees”, got a bright idea over a few beers. Why not invite the only foreign pilot to successfully attack the American Mainland, as an honored guest.

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It was a gesture of friendship, but the idea set off a firestorm in the coastal community. A full-page op-ed signed by 100 locals ran in the Brookings-Harbor Pilot, in 1962. Part of it read:

[Fujita’s] sole claim to fame is that he’s the only Nip pilot who bombed the mainland of the United States by airplane … Why stop with Fujita? Why not assemble the ashes of Judas Iscariot, the corpse of Atilla the Hun, a shovel full of dirt from the spot where Hitler died … .

Brookings resident Greg Jacques remembers, “There was a lot of turmoil. You gotta remember it was only like 16 years after the war. There were 30 to 40 to 50 percent of the men in the community at that time were in World War II.”   There were heated arguments in coffee shops and bars, all over town.  Then-Jaycees President Bill McChesney recalled, “I got a death threat it in the middle of the night.  This guy said, ‘If you walk with that Nip down the street we’re going to have rifles pointed at you, and your family.’”

In the end, the group of young businessmen, none over the age of 35, voted unanimously to extend the invitation. To hell with the consequences. President John F. Kennedy congratulated the group, on their efforts to promote international friendship.

With assurances to the Japanese government that the former pilot would not be tried as a war criminal, the Fujita family left the Ibaraki Prefecture for the City of Brookings Oregon, in 1962. Nobuo, his wife Akayo, and their young son Yasuyoshi. Nobuo carried with him a prized family heirloom, a 400-year old Katana, the Samurai Sword with which he intended to perform Seppuku, ritual suicide by disembowelment, should this visit go wrong.

Nobuo Fujita presents his family's sword to the mayor of Brookin

Despite the bitterness left in the wake of that terrible war, the visit did not go wrong.
Fujita was made honorary chairman of that year’s azalea festival. The man was presented with a ceremonial key to the city, and allowed to take the controls of an aircraft, flying over the bomb site. He even tried his hand at playing a bagpipe, during a parade.

All things were not “Kumbaya” – several men were jailed during the visit, in a preemptive effort to keep the lid on.

In the end, Nobuo Fujita did not open his abdomen with that sword, nor did he pass the treasured heirloom to his son, as once intended. The sword which had accompanied him on his every mission of the late war, including the one over Brookings itself, that prized object did he give to the city of Brookings, as a symbol of friendship. The sword may be seen at the Chetco Public Library, to this day.

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Back in Japan, the economy was tough after the war. Fujita passed the family hardware store down to his son, but the business failed. The old pilot never forgot a promise made to the place he had once tried to burn down. Fujita worked for years to earn the money, to buy a few books every month. In 1985 he kept his promise, inviting three Brookings-Harbor High School students on a cultural exchange visit to Japan, with the money he had saved. An aide to President Ronald Reagan sent him a letter, “with admiration for your kindness and generosity.”

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Hat tip Oregon Public Broadcasting, OPB.org, for this and the sword image.

Fujita returned to Brookings in 1990, and again in 1992, and 1995. During the 1992 visit, he planted a Pacific Redwood, at the site where his bombs fell.

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Nobuo Fujita died in 1997 at the age of eighty-five, only days after being made an honorary citizen of the city of Brookings. In October of the following year, Fujita’s daughter Yoriko Asakura returned to the bomb site, where she buried some of her father’s ashes. Now, his spirit would fly over that place, forever.

Fujita NYT obit Oct 3 '97

At some point, the only foreign pilot to successfully attack the American mainland, confided to his diary: “If we knew each other. If we understood each other as a friend. This foolish war would never have happened. I sincerely hope that a day would come where everyone could overcome their differences through talking and not fighting”.

Yeah…What he said.

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September 6, 1939 Battle of Barking Creek

There is a time when every hero, is as green as the grass.

The Nazi conquest of Europe began with the Sudetenland in 1938, the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and German speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. Within two years, every major power on the European mainland was either neutral, or under Nazi occupation.

Ground forces of the United Kingdom were shattered in 1940, along with those of her French, Indian, Moroccan, Polish, Belgian, Canadian and Dutch allies.  The hastily assembled fleet of 933 vessels large and small were all that stood before unmitigated disaster.

338,226 soldiers were rescued from the beaches of France.  Defeated but still unbeaten, these would live to fight another day.

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In 1940, the island nation of Great Britain stood alone and unconquered, defiant in the face of the Nazi war machine.  In Germany, street decorations were being prepared for the victory parades which were sure to follow, as Adolf Hitler considered plans for his surprise attack on his ally to the East, the Soviet Union.

After the allied armies were hurled from the beaches of Dunkirk, Hitler seemed to feel he had little to do but “mop up”.  Prime Minister Winston Churchill captured the spirit of the period as only he could, when he said that “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

The “so few” to whom the Prime Minister referred, were the 2,342 British aircrew of the Royal Air Force (RAF), and the 595 international air crews who were her allies, in the “Battle of Britain“.

freeborn2_1715769cJohn Connell Freeborn was a pilot with the RAF, and a good one, too. Credited with 13½ enemy aircraft shot down, Freeborn flew more operational hours during the Battle of Britain, than any other pilot, ending the war with a Distinguished Flying Cross and  Bar, and completing his RAF career as a Wing Commander.  Yet, there is a time when every hero is as green as the grass.  In the beginning, John Freeborn like everyone else, were rank amateurs.

On the third day of the war, September 6, 1939, air combat experience was precisely, zero.  Very few had so much as seen a German aircraft, when a squadron of Mk IIB Hawker Hurricane fighters took off from North Weald Air Base after an early morning air raid alert. Two reserve Hurricanes left shortly afterward, piloted by Montague Hulton-Harrop and Frank Rose.

Something went wrong, and the two reserves were identified as enemy aircraft. Three Spitfires from Hornchurch, Essex were ordered to attack. Commanding officer of the flight, Adolph “Sailor” Malan, gave the order to engage.  Flying Officer Vincent ‘Paddy’ Byrne opened fire on Rose’s aircraft, as Pilot Officer John Freeborn attacked Hulton-Harrop.

Both aircraft were shot down. Rose survived, but Hulton-Harrop was dead before he hit the ground, shot through the back of his head. He was the first RAF pilot to die in the second World War. In another unfortunate first, this was the first time any aircraft had been shot down by a Spitfire.

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At the ensuing court martial, Malan testified for the prosecution, against his own pilots. He claimed that Freeborn had been irresponsible, impetuous, and had not taken heed of vital communications. As for Freeborn himself, his attorney, Sir Patrick Hastings, called Malan a “bare-faced liar”.

As an interesting aside, Hastings’ co-counsel for the defense was Roger Bushell, who was later incarcerated with Paddy Byrne at Stalag Luft III.  Roger “Big X”Bushell became the mastermind of the “Great Escape“, in which he and seventy-five other allied prisoners escaped Stalag Luft III via three tunnels, dubbed “Tom”, “Dick” and “Harry”.  Bushell was caught along with Bernard Scheidhauer, while waiting for a train at the Saarbrücken railway station, and murdered by members of the Gestapo.  Only three of the 76, escaped to freedom.

The court exonerated both Spitfire pilots, ruling the case to be an unfortunate accident.

RAFHurricaneRichard Hough and Denis Richards wrote about the episode in The Battle of Britain: The Greatest Air Battle of World War II, saying “This tragic shambles, hushed up at the time, was dubbed in the RAF ‘the Battle of Barking Creek’ – a place several miles from the shooting-down but one which, like Wigan Pier, was a standing joke in the music halls.”

The “Wigan pier” joke has to do with an inland industrial town, as if such a place could possess a pier, like some seaside pleasure resort.

Many years later, Freeborn spoke of the first RAF pilot to die in WW2, the man he himself had killed in a “friendly fire” incident. “I think about him nearly every day”, he said. “I’ve had a good life, and he should have had a good life too”.

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If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

August 16, 1927 The Dole Air Race

Aviation was not for the faint of heart in 1927.  Disaster claimed the lives of competitors, before the race even began. 

In the period between the World Wars, the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kittyhawk was well within living memory. The flying Aces of the Great War seemed like some kind of modern-day knights, and many became pop-culture heroes. Wood-and-fabric biplanes gave way to sleek, metal monoplanes, while air races and daring, record-setting flights seemed a constant feature of the daily news.

The first non-stop transatlantic flight in history began on June 14, 1919, when British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown departed St. John’s, Newfoundland in a modified bomber, arriving in Ireland the following day.

Charles Lindbergh’s better known (and longer) New York to Ireland flight began in the early morning hours of May 20, 1927, when the custom-built, linen-skinned Ryan Aeronautical Company monoplane Spirit of St. Louis departed Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York.

33½ hours later, thousands of spectators’ cars were caught up in “the largest traffic jam in Paris history”, to be there for the landing at Le Bourget Aerodrome.

Heavier-than-air flight, once considered an impossibility, was coming of age.

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Oakland Field California, August 16, 1927, for the start of the Dole Air Derby

Two months after Lindbergh’s famous flight across the Atlantic, a pineapple magnate offered a prize of $25,000 to the first pilot to fly from Oakland to Honolulu, an orthodromic (Great Circle) distance of 2,406.05 miles.  A $10,000 prize was offered for a second-place finisher.

The overture from James Drummond Dole, founder of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now known as Dole Foods), attracted 33 entrants for the event.  14 were selected for starting positions following inspections.  By August 16, 1927, race day, the final list of starters was down to eight.

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Wreckage of the Tremaine Hummingbird, H/T San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives

Aviation was not for the faint of heart in 1927.  Disaster claimed the lives of competitors, before the race even began.  One Pacific Aircraft Company J-30 known as the Tremaine Hummingbird crashed in heavy fog on August ten on the way to Oakland, killing Naval Lieutenants George Covell and Richard Waggener.

The pair had drawn starting position #13, for race day.

British aviator Arthur Vickers Rogers was killed the following day, just after takeoff in his Bryant Monoplane the Angel of Los Angeles.  Still another aircraft, the Miss Doran, was forced to make an emergency landing in a farm field, and the International Aircraft Corporation F-10 triplane  Pride of Los Angeles crashed into San Francisco Bay on final approach to Oakland.

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Happily, the occupants of neither aircraft were hurt, though the latter came away wetter for the experience.

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The Goddard Special, NX5074, El Encanto, favored to win the race, crashed on takeoff. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Eight entrants remained by the morning of the 16th, but that number was whittled down, fast.

Oklahoma took off but soon returned, due to engine trouble. El Encanto and the PABCO Pacific Flyer, crashed on takeoff. Fortunately, none of the three crews were hurt.

The Golden Eagle took off without a problem, and disappeared into the west.  PABCO Pacific Flyer took her second attempt, only to crash.  Again.

Miss Doran, freshly repaired following her unscheduled landing in that farmers fieldcrashed on takeoff, but the second attempt proved successful.

On board Miss Doran were John “Auggy” Pedlar at the stick and Lieutenant Vilas Raymond Knope, U.S. Navy, Navigating. This entrant carried a passenger too, Miss Doran herself, a 22-year-old fifth-grade school teacher from Flint, Michigan.

Dallas Spirit took off, but quickly returned to Oakland. The last two entrants, a Breese-Wilde 5 Monoplane called Aloha and Woolaroc, a Travel Air 5000, took off and headed west, without a problem.

This last entrant, with Arthur Cornelius Goebel as pilot and Lieutenent (j.g.) William Virginius Davis, Jr., U.S. Navy, as navigator, won the air race, crossing the Pacific and landing in Honolulu with a time of 26 hours, 17 minutes.

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Neither Golden Eagle nor Miss Doran were ever seen again.

Forty ships of the United States Navy scoured the ocean for Miss Doran and Golden Eagle, but to no avail. Dallas Spirit was repaired and joined in the ocean search but she too disappeared, never to be seen again.

DORAN-Mildred

Mildred Alice Doran had once said, “Life is nothing but a chance.” Miss Doran had taken her chance and lost, at the dawn of the age of aviation.

Ten years later almost to the day, another pioneering female aviator would take her chance, crossing the vast expanse of Pacific Ocean. She too would disappear without a trace, joining her sister and so many others, at the bottom of some unmarked and watery grave.

A tip of the hat to This Day in Aviation.com, for all these great photographs.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

July 25, 1944 Most III

“This is the decisive weapon of the war. Humanity will never be able to endure it,” Hitler said, “If I had this weapon in 1939 we would not be at war now.”

In the early years of WWII, Nazi Germany fired 10,000 V1″Doodlebug” rockets at England, killing over 6,000 Londoners alone, by 1943. The subsonic V1 was an effective terror weapon but, bad as it was to be the target of one of these things, the “low and slow” trajectory and the weapon’s short range lacked the strategic punch needed by Nazi Germany to end the war in its favor.

The V2 was a different story.  This was the dawn of the ballistic missile era, and Nazi Germany was first off the starting line.

The Peenemünde Aggregat A4 V2 was an early predecessor of the Cruise Missile, delivering a 2,148 pound payload at 5 times the speed of sound over a 236-mile range. While you could hear the V1 coming and seek shelter, victims of the V2 didn’t know they were under attack, until the weapon had exploded.

When Wernher von Braun showed Adolf Hitler the launch of the V2 on color film, Hitler jumped from his seat and shook Braun’s hand with excitement. “This is the decisive weapon of the war. Humanity will never be able to endure it,” Hitler said, “If I had this weapon in 1939 we would not be at war now.”

Allies were anxious to get their hands on the secret weapon and, in early 1944, they had their chance. A V2 had crashed into a muddy bank of the Bug River in Nazi-occupied Poland, without exploding. The Polish underground had been waiting for such an opportunity and quickly descended on the rocket, covering it with brush. Desperate to retrieve it, Germans conducted a week long aerial and ground search for the weapon, but failed find it under all that camouflage.

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Polish Partisans preparing for battle, WW2

After what must have seemed an eternity, the search came to an end and partisans returned to the site. This time they brought four Polish scientists who carefully disassembled the weapon, packing the pieces in barrels. The parts were then shipped to a barn in Holowczyce, just a few miles away.

The allied effort to retrieve the stolen missile, code named “Most III”, got underway on this day in 1944, when Royal New Zealand Air Force 1st Lt Stanley George Culliford landed his Dakota C47 in the early morning darkness, at a secret air strip near Tarnow.

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Home Army intelligence on V1 & V2

The V2 chassis and several technical experts were loaded on board, but it was too much weight.  The overloaded C47 couldn’t move on the wet, muddy field – the port wheel stuck fast in the mud.  Everything had to be offloaded, Polish partisans working desperately to free the aircraft as dawn approached. They stuffed the wheel track with straw, and then laid boards in the trench.  Nothing worked.

Co-pilot Kazimierz “Paddy” Szrajer thought the parking brake must be stuck, so the hydraulic leads supplying the brake, were cut. That didn’t work, either. In the end, partisans were frantically digging trenches under the aircraft’s main wheel. Two attempts failed to get the aircraft off the ground, and Culliford was thinking about blowing up the plane and burning all the evidence.  There would be one last attempt.

The aircraft lumbered off the ground on the third try.  The last of the partisans scattered into the night, as the headlights of Nazi vehicles could be seen, approaching in the early morning darkness.

18lfbi20zpunyjpgThere would be 5 hours of unarmed, unescorted flight through Nazi-controlled air space and an emergency landing with no brakes, before those V2 rocket components finally made it to England.

Today, few remember the names of these heroes, struggling in the dark to defeat the forces of Nazi Tyranny.  We are left only to imagine a world, in which Nazi Germany remained in sole possession of the game changing super weapons, of WWII.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

July 17, 1938 Wrong Way Corrigan

Aviation officials were apoplectic that a New York to California flight plan, would wind up in Ireland. 

In the period between the two World Wars, the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kittyhawk was well within living memory. The flying Aces of the Great War seemed like some kind of modern-day knights, and many became pop-culture heroes. Wood-and-fabric biplanes gave way to sleek, metal monoplanes, while air races and daring, record-setting flights seemed a constant feature of the daily news.

Heavier-than-air flight, once considered an impossibility, was coming of age.

Cal_banquetThe first non-stop transatlantic flight in history began on June 14, 1919, when British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown departed St. John’s, Newfoundland in a modified bomber, arriving in Ireland the following day.

Charles Lindbergh’s better known (and longer) New York to Ireland flight began in the early morning hours of May 20, 1927, when the custom-built, linen-skinned Ryan Aeronautical Company monoplane Spirit of St. Louis departed Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York.

33½ hours later, thousands of spectators’ cars were caught up in “the largest traffic jam in Paris history”, to be there for the landing at Le Bourget Aerodrome.

Five years later to the day, Amelia Earhart performed the first nonstop transatlantic crossing by a female pilot, completing the 2,000 mile crossing from Newfoundland to Ireland, in fifteen hours.

Amelia_Earhart_LOC_hec.40747Five years later, “Lady Lindy” disappeared over the South Pacific, along with copilot Frederick J. Noonan.

Few events so captured the world’s imagination, as the Earhart search of 1937, and the explosion aboard the Apollo spacecraft, in 1970.  On both occasions, breathless headlines the world over followed the unfolding drama.

The Apollo 13 story had a happy ending, as astronauts James Lovell, John Swigert and Fred Haise returned safely, to earth.  It was thirty-three years since the Earhart disappearance, a mystery which remains unsolved, to this day.

The 1920s – 30s have been described as the “Golden Age of Aviation”.  This was the world of Douglas Corrigan.

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Douglas Corrigan

At the age of eighteen, Corrigan forked over $2.50 for a ride on a Curtiss Jenny biplane. He was hooked.  He began flying lessons a week later, making his first solo flight on March 25, 1926.

A man without the means or the fame of Charles Lindbergh, Douglas Corrigan brought himself up in the aviation world, with his hands.  He was an aircraft mechanic, and a good one.

It was Corrigan who assembled the wing and installed the fuel tanks and instrument panel, for Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis.  Corrigan and colleague Dan Burnett increased the lift of the aircraft, extending the wing an additional 10-ft. longer than any earlier Ryan-designed aircraft.

Following Lindbergh’s success, Corrigan set his sights on a transatlantic crossing of his own. Working as an aircraft mechanic with the Airtech Flight School in San Diego, Corrigan would work on his flight skills, during short lunch breaks. He would perform aerobatic stunts with company aircraft, much to the chagrin of his employer.   He continued to perform stunts after the company prohibited the practice, simply a little south, where the boss couldn’t see him.

Corrigan worked several jobs as aircraft mechanic, always using his employer’s planes to hone his flying skills.

In 1933, Corrigan paid $310 for a used 1929 Curtiss Robin monoplane, and began to modify it for transatlantic flight. He scavenged the parts from two old Wright Whirlwind engines, increasing the aircraft’s horsepower from 90 to 165. He installed additional fuel tanks and applied to the Bureau of Air Commerce in 1935, for permission to make the flight. The application was rejected.

corriganCorrigan made additional modifications and repeated applications over the next two years, all of which were rejected.  By 1935, the once-freelance aviation industry faced increasing government regulation.  Corrigan found his project losing ground. . In 1937, federal officials not only rebuffed his flight plan.  Authorities deemed Corrigan’s aircraft Sunshine unstable for safe flight, and denied renewal of its license to fly.

That was it.  If he couldn’t get the permit, he’d do it without.

Corrigan flew in from California, arriving in Brooklyn unannounced and nauseous from a fuel leak. All was confusion at the time, with Howard Hughes preparing to take off on a world tour. Corrigan filed his flight plan for a return trip to California and headed out at first dawn on July 17, 1938, headed east with two chocolate bars, a couple boxes of fig bars, and a quart of water.

This was not the well-backed, bountifully financed custom aircraft of the Lindbergh days.  This was the soapbox derby of airplanes, literally held together with baling wire and a quiltwork of patches, welded to the hood.  Let journalist H. R. Knickerbocker, pick up the story:

“You may say that Corrigan’s flight could not be compared to Lindbergh’s in its sensational appeal as the first solo flight across the ocean. Yes, but in another way the obscure little Irishman’s flight was the more audacious of the two. Lindbergh had a plane specially constructed, the finest money could buy. He had lavish financial backing, friends to help him at every turn. Corrigan had nothing but his own ambition, courage, and ability. His plane, a nine-year-old Curtiss Robin, was the most wretched-looking jalopy…The door behind which Corrigan crouched for twenty-eight hours was fastened together with a piece of baling wire. The reserve gasoline tanks put together by Corrigan, left him so little room that he had to sit hunched forward with his knees cramped, and not enough window space to see the ground when landing”.

Ten hours into the flight, Corrigan discovered his ‘cold feet’ were the result of gasoline, sloshing around the cockpit. He poked a hole with a screwdriver, and kept going. 26 hours in, he claimed to have discovered a “navigation error”. The Robin was still over water. 28 hours and 13 minutes after leaving Brooklyn, Corrigan touched down at Baldonnel Aerodrome, in Dublin.

Wrong_Way_Corrigan HeadlineAviation officials were apoplectic that a New York to California flight plan, would wind up in Ireland.  At a time when Western Union charged by the word, the pilot was excoriated with a 600-word diatribe, enumerating the pilot’s transgressions.  Corrigan served a 14-day suspension of his flying license, ending the day he returned with his aircraft aboard the steamship Manhattan.

“Wrong Way” Corrigan returned to a ticker-tape parade, larger than the one given Lindbergh, himself.

The flight mechanic was a celebrity, writing an autobiography and endorsing a line of “Wrongway” products, including a watch that ran backward. He appeared on a 1957 episode of To Tell the Truth, and earned $75,000 portraying himself in the RKO film, The Flying Irishman. It would have taken thirty years to earn that much, at any of his airfield jobs.

To his great disappointment, Charles Lindbergh, Corrigan’s hero and the reason he had made the flight in the first place, never acknowledged his feat.

Corrigan-autographed-500x378Wrong Way Corrigan flight tested bombers during WW2 and retired in 1950, and bought an orange grove in Santa Ana, California. He claimed he knew nothing about growing oranges, he just copied what his neighbors were doing.

The old Robin came out of its hangar one last time on the golden anniversary of the flight, reassembled and the engine restarted, successfully.  Corrigan became so excited that event organizers placed guards at the aircraft’s wings – they even considered tying the tail to a police car – fearful that the old man would once again, take off in the thing.

At age 84, Douglas Corrigan was elected an Honorary Member of the ‘Liars Club of America’, an honor which he politely, but firmly, refused. To the end of his days, Wrong Way Corrigan insisted that his transatlantic flight was nothing more than a navigation error.  He was as surprised to find himself in Ireland, as anyone else.

The autobiography is out of print but still available, if you’re interested.  It’s about fifty bucks, in hard cover, the title is That’s my Story.

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May 5, 1945 Church Picnic

284 Japanese balloon bombs are known to have completed the Pacific crossing to the United States, Mexico and Canada. Experts estimate as many as 1,000 may have made it.

Following the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano in 1883, weather watchers described an eastbound, upper atmospheric air current described as the “equatorial smoke stream”.

In the 1920s, Japanese meteorologist Wasaburo Oishi tracked these upper level winds from a site near Mount Fuji, using pilot balloons. Oishi doomed his work to international obscurity when he published his findings in Esperanto. Inside Japan, there were those who took note, filing away this new-found knowledge of what we now call the “Jet Stream”.

In the latter half of WWII, Imperial Japanese military planners conceived the fūsen bakudan or “fire balloon”, a hydrogen filled balloon device designed to ride the jet stream, using sand ballast and a valve system to navigate the weapon system onto the North American continent.

BalloonBomb-1bWith sandbags, explosives, and the device which made the thing work, the total payload was about a thousand pounds on liftoff. The first such device was released on November 3, 1944, beginning the crossing to the west coast of North America. 9,300 such balloons were released with military payloads, between late 1944 and April, 1945.

Such a long-range attack would not be duplicated until the 1982 Falklands War, and was near unimaginable at the time.

JB41In 1945, intercontinental weapons were more in the realm of science fiction. As these devices began to appear, American authorities theorized that they originated with submarine-based beach assaults, German POW camps, and even the internment camps into which the Roosevelt administration herded Japanese Americans.

These “washi” paper balloons flew at high altitude and surprisingly quickly, completing the Pacific crossing in three days. Balloons landed from Alaska to Northern Mexico, and as far east as Detroit. Fighter aircraft shot down fewer than 20.

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A P-38 Lightning fighter shot one down near Santa Rosa, California, while Yerington, Nevada cowboys cut one up to make hay tarps. Pieces of balloon were found in the streets of Los Angeles. A prospector near Elko Nevada delivered one to local authorities, on the back of a donkey.

Among US units assigned to fight fire balloons was the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, which suffered one fatality and 22 injuries fighting fires.

One of the last balloons came down on March 10 near Hanford Washington, shorting out power lines supplying electricity for Manhattan Project nuclear reactor cooling pumps. The war in the Pacific could have ended very differently, had not backup safety devices restored power, almost immediately.

Colonel Sigmund Poole, head of the U.S. Geological Survey military geology unit, asked, “Where’d the damned sand come from?” Microscopic analysis of sand ballast identified diatoms and other microscopic sea life. This and the mineral content of the sand itself proved to be definitive. This stuff could only have come from the home islands of Japan, more specifically, one or two beaches on the island of Honshu.

world-war-ii-balloonAmerican authorities were alarmed. Anti-personnel and incendiary bombs were relatively low grade threats. Not so the biological weapons Japanese military authorities were known to be developing at the infamous Unit 731, in northern China.

284 of these weapons are known to have completed the Pacific crossing to the United States, Mexico and Canada. Experts estimate as many as 1,000 may have made it.

Balloon Bomb Route

Sightings were reported in seventeen US states. Pilots were ordered to shoot them down on sight, but many devices escaped detection, altogether.

In an effort to deny valuable intelligence to their Japanese adversary, US military and government authorities did everything they could to keep these “Fire Bombs” out of the media. Even though such secrecy put Americans at risk.

Japanese Authorities reported that the bombs were hitting key targets, thousands were dead or injured, and American morale was low.

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Archie & Elsie mitchell

On the morning of May 5, 1945, Pastor Archie Mitchell and his wife Elsie took their Sunday school class of five on a picnic to a forest area near Bly, Oregon. Elsie and the kids came upon a large balloon with a strange looking device attached to it, as Pastor Mitchell parked the car. There was no way they could have known, what they had found was a Japanese weapon of war. The device exploded, killing all six, instantly.

Several such devices exploded, igniting wildfires in the forests of California, Oregon and Washington, but the site near Bly is the only one known to have resulted in American casualties.

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Shrapnel Tree – Mitchell Monument, Bly, Oregon

Today there is a small picnic area located in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, in Lake County, Oregon. It’s maintained by the US Forest Service, memorialized as the Mitchell Recreation Area and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A small stone marker points the way to a shrapnel scarred tree.

Mitchell_Monument;_August_12,_2013

A second memorial bears these words, cast in bronze: The “only place on the American continent where death resulted from enemy action during World War II”. There are six names above those words, those of five children and their teacher, who was pregnant at the time. Elsie Mitchell, age 26. Edward Engen, age 13. Jay Gifford, age 13. Joan Patzke, age 13. Dick Patzke, age 14. Sherman Shoemaker, age 11.

 

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