3rd Mission

The first two missions had been strictly "no sweat".  But then I was in a learning situation and had the luxury of just observing.  Tonight I was in charge.  The date was January 5, 1952.  It was my first mission as an official navigator!  Well, I wasn't really in charge.  Captain Baker was the pilot and he was on his 55th mission and he didn’t really need a navigator.  Captain John Kennedy was the bombardier in the glass nose and he had a lot of missions behind him also.  Besides that he was a navigator himself.  We had a gunner with upper and lower turrets, two .50 caliber machine in each turret back behind the bomb bay.

My job was navigator in the Douglas B-26 flying night intruder missions out of Kunsan, Korea.  The official Air Force designation for the base was K-8.  Our primary mission in this phase of the war was to stop the flow of rail and truck traffic from Manchuria to the front lines during the hours of darkness.  The aircraft call sign for our base was “Pintail” and we were the 9th scheduled mission of the evening.  We were “Pintail 9” with a scheduled takeoff of 10:30.  The first airplane had departed just at sunset and the last plane would takeoff at 3:00 AM

Before climbing into the aircraft I made a radio check with the tower on Dog channel with my URC-4 radio.  The emergency radio is a two component unit, one component under each armpit, and buttoned into a vest under my Mae West.  I grabbed hold of the handholds on my side of the aircraft and made that long, long step with my right leg onto the ladder.  How did the little guys make that step?

I started my pre-flight checks and tried to take care of my own unfamiliar problems.  I still had a borrowed parachute and it wasn't adjusted right.  After struggling with the dinghy on the two previous missions and not being able to sit upright in the seat while sitting on it, I had placed it on the jump seat behind me.  The dinghy was four inches thick and the clamshell canopy came down so close to my head that I just couldn't sit on the dinghy without ducking and hunching my shoulders.

The clothes I was wearing made movement in the cockpit almost impossible.  I started out with long-john underwear.  I wore my Army uniform, then the electric suit over the uniform and next the heavy padded flying suit.  I was topped off with a heavy jacket, my emergency URC-4 radio in its vest and the May West on top of everything.  On my feet I wore two pair of socks, my zippered jump boots of Japanese manufacture (made mostly of paper I later learned) and over that, heavy flying boots. I was decidedly underdressed on my head with a plain WWII leather helmet with goggle attachments.

It was almost impossible for me to get the chute adjusted.  I had difficulty twisting around to get the plugs connected for the electric suit.  Although the temperature in the cockpit was below freezing I had sweat pouring down my face.  Next I find the headset and get it adjusted and plugged in.   I wrap the throat mike around my neck, snap it, and get that plugged in.  With the seat belt fastened I'm not only strapped to the plane, I am wired to it. Shit!!!  Now I discover my mapboard and flight plan are behind me on the dinghy and I can't turn around to get them because of the binding effect of the protective equipment. Unfasten the belt.  Twist, turn, heave, strain and now I have maps and flight plan and then get hooked up again.  Sweat is dripping off my nose and I make sure the rheostat of the electric suit is turned full down. I reach the unavoidable conclusion that the hardest part of the missions is getting into the airplane and getting ready to go. Baker has none of my problems.  He is in his seat comfortably, running his checklist, starting engines, getting taxi clearance, and moving into the aircraft run up position.

Baker checks with Kennedy in the nose and asks him if he is ready to go.  Kennedy says, "Roger".  He asks me if I'm ready and I answer with a garbled "Roger" because my throat mike isn't adjusted correctly.  Baker tells me to hold the pickup buttons against my throat when I talk.  With one mittened hand I press the pickups against my throat and give another "Roger".  This one is clear.

Our 10:30 takeoff time approaches and the tower gives us clearance to line up and hold.  It seems like I should have something to do so I tell Baker "You're heading after takeoff will be 347 degrees." At 10:30 the tower gives us clearance to roll and wishes us good luck.  I hold my flashlight with one mittened hand and make an illegible entry with the other.  I think that’s what the navigator is supposed to do.

From my side of the cockpit I note the pilot’s airspeed indicator begins to increase.  Blue flames from the right engine stream along the cowling.  The landing lights show the cavitation as the airflow curls up behind the propellers.  We roll on all the wheels for a long time.  Baker lifts the nose wheel and we roll on the main gear for a long time.  I wonder if it’s going to fly. The green lights at the end of the runway flash under the nose and Baker pulls back on the yoke.  Yes, it will fly.  Baker retracts the wheels, turns off the landing lights, and brings up the flaps. Unnecessarily, I remind Baker that the heading will be 347 degrees.  He has made the 40-minute climb out to checkpoint "Oboe" 54 times before.  I give him an ETA. At level off I make an entry in the log and try to estimate a position.  We're over water and I can't see anything.  It doesn't matter because Baker has tuned in the radio beacon and the "bird-dog" shows "Point Oboe" dead ahead.  Point Oboe is on an island just south of Haeju in UN control.

Baker and Kennedy have been discussing the plans for the evening.  We have been briefed to search for trucks, but the visibility from the snow on the ground and the thin slice of moon enables the trucks to drive without headlights.  The bombsight is useless unless the trucks have their headlights on.  Some said it was useless all the time.  Baker and Kennedy agree that the thing to do is to go down and see if there are any trains on R-19 route.  Red-19 runs east from Sariwon and then southeast toward the site of the Kaesong peace talks. As he comes over "Point Oboe" I asked Baker where he wants a heading to.  He says, "Never mind, I know the route." When the "bird-dog" swings over "Oboe", Baker checks in with “Dentist” controller at the Joint Operations Center.  He advises them that Pintail 9 is over "Oboe" inbound.  Controller "Dentist" says "Roger, check outbound." I note in my log the time and a fix symbol with the words "Over Oboe".

Now we are in enemy territory.  The checklist says turn off all navigation lights, charge and check the guns.  Baker gives the gunner clearance to check his guns and I hear and feel the vibration of the turret guns back behind the bomb bay.  Baker squeezes the trigger on his control wheel and the six wing guns rattle into life. Baker swings a right turn to 50 degrees and pulls the power back for a gentle descent.  He says, "We'll check the railroad west from Holy Land".  Ahead and to the right I can see the searchlights indicating the Kaesong restricted area where the peace talks are underway.  In about 10 minutes Kennedy says he can see the river up ahead.  The highway and railroad are just west of the river.  I can't see anything, but Kennedy has the best view from the glass nose. Shortly Kennedy announces, "You're over the railroad now." I get a brief glimpse of a dirty line in the snow just as Baker starts a hard 270-degree descending left turn. I make a note in my log "Over R-19" and the time.

As the airplane continues its left turn I can see a frozen river with a distinctive bend which I then match with the bend on the map.  Sure enough, there is a highway and railroad depicted about a mile west of the river.  I know where I am.  Five miles south is Kumchon and the edge of the restricted area.  I look out the front and we are below the level of the hills.  I check the map.  The hills are 600 to 800 feet high.  I look at Bakers altimeter. 500 feet and still descending.  I can't see anything out the right side of the airplane and not much up ahead.  I note the compass and it indicates we are going north. Kennedy says the railroad is bearing to the west.  Baker says, "I've got It." and swings the heading to the northwest. I can't see anything.  Kennedy says "Sinmack up ahead."

Baker says, "Roger, I'll stay south and we'll pick up the road west of town." The airspeed says 300 MPH.  I check my map to see if I can find Sinmack.  Yes, there it is.  The highway and railroad diverge.  Baker is now on a westerly heading.  I look up ahead and there is a railroad there. I stop looking at the map and watch the countryside race by.  We can't be more than 2oo feet high.  Occasionally the rail lines pass through a tunnel and Baker swings the airplane around the hills and picks up the rails on the other side. The highway and railroad come back together.  Kennedy notes that some of the factories along the tracks look intact.  Baker follows the rails as they swing northward and Kennedy comments "Sariwon just ahead." Baker acknowledges the comments and says, "Maybe we should go back and hit those factories." I check my watch and note in the flight log the time and the fix at Sariwon.

We are still riding the deck and Baker starts a climbing left turn to go back to the factories. Then the engine noise changes from a steady roar to a scream.  Baker tenses and reaches for the throttles.  Kennedy asks, "What’s that." "Runaway Prop" Baker says. Baker pulls the right throttle back.  There is no change in the engine noise.  I think I'm supposed to do something at this time but I'm not sure what a navigator does with a runaway prop.  I think I should make an entry in the flight log and I enter the time and the words "Runaway prop".  Baker tells us that the prop doesn't respond to the throttle and it looks like he'll have to feather #2.  Baker reaches up above the windshields and pushes the right feathering button.  Nothing happens.

Baker and Kennedy now hold a short conference to decide what next.  They decide that since the propeller won't feather the best tactic is to get some altitude.  Baker tells us the plane will fly fine on a single engine and we should be able to make K-14 at Kimpo with no sweat.  The bombs are jettisoned - first the wing load and then the interior load. The high speed run down the railroad has given us sufficient momentum to make an altitude of 3800 feet.  Baker completed the engine shutdown checklist, established 150 MPH indicated, placed the mixture control to idle cutoff, pulled back the throttle and shut off the fuel to the engine. So far as I can see there is no effect on the engine.  The engine is shut down but the piercing propeller scream continues. Baker tells us that we can't hold altitude with the prop windmilling in the slipstream and driving the engine.  I look at the altimeter and it now indicates 3500 feet and the climb indicator indicates a descent of 300 feet per minute.  Baker tells us we had better let the world know about our problem.

"MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, this is Pintail zero nine."

"Roger Pintail zero nine.  This is 'Dentist'.  What is your emergency?"

"Dentist, Pintail zero nine here.  We have the right engine out, unable to feather, unable to hold altitude.  Current altitude 3300 feet, heading 155 degrees.  We're about 20 miles from the west end of Red-19."

"Pintail zero nine, this is Dentist.  Turn right heading 245 degrees."

"Pintail nine turning to 245."

"Roger Pintail nine, this is Dentist.  I have you on my weapon.  Turn left heading 135 degrees.  This heading will take you around some unfriendlies".

Kennedy reports from the nose.  "Pilot, we're about 90 miles from K-14.  At this speed it will take us about 35 minutes."       I have been checking my map with the idea there should be some way for me to be helpful.  I lay the plotter down with one end on Sariwon and the other on Seoul and draw a straight line.  It’s the first line on my new map.  If Kennedy and Baker are right, and that was Sariwon back there where we were hit five minutes ago, and if we've been making an average of 3 miles per minute at 180 MPH, then we must have covered about 15 miles and we should be about.... there.  I draw a lopsided circle on the chart.  The map shows a high point of 2335 feet about eight miles ahead of us and another mountain of 2700 feet about 10 miles to the left of our course.

I report to the pilot.  "You have a 2300 foot mountain just ahead and terrain above 2700 feet off to the left." Baker acknowledges and says he thinks Dentist is steering us around some obstructions. I look out my window at the engine and I can see a glow on the backside of the prop.  That's new.  What could be reflecting off the prop?  I never saw anything like that before.  JESUS CHRIST!  It’s on fire. "Pilot, I think the engine is on fire.  I can see a glow reflecting off the back side of the prop." "I don't see how it could be Hinton, I've got the fuel cut off and there shouldn't be anything there to burn." Well, Baker should know.  Yet I've never seen anything like that before.  The glow looks like it is getting brighter.

"Pintail nine, this is Dentist.  Steer heading one six zero.  This heading will keep you out of the range of unfriendlies just ahead.  What is your altitude?" "Roger Dentist, this is Pintail nine.  We're 2750 feet steering 160 degrees." I look at the back of the prop.  Now it’s an orange red.  "Pilot, its getting brighter.  Something is going on out there.  There has got to be a fire of some sort if I can see the back of the prop." Baker loosens his seat belt and raises his head up to the canopy.  "Can you see anything Kennedy?" "No.  The angle is wrong.  I can't see anything from up here." I look at the altimeter again.  We're down to 2500 feet.  I can see a hill ahead and to the right that seems to be at our altitude.  It sure looks like the engine is on fire.  I wish my parachute fit me better.

Baker calls a conference.  "Gang, it doesn't look like we're going to make it.  I thought we could hold altitude on a single engine but that windmilling prop is like a big piece of plywood out there.  We are never going to be able to get over those hills.  It looks like the best chance is to head for the water and hope the "dumbo" will pick us up in the morning." Oh Boy.  I'm not even sitting on my dinghy.  How will I ever get my dinghy on in this cockpit?  There isn't enough room to sit on the dinghy with the canopy closed.  The airplane will probably blow up before I get the dinghy under me. If I get the dinghy on and we bail out I'll probably fall out of the chute because it isn't fitted to me.  And then what.  I'll be landing in the water at night.  Do I remember how to open the dinghy?  What's the difference?  I'll freeze to death in 10 minutes anyway.  "Charlie Hinton from Mt. Auburn Illinois.  How in the hell did you ever get up here anyway."  This wasn’t part of the dream.

I tell Baker I have to get my dinghy on and he responds with "You're not wearing your dinghy?" With my mittened hand I try to slip my new Eversharp pencil into the sleeve pocket on my heavy jacket.  I miss the pocket and the pencil falls to the floor.  I try to bend over to pick it up but the headphone, mike cables, heated suit cables and the safety belt have me trapped.  Who cares about a new $3.00 Eversharp?  Now I panic.  I'm trapped.  Why put on the dinghy?  No. I have to try.  Unhook everything.  Twist around and get the dinghy from the jump seat.  Slip it under me. Pull down my head.  Find the latches and rings to hook it to the chute.  Don't lose the flashlight.  Yes, it can be done.  I have the dinghy on and then I find the mike and headphone hookups and I'm back as part of the crew again.  Where is my map and log?  Down on the floor under my feet.  I can't get to them because of all the clothes and the binding equipment.  No, I'm not part of the crew again.  I'm a very frightened passenger.

Dentist calls and gives us another steer.  Baker reports back our altitude as 2300 feet.  Kennedy comments that the ground looks awfully close.  I look out my window at the ground in the moonlight.  Boy, we are low.  I can make out the huts clearly.  I glance over at Baker and see him studying the ground also. Baker tells us, "Gang, it looks like we may have to get out and walk soon.  Check your equipment well and decide what you want to take with you.  If we have to leave the plane we want to still have room to jump." 

"Dentist, Pintail 9 here."

"Go ahead Pintail 9. This is Dentist."

"Dentist, Pintail 9 here.  Keep a good fix on us.  It looks like we're getting pretty close to the ground and we'll have to jump while we still have room."

"Roger Pintail 9.  We have your position and we'll have a chopper over you at first light.  What's your altitude now?"

"Pintail 9 here.  Our altitude is 2300 feet.  It looks like we're holding 2300.  Standby Dentist."

I look at my engine again and note the glow is gone.  I look at it closely.  The glow is gone.  Yes, it’s really gone. I report to Baker.  "I think the fire has gone out.  I don't see any glow on the back of the props anymore." Baker responds that its time something went our way. I glance over at Baker's altimeter and see that it reads 2400 feet and then look at the rate of climb.  The needle points up at 100 feet per minute.  Not much but it’s up. Maybe we're going to make it.

Someplace down on the floor are my map and flight log and my new Eversharp.  I should pick them up and go back to work.  Why bother.  Dentist is still giving us steers and Baker has tuned in the radio compass to K-14 and the needle points straight ahead.  Up ahead I can see the bomb line with clearly defined areas to the north with no lights and the area south of the line all lit up with floodlights and all the signs of civilization. Baker follows Dentist's instructions and soon we are in the K-14 traffic pattern.  We've made it.  K-14 tower clears us to land.  Just a few minutes and it will be all over. Baker waits until we have the landing made and puts the flaps down and then gear down.  Gear coming down.  Two green lights for the main gear.  We wait for the nose gear light to go green.  It has been a tough mission and now I feel tired.  I know I also have a good story to write home to the family.  Well, I can't write it to the folks, but I have to write it to somebody.

The nose gear light is still red.  Oh Boy.  Ooooh Boy.  It’s still red. Baker comes on interphone.  "Kennedy, hang on.  We don't have any nose gear and I can't go around.  Hang on fellah. Baker makes the level off for the landing. There it is.  It’s green.  The nose gear light is green.  Touchdown.  The tires make a chirp as they lightly come in contact with the runway. It’s a beautiful landing. Baker cuts the power and steers it straight down the runway.  Let me out of this bastard.

I pop the hatch, push the ladder down, and miss all but one or two of the foot/handholds going down the side, and I'm off the runway.  Baker examines the dead engine with his flashlight.  We have a hole in the prop dome.  A single rifle bullet has hit us in the prop dome, caused us to lose all the hydraulic fluid for engine feathering and the engine ran away.  Later it was determined that the red I was seeing on the back of the props was from a red-hot nose casing from a lack of engine lubrication.  When the crankshaft failed for lack of lubrication the prop was able to windmill freely and we had near normal single performance.

And that’s how my part of the war began.