MASTERING THE B-26
THE MARTIN B-26 MARAUDER presented challenges to flight students. The bomber’s high approach and landing speeds, combined with frequent accidents, produced anxiety, avoidance, and even outright refusal to fly them. “It was a new beast,” recalled Richard Waidelich, a 319th Bombardment Group copilot who flew 34 combat missions over southern Europe (he died in February). “A runaway prop could flip you over.” Says 387th Bombardment Group command pilot David Miller, 90, who flew 58 missions over northern Europe: “It demanded your attention. Even some instructors didn’t know how to fly them.”
Following VE Day, Miller and other pilots in his wing parked their Marauders at a Luftwaffe base in Germany, returning to France by C-47 before embarking for the States.
Nearly 5,200 B-26s were manufactured; according to Andrew Boehly, curator of collections at Tucson’s Pima Air & Space Museum, just six survive today. “Most fighters, light bombers, and medium bombers were scrapped where they ended the war,” he says. “Heavy bombers—b-24s and B-17s—flew servicemen back to the U.S., where these too were eventually scrapped.”
A few Marauders found second careers as civilians. “Several were converted into high-speed executive aircraft,” says Boehly, “but these crashed over time. Two B-26s survive today only because Air France used them as training airframes for their [mechanics] school.”
Three others are from a single mission—the transport of some early production models to Alaska. Forced down on Canadian tundra, they stayed preserved for later recovery by aviation entrepreneurs. (One belongs to the Fantasy of Flight museum in Polk City, Florida.)
The cockpit and nose of Flak-bait, the sixth (and most illustrious) survivor, is undergoing a conservation treatment at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia (see “Hundreds of Holes in Flak-bait,” Apr./may 2015). Flak-bait’s hundreds of patched flak holes bear witness to 207 operational missions over Europe—more than any other American aircraft that flew in World War II.
to Allmuthen the following April, their new objective was to determine if human remains from Hunconscious were present. Speder and Seel were on site for the expedition, and they were impressed by History Flight’s search protocols. It was Speder’s first collaboration with on-site archaeologists. “Searching infantry sites is different than air crash sites,” he says. Once an infantry site is finally identified, “you don’t have to search that widely for remains.” Air crash remains, Seel and Speder soon learned, could be extensively scattered and fragmented.
The team’s first step was to sweep the entire site with hand-held metal detectors. Then Buster was let loose to begin his scent-detection work. The debris field, sprinkled by fallout from the detonation of one or more of the bombs carried by Hunconscious, proved extensive, nearly a fifth of a square mile. Paul Schwimmer, History Flight’s land surveyor, laid out a survey grid so that the locations of any findings could be precisely documented. Next, a backhoe cleared vines, nettles, and crater debris.
The investigation was accomplished in the harsh weather for which the Ardennes region is known. “We encountered rain, fog, ice pel
lets, and snow,” says Noah. “The guys wet-screening the debris wore heavy-duty rain gear. I thought wearing a leather bomber jacket would do, but I ended up contracting pneumonia.”
The team did its most labor-intensive work in four promising patches of ground. The third patch was the spot where the laundry mark fragment had been found, but field workers felt greater anticipation in searching the fourth patch: the impact crater made by the wreckage of Hunconscious. To enable excavation of the crater, drainage ditches were built to empty it of water. Once the crater was dry, Buster alerted numerous times on its center. (The dog signals his detection of a target scent by lying down and barking.)
Prolonged and methodical archaeological digging and sifting can be trying, especially when weather conditions are awful or results nil. Schwimmer recalls being part of a team searching Palau for the remains of B-24 airmen. “Stress and frustration nearly caused my brain to flip,” he says.
At Allmuthen, though, neither impatience nor frustration interfered with
A Martin B-26 flies over France during World War II.
Near the base of a tree, rope marks the fully searched site where remains of Sergeant Eric Honeyman were found, along with part of his flight jacket.
History Flight’s fleet also includes a U.S. Navy N2S Stearman trainer.