Category Archives: Airplanes

Then & Now

I published this photograph of the Lower Crab Creek Valley as viewed from the Taunton townsite in “Another Flood.” On a recent visit to the same spot I took the following photograph.

This summer I took a hurried trip through Eastern Washington, photographing sites I have written about. In this article I try to post old photographs alongside more recent ones. In some cases I have also provided views of places previously mentioned in my posts, although no older photographs are available to compare them to.

A view of the Lower Crab Creek Valley in 2012, more than fifty years after the previous photograph was taken, reveals the changing ecology of the formerly arid landscape. Irrigation and invasive species have radically altered the local habitat.

There is definitely an article to be written concerning the environmental changes that have taken place in the Lower Crab Creek Valley over Continue reading

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A Fuller Picture

In my last post I analyzed the crashes of Army Air Force P-39s based at Moses Lake and Ephrata in 1944. The crash record was alarming. Several of the comments I’ve had either through the site or by other means inquired about other aircraft, particularly the P-38. This morning I went through the records again and updated the Google map of crash sites to include all of the recorded crashes from those two bases (except for one Ephrata crash that took place in Sandpoint, Idaho and another that took place in California). I do not have confidence that all of the crashes that actually occurred show up in this data.

In the updated version of the map, I have color coded crashes. Blue remains P-39 crashes, which were the most numerous wrecks; green markers indicate P-38 crashes, which were the second most common. Rather than come up with too many colors, I used yellow to indicate all other aircraft, from single engine spotter planes to heavy bombers.

I have included the sparse data from Ellensburg AAF, which existed for part of 1943 and part of 1944. Most of the wrecks from that field occurred at the airport. Note that the army airfield in Ellensburg is not the same as today’s airport. The abandoned army field is visible in the Google map as traces of the runways in an uncultivated area north of town.

I can’t help but wonder what emotional strain the pilots were going through that summer. In two instances I found pilots who suffered a fatal crash who had previously crashed and survived. One of these, Richard C. Livingston, died in a P-38 crash near Potholes Reservoir a little more than a month after crashing a P-39 at Moses Lake AAB. Another, Glenn W. Ingersoll, first crash landed his P-38 at Moses Lake, then died three days later when his P-38 had a structural failure. For the pilots around them terror of such disasters must have been almost overwhelming. For the residents of the area, a similar fear must have grown as they witnessed these crashes so frequently. Army policy of not allowing journalists to record them could not have curtailed the word-of-mouth distribution of news about the plane crashes.

My thanks to Jim Huffman and Clint Bridges for giving me some guidance in updating this article. It was interesting to read Clint’s conversation with my dad about the day Gene Dyer’s crash took place. There is a link to that discussion in the comments to my last posting.

The Summer it Rained Airplanes

Two mechanics crank the handle of a USAAF Bell P-39Q-1-BE Airacobra, at Hamilton Army Airfield, California, in July, 1943. Saga Boy II was flown by Lt.Col. Edward S. Chickering, commander of the 357th Fighter Group. USAAF photograph as published in Wikipedia Commons.

Early Sunday morning, June 11, 1944, Stanley L. Stroud opened the door to the cockpit of his P-39Q fighter trainer for the last time. Stroud lifted off from Moses Lake Army Air Force Base and headed towards the Lower Crab Creek country to practice strafing or firing his cannon. Maybe both. Maybe he was one of the “flyboys” my dad accused of shooting at livestock grazing along the creek.

Stroud probably drained his ammo cans before pulling up out of the valley, headed east. He may even have jettisoned the empty shells, although that practice was frowned upon. We used to collect .50 caliber shells, some of them still live, and other ammunition from time to time as we wandered across the vacant lands along the creek. With his ammo used up, Stroud gunned the engine and pulled back on the stick to sweep upwards out of the Crab Creek Valley. It would have been a thrill of sheer power, with a roaring 12 cylinder engine just behind his seat, one of the most muscular machines in the world. At the time, nobody knew why it happened, but pilots had for years reported that the P-39 would sometimes spin out of control. As Stroud gained altitude and shot eastwards along the northern flank of Saddle Mountain it happened to him. Stroud may have been knocked unconscious by inertia forcing the blood out of his brain. We can only hope that was the case. His plane plummeted in a tight spiral known as a Stall/Spin, exploding against the face of Saddle Mountain in a huge fireball. A seared patch of hillside, roughly the shape of Alaska, was branded into the sagebrush for at least the next forty years. Today you’d have to know where to look.

When I first heard his story in grade school, the pilot had no name and the story was told as if such an accident were unusual. It was one of the legacy tales that made my hometown seem special. But when I began to research that incident for this article I discovered something astounding. Stroud’s death was only one of 123 accidents involving P-39s from two Army Air Force Base Units located in Moses Lake and Ephrata that were training fighter pilots that summer 1944. All of these incidents occurred in only about five months, from late April to late August, 1944 (except one, which took place the following January). Continue reading