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
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Tagged 357th Fighter Group, Airacobra, Army, Aviation Archaeology, B-17, Bell, Beverly, Canada, Central Washington, Columbia River, Crab Creek, Danielsons, Eastern Washington, Ellensburg, England, Ephrata Army Air Field, Hamilton Army Air Field, Harvey J. Christensen, Highway 26, History, James A. Crunk, Leonard E. Parsons, Lockheed, Lt. Col. Edward S. Chickering, Lutacaga Elementary School, Moses Lake, Moses Lake Army Air Base, Othello, P-38, P-39Q, Pearl Harbor, Quincy, Road B SE, Robert M. Pickerall, Royal City, Saddle Mountain, Second World War, Soviet Union, Stanley L. Stroud, T-33A, US Air Force, USAAF, Warren E. Danielson, Washington State, Whiskey Creek, Wikipedia, Wilson Creek