En route to the target with pilot Kendrick Bragg, Jr. of Savannah, Ga. in command, a German Messerschmitt Bf-109 went out of control, colliding with the bomber, nearly cutting the flying fortress in half, severing most of the control cables to the rudder and stabilizer and leaving the tail section literally hanging by a few metal threads.
When crew members attempted to pull the tail gunner, Sam Sarpolus, from his fragile position using nylon cords stripped from parachutes, the loss of his weight threatened to cause the tail’s complete collapse, so he returned to his station voluntarily while Bragg and co-pilot George Engle fought to keep “All American” flying. The plane continued on to the target, but when Bombardier Ralph Burbridge opened the Bomb bay doors, the resulting gale blew one of the waist gunners back into the tail, making matters even worse. More parachutes had to be sacrificed in order to pull him back to safety, and away from the now flailing appendage.
Then, and only after their bombs had been delivered, they headed for home – two-and-a half hours away! With the tail section threatening to break away with every small movement, backup control cables obviously functioning on borrowed time, and only five parachutes left, the entire ten-man crew committed themselves to stay together for a crash landing at their home base. With crew members literally holding the disintegrating aircraft together, “All American” finally slid to a stop at the end of the runway. As the grateful tail gunner clambered from his position, the entire tail section separated and fell to the ground. The waiting ambulance was waved away. Not a single man was hurt or wounded.
The B-29 was the largest bomber in the second world war. Standing next to one in a museum, or if able to see the flying B-29 when it tours, it is quite a large aircraft. It was significantly larger than the B-24’s and B-17s in the ETO, and was able to carry more payload.
The B-36, is another matter. One is currently on display at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio (a world class aviation museum), and it is quite impressive. A combination of propeller driven engines and jet engines, it was a mammoth aircraft. As with many early cold war jets, it was obsolete really before it was produced in significant numbers. Also on display is one of the early B-36 large tires that actually cracked runways, leading to the change into the more modern technique of many smaller tires, as seen on jetliners today. The key takeaway is that it is very large. :)
The size difference in this photo provides an illuminating revelation on the size difference between “large” world war 2 aircraft, compared to some of the aircraft in the 1950’s and beyond. In this photo, the B-29 looks quite small by comparison.