- Wurtsmith Air Museum
- WAFB's B-52s today
- Local Crash Site Mystery
- Early Base History
- Boneyard Gallery
- Tuskegee Airmen in Oscoda
- BASE MAPS
Since the early part of the 20th century, the military base outside of the small town of Oscoda Michigan, had gone by many names; Loud-Reames Aviation Field, Camp Skeel, Oscoda Army Airfield, Oscoda Air Force Base and Wurtsmith Air Force Base. Regardless of its name, the base always played an important part in the ever-evolving National defense.
From the early days of bi-planes practicing bombing runs and landing on a frozen lake, training Tuskegee airmen, Air Defense Command fighter jets on alert, B-52s with Hound dog missile and in the end, KC-135 and B-52s with air launched cruise missiles on alert.
Today, the Wurtsmith Air Museum works to preserve the history of the men and women that served, so their stories and the history of aviation in northeastern Michigan can be shared with future generations.
A Synopsis of Wurtsmith History
P-47 fighters were assigned to Oscoda during World War II. Members of the famous "Tuskegee Airmen," an all-black fighter squadron, trained at Oscoda for a number of weeks and stayed at the now demolished Welcome Hotel (image on right).
1942 -- Camp Skeel is renamed Oscoda Army Air Field and becomes a P-47 fighter base.
1944 -- Maj. Gen. Paul B. Wurtsmith, born in Detroit in 1906, led U. S. Army Air Corps training flights to Camp Skeel near Oscoda prior to World War II. Wurtsmith earned recognition during the war as the leader of the group of pilots using P-40 and P-38 fighter aircraft to defend Australian cities against enemy attacks. General Douglas MacArthur wrote that "Much of our success in the Pacific was due to his brilliant attainments and leadership." At age 36, Army officials named him a two-star major general. Ironically, Wurtsmith died in 1946 in an airplane crash on a routine flight of a B-25 bomber.
1945 - 1947 -- The base is closed for two years, but re-opened due to heavy use by fighters flying from Selfridge Army Air Field near Detroit.
1948 -- Oscoda Army Air Field renamed Oscoda Air Force Base.
July 1960 -- The 920th Air Refueling Squadron with their KC-135 Stratotankers arrive from Carswell AFB, Texas.
1960 -- The base becomes part of Strategic Air Command, set up to respond to nuclear attack by the Soviet Union.
Jan 1961 -- The 379th Bombardment Wing (H) takes over control of the base, personnel, & equipment from the 4026th Air Base Squadron.
9 May 1961 -- The first B-52H Stratofortress, 60-001 christened the "State of Michigan" arrives at Wurtsmith.
1965 -- KC-135 tankers from the 920th AREFS begin flying "Young Tiger" missions in support of combat operations in Southeast Asia.
1965 -- Flight crews from the 520th BMS cross-train in B-52Ds and begin flying "Arc Light" missions in Southeast Asia.
1 January 1980 -- The 379th receives the first Gen George C. Kenny Award for the best Operational Readiness Inspection/BUY NONE performance of a SAC bombardment wing.
14 January 1980 -- The wing receives its third Air force Outstanding Unit Award.
February 1980 -- The 379th wins the 40th Air Division Commander's Trophy.
2 October 1980 -- the 379th captures first place in the William Tell Weapons Meet, winning the Lt. Gen Gerald Johnson Top Bomber Crew Award.
1980 -- Wurtsmith is chosen for nuclear-armed cruise missiles to equip B-52 bombers.
January 1981 -- The 379th is named the Best Bombardment Wing in the 8th Air Force
18 March 1982 -- The 524th receives the 1981 Gen John D. Ryan Outstanding Bombardment Squadron in SAC.
20 April 1983 -- The last modified B-52G with the OAS arrives.
17 June 1982 -- The Integrated Maintenance Facility is officially dedicated as the wing receives its first two AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs)
18 January 1983 -- Wurtsmith receives its first B-52G modified with the new Offensive Avionics System (OAS).
1 August 1983 -- The wing wins the Gen George C. Kenny Trophy
8 November 1983 -- The wing is awarded the Doughtery Trophy for best SRAM scores during the year's bombing and navigation competition.
1984 -- B-52 Bombing and Navigation Trophy
1984 -- B-52 Superior Bombing Award
1984 -- Wurtsmith is passed over as a home for B-1 bomber to replace the aging B-52s.
1984 -- The 379th receives the William J. Crumm Linebacker Memorial Trophy during the annual SAC Bombing and Navigation Competition.
1984 -- B-52 Superior SRAM Performance Award
1985 -- The Wing wins the Best B-52 Bombardment Wing Award and the 524th wins the Best B-52 Bombardment Crew Award during the 1985 "Busy Leader" competition.
May 1987 -- Gen. Curtis E. LeMay visits WAFB with SAC IG team.
26 May - 13 Jul 1987 -- The wing deploys to March AFB, California as part of a RED FLAG exercise.
20-26 Sep 1987 -- The wing deploys to Eielson AFB, Alaska as part of the RAPID SHOT exercise.
November 1987 -- The 379th wins the coveted Fairchild Trophy, recognizing the best B-52 and KC-135 unit in the SAC Bombing and Navigation competition. The wing beat out 23 other SAC wings and various Air National Guard and Reserve units to take top honors in the competition that became known as Proud Shield. The 524th ran away with four of the major trophies for excellence in high and low-level bombing; the Curtis E. LeMay Bombing Trophy, the Mathis Trophy, the John D. Ryan B-52 Trophy, and the William J. Crumm Linebacker Memorial Trophy. The 920th finished in 10th place for the best tanker unit overall.
30 Jan - 5 Feb 1988 -- The wing sent seven B-52s to Clinton-Sherman, Oklahoma as part of the MIGHTY FORCE 88-4 exercise.
1-11 April 1988 -- Moron AB, Spain. Three aircraft, crews and wing staffs were taken in support of operations. Lt Col Larry Hinton was the deployed wing commander and Lt Col James Dean was the deployed Deputy of Operation.
28 Jul - 12 Aug 1988 -- The wing deployed seven bombers to Biggs Army Airfield (AAF), El Paso, Texas as part of the GALLANT EAGLE/MIGHT WARRIOR 88-4.
15 Sep - 1 Oct. 1988 -- The wing deployed seven bombers to Moron AB, Spain at part of the BUSY BREWER exercise in support of MIGHTY WARRIOR, DISPLAY DETERMINATION, and DAMSEL FAIR operations.
11 Oct 1988 -- Tragedy strikes the 379th when a 920th KC-135 crashed while making an approach to land at Wurtsmith. All six-flight crewmembers lost their lives while the 8AF Staff Assistance Visit Team, managed to escape from the back-end of the burning wreckage.
11-23 March 1989 -- Two bombers were sent to Andersen AFB, Guam as part of the RAPID WARRIOR/RAPID SHOT GOLF exercise.
16 April - 5 May 1989 -- Four bombers were sent to Moron AB, Spain as part of BUSY WARRIOR supporting MIGHTY WARRIOR/DISPLAY DETERMINATION operations.
9-22 July 1989 -- Then seven bombers were sent to Biggs AAF, Texas as part of MIGHTY WARRIOR/GREEN FLAG exercises.
18 July 1989 -- A B-52G dropped two B-83 weapons on the hard target located on the Tonopah Test Range (TTR). Unfortunately this was a mishap because the bomber was to drop three weapons on three separate bomb runs. After determining the cause, the back-up date (20 July) was used to drop the third weapon on the hard target.
July 1989 -- The wing is chosen for a BUSY LUGGAGE mission to aimed at testing of gravity nuclear weapons.
7-22 September 1989 -- The 379th went back to Moron AB with four aircraft and five aircrews to participate in MIGHTY WARRIOR/DISPLAY DETERMINATION operations.
9-17 November 1989 -- The wing deploys to Cairo West, Egypt in support of BRIGHT STAR '90.
10 November 1989 -- The 379th won the Snuffy Smith Trophy for the best B-52 Gunner scores during the annual SAC Bombing and Navigation Competition.
November 1989 -- 379th Bombardment Gunners win the Maynard H. Smith Award for best gunners at the annual SAC Bombing and Navigation Competition.
November 1989 -- Wurtsmith is picked as one of seven bases to receive part of the rail-based MX missile system.
MEANING OF THE TRIANGLE K
During World War II, Eighth Air Force consisted of 3 air divisions and was comprised of 47 bombardment groups. One group was equivalent to what is now a wing. Each bombardment group generally had 120 aircraft assigned. Assembling massive aerial formations was chaotic, so the Eighth Air Force leaders developed a shape and letter system for easy identification of its planes in the air. The triangle represented the first air division; the circle, the second; and the square, the third. The groups under each division were given letter designations. The 379th was assigned to Kimbolton, England and the selection of the letter K to designate the 379th was coincidental, as the groups were issued letter designations when they entered combat.
In this way, the group was recognized by its triangle K.
U.S. Army Air Corps lands biplanes on Iosco County's Van Ettan Lake and opens Camp Skeel.
Residents of the Oscoda area raised $600 to clear 40 acres of land next to the lake as a spot for a training camp and target range.
1953 -- The base is renamed Paul B. Wurtsmith Air Force Base after Michigan World War II hero Maj. Gen. Paul B. Wurtsmith.
April 1974 -- The wing develops an operational AGM-69A Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM) capability.
2 May 1977 -- The first B-52G, 58-0197, arrived from Ellsworth AFB, SD and completes the transition from B-52H to the B-52G in July.
October 1977 -- The Accellerated Co-Pilot Enrichment Program begins following the assignment of five T37 aircraft to the base.
1977 -- The Air Force Outstanding Unit Award is presented to the Supply Squadron as well as the Avionics and Munitions Maintenance Squadrons.
1977 -- Munitions, Avionics, Operational Maintenance Squadrons, along with the 920th AREFS and the 524th BMS arch chosen as the best in the 40th AD.
1977 -- The 379ths participation in the annual "GIANT VOICE" Bombing and Navigation competitions captures the Doolittle Trophy in the low-level bombing category.
1977 -- Equally impressive was the wing's showing during "GIANT SWORD 77" SAC's annual Weapons Loading and Security Police competition which resulted in a first place finish as well as being bestowed "Best in SAC".
June 1978 -- The 379th finishes first among SAC units and third overall in the Royal Air Force Bombing and Navigation Competition.
October 1978 -- The 524th takes first place in the Best B-52 portion of "GIANT SWORD 78".
December 1978 -- The 524th received the best score yet achieved during the live launch of a SRAM tests consisting of live-launch and captive-carry missions conducted on the various missile ranges; Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, or the Naval Air Warfare Center at Point Mugu California.
1978 -- The 920th AREFS flys over 800 refueling missions and a total of 54 special missions supporting seven major commands in every theater of operations.
1978 -- SAC selects the 379th Civil Engineering Squadron as the "Best in SAC" with a nomination for US Air Force honors.
1978 -- The 40th AD selects the 379th AMS and 524th BMS, for the second year running, as the divisions best squadron awards.
April 1990 -- The wing is chosen for another BUSY LUGGAGE test mission.
16 July 1990 -- A B-52G dropped one B-83 weapon from high altitude onto the dry lakebed located on the Tonopah Test Range (TTR).
October 1990 -- The wing sends staff personnel to Jeddah New, Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield in preparation for B-52 operations with Desert Storm.
October 1990 -- Congress cancels the $1.3 billion MX rail program due to the Cold War's end and mounting national budget problems.
18 January 1991 -- 0425 zulu, the 379th went to war by flying the longest employ-deploy strike mission in history, up to this time. 10 bombers participated in the mission which recovered in Jeddah New, Saudi Arabia, where they joined the 1708th Bombardment Wing (Provisional) and flew more missions.
April 12, 1991 -- Wurtsmith is among more than 30 military bases named for closure. President George Bush and Congress approve the closure several months later.
27 Sep 1991 -- After 34 years of pulling nuclear alert, President George H.W. Bush announced the end of the "Cold War."
With that decision, America's strategic bombers and Minuteman II ICBMs were pulled off alert status in the single biggest change in nearly four decades of fielding nuclear weapons.
28 September 1991 -- order went out on the taking planes off alert, turned over to maintenance, and the weapons were remove and placed in storage.
October 1991 -- The 379th was chosen to participate in a GLOBAL CRUISE test mission of an AGM-86B ALCM.
July 1, 1992 -- The USAF Thunderbirds flew the final military air show at Wurtsmith AFB.
11 May 1992 -- The 379th would place second overall during the final SAC Bombing and Navigation Competition.
1 June 1992 -- All of SAC's assets would transfer over ACC.
June 1992 -- The 920th AREFS was placed on the inactive status with the departure of the last KC-135A tanker aircraft.
2 December 1992 -- The 379th Operations Group, 379th Operations Support Group, and the 524th BMS would be inactivated
15 December 1992 -- The final B-52G, #57-6492 Old Crow Express, departed for the AMARC.
April 8, 1993 -- Oscoda Plastics Inc. becomes the first private industry to lease a building at Wurtsmith
June 30, 1993 -- The Air Force formally closes its operations at the base.
1992 -- The "Old Crow Express," the last B-52 bomber to leave Wurtsmith Air Force Base, bids goodbye on December 15. The plane, piloted by 379th Bombardment Wing Commander Col. William H. Campbell, Jr., joined Wurtsmith's other B-52s at the Arizona boneyard.
Photos of Old Crow Express after the flight to Davis Monthan AFB, Tucson AZ.
(click to ENLARGE)
Col. William H. Campbell, Jr., the last commander of the U.S. Air Force's 379th Bombardment Wing at Wurtsmith. The 379th operated at the base from 1961 to 1992. Campbell, as the base's top officer, was in charge of both B-52 bombers and KC-135 refueling tankers.
Wurtsmith AFB Base Map
If interested, Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport Authority has several Air Force Buildings available for purchase/lease:
And the there are development options available:
On December 8, 1993, twenty people, including the National President of the Yankee Air Force and the membership chairman participated in the first formal meeting. A motion was passed to petition the National Headquarters for approval of a Yankee Air Force Division in Oscoda.
Those who paid their dues within a week of that meeting, were Founders and those who paid by December 1994, were Charter members. Many of the original members were pilots at the recently closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base and all the members had an interest an aviation and preserving the history of Wurtsmith Air Force Base. John Pegg was elected as the first Chairman and the search to find a location that provided runway access, space for the museum building, a library, and room for expansion began.
They rented an old Fighter hangar on base (the current home of the gift shop and static exhibits), began submitting requests for planes and scheduled the first Fly-in for July 30 & 31, 1994, to coincide with Oscoda River Days.
The first plane in the museum’s collection, which is still at the museum, was a damaged L-19, retrieved from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Work was also begun on a CG4 “WACO” combat glider, which is also still in the museum. A model aircraft club was started. There were dinners, dances, raffles, and rummage sales held and members were involved in community events.
By Dec. 1994 the Wurtsmith Division of the Yankee Air Force had 112 members.
* * * THIS SECTION IS BEING UPDATED * * *
After a trip to the Boneyard in September 2019, hundreds of current and vintage photos are being sorted, scanned and uploaded.
This is a very time consuming process so please check back and
if you have any photos or content to add, please send an email.
* * * (November 2019) * * *
Before the Base closure in 1993, the majority of Wurtsmith’s planes were transferred to AMARG, Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson AZ. a.k.a ‘the BoneYard’. After nearly 30 years, 14 WAFB B-52s are still in the desert, being used for parts to support the fleet of active B-52s.
Once these airframes are no longer able to provide parts, they will be shredded and sold for scrap.
The images below are are from the Boneyard in September 2019.
The B-52s with red markers are Wurtsmith’s.
Place your mouse pointer on a marker to reveal the aircraft number and nose art (if available).
Miscellaneous Photos of Wurtsmith B-52s and KC-135s in the mid 1990s
Local Crash Site Mystery
Dave Trojan & Jeff Benya next to plane wreckage that was discovered in a swamp
By Dave Trojan, Aviation Archaeologist, email@example.com
The mystery began back in 2016 when a guy bought a 40-acre parcel of land located about two miles southwest of the old Wurtsmith AFB in Oscoda Michigan. The previous property owners told him quote, “A T-33 jet trainer crashed on the property sometime in the 1950s and the two French pilots parachuted to safety”. Furthermore, he was told that the Air Force brought in a dozer to push through the swamp to the plane crash site to be able to take all the good stuff and they buried the rest of the plane. He googled T33 plane crashes in the area, but he could only find two and neither were close to the property. He searched his newly acquired property and found what looked like a dozer had made a path through the swamp many, many years ago to a site. At the site he found a piece of aluminum about the size of a crumpled coffee can and some sort of linkage that looked like it came from a plane. The site location is next to impossible to access because it is located in a dense swamp. He could understand why they would not try to salvage the whole plane and he doesn’t know how they got to it with 1950s era equipment.
Aircraft wreckage discovered by the property owner
The new owner was curious and wanted to know more, so he contacted Jeff Benya of Michigan Aviation Archaeology. Jeff and I began our search to identify the site by checking the Aviation Archaeological Investigation and Research database for U.S. military aircraft accident reports. The database includes all Air Force aircraft accidents up to 1955 and nothing there seemed to fit. Many questions remained unanswered. At first glance, the “French” thing did not make much sense. There were French units that were trained at Oscoda during World War Two, but the Free French Airmen training officially ended in September 1945 and none were in two seat aircraft. If there were indeed French pilots visiting the area after WWII for an airshow or joint training, would they have brought their own planes? Did the French Air Force use T-33s? If there was an accident involving French pilots; who would have the accident report? What still remained at the crash site? Could the wreckage at the site help to identify the aircraft?
What was the story behind the wreckage and how did it end up there?
T-33 Jet Trainer assigned to Oscoda/Wurtsmith AFB Michigan
The first bit of information that we checked was the reference to the T-33 jet fighter. Research revealed that the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star American jet two pilot trainer was produced by Lockheed and made its first flight in 1948. The T-33 was used by over 30 nations including the French Air Force, which had 163 of them. The T-33 Shooting Star was known to have been extensively used at Oscoda AFB which changed its name to Wurtsmith AFB in 1953, so it was a definitely a possibility. The database records check did reveal a total of about six possible aircraft accidents between WWII and 1955 that seemed to fit the general location information. There were several possible WWII French P-47s and American F-80, F-86 and T-33 jets that crashed in the general area. However, the original information was specifically that there was one plane with a crew of two. Upon further closer examination, none of the possible aircraft accidents in the database matched the description of the crash site or specific location.
The challenge with this investigation was trying to identify which aircraft had crashed at the location. The only way to do that was to investigate the crash site in person and look for identifying marks such as part numbers and manufacturer inspection stamps. Hopefully the onsite exploration will at least narrow down the type of plane or manufacturer.
Uncovering the aircraft wreckage
An expedition to the crash site was undertaken in September 2016. The site is located in a remote nasty overgrown swamp at the bottom of a hill. At first glance nothing is unusual about the site, until you notice the clearing in the heavily wooded area and the pond of water in the middle of it. The pond is surrounded by pieces of metal which are heavily encrusted by vegetation and stuck to the ground. Freeing a piece of metal from the grasp of the swamp required considerable effort. Probing and fishing in the water hole indicated that there were large pieces of metal in it. The largest pieces found at the site were a section of wing and a landing gear door. All the pieces were heavily corroded which made identification very difficult. Only two pieces of wreckage had part numbers and only one had North American Aviation (NAA) manufacturer marks.
Piece of aircraft with ANA 966 stamp on it which was a manufacturer’s mark for North American Aviation, the other mark is HT for heat treatment of the part
Aircraft wreckage dug out of the swamp after considerable effort
We had narrowed down the list of possible aircraft considerably by exploring the crash site and finding NAA markings. North American Aviation made many different aircraft including the T-6 Texan trainer; P-51 Mustang fighter; B-25 Mitchell bomber; and the F86 Sabre jet fighter. All of these types of aircraft were based at Oscoda/Wurtsmith AFB at one time or another. However, at that time we could not match any of the part numbers to a specific type of aircraft because we did not have all the parts manuals.
F-86 jet assigned to the 63rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Oscoda early 1950s Based on the possible visual match of the landing gear door, the F-86 Sabre jet seemed to fit the original story best. The F-86 Sabre jet was manufactured by North American Aviation and it was stationed at Wurtsmith AFB during the 1950s. It was still unknown which F-86 jet model it was or when the crash occurred. The history of Wurtsmith AFB indicates that F-86s were used by the 63rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron between January 1951and August 1955. The 63rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron used F-86As in 1951, received F-86Fs in late 1952, F-86Ds in May 1954, and then switched to F-89Ds in the spring of 1955. They transferred to O’Hare Airport IL (1955-1958) and operated F86D/L jet aircraft from there. It was time to go back to the database and search again for F-86 Sabre jet accidents. It took months to acquire several complete accident reports for review to see if one of them matched our site. However, once again none could be found that fit the location and what we had found at the crash site.
Landing gear door from crash site compared to F-86 gear door
We believed that the wreck was most likely from a Wurtsmith AFB based aircraft, but the other possibility was that it could be a transit aircraft that was just visiting the base. The accident could have also occurred after our database ending date of 1955 or it could be a visiting foreign aircraft from another country. The only way to eliminate these possibilities was to check the local newspaper archives. Many more months passed by until a local researcher was hired to methodically check the local newspaper records. It took over five hours and $50.00 for a records check for what we believed to be the most likely time period 1954 thru 1958. Still no matches could be found. We still needed the local newspaper checked from 1940-1954 and from 1959 onward. The identification of the aircraft still eluded us. We had found some wreckage, but which one and what was the story behind it? All we knew for sure was that it was made by North American Aviation. Progress on this investigation stalled as other projects took priority.
Months and then years passed before I decided to renew the search again. I posted all that I knew about what we had found along with pictures of the wreckage onto the Wreck Chasing Message Board web site in early 2020. You can follow the discussion at this link: https://pacaeropress.websitetoolbox.com/post/old–f86–wreck–mystery10463422?&trail=15 . Within days the responses started coming in regarding possible answers to the puzzle of the wreckage.
Comparison of wing wreckage to P-51 Mustang wing
Another researcher determined that the rivet pattern did not match the F-86 gear door and neither did the position of the actuator on the door. It was close, but not quite. The “stars and bars wing panel” had a raised fence that would indicate the airflow direction, making this the outer wing panel fragment of a straight winged aircraft. The fence and insignia position looked really close to P-51 Mustang, but the oval access panel was in the wrong position for a P-51D model. It was hard to find good pictures of P-51 wings that showed the access cover and the fence in the right position on the aft edge of the outer wing in front of the aileron. The earlier models of the P-51 wings were shaped differently from the later models and the access cover was also different. The NAA prefix 117 part number found on the one piece of wreckage was also a zinger because it did not come up in any common NAA references and not used on the P-51D. Furthermore, the part number was too early in the NAA sequence to be from F-86 Sabre jet. It was eventually determined that the NAA part number prefix 117 was allocated for a production batch of P-51H aircraft. The other part number that we found was for a carburetor air filter. Researching found that it was used on Cessna type aircraft among others. What we had found was not a Cessna, but it did eliminate jet type aircraft because they don’t use carburetors. The aircraft type we found must be a piston driven aircraft with a carburetor. Lastly, most pictures of the P-51 Mustang show the wheel gear door in the up position. We needed to try and match the landing gear wheel door that we found with P-51H models. We still were not sure of what exactly we had found, but we needed to take a much closer look at P-51 Mustang accidents in the area.
Filter, Carburetor Air part number 13181 found at crash site
The last confirmation for the identification of the crash site came from P-51 Mustang parts manuals that we could now access. We were able to match the two parts that we had with numbers in the manuals. We were also able to match other parts from the crash site to drawings in the manuals.
Part number 117- 52318 on Fork Assy Aileron Control matched P-51H manual The last Michigan unit to fly the P/F-51 Mustang was The 172d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, which flew the type until 1954. Furthermore, many Air National Guard Units from other states with P-51 Mustangs visited the Oscoda area gunnery range until it closed about 1959. A bit of digging back into the records found reference to TF-51H serial number 44-64711 which crashed 26th June 1951. Its crash location was listed as 7 miles from Oscoda AFB and was outside our previous research area. At the time there was no standard way to measure crash locations, but it now made sense that this accident could be the one we were looking for. A cabin was also referenced in the report that matched the cabin on the 40 acre parcel of land that the new property owner had purchased. The TF-51H was a late model modified version of the P-51 Mustang. It started to all come together with what we had found at the site with what was written in the accident report for TF-51H s/n 44-64711.
P-51H 44-46711 assigned to the 56th Fighter Group, photo courtesy Dave Menar
The official accident report for TF-51H, s/n 44-64711, contained the following edited information. The pilot, Capt. Harold H. Buth was flying TF-51H, serial number 4464711A, on a proficiency training flight 26 June 1951. He was very experienced and well qualified to fly this type of aircraft. He had qualified as a pilot on 5 June 1945 and had acuminated 1554 total pilot hours. His primary duty assignment with the squadron was Flight Leader. The pilot and aircraft were assigned to the 56th Fighter Interceptor Wing, 56th Fighter Interceptor group, 63rd fighter interceptor squadron based at Oscoda AFB. TF-51H Mustang s/n 44-64711 had a total of 880 hours on it. It was reported that the aircraft had experienced engine problems during the weeks leading up to flight but had passed it preflight checks. The weather was good on the day of the flight. It was typical late spring weather for the area with temperature 61 degrees, overcast 30%, visibility 10 miles and winds SSE at 12 knots.
Approximately 12 minutes after takeoff, the pilot called the control tower at Oscoda AFB and informed the operator that he was experiencing engine trouble 10 miles from the base and was returning for an emergency landing. At about the same time, an employee of the forestry service stated that he saw the aircraft overhead and noted that its engine sounded like it was not running right. He saw the aircraft made a turn towards the base and when last seen, it was losing altitude with its engine cutting in and out.
Approximately two minutes after his original call to the control tower, the pilot called again and stated that he was lined up with the runway about five miles from the field at 1500 feet altitude with 140 mph airspeed. The pilot also stated that he was probably going to have to bail out. This was his last radio transmission. The control tower operator did not see the aircraft crash. Another F-51 Mustang flying locally was directed to search for the wreckage and when found, lead rescue crews to the scene. Almost an hour had elapsed from the time of the accident until the first rescue personnel arrived at the crash site.
The crash site is located in a very densely wooded, swampy area. The crash occurred less than 3 miles from the end of the longest runway on the field. There were no dwellings other than a hunting cabin within a mile. There was a definite path of entry through the trees where the aircraft came down. At the point of impact, the aircraft was traveling due east and hit the ground at about a 45 degree angle in a nose down position with wings level. The aircraft’s landing gear and flaps were in the up position. The plane came to an immediate stop after chopping the tops off numerous trees and then nosing into the soft ground. The engine and propeller were torn loose and ricocheted off or thru more than a dozen trees before coming to a stop about 75 feet beyond the fuselage. All engine accessories were broken or damaged to such an extent that information could not be obtained from them that could be used to determine the cause of the mechanical failure. The fuselage remained fairly intact after impact; however, the center section of fuselage was completely burned out. The pilot’s body was found about 80 feet before the point of impact. Investigators concluded that he did not have enough time or altitude to open his chute or that he hit the tail of the aircraft on his way out. With the permission of the land owner, the wreckage was buried in the swamp after it was determined that it was virtually impossible to reclaim anything for salvage or further investigation.
P/F-51H Mustang 44-64315, assigned to the 56th Fighter Group
My research analysis for the time period revealed some staggering statics. During the 24-month period from 1 January 1950 to 1 January 1952, there were 462 major accidents involving the F-51 Mustang type aircraft. Pilots were found responsible for approximately 40% of the accidents during that time and the other 60% were material failures. The accident rate per 100,000 flight hours jumped from 93 in 1949, to 109 in 1950, to 279 in 1951. Clearly the numbers of accidents dramatically increased during that time and most were due to equipment failures. During the early 1950s, jet-powered fighters became the new standard, forcing the retirement and wholesale replacement of propeller driven fighters. The last F-51H Mustangs were retired from ANG units in 1957.
The TF-51H, s/n 44-64711, was nearly the last Mustang aircraft built by North American Aviation at its Inglewood factory. Originally manufactured as model P-51H-10-NA, it was delivered 30 Nov 1945. In total, NAA produced 555 P-51H Mustangs airplanes (4464160 to 44-64714) under USAAF contract number AC 1752. These included 20 P51H-1-NA, 280 P-51H-5-NA and 255 P-51H-10-NA. In early 1946 the P-51H was assigned to the Strategic Air Command, Fifteenth Air Force, 56th Fighter Interceptor Group at Selfridge Field Michigan. The 56th FG was assigned as a long-range fighter escort unit for super fortress bombers. In 1947 the designation system changed from pursuit to fighter and the P-51H was re-designated as F-51H. On 1 Sept 1947, the F51H participated in the Air Force flight demonstration at the National Air Races in Cleveland Ohio. The “T” designation was added some time later and was used to indicate that the aircraft was relegated to training duties. The TF-51H may have been used as a target for radar intercept training. According to a source in Oscoda, the “T” designation indicated that it was used as a tug for towing gunnery target sleeves.
The P-51H was the ultimate version of the Mustang, which was the fastest Mustang variant to enter production during WWII. However, it never saw any combat because it entered service too late. The P-51H had redesigned wings and undercarriage, lengthened fuselage, taller tail and was almost 600 lbs. lighter compared to the earlier P-51D model. That is why I was unable to match the wreckage earlier to a P-51D model. The P-51H aircraft was powered by the uprated Packard Merlin V-1659-9 engine which gave it a top speed of 487mph which was over 50 mph faster than the P-51D.
P-51H serial number 44-64675
In this case, the pilot did what most pilots would do. As soon as he encountered engine problems, he headed back to the base. Unfortunately, he could no longer keep the aircraft in the air, and he was too low to bail out. He just ran out of time and altitude.
Pilot Captain Harold Howard Buth was 29 years old at the time of his death. He left behind a wife and two children. He was buried in the Allouez Catholic Cemetery in Green Bay Wisconsin. Find a grave link: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/84491587/harold–h–buth
In conclusion, this crash site investigation dragged on for several years, but lessons were learned. The investigation required on site exploration as well as years of database records examination but was concluded with help from the internet Wreck Chasing Message Board. There was very little truth in the original story and only in fact did the plane crash during the 1950s. The part about the French connection and T-33 jet were totally incorrect. There are many legends about the French fliers training in northern Michigan and most likely the stories just got mixed up. The original incorrect information about a T-33 jet type aircraft persuaded me to initially believe that what we had found was a jet type aircraft. I’m here to say that I was proved wrong about that.
The lesson learned is that it is best to seek out the opinions and knowledge of others.
They just may be able to save you a lot of time and help solve the mystery.
All information listed in this section, was provide to the museum by Facebook user Dave Trojan a.k.a. Aloha Dave Aviation Archaeologist. Check out his posts on the Wurtsmith Air Museum Group on Facebook.
From Dave Trojan “To all who are interested in the Camp Skeel/Oscoda AAF/Wurtsmith AFB History. I’m using a combination of several source materials to tell the history of the area. I like combining historical photographs with the stories behind them. The sources I’m using include The Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFRA); Photo collections from Wurtsmith Museum; Photo collections from Selfridge Museum, Selfridge AFB Historical files; and Aircraft Accident Reports. I’m slowly working my way up from 1924 to the present. There are a lot of stories to tell. If you are interested in any particular aircraft of time period please let me know. The history of Oscoda Military Aviation is the same as the History of the Air Force. Most Air Corps/Force types used Oscoda at one time or another. I will try and highlight some of the most interesting aircraft and their stories!”
Oscoda AAF building photos were taken between 30 April, 1944 – 31 July, 1944.
The last two photos are the dedication of the base chapel November 1944 & January 1945
The Bell P-39 Airacobra Aircraft, operated from Oscoda Army Airfield during the late 1943 time period.
After flying the P-40 Warhawk, the 332nd (Tuskegee Airmen) began training with the P-39 Airacobra in September 1943. It was a dramatic change for the 332nd since the P-39 had many novel features. There were at least 10 Major P-39 accidents at Oscoda, mostly during late 1943.The P-39 was an all-metal, low-wing, single-engine fighter, with a tricycle undercarriage and an Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled V-12 engine mounted in the central fuselage, directly behind the cockpit. The Airacobra was one of the first production fighters to be conceived as a weapons system. The whole aircraft was designed around 37mm cannon that was mounted in the nose and fired though the prop spinner. The plane also had Browning M2 .50 caliber machine guns mounted in the nose and wings.The Bell P-39 Airacobra was not the best fighter aircraft of WWII, but it was the only fighter available in quantity during the first six months of the war. It was criticized for its low service ceiling, its slow rate of climb, and its generally poor high-altitude performance. It excelled in low-altitude ground support as a well-built and reliable aircraft capable of absorbing quite a bit of battle damage.The Allison V-1710-85 liquid-cooled V-12 engine behind the pilot’s seat drove the propeller by means of a driveshaft mounted under the pilot’s seat. Its poor high-altitude performance was a result of a critical decision to remove the turbo-supercharger. There were also problems with the complex nose-mounted reduction gear, which caused reliability problems and resulted in fairly low serviceability rates as compared with other fighters. On the other hand, the rear-mounted engine offered increased maneuverability since the weight of the plane would be near its center of gravity. In addition, it would facilitate the installation of nose cannon since the armament could be mounted near the centerline, minimizing the effects of recoil forces. The cockpit canopy offered exceptional all-round visibility for the pilot. An unusual feature of the P-39 Airacobra was the automobile-type doors that had roll-down windows on each side of the cockpit. The cockpit was fairly easy to enter and exit, but the doors had a tendency to fly open in midair at high speed if improperly secured.
The Airacobra reached its peak usage in the USAAF in early 1944, with over 2100 in service. However, the drawdown was fairly rapid after that and they were quickly replaced by P-38s, P-47s and P-51s. A total 9589 Airacobras were built before production finally ended on July 25, 1944. At Oscoda Army Air Field, from the Group Historian: “ Over the sandy pine shores of Lake Huron, pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group polished up their flight and gunnery tactics for threat inevitable test of their skill and courage which will eventually lead them to pursuit and battle in the skies of Europe and Asia.” By the end of November 1943 all training for the 332nd had been completed at Oscoda and the Group departed for overseas. There are many good photos of P-39s at Selfridge Field (Posted below), but none of P-39s at Oscoda.
P-39Q General characteristics:
Length: 30 ft 2 in (9.2 m)
Wingspan: 34 ft 0 in (10.4 m)
Height: 12 ft 5 in (3.8 m)
Empty weight: 5,347 lb (2,425 kg)
Powerplant: 1 × Allison V-1710-85 liquid-cooled V-12, 1,200 hp (895 kW)
Maximum speed: 376 mph (605 km/h) (Redline dive speed was 525 mph)
Range: 525 miles on internal fuel (840 km)
Service ceiling: 35,000 ft (10,700 m)
Rate of climb: 3,750 ft/min (19 m/s)
The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt Aircraft operated from Oscoda Army Airfield, 1944-1945
Beginning in July 1944, the P-47 Thunderbolt was used extensively to train Free French Air Force pilots at Oscoda Army Air Field (AAF). At least thirty French piloted P-47 aircraft accidents were reported at Oscoda AAF during the time period 1944-1945 and resulted in at least four pilots killed. The P-47 Thunderbolt fighter and fighter-bomber was used by the Allied air forces during World War II. A single-seat low-wing fighter developed for the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) by Republic Aviation, it was the largest single-engined piston fighter ever produced. A total of 15,683 Thunderbolts were produced by war’s end, more than any other U.S. fighter. The P-47D, in general service by the spring of 1944, had a maximum speed of 440 miles (700 km) per hour and a ceiling of 40,000 feet (12,200 meters). Heavily armed with eight wing-mounted 0.50-inch (12.7-mm) machine guns, it could carry a bomb load of as much as 2,500 pounds (1,100 kg) and could carry ten 5-inch (127-mm) rockets beneath the wings. The P-47’s radial engine proved remarkably resistant to battle damage and, with its heavy armament and well-armored cockpit, the Thunderbolt established a reputation as one of the most effective fighter-bombers of the war.
Photos of P-47s flown by French Pilots at Oscoda.
Strike up the Band, Lets Dance!
The Oscoda Air Force Band and Dance at Oscoda AAF Aug -Oct 1944.
Local Girls dancing, anybody recognize anyone?From the files of the Air Force Historical Research Agency
How the Japanese bombed Michigan during World War II
Hundreds of balloon bombs may have landed but were never found and may still constitute unexploded ordnance. The remains of balloons continued to be discovered after the war. Eight were found in the late 1940s, three in the 1950s, and two in the 1960s. In 1978, a ballast ring, fuses, and barometers were found near Agness, Oregon.
For further reading in general:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_balloon for detailed reports of recovered balloons and photos of the components see http://www.allworldwars.com/Japanese-Balloon-and-Attached-Devices.html Report by US Technical Air Intelligence Center, May 1945
P-6 crash in Oscoda
World War Two Training Experiences of Tuskegee Airmen at Oscoda Army Air FieldAirPower History Article
plus a rare photo of Tuskegee P-40sPlease read the article here (pages 25-40): https://www.afhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/APH-Winter2016.pdf
article from July 2014