Our History

 
 
 

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

1940s

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.

 

 

 

1960s -

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1980s

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.



Click on the image to ENLARGE

1920's

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1950s

1953 -- The base is renamed Paul B. Wurtsmith Air Force Base after Michigan World War II hero Maj. Gen. Paul B. Wurtsmith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1970s

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1990s

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:
https://www.oscairport.com/index.php/available-properties/

And the there are development options available:
https://www.oscairport.com/index.php/development-site/

 

 

 

 

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

 

Wurtsmith KC-135A

Local Crash Site Mystery

April 2020

Dave Trojan & Jeff Benya next to plane wreckage that was discovered in a swamp

By Dave Trojan, Aviation Archaeologist, dtrojan60@gmail.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/oldf86wreckmystery10463422?&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.

Differences between P-51D and P-51H

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/haroldhbuth

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:

 

Crew: One
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
Nine-year-old Lawrence “Buzz” Bailey and two neighbor kids ran excitedly toward a large balloon floating to earth on farmland in North Dorr, a rural community in Allegan County south of Grand Rapids. It was Feb. 23, 1945, and they didn’t realize they were discovering the remnants of a Japanese attack on the U.S.
Bailey went on to serve in the U.S. Army in Germany in the early 1950s. “I tell the guys in the VFW post I’m a part of that I was in the Second World War at age 9,” says Bailey, now 84 and living in Newaygo. “I was a balloon expert.”
Operation Fu-Go, the Japanese launching of more than 9,300 large, bomb-laden, hydrogen balloons, carried east across the Pacific Ocean by the jet stream at high altitudes to cause destruction and chaos in the U.S. and Canada.
The effort mostly failed, though about 280 of the balloons or their components were later found in North America, with the two easternmost discoveries being in Michigan — at North Dorr and another discovered near 8 Mile and Gill roads in Farmington the following month.
The balloon attacks went almost completely uncovered in the U.S. news media at the time — because the U.S. War Department wanted it that way. American media largely adhered to a request from the federal government’s Office of Censorship to not publicize the balloon findings.
“It was a different era,” said Ross Coen, an assistant professor of history at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and author of “Fu-Go: The Curious History of Japan’s Balloon Bomb Attack on America.”
“They didn’t want there to be panic in the streets over bombs raining down silently from the skies all over the United States. But also, they wanted to deny the Japanese any sort of intelligence on where and when these balloons were landing — information that could be used to better perfect their flights on later balloon launches.”
A retaliation plan
The Japanese had multiple goals with the operation, Coen said.
“On a practical level, the Japanese thought it would create large, widespread wildfires in the western states that Americans would have to fight by diverting resources that would otherwise go toward the war in the Pacific.”
The balloon bombs also were intended as weapons of terror, he said.
“They were hoping word would get in the newspapers and people would be terrorized,” Coen said. “On the other side, if they were able to boast that raging fires were occurring all over the U.S., it would boost the morale of the Japanese people as well.”
That morale among Japanese citizenry had taken a blow following the Doolittle Raid, a surprise attack on Tokyo on April 18, 1942, by U.S. bombers launched from an aircraft carrier. While the raid itself inflicted little damage, it humiliated Imperial Japan and its military, said Michael Unsworth, a retired history librarian at Michigan State University who has written and lectured on the balloon bombs.
“They felt honor-bound to retaliate,” he said.
But the Japanese had no similar long-range capabilities — particularly after the significant losses their Pacific fleet had taken in the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
That’s when Japanese strategists and researchers hit upon using the jet stream, a west-to-east air current in the upper atmosphere only discovered by a Japanese researcher, Wasaburo Oishi, in the mid-1920s. His research didn’t receive extensive international attention because he published it in Esperanto, a dialect invented in the 1880s in an attempt to create a uniform international language.
The balloons developed for the mission were 33 feet in diameter and filled with about 19,000 cubic feet of hydrogen. They were made out of layers of thin, fibrous paper made from mulberry bushes that, pasted together with a vegetable-based glue, made for a tough, canvas-like balloon material.
Hanging from the balloons by ropes was an elaborate “chandelier” featuring fuses, switches, batteries and, typically, one high-explosive bomb and two incendiary bombs. Ringing the chandelier were 7-pound sandbags.
The bomb load of a Japanese Fu-Go balloon is attached to a “chandelier” with an automatic release mechanism. An exploding fuse releases a sandbag to… The bomb load of a Japanese Fu-Go balloon is attached to a “chandelier” with an automatic release mechanism. An exploding fuse releases a sandbag to help keep the balloon at sufficient altitude, as shown in this movie still.National Archives, U.S. Army Air Corps (Air Force)
“Japanese engineers knew that at night, at 35,000 feet, temperatures would drop to minus-65 centigrade,” or minus-85 Fahrenheit — temperatures that would cause the high-flying, hydrogen balloons to begin to drop, Coen said.
The sandbags were ballast, he said. When the balloons dropped below a certain height, an onboard altimeter would trigger a small charge, dropping a sandbag from the balloon.
“It was an ingenious way to keep the balloons aloft for the 6,400-mile journey to the United States,” Coen said. “That said, it’s estimated there was probably about a 90% failure rate.”
As the balloons dropped their last sandbags and neared the ground, other small flash bombs would trigger to drop the incendiary bombs and high explosive. As the last bomb was dropped, a long, 64-foot fuse was also lit, leading to another flash device to destroy the balloon.
“If the thing worked as planned, you’d have unexplained explosions, maybe a flash in the sky,” Unsworth said.
Bombs on the wind
On Nov. 3, 1944, after nearly two years of research and manufacture — which included enlisting Japanese schoolgirls to help make the balloons — the Japanese military began to launch the bomb-laden balloons into the sky from Japan’s main island of Honshu.
Within two days, a Navy patrol off the coast of California spotted balloon debris in the Pacific that ultimately made its way to the FBI. As the weeks passed, more balloon fragments were found at sea.
In November and December 1944, reports began to pop up across the western U.S. of citizens finding fragments of the balloon bombs or hearing explosions.
“Over the month of December was when the War Department figured out what was going on and put that censorship order in place,” Coen said.
But the large-scale wildfires the Japanese had hoped for never materialized.
“The jet stream is the strongest in the winter months, from November to March,” Coen said. “That’s the best window when you could expect the balloons to make it to the United States. But that’s also the same time that the jet stream is bringing all of this moisture from the Pacific, which is why it’s rainy in the Pacific Northwest. That worked to prevent fires from spreading.”
The war reaches Dorr
Bailey was accompanied by his friends, neighbors Robert and Kenneth Fein, ages 11 and 10, respectively, as he chased the sinking balloon in the sky that February morning in 1945.
“We lived out on a dairy farm, wide-open spaces,” Bailey said. “From the next house, you’re 1,320 feet apart, but neighbors are neighbors.
“When we first saw it, it was in the sky, coming down on a slow angle. It landed about a half-mile from us.”
A family friend of the Baileys, Joe Wolf, was visiting, and took the boys in his pickup to the balloon landing site, off 21st Street, about 50 yards off the road.
There, they found a deflating balloon canopy with numerous ropes hanging off of it. “It had a platform on it about 4 foot square, 6 inches thick, made of steel. It was all charred black,” Bailey said.
The balloon’s bombs had already been dropped. But, in that moment, the boys and Wolf had no idea what they’d found.
The large balloon was hooked to the back of Wolf’s pickup and slowly dragged back to the Feins’ house, Bailey recalled. They stuffed it through the back door and down into the basement, where its sheer bulk filled the room, Bailey said.
“We didn’t know what to do with it.”
The Fein brothers’ mother, Genevieve Fein, called the local parish priest to the house to share the finding, Bailey said.
“We lived in a Roman Catholic neighborhood,” he said. “In those days, anything that was unusual, the first person you called was your priest. That’s just the way you did it.”
The priest suggested contacting the police, and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department responded.
“I always thought that was odd since it was Allegan County,” Unsworth said. “But I’m told it was just a rural thing. In those days, there was less concern about jurisdictional boundaries, and whoever was closest would respond.”
Deputies contacted the National Weather Service. “They didn’t know anything — they didn’t have any balloons in the air,” Bailey said.
The Michigan Department of Conservation, the precursor agency to the DNR, also was called, Bailey recalled.
“The next day, the federal government — I don’t know the agency, it was intelligence of some kind — they came out, and (the balloon) disappeared,” Bailey said. “And then you couldn’t learn a thing about it for 30 years.”
A firebomb on 8 Mile Road
On a Sunday afternoon in late March 1945, Mr. and Mrs. William Hedt were sitting in the living room of their home on Fendt Street, near 8 Mile and Gill roads in Farmington, when Mrs. Hedt’s attention was captured by an unusual sound.
“At the time Mrs. Hedt had heard a muffled report similar to a shot, and happened to look out the window,” a classified report from from the U.S. Army’s Security and Intelligence Division would later state.
She noticed a fire in an open lot, approximately three-quarters of a city block northeast of their home, the since-declassified Army report states. She called over her husband to look, and he suspected it was a bonfire.
The fire lasted about 3 minutes, but then began to “spurt,” according to the report. William Hedt thought the spurting flames “were similar to those which he had seen caused by magnesium,” the report stated.
The fire died out, and the couple forgot about it — until their neighbor, John T. Cook, brought over an unusual object more than two months later.
Cook was tending his garden on Gill Road in late April when he found what looked to him like a shiny, new tin can. He flung the can aside with his shovel and continued his work.
That June, Cook was again working in the garden, again encountered the tin can, and again moved it away, the Army report stated. The next day, Cook read a newspaper story about Japanese balloon bombs that urged citizens to report to police any suspicious-looking objects. He took a second look at the tin can from his garden. It was 13 inches in circumference, about 9 inches long, and had a wooden plug about 3.75 inches long encased in the top of the can. The wooden plug had unusual grooves.
Cook decided to show the can to his neighbor, a Michigan State Police sergeant — William Hedt. The Hedts recalled the fire they’d seen in March as in the vicinity of where Cook had found the can.
“This object is being turned over to the Army Intelligence at Detroit Michigan for disposition,” a Michigan State Police report dated June 9, 1945, stated.
The Army intelligence report from 10 days later confirmed the item as the lower portion of a Japanese incendiary bomb from the Fu-Go campaign.
For all the Japanese balloon bombs that likely didn’t complete their mission, it appears the one from Farmington did, Unsworth said.
“In that case, I think the balloon worked as designed,” he said. “There was an explosion, there was a fire, and nobody ever found the balloon. My guess is that it self-destructed over Ontario.”
A tragedy in Oregon
On May 5, 1945, the Rev. Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife, Elsye Mitchell, and a group of Sunday school children headed to Gearhart Mountain in southern Oregon for a picnic.
Elsye Mitchell and the children left the car, and Archie Mitchell then parked it. As he was returning, he heard his wife and the children excitedly calling out about something they’d found in the woods. Before he could warn them to stay away from it, there was an explosion.
They had found one of the Japanese balloon bombs, which had probably been on the ground for two months, Coen said. One of the children must have inadvertently set off its high-explosive bomb, he speculated.
Killed were Elsye Mitchell, 26; Sherman Shoemaker, 11; Eddie Engen, 13; Jay Gifford, 13; Joan Patzke, 13; and Dick Patzke, 14.
It made them the only U.S. fatalities from an enemy attack on the U.S. mainland in World War II.
A master aneroid (center, covered) controls the Japanese Fu-Go balloon’s minimum altitude. The others are used if the master fails. Uncovered aneroids show how the… A master aneroid (center, covered) controls the Japanese Fu-Go balloon’s minimum altitude. The others are used if the master fails. Uncovered aneroids show how the electrical current circuit is closed when increased air pressure forces down the disk, bringing a wire loop in contact with a horizontal pin which passes through center of the loop. This fired off a small charge that would drop a ballast sand bag, helping to keep the balloon at the desired altitude for the long journey across the Pacific to North America.National Archives, U.S. Army Air Corps (Air Force)
It was after that incident that the War Department lifted the censorship policy. “There may be other balloons laying on the ground out there, and if we keep it a secret, more people could be killed,” Coen said.
Once Bailey learned of the Oregon incident, he realized how lucky he and his friends had been when they encountered only the balloon portion of the Japanese Fu-Go bomb in North Dorr.
“We would have moved it and everything, anyway,” he said. “If the bomb had still been on there, there’s a chance we would have detonated it. You wouldn’t be talking to me now.”
One other balloon bomb incident brought the most incredible of coincidences. On March 10, 1945, a Fu-Go balloon bomb tangled in high-power lines near Hanford, Washington, knocking out power to the Hanford Site, a plutonium processing facility working on the Manhattan Project, the atomic bombs that would later be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and hasten the end of World War II. The facility averted a nuclear meltdown, but was shut down for three days.
They may still be out there
By mid-April 1945, having received little feedback on the results of their balloon bombing campaign and needing to concentrate on homeland defense as American bombing raids intensified, the Japanese ended Operation Fu-Go.
The Japanese had launched more than 9,300 balloon bombs toward the West. Only 284 were found in North America, though researchers believe perhaps 1,000 made it across the Pacific.
That means they may still be out there. The last remnants of one of the balloon bombs was found by forestry workers in the mountains near Lumby, British Columbia, in Canada in 2014. Only some of the metal canopy remained; no signs of the balloon were discovered. A naval bomb squad was called in to detonate the fragments as a precaution.
UPDATE: A British Columbia newspaper reported that a man searching for mountain goats found the remnants of a Japanese balloon bomb last month — October 2019 — in a remote area of dense forests and mountains by the Raush River west of Dunster.
Meanwhile, the North Dorr balloon has returned to Michigan, after more than 70 years. After Army Intelligence took the balloon, it ultimately ended up at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey, an airship base and balloon research facility. Stationed at the base was Don Piccard, who came from a family of balloon researchers and adventurers. At the end of World War II, Piccard was allowed to take one of the collected Japanese balloons as a souvenir back to his home state of Minnesota. He chose the balloon that landed at North Dorr.
Two years later, in 1947, Piccard flew the balloon over the Twin Cities to earn his Free Balloon Pilot Certificate from the Civil Aviation Agency, now the Federal Aviation Administration.
The balloon then sat, rolled up in a large drum, at Piccard’s house for decades. When a Grand Rapids TV reporter tracked down the story in 2017, it piqued the interest of the Byron Center Historical Society, a few miles from North Dorr. With the help of a donor, the society purchased the balloon from Piccard for $10,000. Plans are underway to display the balloon at the Air Zoo Aerospace and Science Museum in Portage, and the Byron Center Historical Society is raising funds to help make it happen.
Robert C. Mikesh, now 91, was a pilot and author who wrote one of the first books on Operation Fu-Go, “Japan’s World War II Balloon Bomb Attacks on North America,” in 1973.
The Japanese operation can’t be called a failure, he said. It was the first intercontinental ballistic missile in the history of warfare.
“This is a story of bombing the contiguous United States,” he said. “Even though it wasn’t very effective, it achieved its objective of long-range bombing attacks.”
 
A Northern Michigan connection!
It was Reported that A military plane over Sault Saint Marie, MI was scrambled to shoot down a Japanese balloon, but it had disappeared into a cloud formation before it could be intercepted. The Balloon Bomb landed in Lake Huron. There may be more out there!
 
What to look for (see Photos): The main part to look for is a cast-aluminium four-spoked wheel apparatus 23-1/2″ in diameter. The rim has 72 tapered holes to receive 72 tapered plugs. These plugs contain explosive charges to drive them out when they are electrically fired.
Attention Michiganders,
I have uncovered a secret from WWII. Michigan, yes Michigan was bombed by the Japanese during WWII. This is not a joke and it was all covered up by the government to prevent panic. The cities of Grand Rapids on 25 February 1945 and Farmington on March, 1945, and a site in Allegan County in west Michigan. A couple living along Gill Road in Farmington noticed a small fire burning in a vacant lot down the road, it was later confirmed to be from a Japanese bomb. Japanese fusen bakudan, or balloon bombs reached all the way to Michigan. They were used during WWII to strike at the US mainland. Small hydrogen balloons were fitted with anti-personnel and incendiary explosives and launched on trade winds toward the US. The idea was that the bombs would set light to forests and damage cities. Between November 1944 and April 1945, Japan launched over 9,300 fire balloons. About 300 balloon bombs were found or observed in North America, killing six people and causing a small amount of damage. The Japanese expected 10% (around 900) of them to reach America, which is also what is currently believed by researchers. The balloons flew very high and surprisingly fast, and aircraft fighters destroyed fewer than 20. It is likely that more balloon bombs landed in unpopulated areas of North America. Of those that did reach land, some were seen exploding in the air, and others were found on the ground in remote areas, usually with the bomb loads missing, but occasionally with some bombs still attached. The balloons reached Alaska, Canada, Mexico, and 16 U.S. states, traveling as far east as Michigan. Early on, the US government imposed a media blackout on the balloon bombs, and the Japanese gave up their campaign just six months later, rightly assuming from the lack of panic that their weapon had been a failure. Despite being a resounding failure, the balloon bombs were nevertheless an extraordinary feat of ingenuity, carefully adjusting their altitude by detonating small charges to shed ballast when flying too low, and venting gas when too high. The only casualties occurred when a group of six Oregonians on a picnic trip discovered a landed balloon, their disturbance, unfortunately, set off the bomb.

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

For further reading:
 
 
 
 
The P-6 Hawk (1932-1937) Aircraft was @ Oscoda 
The P-6 was generally similar to the P-1 in construction and appearance. However, the P-6 differed from the P-1 in having its fuselage rounded out to match the fatter engine cowling required by the Conqueror engine. A series of stringers were added to the fuselage sides to round out the cross section. In addition, the rear fuselage was deepened in order that it could faire cleanly into the bottom of the radiator. The result was an airplane which had a much deeper and broader fuselage than did the P-1. The landing gear was changed from rubber-block shock absorbers inside the fuselage to oleo-and-spring units mounted in the outer forward strut.
Deliveries of the first P-6s were late, the first example not appearing until October 1929. The last was delivered in December 1930. Maximum speed was 178 mph at sea level, 171 mph at 10,000 feet. The P-6 could climb to 10,000 feet in 6.6 min. Service ceiling 27,200 feet, and range was 260 miles. Weights were 2450 lb. empty, 3310 lb gross. The armament of the P-1 was a pair of 0.30 cal machine guns mounted in the upper fuselage decking inside the V-cylinder blocks and synchronized to fire through the propeller arc.
The P-6E was quite a good-looking airplane, and became the most famous of the Hawk line of biplane fighters. It is perhaps the best-known of all the “between wars” Army pursuits. In a fly off against the contemporary Boeing P-12B, the P-6E was faster, but the P-12B was more maneuverable. The good speed of the P-6E was counterbalanced by some unsatisfacory handling characteristics which made it sluggish in response to controls. The 700 hp Conqueror engine was exceptionally powerful for its day, but it had many minor and some major faults which needed to be corrected.
P-6Es served from 1932 onward with the 1st and 8th Pursuit Group, flown by the 17th, 94th, and 33rd Squadrons based at Selfridge Field, Michigan. The P-6 was flown in a variety of paint schemes depending on the squadron, the most famous being the “Snow Owl” markings of the 17th Pursuit Squadron based at Selfridge Field. They were kept in service until 1937. The shapely wheel spats for which the P-6E is best remembered today were often replaced in service with a set of open-sided wheel fairings, especially in later years. In Army service, the P-6Es were involved in numerous accidents which claimed no less than 27 of the 46 examples built. The Army’s P-6Es rapidly became obsolete as the 1930s wore on. Instead of being given expensive overhauls when they were called for, the P-6Es were allowed to deteriorate and wear out in service. One by one, they either wore out and were scrapped, or else they crashed. However, at least one survived into 1942.
In 1932, Capt. Ruben C. Moffat flew a P-6 converted with a supercharged Conqueror engine on a record-breaking flight. He flew from Dayton, Ohio to Washington, D.C. at a speed of approximately 266 mph, at an altitude of 25,000 ft.

 

P-6 crash in Oscoda

P-6E, serial number 32-156, 17th Pursuit Squadron from Selfridge Field Michigan
Crashed October 10th, 1934, 2:15 pm.
Pilot was Paul M. Jacobs, 2nd Lt.
Aircraft was at Camp Skeel, Oscoda Michigan for Aerial Gunnery training.
Airplane nosed over when landing gear tire casing failed, locking the right wheel. The tire bead failed, allowing the casing to slip over the rim on one side and bind on edge of the wheel fairing on takeoff. Aircraft rolled 630 feet before nosing over. No injuries to the pilot. Aircraft upper wing, left lower wing, rudder and propeller damaged. Engine not damaged.
Investigation determined a defective tire caused the accident. Report also stated that the Oscoda Michigan gunnery field was very rough and sandy and notoriously hard on wheels, landing gears etc.
 
 

World War Two Training Experiences of Tuskegee Airmen at Oscoda Army Air Field
AirPower 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

 
Divers found the wreckage of Tuskegee Airmen’s P-39 in Lake Huron
article from July 2014
 
PORT HURON, Mich. – David and Drew Losinski are struck by the coincidence.
They took a photo on April 11, from the surface of Lake Huron, of the wing of a Wold War II-era fighter plane that crashed during a training exercise, killing its pilot.
“That plane actually crashed April 11, 1944, which was 70 years to the date that the picture was taken,” Drew Losinski said. “We thought that was kind of unbelievable.”
The Losinskis are divers —David has been diving since 1977; his son, Drew, since 2002 — and both are former members of the St. Clair County Dive Team. They’ve seen lots of things underwater, but the story of the P-39 fighter lost just off the Port Huron beachfront touched them.
“It was eerie,” David Losinski said. “We didn’t know really what we had.”
What they had was a one-seat warplane piloted by 2nd Lt. Frank H. Moody, of Los Angeles. He was training with fellow pilots out of what was then Selfridge Field when his plane crashed.
“All four of the the guys that were in that flight were from Tuskegee,” Losinksi said. “I didn’t know anything about the Tuskegee Airmen until we got into this.”
The Tuskegee Airmen were African-American members of the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Force who fought in Europe during World War II. They also were known as the Red Tails because they painted the tails of their aircraft red.
The Losinskis found an account of the crash in the Times Herald. The story stated Moody and three other pilots were taking gunnery practice about three miles north of Port Huron.
Mrs. Cecil V. Fowler saw the crash, according to the Times Herald article.
“It was the most horrible thing I have ever witnessed,” she said. “There were four planes, and I was watching them from our front window, as I usually do when they’re engaged in gunnery practice.
“Then everything happened so fast it seems unbelievable.
“Smoke started coming from the tail of the second plane, and I could see it was in trouble. The pilot apparently noticed it and tried to lift his ship.
“It was a feeble effort, for the plane seemed to lift for only a few feet and then it crashed, nose first, into the water. I saw a big splash, and then the plane went out of sight.”
Moody’s body was not recovered until it washed ashore in Port Huron on June 4, 1944 — two days before D-Day and the invasion of Normandy.
David Losinski said he and his son were assisting the state Department of Environmental Quality with a barge that sank in Lake Huron in July 2012. During those efforts, they noted several areas they wanted to investigate, including one about four miles north of the Blue Water Bridge.
“(Superstorm) Sandy came along (in October) and moved things around,” David Losinski said.
They resumed the investigation last spring.
“This year, we went out diving, and we could see these points of interest from the surface,” Losinski said. “Drew said, ‘Dad, that’s an airplane.’
“You could see the wings. We knew we had some kind of plane.”
He said the wreckage from the plane is scattered across the lake bottom. Pieces include the engine, the tail, part of the door and the 37-millimeter cannon that fired through the propeller hub.
The P-39 had a unique configuration with the engine placed behind the pilot and the drive shaft running under the cockpit to the propeller. The plane was equipped with the cannon and four .50-caliber machine guns — two mounted on the wings, two more just behind the propeller and timed to fire through the spinning blades.
“We came across the gauge cluster, which had the radio call tag,” David Losinski said. “Once we brought that up and cleaned the tag, we knew it was the 221226 serial number.”
The Losinskis said they want to preserve the site for people to dive on.
“In a nutshell, this is what we’re trying to do — get permission to relocate the parts so they would resemble a plane,” David Losinski said.
That’s been easier said than done.
“The state says, ‘We don’t have jurisdiction over that; it’s the Air Force,’” Losinski said. “The Air Force says, ‘Any aircraft before 1961, we’ve abandoned it.’”
The Losinskis haven’t abandoned their quest to bring this long-forgotten chapter in the history of World War II to light. They’re looking for other divers who can assist with the effort.
“We’ve done quite a bit of documenting and measuring,” David Losinski said.
They want the site to remain a memorial divers can visit.
“All the artifacts that were taken off were replaced in their original position and original situation except for the tag we cleaned up,” he said.
Divers find wreckage of World War II-era plane

 

A few maps of the base over the years.
If you have a map, let us know so we can share it.

 

From mid/late 1980s


From 1991
 


From 1963

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