Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Forced Landing: Lt. Elby J. Beal

Excerpt from the 368th Fighter Squadron (359th Fighter Group) History for August 1944:

On August 1st (1944) we furnished ramrod support for heavy bombers of the 3rd Air Task Force who were carrying out provisions of the Buick plan #12, which was to drop supplies by parachute to Free French Forces in Southern France. The mission was uneventful from a combat standpoint. Lt. Elby J. Beal was forced to land on a landing strip on the Normandy Coast because of trouble with his airplane. An account of his experience while on the Normandy beach head, written by Lt. Beal, is as follows:

“I was on a mission near the Swiss border. We were escorting B-17s that were dropping supplies to the Maquis. As we were leaving the target area my prop ran away. I was flying at 11,000 at the time. I lost 2,000 feet altitude trying to stall the prop into high pitch. Started on to Sweepstakes running the engine from 3800 to 3500 RPM, and eighteen inches to 23 inches manifold pressure all the way. Crossed the lines at 4,500 feet. Had radio contact and a steer from Sweepstakes by then. The engine was extremely hot and smoking bad. Gas was low too. I was looking for an open field to land in when I saw a landing strip off to the right. I turned over that way and was nearly there when the engine started quitting. Was going to make a belly landing then decided to lower wheels which made me almost undershoot the strip. I landed on one end, and a shot up B-24 landed on the other. I turned off soon as possible. They sent a Jeep out after me and I reported to flying control then to operations. They had no facilities for repairing P-51s at this base as the P-47s, which the organization used that was stationed at this base did not use the same type prop as the P-51. However the engineering officer said he thought he could get a crew and engine from a strip near there. By that time it was late. I had met a Doctor who invited me to spend the night with his unit. They had a nice hospital set up in an apple orchard near there. They gave me a good meal and a cot. About that time German planes started coming over and I spent most of the night in a fox hole. They had been digging them deeper every day. The most danger seemed to come from our ack ack, which seemed to shoot in every direction. The Jerry planes came over real low and dropped bombs several times, some of which hit pretty close. Next morning I reported to the operations tent, and told them that my plane would be repaired and I was going to fly it home. They had made arrangements for me to go to London with the B-24 crew and said I would have to report to 9th Air Force Headquarters. Orders had been cut sending us back. We were sent up in a truck. Asked the driver to wait until I found out if I could go back with him. I finally got permission to go on back, and went outside and found my flying equipment, but the truck had left. I started hitch-hiking back to where the plane was and got there about 3:00 PM. The crew had just started working on the plane. They were a mobile repair unit. They pulled the plane out under a tree and by 3:30 PM the next day had changed the engine and prop governor. I then ground checked the engine and went to flying control to get a clearance and took off. I was treated very nicely while at this base. The crew that changed the engine did a good job in the shortest possible time. They were very efficient.”

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Archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association, from records at HQ USAF Research Center, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

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