Gayle L. Smith
Group Operations Officer
|The lack of experience was cited as the main cause of the high accident rate.
This resulted in such unflattering references as: "the flying coffin," "the
widow maker," "the flying prostitute-no visible means of support," and,
slightly less offensive references as "one a day in Tampa Bay," or "one a
day the Barksdale way," etc.
Along these lines, please permit me to make personal reference to my introduction to the B-26. I had just graduated from pilot training and commissioned a 2nd Lt. (shavetail to those experienced army troops). I was transferred to Barksdale Army Air Base in Shreveport, Louisiana. It was one of those bases where you entered the base down a beautiful boulevard toward a massive masonry control tower inside a traffic circle. Just beyond it was the flight zone that ran perpendicular to the entrance road. It was just dark enough for night flying to begin. As the bus carrying a number of us was approaching the tower, we saw this trail of sparks going down what we later learned was the runway. Well, this seasoned 1st lieutenant that was in charge of the bus transportation, said, "Welcome to one-a-day the Barksdale way." That slogan, along with the others, became more understandable as we were briefed on the reputation of the B-26. (The cause of the sparks-releasing the landing gear too soon.]
This occurrence, along with others, resulted in three different, very formal attempts to cancel the B-26. Hearings reached the level of then Senator Harry S. Truman's Committee in July of '42. The inquiry involved a number of people, but it is widely held that aviatrix Jacqueline Cochrane and General Doolittle were instrumental in saving the B-26. Apparently, Jackie Cochrane, after flying the B-26, said, "Any person who doesn't want to fly this aircraft is a sissy." (sort of sexist in today's political and socially correct society]
The B-26 survived, and a total of 5,157 of the aircraft were built-the last one off the line on March 30 of '45.
The aircraft I have been showing was taken from David Alderton's book, The History of the U.S. Air Force. The aircraft number and name was then Major Joe Whitfield's aircraft with the 387th tiger stripe. Major Whitfield became the 557th Bomb Squadron Commander shortly after we arrived in England when then Major Charles Keller was returned to the states through medical recommendations. Major Whitfield became a frequent Group and Box Leader and was our "D-Day" Group Leader.