Loss of the Exterminator
Joseph Hammer -- 766th Bomb Squadron
I am a member of the 766th Bomb Squadron of the 461st Bomb Group. My name is Joseph Hammer.
I read the December 1993 edition of the "Liberaider" and was moved to let you know of my experience with the 766th Bomb Squadron.
The article about the B-24 'Exterminator' is what I would like to write about. I will lead up to this as it happened.
We arrived at Hammer Field and Captain Darden and I discussed how to build the 766th Bomb Squadron. He said to me that our time would not be wasted if we only had an airplane to fly and train with. I asked what is wrong with the B-24 behind our Engineering Office. He said that it could not be flown because it's engines have too many hours on them. I asked if we could overhaul them. He would check and see about that.
The next day he called me to his office and said he could get four new engines and I could have the ground crew start removing the old engines. The new engines arrived and were installed. I started all four engines and they pre-flight tested O.K.
The flight crew was so eager to fly they took it up and air tested it. The flight report was O.K. Normally I always flew on such tests as an observer..
I will call this plane #30. Later that day another crew took it up to train with. They came back with the two inboard engines feathered because of runaway engines, 3050 rpm.
I ground checked all four engines and found nothing wrong with the rpm of the engines. So I signed it in as O.K.
Later that evening another crew took it up and also came back with it on two engines, reporting runaway #2 and #3 engines. I then went over to the sub-depot and asked if they could check the prop governors. They gave me four new ones which I had the men install. I gave the engines a ground run and all checked O.K
The next morning as I arrived at our Engineering Office I found Colonel Glantzberg and other officers waiting for me. The Colonel asked me what I was doing sending a faulty plane up to fly. I told the Colonel what I had done. He asked if the plane was ready to fly and I said it was.
The Colonel said he would pilot, Sgt. Hawkins the Line Chief would co-pilot and I was to engineer the power settings. So the three of us took it up for a test. The pre-flight was O.K. Take off and wheels up O.K. With full power and prop in low pitch the engines attained 3050 rpm on all four engines. The Colonel asked for 2600 rpm I toggled the prop governors and the rpm came down. We agreed that the rpm was high but controllable.
The Colonel made two touch landings and takeoffs with the same results. He decided to go to altitude and see how it acted above 20,000 ft. It tested O.K. On landing I gave the Colonel the flight report book and he signed it O.K.
I asked him for comments about the high rpm on takeoffs. The Colonel said it was the "hottest" plane he ever flew and if any other crews had any complaints they were to see him.
After this episode my plane #30 flew many training flights.
Several weeks after the B-24 #30 episode, Captain Darden called me to his office. He said that there is a B-24 at Bakersfield and we can have it if we correct a problem with it. I asked what the problem was. He said this plane leaked gasoline and the sub-depot there couldn't seem to fix it. Could I fix it? I said I believe I could. So he sent a pilot, co-pilot, myself and ten men to go get it.
The next morning I went to the airfield with my men. We found #674 the B-24 "Exterminator". As we looked it over a sub-depot inspector came to us. He said three tanks had been installed on the left wing side and were all hooked up and he had inspected them. All we had to do was put the other three tanks in and put the wing panel back. We did this. The plane's tanks were filled to half capacity. We waited a while and had no gasoline leaks.
The engines had been pickled for storage. I started one up at a time and burned off the pickling oil. The engines all pre-flighted okay.
The pilot and I decided to fill the planes tanks fully. We now taxied out for takeoff. As the pilot gave the plane it's pre-flight, I decided to check the underside of the wing for leakage. To my dismay I found the underside of the wing getting moist from gasoline. I had the pilot cut the engines. We were towed back to the hangar.
By this time Captain Darden was on the phone from Fresno. I told him I knew where the leak was. He asked how long it would take to fix it, my guess was two or three days. He didn't like the sound of this. So I told him we could come back to Fresno the same day if he wanted to hear of my plan, which was to drain the tanks to half capacity and see if the things dried up (which they did). I told him we didn't need full tanks to get back and could work on the plane at Hammer Field.
Captain Darden called me again and asked if I was sure my plan was safe. I told him I would be on the plane and felt safe. He said that to overrule the Civil Air Authorities he had to sign for such a flight, which he did on my assurance.
We arrived safely at Hammer Field. Being at our home base we took out the tanks we had installed. I climbed into the wing and found a loose filter neck and the vent clamps were not tight enough. After putting all tanks back and making all the connections myself the plane was O.K.
This B-24 "Exterminator" flew many training flights. I was not the crew chief on it because I had old #30 as my plane.
The day Captain Darden failed to return from a training flight I learned that some crew members that bailed out came back. I found the Co-pilot and asked him about the plane. He told me that Captain Darden advised him to instruct all the crew to put on their parachutes. The Co-pilot said all the instrument readings were normal. Why were they to get ready to bail out? At this point Captain Darden in a strong order told them to bail out. Captain Darden stayed with the plane. The Co-pilot had no more information for me.
The loss of Captain Darden shook me up deeply. I thought to myself, am I the cause of his death because I brought this plane to our Squadron for training? Captain Donovan, who replaced Captain Darden, and Colonel Glantzberg assured me I did no wrong.
This is my personal recollection of the B-24 "Exterminator's" history. It is my intention to inform and offer that any of the above accounts may be added to the material already at the Fresno Metropolitan Museum.
Joseph Hammer, 766th Bomb Squadron