By T/Sgt. Joseph T. Capossela

The aircrew boys don’t argue any more about whether a Lib is a better plane than a Fort. They’ve got a new argument to kick around the hut: Who is the most important man in an aircrew, pilot or bombardier or navigator or who?

Here’s the way it sounds to an outsider:

The pilot is just a truck driver. All he does is set the dials, rev the engines and look glamorous. Then he follows the leader. If he’s a lead pilot his job is even easier, he just sets the automatic pilot and reads a comic book, letting the lead navigator take the ship there and the lead bombardier take it over the target. The pilot is excess baggage.

b-24 liberator

B24M Liberator of the 431st Bomb Squadron, 11th Bomb Group

The co-pilot reads a check-list on the takeoff, and reads it again on the landing. Once in a while he makes an oxygen check, and the rest of the time he chews the fat with the engineer. The co-pilot is a hitch-hiker.

The navigator keeps his pencils sharpened and fiddles with maps, but all he really does is fill in check points on his log and give the estimated time of arrival. He lets the lead navigator worry. The navigator just comes along for the ride.

The bombardier has no guns to man. He doesn’t even take the bomb pins out, the engineer does that. Whenever anybody is in the way, it’s the bombardier. The bombardier is ballast and that’s about all.

The B-24 engineer went to a B-17 school, and the B-17 engineer got his training at Willow Run. If the engineer knows how to transfer gas in flight, he considers himself an expert. After a few trips he teaches the radioman to do that. The engineer’s chief duty is to chew the fat with the co-pilot. The engineer is a stowaway.


B-17F Flying Fortresses over Schweinfurt, Germany on August 17, 1943

The radioman listens to his radio but seldom touches the key. The ground crew has his transmitter all set up for him before he takes off, otherwise he’d be out of luck. If something goes wrong during the flight he says the ground crew forgot to fix it. The radioman is excess baggage.

The tail gunner always forgets his oxygen mask. When he trial-fires his guns, one of the invariably has a mal-function. His chief contribution is to the interphone conversation. He occasionally yells, “Flak at one o’clock!” although he’s facing the other direction. If you took off by mistake without the tail gunner he’d never be missed.

The ball-turret gunner needs help getting in and out of his turret. His oxygen supply goes haywire, so he has to ride in the waist. If his oxygen happens to be okay he spins in his turret just fast enough to lull himself to sleep. The ball-turret gunner is more trouble than he’s worth.

The waist gunner’s electric suit is usually shorted so he rides huddled up in a corner. He never saw a fighter. Once he thought he saw one, and almost gave it a burst, until someone yelled that is a P-51. The waist gunner definitely is excess baggage.

The whole aircrew, in fact, is excess baggage.

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  • Good one! Nice to see the WWII guys displayed a similar “gallows” humor that we “grunts” did during the Vietnam War. And so it goes. . . .

    E. M. Helms
    E/2/4, 3rdMarDiv
    USMC Vietnam 1967-68

    1. admin says:

      Thanks! Glad you liked the article!

  • Bill Getz says:

    That is one of the most hilarious pieces I have read 🙂 Even more so because some of it is partially true (except for the pilot of course 🙂 The truth of each mission is as varied as there were crews, but there was one thing all crew members shared; the terror of flying through a flak barrage over a major target when everyone on the crew knew our aircraft would be hit by flak, but we did not know where or how bad. The article is very funny; reality not.

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