WWII EXPERIENCES OF A B-17 FLYING FORTRESS PILOT

By Allyn C. Lewis

One Year after Japan’s “dastardly attacks,” I enlisted in the US Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet. The actual date of my enlistment was 12 Dec 1942 and I was called to active duty during Feb 1943. First, I reported to Lincoln, NE and about 3 weeks later I was assigned to the training detachment at the Univ of Montana for about 5 months. There I had my first flying experience in a J-3 Piper Cub. Along with many others in my age group, I attended various college level classes, and got a lot of basic military training.

From Missoula, I was assigned to the Santa Ana, CA classification center for about 10 weeks. After much testing I was assigned to pilot training. A primary pilot training school known as Thunderbird Field was located outside Phoenix, AZ. There I learned to fly the PT-17 Stearman.

From Thunderbird I was assigned to War Eagle Field at Lancaster, CA where I learned to fly a low wing BT-13, affectionately called the “Vultee Vibrator,” as it vibrated during spins. I learned aerobatics, basic instruments, night flying and humility. Ground schooling, over 10 weeks, included aerodynamics, radio and meteorology.

After successfully completing basic training at War Eagle, I was assigned to Marfa AFB, TX. At both Thunderbird and War Eagle the pilot training instructors were civilians. At Marfa, only military instructors were used. This training was called Advanced. I learned to pilot a twin-engine low wing Beachcraft airplane, with side-by-side pilot and instructor seating. After 10 weeks of intense training. I graduated as pilot and second lieutenant. The date was 23 May 1944, thus I was a successful graduate of Class of 44-F.

b17 pilot

Allyn Lewis and his crew

After WWII, the US Army Air Corps, which became the US Air Force in 1947, had located pilot training fields in several States, including Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California. From Marfa I was assigned to the first pilot school at Roswell, NM. This was my first introduction to a B-17 Flying Fortress, the well-known 4-engine bomber that saw combat in the European and Pacific theaters of war. Some of the flying instructors were combat veterans and their experiences were most valuable to those of us who were destined to pilot the B-17 under combat and bad weather conditions. Again, I successfully completed the 10 weeks of my first B-17 pilot training. Like all of my fellow pilots, I was eager to be assigned a crew and then to be assigned to a theater of combat.

In Sep ’44 I was assigned to a staging facility at Tampa, FL. Our crew was then designated. However, we did not assemble there. After a so-called “delay in route” for about 10 days, I arrived at a US Army Air Force Base located at Gulfport, MS. There our crew trained together day and night. In our preparation, this training as a combat crew proved to be most valuable.

After about 10 weeks, our crew as assigned to Savannah, GA for the purpose of flying a brand new B-17 to Europe. We flew “our B-17” to England, via Manchester, NH, Goose Bay, Lab, Keflavik, Iceland, Wales and then on to Stone, England. We stayed in Iceland for about 10 days due to weather conditions. While there, on 30 Jan 1945, I turned twenty-one.

After a few hours at Stone, we were assigned to the 547th Sqdn, 384th Bomb Group at Grafton Underwood. Within a few days we were flying combat missions. Thus for me it was nearly 2 years of military and pilot training before flying combat duty. Our crew flew on the Eighth Air Force’s last bombing mission over Pilzen, Czechoslovakia on 25 April, 1945, with the Skoda Ironworks being our target.

I often thought about the risky weather conditions that we endured during takeoffs and landings at Grafton Underwood. Some takeoffs were under “full instrument” conditions. Also, many landings were made when the cloud ceiling was very low, and visibility was below “minimums.” To help us see the runway the ground personnel fired flares near the approach end. It wasn’t advisable to go around, as there also were as many as 38 other B-17’s in the traffic pattern.

Within the combat timeframe, our crew was a somewhat typical B-17 combat crew, as we were all rather young and ranged from 19 years to 26 years old.

For more history on the 384th Bomb Group see:

384thbombgroup.com

LEISNIG – Witness to Disaster: Sergeant Marlyn Bonacker’s Short War


For More on the Eighth Air Force Check Out:

Blood and Fears: How America’s Bomber Boys of the 8th Air Force Saved World War II


Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany


The Boys In The B-17: 8Th Air Force Combat Stories Of WWII


For Related Articles See:

aces and ates b17 384th bomb group

TAIL GUNNER ON “ACES AND ATES” A B-17 WITH THE 384TH BOMB GROUP

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