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Gentlemen… Start Your Engines

By Bill Carleton
Splasher Six Volume 33, Fall 2002, No. 3
Cindy Goodman, Editor

The other day I came across my “pocket mission report” for the 351st Squadron, dated September 29, 1944 to April 27, 1945.

Within two hours after each mission, Squadron Engineering would report to Group Operations the status of each plane. Operations had a large board showing the individual status of the entire group. This information was vital for the mission they were then planning for the next day.

Usually by midnight, Squadron Engineering would be advised as to the next effort and which planes would be involved. We would then load these planes with the specified amount of fuel, and ordnance would hang the correct number and type of bombs. Also placed on board was the ammunition, oxygen, communications and other special details. The crew chief would then pre-flight the plane. As dawn broke, our final gesture would be topping off the fuel tanks to replace the gas used for the pre-flight. As the Madam said, “We are open 24 hours a day, but mostly at night.”

In reviewing this diary, I was drawn to a special section on “Engine Changes.” This operation was a function of each plane’s ground crew and was performed in all types of weather at the plane’s hardstand. Upon completion, our squadron inspector would give it their OK, and the plane would then be subjected to a four-hour test flight. I had a squadron rule that the crew chief would fly as the flight engineer on these flights.

All told, this status report covered 211 days, during which our squadron had 124 engine replacements.

In addition to the date of engine failure and the plane number, this report listed the flight hours on the engine and the reason for the failure. This provided some interesting statistics of the combat stress on the plane.

The average flying time on the failed engines was 213.5 hours. Low Compression was the greatest cause for failure with 29% of the total. Excessive oil consumption and internal failure were close with 23% each. Only 8 failures were attributed to battle damage. Eight engines were removed at the discretion of the Engineering Officer and another 8 for an excessive number of hours. In these circumstances, it was more than 400 ours. Of the balance, 6 were removed due to runaway prop and 3 for sudden stoppage.

These figures indicated that the 351st changed, on an average, 17.5 engines/month for a fleet of 17 planes.

Extrapolating would indicate the Group would be replacing 70 engines per month. The Eighth Air Force with 46 groups, would require 3,200 engines per month to maintain the bombing effort.