Third Pilot

Third Pilot

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  • Jul, 03 , 23

Flying Fortress Gunner chronicles Bob Harper's experience as a ball turret gunner in the 8th Air Force, primarily through his letters and extensive interviews with author Bill Cullen. Along with Harper’s personal account, Cullen has weaved in stories from other sources for context; these include brief notes from other crewman, unit after-action reports, etc. Below is quoted from one such after-action report:


“Working severed propeller and throttle control cables with his hands in the cramped nose compartment of “Fort Worth Gal,” a 533rd ship, top turret gunner S/Sgt. Nile E. Greathouse became an unofficial “third pilot” on today’s mission to Kiel. During the bombing run over the German port city, “Fort Worth Gal” was struck by a vicious burst of flak which severed the throttle and prop control cables, frayed the aileron cables, and knocked out the oxygen system used by the pilot, navigator, and engineer.

The bomber fell out of formation and dropped 6,000 feet before the pilot, 1Lt. Mitchell A. Rolin, could pull it back to level flight. Throttles gone, the pilot had no means of regulating speed until Sgt Greathouse left his turret and crawled into the nose beneath the co-pilot’s seat to work the snapped cables with his hands. Coached by the pilot over the interphone, the top turret gunner handled the throttle controls perfectly and the bomber crawled back to England at 130 mph. “To show you the job Greathouse did, though,” Lt. Rolin said later, “We still beat the rest of the formation home.””


Bob witnessed and personally lived through many close calls like the one described above. Not only did Bob survive to recount his story; he is still alive today at the age of 99. Advance copies have just arrived, and one is on its way to Bob at the time of this writing. We can’t wait for him to see the book for himself.

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