B-29, Three Feathers

Three Feathers, Part 2

This is part 2 of my unusual connection to a B-29 named Three Feathers.  Part 1 was a discussion of how I happened to gain a much deeper understanding of the history of this fantastic plane and her crew.  In Part 2 I’ll share some of that history with you!

 B-29, Three Feathers

The B-29, Three Feathers.  Olympus E-P3 HDR Image, Converted to B&W in Photoshop

Three Feathers was brand new in 1944.  The plane and her crew were assigned to the 883rd Bomb Squadron, 500th Bomb Group.  The plane had the number “Z Square 49” assigned to it.  This B-29 received it’s name “Three Feathers” by the Commander, Captain Edward Feathers after his wife and 2 daughters (Three Feathers).

Here is a list of the men that made up the crew of Three Feathers:

  • Captain Edward Feathers – Commander
  • 2nd Lt. Homer L Bourland – Pilot and Flight Engineer
  • 2nd Lt. Richard D. Metcalf – Bombardier and Navigator
  • 2nd Lt. Jack D. Alford – Navigator and Bombardier
  • 2nd Lt. John E.D. Irving – Flight Engineer
  • Cpl. William C. Taylor – Radio Operator
  • Cpl. Ewald Schulz – Radar Operator
  • Sgt. Matthew J. Moore – Central Fire Control and Right Side Gunner
  • Cpl. Ralph J. Darrow – Left Side Gunner and Electrician
  • Cpl. Elmer E. Burch – Ring Gunner and Assistant Engineer
  • Pvt. Houston H. Powers – Tail Gunner and Aircraft Mechanic
  • S/Sgt. A.G. Swede Pearson – Crew Chief (ground crew)

Combat Crew Replacements

  • Capt. Walter E. Landaker – Squadron Bombardier and Navigator (replaced Metcalf who was transferred)
  • VanZandt – Tail Gunner (temporary replacement for Powers in July 1945 when Powers suffered broken back in combat)
  • Cpl. Sammie M. Stultz – Tail Gunner ( replaced VanZandt/Powers)

Missions

Three Feather and her crew were sent to Hamilton Field in San Francisco, then to Hawaii, Kwajalein Island, and finally to their base for the rest of the war, Saipan in the Mariana Islands.

There were many missions that Three Feathers and her crew would be required to participate in, 35 total.

Three Feathers 1st mission was to bomb the Nakajima Aircraft Engine Plant on the western outskirts of Tokyo on Thanksgiving Day, 1944.  There were 111 B-29’s on that raid.  This was the first time that the northern island of Honshu and the Tokyo had been bombed after the Doolittle raid of February 1942.

On another mission Three Feathers would lead the 73rd wing on the Mitsubishi Aircraft Manufacturing Plant at Nagoya, Japan.  Poor weather caused problems all the way to the target, and forced them to spread out the formation.

After the “bombs away”, another B-29 suddenly opened fire with it’s front turret gun.  They had mistaken Three Feathers as an enemy.  Three Feathers was on fire and spiraling out of control in a 30 degree dive.  The pilot, 2nd Lt. Bourland fought to keep the plane from spiraling into a fatal spin.  The burning inboard engine threw its propeller, damaging the outboard propeller.  Three Feather was operating on 2 engines (both on the left wing)!

Three Feathers was short on fuel, and it was a long way back to Saipan.  Luckily, the plane flew through a rain squall that extinguished the engine fire.  With Saipan’s runway finally in sight, Captain Feathers took over.  As they approached the 10,000 foot runway at 50 foot elevation, Captain Feathers shut the engines down, leveled the wings and the B-29 glided across the rocky shoreline at the edge of the runway.  With the gear down, Three Feathers made a perfect dead stick landing!  This mission that normally took 15 hours lasted 22 hours.  When the fuel tanks were drained the next day for the repair work to begin, it was determined that they had only 15 minutes of fuel to spare!

The crew of Three Feathers was given another B-29 temporarily, Z-45.  Z-45 was to lead a flight to pick up and escort the entire complement of the P-51 Fight Wing on a “target of opportunity” mission at Tokyo.

This mission not only had the Three Feathers crew working to protect a downed P-51 pilot, but also run a gauntlet 50 feet above Tokyo Bay dodging artillery flak and a large battleship right by the bay entrance!

Three Feather 1 flew 11 creditable missions before it was temporarily retried (to be refurbished and reassigned to another crew under a new tail number).  The crew of Three Feathers was given a brand new B-29 which was promptly named Three Feathers II, and still bore the Z-Square-49 tail number that was originally assigned to the crew.

That’s it for Part 2.  I’ll conclude the history of Three Feathers in Part 3.  Stay tuned!

Three Feathers, B-29

Three Feathers as she sits in retirement at the March Field Air Museum