Category Archives: Three Feathers

March Field Air Museum

It’s been a couple of years since my last visit to the March Field Air Museum (MFAM).  The reasons I had for making a return visit were first and foremost to see what was new.  Occasionally I pass by the museum which is located right off of the freeway in Riverside, and could see that some changes were being made.  My second reason was sort of a challenge.  MFAM has some strict rules about photography, such as no tripods, monopods, or camera bags.  I intended to follow those rules (although I never bring a tripod to air museums or air shows) and limit myself to minimal camera gear.  In this case, I brought my Olympus E-M5 with 45mm f/1.8 lens, Rokinon Fisheye lens, and my little Sony RX100.  Finally, the weather was changing and there were some fantastic clouds (not much rain), perfect dramatic backgrounds for airplane photos!

Walking up to the main building there are a couple of planes on display.  Just past those, you’ll notice several memorials.  They are all contained in what the museum calls the “Heritage Courtyard”.  The memorials include:

  • War Dog Memorial
  • P-38 Lightning Memorial
  • Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) Memorial
  • 15th Air Force Wall
  • Freedom Wall

Be sure to take a little time and look over these memorials!


Once you’re inside the main building, you’ll see the SR-71.  You can’t help but see it since it dwarfs everything else inside the space.  There are an abundance of other displays along the walls surrounding the SR-71 that are worth spending some time visiting.  I spent some of my time walking around the SR-71.  There’s something about that plane that has intrigued me since I was a kid.  I just wish I was able to see one in the air.  I did learn something about the SR-71 from my Dad.  He mentioned to me recently that he worked at the Lockheed Skunkworks for several years, and during that time worked on the 1st SR-71.  My Dad had a long career in aircraft and retired from McDonnell Douglas with over 30 years.  I knew he worked for Lockheed before his time at McDonnell Douglas, but never gave it any thought that he worked in the Skunkworks or on the SR-71.  How cool is that!

When you’ve allowed enough time to explore indoors, it’s time to head outside.  Just beyond the doors leading out there are dozens of airplanes.  There’s a little bit of everything from WWII Warbirds to surprisingly modern age aircraft.  I won’t cover everything there is to see, you can do that on your own.  I do however, want to share some of the highlights, at least from my perspective.

  • The B-29 “Three Feathers III”.  I have a strange connection to this particular plane.  In fact, I felt compelled to head straight across the yard to see it and spent quite a bit of time with it.  In case you missed it, you can read about my connection to the wonderful plane and it’s history here:  Three Feathers Part 1, Three Feathers Part 2, and Three Feathers Part 3.
  • MIG Alley.  MFAM has an excellent collection of MIGs, from the MIG 15 to the MIG 23.
  • YF-14A Tomcat.  This is another plane that I haven’t seen in the air.  While I have seen several in different air museums, I haven’t been able to get a good shot (photo) of one.  Air museums tend to be packed pretty tight, and it can be tough to get a clean shot, and mine always leaves me disappointed.  But not this time!
  • The F-4 Phantom.  The Phantom is one of my favorites and luckily I have seen them in the air.  MFAM has several models of the F-4 on display!
  • The B-17G.  I have a lot of admiration for this plane and the brave souls that flew them.  I was able to take a tour inside of one and they are a whole lot smaller on the inside then they look on the outside.  You really had to be a skinny kid to move around inside one.  And although the B-17 looks formidable with guns sticking out all around it, that thin sheet metal didn’t provide much protection for those within.  I can’t imagine being inside one with flak bursting all around, slicing holes through that thin skin.

So far I’ve done nothing but talk about the planes.  Now I want to talk a little about photography.  One of things about the gear that I chose for this trip is that it is very light and easy to move around with.  I never felt bogged down by my gear and it didn’t get in the way of making photos.  My Sony RX100 is technically considered a point and shoot, and it looks the part.  What sets it apart is its 1 inch sensor (I know its not exactly 1″ for anyone wanting to scream at me, but its close enough).  Suffice it to say that it’s much larger than the typical point and shoot and the image quality in turn is much better.  It also allows me to shoot RAW and many other point and shoot cameras don’t.  I like it so much that I ended up using it a majority of the time.  In fact, I used it for panoramas, black and white, and HDR.  I probably could have left the E-M5 in the car and used the RX100 exclusively.  Yes, for some things I think it’s that good!

My E-M5 with 45mm f/1.8 performed perfectly.  Nothing at an air museum moves very fast so tracking autofocus wasn’t an issue.  The 45mm (90mm equivalent) was perfect for filling the frame and getting what I’d call more intimate shots.  And I did end up using the Rokinon Fisheye lens a little.  You need to be careful not to over use the fisheye and I was selective with my subject and composition.

What about the pictures?  Good question, here they are:







If you like Warbirds and other types of Military aircraft, you owe it to yourself to stop by March Field Air Museum. I just hit some of my favorites and highlights, so check it out for yourself!

That’s it for this post, until next time, Happy Shooting!

Three Feathers, Part 3

This is the 3rd and final post about the B-29 Superfortress, Three Feathers.

In my previous post, Three Feathers, Part 2, you learned that Three Feathers I flew 11 creditable missions before it was temporarily retired, refurbished, and reassigned to another crew with a new tail number.  The crew of Three Feathers I was given a new B-29 which they promptly named Three Feathers II, and it retained the Z-SQUARE-49 number.

Three Feathers II flew 18 missions, until her last most memorable mission over Kure, Japan, June 22nd, 1945.  Colonel Dougherty, the 500th Group Commander  led the 73rd Wing in a maximum raid in Three Feathers II right seat.  Flak from a battleship knocked out Three Feathers II’s left 2 engines, blasting a huge hole in the largest of the fuel tanks, flooding the crew aft compartment with fumes.  In the forward cabin, Capt. Landaker was soaked in blood up to his waist.  Flak had gone through his boots, sealing him to the floor boards.  Three Feathers II managed another dead stick landing, this time on the recently liberated Iwo Jima, about half the distance it would have taken to travel to Saipan.  Three Feathers II was scrapped there for parts and the crew went back to Saipan.

The crew of Three Feathers II was rated “war weary” by the flight surgeon who wanted the crew grounded.  Convinced that the war was almost over, General Curtis LeMay had other ideas.  He ordered the experienced crew of Three Feathers II to train newer crews.  They were assigned a temporary B-29 replacement (Z-45) and they used it to fly “Superdumbo Rescue Missions” from Iwo Jima.  While these missions were not technically combat missions, they were still very dangerous.

The Three Feathers crew received their 3rd B-29, and it was christened Three Feathers III, and continued to fly combat missions until the wars end.  On July 16th, 1945, the 500th Bomb Group selected this plane for a special ceremony!

General O’Donnell made a speech stating that 2000 planes have used Iwo Jima to date.  Plenty of pictures were taken.  The crew of Three Feathers posed proudly in front of the newly unveiled nose art, in tribute to the 4th Marines for their heroic efforts in liberating the Pacific islands of Iwo Jima, Tinian, Saipan, and Roi Namur, and commemorating 2000 B-29s flying off of Iwo Jima.

On August 6th, 1945, another B-29, the Enola Gay dropped the 1st atomic bomb over Hiroshima Japan.  Three days later Bockscar, another B-29 flying from Tinian, delivered the 2nd atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan.  On that day, August 9th, the Japanese unconditionally surrendered to the Allied Forces.  The formal surrender documents would be signed on the USS Missouri with an armada of B-29s passing over head!

At the end of the war, Three Feathers III was renamed Flagship 500 (in honor of the 500th Bomb Group).  General LeMay flew her back to the U.S. mainland.  Three Feathers III’s last flight was in 1981 to Riverside, CA where she now resides in honorable retirement at the March Field Air Museum (once a WWII air base).

While this may seem like the end of the story, I did a little more research and found a few more interesting tidbits of information!

Three Feathers III was taken to the China Lake Naval Weapons Station (as a target on March 18th, 1956), and sat there for many years.  Luckily it was recovered in the late 70’s and flown to March AFB in 1981.  There were no records at that time, so the Museum painted it, similar to other B-29’s that had been stationed there, and gave it the name “Mission Inn”.  That is until it was learned that this plane carried the name “Flagship 500”.  It was repainted with the “Flagship 500” markings in 2003.

Shortly after, it was learned that this plane has a WWII service record, and the name was Three Feathers III.  The name was changed one more time!

I also found a book about B-29’s with Three Feathers on the cover!  It’s called “The B-29 Superfortress Chronology 1934 – 1960” by Robert Mann.

Here are some of the sources of information on Three Feathers I found while searching online:

B-29A Superfortress, John A. Weeks III – This site has some information about Three Feathers as well as photos with some previous markings.

Warbirds Wiki – Some great photos here of the Three Feathers with it’s “Mission Inn” markings.

Warbirds Wiki – The Boeing B-29 Superfortress – Some good general info on the B-29 along with photos of many other B-29’s and their individual history (short).

Virtual Globtrotting, Three Feathers B-29 – More good general info on B-29’s with a little more on Three Feathers.

March Field Air Museum, Boeing B-29 Superfortress – Information on B-29’s, including the “Mission Inn” and Three Feathers.  There are also 13 additional photos that you can see.

If you want to see the crew of Three Feathers, Z-SQUARE-49, and have any additional interest in the 500th Bomb Group,  then you have to go to their memorial website!  Just click here – 500th Bomb Group Memorial.  Be sure to go to the Gallery, and click on the 883rd, then on Air Crews.

And finally I have one more source to mention.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t have attempted to write about my connection to Three Feathers III, if it weren’t for this wonderful paper entitled “Three Feathers – Flagship of the 500th” by Joan Morre Liska, daughter of T.Sgt. Matthew J. Moore, gunner (with contributions by Capt. Edward Feathers Air Commander, and 2nd Lt. Homer L. Bourland, pilot of Three Feathers).

As I mentioned in my previous posts about Three Feathers (Part 1 & Part 2), this experience has been both humbling and enlightening!  I feel honored to have learned so much about this particular B-29 and her crew.  It’s my hope that if you’ve enjoyed this information as well that you share it, so others can learn and appreciate what has been done for them by brave men and women of WWII.

That’s it for now – Until next time, Happy Shooting!

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