The last time I piloted an aircraft, it was a T41 that belonged to the Civil Air Patrol here. That was in 1995. My medical certificate came up for renewal, I failed the depth perception part of it, and that was that.
Shortly thereafter, the Air Force took the airplane away, and I certainly couldn't afford to pay $100.00 an hour to rent one even if I could have flown it, so my flying days, which began 22 years earlier, were over. I still have my pilots "single engine land" certificate but it's a keep sake and that's about it.
But I'm still very interested in aviation. I have a lot of time to read, and over the years I've read autobiographies by some of the world's best pilots. Primarily German, British , and American. Not many Japanese aces lived through the war, and I only know of one who wrote about his experiences, Saburo Sakai. If you've never read Samurai, and you are or were an aviator, you would enjoy it.
On December 21, 1943 an 8th Air Force B-17 piloted by Second Lieutenant Charles Brown was torn up by flak over Germany. The aircraft was so seriously damaged that the crew should have bailed out, but they had a man who was badly injured , and he couldn't be dropped out of the aircraft. Trying to make it home, they were intercepted by Second Lieutenant Franz Stigler in his BF109G fighter.
It was the second combat mission for Brown and his crew. Stigler was an ace, a survivor of the desert campaign in North Africa who would end the war flying in the worlds only operational jet squadron.
Stigler's BF109F as flown in the Western Desert.
The bomber was helpless. It had one operational gun left, virtually the entire crew was wounded, and they had a 300 mile trip back to England, much of it over the North Sea. The aircraft was barely controllable and could not maintain altitude.
Instead of finishing off the bomber, Stigler first flew formation off the starboard side and tried to signal the pilots to land in Germany. They wouldn't. He should have shot them down then, but he went over to the port side of the B-17 and tried to indicate they should fly to Sweden, much nearer than England, and be interned.
The pilots of the B-17 indicated they would not. Stigler thought they were insane, but he also knew they were coming up on the coastal flak belt , and that at the low altitude and reduced air speed they were operating at, they would be obliterated.
For reasons he himself was not sure of, he tucked his fighter in on the B-17's wing. He knew that the flak crews would recognize the silhouette of his BF-109 and would not open fire. In not shooting down the bomber, he was committing an act of treason at a time when people were being shot in Germany for making jokes about the Nazi party.
Once the aircraft was out over the water, he returned to his airfield and sweated out the next few days, fearful that someone would have reported him. No one did.
The B-17 made it back to England.
45 years later, essentially through a series of coincidences, Brown and Stigler met and became friends. Stigler was made an honorary member of the Bomb Group Association Brown was affiliated with. Stigler was living in Canada then, and when the story hit the press he got a lot of very ugly phone calls, from Canadians telling the "Nazi" to get out, and from Germans calling him a traitor.
He never regretted what he did though.
As I said, I've read a great many memoirs of World War 2 aviators, and I think this is one of the most honest I've seen. The book talks about things almost nobody else does, like people inflicting wounds on themselves to avoid combat, people claiming victories they didn't actually earn. Lots of seamy things you know had to have happened but which are ordinarily passed over in silence.
|2nd Lt. Charles Brown, USAAF Pilot of B-17|
|BF-109G Pilot Franz Stigler, German Luftwaffe|
|Stigler and Brown 45 years after the end of WW2|
Just for my record, Jet died today. I found him in his snuggy bag this morning. He apparently died in his sleep. Given that he had cancer, and only a few months to live from the time it was diagnosed, this was a good way to go out. I don't think he suffered. The night before he was eating and walking around, and seemed to feel ok. M and I buried him out with the others, up on the back of the meadow.