Monthly Archives: July 2023

The New England, ND, Bomber Club

A local paper had an interesting story about World War 2 bomber pilot George Ott.  This article speculated that George had flown a B-17 home to New England and that plane became the static display for the locally famous Bomber Club.  A few of us in the know including George’s family knew George did not play a part in getting a plane to the Bomber Club.  Some of us also knew that the plane at the Bomber Club was not a B-17.  I am too young to have seen the plane at the Bomber Club but over the years had heard about it and had been told that the plane was a B-25 twin engine medium bomber.  This made sense because a B-25 could have been easily landed in a field north of New England.  Occasionally I would hear that the bomber was a B-24 (very large 4 engine plane) and I concluded that this was in error as no one would dare land a plane that size in a field.  I concluded that the plane was a B-25 and calling it a B-24 was simply a slip of the tongue.  I eventually discovered I was WRONG!

Thanks to Bill Hanson of New England who got me in touch with Wendy, the daughter of the original owner of said “Bomber Club”, George Koppinger.  She sent me a copy of a letter written by the pilot who flew the bomber and landed it in a field north of New England.  It was indeed a B-24 World War 2 heavy bomber!

 Here is the story of how it got there.    

Short field landing by Edgar J Allen

While I was with the Sixth Ferry Group in Long Beach, California, I was required to ferry various types of aircraft around the country. These were mostly surplus aircraft being disposed of by the Army Air Force.

One such “opportunity” came on July 3, 1946.  I, along with a co-pilot Lt. R. G. Madrid, and engineer T/Sgt B. V. Mullen, received orders to proceed to Mather Field, California, to ferry a B-24 Liberator to Dickinson, ND.  The aircraft was to be delivered to Mr. George Koppinger who lived in New England, a town about thirty miles south of Dickinson.

We were flown to Mather field the afternoon of July 3 and it took until almost noon, July 4th to inspect the aircraft and have a number of maintenance problems corrected by the limited maintenance crew available on this holiday.

Since we were restricted to flying the aircraft during daylight hours under visual flight rules, we couldn’t make it all the way to Dickinson on July 4th, so we planned to go as far as Spokane, WA, and then continue to Dickinson the next day.  We thought this schedule would work out fine because we reasoned that Mr. Koppinger would be hard to find on the Fourth of July.

We arrived in Dickinson shortly after noon July 5th, and I immediately called Mr. Koppinger in New England.

When I identified myself and stated my purpose, he exploded and shouted angrily, “Where were you yesterday when I needed you?”

I calmed him down and eventually learned why he was so upset.  He had planned an air show for July 4th and had distributed many hand bills in that area advertising he’d have a “Giant Liberator Bomber” on display.  His air show had fizzled because his main attraction was AWOL.  He declared it was now too late to help him and he was not the least bit interested in signing for the aircraft.

That put me in a bind because I had not been told of the requirement to be there in time to support his air show.  I was unwilling to face telling my home base I couldn’t deliver the aircraft, so I tried to find a solution to the dilemma.  I continued talking with Mr. Koppinger and learned he had a friend who was willing to fly the B-24 into his little field near New England. 

That gave me an idea, so I asked him, “If we put the aircraft into your field, will you sign for it then?”

He said he would, so I discussed my plan with Lt. Madrid and Sgt. Mullen and they agreed I could try it.  When I asked Mr. Koppinger for details on how to find his field and the conditions of the landing area.  I learned the field was nothing more than part of a wheat field and it was less than a half mile long!

We filed a flight plan with the local Civil Aeronautics Authority and took off for New England.  When we arrived there, we were unable to locate the field at first, so we circled the town a couple of times hoping to pick it out from all the other wheat fields in the area.  We soon saw a clue:  A line of cars kicking up dust as they hurried along a dirt road heading north east out of town.  We guessed correctly that these folks were headed toward the field where we were expected to attempt a landing.  It wasn’t long before we were able to identify the field, and from the small size of it we could understand their desire to be on hand to watch the excitement.

We circled low over the field where the cars were stopping and assessed our chances of making it.  On the near end of the field was a barbed wire fence about three feet high strung along a ridge about three more feet high caused by years of plowing to the outside of the field.  At the far end was a ditch about three or four feet deep and twelve to fifteen feet across caused by erosion of a small road leading to another field off to the left.

We then made two low passes off to the side of the landing area for a closer inspection for rough spots, holes or whatever.  We didn’t see any, so we circled wide, went through the landing check list and began a straight- in approach.  We were used to landing on 7,000 to 10,000 foot paved runways and this 2’500 foot, soft, dirt field with obstacles at both ends didn’t look very inviting.  I came in as low and slow as I dared, remembering that runway behind our touch-down point was worthless.

At about fifty feet Lt. Madrid shouted unnecessarily, “Don’t hit the fence!”  I thought maybe he saw something I didn’t and pulled up just a tiny bit, but we cleared the fence by plenty.  As we crossed over the fence, I chopped the power and we started to settle in, but it seemed we were going to float forever.  Going around and making another approach flitted through my mind, but then we came to earth with a thud.  The ground was speeding swiftly by, and I knew I had to get the brakes on in a hurry, so I slammed the nose down quickly with a crunch and applied full braking.  We began kicking up clouds of dust from the dry field.  We were all watching the fast approaching ditch at the far end of the field, which wasn’t very far by this time, trying to calculate where we would stop.  We were still going at pretty good clip when I determined that our stopping point was going to be in or beyond the ditch.  So at the last instant I released the left brake, applied power to both left engines, made a careening turn to the right, kicking up more clouds of dirt and we missed the ditch by just ten feet.  We continued around, taxied up in front of the crowd of about a hundred who had gathered to watch the end of our trip.

Mr. Koppinger identified himself and I said to him, “well sir, here is your white elephant.”  He asked, “Why do you say that?”, and I replied, “It’ll stay here forever because you’ll never be able to get it out of this field.”

We stayed around for a while answering questions and basking in all the attention we were getting, then Mr. Koppinger took us to town and, to my great relief, cheerfully signed for the aircraft.  At that moment I wondered what his attitude would have been if we had damaged the aircraft on landing, because we had not discussed that possibility beforehand.

Later Lt. Madrid and I both agreed that we had gotten away with a very risky and unauthorized undertaking, but our home base never became aware that we had done anything but routinely deliver the aircraft to Mr. Koppinger in Dickinson in accordance with our orders.

Postscript:  After setting several years at the Bomber Club being exposed to the elements and steadily deteriorating it must have been sold to a salvage buyer, dismantled and hauled off.  Bill Hanson remembers at some point seeing the wings loaded on semi-trailer.  The salvage buyer probably didn’t have to pay much for the old plane and it was a lot of work to tear it apart.  If that plane was still setting in a field north of New England, even in a deteriorated state, it could well be worth several million dollars!

The Hazen North Dakota Bomber

Rudy Froeschle from Hazen, North Dakota, was a B-17 driver with the Eighth Air Force in England during Word War II. After flying several missions bombing the Germans, he and his crew were unfortunately shot down and became a guest of the same ones he was bombing. Froeschle ended up in Stalag Luft III and played a small part in the movie made after the war (The Great Escape). Froeschle wasn’t portrayed in the movie but the trombone he had in camp was. Rudy had requested it though the International YMCA for a band they were putting together. The trombone was “borrowed” by other prisoners and was used as an important component of a still to make liquor. The trombone was depicted in the movie storyline.
After liberation and the end of the war, Rudy was receiving his military separation papers at Lacklund Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The servicemen were in a large hall. In one corner of the hall was a surplus administration desk. Rudy approached the desk and asked what he could get. He was able to get papers to purchase a Fairchild PT-26 for $600, used as a Canadian instrument trainer, a Stinson Reliant for $1200 – used to transport generals and other individuals of significance, and a B-17 for $350, which could only be used for monumental or educational purposes.
When Rudy got back to his home town of Hazen, he met with the school board and told them about the great deal they could get buying the B-17 for educational purposes. Rudy offered to fly it in for them. The school board decided to buy the bomber.
It took longer then expected for the paperwork to come together and Rudy was already in Chicago starting medical school so Lyle Benz of Hazen (also a WWII Vet pilot) offered to get the plane.
Lyle and his brother John went to Altus, Okla. to gas up and add oil to the B-17 engines that had been “pickled” at the end of the war, when they were placed in storage. Lyle removed the cowling from each of the four engines, and with John’s help pulled the plugs and cleaned them.
There was no radio equipment on the plane so they knew they would have to fly VFR. When they departed Altus, the weather bureau forecasted clear weather. After flying for a while, they ran into clouds and climbed above them. The weather ahead seemed to be getting worse with the clouds rising to 20,000 feet. The Benz brothers decided to turn around. The nearest airfield they sighted was at Perry, Okla. The brothers landed the B-17 and caught rides back to North Dakota to raise money for more gas and oil before going back for the Fortress. The #3 engine had lost a lot of oil so they had to fill it back up. After refueling the brothers took off for Dickinson before delivering it to Hazen.
When they arrived at Dickinson the #3 engine was smoking badly and the local police raced to the airport to make sure they were OK. They knew they would lose oil on the way, so they added more oil before heading to Hazen a few days later.
It was a calm day when the Benz brothers roared over Hazen and landed in a pasture just south of town. The ground was softer than expected and the plane’s wheels sunk in the sod and nosed over, bending the prop tips on the number 2 engine. The whole town had turned out to see the landing and a bunch of the high school boys were able to pull the bombers tail back down.
The plane sat in that spot for several years as kind of a memorial to WWII. Its not known if it ever was used for educational purposes but people would crawl through the plane and scavenged parts.
In 1951 several men came and started working on the plane. They took the #2 prop to Herman Mayer, the town blacksmith, and he did an excellent job pounding the blades back in shape.
One winter morning, when the ground was frozen and a 40 mile an hour wind was blowing from the northwest, these guys turned the plane into the wind, and with no one to witness it, flew away from Hazen.
About 5 years after the B-17 left Hazen, Rudy Froeschle was practicing medicine in Tioga. One day, he treated a pilot who had been in a plane accident while crop dusting…… turned out to be the man who flew the B-17 from Hazen. Rudy found out the plane had been delivered to a buyer in Florida who equipped it for aerial photography.
After several years it was sold to Canadian company who used it for aerial photography all over the world. It changed hands several times while in this capacity. In its next life (1971 to 1982) the B-17 was outfitted with slurry tanks and served as a fire bomber in South Dakota and New Mexico.
The bomber was retired and displayed at the Pima Air Museum in Arizona, 1982—1984. In 1984 it was purchased by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC and stored in an open hanger at the Dulles airport.
In 2011 the plane was donated to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, Georgia. Extensive restoration was started and brought back to its original glory as the famous B-17, “City of Savannah”. It is now the center piece of the museum and considered the finest B-17 Fortress static display in the world.
Article from the Hazen Star, 13 Nov. 2008 by Chris Gessele. B-17 44-83814
Book, B17 Flying Fortress Restoration by Jerome McLaughlin