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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

More Stories on Noble Peterson

  Noble Peterson served with the 358th Squadron of the 355th Fighter Group based at Steeple Morden in Cambridgeshire, England.  Noble flew two tours, the first in a P-51B, (Dakota Kid) and the second in a D model, (Dakota Kid II).  Known as the Morden Strafers, the 355th became renowned for their low-level attacks on German targets after being released from escort duties. 

 On one such mission while beating up a German aerodrome, Noble caught sight of a multi cannon antiaircraft emplacement nestled in among some hay stacks.  They were four barreled 20mm Flakveirling with an eight man crew.  What gave them away was the tell-tail puff, puff, puff smoke signatures of the cannons as they fired.  He noted the location of the gun emplacement as the group withdrew to the west.  He led his flight in the withdrawal at several thousand feet, all the time noting landmarks over which they were passing.  When they were some five miles from the aerodrome, he signaled he was taking another run, alone, reversed direction and got down on the deck following the landmarks back to the aerodrome, hugging the ground, rising to go over trees and buildings.  When he was less than a half mile from the hay stacks, he pulled up until he could clearly see the site, and then roared toward it in a power glide, unleashing his six .50 calibers into the target.  Dust and debris erupted from the haystacks and gun emplacement where the rounds hit.  As he passed over the site he took a quick glance down over his shoulder and caught a fleeting snapshot of what his hundreds of half inch bullets had done to the gun crew.  That single terrible image was seared into his memory the rest of his life.

      Some of Noble’s most precious memories was using his war plane to save lives.  He always flew his machine very carefully, never slamming the throttle open and closed.  Other pilots were constantly opening and closing their throttles to keep in formation.  Noble made throttle changes slowly, by degrees, and leaned his mixture on cruise.  He always got back to base with much more fuel than the others in his flight, even though they had flown virtually the same distance.  It was because of this that many times he could remain airborne much longer if the need arose.  

  One such time was the late fall of 1944.  Noble was returning with his flight over the English Channel when they heard a mayday call of two planes running out of fuel somewhere north of them.  Noble looked down at the cold, cold Channel and thought how miserable it would be to be in that water.  He checked his fuel supply and, like usual, he had enough to stay airborne for awhile longer.  Flying north he reached where the planes had been and caught sight of two parachutes descending about a half mile apart.  He followed them down and anxiously watched as they were able to get in their small rafts in the rough seas.  While keeping an eye on both rafts, which was hard to do in the heavy swells, he called Air Sea Rescue and was informed a launch was on its way.  Noble checked his fuel supply.  His two wing tanks had fuel left as he began flying a figure eight course between the two and called Air Sea Rescue again.  The launch was still 20 miles out.  He leaned the mixture as much as possible and stayed on station.  At the altitude he was flying, if he ran out of fuel in one tank and the engine quit, he would be in the drink before he could recover, so every 15 minutes he would gain some altitude and switch tanks to keep from running one tank dry.  He continue his vigil.  Another call to ASR; still ten miles out.  Grab some altitude, switch tanks again.  Finally, in the distance, he saw the launch bucking the waves but was on a course that would miss the pilots.  “ASR, are you in contact with the Launch?”


  “Have them correct their course!”  The launch turned toward the rafts.  Noble stayed until the pilots were safely in the boat.  One last pass resulted in exuberant waves from all on board.

  He got back to Steeple Morden several hours after the others and missed out on the debriefing.  Hungry and tired, he caught a bite and hit the sack.  Just another day in the Eighth Air Force.

 Many years later Noble started reminiscing about his time in the service and the men with whom he served.   His memory also drifted back to those two pilots he had last seen after they were pulled from the Channel.  He wondered, “Did they survive the war?  Where are they now?  If it could be possible, it would be great if he could visit with one or both of them.”  He had forgotten the date the incident happened, and he hadn’t written it in his log.  Having gotten back after debriefing it wouldn’t be recorded in Squadron records, either.

  Noble made some phone calls and inquiries and finally was directed to a lady in Hawaii who had the records of all the Air Sea Rescues conducted from the English Isles. (This was before the internet) Calling the lady, Noble related the incident but couldn’t nail down a specific date.  The lady explained that thousands of flyers had been rescued during the war and to find one particular event without a date or names of the individuals involved would be very difficult.  Noble offered to pay the lady for her time to search the records.  The lady declined, it would be just too hard to accomplish.  Disappointed, Noble realized it was not to be.  

Noble and his crew chief……

When Noble first met his crew chief, he didn’t know what to expect of this young 19 year old, Robert Coleman.  Would this kid be able to keep his P-51 flying?  Robert Coleman proved himself admirably.  His P51 was always excellently serviced and ready to go when called.

  One day he went to Noble and asked if it would it be OK to paint Long Island Kid below the exhausts on Dakota Kid II.  Robert Coleman was from New York.  “What could he say?”  Noble flew the plane but Robert kept it flying.  It was just as much his plane as Noble’s.  And so, Long Island Kid was also added to the cowling.  This is the only time known that a crew chief was acknowledged on the plane’s name or artwork.

  One thing Noble didn’t find out until many years after the war was at a Group Reunion. Robert Coleman told him that every morning he would check the board to see if Noble would be flying that day.  If not, he would go out and pull the cowling to make it look like it was being serviced.  Sometimes when readying for a mission a plane might have a sudden mechanical problem.  In such cases the pilot could grab any other plane that was ready but not going on that mission.  Coleman didn’t want anyone flying his plane but Peterson!  He knew that many pilots were rough with their airplanes and Robert didn’t want them near his Dakota Kid.    



  One of the innovations that enabled fighter range deep into Germany was the wing drop tanks, or “Babies” as they were popularly known.  Metal tanks were first used but in a war economy where metal was in limited supply and the tanks were commonly jettisoned after use, pressed paper tanks were developed to be used instead.  Filling of the tanks took place immediately before the mission, because if they were filled beforehand, the pressed paper would absorb the fuel and would begin to get soggy and the tanks would droop over an extended period of time.

 Noble related that take off was always done using fuel from the fuselage tank right behind the pilot’s seat and continued until that tank was about half empty, then fuel would be taken from the drop tanks.  The reason for this was the Mustang handled much better if the fuselage tank was not full. Thus, it was advantageous to run fuel out of that tank first. 

  One day a new young pilot was assigned to Noble’s flight. This was his first official mission, a deep penetration escort into Germany.  Take off, as usual, was from the fuselage tank, and when they got over the Channel Noble reminded his flight to switch to drop tanks.  When the tanks were empty or nearly empty far into the Reichland, Noble ordered his flight to drop their “babies.”  They did and the new guy’s plane jumped!  He had released 2 full drop tanks!  In all the excitement of his first mission he had forgotten to switch to the drop tanks.  Now what!  Here he was, that far into Germany, with very little fuel left.  There was a very good possibility of having to bail out and becoming a POW.  OK, Noble radioed,  “Turn around and reduce power, start gliding back toward England.  When you get down to a thousand feet, just apply enough power to stay airborne.  I’ll escort you and try to take on any German planes we may encounter.”

 They took care to avoid populated areas or known flak sites.  Noble advised the new pilot to keep his speed just above a stall.  It was slow going!  Amazingly the trip was uneventful, and they were not even shot at as far as they knew.  They did get shocked stares from some German soldiers that were marching down a road, but no one even bothered to shoulder their weapon.  They even received friendly waves from German farmers working in the fields.  It was sure a good way to get a beautiful tour of the German countryside. 

  Finally, they reached the Netherlands and breathed a little easier.  By no means yet were they out of the woods as Holland was still occupied. Still, there was an active resistance that would help you if you dropped in providing the Germans didn’t get to you first.  The fuel situation was holding, and Noble started to think they might even be able to reach the Channel.  “How’s your fuel?”

  “I’m still showing a few gallons.”

 “We’ve crossed the Dutch coast,” Noble radioed his Newbie.  “Shoot for England?”

  “Yes. Not much left, but….” 

 When they crossed the English coast, Noble and his charge breathed a relieved sigh.  “Hell, we’ve gone this far, let’s try for home base.”  They made it.  The ground crew said there was nothing more than a few gallons left in his tanks.  This showed how fuel efficient the Mustang was if you knew how to manage it.  If the same thing had happened to a P-47, they probably would not have gotten out of Germany.     

       After the war, Noble went home, started ranching, and raised a wonderful family.