Saturday, Aug. 30, saw Bob Dorr and I signing copies of Hell Hawks! at the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar Hazy Center. Museum visitors purchased nearly the entire stock on hand — 63 copies went out the door, along with a dozen copies of Sky Walking.
Sunday evening, Aug. 31, saw me on the air with radio talk show host John Batchelor, interviewing me about Hell Hawks! I was joined by Hell Hawk veteran and pilot David N. Harmon, Col. USAF (ret). Col. Harmon flew a combat mission in his P-47, Elsie, on Sept. 19, 1944. His flight bombed a German panzer concentration with deadly effect. Shortly after, near Bitburg, Harmon took on a Wehrmacht flak battery that had downed several American planes. He dove on the guns at 400 mph in a steep, 40-degree dive, hammering the guns with .50-caliber fire from his eight machine guns. A dead German gunner, slumped over the firing bar, kept spitting shells into the air–one hit Harmon square in his Jug’s belly.
The 20mm round exploded in Harmon’s main fuel tank. He felt a tremendous jolt to the plane, and his armored seat pan leapt several inches higher with the impact. Staying low to avoid flak tracers streaking down from a parallel ridge, Harmon kicked in water injection for extra speed. His Pratt & Whitney R2800 engine roared in response, and after five miles on the tree tops, Harmon was able to climb and streak for home. He landed back at base with his plane perforated by flak hits; the P-47 was condemned to the junk heap. But not before his crew chief retrieved the nose fragment of the 20mm shell that burst in the main tank. Full of aviation gas, the tank didn’t contain enough air to support an explosion, and the fluid helped smother the shock of the explosion.
Harmon won the Distinguished Flying Cross (his second) for that action. He still has the 20mm shell tip. He will be 89 years old this fall. He signs his letters: “The Luckiest Man Alive.”
The radio interview is posted at my website: the first item on the “What’s New” page.