Celebrate American’s servicemen and women the week of Veterans Day: Join me for a Hell Hawks! talk and book signing at the National World War II Museum on November 15. My talk on this aerial band of brothers and their combat experiences flying the P-47D Thunderbolt against Hitler’s armies will take place at the Museum at Noon. I’ll be at the Museum store through 4 pm to sign copies of Hell Hawks! and talk with veterans, visitors, and those who would salute these heroes.
Bob Dorr and I received sad news in late October about the deaths of two of our Hell Hawk veterans, both contributors and enthusiastic supporters of our work on Hell Hawks! The Untold Story of the American Fliers Who Savaged Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Jim McWhorter, past president of the 365th FIghter Group Association, passed away in Florida on Oct. 22. He was preceded on his final flight by Edgar C. Kiefer, who died in Royal Oak, MI on October 14. Both men were successful and courageous combat pilots with the Hell Hawks. McWhorter told us of his slam-bang shootdown of a Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter on Oct. 12, 1944, an action for which he was awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross:
“Mac” McWhorter, Red 3, with 1st Lt. Robert S. Maney flying his wing, heard Porter call out the bandits and direct the flight to “prepare to drop belly tanks in ten seconds.” “The hell with waiting,” thought Mac. “I dumped mine immediately . . . and looking up saw [my drop] was in last place!” Following Porter, he climbed through eleven thousand feet at three hundred miles per hour, chasing a flight of Messerschmitts, which scattered and fled. Bouncing one, McWhorter caught his enemy in a climbing right turn at about 270 to 300 miles per hour. He fired a burst that peppered the dark gray fighter’s left wing and chopped loose its left main gear. As the 109 tightened the turn, Mac squeezed off a second burst that riddled the 109’s fuselage and tail. Maney, concentrating on clearing McWhorter’s tail, never saw the enemy but caught a glimpse of the shell casings and belt links pouring from his leader’s wings. He thought for a terrible instant that Mac’s Thunderbolt was disintegrating, hammered by strikes from a German coming head-on.
Instead it was McWhorter who had the range. He fired again just as the enemy pilot jettisoned his canopy. Too late: Mac’s eight fifties blasted the enemy’s cockpit and engine. The Messerschmitt’s Daimler-Benz engine froze, and flames erupted from the 109’s cramped cockpit. McWhorter saw his victim, spinning and aflame, hurtle down to spray a fireball across the landscape below. “In that forty-five seconds or a minute, I didn’t have time to think about that pilot,” said McWhorter. “That 109 was just a target.” He pulled up and circled, looking for more, but by then the enemy was gone. He had a confirmed kill, and his courage and skill were recognized by the award of a Distinguished Flying Cross.
Edgar Kiefer contributed to our research by sharing with us his self-published memoir, A P-47 Pilot’s Recollections of his WWII Battles (written with his son, Richard Kiefer of Boulder, CO). Both men were brave young Americans in 1944-45, a time (like today) when our nation is in vital need of their determination, dedication, and deadly earnestness in combat.
Men like McWhorter and Kiefer will be the subject of my upcoming Hell Hawks! talk to the Service Academies Association at 0745 on Friday, December 12, at the MARRIOTT HOUSTON WESTCHASE HOTEL, 2900 Briar park, Houston, Texas 77042. Hell Hawks! remains the top-selling title at the National Air & Space Museum.
For more of my astronaut speaker appearances, in Houston or nationwide, please watch this space. I’ll also be signing Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir, at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Nov. 14, 2008, from 1230-1430.
October has been a productive month for getting some of my interests into print. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics publishes “Aerospace America” every month, and in October my “View from Here” column appeared. My topic was dealing with the impact hazard from Near Earth Objects: 2008 TC3 collided with Earth on October 7th, making my report on the need for a decision-making agreement to deal with a future rogue asteroid a timely one. You can read Asteroid Deflection: Planning for the Inevitable online and in the October issue of Aerospace America.
Speaking of 2008 TC3, I reported on its collision with Earth and the need to prepare for a future rogue asteroid in Why the World Needs Asteroid Insurance: Resident Astronaut on Popular Mechanics‘ web site, October 9, 2008. Keep an eye out for my continuing space comments at their site.
My article on the early space race and the US effort to put a man in space, Mercury Rising, appeared in Invention and Technology‘s fall 2008 issue. I interviewed Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter for the article, which is beautifully illustrated with mission photos and developmental drawings of the Mercury design. I’ll post a pdf version of the article shortly at my website, AstronautTomJones.com.
All of these intriguing topics are sure to be featured in my upcoming astronaut speaker talks, and I’ll post my upcoming appearances in a future entry here at Flight Notes.
Looking forward to seeing many old friends and learning of their experiences in Hurricane Ike. Best wishes to all there for a smooth clean-up and a quick recovery from the extensive damage inflicted by Ike.
Spread the word and join me Saturday for the extraordinary tales of the 365th Fighter Group, the Hell Hawks! This band of young pilots and airmen had an extraordinary impact on winning victory in WWII Europe.
I joined the Association of Space Explorers after my third shuttle flight in 1996. This past week in Seattle, astronauts and cosmonauts from around the world met in Seattle to discuss space exploration, education, and planetary stewardship. Our technical sessions dealt with human space exploration, astronaut observations of Earth and its geological links to our neighboring worlds, health for long-duration spaceflight, fundamental research on the space station, and the latest developments in world space programs, including the NASA effort to return to the Moon with Ares and Orion. My talks dealt with how astronauts contribute to the science of Planetology with their Earth-orbital observations, and opportunities to journey deep into space with astronaut voyages to nearby asteroids.
Our community day activities brought 50 space fliers to schools all over the State of Washington, reaching 42,000 students, all of whom had a chance to meet and ask questions of a space traveler. My visits took me to four elementary schools in Wenatchee, where I addressed 1,800 future explorers, aged 5 to 11.
The week of September 22 brings a few of those space travelers together with our ASE Panel on Asteroid Threat Mitigation, for final edits to our decision-making document, “Asteroid Threats: A Call for Global Response.” We will complete our document, sign it, and submit our work to the United Nations for debate and adoption of an international program to prevent future asteroid impacts on Earth. The Association of Space Explorers’ theme of planetary stewardship is the impetus behind this effort to use our space technology and international cooperation in space to prepare for a future threat from a Near Earth Object.
Of course, while in Seattle I didn’t miss the opportunity to sign copies of “Hell Hawks!“, at the Seattle Museum of Flight, a great venue for this aerial band of brothers story about a heroic group of Thunderbolt pilots.