My mechanic's training was specific to the R4360 Pratt and Whitney engine used on the B-36. It was a little disappointing to be assigned to a ground crew on a B-29, which was powered by an R 3350. The workday was 8 to 5, and except for an occasional Saturday morning review, airmen had evenings and weekends off. To me it was like a vacation. My crew chief was Sergeant Cox.
One of the first maintenance jobs I worked on was to remove and replace a supercharger on a B-29. It was a two-man job. I was impressed by the fact that I was installing a device that was so critical to the operation of the airplane.
Most of the time, the ground crew worked together on aircraft maintenance. After every flight there was a list of "gigs" that required attention. Sometimes it was replacing a switch and sometimes replacing an engine. It took a lot of work to keep the B-29 engine serviceable. With 18 cylinders, each with 8 hose clamps holding the pressurized oil surrounding the external pushrods, there was always oil leaking from the engine. Engines had to be washed down frequently to prevent fires.
Our B-29's were flown on practice missions about twice a week, so there was never a rush to get the work done. I asked the crew chief if I could go along on a practice flight and he set it up for me. I sat on the door that gave access to the front compartment through the nose wheel well. It placed me beside the flight Engineer and behind the pilots and bombardier, where I could watch the most important operations taking place in every flight. During takeoff, there was a brisk crosswind from the left. As soon as the wheels left the runway the pilot neutralized the controls so the plane could head into the wind. Suddenly the plane changed heading by about 10 degrees. That was my first thrill. Later in the flight we flew through a cloud of hail. I was sure the all glass nose of the airplane was going to cave in and we would be pulverized. No one else got excited, but it sent a chill up my spine.
One day our B-29 returned with engine number 3 feathered. It had been shut down in flight. The crew chief got all the ground crew in the airplane by the Flight Engineer's station so we could diagnose the engine problem by instrument readings. After a warm up, the crew chief increased RPM to do a magneto check. I was standing where I could see no. 3 engine through a small window. Suddenly I saw flames coming from around the superchargers and cowl flaps. I yelled at the crew chief that the engine was on fire and dropped 8 feet straight down to the ground. I don't remember bothering to use the ladder. The fire extinguisher was near the nose of the airplane, and I had it beside the engine before the propeller had stopped turning. The nacelle covers the engine almost completely, and I paused a moment to consider where to direct the CO2, not knowing if I could get to the source of the fire. I yanked the safety pin and shot CO2 into the supercharger and between the cowl flaps. The flames went out quickly. By this time other crew members were there and we moved a work stand to the engine and removed access panels to check behind the engine. Meanwhile, Sergeant Cox had radioed the fire department and before long firemen arrived. The quick action may have saved the airplane. There was no damage to the engine compartment.