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Airplane Accidents   

      There were three airplane accidents at Fairfield-Suisun AFB while I was stationed there. A flight crew had to bail out of a burning B-29 one night on a practice mission somewhere over California.  The crew survived except for the navigator who landed in a river and drowned.  Pieces of the airplane were brought back to base in trucks. 
     The number of B-36's on the base had grown to 33.  When B-36's were operating on the ground, air, or runway, airmen everywhere paused to marvel at the monster sized machines.  Some were equipped with four jet engines in addition to the six R-4360s.  During the takeoff roll, the wheels would skid on the dry runway if the brakes were still on when the engines were opened up.
     The flight of a B-36 was simply magnificent.  This short story of life on an air base can't do justice to the operations of a B-36, so that will not be attempted.
     However, one incident comes to mind.  A B-36 flight crew was performing normal pre-flight checks before taxiing to the runway.  Each crewmember had a list of things to take care of.  On this occasion apparently the brakes were not fully applied and locked when the engineer ran up an engine for a power check.  The airplane moved forward and collided with the nose of a second B-36.  The nose of the struck B36 was twisted off about 20 feet aft of the cockpit and lay on its side.  The front of the fuselage rested on the ground and its tail was about a 100 feet in the air.  Neither plane ever flew again.  There were no injuries.  An experienced crewmember can see how this could happen.  When the engines were running up, the airplane would bounce around about the same standing still as when taxiing.  The pilot could have his attention on his checklist duties and easily fail to realize the plane was moving.
     The third airplane accident I want to tell about involved a B29 crash that killed General Travis and 16 other airmen.  It was SAC policy to staff the island of Guam with bombers, flight crew and ground personnel in three-month cycles.  At Fairfield-Suisun AFB, 20 to 30 airplanes with flight and ground crews would depart as a group and fly to Guam with stops at Hawaii and Johnston Island.  In 1950 as a group of B-29s were preparing to leave for Guam, I was off duty and in Sacramento with a carload of buddies.  As usual, it was about 1AM when we left Sacramento.  On the way down the major highway we were seeing fire trucks from the small towns in the area joining the west bound traffic.  After awhile we were wondering what was up that there were so many fire trucks on the move. At about 30 miles from the base we began to see that the sky was lit up in the direction of the airbase.  As we got closer, the sky got brighter and it became obvious that there was something going on that didn't look good.  This was during the cold war and the Korean War, and it was easy to imagine that an attack had been made on the airfield.  On arrival at the base we were sent to the rear gate to the field.  The airfield was surrounded by thousands of acres of burning grass, with fire trucks here and there putting out the grass fires.  It was not until we got to the barracks that we learned that there had been a plane crash.
     One of the B-29s taking off for Guam had developed an engine fire during takeoff.  A second engine caught fire because takeoff power had to be extended to maintain flight.  As the crippled airplane attempted to circle for a landing it was approaching a cluster of enlisted men's homes near the main gate.  The plane still had flaps down and was about 100 feet above ground.  In the cockpit with the pilot and crew was General Travis, the base commander.  General Travis ordered the pilot to ditch the airplane rather than risk lives of families on the ground by flying over the dwellings.  The pilot and two other crew members in the front of the plane survived.  General Travis died from severe burns soon after the crash.
     The B-29 burned for about 15 minutes, which was long enough for seven fire trucks to surround the wreckage.  Then the B-29 exploded, showering the dry fields with burning fragments and surrounding the scene of the crash with grass fires. The fire trucks were heavily damaged. Fourteen airmen died in the crash. Three firemen were killed by the blast. That night I couldn't sleep.  I wondered if a close buddy, Frank LaRosa was on the airplane.  Later, I learned that one of the airmen killed was the man who had loaned me $20 so I could buy the last tank of gas for the '42 Buick to finish the trip from New York City back to Chanute Field.


General Travis     

       General Travis had served in WWII and had his command post at the air base because of his leadership skills.  The airfield was renamed TRAVIS AFB in a 1952 ceremony for that occasion.  The rest of what can be said of General Travis is accessible on the Internet.  Just search for Travis AFB and read about the base history. Read especially about General Travis.