My Papa , who would have been 116 years old this August, was sheet metal foreman at Biggs Field (now an AFB) in El Paso where crippled and shot-up aircraft from the Pacific war were repaired and returned to combat. Even though World War II was at its height, security in those days was open to "family" so Papa could take me out to the base on weekends. I crawled all thru war-weary B-29s, B-17s, B-25s (the Tokyo Doolittle raid), B-26s and beloved Gooney Birds (DC-3s).
One of the planes Papa repaired was a P-47 that had tangled with a Luftwaffe jet fighter – probably on a test flight. The German jet was too fast to loiter around the P-47 and the P-47 was too slow to put any dents in the jet. I was able to talk at length with the U.S pilot, who later spoke before our Boy Scout troop. The pilot said that the encounter was a major topic of conversation – and concern – among flight crews and other pilots when he returned to base.
My favorite visits were to the B-29s because it was our first pressurized bomber (where the crew didn't have to wear oxygen masks).
To keep the airplane pressurized there was a long tunnel over the bomb bay connecting front and rear sections. My brother Jim and I had great fun crawling through that tunnel to sit in the rear-gunner's seat or peer out the waist gunners’ openings. In the front we could sit in the pilots’ cockpit. Below that was the bombardier's seat.
Couldn't sit in the ball turret underneath because that was always pulled up for landing.
Obviously my adventures were popular to retell at school. I think cousin David may have gone on a trip to "Papa's shop" while visiting. We could look down from where we lived and see the big bombers landing. David later worked at Boeing and designed its planes.
I guess I'll always remember those Biggs field trips being as educational as anything I learned in the fourth through seventh grades on the mountainside above Biggs field. In those days I was a great plane spotter, and sitting in our elm tree always on the lookout for enemy planes. I could identify those too, but never spotted one.