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Enola Gay pilot to speak at Air Fest '05

(Courtesy of Enola Gay Remembered)
Photos courtesy of Enola Gay Remembered

General Paul W. Tibbets, pilot of the famous World War II aircraft Enola Gay, is scheduled to be the guest speaker at this year's Air Fest 2005 April 9 to 10. General Tibbets will be speaking on his endeavors and Air Force history in Hangar 3 for both days of the airshow.

General Tibbets' illustrious career has been overshadowed by the role he and his fellow crewmembers played in ending WWII. General Tibbets is a true American hero who played a key role in one of the most important periods in the history of our country. He became very famous after one mission over Hiroshima that played a vital role to ending the war in Japan. But beyond that mission, General Tibbets had a long and distinguished career as a military officer, aviator and leader.

General Tibbets was born in 1915 in Quincy, Ill., and after his early schooling, graduated from Western Military Academy in Alton, Ill., in 1933. At the age of eighteen, General Tibbets attended the University of Florida and the University of Cincinnati, the latter as a chemistry major. Tibbets entered the Army Air Corps Feb. 25, 1937, and began his flying school at Randolph Field, Texas, before graduating from pilot school at Kelly Field, Texas, in February 1938.

At the outbreak of World War II, General Tibbets formed an anti-submarine patrol squadron at Pope Field, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In June 1942, General Tibbets arrived in England and flew 25 combat missions over the European continent, including the first American B-17 Flying Fortress raid against occupied Europe - a bombing mission that was led by General Ira C. Eaker.

In the fall of 1942, General Tibbets was assigned to fly General Mark Clark to his meeting with the French prior to the invasion of North Africa. Upon General Tibbets' return, he was assigned to fly General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his staff to Gibraltar on the night of the invasions. General Tibbets then flew General Clark to Algiers where Clark took command of the invasion forces.

In the month that followed, General Tibbets conducted bombing missions over North Africa under direct control of the British, including the first heavy bombardment mission in support of the North African invasion.

In March 1943, General Tibbets returned to the United States as a B-29 Program flight test pilot, where he worked with Boeing and the Air Materiel Command until March 1944, when he was transferred to Grand Island, Neb. There he became Director of Operations for a B-29 instructor transition school under General Frank Armstrong.

In September 1944, General Tibbets was briefed on the Manhattan Project, the code name for the development of the atom bomb. It was to be his responsibility to organize and train a unit to deliver these weapons in combat. He would also determine and supervise the modifications necessary to make the B-29 capable of delivering the weapons, and for this, the unit had to be self-sufficient. Secrecy was paramount. The unit would support Los Alamos, N.M., with flight test airplanes to establish ballistics and detonator reliability to explode the bombs.

He was told, "You are on your own. No one knows what to tell you. Use normal channels to the extent possible. If you are denied something you need, restate your need is for "SILVERPLATE" (a codename) and your request will be honored without question."

General Tibbets acquired 15 new B-29s and specified they be stripped of turrets and armor plating except for the tail gunner position; that fuel-injected engines and new technology reversible pitch propellers be installed; and the bomb bay re-configured to suspend, from a single point, ten thousand pounds. Such an airplane would fly higher, faster, and above the effective range of anti-aircraft fire.

A B-29 bombardment squadron, the 393rd, in its final stage of training, and Wendover Army Air Base located on the Utah/Nevada border were selected by the general for "starters". The 393rd was fully equipped and the base had a fully manned "housekeeping" group. Wendover was isolated but close enough to Los Alamos to work together. The Salton Sea was an ideal distance for bombing practice.

Then on Dec. 17, 1944, formal orders were issued activating the 509th Composite Group, consisting of seven subordinate units. In March 1945 the First Ordnance Squadron, a unit designed to carry out the technical phases of the group responsibilities, became part of the 509th. The personnel count now exceeded 1500 enlisted men and some 200 officers.

Then, quietly, the group started moving overseas to Tinian Island in the Marianas chain. On the afternoon of Aug. 5, 1945, President Truman gave his approval to use the weapons against Japan.

By the time the plane left, it's familiar arrowhead tail motif had been changed on both sides to the letter "R" in a circle, the standard identification for the Sixth Bomb Group.

The idea behind the change was to confuse the enemy if they made contact, which they did not. At 2:45 a.m. Aug. 6, the Enola Gay lifted off North Field with General Tibbets and his crew en route to Hiroshima. At exactly 9:15 plus 15 seconds the world's first atomic bomb exploded. The course of history and the nature of warfare was changed.

General Tibbets retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1966, and remains an outspoken advocate of U.S. air power.

 

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