Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Buzzing the Field---Forbidden but Fun

Flying so low that the belly of your aircraft clipped the grass or scratched the runway was a big no-no in the U.S. Army Air Corps, but that didn't stop pilots from doing it. It was customary to do so after finishing 25 missions. This low-level stunt was known as "buzzing the field".

A B-17 buzzes the field in this photo from the war years.
Have you ever wondered what it would like like from the vantage-point of the pilot buzzzing the field? This shot was taken from an P-38 aerial recon plane as the pilot swooped down towards the hangar at center. Note the crouching man on the ground in the middle of the concrete.

The most famous field-buzzing ever is found in the 1962 film "The War Lover", based on the novel of the same name by John Hersey. My late friend Gus Mencow swore to me that Hersey visited the base at the 390th and was intrigued by Gus's pilot, James Geary. Gus believed that Hersey modeled the war-loving pilot in the book after Geary.

In any case, Steve McQueen played the role of Captain Buzz Rickson (an apt first name, eh?) and Robert Wagner played his co-pilot. The Columbia film company searched high and low and found three flyable B-17s, which they purchased and fixed up for the filming.

Stunt pilot John Crewdson, who'd already done tricky stunt flying for the British show 633 Squadron, agreed to help with the flying in the film. Crewdson had gotten his start as a glider pilot in the British Army, also spending time in the RAF. Crewdson flew the huge B-17 solo across the field, only a few feet above the ground, as shown in the photo below.
Crewdson went on to be the stunt flyer in James Bond movies in the sixties, and was killed in 1982 while filming a helicopter stunt for another film.

Stunt pilot John Crewdson buzzes the British field at Bovington for the 1961 movie 'The War Lover' . Crewdson reportedly flew the airplane solo for the sequence.

For more on 'The War Lover', go to this link:


Les said...

After the buzz, I'll bet there was a lot of ground kissing and "buzzes" of a differrent sort going on :)

What a feeling it must have been to have completed that last mission.

I did get to ask my grandfather about that. I said: "That must have been one of the greatest moments of your life!" His face lit up. He simply said: "IT SURE WAS!"

I've asked his bombardier Bill Bates about that too and got a similar response.

They both received "Luckye Bastarde's Club" Certificates.

I'll email you a copy of my grandfather's when I get home from work.

r morris said...

Thanks, Les. I'd love to have a copy.
Yes, every vet I ever talked to said that finishing that final mission felt like a ten-ton weight lifting off his shoulders.
In 1942 and 1943, very few men had the joy of finishing.