Phantom Ghost Fortress’ B-17 That Landed at an Airfield – NO Crew Were on Board!!

B-17 lands perfectly at an RAF airbase, does the whole pattern as well, comes to a full stop, but nobody is observed coming out of the bomber. Emergency crews climb aboard to find not one single person inside the air plane, no trace of any bodily fluid. What they do find are pilot logs, copies of radio transmissions. From the looks of it, the pilot stated that the plane was heavily damaged, the crew was badly hurt, but the plane itself was not damaged at all. Let alone, from what was seen, it was flying and landed itself!

“The gunners were surprised to see a B-17, wheels down, approaching their positions. As they called in to their operations room, the B17 landed. It bounced to a stop when one wing tip dug into the ground about 30 yards from the AA gun position. One propellor buckled and stopped, the other 3 kept going.

John V. Crisp arrived upon the scene 20 minutes after the B17 landed. The propellors continued spinning, but no one had emerged form the plane. Crisp managed to get into the plane and looked around. No one was in there, although there were signs of recent occupation. Crisp managed after some experimenting to get the remainder of the engines shut off.

“I looked next at the navigators table,’ Crisp has written. “The aircraft log was open and the last words, written sometime before were ‘Bad Flak.’
“We now made a through search of the fuselage and found about a dozen parachutes neatly wrapped and ready for clipping on. This made the whereabouts of the crew even more mysterious. The Sperry bombsight remained in the Perspex nose, quite undamaged, with its cover neatly folded beside it. Back on the navigator’s desk there was the code book giving the colors and letters of the day for identification purposes. Various fur lined flying jackets lay in the fuselage together with a few bars of chocolate, partly consumed in some cases.”
8th AF Service Command, part of the Advanced HQ in Belgium, sent out a crew to investigate. On checking the planes serial number, they learn that the B17 has come from the 91st BG and the crew is already safe in England.

Throughout the war there were other reports of B17s which continued to fly though pilotless, but the Phantom Fortress was the only one that succeeded in landing itself more or less intact.”
To anyone interested in reading and fully understanding the how and why of the 8th AF, the B17, in the ETO or PTO, tactics, etc. I highly recommend this book.
What had happened was that the plane, on a mission to Merseburg oil targets, developed trouble just before reaching the target area. The plane wasnt able to climb with the rest of the group, and in addition, was plagues with a malfunction of its bomb racks. Then a direct hit knocked out the #3 engine and another filled the center of the plane with a tremendous flash. “We had been hit in the bomb bay,” said pilot Harold R. DeBolt, “and I’ll be darned if I know why the bombs didn’t explode.”

With one propeller wind milling and the weather closing in, DeBolt headed for England and then changed his mind, for the plane was obviously not going to make it back to East Anglia. He pointed the B17 towards Brussels and ordered all loose equipment jettisoned to lighted the load. It was then that 2 engines quit. Setting the B17 on automatic pilot, DeBolt ordered the crew to bail out, leaving the plane at last.

All landed safely-and so did their stricken B17. What had happened was that after the crew jumped, with the justification as far as they could discern, the trouble in the engines cleared up and the beautifully designed, stable B17 flew itself. Its malfunctioning engines, however, would not keep it up and it simply came down as described by the British gun crew. To his uneducated eye the plane appeared to be undamaged and what he thought were the crew’s parachutes were probably extra chute packs.

War History Online


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