Dodging a B-17

Dad was a little too close a spectator to the first landing of an American heavy bomber on the new airfield. The main landing strip was still just an unpaved and barely leveled gash in the volcanic rock. Dad was standing right on the centerline, weapons carrier (that’s a Jeep to us, but that’s what he always called them in his story) parked beside him, taking a level through his surveyor’s transit, when his stick man began making strange and increasingly frantic signals. Dad peered more closely through the telescopic tube to try to figure out what the man was getting at when the figure in the little lens pointed right at Dad, dropped his stick, and bolted away.

Dad turned around – to see a B17 “Flying Fortress” bomber, flaps down and engines throttled back, coming out of the sky directly at him at something better than a hundred miles per hour. For ten guys on a malfunctioning airplane with no hope of making it the rest of the way across the Atlantic, the option of landing on a rough, unfinished landing strip – whether or not a couple of guys and a jeep were standing on it – seemed like a good idea.

Dad scooped up the transit on its tripod and jumped in the weapons carrier. To his incredible relief it started on the first crank and kept running as he popped the clutch and firewalled it for the side of the runway. He was just outside the outboard propellers as the big bomber’s wing passed over him.

A B-17 sets down on Lagens Field the Azores. Dad had a more close-up, head-on view.
photo from battalion Official History