[On Halloween eve, 31 October 1951, B-29 #44-61835, a.k.a. Dragon Lady, blew up shortly after takeoff.]
By Jo Clark
The B-29, Dragon Lady, Serial No. #44-61835, was destroyed October 31, 1951. I talked to William O. Ruddock, just before Christmas (2007), who was the navigator on Capt. Perry's crew, the crew that flew her on a regular basis, and this is the story he told about a crew switch that took place just before take off.
Capt. Perry's crew had finished the pre-flight and was waiting for take-off on a SHORAN mission. The Operations Officer came out with a different crew in tow, pulled the pre-flight (regular) crew off, because they had flown a mission the day before, and installed the new crew. This new crew had a volunteer radio operator, Carl Panepinto.
Because there had been more than one Dragon Lady, I was trying to identify just which plane i.e. which Dragon Lady my husband, Virgil L. Clark, had called “his.” When I found the serial number of the plane, which went down with Carl Panepinto listed as radio operator, I knew my search for the Serial Number of the Dragon Lady in which my husband had flown as a crew member (radio operator) was over. I knew she had exploded and I knew Panepinto was the radio operator on board that fateful day as he had volunteered to fly in another’s place.
Although he was the regular radio operator on the
Dragon Lady, Virgil, had no knowledge of the explosion, because he
was on rotation home, sailing back and forth as they tried to dodge a typhoon.
He had flown 46 missions over
The April 5th arrival date of Capt. Perry's crew,
mentioned above, is just before Dragon Lady #44-61835, was shot up and the pilot and bombardier were killed.
(April 12 mission to the Yalu) I think it may be
reasonable to assume that once she was repaired, that this may have been the
point at which Capt. Perry's crew started flying her. Capt. Perry had flown the
hump during WWII and was, according to Virg, ONE FINE PILOT. Virg had flown off
I believe the tail gunner, Claude Heise, was the only member of this crew that wasn't WWII experienced. He was a small fellow, kinda nervous and only 19 when I first met him. Virg at one point considered a transfer to another crew, even though he and Claude (Heise) were good friends, because he was concerned Claude might freeze under fire. As it turned out, under fire Claude became deadly calm, and just as accurate. At least one of the five MiGs on the Lady's nose was his coup. Another was credited to Gus Opher, the D'Lady's CFC gunner. Between the two of them, they got two MiGs in two minutes, on one mission. When they got back to Kadena, the whole crew was "chewed" because one of the planes had radioed ahead saying they had shot down our own fighters. Their gun cameras justified them, but no apology was ever forthcoming from those who reported erroneously or the officer who gave the "lecture."
I have a letter from the Tail Gunner, Claude Heise, written 8 Nov 51 and he mentions the loss of two other planes, one on Oct 22nd, one on Oct 27th, and then on the 31st, the Dragon Lady. He said they were able to identify only the bodies of Capt Ashcraft, Bowden and Murray, although all crew member bodies were found.