My kids and I were fortunate enough to experience some of these pictures in real-life, to see and climb through several restored WWII planes, courtesy of the Wings of Freedom Tour.
We were only able to admire the TF-51 Mustang (left) and the TP-40 Warhawk (right) from afar as we didn’t quite have the $2400 on hand for a half hour of flight training. (I suppose, they have to pay for repairs and upkeep somehow.)
We were able to climb through the bombers however. The exhibit had the only fully restored and flying B-24J Liberator in the world.
The climb through the Flying Fortress and a close look at the B-25 Mitchell –the type of bomber that took off of from an aircraft carrier in the Doolittle Raid- were also fascinating.
Their departure at the end of the show—the little fighters leading the way and the bombers following with engines roaring—left my kids holding their ears (and noses) and me recalling stories I’d heard of folks identifying types of planes just by the different sounds of their engines.
The ability to identify aircraft, in particular to tell whether a plane was “ours” or “theirs” whether by sound or sight, was an essential survival skill in some portions of the world during WWII.
While it never ended up being particularly necessary on the U.S. mainland, it didn’t mean that civilians didn’t try to be prepared.
After the Pearl Harbor attacks the U.S. was thrown into uncertainty. Would there be more attacks? Was an out-and-out invasion a possibility?
As the country scrambled to prepare for whatever the future might bring, hundreds of thousands (some sources say well over a million) volunteers started scanning the skies as members of the Ground Observer Corps. Armed with binoculars (maybe), these plane spotters might be adults or young people, fathers or housewives, standing on rooftops or in backyards.
Of course, sighting an enemy aircraft would do no good if the spotters didn’t know what they were seeing.
Plane identification charts started showing up in all sorts of places, like posters, in comic books, and even on playing cards.
The deck that I purchased is a replica of one produced in 1943. Each card contains a front, bottom, and side view of an Allied or Axis plane and its name. The instructions in the card deck suggest using the cards to play regular games, but taking a break between rounds to test each other’s airplane identification skills.
According to the memories of one plane spotter, the observers only had to use their skills on enemy aircraft once. Bob Grigg’s story, posted on the Colebrook Historical Society’s website, says this:
Only one time during the course of the war did a German aircraft fly into American airspace, and that was near the end of the war when an Army Air Force crew flew a captured German plane to Florida. Of course the military knew about this, but the civilian observers were kept in the dark, just to test their proficiency. Before the plane crossed from water to land, a spotter sent in an emergency message not only identifying it as a German aircraft, but also the correct make and model.
What about you, Readers, Writers and history lovers? Do you have any interesting airplane stories to share, historical or otherwise?
Many thanks for visiting!
If you’d like to check out some of my sources for this post, here they are!