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“You want cigarette?”

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

by Scott Wickham

Editor's Note: Mr. Scott Wickham is the son of Capt Harold R. Wickham, WWII and Korean War Veteran. Capt Wickham served with the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron during the Korean war piloting the RB-26. The following is an excerpt of an interview Mr. Wickham conducted with his father Capt. Harold R. Wickham in 2003.

Pilots log: Dec. 6, 1945

"Pilot parachuted because of structural failure over Mitaka, Japan"

“Well I was stationed at Tachikawa, Japan (about 50 miles West of Tokyo) at the time and the war was just over. A guy from Lyete (Philippines) came up to Tokyo in a B-25 and he was having a little engine trouble. He had gone into Tokyo and the ship was ready for a test hop and they always took the most qualified person on the base to fly it and I instructed in the B-25 so they thought I ought to be doing the test hop.  On my first takeoff I got to 8000 ft. and the engine backfired.  So I came down and landed and they supposedly fixed it and I went back up again and I got up around 8000 and it started to backfire. And so I was very near the base so I just turned the airplane to the right in a descending turn at a slow speed and it went into a spin!" 

Capt Harold R. Wickham as a Lieutenant
Capt Harold Wickham as a Lieutenant. Image courtesy of Mr. Scott Wickham

...I just turned the airplane to the right in a descending turn at a slow speed and it went into a spin! 

"So I went through the procedures - opposite rudder / pop the stick and it didn't come out of the spin so I did opposite rudder / pop the stick and it still wouldn't so then it started to turn and we got enough speed so that the rudder on the left side... that was only one that was working... as we increased in speed I got control speed and I pulled it out of the spin.  Then it wanted to climb and I babied it over the top.  It could have easily stalled out and I wouldn't have enough altitude to bail out."

"I had the flying safety officer with me in the left seat and I told him OUT! and he didn't move." 

"Well, when I saw that happening I said OUT!  We had two guys in the back of the B-25 and four of us up front.  The guys in the back bailed out and the two engineers up front opened the access door / navigating compartment and they went out.  I had the flying safety officer with me in the left seat and I told him OUT! and he didn't move.  So I got up and I said "I'll see ya later". So he pushed me back and he went down and he sat on the edge and off he was gone.  Then, I don't remember, I got up and was standing with my seat pack (parachute) which was hanging up a little bit between the two seats (pilot and copilot) pulled it up and I lost my balance and I don't remember going through that little hatch... and I don't remember pulling the rip cord but when I opened my eyes I had a rip cord!  And that's the training coming out you know." 

“You want cigarette?”

"I was very near Mitaka (train) station and the trains were operated on electricity so you had a lot of high tension wires down there so I tried to side slip it by pulling a riser in and getting it over and boy it felt like I jumped out without a parachute. Boy I was moving when I hit the ground and it was right in a rock garden!  The Japanese all had rock gardens and this guy opened up the window on his house and he said “You want cigarette?” I couldn’t answer him but I looked up and saw 5 parachutes and thought, what a blessing!”

Author's Notes:

The cause of the structural failure was determined to be intergranular corrosion in one of the rudders/vertical stabilizers. The specific engine part involved was the altitude compensator.

Altitude compensator issues: As altitude increases, the air to fuel mixture becomes too lean with regard to air for optimum engine operation. Failure to properly adjust the carburetor's jets cannot only affect engine performance due to improper fuel mixture, but it can also result in actual engine damage through lack of, or incorrect compensation for the effects of varying elevation.



View Capt Harold Wickham's Photos here.

Learn more about the B-25 in this USAAF pilot training video.

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