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 S  O  L  O

Strobell's "modified" AAF insignia, which became the unofficial mark of the squadron.

The First Flight "Under New Management"

With the planes emerging from the hangar, and the pilots on hand, there was only one small detail which remained:  the Americans had still never flown the jets.  Strobell was determined to get at least one flight under his belt so that he could give the others some idea what to expect.  Hofmann and Baur were superb test pilots, but they were not professional instructors.  Strobell knew that it would be better for everyone involved if he got the first solo out of the way ... providing he survived it.

Strobell recalls the details of this flight:

The first Me 262 restored was an Me 262A-1.  I could be wrong, but am almost sure it was the one named Beverly Ann (this was my cousin's name, and I wondered how her name came to be on the airplane).   This was the Me 262 that Baur flew into Lechfeld on May 16th from Munchen-Reim near Frankfort.  It was found in fully operational condition, requiring the least amount of hangar / crew chief attention.

The first few days of June, this airplane was undergoing a complete check, and I was aware that it would be the first out of the hangar.  At the time, I was still a bit leery of the entire Messerschmitt crew as a whole, feeling that it took only one bad apple in the lot to spoil our plans.   So I went to the shop superintendent, Mr. Caroli, and told him that Baur would make the test flight.  My thinking was that if this was generally known by the crew there would likely not be an attempt to sabotage it ... it's called "finesse."

When the airplane rolled out of the hangar it was refueled with a limited load.  I asked Baur to make the test flight, which he did.  He was up about fifteen minutes and landed.  When he touched down on the runway, I was sitting at the approach end of the runway in a Jeep.   An enlisted man was driving, and Ken Holt and Bob Anspach were along as passengers.   When Baur touched down we were at full speed, racing down the runway to catch him.   We met him just as he was about to U-turn to taxi back.  I asked him to step out of the jet, and he did.  I climbed in and taxied back to the hangar where we refueled it with a full load.  Then I taxied out to the runway.

My first solo flight in the Me 262 started with a pilot error on takeoff.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I got the impression that swept wings required a higher angle of attitude on takeoff.  It must have come from watching Baur make his takeoff.  About halfway down the runway, all was going well, except that I noticed that I was gaining flight speed slowly, if at all!   Everything was roaring along just fine, except the airspeed was not up to takeoff, and didn't appear to be increasing as rapidly as expected.  At this point I lowered the nose and put the nose wheel on runway.  I was doing something like 70 or 80 miles per hour, and up came the airspeed ... I found myself at the end of the runway, and I simply hauled it off of the ground, feeling that I had used all 6,000 feet of a 5,000 foot runway.  One is not likely to forget such an adventure, and I still think about that rough trip down that runway as the watched the end approach .. both mine and the runway's.

The next surprise came when I was climbing out, reaching for altitude.  The wing slats started blinking in and out.  I thought that they would stay out or snap shut closed.  They didn't.  They would close momentarily with a bit of air turbulence and then open again.  This continued for a brief period, like a minute or so, until the airspeed increased and the air pressure kept them closed.

The next thing I noticed was the speed.  Raw speed, exhilarating speed.  Smooth speed.  Unbelievable speed.   It seemed effortless.  My flight was held to low altitude, so I had the ground as a reference.  This was something I had never experienced in the P-47 Thunderbolt, and it was impressive.

But ... with the speed came another surprise.  Air turbulence at the cruising speed of the Me 262 affects the airplane in ways that I had never felt before.  An updraft became a "butt thumper," more like a jolt ... it was the same with a downdraft, so that on a hot summer day, at low altitude, you literally bumped and thumped you way across the country.  I thought those toe straps on the rudder pedals were humorous until I found out why they were there ... those sharp bumps would lift your feet off of the pedals.  (A P-47 just lumbered and rolled with turbulence, and rarely did a bump or a thump.)

When it came time to return to Lechfeld to make a landing, I committed my second pilot error.  I made a normal "P-47 approach" to the landing by entering the downwind leg.  I was planning for a quick left turn onto base and then final, but I never got out of the downwind leg!  Normally, with a Thunderbolt, you would pull the throttle back on the downwind leg, drop the gear, and make a U-turn back toward the runway controlling speed with the throttle while descending to touchdown.

In the Me 262, I pulled the throttle back and nothing happened.  I mean that there was no apparent reaction from the airplane.  It simply continued to fly at the same speed, and I recall thinking that I had discovered "perpetual speed."  By the time I figured out that I wasn't on a normal jet approach, I was five miles beyond the airfield, and still headed outbound at high speed.  The airport had long since disappeared from sight!  We had been cautioned not to reduce the turbine below 6000 RPM in the traffic pattern, but it seemed that this only encouraged the jet to continue to fly at cruising speed.

I finally turned back toward the airport and again entered the downwind leg at 500 feet.  But this time I had figured things out, or so I thought.  I pulled the RPM back to 6000 and pointed the nose up in a climb attitude.  The airspeed dropped to 250 MPH, at which point the landing gear could be lowered safely.  I managed all of this with my head my head inside the cockpit, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered I was at 2,500 feet and again several miles from the airport.  I continued around for a third and final approach, and landed without incident.

After landing, I taxied back to the hangar area and climbed out of the jet.  I related all of these experiences to the other pilots, and they capped my day with a real class act event:  Ken Holt and Bob Anspach walked over to me, and without hesitation removed my Army Air Corps insignia.   They broke off the propellers and stuck the wings back on my collar while advising me that I "no longer needed the propellers," since I was now a jet pilot.   It was perfectly timed and precisely appropriate for the moment.  It remains an indelible event in my memory.

This later became a squadron custom.  After each man completed his first flight in the jet, the propellers would be removed from his AAF insignia.  For the rest of the mission, all of the men (except for Watson, who was always in and out of various headquarters) wore the non-regulation collar brass everywhere they went.

 


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