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Lieutenant R. C. Strobell awaits his next mission in a P-47 (1944).  Credit: Strobell

 

The men who were ultimately selected to participate in the jet program were a special lot, drawn from the line for a variety of reasons.  One common factor in all, however, was that they were seasoned combat veterans ... men who knew how to handle an airplane under the most difficult of circumstances.

Initially a team of ten men was identified (including Watson), although only eight took an active part in the operation.

The project pilots who went on to fly the Me 262 included Captains Kenneth E. Dahlstrom and Fred L. Hillis, along with Lieutenants Robert J. Anspach, William V. Haynes, Roy W. Brown, James K. Holt and Robert C. Strobell.  Haynes was not immediately available, and did not participate in team operations at Lechfeld.  He eventually joined the group in Melun, France.

 

Although Hal Watson was the project's senior officer, he was responsible for coordinating a much larger effort (which included several  other aircraft types).  As a result, he was rarely present on the airfield at Lechfeld, and the team went about their work without much regard for rank or position.  What counted most was ability, and all of these men had plenty of it.  

Anspach, Strobell and Brown at a 1995 reunion.

 

Lieutenant Strobell served as a sort of "squadron commander," coordinating manpower and maintenance issues while keeping the effort in line with the directives he had been given back at headquarters.  Captain Hillis served as the operations officer, preparing plans and operations orders.  The rest of the men concentrated on learning the systems, capabilities and idiosyncrasies of the aircraft in preparation for their first flights. 

Of the pilots that actually participated in this mission, four have since passed away, the most recent being Colonel Watson himself on the 5th of January, 1994.  Dahlstrom and Hillis died in the 1980s, and both of these men were remembered by their younger peers as capable, experienced pilots who tended to be somewhat more serious than the others.

In a strange twist of fate, Haynes lost his life in a captured German aircraft after returning to the U.S.  While piloting a Focke Wulf 190 during an aerial demonstration flight, he initiated a high speed, power-on dive to the hardstand.  For unknown reasons, he was unable to recover in time, and the aircraft "mushed" into the runway at a high rate of speed.  According to the official accident report, the young Lieutenant was killed instantly.

Of course, none of these events could have taken place without an expert ground crew.  The mechanics assigned to this project, Technical Sergeants Noel D. Moon and Ernest C. Parker, Staff Sergeants John G. Gilson, Donald J. Wilcoxen, Archie E. Bloomer, Everet T. Box, Charles L. Taylor, Robert H. Moore, and Charles A. Barr, were the true instruments of success in this mission.   Colonel Watson, a man who worked around mechanics and maintenance men for most of his career, labeled them "the ten best mechanics alive."  Though this site primarily pays tribute to the surviving pilots, they invariably will tell you that the real credit goes to these crewmen. 

 


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