• 3400 Horsepower Motorboat

I grew up on my Dad's tales of glory in the skies over the Pacific when he was with the 5th Air Force, 417th Bomb Group flying the Douglas A-20 'Havoc'. One tale I recall in particular was about flying low enough for the props to leave wakes in the water, so-called 'motorboating'. Modern flight sims are good enough now that I was able to experience it for myself. I sent him some screenshots and vintage pictures to him, and he replied:



I don't know why, but as a neophyte to the 5th Air Force, I was among those chosen to remain behind with the planes while everyone else with the organization moved north by ship from the New Guinea to the Philippines. So while we waited for them to arrive up north, we had a lot of time on our hands; and, of course, we had to keep the planes in shape by flying them once in awhile. We were so bored without the rest of the organization with us that when the word came to fly, we all jumped into any ground transportation we could find and rushed down to the strip deeming it a privilege to be the first one off.


With the cooperation of the ground crew, as soon as I had one engine running, I started taxiing and cranked up the other one as I went down the taxi-way. I can't remember what number for take off I was but I do remember making a 360 and buzzing the next planes as they took off and from then on, it was free for all down the Owen-Stanley mountains to the bay at Lae.



That's when the real competition began with ever tighter Lufftbery circles, shaking and shuddering (in a vertical bank with the stall warning blowing!) from wherever we started down to the water level, where we played motorboat whenever we could.



Once down on the water, one time, we harassed the Aussies on R&R in landing craft by buzzing them, trying to blow water in on the beer drinking party. I can still see their heads duck as we approached them broadside.


The Manila Bay incident happened about this time when I was elected, along with a few others, to fly some of the older planes that weren't going to go up to Okinawa into Clark Field, which meant going past Corregidor, through Manila Harbor and lots of freighters, etc.



Remember that I was all alone in an A-20 (a single pilot cockpit), and there was no need for the gunners on this trip. As we approached Manila we started playing motorboat, low enough for the props to leave a wake, in a very tight three ship formation. I was on the right wing of the lead ship, of course, watching the leader. Suddenly he pulled up, leaving white wing tip vapor trails, but took the top off of the mast of a merchant ship with the antenna attached to it. I can still see it tumbling end over end through the air in my mind's eye. I hit right rudder and scooted past the stern without damaging the ship--or myself!



We arrived at Clark we taxied those planes so far back in the jungle that they probably haven't been found yet. The mast took about three feet off the lead plane's right wing and we sure didn't want that blamed on us!

Days of glory? Naw, boys will be boys.

1st LT T. I. Harnish, USAAC



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