restricted access Ch.1: Boys, I’ve Brought You a Real Lemon
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1 Boys, I’ve Brought You a Real Lemon The same Tuesday in November 1944 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt won his unprecedented fourth term as president of the United States, Nancy Elizabeth Batson of Birmingham, Alabama, tried to crowd FDR off the front page of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, daily newspapers. She would just as soon have skipped the whole affair; she would have much preferred a quiet, uneventful delivery of her airplane to Newark, New Jersey, without all the fuss. Nancy was a ferry pilot with the women’s squadron, 2nd Ferrying Group, Ferrying Division, Air Transport Command (ATC), and she had orders to take a plane—destined for combat in Europe—from the Lockheed factory near Long Beach, California, to the docks at Newark. “I picked up this brand-new, shiny P-38 in California and took off crosscountry , made my last stop in Pittsburgh to refuel, and headed for Newark. About twenty minutes out of Pittsburgh, I noticed that the two engine coolant needles were oscillating—moving back and forth erratically instead of holding steady.” Too many P-38s already had lost engines. That was one of those vagaries for which the sleek, twin-engine Lightning was known. A lost engine on takeoff had killed fellow woman ferry pilot Evelyn Sharp the previous spring. Nancy knew that all too well. She had accompanied Evelyn’s body home to Nebraska for the funeral. No sense taking unnecessary chances. Nancy decided to return to the airport and let a mechanic check it out. “I turned back to Pittsburgh, called the tower to get permission to land, and was cleared for a straight-in approach. I reached down, activated the landing gear handle, and listened for the hum of the wheels descending into the down and locked position. But the lights on the instrument panel showed that the nosewheel was not down and locked. The lights are in a tri- Boys, I’ve Brought You a Real Lemon • 7 angle. The two at the bottom showed green, meaning that the main gear was down, but the nosewheel light was red. That meant it wasn’t down and locked. “Now the P-38 has these aluminum reflectors on the side of the two engine nacelles and they acted as mirrors—so the pilot can check and see if the nosewheel is in the down and locked position. This nosewheel was just hanging there. “I called the tower and advised them of my situation. “They asked me to do a fly-by—low—and raise my left wing so that they could see for sure that the nosewheel wasn’t in the landing position. “I did the fly-by and they looked and they determined that no, it wasn’t locked in place. By then the coolant needles seemed to have stabilized. So I flew out away from the airport and away from traffic. I was going to try to pump the wheel down manually. “The hydraulic pump, called a wobble pump, was there for the pilot to use to do exactly what I had to do, pump the faulty nose gear down by hand. Well, I started pumping. Then I stopped and looked out at the mirrors. That wheel hadn’t moved. So I pumped some more. Nothing! “The tower called periodically and asked, ‘how are you doing?’ Nancy fought for two hours to get the nosewheel down and locked on this P-38, November 1944. Photo courtesy the Woman’s Collection at Texas Woman’s University , Denton. 8 • Chapter 1 “I told them, ‘I’m still flyin’ over Pittsburgh and still pumpin’ and I still have a red light.’” Every airplane within earshot of the Pittsburgh radio frequency heard the exchange between Nancy and the tower. A woman—particularly one with a Southern accent—flying around in a P-38 wasn’t exactly an everyday occurrence . “I tried climbing to eight thousand feet and diving the airplane, to see if centrifugal force would push it down. I did that several times. It didn’t work.” Nancy had one more tool in her flight kit. Under the pilot’s seat in the P-38 was a button connected to a CO2 cartridge—there to aid a combat pilot trying to land a shot-up airplane with both a damaged hydraulics system and a useless wobble pump. The cartridge could be exploded as a last resort to force the nosewheel down. “At the factory, they told us very emphatically not to use the...


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