Aero Club hears from B-17 pilot

Bob Walch

Col. Richard Bushong (USAF ret.) addressed a Sun Lakes Aero Club (SLAC) gathering of about 70 aviation enthusiasts November 16 with a sketch of his Air Force career highlighting details of his World War II experiences as a B-17 Pilot.

As a 21 year old pilot, he participated in the first daylight bombing raid taking the war deep into Germany. There were 775 planes in that armada; 69 were lost.

Shortly after that raid Bushong said he became sick from food poisoning and was hospitalized a few days. When he returned to his quonset hut on the airfield that housed 12 crew members, he found 11 bunks with rolled up bed rolls. Anxious to find where his crew members were he went to the base duty officer. “Please sit down,” the officer told Bushong. The officer reached into a cabinet, came out with a tin cup and bottle of bourbon, poured, placed it in front of Bushong and said, “Now let me tell you….”

Days later a plane from another squadron came in with 707 bullet holes. It was scrapped.

Bushong told his audience it was customary to send crews home for a month furlough after completing 25 missions. During the course of small talk Bushong asked his superior what the loss rate was on the daylight missions. He was told about five percent. A simple analysis told Bushong statistically going home was improbable.

However, good airmanship contributed to successful missions. Bushong was able to fly in tight formation in a lead position where machine gun fire from the formation was so concentrated and intense the enemy fighters chose not to penetrate and moved on to attack other squadrons where formations were loose.

On one mission his plane was severely damaged and returned with only one engine and unusable flaps. It was customary to fire a red flare if there were wounded on board or a green one if there were mechanical problems. The airfield sky looked like Christmas celebration that night. After a high speed touchdown, Bushong chose to turn off the runway into a soggy field rather than face trees at the end. The plane’s landing gear was buried in mud but they were home again.

He went on to complete 28 missions and return home. He completed a rewarding USAF career flying 41 different makes and models of aircraft and helicopters.

Bushong currently serves as manager of the 390th Squadron hanger at the Pima Air Museum in Tucson.

Now in its 20th year, SLAC sponsors programs the third Monday of each month November through April at the Sun Lakes Country Club. The programs are open to all Sun Lakes residents and others interested in aviation. More information on the club is available from Bob Walch at 895-8869 or Gary Vacin at 298-7017 or at the club’s website at