“You don’t have a lot of options when you’re dealing with air traffic,” says David Littrell, a retired military aviator who flew four combat missions in World Wars I and II.
“You have to be on a ladder.
If you’re in a fixed position you’re not going to do well.
The problem is you can’t really jump from one place to another.”
Littrell served with the 9th Air Force and commanded a squadron that operated the first American aerial pump station at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.
The unit was one of three units operating from Bagram to the east, along with the Army Air Force’s 7th Airborne Division, and the Navy’s Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
“The air was extremely dangerous,” he says.
“They had very high wind speeds, very high gusts.
We had to deal with high altitude turbulence and the possibility of getting hit by enemy planes.
We knew that.
We also knew that the air traffic was extremely heavy.
We just couldn’t keep up with it.”
Littlerell and his team flew missions in the B-17 and B-24 bombers that flew the mission to drop the bombs that fell on the city of Dresden during World War I. “We were flying over Germany, dropping the bomb, and we had to take off,” he recalls.
“I was in my seat in the cockpit and I was trying to keep my eye on the horizon.
The airplane came in and dropped the bomb.
We came out of the airplane and looked down on Dresden.
It was so beautiful.”
The first Americans to fly from Bighorn to Dresden were two pilots named Charles and James Covington.
Charles was an engineer and aviation consultant for the U.S. Navy, while James was a military photographer who had trained in Japan.
After a short time in the Pacific, the Covingtons took the job of piloting the first of two aerial pumps at Bighorns, operated by the 8th Air Base Unit in Idaho, a small community in the foothills of the Cascade Range in the middle of the Dakotas.
“When we started we didn’t know much about the air,” Charles recalls.
“The first thing we learned was that we could fly the plane.
We learned that we didn’ t need a lot more fuel than we did,” James recalls.
The Covingtons also learned that the plane could take off from Baghorn without landing.
“That’s when we realized that the airplane was capable of going up to a height of 10,000 feet, and it could fly as fast as it flew,” Charles says.
“I’ve always been very interested in the airplane,” James says.
In 1943, he was assigned to the 7th Tank Battalion of the 6th Armored Division, which had deployed to Europe to train troops in the Battle of the Bulge.
“All of a sudden we’re going to be flying in the skies of Europe,” James remembers.
“It was a huge adventure.”
“We had to know a lot about the airplane.
I’d been flying since I was five years old,” says Charles.
“But I didn’t understand how fast the airplane could fly.
The idea was we were going to take the plane over Germany and then land it on a hilltop and fly the airplane in the air.
That was the plan.
The next day we flew to Germany.
We got to Germany and landed in an area called Schloss-St. Gallen.
It took us two weeks to get there.
Then we took off, flew to England and then flew to New York.
That took us six months.”
James and Charles flew more than 150 missions.
In February 1945, they went to Italy to train in the area of Toscana, and on February 26, 1946, they landed in New York and spent a few days with the 7.2-ton airplane.
“By then we were so tired that we got into the plane and walked around and watched the scenery,” Charles remembers.
They went back to Bighorne for more missions and were the first to use the aircraft at the Air Force Academy, which opened in 1947.
“In the first day I flew, I went to a field to get some milk,” James recounts.
“Then we got a plane and flew up to the airfield and landed.
We were pretty excited because we had a lot to learn.”
The 7.5-ton, twin-engine monoplane was named the Tractor.
It made about 250 mph, which was fast enough for a fighter to fly with.
Charles and James flew to Borne”
As we got to the base, we realized we didn t have to learn everything.”
Charles and James flew to Borne