by Robert Krause
This year’s 21st Anniversary Show of Shows held at the Kentucky Exposition Center, South Wing A and East Hall Feb. 28-March 3 will be larger than ever. Organizers report 343 tables have been added, totaling 1,965 tables.
A great lineup of WWII veteran guests are scheduled to appear; among them will be both navigators of the WWII B-29, Enola Gay.
Not many people are aware that the Enola Gay was utilized for both atomic missions. On Aug. 5, 1945, operations order #35 was issued to the 509th Composite Group, Colonel Paul Tibbets commanding, for seven of the group’s B-29s to take part in the first atomic mission. No planes from other units were involved.
The order called for three B-29s to report the weather, one B-29 on standby to take off at 2:00 AM, Tinian time, and three strike B-29s to take off at 3:00 AM.
One hour after the three weather B-29s took off: The Enola Gay navigated by “Dutch” Van Kirk; the instrument B-29 and the photographic B-29 Necessary Evil navigated by Russell Gackenbach.
The planes, along with one backup, left Tinian for the mission that would forever change the world.
After the 9,700 pound atomic bomb was released from the bomb bay of the Enola Gay, the plane made a 150 degree turn and streaked away at full throttle. At that time, the B-29 Necessary Evil, navigated by Mr. Gackenbach made a controlled 360-degree turn before heading directly to the target.
After the bomb exploded, the B-29 was approximately 15 miles from the blast.
Mr. Gackenbach was on the flight deck between the pilot and copilot and took the only two existing photos of the cloud from the plane since the high-speed camera installed to take photos malfunctioned.
On Aug. 9, 1945, Mr. Gackenbach’s crew was selected to fly as the Kokura advance weather plane. Kokura, Japan, was the primary target. Because of cloud and smoke cover at the time, the strike B-29 Bockscar arrived, a decision was made to go to the secondary target, Nagasaki. Due to their B-29 undergoing an engine change, Mr. Gackenbach’s crew flew the Enola Gay to Kokura.
Years later, operations order #45, dated Aug. 15, 1945, was found in an archive for another atomic mission to be flown. No city is mentioned, but Mr. Gackenbach’s crew was listed as flying the B-29 bomb carrying plane.
The Show of Shows will provide an opportunity to speak with two of the four remaining men who participated in the first atomic mission 68 years after the event. Both were navigators of the Enola Gay.
Mr. Van Kirk will be autographing his new biography, My True Course. Mr. Gackenbach will be autographing The 509th Remembered. Both men will also have a selection of photographs available.