Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Great Artiste

Back in August 2012, we featured a snapshot photo of B-29 Enola Gay, and today we have another of the Silverplate B-29s, The Great Artiste (serial 44-27353). This image is a contact proof that's been cut down, and was originally printed backwards (I've flipped it for use here).

The Great Artiste was named for bombardier Capt Kermit Beahan, who supposedly was quite skilled with the ladies, and with putting bombs on target. The nose art, though, was added to the plane after the Nagasaki mission. Of all the Project Silverplate B-29s, this one was the only one to directly participate in both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions. For the Hiroshima raid, The Great Artiste was the blast measurement instrumentation aircraft, and was flown by its normal crew, commanded by Maj. Charles Sweeney.

For the second nuke sortie, The Great Artiste was originally supposed to carry the bomb, but the mission was moved up two days to avoid some forecast bad weather, and the instrumentation from the first raid couldn't be removed in time. So, Sweeney swapped planes with Capt. Fred Bock, and Bock's Car, flown by Sweeney, dropped the weapon while The Great Ariste, flown by Bock, served once again as the blast measurement instrumentation aircraft. The primary target for this mission was the Japanese city of Kokura, but poor visibility from smoke was encountered over the target, and after three target runs, with fuel running low, the mission moved to its secondary target, Nagasaki.

After the war, The Great Artiste, like the other Silverplate B-29s, were relocated to Roswell, NM, where our photo was taken in November, 1945 (there's no indication from the inscription on the back of the photo who the young man was; the photo was acquired by the Archive in Albequerque NM). In July, 1946, the plane was used during the nuclear blast tests at Bikini atoll, and on September 8, 1949 it was used for a polar navigation training flight to the North Pole. On the return trip, the B-29 developed engine problems and a landing was attempted at Goose Bay, Labrador. The plane ran off the runway and was too heavily damaged to be salvaged, and was scrapped on-site a year later.

1 comment:

  1. I love how history is full of almosts. KOKURA almost was destroyed and this plane almost dropped the bomb. That is what makes history interesting to me.