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SOVIET UNION IMPOUNDS AND COPIES B-29

Posted 12/4/2006 Printable Fact Sheet
 
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Boeing B-29
Boeing B-29-50-MO (S/N 44-86340) of the 98th Bomb Group. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Although not actually occurring during the traditionally defined Cold War, the story of the Soviet TU-4 bomber foreshadowed the deterioration of relations with the Soviet Union, our ally during World War II.

On the morning of July 31, 1944, Capt. Howard Jarrell and his 10-man crew took off from Chengtu, China, on a mission against a Japanese steel mill in Anshan, Manchuria. Capt. Jarrell's B-29, nicknamed "Ramp Tramp," was assigned to the 462nd (Very Heavy) Bomb Group and was part of a strike composed of approximately 100 planes. Because of problems with the auxiliary power unit (putt putt), the "Ramp Tramp" was the last plane to take off on the 1,650-mile mission; it took the crew almost two hours at a high-power setting to catch the rest of the formation, thus burning more fuel.

Capt. Jarrell's plane made a normal bomb run and may have been hit by a flak burst, but any damage was at most minor. When the pilot started his descent to cruising attitude for the trip back to Chengtu, the inboard right engine (No. 3) "ran away" and could not be feathered (turning the propeller blades parallel to the airflow to minimize aerodynamic drag). The engine had to be shut down and the increased drag of the unfeathered propeller made it obvious that the plane would not be able to get back to Chengtu due to insufficient fuel.

The plane was still over Japanese territory so the crew began destroying all classified material on board including operating manuals, orders and instructions in case they were forced down in enemy territory. Small objects and shredded paper materials (flight manuals, checklists, placards, code books, etc.) were dumped into the nose wheel well. In the meantime, the pilot headed toward the Russian base at Vladivostok to land the damaged plane in Allied territory. As the bomber approached a Russian airfield, a squadron of fighters was scrambled to "escort" the plane. The Russian planes fired near the B-29, but it was unclear whether they were trying to hit the plane or force it down. After a few minutes of this, a Russian fighter pilot motioned for the plane to land. The B-29 began to head toward a field with a concrete runway, but the fighters started shooting again and indicated the plane should land at the grass fighter strip. Although the grass field was too small for a B-29, Capt. Jarrell lined up to land since he had no choice. As he lowered the landing gear, all the shredded material in the nose wheel well streamed out and fell into the waters of Vladivostok Bay. The plane touched down at just above stalling speed and stopped just before running off the end of the runway.

After landing, Capt. Jarrell ordered the crew to stay aboard the B-29 while he left and tried to communicate with the Russian pilots, but none spoke English. A few hours later, the crew left the plane and joined Capt. Jarrell. Capt. Jarrell asked to be allowed to contact the American Consul in the city, but permission was denied. The Russian "Allies" interrogated the American crew for three days trying to obtain operational details about the plane and its capabilities. The crew refused to divulge secret information and after three days of questioning without contact from the American Consul, the crew refused to even speak for a week. On the 11th day after landing, the crew was finally able to speak with the Consulate. Unfortunately, the crew was not released to the consulate and remained prisoners of the Russians for seven months before being released along with about 100 other U.S. Army and Navy fliers forced to land in Russian territory during WWII.

The Russians kept the "Ramp Tramp" in spite of American protests, along with three other B-29s that landed on Soviet territory (two made similar emergency landings in Vladivostok and the other crash landed in Siberia). The Tupolov aircraft manufacturer examined the B-29s in minute detail and copied them almost exactly (a fairly remarkable engineering feat). The resulting plane was designated TU-4 (NATO code name BULL). The TU-4 remained the Soviet Union's primary long-range bomber until about 1955 when it was phased out in favor of newer types. Several TU-4s were transferred to the Communist Chinese Air Force in the mid-1950s and continued to serve for many more years.

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