One of my personal favorite things to see in our display cases are pieces of history. When I saw a detailed model of the Martin B-26 bomber "Flak Bait" in one of our A030-A model plane cases, I knew I had to put it up on the website, and share a little of this planes history with everyone. When I found out that the customer who bought the case, Ralph, planned to present the model as a gift for a serviceman who actually flew on the Flak Bait, I was pulled in even more.
The second world war had the U.S. government desperately searching for a new bomber that could speed past enemy fighters, drop a large load of explosives accurately, and then quickly escape while being heavily defended. The Glenn L. Martin company proposed the B-26 model in blueprint form, and was awarded the contract before a prototype was even built, let alone tested. The model went from a concept on paper to a plane in the air in just short two years, with the first B-26 model bomber plane being constructed by the Martin company in 1941.
After the war, the USAAF released a report that stated the B-26 had the fewest combat losses of any other aircraft during the war. However, the bomber got off to a rough start in the hands of inexperienced pilots that were rushed into the cockpit.
The original B-26 was a competent bomber plane, able to be flown by experienced pilots to great success in bombing missions. The first model bore a crew of 7 people (2 pilots, a bombardier, a navigator, and 3 gunmen), 12 browning machine guns, and a dual style bomb bay capable of holding almost 3 tons of explosives. This incredible bomb load did lower the capable flight range of the plane however, so the aft bay was often used to hold extra fuel.
There were a few significant problems with the bomber's design. Because the B-26 was produced to be a bomber with a higher than normal flight speed, it was designed with very strong engines, and a shorter wingspan. The relatively short wingspan gave the plane a huge pressure load of more then 50 pounds per square inch of wing. This was the highest wing load of any plane serving in the American military at that time. This high load led to necessary take off and landing speeds in the 120-140 mph range. Also, a powered dorsal turret that was factored into the weight profile of the craft was not ready to be installed in the original b-26, leading to a weight imbalance affecting the whole craft.
While experienced pilots were already flying the bomber in successful missions, these balance and weight factors, combined with a rush to get new, inexperienced pilots ready to fly, caused a very high failure rate during landing and takeoff training. In MacDill field, an air force base south of Tampa, Florida, 15 crashes took place during one 30-day period, and 13 plane ditches, the purposeful landing in water due to unstable conditions, occurred during that year. These events led to the b-26 marauder receiving some less then positive nicknames, like the "flying coffin" and the "widow maker."
When senator Harry S. Truman (future V.P. and president) was put in charge of reviewing the spending of the national defense budget, he learned about the high crash rate of the B-26 with newly recruited pilots and was infuriated that young men who were recruited to fight for their country were dying on flight ranges before they even ran a mission. He brought Glenn L Martin before his committee to ask why the plane was crashing so often. Martin replied that the crashes were due to difficulties caused by the short wingspan. When Truman asked why the wings had not been elongated, Martin's answer was that the plans were already too far along, and that his company had already won the military contract. Truman threatened to retract the contract, and Martin immediately caved and said changes would be made. By February 1943 a new model, the B-26B-10, was designed and created with 6 more feet of wingspan, larger guns, and better armor plating.
These changes led to a huge decrease in casualties in inexperienced pilots, and further improved the success rate of the bomber overall. Small changes and new variations continued, resulting in the creation of the B-26B-25MA. One example craft of this model was created by Martin in Baltimore, Maryland, April 1943 and christened the "Flak Bait" by its first pilot, James J. Farrell. The Flak Bait was flown in 202 bombing missions in western Europe. It returned safely each time, despite being damaged over a thousand times during its service, including flying with only one engine, an engine on fire, and completely shorted electrical systems, on several separate occasions. For reference, the average combat lifespan of a B-26 bomber was around 30 missions.
After being decommissioned, the Flak bait was disassembled meticulously and sent back to America for museum display. It is currently inside the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum undergoing historical restoration to prepare it for exhibition. It holds the record for most missions flown by a surviving aircraft during WWII, and it, along with all of its fellow B-26's, is truly a piece of American history, telling the stories not only about the heroism and ability of our airborne soldiers, but also of the difficulties soldiers, businesses, and the American government experienced while trying to prepare their country for the greatest battle our civilization has ever known.
If you have a model plane that you want displayed and protected, you can find the exact case that Ralph used here, and a complete collection of our displays starts here. We truly appreciate seeing what people use them for, and having an opportunity to display their story to people here on the website, or just posting their pictures to our Facebook page, so other people can see the amazing collections that we get to be a part of. So, if you do pick up one of our cases, please shoot us a picture, either on Facebook or our Contact Us page. If you want to keep reading more stories from our customers, you can find all our blogs right here. Thank you so much for reading, I hope to see you here next time on another BDC blog. Have a great one!