Friday, July 28, 2023

Legend of the "Laggin' Dragon"

Although few know as much, Mather Field's most legendary, if not anxious, sendoff came on July 28, 1945, after a B-29 called the Laggin’ Dragon arrived at the Sacramento airbase. Piloted by Air Commander Edward M. Costello and co-pilot Harry B. Davis, it was the last of 15 custom-built “Silverplate” B-29s, designed to carry robust loads. The Laggin’ Dragon sat on Mather’s flight line under a veil of high security which was made much cloack/dagger by a crew of odd handlers who wore olive-drab uniforms sans insignia. Much to the horror of Mather’s ground crews, who insisted on a standard multipoint inspection for every plane prior to takeoff, the strangers demanded haste. The plane was only 50-feet up when a powerful airstream pushed open a hatch containing the plane’s life raft, which then wrapped itself around the right control elevator on the plane’s tail. Costello and Davis immediately fought to stabilize the ship as its nose abruptly dropped. At 300 feet, the pilots finally wriggled the raft loose, but “large areas of the elevator fabric had been torn off, and more pieces were being furled off into the wind.” It was at this point that a laser-focused Costello contemplated either crash-landing or seeking enough altitude for a chance bailout of the crew. He also knew that whatever the plane carried was important enough to avoid crashing.  Even so, the rest of the crew assumed the crash posture. At the last moment, however, and at the shock of a control tower crew that had all but convinced itself that crash landing was imminent, Costello conjured a moment of brilliance and brought the B-29 down for a perfect landing. Muscle, guile and training may have won the day, but the crew also benefitted from the plane’s new reversible propellers, which helped steady it upon landing. As nerves settled, Mather crews replaced the shredded elevator with that of another B-29 and the Laggin’ Dragon flew off to its final destination, Tinian island. Barely known to the plane’s crew and not at all to any of Mather’s personnel was that the Laggin’ Dragon carried the disassembled and coreless “Little Boy,” the atomic bomb that, in 10 short days, would be dropped on Hiroshima.

Michael Amrine, The Great Decision of the Atomic Bomb, (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1959), 195-196.

National Air and Space Museum

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