Thursday, December 9, 2010

A P-39 comes full circle

This story came in an email from a fellow Warbird fan this morning. It was too good not to pass on. Follow the link below for a story you couldn't make up.
The P-39 had an odd configuration for a World War Two Fighter Plane. For those not familiar, she had tricycle landing gear. The engine was placed behind the pilot with the crankshaft running through the cockpit. There were automobile style doors on each side of the cockpit, with windows that rolled down.

These were one of the aircraft Mrs. Florence Watson used to deliver for the Ferry Command as a WASP. She told me many of the planes came from the factory in Russian markings and with instruments marked in Russian. A mechanic would get up on the wing while the ferry pilots settled in and mark the instruments with a grease pencil to show the safe operating ranges.

From the Bell Factory they would take the planes to an airfield in Montana built near the Canadian Border. For reasons I have never understood the Russians were not allowed to take possession of the planes in the United States. Furthermore, the ferry pilots could not fly the planes into Canada. The planes could not be taxied across the border (which was clearly marked) into Canada. They could not even be towed with a tractor or gas powered tug. Tow bars were attached and the planes were hauled into Canada with horses or oxen. If any of my readers know the reasoning for this I would be grateful if you would clue me in.

Mrs. Watson told me often getting the planes from the Bell Factory to Russia was an ‘all girl operation’. A large number of the Russian ferry pilots who took the planes after they had been towed into Canada were women.

It seems that there was no middle ground when it came to pilots feelings toward the P-39’s. Chuck Yeager speaks fondly of them in his autobiography. My friend, Mrs. Watson, does not have pleasant memories. Love them or hate them, it’s nice to know a few survived.


  1. I'll have to scan some of the pictures of the P-39 at San Marcos. Spent a significant amount of time working on this ol gal.

  2. That would be Wonderful. I had the pleasure of seeing that plane some years back. I would love to see some photos of it.

  3. Were the Russian Women Ferry Pilots part of the "Night Witches" Tom Townsend writes about?

  4. Short answer, no. I believe these women were Mrs. Watson's oppsite numbers in the Russian Ferry Command. They were flying a much more advanced combat plane that the Night Witches. If they went into Combat, it would have been in the P-39's.

    The 588th. Night Bomber Regiment (Night Witches) flew Polikarpov Po-2 trainers that have been compaired to the American Stearman Pt-17, a wood, tube and fabrick open cockpit biplane. The fact they were even commited to combat shows the despration of the Russian High Command.