Author

Tom Williams is a Marco Islander. He is the author of two books: Lost and Found and Surrounded by Thunder - the Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men. Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.

With Top Gun Maverick dominating the summer movies everywhere, a Beach Boy Chronicle from deep in the past is a story that simply must surface. A story of the very first jetfighter on display in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington D.C. 

Many years ago on Marco beach, a group of Marco Beach Boys was working on a broken sailboat. We were focusing on a sheared stainless-steel screw that was broken off in a surrounding fiberglass housing. The problem was difficult and we were obviously frustrated. 

With one Beach Boy holding a drill and another spraying a cutting agent, an elderly man approached and began looking over our shoulders. When we noticed him behind us, we turned and asked together. “Can I help you?” We sounded like a chorus.

The older gentleman chuckled and answered with a German accent. “I think perhaps,” he said, “That I would like to help you!”

After introductions were complete and we met Gunther, he showed us how to remove the broken screw properly. During the process, we learned he was an aircraft engineer and mechanic in Germany during the Second World War. After a series of questions about wartime German aviation, the following was his narrative from Germany in 1944.

“Yes of course,” Gunther began. “We knew that Hitler was crazy and a madman, but we also knew that the Russians were invading our country.”

“The time was in the month of December in 1944,” he continued. “It was snowing and during the winter, our runways were always covered in snow. The airplane hangars where we worked on our night fighters was an open tunnel in the base of a mountain. Enemy aircraft flying overhead could only see surrounding mountains and a snowy valley. It was not possible to observe our hidden installation because the roof was at the edge of a mountain. Only from the floor of the valley could anyone see our hidden airplanes. Inside the hangars were twenty night fighters and enough equipment and tools to repair anything.”

“One day, on a late snowy afternoon, an air-raid alarm began to sound,” he said. “When everyone was gathering to go inside the bombing bunkers, we began to hear another sound when the alarm bells fell silent. This was a sound that none of us had ever heard before. It made a sound like the sky was tearing apart. It was terribly loud and began to get louder. This was when we heard over the loudspeakers that we were to go outside and help with an incoming aircraft.

When we opened the blackout curtains and drove out to the runway, the tearing sound became even more intense. This was when we saw the first jet fighter.”

“It was obvious the aircraft was in trouble, because it was coming in for a landing with one wing dipping lower than the other,” he remembered. “At the last minute the airplane, with no propellers, regained level flight with a new burst of noise and made a perfect landing on our snow-covered runway. At once, the strange and very loud airplane began to taxi toward our hidden hangers and the headlights on the trucks we were driving. When the airplane stopped and the incredible engine noise began to dissipate, the canopy on the fighter popped open. Before any could speak, a pilot of the Luftwaffe - the German air force - climbed out and stood on the wing.

As we were standing in the snow, beside the obviously new German fighter, the single pilot in the gray coveralls began to give instructions. ‘We must get the new Messerschmitt into the hangar and out of sight. This new fighter is most secret. I almost crashed. I made it here on one engine. Quickly! We must hide the airplane and no can talk about what they have seen!’

With the aid of our tow tractor, the new aircraft was soon hiding in the hangars underneath the edge of our mountain. With the test pilot’s help, it was quickly determined that the new fighter would require a new engine. The engine under the right wing was fully functional, but the left turbine was beyond repair.”

“After communications were established, the test pilot made contact with his base, and two days later, a farmer’s truck arrived through a hidden tunnel in the mountain,” Gunther continued. “Inside the truck was a new jet engine. Working with the pilot, who was also an engineer, we worked together to replace the ruined engine that did not require a propeller. When the new engine was installed and all of the repairs were complete, the hangar tractor towed one of the first jet fighters out to the runway for takeoff. With everyone in our installation watching, the two jet engines began howling into life, and with the aid of two additional jet assisted takeoff rockets strapped to the undercarriage of the aircraft, the new fighter appeared to explode when the takeoff rockets rapidly began firing to carry the aircraft down the runway. As the new aircraft broke free of the snow, the sound from the two jet engines at full power forced all of us to cover our ears. The fighter circled once over the snow-covered valley before disappearing over the mountains. When a new and empty silence once again began to cover the valley, everyone standing in the snow that night knew we had seen the future of aviation.”

When Gunther’s story of his time as a Luftwaffe engineer and mechanic was over, and his help with the broken sailboat was complete, two Marco Beach Boys suddenly knew they were visiting with a living archive.

Tucked away in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., near the Wright brothers first airplane from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, a Me 262 Schwalbe waits on display featuring a forest-green camouflage paint configuration, a German black cross, swept back wings, and two of the first jet turbine engines ever produced. 

 

Tom Williams is a Marco Islander and the author of two books: “Lost and Found” and “Surrounded by Thunder - The Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men.” Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.

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