Pacific Aero Press


P-39 On-line Wreckchase

Wreckchasing is 95 percent research, and 5 percent actually going out to a crashsite. Since many have not had the opportunity to chase an aircraft wreck, we thought it would be fun to find an aircraft crash site as a group project.

The following is a crash that we know nothing about. Our starting point is four original black & white photos taken within hours of a P-39 crash on July 12, 1943. We're guessing it's a stateside training accident. We don't know if it was fatal.

We'll chase this wreck in steps, and credit everyone who provides information. Once we've found the wreck site or our best clues to its location, we'll post it here and hope someone will go to the site and report what they find.

Step One: What do we know?

From the photo, we know the aircraft was a Bell P-39F-1-BE and its serial number was 41-7271.

Basic research tells us that a total of 229 were built. These planes had a three-blade Aeroproducts prop, and were distinguished by 12 exhaust stacks on each side.

Some were modified with armor plate around the oil cooler and fitted with a pair of cameras in the rear fuselage. The modified aircraft were redesignated P-39F-2-BE.

Step Two: Where do we go from here?

1. Someone needs to order the crash report and provide details to the group.

2. Once this is posted, someone needs to check the local newspapers for details of the crash.

3. From the crash report and the newspaper account, we need to determine where the crashsite was located.

4. We also need to develop information on the pilot, of which some will come from the crash report, and the best from his hometown newspaper.

Ok, let's start by posting a message on the message board as to who will order up the crash report? We'll post an update when the information arrives.

This adventure is off to a great start!

The first posting by Anthony J. Mireles on September 12, 2004 at 11:41:17: on the Message Board: Bell P-39F #41-7271 was flying in the number-two position of a three-ship flight that had taken off at 0858 EWT from Keystone Army Air Field, Keystone Heights, Florida, on a local formation training flight. The subject airplane took off normally and climbed to about 200 feet agl. At that time a large puff of smoke was seen to emit from the engine area. The airplane remained in a climb but the engine stopped producing power. The airplane stalled, fell off on a wing and then rolled over, striking the ground inverted and exploding into flames about two miles northwest of Keystone Army Air Field. The pilot, 2Lt. Charles Freeman, was killed instantly. He received his wings on 1-14-43 and had accumulated approximately 230 hours. Investigators speculated that the pilot took off operating on only one magneto. The official Form # 14 accident report can be found on AAF Accident Reports Call # 46225, Accident # 10, 12 July 1943. The aircraft serial number is wrong on page one of the report, reading 41-4271 instead of the correct 41-7271. The web host has four photographs compared to only two on the official report.

Second posting by Christopher Baird on September 12, 2004 at 20:02:38: Great idea! It really is. Tony solved the serial number problem (way to go!) ... now we gotta get someone out there with a gator boat, see what's left of that P-39! After all these hurricanes the wreckage might be in Atlanta...

Any Florida residents up for a wreckchase?

Posted by Rick Baldridge on September 13, 2004 at 12:39:19: Keystone Army Airfield, now known as Keystone Heights Airpark, is still in operation. The TerraServer image at the link URL shows the area 2 miles NW of the triangular-shaped airpark to still be relatively undeveloped, perhaps still hiding the remains of P-39 #41-7271. The airfield hosts the area Civil Air Patrol -- perhaps someone there knows the exact location of the crash. An aerial view of the airpark can be seen at: Link

Posted by Anthony J Mireles on September 13, 2004 at 15:28:52: Great job on the Airfield location. That helps. Also, there is a quarter mile difference between two nautical miles and two statute miles. Our "Wreckchaser to be named later" should keep that in mind even though the distances from our known landmark are small. That extra quarter mile or half mile could be the difference between finding it and not finding it.

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