RAAF Huey UH-1 Visits B-17E 'Swamp Ghost'
Bill Thomson visited on Sunday September 28, 1980:
"This day was to be the most rewarding and “wreck filled” day I have ever experienced. I got to visit the Swamp Ghost, check out the aircraft at Girua Airfield, and momentarily visiting the B17 above Wau, all in one day.
We were flying up from Milne Bay to Lae and in the process I knew we would be flying fairly close to the Swamp Ghost and Black Cat Gap.
I had read Charles Darby’s Pacific Aircraft Wrecks so I knew about the two B-17s. The detachment commander had been on RAAF helo operations in PNG in the mid 70s and had flown past both aircraft. He knew roughly where they were. So by combining our limited site information and with our 3 helos spread out in a line abreast search line we set out to find these wrecks on our way northwest to Lae from Milne Bay.
Incredibly one of the crews spotted the Swamp Ghost soon after we crossed over into the large swamp. As there was no place to land each Huey “landed” lightly on the right outer wing of the B17. Those who wished to take a close look were offloaded. With no place to land and shut down the helos kept flying in the area so our on site time was very limited. One of the first things I noted was that the Huey’s skids did not leave a mark on the wing. The rivets were all flush and there were many of them. This was one sturdy airframe!
I made the most of the time I had on the relic. I only took 2 pictures while on the B-17 as I was more interested in looking around. I used the open upper gun position to get inside the fuselage. There was about 18 inches of dark water in the fuselage. The water at times gets much deeper as the “tide marks” on the sides of the a/c indicated, though it never appeared to more than half submerge the aircraft. Something was moving in the water which precluded a closer inspection of the rear gun position lest I had a close personal meeting with some less than friendly swamp critter! The waist windows were closed though I remember the Perspex as almost opaque. As you well know, it so hot and humid on and in the a/c. The heat and humidity was not helped by our nomex flight suits.
I was puzzled by the “ball turret” as the support rod was still there but I could not see a turret which should have been easily seen even in that depth of water. As I recalled if the ball turret was dropped the whole support rod went as well..here was the support but no “ball”…most odd. Little did I know it had a Bendix turret which was there, complete with guns, and well under water.
I had a pretty thorough look through the entire fuselage forward of the waist gun windows. The whole aircraft had been pretty much gutted as there was very little equipment of any sort left. A light fixture or two. Some fuses in the fuse panels in the bomb bay. The cockpit was very bare. When I took the picture of the crewmen on the cockpit area I seem to remember that the nose glazing was intact and I did not want to step on it in case I broke through. There was a spent 50 cal cartridge lodged in the upper turret area.
There were a few bits and pieces left from the aircraft that prior visitors had taken out of the aircraft but had left on the starboard wing. An A9A oxygen gauge was one item and there was a big pile of .50 cal ammunition by one of the right engines. They were mostly marked “FA” (Federal Armory?) with dates of ‘35, ‘36, and ‘41. The rounds were in good condition though darkened with 40 years of exposure to the elements. The links as I remember were heavily rusted.
As the pictures show the area was mostly tall grass with some small trees close by the aircraft. The first thing that I noted in viewing your DVD on the Swamp Ghost was the trees right up to and almost all around the aircraft. You Swamp Ghost DVD brought back lots of memories. The aircraft was much as I remembered it.
I am not sure how long I was on the Swamp Ghost… a matter of minutes (10-15?) perhaps. There was no place to land so there was no way to conserve fuel. We had to get going to Girua as the weather in PNG was never a sure thing and we had only our maps and a compass to get us there. However, it was an experience that has never left me. Here was truly a piece of aviation history. An actual aircraft that had been visited by only perhaps a few dozen people since it landed after an operational mission against the Japanese in early 1942. This was a special experience that was quite unlike seeing an aircraft, even a very historic one, in a museum. I was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to be on the Swamp Ghost, even if it was only a few precious minutes. I have avidly followed any news, article, or mention of the B17 in the swamp over these past many years. Your Swamp Ghost DVD and website has been especially helpful and informative."