We don't want to wait for the appearance of the B-99 before our Air Force can again bomb Tokyo. We don't even have to wait for Russia to become a full-time partner in the Pacific War or for close-in bases to be won in China or the East Indies, before we can drop explosives on the Mikado's fortress-like palace, in just vengeance for the murdered members of Jimmie Doolittle's first set of Tokyo visitors.
Using airplanes already in existence, coupled with information already at our disposal, operating from bases off Alaska already in our possession, we can strike at Nippon's cities now.
The ships we can use are our regular Flying Fortresses or Liberators and our standard gliders. The splendid base at Dutch Harbor in Unalaska is quite all right for handling major takeoffs. Also, we have learned enough about glider operation, to know that this idea is quite feasible.
The scheme for bombing Tokyo with the aid of a glider is quite simple. The theory behind cargo gliders is that the glider uses power only at those times when the airplane does not need it. On takeoff, the glider is in the air when the ship is still on the ground. In flight, it takes only a fraction more power to cruise the glider-plane combination than it does for the airplane alone, providing the glider is designed to team itself with the tow plane.
The bombing team consists of a regular Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, that could travel 2,500 miles or more with a fair military load, to which is attached a properly-designed glider. The glider is built entirely of molded plywood, containing an integral tank. This tank has a sufficiently large capacity to take the glider-plane team 90% of the distance of Tokyo, or within the belt where interception is possible.
The glider is attached to the airplane by a cable, woven around the flexible Koroseal fuel line. Also incorporated into the connecting cable is a flexible electric wire. Thus, the outer web of the cable carries the actual strain of the glider, the inner tube carries the fuel, while the electric line carries the control impulses to the glider.
The glider is flown, not by any live pilot in the ship, but by the rear gunner on the bomber, who controls the tank-glider by remote electric control, from his seat in the tail of the bomber.
The team would be operated in the following manner. The takeoff would be made on fuel from the Fortress, in order to avoid the hazard of fuel blowing through the connecting cable during the time the highest stress is put on it. Once the ship is in the air, the rear gunner, by means of his remote-control switch system, turns on the gas. As in most glider operation, the glider is flown above the tug, giving adequate flow. The rear gunner, still using his electrical controls, would fly the tank glider, receiving his orders from the pilot by interphone.
When the fuel in the glider tank is exhausted, the rear gunner cuts the glider loose, after turning on a time bomb, planned to destroy the glider before it hits the water. The bomber then proceeds to its target, having had the 2,460 miles to climb, attaining a ceiling above the range of anti-aircraft and advantageous airplane interception.
After completing its bomb run, the bomber can then turn around and head for home on full tanks, having burned off only a small portion of its fuel.
This difference could be made up by making a stop at Attu, where temporary runways could be laid out on the sand, and portable blind-landing systems, truck-borne, could be placed in correct position, in case the usual Alaskan fog decided to close in.
While the expenditure of tank-gliders might, on the surface, seem very expensive, it is dirt cheap compared to the risk placed on a carrier, as was imposed the last time we hit Tokyo. Even occasional forty- or fifty- plane raids against Nippon's industrial heart would be of tremendous aid. Fire raids against her residential areas would take time to rebuild and, by destroying the Jap worker's paper house, would certainly cut down production. The action against industrial and military targets is too obvious to require explanation. Furthermore, pilots and planes in considerable numbers would have to be diverted to home defense, and the entire pattern of Jap design and manufacture would have to be altered to meet this new menace.
This column was originally published in the September, 1943, issue of Air News magazine, vol 5, no 3, p 48.