The Great Artiste

"The Great Artiste" was a U.S. Army Air Forces B-29 bomber (B-29-40-MO 44-27353, victor number 89), assigned to the 393rd Bomb Squadron, 509th Composite Group, that participated in the atomic bomb attacks on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Flown by 393rd commander Major Charles W. Sweeney, it was assigned to the Hiroshima mission on August 6, 1945, as the blast measurement instrumentation aircraft.

On the mission to bomb Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, it was to have been the aircraft carrying the bomb, but the mission schedule had been moved forward two days because of weather considerations and the instrumentation had not yet been removed from the aircraft. To avoid delaying the mission, Sweeney traded airplanes with the crew of "Bockscar" to carry the Fat Man atomic bomb to Nagasaki. The crew of Captain Frederick C. Bock flew "The Great Artiste" to Nagasaki on its instrument support mission, and landed with it on Okinawa at the conclusion of the mission.

Aircraft history

Built at the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Plant at Omaha, Nebraska, "The Great Artiste " was accepted by the Army Air Forces on April 20, 1945, and flown to Wendover Army Air Field, Utah, by its assigned crew C-15 (1st Lt. Charles D. Albury, Aircraft Commander) in May. It departed Wendover for Tinian on June 22 and arrived on June 28.

It was originally assigned the victor number 9 but on August 1 was given the circle R tail markings of the 6th Bomb Group as a security measure and had its victor changed to 89 to avoid misidentification with actual 6th BG aircraft. It had its nose art painted after the Nagasaki mission, and the name purportedly referred to undisclosed talents of the bombardier, Capt. Beahan.

In addition to its use on the nuclear bomb missions, "The Great Artiste" was flown by five different crews on 12 training and practice missions, and by Albury and crew C-15 on two combat missions, one of which was aborted and the other in which it used a Pumpkin bomb to attack the railroad yards at Kobe. Capt. Bob Lewis and crew B-9 flew it to drop a pumpkin bomb on an industrial target in Tokushima.

In November 1945 it returned with the 509th to Roswell Army Air Field, New Mexico. On September 3, 1948, on a polar navigation training mission, it developed an engine problem after takeoff from Goose Bay Air Base, Labrador, and ran off the end of the runway when attempting to land. Heavily damaged, it never flew again and was eventually scrapped at Goose Bay in September 1949, despite its historical significance.

Movie Appearance

The Greate Artiste makes a very brief appearance in the take off scene from Tinian in the movie "Above and Beyond" as an observation plane for the Hiroshima mission. At this point in time, however, it did not have the nose art visible in the movie.

Hiroshima mission crew

Crew C-15 (normally assigned to "The Great Artiste")
*Maj. Charles W. Sweeney, aircraft commander
*1st. Lt. (Charles Donald) Don Albury, pilot
*2nd Lt. Fred Olivi, co-pilot
*Capt. James Van Pelt, navigator
*Capt. Raymond "Kermit" Beahan, bombardier
*Cpl Abe Spitzer, radio operator
*Master Sgt. John D. Kuharek, flight engineer
*Staff Sgt Ray Gallagher, gunner, assistant flight engineer
*Staff Sgt Edward Buckley, radar operator
*Sgt. Albert Dehart, tail gunner

Project Alberta members on Hiroshima mission:
*Luis Alvarez
*Harold Agnew
*Lawrence H. Johnston

Nagasaki mission crew

Crew C-13 (normally assigned to "Bockscar")
*Capt. Frederick C. Bock, aircraft commander
*Lt. Hugh C. Ferguson, co-pilot
*Lt. Leonard A. Godfrey, navigator
*Lt. Charles Levy, bombardier
*Master Sgt. Roderick F. Arnold, flight engineer
*Sgt. Ralph D. Belanger, assistant flight engineer
*Sgt. Ralph D. Curry, radio operator
*Sgt. William C. Barney, radar operator
*Sgt. Robert J. Stock, tail gunner

Project Alberta members aboard:
*S/Sgt. Walter Goodman
*Lawrence H. Johnston

(The British observers, Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, and Professor William G. Penney a member of Project Alberta, were on Big Stink (B-29).

External links

* [ National Museum of the USAF (formerly US Air Force Museum) : Boeing B-29 "Bockscar" fact sheet]
* [ Reflections from above: an American pilot's perspective on the mission which dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki]
* [ Eyewitness account of atomic bombing over Nagasaki, by William Laurence, New York Times]
* [ Sgt. Abe Spitzer collection] Sgt. Spitzer was radio operator for crew C-15 and maintained a detailed diary of his recollections of missions flown from Tinian, including both atomic missions. This collection is of photostats of the original pages.


* Campbell, Richard H., "The Silverplate Bombers: A History and Registry of the Enola Gay and Other B-29s Configured to Carry Atomic Bombs" (2005), ISBN 0-7864-2139-8
* [ 509th CG Aircraft Page, MPHPA]

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