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Fleece’s Faves – Pinball Edition

May 1, 2011

This is my last flight, I gotta get this right.  These are the thoughts passing through the head of the young 17-year-old Airman Johnny Munson as he locks and loads his pair of Browning .30 cal machineguns at his rear gunner’s station of the B-17 he is assigned to.  Johnny only has one target to worry about, but up to this point in his life, it is the most important target he has ever faced.  If he can score a hit, he can move on with the rest of his crew to England and finally get the chance to give those Nazis some much-needed hell, if he misses, well, that’s another story, either he gets recycled into another training crew, or he is relegated to ground duty.

Ahh, there it is, 7’oclock low.  Munson spots his target, a weird orange-colored single-prop plane coming in fast and loose.  Fighting the urge to engage at such an extreme range, Johnny’s eyes were much better than his coordination, he takes a couple of breaths and starts tracking the odd flying machine as it closes the range to his lumbering Flying Fortress.

Almost there, make it count.  Johnny figures he has a bout 5 seconds until he can engage, he mumbles a quick prayer and gets ready to squeeze, “Squeeze, don’t yank ’em rook!”, the triggers.

Time to let ‘er rip!  The .30 cal rounds come blasting forth from his guns at a blistering pace, tracers intermingled to show him where his rounds are heading.  His initial burst was way off target, he wasn’t leading the bright orange plane enough.  Johnny adjusts, seeing he is close, he really lays into it, letting out a low roar from his guts as he wills his bullets to impact the orange target.

Come on baby, come on, COME ON!  Bingo, the nose cap of the target plane lights up like Rudolph on Christmas Eve, Johnny almost can’t believe it, his fingers don’t let off the trigger for what seems like another 3 count.  “Holy crap!  I hit that bastard!”, he exclaims to the smiling face of his gunnery instructor stooping over his shoulder to watch his practice.  “Well done son!  Congrats, in a couple of weeks you get to do it for real.”

The plane Johnny was shooting at is officially the RP-63 Kingcobra, unofficially it is the “Flying Pinball Machine”.  It is one of the coolest planes developed during World War II.  Our bomber crews were getting beat up over Germany, we were getting the job done, but damn were we losing a lot of men and materiel in the process.  Flak and other anti-aircraft weapons were not the problem, that was always a luck of the draw sort of thing, the problem was enemy fighters.  Basically, even though our B-17s and B-24s were bristling with machine-guns, they weren’t getting the job done in defense of the bomber formations from German interceptors.  This is not a knock against the crewmen serving on our bombers, it’s just reality.  Its damn hard trying to hit a moving target from another moving target while the guy you are trying to shoot is shooting you.  The fact is, our boys needed practice, on the job training was too late.  Enter the Flying Pinball.

The RP-63 was a heavily modified P-63 Kingcobra, its guns removed and over a ton of extra armor added to the front with an inch of bullet proof glass for the cockpit.  Oh, and it was BRIGHT orange.  Impact sensors were embedded around the plane that would register a hit when a bullet struck the aircraft, the signal to tell the gunner he scored a hit was a light on the nosecap of the propeller and another light on the top of the tail, hence the “Pinball” nickname.

What made the system work were the bullets.  Our boys weren’t shooting regular ammo at this plane, heavily armored or not.  They were shooting a special round of frangible ammo made from powdered lead and Bakelite plastic that was designed to disintegrate on contact, pretty cool stuff for World War II.

This is a unique plane with a very specific purpose, making our boys better at defending their bombers above the skies over Germany.  So as a Fave it is a little different, most of my Faves have tons of guns on ’em, but this aircraft is an unsung hero, which definitely makes it on my list any day.

For a great bio of one of the Pinball pilots, please do checkout this wonderful web-page, William J. Wilsterman – RP-63 Fighter Pilot.

On to the Links!

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Answering Muslims – Christian Evangelist Abraham Abera Beaten to Death by Muslims in Ethiopia

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Blog de KingShamus – Give Mitch McConnell some props

Bread Upon the Waters – Anarchy Alley & The Little “Red” Church: Obama’s Roots, Investigated by Bill Whittle

Bunkerville – Union and College Prof teach course in violent Union tactics

Capitol Commentary – Weekend Test Drive: 10 Favorite Cars

Conservative Hideout – A Fun way to go on the Offensive

Conservatives on Fire – Putting Obama on the Psychologist’s couch

Conservative Tickler – Our carbon footprint

Disrupt the Narrative – Best military blogs

Manhattan Infidel – Starfleet to rethink Betazoid ship counselors

Mind-Numbed Robot – Obama birth certificate a fraud

Motorcity Times – Time lapse video of the Milky Way

NoOneofAnyImport’s Blog – Nerd Heaven

Planet Moron – They’re Crazy, Alright, Crazy Like a Fox… Wait, Damn!

Political Realities – One libertarian’s view of school choice and education reform

Proof Positive – Feds sting Amish farmer selling raw milk locally

Questioning with Boldness – Video: John Wayne “America Why I Love Her”

Republican Redefined – “Post-Racial Politics” The Left Doubles Down on Race Baiting for 2012

rjjrdq’s America II – Race baiters make Trump racism poster boy

Sentry Journal – Fight of the Century: Keynes vs. Hayek Round Two

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Spellchek – Federal debt interest costs us over $13,672 per second!

The Swash – Super MariObama

ThatMrgguys Blog – Ya Gotta Love A Woman With A Gun…Rule 5

The Daley Gator – Some folks seem intent on bowing to radical Islam

27 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2011 11:22 am

    Hey Fleece-Man! Thanks for the woolly linkage, my friend!

  2. May 1, 2011 11:28 am

    Thanks for the link, man! I mean sheep!

  3. May 1, 2011 12:07 pm

    Thanks for the linkie!

  4. May 1, 2011 12:23 pm

    Thank you for the link. I appreciate it.

    The last 6 years of blogging has been, well, an experience. But it seems like only yesterday or the day before that I began my blogging adventures.

    • May 1, 2011 12:34 pm

      Well, I gotta say 6 years is an incredible amount of time in the blogging world, much props for sticking in it for so long. =)

  5. May 1, 2011 2:06 pm

    I’m kind of a history buff, but I had never heard of the Flying Pinball Machine. Pretty cool!

  6. May 1, 2011 2:10 pm

    Thanks Colin. Love to know what they offered those guys to volunteer to be a “Pinball” pilot and purposely get shot up.

    • May 1, 2011 2:16 pm

      Considering only the front was armored, those Pinball pilots had some cajones. =)

  7. May 1, 2011 2:26 pm

    Thanks, Fleece. Any idea how many pinball pilots were lost?

    • May 1, 2011 2:34 pm

      I would like to think none. Many had to bail or make deadstick landings because the engine seized up from bullet fragments getting into the air intakes, but in my research I didn’t read about any deaths as a result. Let’s hope the absence of the info is an absence of injury. =)

  8. KingShamus permalink
    May 1, 2011 6:24 pm

    I had never even seen pics of this plane, much less heard about it. Great great stuff, Fleece. As usual.

    Thanks for the linkage too, my friend. It is a pleasure to be included with such cool folks.

    • May 1, 2011 6:43 pm

      Yeah, definitely an unheard of oddball, but a pretty cool plane, especially for 1944.

      And it was my pleasure my friend. =)

  9. May 1, 2011 7:57 pm

    Thank you for the link!

  10. May 1, 2011 8:04 pm

    Thanks for the link Colin. And as usual, you come up with an unusual fave.


  11. May 1, 2011 8:49 pm

    Thanks for the link. I wonder if those pilots were volunteers or recruits?

    • May 1, 2011 11:27 pm

      I would have to bet volunteers, seems like a fairly specialty flight position, especially with the increased odds of engine failure.

      And you are welcome. =)

  12. May 1, 2011 9:01 pm

    Thanks for the link Colin. Very cool information. I never knew that about the training our WWII gunners went through. Talk about guts eh?

    • May 1, 2011 11:28 pm

      My pleasure my friend. And yeah, these Pinball pilots are pretty gutsy – could you imagine allowing someone to shoot at you at whatever altitude they practiced at, say 5-10000 feet? Crazy.

  13. JustFacts permalink
    May 1, 2011 11:45 pm

    The P-63 KingCobra was a very unique plane in many respects. It was a larger variant of the P-39 AiraCobra that was determined to be less acceptable to our Air Corps during WWII than the P-51 Mustang, and was subsequently provide to the Russians under Lend-Lease. The P-39/P-63 was one of the very few planes where the engine was actually placed behind the pilot (amidship) with the propeller shaft coming forward and passing between the pilots legs to reach the front of the plane and the prop. (Not to sure I would have relished the thought of having a spinning propeller shaft in that position to my lower anatomy, but I guess if you are flying in combat, that is a minor concern to your overall well-being.) On the pursuit versions, the main armament was a 37mm canon firing through the hub of the propeller.

    The Russkies utilized the P-39s/P-63s as tank-busters, with great effectiveness. In some variations the plane had a top in excess of 420mph.

    As for the Pinballs, I had never heard of this variant before. Can’t say as I would relish the thought of being a voluntary target, even with all the extra armor plate. I’m sure the plating would have been around the midship engine area, rather than the nose, which in Pinball was probably empty since there was no canon.

    Necessity is the Mother of invention, and War being a Mother really yields some innovations. The Germans weren’t alone in their quest for innovative weapons. We were right in there ourselves. Thanks for sharing this tidbit of WWII history. I look forward to your Faves, and the insight you bring to our military arsenal both past and present.

    • May 1, 2011 11:57 pm

      Good intel on the P-39. Yeah, the King Cobra was meant as an upgrade to the original AirCobras, the former being underpowered.

      As far as the front armor on the Pinballs, that was necessary for how they used them for target practice. We tried to copy the standard approach of the Germans (and anyone trying to get a shot on a slow lumbering bomber) so they focused on rear approaches. They couldn’t armor the whole plane (or even her belly!), so they went for mostly her nose and leading edges plus the glass on the cockpit – needless to say, some overzealous target practicers did not lay off the trigger when they were supposed to and even though they were using frangible ammo, hull penetration did happen.

      Thanks for the kind words, I truly enjoy writing these so it is a labor of love, but it is nice to know people appreciate them.


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