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Tue, March 19

Kingman veterans share memories of war

Bob Ferm, left, and Jim Lang look over FermÕs copy of the U.S. Air Force Museum Book, which describes all types of aircraft. Ferm instructed pilots how to fly many of them during World War II. Lang was a B-17 pilot at that time

Miner Photo/TERRY ORGAN Bob Ferm, left, and Jim Lang look over FermÕs copy of the U.S. Air Force Museum Book, which describes all types of aircraft. Ferm instructed pilots how to fly many of them during World War II. Lang was a B-17 pilot at that time

KINGMAN -- The Japanese air attack of Dec. 7, 1941, on Pearl Harbor stirred Bob Ferm and Jim Lang to answer their country's call to service in World War II and both men joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942.

Lang, who was born in Chicago, enlisted in Des Moines, Iowa. He subsequently became a B-17 "Flying Fortress" pilot assigned to the 381st Bomb Group and 535th Bomber Squadron based in Ridgewell, England.

Lang would go on to fly 36 missions into Germany or German-held territory that included France. He said he was "spared" death three times.

In one case, a German fighter fired on his Flying Fortress. But B-17 gunners shot down the enemy plane before it could inflict serious damage.

His plane was "torn up" by anti-aircraft fire, known as flak, on another mission. But he was able to return to base.

Perhaps the scariest incident occurred on what was expected to be an easy mission, known as a "milk run," into Germany as his squadron prepared to attack the forces of German Gen. Irwin Rommel.

"I followed the command of the Lord to jump the airplane," Lang said. "A second or two later our ball turret gunner yelled 'Holy (expletive). Four 88s (anti-aircraft fire) just went off where we were.'"

"Jumping" involves applying full throttle to the engines and pulling back on the wheel, causing the plane to rapidly lift. The altitude gained in 1-2 seconds spared direct hits by enemy fire and saved the lives of everyone aboard, Lang said.

Lang held the rank of first lieutenant when he left the Army Air Corp at the end of the war in 1945.

Ferm, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., began flying an Aeronca C-3 aircraft in Teterboro, N.J., in 1939.

"I liked washing airplanes and in return I'd get 10-15 minutes of flight instruction," he said.

Ferm enlisted in the Army Air Corps in New York City five days after his 20th birthday, joining up as an aviation cadet. He would spend four years as an advanced single engine-training instructor working at Napier Field in Dothan, Ala.

He longed to get into combat but did not get the chance.

"I was a frustrated ace," Ferm said.

"I wanted to fly a P-38 (Lightning) and instructed in flying everything else up to and including the twin-engine B-25 Mitchell bomber."

Ferm taught others to first fly an AT-6 trainer before moving on to more complicated aircraft such as the P-40 Warhawk, P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang. He said the Mustang was a "delight" to fly.

"I would say the P-40 was the toughest one to master," Ferm said. "It was practically out of use at the time.

"The major thing about it was the pilot always had to trim out the plane to avoid skidding with every 2-3 miles per hour of speed change."

Ferm had attained the rank of major when he left the Army Air Corps in 1946.

He worked in sales in the general aviation business for five years in Teterboro and also for a time for Beechcraft distributors in Van Nuys, Calif. In the early 1950s, Ferm was at Valley Pilots, a training school at Van Nuys Airport, when a dreadful accident happened.

"There were a lot of police and fire units at the airport one day," Ferm said. "A guy came in and said some poor nut had chopped off his leg while propping an airplane."

The accident victim was Lang, but he and Ferm would not meet one another for more than 40 years.

Lang said he had landed his single-engine Stinson aircraft and was in a hurry to get some oil for a change before flying out the next morning. He pulled the idle cutoff as normal to stop the propeller from turning, but in his haste to exit the cockpit, he failed to turn off the ignition, leaving the switch in an idle position.

"I did a walk-around of the plane later, pulled on the propeller a few times and it started," Lang said.

The accident cost Lang his right leg.

When aircraft sales declined after the war, Ferm went into the electronics field. He owned his own company, Fermco, for several years in Southern California before selling it and going to work managing an electronics business in the same area for a Midwest corporation.

He also was sales manager for several years in New York State for Cessna Aircraft.

Ferm moved to Kingman from Palos Verdes, Calif., in 1985 after growing tired of California and because he had friends here. He did not entirely quit flying until five years ago, at which time he had logged more than 8,000 hours in the air.

Lang worked for about eight years as a test engineer for the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation in Van Nuys.

He said he met astronaut Neil Armstrong, who was the first man to walk on the moon in 1969, at an awards banquet in the mid-1960s. Both men were receiving recognition for their hours of "soaring" in sailplanes, Lang said.

Lang was living in Denver when it became necessary to re-locate out of the high altitude due to his wife's health. They moved to Kingman in January 2000 and he soon met Ferm.

Both men sing in the choir at St. Johns United Methodist Church.

"I asked Jim how he lost his leg and he told me the story," Ferm said. "I didn't say anything at the time, but realized I was at the airport where it happened on that day.

"At the next men's breakfast at church, I got up to give the treasurer's report. I then related the story of what happened that day at Van Nuys Airport and Jim's jaw dropped because it was the first time he knew I had been present."


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