The Last Flight of the Blue Goose
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Synopsis:
In 1942 the Blue Goose, a B-24 bomber, disappeared during a routine test flight from an airbase in Florida. After an intensive search, no trace of the plane or crew was ever found. Thirty years later, the remains of the copilot were discovered on a remote beach in northern Brazil—a bizarre Nazi plot is uncovered and the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Blue Goose is finally solved.



Prologue
Fort Myers Army Air Base, Florida, January 1942

First Lieutenant Carlson's khaki shirt stuck to his skin like glue. The noonday Florida sun beat down on the control tower's corrugated metal roof. Fortunately, all sides of the platform atop the twenty foot high wooden tower were open. Occasionally, a light breeze filtered through. Carlson leaned over the platform guard rail and watched McCormick, his radio operator, fill their canteens from a Lister bag located in the middle of a line of tents behind the control tower.

A dozen B-24s were parked in a line alongside the single runway in front of the tower. In a wooded maintenance area, at the end of the flight line, stood a lone B-24. Carlson watched Army Air Corps mechanics install the cowling on the B-24's number three engine then push their spindly, rectangular, work stands aside. A mechanic removed the rear chocks then kicked the front chocks firmly against the tires. Another mechanic pushed a two-wheeled fire extinguisher into position beside the number three engine. Two other mechanics entered the aircraft through the open bomb bay doors. In a few minutes, the auxiliary power unit then the number three engine roared to life. Painted on the side of the dune colored aircraft was the name 'Blue Goose.'

Private First Class McCormick climbed the control tower steps. He handed the lieutenant a canteen. After a long drink, Carlson said, "Tastes like ten-year-old, chlorinated, horse piss."

"Lieutenant, you won't be able to get it up for a month. The mess sergeant has orders to load the coffee with saltpeter. Since nobody will drink it, he's putting saltpeter in the water."

The ring of the field phone was barely heard above the sound of the B-24's engine. McCormick took the handset from the canvas carrying case, gave his rank and last name, then listened attentively. He replied, "Yes, sir," then stowed the handset. "Lieutenant, Operations says they want to test fly 009 at 1400 hours."

"Great! That should end our week in the tower. Tomorrow, some other flight crew gets stuck with this shit detail."

For the next few hours, Carlson and McCormick were occupied with three B-25s from Eglin Field that shot take-offs and landings. "I wonder why they're practicing short field take-offs here?" McCormick asked.

"Maybe there's too much traffic at Eglin."

After the B-25s departed, Operations notified Carlson that 009 filed a local clearance for a one hour test flight. Carlson responded affirmatively to the Blue Goose's request for taxi clearance. A few minutes later, a request for take-off clearance came over the loud speaker. Carlson checked the area, picked up the microphone, pressed the transmit button then replied, "009, you're cleared for take-off."

"Roger, 009's rolling," was the reply.

Carlson removed his clipboard from a nail. He penciled in the entries, marked the time as 1406 hours, then initialed the activity log. At 1500 hours, Carlson scanned the sky for the Blue Goose. He spotted a few birds—there were no aircraft in sight. He ordered McCormick to contact the Blue Goose. At least two dozen times McCormick transmitted, "009, this is Fort Myers tower. Over." There was no response. At 1510 hours, Carlson turned the crank of the field telephone and notified the Operations Officer.

Inside the Operations tent, Captain Murray used the field telephone to notify Lieutenant Colonel McCann, Commanding Officer of the 343rd Bombardment Squadron and acting CO of the newly formed 98th Bombardment Group. McCann jumped into a Jeep parked outside the headquarters tent then drove along a dirt road to Operations.

Murray handed the colonel 009's clearance. McCann looked over the flight clearance, noted the names of the crew, estimated time of arrival and fuel load. "They couldn't have strayed far from the field. All they had to do was checkout one engine, parallel the generators and swing the compass."

"They had a full fuel load. Maybe they headed back to Shreveport for a night on the town," suggested Murray.

McCann winced, "I know those guys, they're not screw-ups. Get two planes in the air and have them set up a search pattern for a 200 mile radius. Have one check south, toward the Everglades, and the other to the north. When it gets too dark to search, they can return. Notify the crew in the tower the field will stay open until the last ship lands and they're not to leave their post until I give the word."

Carlson cleared both B-24s for take-off then watched the Liberators climb to cruise altitude. In a clearing in front of the headquarters tent, a bugler blew mess call. The bugler repeated the call on each cardinal heading.

Carlson watched as soldiers carrying mess kits ambled toward and formed a single line alongside the field kitchen. After the troops were served, they either sat on the ground or ate standing up with their mess kits resting on a forty foot flatbed trailer parked nearby. Their supper table was attached to a C-2 wrecker; a crash truck equipped with a large crane. Two large galvanized garbage cans filled with boiling water were placed over a carefully laid fire pit. An empty garbage can was placed ahead of the fire pit. After eating, each soldier dumped any remaining scraps into the garbage can then scrubbed his mess kit, utensils and canteen cup in the first can over the fire pit. In the last GI can on the fire pit, the soldiers dipped their mess gear into the boiling water.

McCann listened intently as the search crews were debriefed. Both crews reported negative results. The crews were ordered to get off the ground at first light and try again. McCann told Murray to notify Air Corps Headquarters, at Wright Field, that an aircraft was missing.

For the next two weeks, aircraft from Fort Myers, Eglin and MacDill searched for the Blue Goose. No debris or clues regarding the disappearance of the Liberator ever surfaced.

Captain Murray completed the accident report. He attached true copies of the clearance and tower log plus statements from Carlson, McCormick, the 38th Material Squadron's engine change crew and the inspector who released the aircraft for flight.

Instead of an expected promotion, McCann was relieved and reassigned to England. He wrote personal letters to the next of kin, turned over command to his replacement, a full colonel, then cleared the base.

In April 1942, the B-25s that practiced landings at Fort Myers were part of Jimmy Doolittle's group that bombed Tokyo. Three months later, the newly formed 98th Bombardment Group went on to Palestine then Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Italy. In time, the flight of the Blue Goose faded from memory.

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Chapter 1
Kennedy Space Center, December 1972

Traffic was at a standstill, roads were crammed with parked cars, boats lined the river and jockeyed for a better viewing position. At Kennedy Space Center, the viewing stand was packed with VIPs and anyone else lucky enough to get a pass. As Apollo 17 rose from the launch pad, the roar of the first stage was heard across the state of Florida and on television sets around the world. Millions of eyes followed the exhaust plume as it moved skyward....

End of excerpt.