Posted 06:58 PM | May 17, 2010
On behalf of his family, please read the remembrance of "Bob" written by his brother Edwin Pilchard: During the summer of 1937, Bob got a job with a household appliance sales and repair shop in Urbana. He was soon delivering new refrigerators and washing machines in the company's pickup truck. His new found affluence soon led him to purchase flying lessons at Illini Airport. The airport consisted of a small, flat-roofed hangar building and one-room office shack situated in the corner of a forty-acre field surrounded by barbed wire fence. The fence served to confine several dairy cows that were sometimes pastured there. Bob qualified for a private pilot license in a yellow Piper Cub aircraft, then began flying his favorite Aeronca, more powerful single-engine monoplane. He hedged his possible dedication to flying as a profession by enrolling in the University of Illinois, College of Agriculture Bobs flying skills increased rapidly during the ensuing months. By 1940, he began competing in single-engine aircraft flying contests. His specialty was spot landing, wherein the contestant tried to side-slip at slow speed just above the ground, stalling out at ground level so that the landing gear and tail skid or tail wheel touched down simultaneously in a 50-feet-diameter circle drawn in powdered limestone of the kind used to make lines on athletic fields. I remember his happiness when he told of winning a spot landing contest. In 1940, Bob and two of his flying buddies, Harold Hap Good, and Max Mortensen, bought a WWI Cutis JN Jenny biplane that had been advertised for sale at Lambert Field, St. Louis. He and his flight instructor rode a Greyhound bus to St. Louis on a cold sunny day in early spring, then a city bus to the airfield. They flew back to Illini Airport using a highway road map to find their way. It was cold and windy in the Jennys open cockpits. After an hour in the air, they landed in a pasture behind a highway truck stop restaurant to warm up over a hot cup of coffee. The new owners enjoyment of their airplane was short-lived. First, the engine failed while Hap was at the controls, forcing him to land in a farmers field. Bob said the engine had swallowed a valve. A local mechanic replaced the valve. Then, a Federal Aviation inspector informed them they would have to replace the airplanes canvas covering to make it airworthy. The owners sold their prize possession to the operators of an itinerant flying circus, one of the many performing at small-town airports during the 1930s. I later learned that one of the circus daredevil pilots flew the Jenny at slow speed through the open door of a makeshift barn door, wiping off its wings as the intact fuselage carrying the pilot continued through and safely came to rest in the field behind. During early spring 1941, Bob, Hap and Max enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force as candidate flight instructors. They received a month of training in Tiger Moth and Fleet aircraft at the Central Flying School, Trenton, Ontario, before moving separately to their next assignment. From June to October, Bob taught elementary flying at Lethbridge, Ontario, then moved to Bombing and Gunnery School at Mossbank, Saskatchewan. There, as a Sergeant Pilot, he towed airborne gunnery target drogues and flew military chartered passengers to various Canadian destinations. After the United States entered WWII, in May 1942, Bob transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps. As a Second Lieutenant, he was sent to the Advanced Flying School, Victorville, California where he was promoted to First Lieutenant and became first officer of a four-engine B-17 Flying Fortress, then moved to Hobbs Field, New Mexico for combat training. He and his crew were slated for the European theater of operations when an appendectomy intervened. His crew was assigned another first officer. It was while convalescing from surgery that Bob volunteered to be one of the first to join the 793rd Bombing Squadron at Smoky Hill Air Base, Salina, Kansas, flying the new, then secret, B-29 Superfortress. During April 1944, the 793rd Bombing Group flew to one of several secret airfields near Chengu, China, by way of Brazil, the Azores and India to become a part of the 20th Air Forces 468th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy). Bob was promoted to Captain. On the afternoon of June 15, 1944 his plane and 67 other B-29s took off on a mission to bomb the Yawata Steel Mills in Japan, the first time mainland China was bombed since the Doolitte Raid in 1942. Bob and his ten crew members and a passenger died just before dawn the next morning when their plane struck a foothill of the Himalayan Mountains near Wutu, Kansu Province China. Bob was 24 years old.