Date: Fri 16-Oct-1998
Date: Fri 16-Oct-1998
Flight In A B17 Raises Some Old War Memories For Bob Sadler
BY KAAREN VALENTA
When Bob Sadler took the controls of the B17 as the Flying Fortress flew in
the skies over Newtown, it brought back memories of his years as a fighter
pilot in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
"Of course, we flew single-engine fighter planes, the P47D Thunderbolt, or
twin engines, and these were much smaller planes than the B17. They had
one-man crews," he said.
Mr Sadler got the opportunity to take a two-hour flight in the B17 last
weekend when the Flying Fortress and another wartime plane, a B24, were
brought by the Collings Foundation of Stowe, Mass., to Danbury Airport to help
raise funds for the preservation of vintage military aircraft. Michael K.
FitzSimons, a Newtown resident who works for Precision Computer Services, Inc,
in Shelton, arranged to buy a block of tickets for use by company personnel.
He had taken his father up last year and wanted to give another veteran a
chance this year.
"I contacted the VFW in Newtown, because that's where I live," Mr FitzSimons
said. "I think the VFW is a very important organization because its members
did so much for the country. The VFW was having a picnic that day, so I went
there and picked up Bob."
Sandy Hook resident Robert R. Sadler, 78, was a logical choice to make the
flight. He served in the US Army Corps, 7th Air force, 7th Fighter Command,
333rd Fighter Squadron during World War II, and was awarded the Distinguished
"We flew hundreds of missions," he said.
An Ohio native, Mr Sadler earned a private pilot license in 1938 when he
enrolled in the government's Civilian Pilot Training course while a student at
King College in Bristol, Tenn., where he was studying physical education on a
"I remember that it cost $20 to take the course, and I had trouble coming up
with that much money," Mr Sadler said. "After I got the license, I wanted a
commercial pilot's license, but that required 200 hours of flying time. He and
a dozen other pilots figured out a way to get the hours and get paid at the
"We'd ferry Taylor Craft, single engine planes, from Alliance, Ohio, to the
West Coast distributor in California. Then we'd pick up Interstate Cadets and
fly them back to the East Coast to a distributor in Newark, N.J. Then we'd
hitchhike back to Ohio and start over again."
The planes flew at only 50 miles per hour, had no radar, and couldn't be flown
at night or in the rain. So the cross-country trip usually took a week to 10
"I was in Iowa when war was declared and got stuck there because the first
thing the government did was to ground all aircraft," he said. Eventually he
hitchhiked home and enlisted.
"I went to Army flying school then took fighter training," he said. "Then I
He was sent first to the Hawaiian Islands, and gradually worked his way closer
to Japan, flying from bases on Guam, Siapan, and Okinawa. The P47's were too
small and carried too little gas to reach Japan, so they got some help for the
last leg of the flight."
"We were catapulted off carriers in P47s," he said. "We were used to 7,000
feet of runway but on carriers we only had 40 feet of deck. It had never been
done before, but the engineers figured it out with pencil and paper and we did
"Of course, we couldn't land back on the carriers," he said. "The Navy's
planes were much smaller than the P47's. Their wings folded up, ours wouldn't.
so they could only get a few of the P47s on each carrier."
The fighter pilots provided close support for the Marines in their invasions
of Japanese-held islands.
"We'd strafe the caves and drop napalm from tanks under the wings. It was
nasty, nasty stuff. Initially we set it on fire by strafing it, but later we
had detonators in the gas caps."
From Okinawa, the fighter pilots could reach Japan and their main mission
became flying fighter cover for B29's. Mr Sadler remembers one particularly
close call when he narrowly missed being killed by a Japanese Kamikaze pilot.
"I was a flight leader, leading four planes from Okinawa to Japan," he said.
"The pilot on my right spotted two Japanese fighter planes flying low over the
water below and dropped down to engage them," he said. "I followed."
The other American pilot was killed when the Japanese pilot flew his plane
head-on into his. Lt Sadler barely missed colliding with the other plane, then
shot it from the sky.
He completed his service as a captain. After the war, Mr Sadler was a teacher
and coach, then went to work for Marathon Corp, a large food packaging company
that specialized in packaging for bakery items, frozen food, and meat.
"I specialized in bakery packaging," he said. "My job was to sell ideas and
develop the hardware for them. For example, I developed the end label to go on
both ends of a loaf of bread. That was important because bread was enclosed in
wax paper - this was before plastic bags - and both ends had to be sealed.
Billions of them were manufactured."
Eventually he was transferred to Connecticut and lived in Westport with his
wife, Pat, and their three children. When he retired, the Sadlers bought the
27-acre property on Valley Field Road that was previously owned by Dagmar, the
1950s television star.
Mr Sadler is an active VFW member and serves as the post chaplain. As a former
military pilot, he was the logical choice to make the flight with Mike
FitzSimons in the B17.
"This is a really big plane - it had a crew of 10," Mr FitzSimons said. "It
has a wingspan of 103 feet and is 74 feet long. It weighed 36,135 pounds empty
and 72,000 lbs with a maximum load. It could fly 250 miles per hour, with a
range of 2,400 miles, and had 13 50-mm Browning machine guns. When we went up,
there were two pilots, a flight engineer, and seven passengers, including
"I sat in the co-pilot's seat and took the controls, but I wasn't really
flying," Mr Sadler insisted. "The pilot can put these planes in automatic, and
they fly themselves."
The plane circled the Danbury area, flying over the VFW five times and
circling around the flagpole. Then the plane flew north to Candlewood Lake and
west to Poukeepsie, N.Y., before returning to Danbury Airport.
"It was quite an experience," Mr Sadler said. "It's something I'll never