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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

US Jet Lands In Rice Paddy

Don't worry. Although the above headline did happen, it was taken from the Nippon Times English-language newspaper of Japan back on October 19, 1955.

I was recently given a few newspapers from that era by good friend and reader Vinnie, and while there is a lot of general news from around the world, there are more than quite a few interesting articles relating to Japan.

Let's check it out:

U.S. Airman Lands Jet in Rice Paddy

By The United Press

A U.S. Air Force pilot has escaped uninjured and saved his jet airplane yesterday when he made a ticklish landing in a rice paddy with a dead engine.
Capt. Manuel R. Grace, of Tuscon, Ariz., guided his F-80 Shooting Star to a rough landing after the jet "flamed out."
"He probably saved the Government $75,000 to $100,000," a Far East Air Force spokesman said.
The spokesman explained that when a jet flames out, the pilot "can bail out or attempt to bring his plane down, but that takes quite a bit of airmanship."
Grace landed in a rice paddy 15 miles north of Tokyo and walked to a telephone to report the mishap. He is assigned to the 15th Attack Reconnaissance Squadron at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo.

Cool, huh?

First off, because no one back in the 1950s would ever specifically state how much an airplane cost in case someone was listening, that range of $75-$100,000 can now actually be narrowed down to a more exact: $93,456 to build a new F-80 Shooting Star, which is an equivalent 2013 value of $814,587.60. Of course, I would assume a more modern jet would have more modern conveniences and would thus cost more than that to build in 2013.

The Yokota Air Base currently houses some 14,000 U.S. military personnel in the city of Fussa, which is a part of the Metropolitan City of Tokyo, in the west.

Although I couldn't find any further information on the amazing Captain Grace to see what type of career he had, or whether he's still around (hope so!), I did find a bit of interesting data on the base, and on his plane.

The Yokota Air Base was actually first known as Tama Airfield, and was built by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1940, and was the site of Japan's airplane testing activities, and was apparently where Harry met Sally (the Japanese met its Axis allies the Italians) for the first time.

According to U.S. reconnaissance, the air base was working with the nearby Nakajima Aircraft manufacturing Musashino plant. The Nakajima Aircraft Company was founded in 1918 and was Japan's first aircraft manufacturing company. Along with a host of bombers and fighters, it was also know (not by me) for it's experimental jet prototypes in 1945: the Kikka (Orange Blossom) and the Karyu (Fire Dragon).

Hmm... I'll have to research these two!

Anyhow... because of its use as a test facility, the U.S. attempted to target it during WWII a total of eight times during the Spring of 1945... but like a Pink Floyd album, Japanese weather always obscured the target (like me and Mt. Fuji), forcing bombers to go to its secondary target. The Nakajima plant was finally bombed in April of 1945, but the Tama Air Base remained untouched.

When the war ended, U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division arrived at the base on September 4, 1945. They found the buildings intact and about 280 of Japan's then-most modern aircraft sitting in hangars... which, might come as a surprise to many, because Japan had supposedly run out of aircraft thanks to its on-going desperate suicide kamikaze missions... so to have 280 planes sitting in a hangar? Wow.

That will tell you that the Japanese realized that there was little to be gained from further wasting of resources, and did not make its planes available for the kamikaze division. Okay... that's what it tells me. Who knows? I'm sure the truth is out there.

I have a pretty detailed write up on the kamikaze HERE and how samurai stubbornness led to warfare by atomic weaponry.

Now sitting pretty in the former Tama Air Base owned by the Imperial Japanese Army, the 1st Cavalry took it over (spoils of war?) named it first the Fussa Army Airfield, and then by the end of September 1945, the Yokota Army Airfield.

Actually, while the term 'spoils of war' might be considered accurate if you were Japanese, when Japan surrendered, the United States Armed Forces (not the United States government proper) took over the administration authority of Japan.

At this time, the Japanese Imperial Army and the Japanese Imperial Navy were, to put it politely, decommissioned. The US Armed Forces took control over all Japanese military bases. This was all part of the Allies plan to demilitarize Japan that had become increasingly aggressive against Asian neighbors... and in 1947 with a new Constitution of Japan, a no-armed force clause was imposed.

That's why Captain Grace was flying an F-80 Shooting Star jet over Japan.

The XP-80 (experimental pursuit) first flew in January of 1944 and was sent to Europe for action, but the war in Europe concluded before any saw action. The plane was re-designated the F-80 when it was simply known as a 'Fighter', rather than "Pursuit"

The Lockheed F-80 was the first US plane to go faster than 500 miles per hour in level flight (not in a speed-inducing dive), and was the first US jet to be used in combat, when on November 8 (my birthday!), 1950 (not my birthday), Lt. Russel J. Brown flying an F-80C (with the 16th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron) shot down a USSR MiG-15... it was the world's first all-jet fighter aerial combat.

A total of 1,731 F-80s were built, and of those, 798 were called F-80C (a fighter-bomber hybrid) and were used in the Korean war.

Technical Notes:
Armament: Six .50-cal. machine guns and eight 5-in. (127mm) rockets or 2,000 pounds (907.2 kilogram) bombs
Engine: Allison J-33 of 5,400 lbs. (2500 kilograms) thrust (with water-alcohol injection)
Maximum speed: 580 miles per hour (933 kilometers per hour)
Cruising speed: 437 mph (703.3 kph)
Range: 1,090 miles (1754.2 kilometers)
Service ceiling: 46,800 feet (14,264.6 meters)
Wing Span: 38 ft. 10 1/2 in. (11.85 meters)
Length: 34 ft. 6 in. (10.52 meters)
Height: 11 ft. 4 in. (3.454 meters)
Weight: 16,856 lbs. (7,645.8 kilograms) maximum
Crew: One (also 1, in metric)

Specific data (immediately above) on the F-80 is taken from the National Museum of the US Air Force website - a real museum in Ohio that I would like to visit one day. The photo of the F-80C is courtesy of the USAF Museum via Wikipedia.

Andrew Joseph
PS: I love how a simple three-inch piece of newspaper copy that I was going to use as a quick story for tonight ended up as something so much more, as I have to know more about every story to get the complete picture.
Unfortunately, there is not further data on the particular aircraft being dumped in a rice paddy that I can get my hands on, anyway...
and nothing on Captain Grace, which seems a shame. Anyone knows more - please share.


  1. I do hope that the great captain is still alive.

    1. Unfortunately, he is not. Using a few days ago, I now know that Manuel Grace (born on July 17, 1925) died on May 3, 1992.
      We do know that as an US Air Force man, he enlisted during WWII on September 25, 1943, and left on April 3, 1947.
      For whatever reason, he re-upped on February 22, 1951 before bailing out on April 30, 1960, with what I assume was a distinguished career.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    I found your blog today and I have been reading your posts. I really enjoy them.
    I am curious about one thing- where did you find information on...

    "....was apparently where Harry met Sally (the Japanese met its Axis allies the Italians) for the first time."

    I would like to read more about their first meeting at Tama airfield if possible. I have tried searching for information on my own, but I keep coming up empty.

    Can you please pass the source off to me. Thank you.