On May 1, 1949, lost and low on gas, Lt. Doyle M. Kizzire of the 106th Light Bombardment Squadron of Birmingham, Ala., had to think fast. Should he and his passenger parachute out of the two-engine, 4,400-horsepower Douglas B-26 plane, or should he attempt to land the craft on the small field below?
Choosing the latter, Kizzire reduced the ship’s speed and “circled at an extremely low altitude in the vicinity of Carrier Field for several minutes before landing,” The Asheville Citizen reported in the following day’s paper. The plane, the paper continued, “came to a stop about 20 feet from the [French Broad] river.”
Within minutes of its emergency landing, the article added, “hundreds of people appeared at the field.”
On May 3, The Asheville Citizen reported that the plane would remain grounded for at least a week. Multiple factors played into the decision. The top concern involved the location itself. Carrier Field (today’s Carrier Park) didn’t offer much in terms of a runway, making a safe takeoff a logistical nightmare. Recent rain also left the ground too soggy to use.
Ultimately, the plane stayed grounded at Carrier Field for over a month. Then on June 10, the big day finally arrived.
“Several thousand persons stood in suspense late yesterday afternoon as the Army’s noted speed record holder, Col. Albert Boyd, a native of Buncombe County, used his jet flight experience to rescue … [the] Douglas B-26,”, The Asheville Citizen wrote in the following day’s paper.
“For normal take-off a B-26 requires 3,500 to 4,000 feet of runway,” The Asheville Citizen continued. “Carrier field has less than two-thirds this distance.”
To remedy the mathematical dilemma, the Army installed four, 1,000-pound jet-assisted takeoff, or JATO, units to the plane’s wing bomb racks — “first ever to be made on a B-26,” the paper declared. These units ran for approximately eight seconds, increasing the plane’s total horsepower to ensure the craft’s successful departure from Carrier Field.
Once airborne, Boyd didn’t travel far. He landed the bird at the Asheville-Hendersonville Airport (located at the Baldwin Farm, one-half mile east of Fletcher), where a member of the 106th squadron waited to fly it home.
Of course, the flight’s distance didn’t matter to those who anxiously watched the plane’s initial takeoff.
“Although Col. Boyd could not hear it above the noise of the engines and JATO units, he received a well deserved cheer from the crowd,” the paper wrote. “They had been amazed at the simplicity of the operation and the speed with which the plane gained altitude.”
Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents. Special thanks to J. Harry Varmer for bringing this story to our attention.
UPDATE: The article has been updated to accurately reflect where the former Asheville-Hendersonville Airport was located.