The Boy Next Door Goes to War

The Boy Next Door Goes to War

Like every other new pilot in 1942, Cary Benjamin “Ben” Jones experienced an abrupt introduction to combat. At that point in the war, the enemy had been flying combat for several years, but almost every American pilot, Jones included, was new to that particular lethal game. Still, he flew P-40s in the Mediterranean, Africa, Sicily, and Italy campaigns as a member of the 316th Fighter Squadron (of the 324th Fighter Group) known as “Hell’s Belles” and survived. And he eventually got good at what he did. Describing his squadron’s capabilities, Jones says, “We didn’t think anybody could fly formation like we did; we could do everything. We really had a lot of confidence in each other, and you needed that when you were flying combat.”

Transition to the P-40

After flight training, 2nd Lt. Jones was first assigned to Philadelphia. “They were forming the 324th Fighter Group, and there were three squadrons. I was assigned to the 316th squadron to get ready for going overseas. One of the fellows I reported to there was Lt. Col. Pete Quesada. He was head of the first fighter group and later became a four-star general. He’d been on the first refueling flight that was ever done, and had also flown the longest nonstop refueling flight. I went to Norfolk in September 1942 and transitioned to the P-40, my first single-seat airplane.

“The P-40 was just awesome; it was unbe­lievable. The engine stuck way out in front, and you couldn’t see over it when you got in it. When you started to take off, you were looking at the sky because you couldn’t see the runway,” recalls Jones. “You just picked a point out there and flew. Those models we checked out in had about 1,200hp and had a tremendous amount of torque. Someone later told me, when they learned I was a P-40 pilot, ‘Well, I know your right leg’s a lot longer than your left one!’ You can’t imagine how much torque and P-factor there was. It was different from anything we’d flown in training.”

Read the article from the August 2019 issue of Flight Journal.

by Sparky Barnes Sargent

Updated: February 25, 2020 — 11:57 AM
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