O'Fallon Progress

Experimental fighter crashed in farmer’s field as pilot parachuted to safety

A bit after 1 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 15, 1943, quite a bit of buzz was generated by the crash of an airplane just 50 feet north of Theodore Schwaegel’s farmhouse, about 1.5 miles southwest of central O’Fallon.

Witnesses said the pilot was experiencing trouble and parachuted to safety in a field on the Victor Rasp farm before the plane nosedived into the ground, without catching fire, two miles distant. Army officers from Scott Field quickly took control of the scene, keeping mum about everything for “military reasons.”

As it turns out, the plane was a Curtiss-Wright XP-55 Ascender, the first of only three prototypes of this fighter aircraft. Having taken off from Lambert Field, pilot J. Harvey Gray was testing the plane’s “stall performance at altitude” when it “suddenly flipped over on its back and fell in an uncontrolled, inverted descent” for 16,000 feet before he could parachute to safety.

What did it look like? The sole surviving prototype of the fighter, never put into production, is on display at the Air Zoo in Portage, Michigan, on loan from the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.

75 years ago, Nov. 18, 1943. With her husband absent at 10 o’clock Monday night, Mrs. J.G. Martin, of Rural Route 1, heard a disturbance in the rear of their home and surmised that thieves were removing tires from a truck. Taking her husband’s revolver, she opened the back door and fired three shots in the direction of the garage. She saw the form of a fleeing man and when her husband returned home an investigation revealed that a tire from his truck had been removed which the sneak dropped in his hasty getaway.

50 years ago, Nov. 21, 1968. The “once in a lifetime” thrill came last week to veteran bowler, Bill Lehman, O’Fallon barber who racked up a perfect “300” game in the Wednesday night league at the O’Fallon Sports Bowl.