Pilots of the 506th Fighter Group

Captain Abner Aust

Pilot: Abner Aust | Nickname: none | Rank: Captain | Squadron: 457th | Plane: n/a | Name: n/a | S/N: n/a

Captain Aust was the last Fighter Ace of WWII

of Capt. Aust with his plane that survived Iwo Jima

Colonel Abner M. Aust Jr. graduated from the Army Air Corps flying school at Luke Field in April 1943. His class was the first at Luke to fly the P40 before graduation. Flew P39, P40, P47, P51, A24 and A26 air­craft as a fighter instructor before going into combat. He flew P51s from Guam, Tinian, and Iwo Jima with the 506th Very long Range Fighter Group.

Colonel Aust's first encounter with the enemy occurred over Nagoya, Japan. He attacked six Franks and when the fight was over he had destroyed three and damaged three more. On 17 July 1945, Abner Aust led an 8 aircraft sweep over the main island of Honshu. This sweep started about 100 miles NE of Tokyo and ended South­east of Tokyo at a very well camouflaged fighter base. After repeated attacks on this field, the score was 26 aircraft destroyed or damaged. Aust was credited with 3 destroyed and 3 damaged.

On 10 August 1945, Colonel Aust probably became the last Ace of WWII when he destroyed 2 Japanese aircraft and damaged one other. On several other missions, he was credited with destroying several trains, at least three large fishing boats and damaging one destroyer.

Tally Record: 8 destroyed, 7 damaged. 5 air 3 ground.

Colonel Aust flew with the following fighter groups and wings: 83rd, 506th, 36th, 20th, 12th, 33rd, 388th, 31st and 3rd. He commanded the 33rd, 31st and 3rd TFWs. He commanded the 31st TFW in Vietnam and during his tour he flew 300 combat missions over South and North Vietnam. Colonel Aust was awarded the Legion of Merit, DFC with 3 clusters, Bronze Star, Air Medal with 25 clusters and three high ranking Vietnam decorations.

Colonel Aust retired on 1 July 1972 after 30 years of active duty mostly in fighter units and fighter operations. He first flew jet aircraft in 1947 and he flew almost every jet fighter except the F86. He flew the P51, F100 and F4 in combat. He had acquired about 7000 hours with over 500 in combat when he retired. He prepared the first copy of the Fighter Tactics/Doctrine Manual in 1963 and originated many improvements in fighter operations and fighter aircraft.


Artist Dave Ails depiction of Capt. Aust scoring victory number #5 just south of Tokyo, 10 Aug 1945Photo Credit: Artist Dave Ails - depiction of Capt. Aust scoring victory
number #5 just south of Tokyo, 10 Aug 1945

During my second year of Sunflower Junior College, the civilian pilot program began in September 1941.  I entered the program and soloed a J-2 piper cub in about 6 rides.  I even helped build a runway on college property. After 15 of us finished 40 hours of flying and all the ground school required for being certified as a pilot, we, with our two instructors drove to Johnson, Mississippi the state Capital for our licenses. That is when I discovered I did not have a birth certificate as I was born at home located in Scooba, Mississippi. I had been home over the weekend and returned to the college about 8PM Sunday afternoon December 7, 1941. Six or seven of us J-2 cub pilots were listening to a radio in one of our rooms when the radio announced that Pearl  Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese.

When we complete the J-2 cub program and the 1st semester, my room-mate Alvin Mox Juckhiem left the college and joined the Air Force Aviation Cadet program. He wanted me to go with him, but I decided to graduate from the 2 year college and Mr. Howard, our head instructor had flown in a new UPF Waco which was better than the P-17 used for primary training by the Army Air Corps. I entered the secondary CPT program and completed in about 15 June, 1942. About 15 of us drove to Greenville Air Base and took the Aviation Cadet written and physical examination. The Sgt. in charge asked each of us starting on the front row how soon could we leave for training. Everyone had some reasons for not leaving for a month or six weeks. Since I was the last one, I told him if I pass both exams, I am ready to leave this afternoon. I passed both with flying colors and had 80 hours of flying time.
My only problem was I had not received my birth certificate from Jackson, Mississippi. The Sgt.. told me to come back over as soon as I received it.  On 23 June, 1942 my birth certificate arrived in the morning mail so I drove to Greenville Air Base took another physical and enlisted in the Aviation Cadet program. They remembered that I was ready to go. My orders arrived on about 1 July, 1942 with reservations on a train from Jackson, MS to Los Angeles, CA. I departed about July 5 and arrived in Santa Ana, CA on July 9, 1942. Instead of being Maurice Aust, I became Abner Maurice Aust, Jr. and have been Abner since that day. I was transferred to Oxnard a Calaro L… primary flying school. I had Jack Broron while at Santa Anna and he had his own car Oxnard, Bakersfield Basic Training and Luke Field for advance.

Myself and 4 other cadets were assigned to an instructor who had been a crop duster pilot. He was not a very good instructor and I really think he was afraid of the airplane. He never soloed any of us and washed out the other four cadets. The squadron operations officer flew one flight with me and told me to go fly by myself. Later on a cross-country flight, the crop duster instructor let a cadet hit a power line landing at Santa Barbara. I continued to fly with the operations officer and the Commander so I never was scheduled for a formal flight check, as I got one every time I flew with them.

On weekend, Jack and I met some young girls and their families in Santa Barbara. We were both 20 when we met them and I turned 21 on October 7, 1942.  These girls were 14 and 15; their mothers would let them go with us during the day, butwe had to have them home before dark. That was ok because normally we had dinner with them and would come back on Sunday for another tour of the country around Santa Barbara.

I had met a young girl and her mother on the train to California.  Her family had a large grape vineyard before arriving in Los Angeles. She and I corresponded by letters, but I was never able to go visit her.

I arrived at Bakersfield about 1 December 1942 and the weather was foggy most of the time. My instructor, a 1st Lieutenant Owen had to have his appendix out after I soloed, so again I flew with Sqdn…… and commander and did not have to take a flight check again. The weather was so bad after Christmas that we moved to Bishop, California. This base was north of Edwards Air Force Base and the elevation was about 4500 feet. We were there for 10 days and I flew 40 hours and then back to Bakersfield AB to graduate and to move to Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona.

Jack Brown and I were assigned to the same instructor flying the AT6 North American trainer. During advanced, I learned to shoot skeet and some days I would shoot all day if I was scheduled to fly. I finally learned about leading the bird. Jack Brown was better at skeet, aerial and ground gunnery because he had hunted birds and deer with a shoot. I had only shoot a shot gun once in my life and …. had torn some skin off my right thumb. During advanced “God is my Copilot”, Scott spent some time with us at Luke. I think he convinced The Commander to let us fly P-4o in advanced.  I volunteered to fly the P-40, but Jack Brown did not. There were about 140 volunteers for the P-40 program and we got 10 hours each. Those that flew the P-40 were assigned to fighter wings and my friend Jack and all the other cadets were assigned to B-17 Bombers.

I was assigned to the 43rd Fighter Group, at Page Field at Ft. Meyers, Florida after about 15 days leave at home in Belzoni, Mississippi. When I arrived at the Air Base at Tallahassee, I ran into my old college roommate. He had gone to Nashville, TN and stayed there for almost 9 months awaiting a space in a primary flying school. He graduated at Sense advanced flying school and graduated at the end of March 1943. I graduated April 12, 1943 from Luke Air Force Base as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Corp Reserve instead of the Army of the U.S. Max was flying P-47 and departed for Europe when he finished the P-47 training.

He was assigned to a P-47 Fighter Group in England and was credited with 9 German fighters. He had a mid-air collision with a P-51 at 25,000, bailed and was captured by the Germans. He escaped on his third try. In 1988, I spent one afternoon with Max Jackheim getting up to date on the past 45 years of travelling around the world.

Once I arrived at Ft. Meyers, Florida, Page Field turned out to be mosquito heaven. My first flight in a P-39 Bell Airacobra was led by a 1st Lieutenant Hiersman. Since I was a new 2nd Lieutenant just out of flying school, he really put me through some maneuvers that I had never done before. I locked into position not too far behind him and I am sure he was trying to lose me, but I said to myself that if he could do this kind of flying that I could follow him. The P-39 could be a tricky airplane because it was known for its’ flat spin characteristics. When Lieutenant Hiersman decided maybe I could fly a P-39, I moved out from the slot position onto his right wing. After I became an instructor, I usually put a flight of 6 in trail formation and do all kinds of acrobatics preparing the new pilots for combat. One flight after pulling up into a slow roll over cloud, I looked back and I saw smoke coming up from the ground. My number two man had let his airspeed bleed off and he ended up in a flat spin. He bailed out and landed safely. I never had a problem flying the P-39; it was easy to taxi because of the tricycle landing gear.

We switched from the P-39s to P-47s. it was a much heavier fighter. I towed a lot of aerial target with the P-47. After I dropped the target level pass down the runway, I would climb about 12,000 feet. I would roll-over and head-down at 600 MPH at about 50 feet above the runway. Several times I would do slow roll. Since these were not approved, I spent several months as runway control officer for showing off. Young pilots were not supposed to do these things as the older knew better. During this time period, July to December, 1943, very or any radios worked so the tower or runway control used red and green lights to direct traffic.

We traded the P-47s for new P-40Ns which I really enjoyed flying. On several occasions I could out-dog-fight an AT 6. The P-40 was not very fast; it was a real acrobatic aircraft. On one air-to-air gunnery mission against a sleve target, I got 208 hits for 200 rounds fired. One air-to-ground with F-45 with the
gatlin 20MM gun I scored 108 hits for 100 rounds fired. It would have been nice to have had the gatlin during WWII. The day I destroyed 3 and damaged 3, it would probably have been 6 destroyed.

The Air Force in September and October 1944 formed the 506 Fighter Wing from pilots from Page Field and Venice Air Base.  This was to be a very long range outfit equipped with the P-51 D aircraft. I nor any of my pilots had ever even looked in the cockpit of this fighter. We loaded up 16 pilots at Drone Field, Lakeland, Florida and flew to Sarasota to pick up 16 fighters. I did a preflight or walk-around the P-51D assigned to me.  Since I knew nothing about the P-51, I had the crew chief walk around with me and then I had him start the engine. We took off in two ship formation and climbed to about 10,000 feet to practice some stall gear and flaps up and then everything down as if landing. You did not take your right off the stick very long as the P-51 had a mind of its’ own.

IWO

The day the 457 TFS arrived in Iwo Jima, the US Marines had killed a lot of Japs around our runway. When I landed and pulled into our packing area, there were dead Jap bodies lying all around the area. In those days, most Japanese had a lot of gold teeth, but the Marines had accomplished a lot of dental work on the dead Japanese soldiers. Since our runway was on the northeast corner of the island, the Seabees just pushed all the dead bodies over the cliff that afternoon.

I remember one morning the fog was real thick. Several B-29s had serious battle damage and because of the thick fog, they could not land. It normally took about two passes over Iwo to bail out all the crew members. Many of the crew members landed among our airplanes because the fog was so thick. I remember early one night we received an air raid warning of enemy aircraft approaching, Two Betty bombers came in very low over our housing area. They were so low that they flew into the ground. The crashed enemy almost ended up on the B-29 runway burning. The next morning I drove over to the crash site. The dead bodies were thrown clear of the Betty bomber. Iwo Jima was about 5 miles long and 1 ½ miles wide at the widest point. There were 3 P-51 Fighter Wings, 1 P-47N Fighter Wing and various other C-47s and B-29s located on the big runway.  There were three runways on the island.

You can find Aust's full personal rendering of his becoming an Ace over the skies of Japan in the book "The 506th Fighter Group, Iwo Jima, 1945". available here.

 

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