Nazi war planes at
Seymour, Ind., subject of TV show
The captured aircraft
were brought there during WWII
SEYMOUR, Ind. (May 2014) – Hidden beneath the ground in an Indiana cornfield lie scattered remnants of Nazi war aircraft. Yet, these pieces are not the remains of an untold dogfight above Midwestern skies, but rather, of a secret military program that took place at Freeman Army Air Field in Seymour in the final months of World War II.
On the Air
An encore airing of the show “Diggers,” featuring the unearthing of World War II enemy planes buried at Seymour’s Freeman Field, is planned for 10:30 p.m. Friday, May 2, on the National Geographic Channel.
Photo courtesy of Freeman
Army Air Field Museum
This exhibit at Freeman Field
in Seymour, Ind., shows some
of the many relics of Nazi
war planes buried there.
Official USAAF photo
The FE-119 is pictured in Europe
soon after it was captured in
Germany and brought back to
the United States for test and evaluation. It was the last
known fighter flown by German
Josef "Pips" Priller. Once captured,
it was marked with temporary American stars.
Official USAAF photo
This is another example of the
many German war planes that
were captured during World War
II and brought to Freeman Field
in Seymour, Ind. to be studied.
Official USAAF photo
Lt. William Haynes is pictured
fourth from the left in this 1945 photograph. He was the pilot who
was flying the Focke Wulf-190
when it crashed at Freeman Field.
From 1943-1945, Freeman Field served as “an Army Air Corp training field where pilots came to learn multi-engine training,” explains Larry Bothe, one of the directors of the Freeman Army Air Field Museum.
Jan Sipes of the Freeman Field Flying Association said, “This was such a busy place during the war.” The Tuskegee Airman were among those who trained at the field. After the war in Europe ended, but while fighting continued in the Pacific Theater, the site became something of Indiana’s own Area 51, with enemy aircraft brought to the site for testing.
Captured Japanese and German planes were transported to Freeman Field, along with other foreign aircraft after the war, so that their secrets and hidden weaknesses could be uncovered. Scientists and pilots undertook the dangerous work, hoping to unlock any technological advances that could be used, either in the construction of their own planes or to lay out strategies for how to combat the enemy fighters.
“Some were re-assembled and test flown; others were disassembled and taken apart to see what the enemy knew that we didn’t,” says Bothe. He estimates that at one point there were approximately 160 planes on site to be studied.
“Many sacrifices were made getting the technology to the United States and testing it. Many of our advances in aeronautics and rocketry were made possible by thousands of men and women who devoted their energy to this purpose,” said David Gray, one of the founders of the Freeman Field Recovery Team.
When the testing program ended, the planes that were still flyable were dispersed to museums all across the country, while the ones that were in pieces were buried at Freeman Field in large pits.
“Back then, those bits and pieces were considered junk. In early 1947, they were junk. Today, we call those artifacts,” Bothe said.
Over the years, tales continued to circulate about the exotic aircraft hidden beneath the ground. “I was born in Seymour. I heard the story from my dad and my uncle about the buried airplanes,” says Gray. While the tales of foreign aircraft sounded like a fanciful urban legend, Gray recalls, “I always believed what they told me.”
There were plenty of eyewitness accounts from people who had seen the aircraft being buried to back up the family stories, and about five years ago, Gray, who now lives in Plainfield, Ill., approached the city of Seymour about working to find some of the pieces of hidden history. The Freeman Field Recovery Team has already had success, and Gray explains that so far they have been able to dig up propeller blades, parts of cockpits and weapons from incredibly rare aircraft.
“Parts that we found are very rare, very difficult to find,” he says.
Last fall, the hunt for pieces from one of the most infamous planes to be housed at Freeman Field began to heat up. In 1945, Lt. William Haynes, 20, was killed while flying a Focke-Wulf 190. Haynes suffered the catastrophic crash during a demonstration presented for airline officials and other dignitaries. The plane had been flown by famed German fighter ace Josef “Pips” Priller, known for shooting down 101 aircraft in World War II.
In November 2013, the reality show “Diggers” came to Freeman Field to document the hunt for pieces of the Focke-Wulf 190. The episode, “Lost Nazi Plane,” originally aired March 11 on the National Geographic Channel. An encore showing is scheduled to air May 2 on the same channel. The episode may also be seen online at DirecTV.com or on Hulu. The series follows Montana metal detector enthusiasts “King” George Wyant and Tim “The Ringmaster” Saylor as they travel the country, looking to turn up historical artifacts and treasures. Their infectious joy and quirky humor shows that the relics of the past still have the power to touch emotions today. The team asked to come and take part in the work being done at Freeman Air Field in light of the plane pieces that had already been discovered at the site and the expectation that there was still much more to find.
During the November dig, it was revealed that the Focke-Wulf had gone down at slightly different location than previously believed. Several fragments were recovered, as well as some larger pieces that could be positively connected to the Nazi plane.
“The thing that was the biggest surprise was that we happened to find the little I.D. plate of the pilot’s stick grip control – the last thing the pilot was holding when he slammed into the ground,” Gray said. He was personally thrilled that his three children were the ones to uncover the machine gun shown in the episode, and says proudly, “My 16-year-old cheerleader daughter is the one that I.D.-ed it!”
The machine gun is currently undergoing restoration but will then go on display at the Freeman Army Air Field. Gray said he plans to return this summer to continue the search for more relics.
Bothe’s interest in the museum was initially sparked from his love of flying rather than of history. “I’m a pilot and also a flight instructor,” he explains, and so “I got to know people at the airport.” He found himself drawn in by the field’s storied past and has been an active supporter of the museum, serving as a past president. He has assisted in improving the museum’s exhibits.
“We have spent the last year and a half reorganizing the museum,” he says. Museum officials are considering holding an Open House next fall to celebrate all the work that has been done.
“It’s so much fun just to go out and see what they’ve unearthed,” says Sipes.
• The Freeman Army Air Field Museum is open 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays. For more information, call (812) 522-2031. The Freeman Field Recovery Team can be found on Facebook.
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