Back to news listing

Curator's Corner: Flak Magnet

Regular readers of From the Flight Deck will remember that last summer the museum received a donation related to the combat career of 2nd Lt. Jack Hillary, one of the pilots who flew the B-17 “Thunderbird” in World War II. These items provide glimpses into his life and death and tell a compelling story about one of the brave young men who flew combat missions in World War II. 

Recently another such collection was offered to the museum from the family of a B-17 tail gunner who survived the war. The rich collection of objects, photos and archival material personalizes just one of the many wartime service experiences.

The donation from Randy Robertson of Ellinger, Texas belonged to his late father, William, who was part of a B-17 Flying Fortress crew operating with the 562nd Bomb Squadron of the 388th Bomb Group in the 8th Air Force, at RAF Knettishall, England. 

Robertson completed 31 missions as a tail gunner from December 1944 through May, 1945. The collection contains familiar service memorabilia like medals, uniform components, escape maps and photos, but there are several especially unique items Mr. Robertson saved from his time in combat. The largest artifact in the donation is a leather flight jacked adorned with group and squadron patches, and artwork of a B-17 with the name “Flak Magnet” painted on the back. Research has not yet uncovered an aircraft in the 562nd BS with the name “Flak Magnet,” and it is thought that Robertson possibly got that nickname after a mission where he was struck by chunks of flak from German anti-aircraft fire that penetrated his tail compartment. 

Even rarer, is his collection of large cotter pins that were removed from the bombs before a mission to arm them. On each pin’s tag William wrote the mission number, date, target and notes about the flight. The information is duplicated with entries in a pocket notebook diary with additional details. The pins were Robertson’s physical charms that he had lived through another day and was one mission closer to coming home, something that so many of his fellow squadron-mates were unable to do. In addition, all of Robertson’s orders, which he saved, chronicle his life in the service from induction to separation, capped off by a telegram to his family in San Antonio saying “Leaving tonight. Will see you tomorrow. Love “Mr Robertson.”

The Robertson collection was the first donation to be submitted to the museum that was reviewed by the newly reinstated Collections Committee, consisting of members of the staff and the board. As a group, the committee reviews the items that are offered to the museum to make sure that they support the Lone Star Flight Museum’s mission, and that they tell a compelling story about Texans and Texas aviation. Other factors such as duplicity and condition are taken into consideration in order to ensure the donations are appropriate for the museum. 

Like all museums, as LSFM has grown and changed over the years, its collection has grown and been supported through the generosity of donors who bring in items of interest. On behalf of the Collections Committee, we would like to ask that any members thinking of donating objects or artifacts to the museum wait until after we have made the move to our new home at Ellington Airport, allowing us time to evaluate our collection needs. We look forward to highlighting the current collection to our members and visitors; helping to bring to life stories of people like “Flak Magnet” William Robertson, and the thousands of others who make up the history of Texas aviation.
 Below is a picture of Robertson's collection of large cotter pins that were removed from the bombs before a mission to arm them. The information on each pin’s tag - date, target and notes about the flight - is duplicated with entries in a pocket notebook diary with additional details. The pins were Robertson’s physical charms that he had lived through another day.
 

Other news

We are looking for passionate aviation enthusiate who want to give back to the Houston community and become a volunteer at the new Lone Star Flight Museum!

Only the second one of its kind in the U.S., the Aviation Learning Center at the Lone Star Flight Museum immerses visitors in the energy and excitement of flight through a hands-on learning experience.

75-F6F-Hellcat-USS-Lexington-1943-World-War-II.jpg

In less than six weeks we will complete a journey that began nearly eight years ago! We want you to get exclusive access to the museum before it opens its doors.