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Pioneer Honored, Treated to F-22A Simulator Ride

The bravery and quick thinking of Ralph Davis saved his crew and aircraft, Sept. 26, 1944,
and earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross that was presented to him March 22, 2006.

By René Boston / Air Force Research Laboratory, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio, March 30, 2006 – It was Sept. 26, 1944, and 1st. Lt. Ralph Davis, who'd just finished a run hauling gasoline in his B-24 "Southern Clipper", thought he might relax on the way home.

Only this trip turned out to be a little more demanding than the usual gas run. 

A pilot with the 467th Bombardment Group, based at Rackheath Airfield, England, Davis was flying a mission for the 790th, a squadron that occasionally hauled 80-octane gasoline instead of bombs to support U.S. ground forces when his aircraft came under heavy attack.

His bravery and quick thinking that day saved his crew and aircraft, and earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross, presented to him March 22, 2006 by Lt. Gen. Jack Hudson, Aeronautical Systems Center commander.

"Transporting gas was not uncommon in those days," Davis recalled about the harrowing event.

"Our nearly month-long stand-down from bombing to fly fuel support was crucial to the early advance across France,” he said. “General Patton's tanks were moving so fast that ground support had problems keeping fuel available for tanks and other ground vehicles.”

"The good thing about living in this country and working in our Air Force is that, when we make a mistake like this, we fix it."

Dr. Ralph Davis

"We were enjoying the sights at 1,800 feet, doing 165 knots, when all of a sudden there must have been a dramatic change in wind direction and velocity, which threw us off course,” Davis explained. "I realized that when I looked down and saw small, pinpoint flashes from below."

"So I asked my navigator for a new course. Suddenly, however, there were flak bursts all around us," he said. “I knew we were in for it."

Then Davis said he remembered the tactics one of his instructors told him to try if he was ever caught in low-level fire.

As he made his first maneuver, he noticed flak bursts were now directly on his old course.

The same held true throughout the rest of his maneuvers, which allowed him to get his B-24 and seven crewmembers out of range.

"We made it back and, during our debriefing, were told in that situation, with our airspeed and altitude we'd had perhaps a million in one chance of making it home, " Davis said. "Indeed, we took close to 100 hits, though nothing hard enough to take us down."

Although he'd heard he was getting a medal for his heroism, it fell through the cracks and Davis forgot about it for many years, while he returned to civilian life and the "land of hamburgers and malts."

He joined the Reserves and pursued a distinguished career in Air Force Civil Service with the organization that became Aeronautical Systems Center.

See Caption.
Dr. Ralph Davis, recent Distinguished Flying Cross recipient, sits in the cockpit of the F-22A Raptor simulator at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio and gets instructions from Daniel Conroy of Lockheed Martin, Marietta, Ga. U.S. Air Force photo by Laura McGowan

He attended the University of Cincinnati and received a doctorate in management from Columbia Pacific University; worked on numerous weapon systems including tri-service and foreign military sales programs for missiles; fighter, bomber and cargo aircraft; helicopters; trainers and simulators and became deputy director of the Fighter Attack System Program Office before he retired.

Davis retired from the Reserves in 1963 and from civil service in 1986.

He then found time to begin work on a unit citation for his old bomb group, which reminded him of the long-62 years' long-overdue medal.

Davis followed up with friends from the old bomb group and his congressman, and, this past February, the award finally arrived.

Hudson presented the Distinguished Flying Cross to Davis in a formal ceremony here during Commanders Call.

"This is a special event," he said, "because Davis is an Aeronautical Systems Center alumnus and because the opportunity to recognize WWII veterans gets slimmer each year. Sixteen million Americans served during WWII, and as of a few years ago, about four million of those were still with us, so we're real fortunate to have a veteran with us today who flew in WWII and is also a Distinguished Flying Cross recipient."

Commenting on the time it took to receive the medal, the general added, "The good thing about living in this country and working in our Air Force is that, when we make a mistake like this, we fix it."

The audience of nearly 400 supported his sentiment by giving Davis a standing ovation. 

Davis was also invited to visit Aeronautical Systems Center's F-22 System Program Office after the ceremony.

While there he "flew" a cockpit simulator of the Raptor, on display this week courtesy of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company.

Demonstrating sharp aviation skills, he "shot down" four enemy aircraft and safely landed the F-22 simulator.

"Quite an advancement from the aircraft I used to fly," said the 82-year-old aviator and Aeronautical Systems Center pioneer, with a smile.

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