Half a Wing, Three Engines and a Prayer

Half a Wing, Three Engines and a Prayer, is a book about B-17 crews and missions in World War II, written by Brian D. O'Neill. He is also the author of 303rd Bombardment Group, on the same subject.

During Vietnam, O'Neill served with the U.S. Navy as a destroyer gunner officer and shipyard repair officer. Since then he became an attorney and the General Counsel of Curtiss-Wright Corporation, the aviation company that had manufactured the P-40 Warhawk fighter and the Cyclone B-17 engines during World War II.[1]

The narrative relies heavily on crew diaries and Eighth Air Force registry. The author usually gives a brief description of the upcoming events and the event itself is shown through the tales of various crew members.[2] Each downed Fortress or enemy fighter shot down was usually witnessed by various people, since each B-17 carried ten crew members, including four officers (pilot, co-pilot, navigator and bombardier) and six enlisted men (engineer, ball turret gunner, radioman, tail gunner and two waist gunners).

The story centers around the crew of pilot Lt. Robert J. Hullar,[3][4] from the 303d Bombardment Group. Each crew was put together and trained since before going to the European Theater of Operations, and sometimes concluding the 25-mission tour at the same time.

See also


  • Half a Wing, Three Engines and a Prayer. McGraw-Hill Companies, 1999. ISBN 978-0-07-134145-5
  • 303rd Bombardment Group. Osprey Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1841765376 and 9781841765372


  1. ^ Noble, Barnes &. "Half a Wing, Three Engines and a Prayer". Barnes & Noble.
  2. ^ "Weston Military History Group".
  3. ^ "303rd Books and Media". www.303rdbg.com.
  4. ^ "World War II History (WWarII.com)".
303rd Air Expeditionary Group

The 303rd Air Expeditionary Group is a provisional United States Air Force unit. In 2011, it was assigned to United States Air Forces Europe to activate or inactivate as needed.

The unit was first activated as the 303rd Bombardment Group in February 1942. During World War II, the 303rd was one of the first VIII Bomber Command B-17 Flying Fortress units in England. The group's "Hell's Angels" is recognized by the USAF as the first B-17 to complete 25 combat missions in the ETO on May 13, 1943, six days before the Memphis Belle, though 12 days after Delta Rebel 2. The group went on to fly more than 300 combat missions, more than any other B-17 group in the theater. The B-17 "Knock-out Dropper" was the first aircraft in Eighth Air Force to complete 50, then 75 missions. The group was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation for completing an attack against a heavily defended target in January 1944.

The group was twice activated for brief periods by Strategic Air Command (SAC). During the first of these periods, from July 1947 to September 1948, the group was not equipped or manned. It was again activated at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona in September 1951. However, SAC reorganized its combat wings to assign operational squadrons directly to the wing headquarters in June 1952 and the group was again inactivated.

Air Force Materiel Command activated the Global Hawk Systems Group in January 2005 during a reorganization called the Air Force Materiel Command Transformation to manage the acquisition and development of the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk. This group was consolidated with the 303rd as the 303rd Aeronautical Systems Group in June 2006. The consolidated group was inactivated in June 2010 when AF Materiel Command returned to its traditional directorate systems management organization.

Barney Rawlings

Bernard (Barney) Wayne Rawlings (1920 – July 19, 2004) was the Eighth Air Force co-pilot of the B-17 bomber, "G.I. Sheets", which was shot down over Belgium in 1944. With the aid of resistance fighters in Belgium and France, Rawlings made his way to Spain where, after a brief incarceration, he was repatriated. His story is recounted in Half a Wing, Three Engines, and a Prayer by Brian D. O'Neill (McGraw-Hill Professional, 1999), and The Last Airman, by Roger Rawlings (Harper & Row, 1989).

Following the war, Barney Rawlings became a pilot for Trans World Airlines, ultimately becoming a 747 captain. He retired in 1987.

A year prior to his retirement, he and the surviving members of his World War II crew returned to Belgium where, in the town of Solre-Saint-Géry, a granite monument had been erected in their honor - and, by extension, in honor of all Allied air crews who fought for the liberation of Europe. The dedication ceremony included presentations by NATO, the United States Air Force, and the Belgian Air Force, which conducted a fly-over by four Belgian jet aircraft.

Bibliography of World War II

This is a bibliography of works on World War II.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engined heavy bomber developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). Competing against Douglas and Martin for a contract to build 200 bombers, the Boeing entry (prototype Model 299/XB-17) outperformed both competitors and exceeded the air corps' performance specifications. Although Boeing lost the contract (to the Douglas B-18 Bolo) because the prototype crashed, the air corps ordered 13 more B-17s for further evaluation. From its introduction in 1938, the B-17 Flying Fortress evolved through numerous design advances, becoming the third-most produced bomber of all time, behind the four-engined B-24 and the multirole, twin-engined Ju 88.

The B-17 was primarily employed by the USAAF in the daylight strategic bombing campaign of World War II against German industrial and military targets. The United States Eighth Air Force, based at many airfields in central, eastern and southern England, and the Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, complemented the RAF Bomber Command's nighttime area bombing in the Combined Bomber Offensive to help secure air superiority over the cities, factories and battlefields of Western Europe in preparation for the invasion of France in 1944. The B-17 also participated to a lesser extent in the War in the Pacific, early in World War II, where it conducted raids against Japanese shipping and airfields.From its prewar inception, the USAAC (by June 1941, the USAAF) promoted the aircraft as a strategic weapon; it was a relatively fast, high-flying, long-range bomber with heavy defensive armament at the expense of bombload. It developed a reputation for toughness based upon stories and photos of badly damaged B-17s safely returning to base. The B-17 dropped more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft in World War II. Of approximately 1.5 million tons of bombs dropped on Nazi Germany and its occupied territories by U.S. aircraft, over 640,000 tons were dropped from B-17s. In addition to its role as a bomber, the B-17 was also employed as a transport, antisubmarine aircraft, drone controller, and search-and-rescue aircraft.

As of October 2019, 9 aircraft remain airworthy, though none of them were ever flown in combat. Dozens more are in storage or on static display. The oldest of these is a D-series flown in combat in the Pacific and the Caribbean.

Brian D. O'Neill

Brian D. O'Neill is an American author and attorney, best known for Half a Wing, Three Engines and a Prayer, a book about the U.S. Eighth Air Force and B-17 crews and missions in World War II. He is also the author of 303rd Bombardment Group, about the same subject.

Born into a U.S. Air Force family in 1949, O'Neill's growing up years were spent on many Air Force bases throughout the United States, at a time when piston-engined aircraft a generation or two behind the B-17 were still in wide use. His Air Force upbringing fostered a lifelong interest in World War II aviation history. After graduating from the University of Maryland in 1971, O'Neill served with the U.S. Navy for three years, first as a destroyer gunnery officer and then as a shipyard repair officer at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Upon leaving military service he became an attorney and the General Counsel of Curtiss-Wright Corporation, the aviation company that had manufactured the P-40 Warhawk fighter and the Cyclone B-17 engines during World War II. In 2001 O'Neill left corporate life to enter the private practice of law. As of 2013 he manages a very active immigration and employment law firm based in Morristown, New Jersey.

Forrest L. Vosler

Forrest Lee Vosler, (July 29, 1923 - February 17, 1992) was a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress radio operator who was the second enlisted U.S. airman to receive the Medal of Honor. He also received the Air Medal and Purple Heart.


Yardbird is a word that has had several informal meanings.

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