The PT-17A was a Boeing-Stearman Model 75 biplane, known as a “Kaydet,” built as a training aircraft. Stearman Aircraft became a subsidiary of Boeing in 1934. It was a trainer for the USAAF, USN, and the Royal Canadian Air Force. After WW II, thousands were sold as civilian aircraft and used as cropdusters.
On 23 October 1944, a PT-17A, # 16499, “Bouncing Betsy,” assigned to 10th Air Force, 80th Fighter Group, 88th Fighter Squadron, at Shingbwiyang, Burma, departed the airfield at Tingawk Sakan, Burma, for a training flight to Shingbwiyang. It was last contacted by radio over Maingkwan, Burma, at about 1100 hours local. Aboard were:
Pilot 2ndLt William Henry Wunder 0-695120
Passenger/Instructor 1stLt James Edward McElroy 0-1549327
It was last seen by Capt. Brooks S. Emrick, 0-728618, and 1stLt James L. Bush, 0-1553231. Capt. Emrick reported that he was flying Lt. Bush to “Hardtack” on a routine flight when he passed a PT-17A he recognized as one belonging to 88th Fighter Squadron. This was in the vicinity of Maingkwan and the PT-17A was on course for Shingbwiyang. 1stLt Bush reported the same.
Capt. Benjamin G. McClintock, 90th Fighter Squadron reported that he spoke with Lt. Wunder, 88th Fighter Squadron, in the Operations Building of the 90th F.S. Lt. Bush said he was flying back to Shingbwiyang in a PT-17A. Capt. McClintock asked Lt. Bush to pass a message to Major Becker for him. Lt. Wunder left Operations. Capt. McClintock next saw the PT-17A with the engine running on the airstrip. Upon hearing the Lt. Wunder was missing, he found out the PT-17A departed at 1045 hours. Maj. Robert J. Becker reported that he first learned of the missing PT-17A when it did not land at the airfield at Shingbwiyang. He called the 90th F.S. and spoke with Capt. McClintock, the 90th F.S. Operations Officer. He told Maj. Becker the above. Maj. Becker checked with Fighter Control at Myitkyina, Tingkawk-Sakan, and Kanjikoah, with no results. Capt. Emrick, who flew an A-24, passed on his information to Maj. Becker. The morning of 24 Oct. 1944, Maj. Becker made his first search flight flying an A-24 with an observer, departing Shingbwiyang at 0705 hours. They searched possible emergency landing openings and found nothing. The Air Jungle Rescue Detachment at Tingkawk-Sakan, commanded by Lt. Kelly, was notified of the missing PT-17A on 23 Oct. 1944.
The crashed PT-17A was found and 1stLt McElroy’s body recovered. 2ndLt Wunder was missing.