In the modern day military, senior leaders travel in specially equipped 737’s, Gulfstream G-Vs and Learjets. Every once in a while, they’ll travel in a specially equipped C-17 or C-130 to visit the troops downrange. Military leaders rarely need to risk their safety to make strategic decisions. Back in World War II though, things were different. There weren’t satellites or drones to get a bird’s eye view of the battlespace. Imaging, even from fighter aircraft, wasn’t that great either. The only way to truly see the battlefield would be to secretly fly over it.
On July 4th 1944, General Eisenhower decided that he wanted to see the site of the future Battle of the Bulge for himself. General Eisenhower hopped in the back of a brand new P-51 flown by Maj General Pete Quesada. The P-51 had it’s fuel tank removed and a small seat was placed behind the pilot. The space was so small that General Eisenhower didn’t even have room to wear a parachute. Escorted by three fighters, the P-51 snuck 50 miles behind German lines to get a first hand perspective to where the first battle would take place.
While the flight was intended to remain a secret, Quesada landed in front of an “entourage” of media. His flight made the front page of the New York Times. According to the book Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life, Eisenhower endured admonishment from Marshall after the flight.
Here’s video proof of the flight:
Special thanks to Boneyard Safari for uncovering video proof of the flight!