Written by Stephen Shapiro
Thomas Robert “Bob” Vaucher was just 9 years old when Charles Lindbergh flew into history with his flight across the Atlantic in 1927, instantly becoming the idol of young boys everywhere—including Bob. Little did the Bridgewater resident know he would fly into history as well: Vaucher’s achievements were recognized on Oct. 15 with his induction into the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame.
Inspired by Lindbergh, and his older sister’s boyfriend who was a crop duster, Vaucher learned to fly before the United States entered World War II and in 1941 was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Air Forces (AAF). By the end of the war, he had flown the B-17, B-18, B-24 and the B-29 on 117 combat missions in virtually every theater: the North Atlantic, Caribbean, Near Pacific, India—including 26 missions over the Hump (the Himalayas)—China, Southeast Asia, Mariana Islands, and Japan.
His final mission was on Sept. 2, 1945, when he served as commander of the United States “Show of Force,” leading the greatest air armada in history—525 B-29s, accompanied by many naval aircraft, over the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay as the Japanese signed the formal surrender.
“In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have thought I would be standing up here at 95 years of age,” Vaucher said upon his induction.
Vaucher was the first to fly a U.S. radar-equipped bomber in combat, the consolidated LB-30, and delivered the first B-29 Superfortress bomber to the Army Air Forces (AAF). Like his boyhood idol, whose flight across the Atlantic covered more than 3,000 miles mostly over open water, Vaucher flew 3,000-mile roundtrip missions from the Marianas to Japan, almost entirely over open water.
He also flew the longest combat mission of WWII—4,030 miles roundtrip from India to Sumatra to lay mines in the Musi River held by the Japanese.
Vaucher was Air Commander of 454 B-29s, the longest in-trail assembly of bombers in history, in an attack on Yokohama, Japan, that in terms of destroyed target area was the most effective air mission of the war. He attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was promoted to Operations Officer of the 462nd Bomber Group, nicknamed the “Hellbirds.”
After the war, Vaucher adapted the electronic control system for the B-29 guns to an industrial application for precision metal stamping used to this day. He maintained his pilot certification and flew until age 82.
Bridgewater Mayor Daniel J. Hayes Jr. attended the induction ceremony and read a proclamation honoring Vaucher not only for his service to the country, but his service to his community.
Vaucher was active in the establishment of the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District and development of vocational and technical education programs at Raritan Valley Community College, participated in the creation of the Mayor/Council form of government the town has today, was on a committee that created the town’s police department, and served on the NJ Department of Transportation Aviation Advisory Board.
Also inducted in the NJ Aviation Hall of Fame were Timothy Chopp, of Toms River, who is the founder of the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation—an organization that restored and a flies a Douglas C-54 as a flying museum to commemorate the Allied effort to supply Berlin during the Soviet blockade in 1948; and Neil Nederfield, of Jefferson Township, who served in Vietnam as an aviation mechanic in the Navy and is President of C&W Aero Services, an award winning aircraft maintenance shop based as Essex County Airport.
Founded in 1972, the Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum of New Jersey is dedicated to the preservation of the Garden State's distinguished, two-century aviation and space heritage. Men and women whose outstanding aeronautical achievements have brought worldwide recognition to the state are enshrined in the Hall of Fame. The museum is located at Teterboro Airport. For more information, visit www.njahof.org