“GULP ! ? ! ?”
Like most Flying Midshipmen I think I probably had my share of tense moments. One of my "Most Unusual" flying experiences happened a long time ago.
I was a young JG with very few flight hours and not a lot of instrument time that wasn't on autopilot. We were deployed to WestPac and I was usually flying as co-pilot with the XO in PBMs. This day we were headed to Hong Kong for R&R. Upon arrival it was overcast with a low ceiling and we prepared to make an instrument approach;
I was at the controls and the XO made no move to take over as I got out the approach chart. Then we were surprised to be informed that we would be vectored through a non-standard, uncharted approach. I don't recall whether we were given a reason for this deviation or not, but I felt confident and comfortable with a senior, more experienced pilot at my side.
I started following the vectored instructions. Still no move to take over by the XO so I regarded him as my "safety pilot." Actually, the approach turned out to be uneventful and my landing in the seadrome was routine, but the scariness came later. As we were walking off the field the XO startled me by saying, 'You know, I couldn 't follow what you were doing up there."
Gulp!?!? My complacency and satisfaction in executing a successful, actual instrument approach was shattered by that remark. I began to think about what could have happened at that rugged airport approach area had I made a mistake and my senior, experienced "safety pilot" was not following my every move.
While this experience was a confidence builder for me, J learned not to assume that the person in the other seat was any more on-the-ball than J was regardless of experience. From that point on I regarded myself as his safety pilot and went on to become a successful PPC in my own right.
“Get a Firm Grip on the Strings! …” *
I was definitely interested in going to college. I had a small, nearby college in mind, but that would have been more expensive than a state college or university. I tried to build up some savings by taking various jobs such as pumping gas after school and sorting packages nights at the post office during the summer, but it was slow going. Besides, I had a serious crush on a girl I was trying to impress.
One day a Navy recruiter made a presentation about the NACP (Naval Aviation College Program) to guys in my high school in Milwaukee. (No girls need apply at that time.) My ears perked up immediately! I had always had an interest in aviation. I had built model airplanes, several of them flying models (which I crashed, of course). During the war I carved solid models to be used for aircraft recognition training. I read books and stories about aviation, and dreamed of flying airplanes myself, but didn't have much of an idea on how to get into it.
And now the Navy was offering to solve both of my problems for me. They will send me to college and then teach me to fly, no strings attached .... Not only that but I could go to any accredited college for free and receive a nominal monthly stipend as well ... no ROTC unit needed. Now I might be able to go to that small, nearby college and I thought I must have died and gone to heaven. I don't recall what my parents' reaction was when I told them I wanted to fly for the Navy, but I expect they had mixed emotions-favorable toward the college education but apprehensive about the military flying.
Going through the procedures to enter the program was mostly uneventful, but I do vividly remember one incident that could have wiped me out. During the physical examination phase in Chicago I seemed to be having a problem with the depth perception test. As many may remember, this test consisted of a shadow box with a couple of vertical black bars that were controlled by strings. The tester would misalign the bars then tell me to use the strings to realign them while I was sitting some distance away, perhaps about 10-15 feet. After a couple of attempts which apparently were unsatisfactory, the tester said, "Look, the bars are lined up now, so get a firm grip on the strings." He asked me if I was ready then misaligned the bars again while I let my hands follow the strings. Then he said, "OK, now line up your hands! ... Perfect!," and so I was admitted to the program.
The following 28 years are history. By the way, I never had any problems with depth perception during landings or any other time. In fact, I even overheard one of my crew members bragging about my consistently smooth landings. So much for the validity of that depth perception test.
Oh, and about that girl I was trying to impress, I must have been successful because we have been married for going on 60 years.
* Flying Midshipmen LOG, winter 2010; © 2010.