“First Bearcat Flight”
August 1948, at his office, the CFWC detailer said to the 20 year old Midshipmen looking for squadron assignments, "if you want to fly jets, go to Air Group Five. VF-51 has the only jets on the West Coast; and the air group is forming a third fighter squadron, which is bound to get jets. In the mean time the new squadron, VF-53, will be flying Bearcats. "
Well, right and wrong. Before the Bearcats, and just to keep our hands in both the flying and the flight skins, VF-53 got a couple of SNJs, followed shortly by a couple of F6F-5s, all from the next door FASRON. The training command all over again!
While seemingly an eternity, one F8F-1B arrived late September 1948. After being thoroughly checked out by all those senior to the Midshipmen, the Bearcat was deemed fit for us. Following the handbook test and the blindfold cockpit check, this Midshipman was scheduled 8 October 1948, for F8F-IB, Buno 122103.
The anticipation and excitement levels were naturally out of sight. The moment finally arrived. The appearance of nonchalance was essential, but not well executed. Walking from the ready room went OK, but quickly turned to galloping down the ladder, bursting out the line shack door, not observing the coiled hose, tripping over that hose, and going A over T in view of the entire line crew. Embarrassment mildly describes the sprawled out, face down, Middie!
But quickly assumed the vertical again, approached the bird, did the walk around, strapped in, started up, taxied out, ran up, then poured the coal to that 2100 H.P. kiddy car. Airborne and over Point Lorna, doing 210 kts, mentally way behind the birdie, observation revealed the gear still down. Holy smoke (not the real expletive), slowed to about 140 kts, raised the gear, settled down to a point, and thoroughly enjoyed that fantastic 1.0 hour fam flight!!
Was that an exciting time in life for a youngster, or what?
“Wearing Dress Blues” 1
Wearing Dress Blues in the combat zone is not especially uniform of the day, but VF-53 took time out from fighting the Korean war to have its picture taken. After it got into the fray on 3 July, the 16 pilots flew 690 strike missions, dropped 238 tons of bombs, fired 2,481 5" rockets and 195,250 rounds of 20 mm cannon shells. Front row, left to right: Lt.(jg) C. B. Darrow, Lt. C. E. Smith, Ens. E. L. Franz, LCdr. J. M. Murphy, exec.; LCdr. W. R. Pittman, C.O.; Ens. A. J. Frainier, Ens. J. Abbott, Lt.(jg) E. H. Albright. Back row: Ens. H. C. Kuhlman, Ens. R. W. Robinson, Ens. E. V. Loney, Lt.(jg) R. E. Downs, Lt. A. A. Smith. Holding squadron insignia are W. P. Haskin, AM3, and P. F. Hastings, AD3.
(Ed note: Ens. Leo Franz, killed in Korea; Ens. AI Frainier; Ens. John Abbott; and Ens. Hugh Kuhlman were former AvMidn; Skipper LCdr Bill Pittman flew an SBD at Midway.)
1 Flying Midshipman LOG summer 2006; © 2006.
“Going, Going, Gone … No Scratch”
As Ensign William F. Rau (preflight class 12-48) made a pass at the USS Leyte after returning from a strike mission over Korea, he got a waveoff from the LSO. As he jammed the throttle forward, nothing happened. "I had to pull off to the left and then the right," he said. “There was nothing left to do but crash in the sea."
In this series of photographs he is shown pulling to the right, then heading down into the water in a spectacular mountain of spray.
Immediately the guard helicopter headed for the spot as the ship made an emergency turn to port. 'Pinwheel' pilot Lt. Al Monahan picked Rau out of the ocean and had him back aboard in a total of four minutes. Rau had plenty of time to crawl out on the wing. For all his experience all he got was wet.
“Under Paid” *
"VC-24 … This squadron has one of the most underpaid persons in Naval aviation. Midn. B.B. Peterman (preflight class 7-48), who already has eight night carrier landings to his credit, pulls down $117 a month with flight pay. His crewman, P.D. Monahan, ALAN, makes $149.55 with flight pay."
(This is a direct quote from the magazine including the spelling of the word "crewmen". Ed Peterman's Pre-flight Class was 7-48.)
* Naval Aviation News, November 1950; © 1950.
“Squadron Duty Officer Duty” *
North Island, mid 1949. This VF-53 AvMid'n, the 24-hour Squadron Duty Officer, had inserted a clip in his trusty .45 as per new instructions. After his 2400 tour, he returned to the Ready Room, leaned back in the chair, pulled back the slide, pulled the trigger, and lo, the damn thing went off with a horrendous bang. The bullet headed toward the center of the hangar where all of those incredible FJ-1s, the Navy's first jet fighters, were parked. Luck! The bullet went through the inside wall of the Ready Room, hit an I-beam just outside, and came to rest on the hangar deck. In 1991, the hole and patch were still there. The flattened .45 slug may be viewed upon request.
* FMA Newsletter, summer 1994; © 1994.
“Aviation Midshipman Program
‘Some Ways We Did It’ “ 1
For several years, we have gathered names, file numbers, pre-flight class numbers and other statistics for all of the Navy's Holloway Program Aviation Midshipmen. The program started in the Fall of 1946. The last students were brought in to Pre-flight Class 19-49 in late 1949; they finished flight training in the Spring of 1951. I believe the total number that ever served as Aviation Midshipman, USN was about 3,000, we currently have data for 2,960.
The track through Navy Flight Training varied considerably according to when each of us. entered THE PROGRAM. I will describe here the track of an Apprentice Seaman, A/S, V-5, USNR, advancing to Aviation Cadet, USNR; then on December 16, 1946, at Pre-flight, Ottumwa, Iowa, being discharged [A/S USNR] and sworn in the same day as a Midshipman, USN--to serve two years before starting to get credit for government service as ENSIGN, USN.
Looking back on late 1944 and early 1945, there seemed to be significant reductions in the ranks of Naval pilot trainees. Then, starting with the May/June 1945 high school graduation classes, there was a big recruiting drive for Naval Aviation Cadets. Probably the specter of invading the Japanese Islands, lack of knowledge about the A-bomb and unsettled conditions with the Soviet Union influenced things the most. (If anyone has more definitive facts, please let me know.)
Most of us who graduated high school in the spring of 1945 enlisted as Apprentice Seamen (A/S), V-5, USNR. We reported for active duty about 2 July, 1945 to one of the many U.S. colleges/universities sponsoring V-12 and V-5 programs. And we were then "In the Navy", issued uniforms, bedding, towels, books and the like with income of $50.00 a month. The winter dress blues issued to us that July, 1945 had that single 1/8" white stripe on the jumper cuffs--remember? Whites would be issued later. We then commenced our first of four college semesters required prior to entering flight training.
At Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, for example, our V-5 contingent had 120 souls with names of: Ken Burrows, Leo Eugene Franz, Bud Hower, Don Luallin, Charles "Skip" Porter, Gene Tait, Bob Tombrink, Neal Garland and Glenn Allen and more that, with my apologies, I can not recall.
The completion date of our fourth semester in the summer of 1946, unbeknownst to many of us, held the key to our future progress for the rest of the flight training program. Early completion of that fourth semester meant early assignment to the SELECTIVE, our first Navy flying, with completion by some in as few as 4 weeks. Those completing in late August or early September, 1946, however, got the first real taste of "pools" 2 upon reporting to SELECTIVE. 3
At Selective, we were promoted to Aviation Cadet (AVCAD, USNR); received a pay increase to $75.00 a month; polished Twin Beeches; received 10 hours of flight instruction in N2S Stearmans; did our first Navy SOLO and polished Twin Beeches! LT Daniel Breen was my instructor and I recall yet the look on his face as he departed the front cockpit; smacked my back and said: "She's yours, but please bring her back to me!"
Following SELECTIVE, those "selected" reported to the one remaining Navy pre-flight school at NAS Ottumwa, Iowa, as AvCads, USNR. In the October/November, 1946, time frame, two events occurred and I am not sure which came first.
It was announced that Pre-flight would be doubled in length from 16 to 32 weeks. In frustration and disappointment, student moaning and groaning was extant! To our great relief, the extension to 32 weeks never materialized.
AND, a great NEW DEAL was offered to the Naval officer trainees. As CAPT T.P. Jeeter, C.O.. of Ottumwa, phrased things, acceptance of this NEW DEAL, the Holloway Midshipmen Program was not exactly mandatory … BUT, you had better think long and hard before rejecting it!
Four Cadets with lawyer fathers, as I recall, rejected the Navy's offer. One was Bill Kidd, another was B.]. Cartwright. I believe all four AvCads completed flight training by the end of 1947, and upon designation as a Naval Aviator, were immediately commissioned Ensign, USNR. Their commissions were obtained one full year before any of the two year variety of Aviation Midshipmen were commissioned ENSIGN. And I also believe that upon their applications, they were all augmented into Regular Navy status with their commissioning dates of rank in tact!
AVCADs at NAS Ottumwa who accepted the Holloway Midshipman Program on 16 December, 1946, and all subsequent Naval aviator trainees who entered the Holloway Plan, agreed to accept a $3.00 monthly pay increase to $78.00; agreed to accept 50% hazardous duty pay while on flight orders, HOWEVER, we would enjoy greatly enhanced possibilities for selection to REGULAR NAVY! We were discharged as AVCAD, USNR, then sworn in as Midshipman, USN. All these benefits just for serving two years as a Midshipman from the date we signed the acceptance papers.
[Ed note: AVMIDN pay (base pay plus 50% flight pay) = $117/mo. AVCAD pay (base pay plus $50 flight pay) = $125/mo. Clearly another Midshipman benefit!]
Prior to the existence of the Holloway Plan, the rank of Midshipman applied to officer trainees at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, a single site. They had no need for travel expense reimbursement and were given none. Therefore, following designation, and still Midshipmen, travel to our duty stations EXPENSES WERE ON US! Since our unique situation had not been recognized during the formative stages of the Holloway Midshipmen Program, no accommodations were made to reimburse Midshipmen official travel. Thus disbursing officers, following the book, informed the newly designated Aviation Midshipmen traveling to duty stations that the only travel pay authorized for Midshipmen was from their home to Annapolis, Maryland or vice versa.
Also, at our new duty stations, we were obliged to join the Officers' Closed Mess paying the same fees as all other members. These expenses plus uniform acquisition and maintenance, really stretched the heck out of the $117 we were paid each month.
But, BEST of all, we found out later, that since we were Midshipmen, i.e., officer trainees, our time spent in that status DID NOT count towards longevity nor qualification for retirement. Holloway Program Aviation Midshipmen time, in fact, was not even considered GOVERNMENT SERVICE!
[Ed note: One very early Holloway Plan Midshipman reported aboard the Cruiser he was ordered to as a VO/VS4 pilot. Shortly thereafter on checking in with the Commanding Officer, was told: "MIDSHIPMAN, GET THE HELL OFF MY SHIP AND GET BACK TO ANNAPOLIS WHERE YOU BELONG … AND WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING WEARING NAVY WINGS ON YOUR CHEST??"]
It took the Marines, impinging on LCOL W.N. "Pete" Sharpe, USMC, with their nonknowledge of Aviation Midshipmen payroll details, to cause the Program inequities to surface. The Marines slipped up on Pete Sharpe's pay records from the time he had started as a 2nd Lt. until he was a LCOL. The personal results were horrendous!
"This triggered an uprising amongst a group of former AVMIDN stationed in Washington, D.C. that gave birth in late 1969 to the Flying Midshipmen Association.
(To be Continued)
1 Aviation Midshipmen Log, winter 1998; © 1998.
2 “Pools” were groups of trainees waiting for openings in the next phase of training. They were assigned such duties as gassing aircraft, mowing lawns, etc.
3 The first phase of flight training, before preflight, primary, basic, advanced, and operational.
4 VO/VS were Observation/Scout floatplanes operating off Battleships and Cruisers.
This Aviation Midshipmen and a few remaining Aviation Cadets reporting for basic flight training were separated into two groups. Those who were to start Basic in the N2S Stearman biplane reported to the "X-RA Y' syllabus at NAAS Rodd Field. Those starting Basic in the North American SNJ reported to the new "YOKE" syllabus at NAAS Cabiniss Field; both were auxiliary training bases for NAS Corpus Christi, Tx.
The date was 10 S'eptember 1947, the site was NAAS Cabiniss Field. This third class Aviation Midshipman assigned to the "YOKE" syllabus had successfully progressed to ‘C’ stage, aerobatics, and ‘D’ stage, night flying. Two daylight ‘C’ stage aerobatics solo hops had already been flown, and the first two solo ‘D’ Stage night hops were scheduled for that night.
It was about half past dark when night landing practice commenced for the first night hop. The instrument panel in the elderly SNJ-4, bureau number 43878, was lighted by a single fluorescent light tube held to the underside of the glare shield by two clips. The first landing was successful in that all three wheels remained on the airplane and stayed inflated.
The second landing had a bit more bounce, and this bounce dislodged that single fluorescent light tube which, up to that point, had lighted the instrument panel. The cockpit and instrument panel darkness that immediately followed, initiated the fastest two handed game in the world! Somehow that fluorescent light tube jumped back into its clips while take off throttle was applied, the J-bird was guided between the very dim port and starboard runway lights, and an adequate take-off achieved. Being the only biped in BuNo 43878 that night, that Aviation Middie really appreciated the Extra Help provided!!!