“In VR There Were No Special Rules for Midshipmen” *
It is my understanding that you are looking for articles relating how some of our early experiences were unique. That will not work for VR. The whole thrust or this story is that we were not unique.
There were no special rules or procedures for the midshipmen. On the contrary we were fully integrated into the squadron the same as if we were second and third tour pilots. I suspect that those who spent their first tour in VP will read the article with envy, and that would be understandable. If anything one might say we got more than our share of left seat time I remember one cargo trip I had where we delivered five or six jeeps to Udine, Italy. The AC was a senior LCDR named Dan Heckerman. Dan had 10 or 12 thousand hours and had no interest in setting flight time records. On this particular flight there were 9 legs for a total of 57.7 hours.
As I recall Dan spent most of the flight back in the cabin. I doubt that he was in either seat more than a couple of hours the entire trip. That was an example of how the junior pilots, hungry for flight time, were treated.
* From Flying Midshipmen LOG winter 2010; © 2010.
“2,000 Hours of Pilot Time, a Green Card and a World of Wonderful Experiences” *
Upon getting my wings and completing FAETULANT … three other midshipmen and I were ordered to VR-1.
Recently designated naval aviators were normally not assigned to VR-l. There were no Ensigns in the squadron, and the few Lieutenant JGs were former APs. Unlike VP squadrons, the only VR-l flights that required a navigator were the three or four trips a week to London, and they were a small percentage of total flights.
The question for VR-l was "How can we best use the handful of midshipmen who unexpectedly reported in?" The decision was that Flying Midshipmen were Naval Aviators, and their job was to fly. It was decided to treat us the same as newly arriving second and third tour pilots. We studied the handbook for both the R4D and R5D, received a few fam flights in the left seat of both aircraft, and in no time we were flying co-pilot on line flights.
Early in their tours, VR-l pilots were sent to R5D school in Corpus Christi for two weeks of intensive ground and flight training. I attended the school in March of 1950. The flight syllabus used for midshipmen was the same as that used for prospective aircraft commanders, except that the performance standards were not quite as high. Upon our return, VR-l treated the midshipmen as competent professional pilots. From then on if we were part of a two or three pilot flight crew, every second or third leg was ours. All VR-l pilots were required to be proficient navigators, and during over water flights everyone took their turn at the nav table.
For a young Naval Aviator wanting to see the world, VR-l was the place to be. Remember that Jo Stafford song "You Belong to Me?"
" Fly the ocean in a silver plane, See the jungle when it's wet with rain" (The Canal Zone)
"See the market place in old Algiers, Send me photographs and souvenirs. "
(Substitute Casablanca, Rabat, and Bizerte).
Within six months of joining the squadron I had seen and done everything in the song except see the pyramids along the Nile.
The round trip to London was a counter clockwise route around the North Atlantic. From Patuxent River, scheduled stops were made at Quonset Point, Argentia, Lages AFB, and Port Lyautey. On the return from London, stops were made at Keflavik or Lages, Argentia, and Quonset Point. While the aircraft kept moving, there were crew layovers at various stops, and a round trip took about a week. Layover locations changed now and then, and there was plenty of time to be a tourist while waiting for the next plane. Going on leave to Europe was a simple matter of riding over and back as special crew.
When the Korean War started, VR-l sent five planes and 20 pilots TAD to VR-21. Some were sent on to ComFair Japan. Most of us averaged well over a hundred hours per month while deployed. One month I logged 185.4 hours. Another VR-l midshipman logged 249 hours.
After about a year of line experience, flight checks and evaluations we were designated first pilots. As first pilots we were expected to handle whatever emergencies or weather conditions we encountered. If the weather at Argentia was at VR GCA minimums (100 and a ¼) we shot the approach. If the tower at Lages AFB was reporting wind at 75 knots, gusts to 100 or if there was a 25 knot 45 degree crosswind, we made the landing. It was not uncommon for first pilots to make landings with a first or second pilot in the right seat.
VR-l had two plush configured R5Ds that had beds and a galley. They were used to transport cabinet secretaries, members of congress, and high-ranking naval officers. Each crew consisted of two aircraft commanders and two first pilot/navigators, plus specially trained cabin and maintenance personnel. Pilots were assigned to the VIP crews for about six months. While on the VIP crew our flight time suffered somewhat, but we had some really great trips to places off our usual routes.
During the Spring of 1962 there was concern about a possible takeover of Iceland by the Soviet Union. On May 1, R5Ds started arriving at Pax River from all over the United States. By May 4, there must have been at least 30 R5Ds parked on the air station. On May 5, it was Berlin Airlift II, as the planes, loaded with combat troops and equipment, took off for Keflavik at five minute intervals and flew at set air speeds at three assigned altitudes. The first plane to arrive at Keflavik discharged its troops at the base of the tower and within minutes the tower and airfield had been "secured." Whether or not this "invasion" was necessary can be debated, but it was interesting to participate in the operation.
Fleet Logistics Air Wing policy required a minimum of 2,500 hours and a green card prior to being designated Aircraft Commander. Although we were far ahead of our midshipman contemporaries in flight time and experience, we flunked the 2,500 hour test. I crossed the 2,500 hour threshold in the spring of 1952, but my tour was winding down. The squadron decided that by the time the former midshipmen went back through R5D school and completed the line checks, we would have so little time left that qualifying us would not be worth the effort and expense. So, in the summer of 1952 we former midshipmen, now brand new JGs, and the only pilots fresh out of flight school to fly both R4Ds and R5Ds for an east coast VR squadron, departed for the training command, taking with us 2,900 hours of pilot time, a green card and a world of wonderful experiences.
(Many thanks to Bill Bridge (19-47) and Bob Klimetz (16-48) for their help in preparing this article.)
* Flying Midshipman LOG winter 2010; © 2010.