“A ‘DOWN’ EXPERIENCE”
Aerobatics at Whiting Field. My aerobatics instructor was an ex Blue Angel. What a let down for him, from Performance Aerobatics to training a fledging. My first hop with him started out with a Chandelle on take off followed by an hour of uninterrupted semi out of control maneuvers. I became air sick and he instructed me to barf in a bag which all good trainees kept in their flight suits and he would make a turn and I should throw the bag out. I did as he said but thru it out on the up or outside of the turn and aerodynamics blew the bag and its contents into his then open cockpit.
He was furious and rightly so, upon landing the ground crew was there to do their thing. He called them off and made me wash out the whole plane, humiliating for a potential officer. It was never mentioned again. A good guy but very HYPER. He was killed about two week after I finished Aerobatics while attempting a slow roll on take off from North Whiting Field in an SNJ. Incidentally he smelled like booze before each flight, morning or afternoon.
He taught me some good stuff, but some bad habits as well. Remember those Dead Stick landings we practiced? Well there was a field he favored … it had power lines at the approach end and he would position the SNJ in line with the strip, but take it below the wires with no power, he relied on lowering the flaps at the last minute to get the necessary lift to boost us over the wires, and on to the field. Scary at first but I caught on and was able to follow his example.
I was doing this routine on a check flight ... the check pilot panicked. Ripped the stick out of my hands and gave me a down.
“A PUCKER EXPERIENCE”
I was with VF-74 flying off the USS FDR out of Gitmo. Skipper John Fair, the best fighter Pilot in the Navy at the time, always finished a tactical flight with an aerobatic tail chase This time I was number 4 of 16 F4U-4s and the wingman to the Skipper's Section Leader. We started out with a 16 plane "Cork Screw" and a series of Barrel Rolls. After six or seven the maneuver became routine, then on the eighth the Skipper stopped the roll in the inverted position. The first two planes were now inverted, but number three completed the Barrel Roll. I stopped inverted and found myself upside down and directly over number three. This position was common for the Blue Angels, but a first for me. Cockpit to cockpit in the Corsair now what? If I completed the Barrel Roll I'd roll right into him. I could look up or down ... as it were … into his cockpit where he was looking around wondering where everyone went. I couldn't afford to lose altitude and I couldn't slow roll … thought my down wing would make contact so I did an inverted skid out of line far enough to complete the barrel roll and rejoin the chase. Probably routine for all you Hot Shots out there, but a one of a kind experience for me.
“THE BEST PILOT” *
Capt JOHN FAIR the skipper of VF-74 from 1950 to 1952 ... was a WW II Fighter ACE and in a class all his own. The Squadron was labeled the Globe Trotters because we were seldom at our home base, Quonset Point.
The Skippers knowledge of the sea was unparalled. We were, it seems, always at sea or involved in carrier operations and VF-74 was always the lead squadron with Skipper always the Group leader. His goal was always to be at the cut position when the white flag was posted ... he would be miles out in any direction leading up to an eighty plane formation. His ability to read the wind by wave and spray action gave him the understanding of where the carrier would be upon retrieval and how long it would take the ship to be properly aligned in the wind. He never missed.
As his wingman I was tasked to be aboard within 20 seconds of his trap. The Squadron was officially timed one time to see what our landing interval really was; we brought a full flight aboard the USS FDR (CVB-42) with an average of 20 seconds per trap, made possible by the Corsair's hydraulic tail hook.
The Squadron took part in what I understand was the last full scale Naval Maneuvers with the French, British and US Navies in the Mediterranean. On the day of our full scale attack on the British Armada, I was on the Skipper's wing when we heard a "May Day." One of our Corsairs had engine failure and the pilot (Ray) was bailing out. We followed the Chute down and circled Ray who it seemed was struggling in the water, apparently his life vest had failed to inflate.
The Skipper dropped to near sea level and circled. He somehow got out of his own life vest, inflated half the vest and at the precise moment and position tossed it out up wind of Ray. The vest floated with the Ocean current to within arms length of Ray who, after being returned to the ship, said he was about to go under and doubted he had the strength to swim any distance to save his butt.
A couple days later after being picked up by a British Destroyer Ray was returned to our ship a happy man. The British in their hospitality had toasted him with real booze.
* The Aviation Midshipmen LOG, winter 2011
“FROM SMILES TO FISTS” *
We flew many antisubmarine and anti-shipping patrols from home base at Brunswick, ME. The Grand Banks fishing areas were of special interest. Russian fishing trawlers were in the area and the ships bristled with a large number of antennas used for intelligence gathering. Russian factory ships for processing fish were also in the area. The trawlers would off-load their fish at the factory ship to be frozen or canned. The factory ship was also the "mother ship" for the Russian submarines which were stationed along the American coast.
It seemed to me that the Russian approach to naval warfare was an interesting (and efficient) combination of military support activities and commercial fishing operations. When the trawlers were on hand, the squadron would keep constant track of the Russian ships and coordinate search tracks with shore-based hydrophone facilities to try and locate submarines. Our flight tracks were repeating patterns at low altitude - each time we passed near a trawler, we would make a low pass at masthead height and take pictures. During early surveillance, the Russians on board would smile and wave at us. But we kept making passes every two or three hours and at night we would use an extremely bright searchlight to light up the ship; soon the crews could be seen shaking fists in our direction.
One night, we were working a submarine contact several miles at sea using sonobuoys and a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD). There was a heavy cloud layer and it was very dark in our MAD pattern which we flew at less than 100 feet above the water. The pattern was a circular one, following the sonobuoys which we had dropped on the first pass; we listened to the buoys to try and hear submarine noises and waited for an indication on the MAD equipment to tell us that we were over a submarine.
This flight routine lasted for over three hours and it was difficult to maintain concentration. On one turn, after a moment of inattention, I looked up to see the altimeter sink below zero while J tried frantically to get the nose up. We had no way to get an accurate altimeter setting for our location far out to sea, and we did not hit the water. God does watch over us!
* The Aviation Midshipmen LOG, winter 2011.
“This Was the Way to Realize My Dreams”
Burbank Airport, home of Lockheed Aviation., watching the P-38 do its thing, always wanted to fly that plane
In 1946, my senior year at Franklyn High, the boys (boys only) were called into an assembly where a representative of every branch of service in dress uniform gave a recruitment talk. The Naval Aviator talked about the V-5 Program, He was beautiful in his dress whites and gold wings. It wasn't hard to see that this was the way to realize my dreams plus get a higher education as a bonus.
What a windfall !! At the close of the assembly I rushed to the front, talked to the Naval Aviator and picked up the necessary papers, passed the written and physical tests. However, getting the folks to sign was a chore. None of the family had ever been in the air, but good sense prevailed and that was it. Joining the Navy and the V-5 program was the best move of my life.