"Acceptance, Test and Delivery (2)" *
A few of us USN and Fleet 'Middie' rejects were accidentally given the keys to the "Navy Aviation Toy Store" in late 1949 by being assigned to "Ferry Squadrons" VR-31 (Norfolk) or VR-32 (San Diego). (The current 'pc' title would be "Acceptance, Test and Delivery".) Whatever. Many of us soon had over 20 aircraft on our Qualification cards and toughed it out for 30 months or more. What a life! Less than 100 hours and fewer than four 'coast to coast' trips per month and you were a wimp!
Since I couldn't drive anyone aircraft very well, they let me fly them all. I occasionally joined up with those Legendary Liberty Lovers: Russ Baum and Leo Regan on these heroic and hazardous missions. On one such junket, we checked out three tired F8Fs bound from JAX to SDY. Following a "Stars and Bars" at the JAX O'club, we managed to smash bugs all the way to New Orleans (and t'was "Mardi-Gras"). After a couple of record setting days/nights in the French Quarter, we filed for NAS Dallas which was at extreme Bearcat/Hangover range. Somewhere south of Shreveport, Leo croaked several times before we understood that he wanted to divert to Barksdale AFB for a drink of water. Sounded like 'right thinking' to us, so we eased into the pattern to find a 40 knot, 90 degree crosswind over those two old, massive parallel runways. Being that it was Sunday--with nobody to impress--we were not up to the challenge; so with an indifferent (we thought) tower, we broke into sloppy 360 overheads and landed across those huge 500' wide runways with a properly aligned taxi-way right up to Base Ops. We were confronted by a stunned, sputtering, purple-faced Duty Officer. While he was chewing out Russ and me, Leo slipped in for that big drink then relieved us while we did the same.
By this time, the Air Police was arriving with GUNS--we quickly thanked all hands; popped back into our hot, ticking, dripping, dirty, almost unpainted "Cats" and blasted off for Dallas.
Total ground time for the most refreshing drink of our lives was about eight minutes--the Barksdale weenies muttered and grumbled for months.
* Aviation Midshipmen Log, winter 1998; © 1998.
“The Life of a Ferry Pilot”
(now politically corrected to “Acceptance, Test and Delivery Pilot”)
After the Aviation Midshipmen program fell from grace about 1949 and we were 'promoted' to USNR "for the convenience of the Government," some of us were accidently given the keys to the Naval Aviation Candy Store and sent to Career Purgatory in VR·31 at Norfolk. There was another Candy Store, VR-32, at San Diego.
As salty Ensigns or JGs from de-commissioned squadrons or whatever, most of us eagerly flew anything that would start and soon filled up our 22 space "qualification" cards, usually flying at least 100 hrs. and 3 or 4 round·trip Transcons every month. It was a unmarried aviator's heaven and I enjoyed 42 months of this before getting serious about a more rewarding civilian aviation career.
By 1952, a regular run was in the FUBAR (the squadron R4D-8) to Grumman Bethpage to pick up new F9F-5s (I think the best of the Panther series) for Mex Pac (San Diego) where J.O.s usually got newly overhauled TBMs or SB2C-5s with French Navy markings headed for Algeria by ship out of Norfolk. Easy one-day out and 2 or 3 bug-smashing days back.
On one trip, we were met by our Test Pilot, check-out Buddy, Corky Meyer, who took Russ Baum and me (junior pilots on the FUBAR) to be introduced to something new. A new F9F model we hoped, but there squatted two giant, grasshopper like, butt-ugly single-engine (R-2800) AF's, Grumman Guardian ASW machines. We both had lots of time in almost equally ugly TBM's with sticks and domes all over but this abomination must have been the Grumman Marketing Department's greatest achievement.
After a short test flight (How does this monster stay airborne?), and the usual lunch check of the office 'Girls', we only lumbered back to Norfolk that day. Being a regular Baum wing man, I was ready for anything the next day on the first leg to Maxwell AFB. Somewhere near Raleigh, NC at 8K, Russ said that he was going to try to roll the thing and I quickly eased away to watch the show. An F8 or F9, this critter was not. After 2 or 3 slooow half wallows and minus 3000 ft., he said it couldn't be done and went back to semi-conscious autopilot. Since I had browsed the PAX Aero. handbook, I suspected that lots of Air Speed would improve this Pig's lateral control power and rate, I climbed a bunch then dove under a dozing Baum with all the smash an AF could generate, which made a bumpy roll in his face easy.
As anyone who flew regularly with Russ Baum [RIP] knows, we suffered endless good natured indignities, airborne and ashore, so this opportunity was a rare chance to at least try to get even.
“Acceptance Test and Delivery Pilots” *
More from the early 1950's Naval Aviation Candy Store--VR-31. Most of us "Acceptance Test and Delivery Pilots" [read: Ferry Pilots} never thought much about record setting, mostly because flying 20 to 30 different A/C, in random order, across the country was so much fun. One of our more colorful fellow JG's, Russ Baum (1-47) [RIP] actually planned them, like Sonic Booming the Breezy Point Club at high noon. About mid-l951, the steady stream of new F9Fs out of Grumman Bethpage plant for San Diego was getting us to the Bldg. I bar or Mex-Pac1 by early afternoon on the day of departure which was fine by me. Russ began to wonder how far back he could bug-smash the typical [for Ensigns or JG's] TBM or SB2C before sunset [night- flying was a huge No-No for Ferry Pukes] and I foolishly went along with this madness. We easily made EI Paso a few times for the dash across the border for gallon jugs of rum. Only once did we make Dallas in F4U's, just as the sun sank below the horizon. Suddenly a new, butt-ugly but faster, Douglas F3D twin-jet machine showed up on the VR-32 line at San Diego and we grabbed a hand book for check-out after the senior guys who drove them down from LAX to get their 4 hours. Now, the dream of a double TRANSCON sunrise to sunset record was possible if only they would assign us two. Soon there were enough available for us junior hot shots and we made it only back to Maxwell AFB. We got smart and asked Leo Regan (1-47) [RIP] of VR-32 to help which he did by lining up a fast turn around on a long mid-summer CAVU day. Even tho the F3D's were bound for NGU [Norfolk], we went for JAX because it was shorter and-[suspense] landed a few minutes after official sunset. We claimed the record anyway since nobody cared. About a year later (May, 1965), a California ANG F-86 pilot named John Conroy, made the cover of Time magazine by doing it with all the skids properly greased, from LAX to NY and return. I met Conroy at an Los Angeles SETP meeting years later when he was President of Aerospace Airlines and told him about our earlier "record". He taught me a lasting lesson by saying that in addition to lots of USAF/CANG help, he had a few PR troops pillow-fluffing for him. A great friend and fellow VR-31 pilot, LCDR George Whisler [now CAPT, USN, Ret. living in Carmel, Ca.l., legally made the great double TRANS CON (Norfolk-San Diego-Norfolk) on 23 July, 1963 with only Navy and home town type press recognition following the Baum/Cotton failure. He should have been on the Time cover but undoubtedly had no PR weenies. George wrote to the publisher of "famous first Facts' and his name now resides where Conroy's was before.
* Flying Midshipmen LOG, summer 2003; © 2003.
1 The “Mexican Village,” local watering hole in Coronado – a favorite of Navy pilots.
“Pilots … Their World”
You see them at airport terminals around the world. You see them in the morning early, sometimes at night. They come neatly uniformed and hatted, sleeves striped; they show up looking fresh. There's a brisk, young-old look of efficiency about them. They arrive fresh from home, from hotels, carrying suitcases, battered briefcases, bulging, with a wealth of technical information, data, filled with regulations, rules. They know the new, harsh sheen of Chicago's O'Hare. They know the cluttered approaches to Newark; they know the tricky shuttle that is Rio; they know, but do not relish, threading the needle into Hong Kong, the volcanoes all around Guatemala. They respect foggy San Francisco. They know the up-and-down walk to the gates at Dallas, the Texas sparseness of Abilene, the very narrow Berlin Corridor, New Orleans's parking terminal, the milling crowds at Washington. They know Butte, Boston, and Beirut. They appreciate Miami's perfect weather; they recognize the danger of an ice-slick runway at JFK. They understand about short runways, antiquated fire equipment, inadequate approach lighting, but there is one thing they will never comprehend: Complacency.
They marvel at the exquisite good taste of a hot coffee in Anchorage and a cold beer in Guam. They vaguely remember the workhorse efficiency of the DC-3s, the reliability of the DC- 4s and DC-6s, the trouble with the DC-7s. They discuss the beauty of an old gal named Connie. They recognize the high shrill whine of a Viscount, the rumbling thrust of a DC-8 or 707 on a c1earway takeoff from Haneda. And a Convair. The remoteness of the 747 cockpit. The roominess of the DC-lO and the snug fit of a 737.
They speak a language unknown to Webster. They discuss ALPA, EPR's, fans, mach and bogie swivels. And, strangely, such things as bugs, thumpers, crickets, and CATs, but they are inclined to change the subject when the uninitiated approaches. They have tasted the characteristic loneliness of the sky, and occasionally the adrenaline of danger. They respect the unseen thing called turbulence; they know what it means to fight for self-control, to discipline one's senses. They buy life insurance ... but make no concession to the possibility of complete disaster, for they have uncommon faith in themselves and what they are doing.
They concede that the glamour is gone from flying. They deny that a man is through at sixty. They know that tomorrow, or the following night, something will come along that they have never met before; they know that flying requires perseverance and vigilance. They know that they must practice, lest they retrograde. They realize why some wit once quipped: "Flying is year after year of monotony punctuated by seconds of stark terror."
As a group, they defy mortality tables, yet approach semi-annual physical examinations with trepidation. They are individualistic, yet bonded together. They are family men, yet rated poor marriage bets. They are reputedly overpaid, yet entrusted with equipment worth millions. And entrusted with lives, countless lives. At times they are reverent: They have watched the Pacific sky turn purple at dusk and the stark beauty of sunrise over Iceland at the end of a polar crossing. They know the twinkling, jeweled beauty of Los Angeles at night; they have seen snow up on the Rockies. They remember the vast unending mat of green Amazon jungle, the twisting silver road that is the father of waters, an ice cream cone called Fujiyama. And the hump of Africa. Who can forget Everest from 100 miles away or the ice fog in Fairbanks in January? They have watched a satellite streak across a starry sky, seen the clear, deep blue of the stratosphere, felt the incalculable force of the heavens. They have marveled at sunstreaked evenings, dappled earth, velvet night; spun silver clouds, sculptured cumulus: God's weather. They have viewed the Northern Lights, a wilderness of sky, a pilot's halo, a bomber's moon, horizontal rain, contrails and St Elmo's Fire.
Only a pilot experiences all these. It is their world!
“We Gotta Get Rid of Those Turbines”
This is dedicated to that vast majority who remember the roar, the smell and chatter of the "Round Engine"; they seldom purred like a kitten.
We gotta get rid of those turbines, they're ruining aviation and our hearing … A turbine is too simple minded, it has no mystery. The air travels through it in a straight line and doesn't pick up any of the pungent fragrance of engine oil or pilot sweat. Anybody can start a turbine. You just need to move a switch from "OFF" to "START" and then remember to move it back to "ON" after a while. My PC is harder to start.
Cranking a round engine requires skill, finesse and style. You have to seduce it into starting. It's like waking up a beautiful and classy mistress. Treat her right and you're in for a thrill. Abuse her and you'll regret it!!!! On some planes, the pilots aren't even allowed to start the engine …
Turbines start by whining for a while, and then give a lady-like poof and start whining a little louder.
Round engines give a satisfying rattle-rattle, click-click, BANG, more rattles, another BANG, a big macho explosion or two, more clicks, a lot more smoke and finally a serious low pitched roar. We like that. It's a GUY thing …
When you start a round engine, your mind is engaged and you can concentrate on the flight ahead. Starting a turbine is like flicking on a ceiling fan: Useful, but hardly exciting.
When you have started his round engine successfully your Crew Chief looks up at you like he'd let you kiss his girl, too!
Turbines don't break or catch fire often enough, which leads to aircrew boredom, complacency and inattention.
A round engine at speed looks and sounds like it's going to blow any minute. This helps concentrate the mind!
Turbines don't have enough control levers or gauges to keep a pilot's attention. There's nothing to fiddle with during long flights.
Turbines smell like a Boy Scout camp full of Coleman Lamps.
Round engines smell like God intended machines to smell.
Pass this on to an old Round Engine guy (or his son, or anyone who flew them) in remembrance of that "Greatest Generation."
Jet-only Jockeys won't understand …
“THE JOYS OF BEING A ‘BOAT BUTT !’” *
Like many of my FMA classmates, I was devastated to be assigned to ATU-10 at Corpus for PBM advanced training. I don't think that I even was very aware that the Navy still had operational Seaplane Squadrons, but I had already decided, after the Navy dumped on us, to bailout and become an Airline weenie … so multi-engine training made sense for me. It turned out to be fun and rewarding for later civilian employment by American Airlines (only 2 years) and Martin (thanks to Russ Baum, who kept my application on the top of the pile) as a Test Pilot on B-57s, P5Ms and the P6M … 42 months in VR-31 as a Ferry Pilot (now called for PC reasons, "Acceptance Test and Delivery Pilots"). Flying everything for usually 100 plus hours a month, certainly helped.
During my one Fleet tour in Norfolk based VP-33, we had great adventures like: "GCA Training" deployments to GITMO which were mostly booze runs for the Admiral's staff and squadron. Flying in a wild and hairy, massive, all service, "Group Grope" aerial parade for Truman's inauguration.
Temporary Duty at the Annapolis Air Facility to give reluctant Midshipmen rides in PBMs, JRFs, and N3Ns on floats. It was a bachelor Ensign's paradise, with a new ‘49 Ford and DC and Baltimore only about 30 miles away, We suffered constant calls to our BOQ requesting "escort services" for Embassy and other fantastic parties.
Other deployments to the frozen North including Halifax, NS and an especially memorable, long engine change at Goose Bay, LAB where three shifts of Canadian gals operated the Civilian Airport facilities which really hummed in the old Prop Airliner days.
There was much more, but I am beginning to tear up (:<). It was a fantastic experience for me and, I am sure, other "BoatButts."
* From FMA LOG winter 2010 © 2010.