A BIT OF HISTORY: "...Training..." Contributed by George R. Hauser email@example.com [23JAN2005]
After leaving the Navy in Jan. 1946 I finished my last year of engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, got a job and thought very little about my short time in the U. S. Navy. After retiring forty years later I began trying to bring those years back into focus and found that much was lost.
1941 - 1946
A - Training: Sunday, December 7, 1941, around three o'clock in the afternoon while studying for finals, the radio programs coming in over my short-wave ham-radio receiver, was interrupted to report that the Japanese Navy had bombed Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was not a familiar name to me but Hawaii was as I often listened to Hawaiian music coming from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The significance of the attack didn't really sink in until the next day as more details became available. During Christmas vacation I boarded the New York Central for Utica and from there to New York City with the intension of joining the Marines. There was a group from Dartmouth College in the same coach during the Utica to N. Y. City part of the trip. They were going to New York to enlist in the Navy's new pre-flight-training program. What they were talking about made sense so I joined them. I spent the next two days being checked over and then returned to Potsdam, N. Y. and Clakson College of Technology where I was majoring in Electrical Engineering. It wasn't until June 1942 that orders were received to precede to Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina for three months of pre-flight training. The timing was just right as my third school year was complete.
A - PRE-FLIGHT TRAINING: New arrivals were brought into the program every three months and arranged into a single battalion. I became a member of the second battalion. The "training" as I remember consisted of two parts - body building and ground school. The physical part was tough at first but after a couple of weeks it became less painful as our mind, muscles, and endurance adjusted. After three months of this grind we moved on to flight training.
Elimination-Flight Training: After Pre-Flight Training Cadets were sent to Elimination-Flight-Training Bases around the country. I was sent to St. Louis Naval Air Station. The Steerman N2S was used for training at Navy E-Bases during the war.
The letter E stood for Elimination. We were informed that some of us would be eliminated from the program for various reasons. The rumor mill had numbers ranging as high as 50%. Of the students I knew during my stay at St. Louis not one washed out. The letter E was soon replaced by the more palatable word Primary. This program consisted of only 80 hours in the air. My instructor was young, eager, conscientious and a little nasty when things didn't go just right. I can almost hear him yelling into the gosport to this day. ( The purpose of the gosport was to provide one-way communication from front to the aft cockpit. It consisted of a hose fitted with a bib-type mouthpiece that the instructor strapped over his mouth, the other end fed into a "Y" that terminated in two muff-like earphones that the student placed over his ears like a headset. With this arrangement a student could hear some of what the instructor was yelling about.)
My instructor crammed every maneuver imaginable into those 80 hours. Those I remember at 87 and more than 60 years later included: Takeoffs and landings, regular spins, inverted spins, regular and progressive stalls, falling leafs - both upright and inverted, loops, Immelmanns, split S, snap rolls, Sturns to landings in a circle, slips to a landing and probably more plus one or two night flights. Some of these maneuvers were pretty frightening for one who had never been in an airplane before. I did them mostly by the numbers. I was so worried about washing out that I tried to master them all.
My stay at St. Louis extended well into the winter Months and it was cold flying around in an open cockpit. We were issued winter flight gear that made free movement all but impossible. It consisted of gloves, jacket, pants and boots all of which was sheepskin leather on the outside with about three-eights inch of fur on the inside - - - to this strap on a parachute and then strap yourself into the back seat of a Steerman and you could barely move.
It wasn't all work at St. Louis. Students were free to leave the base on weekends. One of the favorite places visited was the combination restaurant, dance floor and bar at the top of the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis. It was considered one of the nicer places in town. It was mobbed with aviation cadets on week ends.
Art, a fellow student and native of St. Louis, asked if I'd care to join him and his lady friend for an evening at the Chase. She would ask Margaret, her best friends, to make it a foursome. Margaret reluctantly agreed. The following Saturday afternoon Art and I checked out and drove, in his car, to pick my date on the way in to picking up his - it was all backwards but many things were in those days. I took a deep breath and knocked on the door and was met by Margaret's mother who said that her daughter had changed her mind and wouldn't be joining us. Art came up to the door introduced himself and asked to use the phone. He got the two gals together on the phone, they talked for a couple of minutes and it became a foursome at the Chase. The four of us got together several times after that evening.
The Navy also arranged for off-base recreation. The whole class spent an evening on the River-Boat Admiral that cruised on the Mississippi River. Another time the class was invited to Lindenwood College, a girls school, across the Missouri River in St. Charles Missouri, for dancing and refreshments.
During my final flight check the check-pilot only ordered me to make regular take offs and landings, slip to a landing, a landing within a circle and a couple of stalls. I passed, that was it and the class moved to Sausfly Field Pensacola.
Formation Flight Training at Saufley Field: Training at Saufley Field was again a mix of flying and ground school. The SNV was used for formation flying. The Official name for the SNV was 'Valiant' - it was more-generally referred to as the Vultee Vibrator. It was a low-wing monoplane. It had a low center of gravity, wide-apart wheels and was equipped with a two-position propeller and hand-operated wing flaps. It had good all-around visibility from the front cockpit and was easy to fly. Students flew it from the forward cockpit. Formation flying, unlike
E-Base flying, that was frustrating because of trying to learn too much in too short a time period, was enjoyable. I felt quite pleased and confident with my formation flying. And as it is sometimes said, "all good things must come to an end". They did for me on one beautiful morning..
It was a brisk and clear early morning, it was cool, there was no wind and I felt great while leading two other planes into position for a three-plane formation takeoff. We paused for a moment to let the slipstream, from a previous formation takeoff, dissipate. I gave the signal to commence the takeoff and almost immediately found myself in the grass looking almost straight up at the sky. The slipstream had taken over control of my airplane, it had veered to the left in front of my friend and roommate John -----. His propeller had cut off the last four-six feet of my plane.
John and I were scheduled for a formation-check flight the next day. The old adrenalin kicked in and I held my position through several takeoffs, turns and landings. The check pilot actually complemented me on my performance -- something they rarely did. The accident was all my fault. Poor John, he had an off day and would have to try again. He made it OK the second time and we both moved on to our final squadron in a few days. If I learned anything from that mishap it was not to be over confident or complacent while in the cockpit.
Most students wanted to fly fighters. I chose flying boats and moved to Squadron 8A located at the main station of the Pensacola Naval Air Station. A couple chose OS2Us.
Squadron 8A: The P2Y was the forerunner of the PBY. Squadron 8A had at least one P2Y as my first flight was in the P2Y. The P stood for patrol the Y designated Consolidated as the manufacturer. The P2Y soon vanished from 8A.
Prior to WWII a B (for bomber) was added and Catalina's designation became PBY. The B was dropped from patrol aircraft and squadron designations some time after the war ended.
The PBY was already making a name for itself in the Pacific and would become the most famous military flying boat of WWII. It had a wing span of 104 feet and was 64 feet in length. It was slow with a cruise speed of around 125 miles per hour and a range of over 2,000 miles. The PBY was configured for two .50 cal. Machine guns, three 30 cal machine guns and it could carry up to 4,000 lbs of bombs or depth charges. Some were equipped for torpedoes. The PBY was used all over the world for many years and a few are still flying at this time, almost 60 years after the war ended.
Two or three students would go on each training flight with each student getting about an hour of instruction. Takeoffs, landings, strafing and skip-bombing attacks were practiced along with a couple of patrols into the Gulf of Mexico.
As always ground school continued with a concentration on navigation. Upon fulfilling the requirements at Squadron 8A students became ensigns and received their wings. And, to my surprise, I was sent back to Saufley to become a formation-flying instructor in the SNV.