Chapter 21

I was to go from here to Memphis Naval Air Station at Millington, a few miles out of town and we bought a ’37 Ford from Waldo Burgardt which I drove the 839 miles down to Millington.  My dad rode as far as St. Louis to visit his relatives down there.  I reported in at the air station and was told there was a parking lot just outside the base fence where I could leave the car.  We were assigned quarters in a wooden barracks with minimal locker facilities which was OK because I had minimal possessions.


At this base we were to concentrate only on flying.  We were introduced to the N2S Stearman biplane which was quite an acrobatic plane with a 220 horse continental radial engine.  This plane was to go on to become a popular stunt plane and crop duster after the war.


Our first session was familiarization with the aircraft by standing alongside and having the instructor explain every thing in detail and we had been given instruction manuals to study.  The flight line was set up so that you came out of the office by the assignment board, got your name and plane number off the board, picked up your parachute and jumped on a trailer behind the tractor which would take you down the flight line.  Getting to your plane you flagged a mechanic to crank up the inertia starter.  As soon as the instructor arrived you would climb in, let the instructor start the plane and put on your helmet with the gosport tube which allowed the instructor to talk to you but you couldn’t talk back.  I guess that was intentional to keep you out of trouble.


After a few flights we were allowed to solo and shoot touch and go landings.  When the wind was right we would take off over some kind of a dorm which always had girls sunbathing on the roof.  We always checked the wind direction to see if it would allow for the use of that runway.


Soon it became time for acrobatics, snap rolls, slow rolls, double snaps, inverted flight although the engine would cut out and you had to glide as the Stearmans didn’t have an inverted fuel system.  By now we had pilots “washing out” for failing flight checks, or some even for not being able to pass the Red Cross swimming tests.  I still have my card attesting to proficiency in swimming.  Quite a few had washed out since beginning at Natchitoches.  Wingovers, Immelmans, loops and pylon eights and very little tolerance was allowed in these maneuvers.  We had two planes working the same pylon one day and the instructor was in one when they hit wing tips however they both made it back OK.  One student flying a TIM wasn’t quite so lucky as it ended up looking like a pile of shredded plywood.


We used to go out to our assigned practice areas and do our stuff.  One day I had another student in my practice area and we went down low to take a look at a cotton field.  Sure enough there were some negroes picking cotton so we came in low and buzzed them.  They were right down burrowing to get closer to the ground but we figured we had better not try that again.  One of the men flew into a clothes line and landed back at the field trailing some laundry and making it most difficult for him to deny it when the report was phoned in.  Another man got a chewing when he made a low pass to throw out a sock with his pay in it to his wife on the edge of town.


This had turned out to be another station where they did not know what an AP was.  They started us out flying those greasy planes in dress whites until word finally filtered down to them.  They had read somewhere where we were supposed to have a full sea bag which would have meant a heavy pea coat.  Mine was at the bottom of the Pacific as I had never been in a climate where it was necessary.


I had made a couple of libertys in Memphis, losing the car the first time for a couple of hours.  After a lot of walking around I finally found it and decided I had seen enough of Memphis.  The next time I got a ride in and went to the amusement park where I had my first roller coaster ride.


About every time flight checks would come around there would be another poor soul wash out.  One day I went to the flight line to get my assignment, got the plane number off the board and picked up my chute, jumped on the trailer and when I came to the plane with that number, jumped off, got a mechanic to crank it up and was off into the wild blue yonder.  I went to my practice area and got enough altitude for some acrobatics, did a couple of snap rolls and something went wrong.  A couple of Dzus buttons (pronounced Zoos) came from somewhere and hit the wind screen, then an oily rag appeared across the windscreen and this was accompanied by a vibration in the engine.  I pulled the power back and looked to see if I could make it back to the field.  It looked as though I would have to stretch it a bit and the vibration started getting worse.  I was making a straight in approach and figured with a bit of luck I could make it when an SBD appeared off my left wing making his final approach.  Having no choice in the matter I cut him off and landed.  I was called up to the tower upon getting out of the plane and was informed that I had just earned a pink ticket in my folder.  I said what would you have done with an engine that would not make a go-around?  The man told me he would have done the same thing but he would have gotten a pink ticket too.


What had happened is that they had two planes on the line with the number I was assigned and this one had just come from A and R and had not been checked over and flight tested yet.  I guess I was the only test pilot in my class.


They eased us into night flying by sending us out just before sundown and having us shoot touch and goes until after dark. It was a bit scary at first with me remembering the night landings at Coral Sea and Midway.


Other maneuvers required were slips, S-turns, and straight in approaches with 3 point touchdowns in a 50 foot circle.  As we were closing out our program there we were  introduced to the SNJs which were similar to the SBDs.  Another instruction book for my collection.


Now we began hearing scuttlebutt about assignments and I was hearing rumors that I would be scheduled for Lakehurst, New Jersey for the gas bags, (dirigibles) and I certainly wanted no part of them.  Of course everyone wanted fighters at that time.  Soon I was hearing more about Lakehurst as they were taking the top man from the celestial navigation class to send there and that was me.  The more I thought of it the more fed up I became.  I had been told that I could not have my wife with me as I was a cadet, which of course I was not but there was no arguing with them.


After sleeping on it I asked for a hearing before the board which was the board you had to appear before when they washed you out.  It seemed they had never had anyone ask to get out before as they just heard from pilots who had failed flight checks or something else and wanted a second chance.  This puzzled them and I got a bit of a chewing with them telling me how much money the government had spent on me the past year.  They went down the line asking each one, my flight instructor as well as all those who taught the classes I was in.  They could all offer no reason and looked at the psychologist for our class.  He shrugged his shoulders and said I had no problems.  Saying that they would give me their answer shortly, they dismissed me.


When I was advised I could be relieved of further duty there I got my orders, bought a couple of recaps for the Ford after going to the proper board for the stamps and was on my way with another sailor who was to report to CASU 36 in Alameda Naval Air Station also.  Unfortunately he did not drive so I drove the thing solo with a stop in Britt and on to California.  I still remember driving at night in the mountains with those dim headlights, before the days of sealed beams, and cable brakes, no hydraulic brakes on a 37 Ford.  We drove it, or rather I drove it non-stop to California and was dead tired on arrival.



Copyright ©2004-2007 Lynn R. Forshee.  All rights reserved.