Navy Flight Training. Instrument flights
Lindbergh was a multi-talented aviation pioneer
All weather round robins in PB4Y-2 Privateers, a madeover Liberator. Training flights, Kansas - Arizona and return, later, from Florida to the Yucatan and return
Contact Author Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
"Charles A. Lindbergh," Autograph and Pilot Inspired Those Who Wanted to Fly
Imaginations had been stirred by Lindberg's historic flight across the North Atlantic in 1927, and by the advances in appreciation of aviation's potential that were suggested by his many pioneering flight achievements in the 1930s. When my turn came, I soon realized that those who had gone before me had met the challenge of instrument flight. The Spirit of St. Louis, in its lonely journey across the North Atlantic represented a truly historic achievement. I learned in my later years that Lindbergh had faced, and circumvented, a number of weather hazards. In navigation too, we learn that, before satellites, before inertial navigation or aids like Loran, Lindbergh planned his trip from Long Island to Paris using great circle navigation which he accomplished by flight planning a series of straight line chord vectors, to approximate a great circle, needed to conserve gas. Lindbergh later encountered instrument challenges recounted by wife Anne Lindbergh in her book "North to the Orient." When their aircraft, Sirius, was returned to the U.S. after its stay in the Orient, it was upfitted with the Sperry instruments featured in the book pictured in the upper left of this page. History was served, not just by his courage, but by his intelligence.
My journey into flying would be much easier. Some of it is recounted below.
Note: Author Franklyn E. Dailey Jr. teams up with his Naval Academy classmate, Barney Rapp, to learn to fly, beginning with Primary in Ottumwa Iowa, and Basic in Pensacola Florida. Both men have come back from combat surface ships after 27-months of war. Barney Rapp went on to command squadrons, to become a Vice Admiral, and ComAirPac. After a short period in his retirement, Barney (William T. Rapp) passed due to supra nuclear palsy, a cruel disease related to Lou Gehrig's disease. Barney is missed by his wonderful wife Kathy and their three sons. He was a good friend and a fine mariner and aviator.
From NAS Banana River, Florida (now Patrick AFB), Barney Rapp and I received orders to NAS Hutchinson, Kansas. This new duty assignment would advance our flight abilities to include the heavier combat aircraft we would be flying once assigned to the fleet. The organization that conducted this training was called "the operational training command." For us, it involved flying the Navy PB4Y-2, our first experience in a 4-engine aircraft and also our introduction to the Consolidated Privateer, the Navy's re-design of the Army Air Corps' Liberator. This training foretold the type of sea duty we were most likely to get after completion of flight training. The nature of our training had actually begun to change when we entered the multi-engine instrument phase at Corry Field in Pensacola in twin engine SNB Beechcrafts. In that phase, we had begun our training not solely for the objective of getting an aircraft out and back safely. The twin Beech training at NAS Pensacola's Corry Field had been the beginning of our training for future operational missions in all-weather conditions. Our evolution was now being extended one more step at NAS Hutchinson, Kansas, to an aircraft configured almost exactly like the planes we would be expected to fly operationally.
Navy Privateer. A remodeled Liberator. Superchargers removed in favor of heat exchangers for wing heat.
I was assigned as copilot for a young, aspiring, Patrol Plane Commander (PPC). Although our Hutchinson Privateer aircraft had a navigator's plotting board and an astrodome for viewing the sun and stars, there were no navigators in those Hutchinson flight crews. The two copilots traded off navigation duties. We flew with minimum air crews. Flights were scheduled to develop the pilot's aircraft handling proficiency through an intensive series of flights involving touch and go landings and takeoffs, and five or six hour round robin airways flights while at NAS Hutchinson, Kansas..
Since we were now flying larger four engine aircraft that operationally required 10-12 man crews, it dawned on me after I reflected on it that minimum crews also meant minimum loss of life in training accidents. On one takeoff, the recap on our 56-inch starboard tire came off and drove massive holes in the starboard flap. Through the yoke, we could feel the nose wheel shimmying uncontrollably. I looked out the right side window and yelled to the young guy in the left seat what I could see of what had happened to the right sidemount. ("Sidemount" was our name for the landing strut with wheel attached.) He alertly aborted the takeoff and we came to rest at the very end of Hutchinson's 8000-foot south runway.
After he explained to the tower what had occurred, the young PPC candidate was ordered to taxi the plane back to the ramp. I took another look at that sidemount and the damaged flaps and we deliberated. He then called the tower and told them he was not going to taxi that plane but needed a mule (a little tractor-like vehicle capable of mounting a tow bar and towing aircraft by attaching the bar to the nose wheel) to come out and tow the plane in. The tower finally gave in and sent out a tow crew. I was not professionally qualified to do so but I would have given that young pilot an "up" for using his head in opposing a mindless order from the tower operator. I note now that my logbook for that episode shows one-tenth hour of "flight time" though our wheels never left the ground. We then flew a few night round-robin "cross countries" to Texas and New Mexico to build up flight experience.
At Hutchinson one day, I was asked to be a fill-in co-pilot for a flight to Wichita, Kansas to pick up parts. The plane assigned was a Liberator, the twin tailed predecessor to the Privateer. I can say to those who so bravely flew that aircraft out of the British Isles in World War II that I have flown the plane too. The flight took about one hour. We did not keep our own flight logs. That flight was never entered in my logbook. Still, on 4/8/46 my logbook shows that I had been designated as qualified by the Training Officer of VB4 OTU #1 at NAS Hutchinson, Kansas as a copilot in both versions of the PB4Y, the 1s and 2s. It seems silly now, but my apprehension in flying the Privateer, my first four-engine experience, was that my hand was not big enough to control four throttle levers.
Then it was back to Pensacola for a second time. We were sent once again to "North Whiting Field" in Milton Florida for our final operational training in the Privateer, this period to be with full flight crews. Before we would receive orders to operational Privateer squadrons, we needed Navy flight training experience that prepared student crews for a critical aspect of the Navy's operational flight responsibilities. We needed to navigate over long stretches of open water. For us, this meant Privateer flights with full crews from Florida to the lower Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and return.
In those Gulf of Mexico training flights to Yucatan, pairs of pilots who had recently received their Navy wings were assigned to alternate as copilot and navigator. The Patrol Plane Commander (PPC) was also a student pilot but he had the advantage of many more flight hours than those of us who had gone directly from Primary to Basic to Operational training. In this training crew, I rejoined my Naval Academy classmate, William T. "Barney" Rapp. He and I were the alternate navigator/copilots for one of the three crews in our unit on those flights.
One of those flights was especially memorable. The weather was violent. We searched for an altitude that would smooth things out but the Privateer (no turbo superchargers on the engines, just a two stage blower, and no altitude capability much above 14,000 feet) was no match for Gulf of Mexico thunderstorm buildups. We finally elected to go down to 500 feet above the wind-streaked water and try to stay under the worst of the turbulence and take the brunt of the torrential rain. In those rains, the best sealed greenhouse (the pilot's plexi-glass enclosure) leaks, sometimes generating a wet green wall much as one would experience if underwater.
The co-pilot rotating into the navigator's station was expected to take responsibility for the fuel flow valves that were on the bulkhead right behind the navigator's plotting table. There was a crew chief (plane captain) but in training, the enlisted crew might change from day to day. There was an array of four red valve handles with flow lines in red. Red lighting was used to keep our eyes dark-adapted while plotting at the navigator's table. Not much of the fuel system array was very visible under those red lights that we were using to see the charts. In fact, red lines on the charts could not be seen either. We had made our radar landfall on Yucatan and the aircraft was now headed back north, about three hours out of Pensacola. The #4 engine quit cold. A frantic search with a white flashlight showed a valve connection that seemed to agree with the empty level in a fuel sight gauge across the aisle. I rotated the valve handle to the position I figured would supply gas to #4 engine, and after some sputtering, it came back on.
Another flight during our second tour at NAAS North Whiting Field, Florida, was memorable for its tragedy. John Bolthouse as PPC, and Barney Rapp and I as copilot/navigators were the assigned pilots in one aircraft crew of a "flight of three" aircraft making this, their final period of training together. PPC designees Lt. Joseph Kohout and Lt. Roland Edstrom piloted the other two planes in our three aircraft "flight." These two men had begun their Navy careers as primary flight instructors and had known each other for some time. One morning when our aircraft was down for maintenance, the other two planes went off on a formation training flight that normally would have been a three aircraft flight. I cannot answer to this day the question of why the Navy would have put formation flight training into a program for Navy Privateers that would just about always search the ocean waters on single-plane patrol assignments. Near Brewster, Florida, these two planes locked wings and both crashed. There were 28 deaths, no survivors, and 20 widows in Milton, Florida that evening. 27 of the casualties were the flight crews of the two Privateers and the 28th was the pilot of the single engine plane that flew into their formation. An AP article carried a Beedland, Florida, farmer's story that he saw the "the smaller plane" strike one of the larger planes "in the tail" and the larger plane then rolled over into its formation companion aircraft. One man was found with his partially open chute near the wreckage of one of the planes. Barney and I had struck up a friendship with Lt. (jg) Wallace "Wally" Jones, Edstrom's co-pilot,, a genial Irishman from Boston. He was also in the co-pilot/navigator training program and was married. Events in those training days stopped for no man. There was not even an opportunity for us to express our sorrow to Wally's widow. (The author appreciates the 02/08/2004 e-mail from Steve Sisk, CPO USN (Ret), that added important details to my story of this episode. Steve's father, Albert C "Ace" Sisk, AO 1/c, was in OTU 4, the operational training unit that we were assigned to in our final stage Privateer operational training in early 1945.)
Through all this period of primary flight training, basic training and operational training, ground school classes were being held during the half-day that we did not fly. Meteorology, called "aerology" for flight students, was the most helpful subject and navigation the next most helpful. Not much was provided in ground school on power plants except for cockpit engine instrumentation, and even less was given on the "innards" of radio aids. Some sessions on instruments such as "needle-ball and airspeed", the artificial horizon, and the autopilot were helpful. A pitot/static tube (this tube houses the external sensor for airspeed) lecture, especially dealing with instruments whose external sensors could ice up and give deceptive readings, was a vital input. (Of course, getting the cover off the pitot tube in the pre-flight check was covered. And to that training I can credit the observation I made to a stewardess to tell the pilot on a civilian passenger flight many years later that I could see that the aileron battens were still on when we taxied out.)
I can still read more into the weather maps shown on the TV than the weather presenter seems able to talk about. I must admit I cannot now recall the subtle meanings of the terms "wet and dry adiabatic lapse rates," except that they were measured in "degrees per thousand feet." "Occluded" weather fronts seem to have disappeared as terminology in modern meteorology. In navigation, those of us who came from shipboard navigation discovered that HO (for the Navy's Hydrographic Office) 218 tables for aviators were simpler to use than HO 214 tables for surface mariners. We could see why the bubble octant for aircraft celestial navigation replaced the sextant used aboard ship. The Privateer was equipped with Loran and we made use of the Loran stations that were still maintained after the World War II. Ground school introduced us to Loran. (To get a single line of bearing for navigation purposes, two Loran ground stations, each with a "master" and a "slave" needed to be operating.) There was almost nothing offered in ground school on low frequency radio ranges. We were informed that there were subtle differences between Loop and Adcock antennas sending out the "Ns" and the "As" of the radio range stations but not informed what those differences were. Some operating instructions for the Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) equipment was provided but nothing on how the accuracy of the bearings might be affected by the particular metal fuselage and wing structure of the type aircraft it was mounted on were covered.
By "low" frequency radio ranges, I refer to the "carrier" frequencies in the 200-450 kilocycle range, just below the AM radio broadcast band that begins above 500 kilocycles. 500 kilocycles was reserved as the distress frequency.
The term "carrier frequency" means a frequency that "carries" the information that results from amplitude modulation (AM) of the carrier." Information" would be intelligible voice, or tones that describe sectors of a radio range station used for navigation in flight. Many of those aspects of radio navigation were left to OJT, On the Job Training, training that occurred in flight.
One movie film on in-flight icing will never be forgotten. Whenever the weather precluded flight-training operations, this film would be shown in the ready room. The aircraft depicted was a Lockheed Lodestar, and was obviously a model. It was configured with "boots", rubberized material in the leading edge of the wings, and on the vertical and horizontal stabilizers. Pneumatic actuators could cause these boots to expand and contract. When that Lodestar was flying through icing weather, and in the film the model jerked back and forth like a plane on a string which it probably was, the narration introduced the subjects of "rime" ice and "clear" ice. Rime ice must be left to build up on the leading edge of the flight surfaces before actuating the "boot" to chip it off mechanically. "Clear" ice was portrayed as so much of a hazard that the pilot had better think about landing somewhere as his first thought. Propeller ice was not discussed because blade heaters had not been developed at the time the film had been made. Failure to invoke the practices the narrator advocated sent the model plane into a stall, a spin, and a crash, with accompanying disaster music. The film was entirely barren of even the movie technology available in the 30s and 40s; the aircraft was cast in a dark and gray atmosphere, and always ended in disaster. Unrealistic as it was, I occasionally still have a nightmare which I attribute to so many showings of that training film, most of which took place in the North mat ready room at NAS Ottumwa Iowa in the winter of 1944-45. That rather crude film (my recollection is that it was a Jam Handy film) taught me to respect ice, even carburetor ice. It served a useful purpose for the flying that I was going to experience.
One lesson of that film's memorable teaching came back to me many years after the events that make up the core of this story. I was by then (1957) a weekend warrior commanding a squadron of twin engine P2V-6M (Lockheed Neptune aircraft equipped for Petrel missile launch) aircraft at NAS Niagara Falls, New York. Neptunes had the Wright R-3350 engines. On this particular late winter weekend, the schedule called for me to renew my instrument card. The Navy had three categories of instrument flight qualification. The lowest was an entry level aviator's "restricted" card. Mine was pink. After demonstrating higher proficiency, a Navy pilot was issued a "standard card," often referred to as a "white card" since these were all printed on white card stock. To those demonstrating peak proficiency on a flight check, the Navy issued a "green card." For Navy clearance stations, a "green card" would let a pilot take off when the destination weather was forecast to be at absolute ceiling and visibility minimums. For example, let's use 300 feet ceiling and one quarter mile visibility as the set minimums for a given destination airfield. With a "white card" I could be cleared if the forecast was 500 feet and one half mile, a little above minimums established for that airfield. Another privilege reserved for the "green" card pilot was that he could set his own takeoff minimums. Some of those very well qualified instrument pilots did not live to rue the day they exercised that privilege. The reason that takeoff, in near zero visibility conditions, is most often not elected by experienced pilots is the potential loss of an engine on takeoff and the subsequent inability to reach any alternate airport.
"Weekend warrior" (Naval Air Reserve) pilots and crews flew one weekend a month. Some years, particularly in the military services' gasoline budget economies of the 1950s and 1960s, we were restricted to just four hours of flying or even less in a given month. (I recall one Louis Johnson, a Secretary of Defense who defined his tenure with the word "budget cuts." One of his cuts resulted in severe gasoline restrictions for all military aircraft.) Except for the airline pilots who were also doing reserve duty in our squadron, most of us were satisfied, sometimes even pleased, to be able to maintain "white card" instrument proficiency in the Naval Air Reserve.
A "white" card is the card I held when I found myself one forbidding Friday evening as Bud Britton, the instrument flight check officer attached to the Niagara Falls Naval Air Station, prepared with me to take off for NAS, Sanford Florida. Though a Reservist, Bud was on active duty and was getting in a lot of flight hours. He was courageous enough to let me fly as PPC in the left seat and he flew copilot. Not far south of Lake Erie, at about 8,000 feet over western Pennsylvania, we encountered icing. Clouds always persisted along the south rims of the Great Lakes for at least half the year but our forecaster had not put icing down on the briefing. Recalling that old Lodestar movie, I asked for a higher altitude and got 12,000 feet. We were still picking up ice. The wing heaters were not working but the propeller heaters, which were working, told us what our wing lights did not completely reveal about ice on the leading edge of our wings. Propeller deicers are electric and work in "on and off" in cycles. Near the end of the "on" period one could hear ice breaking off the props and hitting some part of the wing or fuselage. I was taught in that early film that the moisture that formed ice on a cold aircraft had to come from a higher elevation where it was warmer. The outside air temperature at 12,000 feet was indeed warmer than it had been at 8,000 feet but I needed to go up a bit more to prevent the ice altogether. I was reluctant to ask for a higher altitude because we were not using oxygen. I discovered that if I cheated about 300-400 feet above the 12,000-foot assigned altitude, the ice situation improved dramatically. That is what I did and Bud did not argue with me. We broke out into clear weather about Tennessee and made it down to the beautiful city of Sanford in Florida.
As part of my instrument check, although NAS Sanford was not that night on instrument conditions, I was to make a low frequency radio range let down. I made a beauty; all my Alaskan experience came into play. As I was on final, I made a jolting discovery. The field was on the "wrong" side of the "low cone." I had looked at the letdown plate, and saw in my tired mind a mirror image of it, and executed the procedure accordingly. My check flight instructor had not noticed it. The folks on the ground were not tracking me visually or on radar; and there were no other flights within fifty miles. So here I was, and I had to sheepishly tell Bud Britton what I had done, while receiving landing instructions from the tower. Made a good landing and resolved not to fly at 12,000 feet without oxygen ever again.
I had encountered the oxygen lesson in flight once before in the Pacific northwest in 1947. Because it had happened to the other pilot, I guess I assumed he slumped over into an apparent dead sleep simply because of his own personal anoxia (lack of oxygen) vulnerability. I assumed that it was a weakness that I did not have because on that occasion I had taken the controls and obtained clearance for an immediate letdown over Portland, Oregon under Air Traffic Control procedures. Another time, during my training in the oxygen pressure chamber at Norfolk, Virginia, the lady operator took 15 pilots up to 30,000 feet. Then, one at a time, we took off our masks, and turned over a deck of playing cards, card by card, naming the card as we went. Most of us began to fail to identify cards properly about the 10th or 11th card. We were then instructed to put the oxygen masks back on and the next pilot would begin the process. My companion that day, Harold Norman, a great friend and great pilot, instead of misnaming cards on his turn, began to convulse. The two of us next to him worked furiously to get his mask back on and the lady in charge "pulled the plug" down to 15,000 feet. Ouch! The ears screamed for equilibrium. She then took us to ground level and Harold had to go to the Infirmary until he recovered. The "lesson," somewhat beyond the usual lesson, was that some folks undergo a convulsive episode out of the norm. One develops a lot of respect for oxygen.
At the end of the operational training period, it now being June 1946, Barney Rapp was ordered to one of the three operational squadrons that rotated from NAS Whidbey Island in the state of Washington to NAS Kodiak, Alaska and I was ordered to another. I went to VBP 107 and Barney to VPB 120. Our Patrol Plane Commander-in-training on the Yucatan flights had been John Bolthouse. When orders came to the three of us to join operational squadrons, John went to a warm Pacific base while Barney and I went to Alaska. I never saw John Bolthouse again. He was a very good pilot.
I had taken a long, long train ride on the Southern Pacific to San Diego only to be informed that I was to get on the Santa Fe Railroad and head north. (Most Navy men have experienced being sent on long trips to the wrong place. It was a feature of Navy life and some thought it a deliberate ruse to confuse the "enemy.") I took the train out of the San Diego station, the passenger lounge of which was dominated by a giant stuffed Kodiak bear. It was not a play bear but a real one preserved by a taxidermist. This train, with several changes, proceeded lazily up the west coast to Seattle, Washington, where I spent my first night in the Bachelor Officer's Quarters (BOQ) at the Naval Air Station, Sand Point Washington. This BOQ had an organ and a grand piano in its lobby. I was impressed. The next day, a Naval Air Station Whidbey Island pilot landed in a "twin Beech" as we called them, picked up three of us who were traveling on orders, and took us on a flight over bays and islands to Ault Field on beautiful Whidbey Island.
Peggy and our baby were due to come in to Renton Airport at Seattle via Northwest Airlines a few days after I arrived and reported to my squadron. At St. Paul, a flight transfer airport for Peggy and the baby, Northwest changed planes and crews. Peggy alone was told to remain aboard with the baby while the aircraft was towed to a hangar. One of the Northwest pilots then carried the baby into the hangar and thence to the lounge for Peg's change of plane to the next and final segment of her flight. Those kindnesses are never forgotten.
Again, Barney Rapp's unselfishness helped me during the tour at Whidbey Island .He now had a new 1946 Ford Sedan, one of the first postwar cars. Civilian car manufacture had been suspended for the war years. Barney's dog had done a gnawing job on the new dashboard. One of the common jokes then was that due to shortages, dashboards were made out of soybeans. His dog could not resist the meal. Barney loaned me his precious new car and I drove to Renton, Washington via Anacortes, Everett and Bellingham and picked up Peggy and the baby. We then made our way back to Whidbey Island, this time via the Mulkiteo Ferry to Oak Harbor, Washington and our Oak Harbor Quonset Hut with its coal stove. And, to the baby's immediate delight, a coal scuttle with interesting black objects in it.
In our first hour together, Peggy told me that the first leg of her trip had been on a National Airlines Lodestar from Norfolk to La Guardia Field, NY. Flying over Baltimore, the plane passed through violent thunderstorms. The nest day's newspapers in the east contained stories of millions of dollars in damage on the ground in the Maryland area. Peggy related that the Lodestar pilots were cursing each other (Lodestar pilots were not compartmented off from the passengers.) because the plane at times seemed out of control and lightning flashed through the fuselage from left wing to right wing. The man in the passenger seat next to Peg and the baby was experienced enough as an air traveler to help Peggy with calming words and assurances that everything would be "all right." After the landing at La Guardia, Peg related to me that the friendly man got out of the plane just ahead of her, descended on the ladder to the tarmac, and promptly threw up. Wives joining husbands got their share of rough edged travel experiences in those days.
From my new squadron's forward base at Kodiak, Alaska, all flights except local practice landing flights were instrument flights. So, upon reaching Whidbey, I was focused on learning to be an instrument pilot in an operational aircraft at the same time that I was attaining proficiency in the aircraft itself. I was not then aware that I was facing a dual challenge, flying itself, and instrument flying. I was just a very low flight time co-pilot and I never paused to reflect on what paths other aviators had taken to attain proficiency.