Memories from Aviation Training

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Donnie and Ronnie Lappe

Peggy Zuleika Lynch

Singing, marching wave after wave of platooned cadets clothed in fatigues or uniforms was the usual sight each break between class sessions. Like reveille, the march sessions were timed like clock work. This was a method of giving strength to the worried, harried cadets anxious about classification scores, their physical and mental well being for pilot classification.  World War II from the beginning had a major air war effort  Air war fare was necessary to protect troops on land and sea, to fight enemy air attacks, and to bomb enemy military sites.

In the background to support pilots, were civilian and military staff who worked to maintain the daily schedules for the smooth operation of the center.

I worked in the headquarters. I had to learn new duties and the working of a military organization, and I met many interested personalities. I lacked even conversational knowledge about the military, as a female, when I started.

The same scheme for conducting cadet life in training was the same used at what was called the West Point of the Air, Randolph Air Force Base. I was amazed at the military stance required of a cadet when speaking with a superior officer.  He had to have   his stomach pulled in, hips tucked under, chest raised and chin pulled back. I thought that the chewing out of a cadet by an officer was too harsh, but it was considered necessary to teach them to obey commands. I suffered with the cadets the entire time they were enduring these sessions. My empathetic nature made it difficult for me to keep my mind on my work.

My duties at the headquarters consisted of typing schedules, memoranda, instructions and the like. I was the only person to use the new Variotyper. No one knew how to use it. I had to teach myself the operation and this resulted in my being given military court reporting.

I remember waves of young men, marching and singing between classes when I think back to that training effort with all its hard work.

Many happy hearts as well as heart breaks were there, depending upon the outcome of this training for pilot, navigator or bombardier. Some prevailed, and some failed. They were the best of American young men.

One class included one friend of mine, who had concealed a hidden secret for a long time.  He had one arm s shorter than the other. He did not graduate from the cadet cente,r and almost completed pilot training at San Angelo until the difference was discovered on his last physical. He was “washed out,” much to his disappointment. Still, there was a silver lining. He returned to civilian life and was well established in business by the end of the war. Some of his classmates went on to graduate and made the supreme sacrifice for their country.

Robert Jones – Pilots License

The telephone rang in my room on December 7, 1941. It was my friend, Harland, telling me that the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor. I was studying retail method accounting. I never studied it again.

I enlisted on January 5, 1942 but I wasn’t ordered to report for training until March 26. In this period, I ate quite a number of steak dinners, which I seemed to suddenly to be able to afford since I was not paying tuition for the spring semester.

My Navy flight training began shortly after I reported.

“How you like this?” The instructor pilot’s voice sounded somewhat garbled coming through the rubber speaking tube, or gossport, from his seat in the two-seated yellow biplane where I was a passenger. The plane, yellow peril, as it was called, dived, pulled up in a loop, and rolled right side up at the top of the arc in what I learned later was an Immelmann turn.

I nodded my heard vigorously. I wanted to be certain the Navy officer knew I was good aviator material.

The plane was upright only a few seconds when it suddenly surged up and rolled completely over in a maneuver called a snap roll. The sky and earth moved across my field rapidly from left to right like a painting on the inside of a large rotating barrel.

Student pilots were taught quite a few air acrobatic maneuvers or aerobatics. We learned to do the Immelmans, and snap rolls, and also some less well known feats such as falling leaf, recovery from a spin, and precision flying close to the ground around two pylons. We also were taught “blind” or instrument takeoffs ( not looking out the window ), and instrument flying using for navigation  a beam – a radio signal whose sound told you whether you were on the beam or off. We also learned to be precise in our maneuvering, to climb at a steady 500 feet per minute.

Cadets who crashed or even bumped a wing causing even slight damage to an airplane were fired or “washed out.” I remember one who ground looped, or spun around on the ground, and bumped a wing. He was washed out. Another put on the brakes too quickly while taxiing, causing the tail to rise up and the propeller to nick the runway. He was washed out too. One time, while I was taxiing out, the plane ahead of me stopped suddenly and I had to put on my brakes quickly. The tail of my plane rose up in the air. I held my breath but the propeller didn’t touch the ground. Those were very tense times.

The wind was important. In many precision maneuvers, a pilot did better with a strong wind, like shooting circles, for example. Shooting circles involved piloting a plane over a landing field at 1000 feet altitude, then cutting back on the throttle and gliding down to land within a 100 foot circle painted in the middle of the field. If the wind were strong it was easier, but I didn’t know that at first.

In my final check in primary training, I touched the wheels in the circle only two out of six times. Three were required. But the check pilot said he would give me a passing grade, because I would have to pass a similar test in advanced training. I would have a second opportunity to learn the maneuver.

In advanced training at Corpus Christi, the Cadet pilots in the class told me in conversations in the barracks how to approach the circle so as to practically guarantee hitting it. They said to come in a little fast to be sure it wouldn’t be short, then, at the last turn before the circle, to bank up steeply causing the plane to lose the right amount of altitude quickly. Since I would be very near the circle at this point, I could tell how much altitude to lose. This proved to be a very good circle hitting technique. But I learned later that it was also a very dangerous maneuver. Don’t listen to those guys in the barracks, I was told. I did land in the circle the required three out of six times, however.

And finally, the day arrived for my final check before I could graduate and receive my wings of gold. The check pilot I was assigned to was supposed to be a tough one; at least this is what I had been told in the barracks, but it wasn’t too bad. I was given an “up.” I did graduate. And on November 13, 1942, I got my wings of gold, my naval aviator designation and married – all on the same day. I haven’t had a bigger day since.

Taken from A Collection of War time Memories, collected by the Austin Institute of Literature