In 1940 my sister's boyfriend, Bill Huscroft had taken a flying course through Santa Ana Junior College called Civil Pilot Training. He took me for my first plane ride. By the summer of 1940 I enrolled in a this (CPT) course at Santa Ana Junior College. Ground school courses of Aircraft,Navigation and Meteorology were completed at the college before any flying was permitted. The flight phase was flown at Eddie Martin Airport just east of Newport Boulevard where South Main Street ended on Newport Blvd. John Wayne Airport hadn't been completed at this time. We flew Piper Cub, J-3s and I soloed in 8 or 10 hours. We flew one hour flying periods during daylight hours only. We learned how to do accurate figure "S" using a road or telephone lines to judge our turns and compensate for the wind. we practiced stalls, loops, Chandels and lots of take-offs and landing. When everwe were flying with an instructor you could expect the engine to be idled back at any time to simulate an "engine out" emergency. We had to pick an emergency landing spot and set up an approach to this emergency spot.
I thought that flying my fifty hours was taking too long (and was interfering with my beach time) so I told the Instructor I wanted to quit. They didn't get any money from the Government until we students completed the course. The school arranged to let me fly more than 1 hour per flying period so I could finish sooner. I would go out and religiously practice stalls and spins for 2 or 3 hours and come down thoroughly nauseated. I always flew just how they told me to but I know other students use to come back on solo flights with tree branches and bean vines in their landing gear. I never did like buzzing. The higher the better was my rule. I got to test my navigation skills in the later part of our flying school by making cross-country flights. One trip was to Oceanside (my instructor went along to observe; probably because he was bored just flying in the local area instructing us students). We landed first at a field next to the ocean and just north of Camp Del Mar on the present day Camp Pendelton. Today (1996) the ground at this field is partially wet at high tide and but there still is the remains of a cement block Oceanside airport operations building on this field. We took off from Oceanside and flew to Corona airport then back to Santa Ana at Eddie Martin's airport. I didn't get lost.
At 50 hours flying time, I took my Flight test with a FAA government examiner and received a Civilian Private Pilots License. By 1941 a lot of Phil Campbell's orders were for pipe and ship building fixtures from the ship yards at San Pedro. The war was getting close and they were drafting us "young boys". Phil said we were doing defense work and he could keep me out of the draft. Since I knew how to fly I was thinking about joining the Army Air Corps and had been trying to talk my friends, Vern Flanders and Ed Ehman to join with me but their folks both said no. I had to fly 15 hours a year to keep my flying license active and I would talk my friends into paying half the five dollars per hour to fly. On December 7, 1941 I had got Everret Ross to go with me on this Sunday morning for a three hour flight. We flew up over our respective homes to wave at our families and then flew over Irvine lake. We had a bag of oranges which we thru out to bomb the lake.
We got back to the airport about 11 AM and landed. The man who rented us the plane immediately told us that we were the last plane to be flying as all planes were grounded. He then told us about Pearl Harbor. This made up my mind about the Army and I went to Van Nyes Airport in Los Angeles to take a test for Aviation Cadet Training in the Army Air Force. I passed the test and wass ent to downtown Los Angeles enlistment center to enlist. They asked me what I wanted to do and my first choice was meteorology, I had liked this course I had taken for the CPT flying course at Santa Ana JC. They discovered that I had a civilian pilots licence said I would have to go to pilots school. I believed them and by the first week in January 1942 I was on a train to Minter Field, just north of Bakersfield for Pre-Flight Army Air Corps training. Our class was officially labeled "Class of 42-G". Minter Field was Basic flying school for army cadets flying Vultee BT-13's. They also had this indoctrination school for newly enlisted flying cadets. This was a temporary location until the Cadet center at Costa Mesa was finished. For some reason they called the new center Santa Ana Army Air Corp Pre-Flight school even though it was built in Costa Mesa where present day fair grounds are today.
At Minter Field We were issued cadet uniforms and proceeded to learn all about marching. We lived in four man tents with a wooden floor and a fuel oil stove in the middle for heat. After about a week of just getting up before daylight in the cold January mornings for roll call and marching in the mud, we started aircraft ground school and other military subjects classes.
During the last week of January 1942 we were sent to Oxnard Primary School (previously called Major Mosely Mira Lomacivilian flying school) to receive instruction in the Army's PT-13B's, Stearman aircraft built by Boeing in Wichita weighing about 2000 pounds. This was a pretty fabric covered bi-plane with a blue fuselage and yellow wings. The engine was a Lycoming R-680-17 radial 220 hp and our flying instructors were all civilians. Mine was a red-headed fellow by the name of Storge. We had some Army officers in chargeof this school and they would give the final checks and evaluations. Also when anyone was to be "washed out", one ofthe military pilots would take the student on the "decision making" flight.
Our school CO was a 1st Lt Theron Coulter. We were welcomed on our arrival from Bakersfield at the entrance of this facility by our upper classmen in dress uniforms complete with white gloves. I do remember those white gloves. That was the beginning of the constant hazzing we endured until we became upper classmen. As underclassmen we had to double time every where we went. When I became an upper classmen and could walk at a normal pace it seemed to take forever to get anywhere. The cadets lived in small bungalows that slept three under classmen in one room, a joint bathroom between another similar rooms with three upperclass men. Our upper class was mostly from New York City and by the time our class had arrived over half of them had washed out of the flying program and were waiting for an assignment to Navigator, bombardier, or armament school. Our class figured that being from New York City they probable couldn't even drive a car let alone a plane. This gave them lots of time to give us under classmen their undivided and sadistic attention. Also our flying instructors use to "ride" us on quite a few occasions too. Thinking back I know it was meant to provoke our temper, nervousness, etc. At our graduation party my instructor verified that they did this onpurpose to test our temperament and stability. Today, Ithink they should also use this type of testing on applicants for car driving licences today.
No fatal crashes during our tour at Oxnard, but we did have one Stearman land on top (and luckily to the rear) of the cockpit of another Stearman. Onlythe planes were hurt. We did have some of our class washed (failed) out. The Stearman had a narrow landing gear and on landing it was easy to lose control and groundloop usually touching a wind tip on the ground. All of us (me too) whonever had a ground loop were give a small bronze plaque from Major Mosley. Since I had some flying experience in Piper Cubs this course seem easy as I knew what the instructors were trying to teach us. Originally I was told that this would be a hindrance and would have to "un-learn" bad habits but this was not true. On March 24th I had 60 hours and we all had passed our Army check rides. The Class 42-G was sent to Basic flying school at Lemoore Army Air Base at Lemoore, CA. This base is about 40 miles south of Fresno and is now a Navy base. Lemoore AAB was all Army personnel and the Cadets lived in barracks with two to a room. There was a big common shower and toilet room in each barracks which we had to "GI" clean ourselves. We marched to the mess hall for meals and to all of our classes. However we had no hazzing here, just down to the real business of learning how to fly the Army planes. All of our flight instructors were Army Air Corps pilots and officers.
The flight I was in, had an instructor who also had duties as the Squadron supply officer. He often had other places to be so we (5 students) were often parceled out among the other instructors in our Squadron. All of the flight instructors were young Lts and it seemed I spent most of my instruction flying when I was with the substitute instructors flying at about five feet above the ground over the fields and fences of the country side around Lemoore. It's a wonder I was able to pass my flight exams. We flew Vultee B-13s here. It was a low wing all metal fuselage and wings. The landing gear was fixed and it had a radial R-985-AN-1 engine of about 400 hp. It looked (to us) like a real fighter plane. It was a more exacting and less forgiving plane than the primary Stearman. It had a bad stall characteristic in that it would do a half of a snap roll when it stalled out. We lost two of our classmates when they let their air speed get too low turning onto final approach which was around 800 ft altitude; too low an altitude to recover from a inverted position. Our flying periods were three hours and we now flew both nights and days and had cross-country navigation flights that took us over most of the San Joaquin valley.
I had my first in flight emergency here. I had just taken off on a solo afternoon flight when my cockpit started to fill up with smoke. I opened the canopy and radioed the control
tower of my problem and was coming back to land. I landed hot and long and I think I actually went off the end of the far end of the runway a little. Didn't hurt the plane and I turned off
the switches and got out. It turned out that the engine starter switch had stuck in the on position and its associated wiring had caught on fire. At the end of our Basic schooling we were
given some choice to go to single engine school and presumable to fighters or to multi-engine school and into bombers. If you were short or tall then the Army made the choice. Single
engine school was at Luke AB, Arizona and multi-engine was at Victorville, California. I had always wanted multi-engines, the more engines the better. By 22 of May 1942 I had a
total of 137:35 hours and was sent to Twin-Engine advanced school at Victorville, CA. to fly AT-9s. This Base also had a bombardiers school flying C-45s. The source of bombardiers were
"washed outs" from pilot training. We learned to fly AT-17's also.
The AT-9 was a much "hotter"and more modern airplane to fly. It had two constant speed radial engines of about 250 hp each. Also they were non-feathering so if you lost a engine you had to make a slow descent to maintain your air speed. Now we flew with two cadets or instructor and cadet in side by side seating. Take-off was at 110 mph and cruised at 145-150 mph and landed at120 mph. The AT-17 was like a twin engine Stearman. Our flight instructor checked me out in the AT-17 with one ride around the field and a landing. we used the AT-17s for instrument practice only. I checked one or two of the other cadets out in the AT-17. We lost two students from our class when the wing broke of a AT-17. We were told that they were trying to do a loop or some other acrobatics in this plane. We lost two other students on a night take-off crash.
Our flying area was essentially the Mohave desert out to the east as far as Las Vegas. We weren't allowed to go west beyond the Cajon Pass. In the AT-9's we learned to fly formation both day and night. I remember how the Instructor who was in one of the 3 plane flights, radioed us to move out and not fly too close. I don't blame him. We had quite a few cross country flights out as far as the Colorado River and on to Las Vegas. On weekend passes we could now wear our officers pinks. We were close to becoming lieutenants. On the 19th of July I had 200 total flying hours and all the cadets with 200 hours were to be graduated as 2nd Lts and sent on our way to our next assignment. We were immediately restricted to the base. My folks drove to Victorville for my graduation and to say good-bye.