I also have memories of that notorious watering hole, which I
discovered in the early 50s at about the time I was hired by Riddle Airlines.
On one occasion I took my recent bride, a very sedate, prim English lass there not knowing what her reaction would be to the goings on. Needless to say it was an eye opening experience.
We were seated at a table near the entrance to the rest rooms. After a few beers my wife excused herself and went to the bathroom. I neglected to mention to her that there was a picture of an Indian brave on the wall just wearing a moveable fig leaf over his private areas. And naturally, as they say curiosity once killed a cat, the same goes for Jan, my wife. She lifted the fig leaf. The response was immediate, bells rang, the band somehow also knew her name, and all in unison shouted, "We know what you were looking for Jan."
I can't recall how much longer we remained there after that incident, probably left soon thereafter.
When I got to the base wearing my heavy shortcoat we would cluster
around a 55 gallon drum with a fire.
The beauty of instructing in P-40's was that you didn't have to go up with the students. But the downside was that you had to worry about whether they were going to get it down in one piece!. When a student was going up for the first time, the instructor would go down to the end of the runway where we had a radio in a little trailer. We could talk to them while they were landing. I remember one student whose first approach was too high and way too fast. So I gave him a red flare to go around and told him he was going to have to slow it down, a lot! He came around again and was slower but still too fast so I gave him another red flare. I told him he was going to have to slow it down some more and warned him that I had more flares than he had gas. The third time he got it down to an altitude and speed where I judged that he could make it without running off the end of the runway so I let him land!
c Barbara's sister, Marge Ann Whitehurst, and Chip!
I was out with five students on a two part mission. First was an
aerial gunnery session and the second was a low altitude cross country. Yes, this is what was called
"buzzing" the countryside. It was practice for straffing. We went up to perhaps 5000 feet, offshore
from Clearwater, and the students did their pursuit curves on the 4 x 20 screen flag towed behind
Then I got them together and we started a descent toward the coast south of Sarasota. It was an extremely calm day and there were no boats to allow one to judge altitude. In those days the altimeters were set with zero at the field elevation. Our field was very low, probably twenty or thirty feet. All of a sudden, I think bells were going off in my head and I looked at the altimeter. It said minus 20 feet! I jerked the nose up immediately and we crossed the coast and finished the flight. We were extremely close to having all six planes go into the drink, boom,boom, boom, etc. It scared the whey out of me. We had to be just seconds from death!
A new airline, National Airlines, had started up and used the same field for their runs to New Orleans. We really disliked them because they ignored the fact that this was a training field and would come in and land however it pleased them. We had no accidents but I consider that a matter of luck rather than plan.
One day I was above the Florida clouds when it was time to go back to the field. So I heeled up and dove through a big hole in the clouds. All of a sudden I noticed the the forward, inboard corner of the ammunition access door on the right wing was bent up a bit. Before I could do anything the whole thing flipped up and tore off! It didn't make any difference till I got ready to land. I knew that wing would stall out at a higher speed than the left wing so I came in a little fast and had no problem. I should mention how the doors were secured. The "permanent" hinge was in the rear. The front was secured by a hinge with two wires going through the hinges from the center out with a little kind of hook on the inside end of the wire. The right half of the hinge was torn apart, but the left half was pristine. And there was the wire, still underneath the hinges.
One day I started to taxi out to the runway and I noticed the Dzus fasteners on the cowling were jumping up and down. They had not been fastened. So I pulled over, waved at a mechanic and he came over with a screwdriver and fastened them. If I had tried to take off that way I believe the cowling would have come off. It could have damaged the tail and possibly affected the control. We had pretty good maintenance but sometimes things weren't quite right. One of the P-40's had its engine ruined when someone came out and started the engine without oil! The mechanic had drained the oil about lunchtime. He was supposed to tag it that it was undergoing an oil change but apparently didn't. He went to lunch. That's when someone came out to start it!
One of the 27th pilots from Italy was there with me, Lee Noble Ridings. He had crashed on landing in Italy and some 20# fragmentation bombs went off and peppered him with shrapnel. He was given the extreme surgery, like Ernie Weidenhammer's. They slit him up and down and across, peeled him back and took out the shrapnel, then sewed him up. That was about seven months before. He was working at a desk and hadn't flown since. A month or so later they let him check out in a P-40. I understand that he flew it very gingerly, half expecting the surgery to open up on him! We lost him sometime in the 90's.
One day I was to take five students up to 15,000 feet and let them practice combat. That meant I would sit off to one side and watch them chase each other around like they were trying to shoot each other down. It was mid to late afternoon and I was getting a little worried about the late afternoon low clouds that would move in from the gulf and cover the field. So I watched them and watched the coastal clouds. I was asking myself why they weren't calling us down. Finally they did, so I waggled my wings to get them in trail. Then I rolled over and flew straight down to 5,000 feet. When I pulled out, there wasn't a soul behind me. It took a bit of time to re-assemble them and when we got to the field, we had a 700 feet ceiling. And there I was with five students in echelon to the right trying to get them to the runway. We were doing OK when a Piper Cub appeared directly in front of us. I had no choice but to pull up into the clouds very gently and then back down. Fortunately no one lost their position or they could have been in severe danger. We got down. When we got into the briefing room, I remember being very upset to put it mildly. I told them that I was flying the same plane they were and that there was no excuse for them not being able to follow me down. "What kind of fighter pilots are you if all I have to do is dive to get rid of you?" This will probably offend a lot of peacetime stateside "fighter pilots" that have never been in combat. They think they know how to fly P-40's and P-51's but I don't believe you can become a real fighter pilot till someone starts shooting at you. I might mention that all of my students had twice as much flying time as I did, but I could have shot any one of them down very quickly!
I was sent to the P-40 Instructor's School at Pinellas Field at Saint
Petersburg FL. We did a lot of gunnery. We went out to the coast for aerial gunnery. We shot at a 4
x 20 target on a long towline (ca 300'), towed by another P-40. I remember we took turns as the
tow-pilot. The bullets had paint on them so they left a mark on the target. That way a half dozen or
so of us could shoot at the same target. It was a little hair-raising at times for the tow-pilot.
Taking off with the target was a bit of harrowing experience. The tow-line, attached to the bomb rack, was stretched back and forth behind you on the runway. You had to avoid dragging the target on the runway or it might get shredded and be of no use. So when you were ready you gave it full throttle and as you rolled down the runway with the tail up you could feel the tug every time you hit the end of another loop. When you felt the third tug, you jerked back on the stick and leaped a hundred feet in the air on the edge of a stall . If you did it right, the flag would be undamaged and you could continue out to the shoreline. If it was damaged you had to fly back down the runway and cut it loose as you would at the end of the mission.
The gunners would come in on a pursuit curve and fire when they were ready. Sometimes one of them would come in too far and get almost in trail and their tracers would arc over your wing. Good time for some cold shivers and a few epithets.
For ground gunnery they would give you fifty rounds in each of the outboard guns. You would then go around in a rectangular path and shoot at a six foot by six foot target. Each plane had his own target. One day I had an exceptionally good run. I could tell because when I gave a short burst I couldn't see the bullets kick up dirt. One pass I saw dirt kicked up in front of my target. The people monitoring the targets said no one else shot at my target and I had put 88 holes in it with one hundred rounds!
When we finished this class, the orders sending us back were cut and I was named as first in the class. I was very proud of that!
I had a short TDY (temporary duty) assignment in Tallahassee. They had a P-40 up on a couple concrete supports. You could get all suited up, climb in and start the engine. There was a little blockhouse right next to it and they had complete control over the engine and the readings of the instruments. They would then create the various emergency situations and see how you would react to them. I'm still not sure why they sent me up there but it was interesting.
But the most interesting time for me was a girl at Florida Women's College, a friend of Barbara's. Barbara had asked me to call her up which I did. I made a date to go to a movie. She said yes but that she would have to meet me at the theater. I was waiting there when a Florida Highway Patrol car pulled up to the curb and let her out. She was the daughter of the governor. Later I read in the paper that there had been a state dinner that night with England's Lord Halifax as the honored guest. She had left early to come to the movie with me! The movie was good but we had to leave early. She lived in a women's dorm and had to be in by 10:30. So I suggested if she wanted to meet me early the next evening we could see the end of the earlier show. And we did. I have to admit I was flattered that she went to a movie with me rather than chat with Lord Halifax.
Sometime after Christmas I got orders to go to Alexandria Army Air Base. "Travel by military and/or civilian aircraft is directed for the journey going in order to accomplish an emergency war mission!" I packed in a hurry and went to get a reservation. There were priorities assigned to people trying to fly. A was the highest then B, then C and so on. With my orders I thought surely I would get an A priority. I got C. I've always wondered how one could get an A or B priority.
We had a little area of our own with a ready shack. We had a
grounded bomber pilot lieutenant as our engineering officer. We had a time gelling into an outfit.
The maintenance was not very consistent or "dedicated". It was as if everybody resented being there.
Things kind of came to a head when one of the pilots brought a P-40 back with a "rough engine". The crew chief checked it out, could find nothing wrong and cleared it for flight. Another pilot took it up and brought it back immediately, writing in the log that the engine was "very rough". They checked it again, found nothing wrong and cleared it for flight. We said, "No." There's something wrong, we won't fly it!" And they wouldn't work on it! So it sat there. Finally Capt. Watson said he would take it up. He got about 500 feet in the air on takeoff and the engine quit. He did not do what he was suppposed to, go straight ahead and belly land it in a field. The worst thing you can do at this point is to turn around and land back at the field. Most people who try never make it. But he got away with it. It was towed back to the line. The cowling was removed and the sparkplugs. Wires were put in the cylinders and the prop turned over. There were twelve cylinders and the wire in #4 left didn't move. No piston was going up and down in the cylinder!
With this we lost complete confidence in the mechanics. I had gotten to know the assistant Base Maintenance Officer in the club. I saw him that night and described the problem. I asked him if they could transfer this engineeering officer somewhere and give the job to me. He thought he could arrange it and two days later I was Engineering Officer, OJT(On Job Training). I called the mechanics into my office and explained what was going on. I told them that I was a pilot and didn't know very much about maintenance but that I was going to learn as fast as I could. They were to keep things going as they had been and when I saw something I didn't like or understand, I would tell them. They were then to give me their opinions and then I would make up my mind and we would do it my way. I told them that I would test hop all planes in the future and that if I had to fly them I reserved the right to make the decisions. They appeared to respect that and most of our problems seemed to disappear.
The military runs on rank and they have a long time way of determinng who's who. We had two Captains and four Lieutenants. Capt. Watson's "Date of Rank" was earlier than mine so he was our "commander". But it became a little peculiar when I became Emgineering Officer because I was in charge of the enlisted men. It came to my attention one day that he had chewed out one of the crew chiefs, so I had to tell him that I was in charge of the enlisted men and if he had a problem with any of them he was to go through me and not deal with the crew chief directly.
High performance aircraft are made of strong but light materials. A lot of aluminum was used and a lot of brass fittings. If one is not really careful about torquing things it is rather easy to strip them out and then we have a problem. So one of my "cute" ideas was to post a board in the ready room with all the mechanics names on it. When someone did this, and it is quite easy to do and will happen occasionally, I would put one of those third grade gold stars on the board. They knew this was a good natured reminder to be careful. One day I stripped one! When I went back into the ready room, there was my name on the board with a gold star! I was really pleased that they felt comfortable doing it. I just laughed of course.
I tried to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could. The crew chiefs got me a set of coveralls with the legs and arms cut down to my size. I would go out when they were working on an engine and climb up on the rack on the other side. Then I would do whatever they were doing on their side of the engine on my side. One day one of the mechanics from another outfit down the line came over to the plane we were working on. He started griping about the officers in his outfit to my mechanic. I was in coveralls. I had my officer's cap on but it was pushed back so it wasn't very visible. After he had gone on for awhile, my mechanic with a bit of a smile said to him," Oh by the way, this is Captain Dills." The visitor looked a bit struck as though he was going to be in trouble. I laughed and told him not to worry, that he hadn't known who I was.
There were times when you got into a mild bind because of someone else's bad information. One time I took off late in the afternoon from Waycross GA heading for Tampa FL. (1945) I checked the weather and the teletype said they had a 5000 foot ceiling. I think this was the only time I ever encountered the phenomenon of "siphoning" gas. It was possible to have a situation where gas would be sucked out of the wing tanks. I can't exactly explain how it happens and it is very rare. It turns out there was a mistake on the weather teletype. They meant 500 feet but put in an extra zero! I siphoned a huge amount of my gas while crossing the Okefenokee Swamp and it left me no alternative but to continue to Tampa and the sun had set!. When I got there, there was a 200' ceiling and I was very low on gas. I landed but was mad as hell! I went up to the weather office and took out my frustrations on them. Didn't do much good, but it made me feel better!
We sent another P-40 down to the hangar for an engine change
because metal particles had been found in the oil filter. I had taken a sample of the oil, added gas
and filtered out some metal particles. I had had a course in Qualitative Chemical Analysis just
before going into the Air Corps in 1942. I went up to the hospital and borrowed a few chemicals,
trying to find out what the particles were. I didn't have the right ones to do a proper analysis.
But I was able to show that chloride ion produced no precipitate which meant there was no silver.
This meant that the silver coated bearings were not failing. When I made a portion of the solution
alkaline it threw down a white gelatinous precipitate. Aha, that showed the particles were probably
aluminum. The only aluminum system in contact with oil was the oil cooler. The oil cooler was filled
with aluminum tubes (inside the cooler) that the air went through in flight. The hot oil would
trickle down over the outside of these tubes and get cooled. I looked in the tech orders and found
statement that when an engine was changed for metal particles, the oil cooler had to be changed as
well. They claimed that the cooler could not be successfully flushed but had to be disassembled,
cleaned and reassembled. This was on top of the evidence I had that the metal particles were
aluminum. It was very likely that the metal particles were coming from the oil cooler, flaking off
inside and not from the engine at all. But we had to change the engine anyway. When there is only
one engine, you don't take any chances or cut any corners.
I had a new cooler with brass tubes. So I sent the plane down to the hangar for engine change. I sent the new brass cooler along. They had to take the old cooler off to change the engine. They could just replace the aluminum cooler with the brand new brass one
I hung around the hangar occasionally while they changed the engine. I had sent a brand new brass oil cooler down with the plane but they re-installed the old aluminum cooler. The man in charge of engine change at the hangar was a Warrant Officer. I went in and asked him to change the cooler to the brass one. He said the aluminum one was OK, that they had flushed it out. I told him that Wright-Patterson had put in the tech orders that they couldn't be flushed, that particles would remain and they had to be disassembled and rebuilt. I also told him that I had reason to believe the metal particles came from the cooler and they would be getting the plane right back for another engine change if they left that cooler in it. He obviously resented my "interference" and told me that when it was in the hanger it was his plane and that after I got it back I could do what I wanted. In the meantime he was going to do it his way. I told him that if he as much as turned over the propellor, the plane would never fly because I would not test hop it. And if I didn't test hop it no one of the others would fly it. And I left!
I kept keeping an eye on things. And, sure enough, they rolled it out on the line preparing to start the engine. To give him his due, the Warrant Officer himself climbed into the cockpit. I was boiling mad by this time. I walked out in front of the plane on the left side. The Warrant Officer had his head of the cockpit and I spoke to him. "This is a direct order! Do not turn over the propellor. I will get the Base Engineering Officer, Major Etheridge and let him decide." The idea of a direct order is abused and trivialized in the movies. They are really very rare and have great force. Violating a direct order carries the potential of a heavy penalty. I went and found Major Etheridge and brought him out to the plane. I explained to him my view of the problem and asked that he transfer the plane immediately to me to have my crew chiefs change the cooler and finish the job. He said nothing while I was talking. When I finished, he turned to the Warrant Officer and quietly and firmly said, "Change the cooler." I left. Several days later we got the plane back with the brass cooler.
But frankly, I didn't trust them so I asked the crew chiefs to give it a shakedown inspection, as they would a new plane! Our name was mud down there after this and we had to shakedown inspect any plane that came back from the hangar. We had two incidents afterward. A P-40 came back from the hangar once and the upper cowling with the airscoop was supposed to be fastened to the top of the carburetor. It wasn't. Another time a plane came back with a wrench lying between the cylinders.
Yes, we did have a few problems. I had one goof-off that could
lie on the concrete with his hands locked up in the tail wheel well and go to sleep!
I was 23 at that time and a Captain. I had a 42 year old pfc (private, first class) from the mountains in Tennessee. He had been made a mechanic but he didn't like airplanes or being a mechanic. He did the work but rather grudgingly. We had eight airplanes so each one had its own mechanic. We had a tech sergeant line chief. That left three as floating mechanics to work where they were needed for the harder jobs. We had a somewhat worn gas powered compressor that was hard to start. This 42 year old mountain man was the only one that could start it easily. I noticed that he would sit on a bench and watch as someone fiddled with it and when they were disgusted and ready to quit trying he would get up, amble over, make a few adjustments and start it! I got him in my office one day and told him I knew he didn't like working on the airplanes and that I noticed he could start the compressor when the others couldn't. Then I showed him the inpection reports I had been getting. And we were always getting dinged for dirty carburetor bowls in the auxilliary equipment and having grease too close the oxygen, etc. I put him in charge of the auxilliary equipment and told him to keep the inspectors off my back and that he wouldn't have to work on airplanes unless we really needed him. From then on, he was happy as a clam, even planting flowers around the ready shack.
The army runs on reports and statistics so when we had one plane down, that meant that 12% of our planes were on the "deadline". That's very high for outfits with many planes. But we were afraid the statisticians wouldn't bother to notice that we only had 8 planes so we got them back in the air as soon as possible. Parts were a real problem though. Since we had fighters on a bomber base in a bomber command they had no parts for us. But military requirements were that I had to request them through the local supply channels. This just couldn't work as they never had them. I needed an alternate method. I finally found Sergeant Beck in supply that understood my problem. So when I needed something, I called him. He would call around, find the part and have it sent to their loading dock in my name. I would then fly over in my P-40 and pick it up! This was a godsend. It solved our problems.
He found out that a local P-40 base was getting rid of the planes so he arranged for me to go over and take what I wanted from their supply. I should have gone in a truck but I went in my P-40. I got a couple tires a bunch of large flexible tubing and a bunch of other stuff. I piled them in the radio compartment access door. I tied a tail wheel tire to the headrest in back of my head. I held a box with a fuel tank guage against the side of the cockpit with my right knee and flew back home. I made a smooth very gentle landing. I was afraid something might shift and bind up one of the controls. It was dumb but I was invincible as are all people under thirty!
I was trying to think of a way to make our P-40's special. We were almost embarrassed to be still flying P-40's in 1945. I went to find the guy in charge of the "wash rack". I asked him if he could take the OD camouflage paint off. He said that it was no problem so I sent mine over.
It came back a couple days later and it was beautiful, bright silver with bright red spinner and wingtips! I think it might have been the only silver P-40 on active duty with the Army Air Force.
About this time I got permission to fly to Seattle to visit friends. This was an authorized navigational exercise. The first leg was to a field at Wink TX. It went smoothly. I gassed up and took off for Winslow AZ. And here's where the navigation training kicked in. It's a little difficult figuring out where you are in a trackless desert. It was beautiful in its own forbidding way. We used to kid about calling a railroad an iron compass! There was an east/west railroad and a north/south railroad that crossed at Winslow. One of our navigational tricks at a time like this is to purposely fly off course a little so that when you found the railroad you would know which way to go. I couldn't make a mistake here with two railroads intersecting at my destination. I flew to the left side of the course to find the north/south one, turned right and found Winslow and the field. It was nice to see the meteor crater from the air! (This field might have been Williams. This means the crater would have been on the next leg!)
A friend in Australia, Peter Metzke, tracked it down for me, for which I thank him. Their P-40 site can be found at: http://hawksnest.1hwy.com/Survivors/AK803.html
I landed at Boeing and parked. A couple of guys came out of one of
the buildings to come over and look at a silver P-40. We talked a bit and then I went on my way.
Many years later, in the late 90's I was in a WWII Veterans luncheon group that met about three or
four times a year. We had a speaker telling about his experiences in WWII and he mentioned being at
Boeing Field. After his talk I went up and asked him if he had been there in the summer of 1945. He
said yes. I asked him if he remembered a silver P-40 landing there. His face brightened and he said,
"Yes, I went out and talked to the pilot!" He was as shocked as I was when I told him it was me!
I spent most of that night talking with my friends in Seattle. And the next day I was taken around Seattle and to the hospital where her father was business manager. He had them give me a shot of 25000 units of Vitamin 'something' to help me continue to function. We went out to eat with her and her mother and father. Then Patty and I went to the Showbox Theater where Patty played saxophone in a girl's band! (wartime, you know!) I enjoyed the show. One of the performers was Sally Rand, doing her famous Fan Dance!
I got up early the next morning and went out to take off on my way back. I took off about 8:00 with a very low ceiling. I was heading south, skirting the bottom of the clouds. All of a sudden, at 700', there was a stone cathedral right in front of me. A hallucination, no doubt! It was so vivid and so real that I pulled up into the clouds. Wow, I had no choice but to climb. I broke out on top, wondering how I was going to get down. I was acutely aware that Mount Ranier and a number of its friends were in the vicinity. So I continued south toward Portland. And, lo and behold, there was a huge hole in the clouds right above the Columbia River. I went down and followed the river to the ocean and then followed the coastline back to Boeing Field. I went back to the house and fell asleep on the sofa. A couple hours later, they woke me saying that the clouds had opened up and that if I didn't go then I would probably be stuck for a week. So I left.
I don't remember much about the return trip as nothing untoward happened. The only unusual thing was a temperature inversion I encountered over eastern Texas as I was letting down from altitude. There were lots of clouds around but I was able to stay clear of them. Suddenly it got really hot and I briefly wondered if I was on fire! Then I realized it was a drastic temperature inversion.
Many times when I landed people would come out and ask what kind of plane it was. They had never seen a silver P-40 and wondered what it was.
We were the fair-haired boys and we could do no wrong. We did a lot of dumb things. One day we took off in four ship formation! We would stage dogfights at 3000 feet over the middle of the field, never a peep from anyone.
I think every bomber pilot on the base wanted to be a fighter pilot so they would never complain, whatever we did. As a matter of fact they egged us on. While we were making passes on the bombers we couldn't keep track of where we were. The navigator on the target plane would arrange their path so that we would be near the field at the end of the session. One time I was getting short of gas. They brought me to the field. I was a little higher than they were so I called the pilot and asked him if he had ever seen a plane going straight down. He said he hadn't so I told him to watch. I heeled over and went by them going straight down. I got going pretty fast and when I pulled out I apparently strained one of the gas tanks so that it leaked! The P-40 underwent a number of changes from model to model. The heaviest one was the F model and then they started to slim it down. The K was probably the best compromise of all. But they continued to try to reduce weight and the N was the ultimate attempt to make it light. I think they gave up a bit of strength but it was all right. I liked the airplane although I don't think it would have been good in combat.
Yes, yes, I was young and stupid. Looking back from the vantage point of considerable age, I can admit it.
When I got back from Seattle I found out that the P-40's were being replaced by brand new P-51 D-25's. So I didn't send any of the other P-40's to the wash rack! The beautiful new 51's were flown in by ferry pilots, direct fom Inglewood CA. I had the mechanics pull a complete shakedown inspection on each of them. The ferry pilot told me that I had better pay special attention at the rear end of mine because he had some trouble kicking the tailwheel into full swivel. There was a detent system that held the tailwheel straight ahead with about a 5 degree allowance for taxiiing. But by tapping one of the brakes you could kick it out of the detent into full swivel for sharp turns. When you straightened out it would go into the detent again. So the mechanics took special care with mine and and found a flashlight back there, rattling around!
When we got the P-51's we re-visited an old problem. In Italy when we changed from the A-36 to the P-40F's we changed from the Allison engine to the Rolls Royce Merlin. But our P-40's here were the K model and had an Allison engine. But the P-51 had the Merlin engine and it was metric. We had no metric tools. So I went down to the tool shop in the hangar and asked if they could make broaches to convert our American tools to metric ones. They agreed and made them from tool steel. They used a hydraulic press to push the broach into the sockets to convert them to a metric dimension. It worked well. Metric tools were a rarity at that time.
I was trying to learn as much as possible about the maintenance. The crewchiefs seemed to respect this and tried to help. Here I am, trying to do on "my" side what the crewchief is doing on "his" side!
One of the crewchiefs, Normand Mandeville, got in to do the first run-up. He started it up and almost immediately shut it down. He jumped out and asked what's wrong with it! That's where we found out about the ground running characteristics of the Merlin engine.
Perhaps you will forgive me for digressing a little about Cpl.
Mandeville. I remember several memorable events he was featured in! He was from Connecticut and had
the clipped New England speech. But he spoke French fluently. Of course, it seemed everyone in
Louisiana spoke French and they assumed that all outsiders did not! He, a friend and two girls, went
to Marksville to a night club one night. He of course understood when the two girls spoke French to
each other. On the drive back the one in the front seat with him turned to her friend in back and in
rather frank French told her that she had to go to the bathroom. It caught Normand unawares and he
burst out laughing and slid to stop at the side of the road and said something like, "Be my guest!".
So much for his secret.
One day he had just replaced the magnetos in his P-51. It was parked on the line, with chocks, and aimed at the hangar. He got in the cockpit and started the engine. It started to wind up and instantly he jerked the idle cut-off and killed the engine. If he had not the plane would have been destroyed and he might have been killed. He realized in an instant that he had not removed the locks that held the magneto in the fully advanced position. This means 61 inches of Hg, full throttle. But what made it even more precarious is that the idle cut-off was spring loaded and if the manifold pressure got to about 46 inches of Hg the fuel pressure would be high enough to blow by the idle cut-off and the engine could not be stopped. Perhaps one could stop it by switching the fuel tank selector to OFF, if one would think of it before the plane jumped the chocks and rammed into the hangar! His instant reaction saved the plane and probably himself!
He had an old Buick he would work on. I went with him on a "test hop" one day and as we were going along the road, the accelerator stuck. He froze on the wheel as it accelerated. I just reached over and turned off the switch! He reacted so well with the P-51, and froze with the Buick!.
He decided to sell the Buick and went to a used car lot downtown. The salesman turned to the boss and they discussed in French what they thought they could get for it, perhaps $800-1000. The manager suggested a price, like $500 and the salesman turned around and offered him $300 in English. Mandeville was a bit upset so he told them off in French and left.
There had been some accidents in P-51's in Florida that were
mystifying. There was no apparent cause when pilots would just fly into the Gulf. They took all
kinds of instruments and test equipment up and were at a loss till someone noticed that if the
cockpit heat was on, the cockpit temperature would rise to 135 degrees. Apparently the pilots were
passing out from the heat. We wore our leather jackets while flying there even in the summer because
the temperature drops as you go up in altitude, usually at the adiabatic lapse rate of about 4 1/2
degrees per thousand feet. So if it was 90 degrees on the runway, it would be 40 degrees at 10,000
feet. -20 degrees at 20,000 feet and -55 degrees at 38,000 feet. They devised a change in the
cockpit cooling. The original arrangement did a good job for the radio compartment but wasn't very
effective in the cockpit. They changed the inlet and put it in the air scoop to get better ram air.
They put a Y in the radio area and brought a tube in on each side of the cockpit. The one on the
left was mounted in a ring clamp that was just loose enough so the pilot could take it out and spray
it on his face should the need arise.
We of course wanted this modification on ours. They said they would modify one of ours at Sarasota if we wished, so I flew mine down and let them do it there. Then it would be a model for our hangar to change the rest of them.
When I got ready to go back, I went to the weather bureau and found out that a hurricane was due soon. The continental air and tropical air would collide in northern Florida and a monstrous buildup of clouds would result. I wanted to get out of there and back to Louisiana so I filed a flight plan and took off. I got up around Dunellen and was at 30,000 feet and it didn't look like I could get over them. So I went back down to the deck and tried to get under. No dice. So, I went back up, resolved to get over the top. I climbed and climbed. Finally I staggered through a valley between two cumulus clouds that must have gone up to 50,000 feet. I was indicating about 180 MPH at full throttle, The altimeter said 39,700 feet. I didn't think it would go that high but it did. Now comes the chilling part. It was 55 degrees below zero and I couldn't turn on the cockpit heat. Some groundling that didn't understand about the adiabatic lapse rate figured the pilots wouldn't need cockpit heat in Florida in the summertime. I thought I was going to freeze to death! Later we made the usual corrections for temperature etc. and decided I was actually around 43,000 feet. I got over the clouds and headed for the nearest field because I had used a lot of gasoline. I landed at Waycross GA and when I was parked I shut off the engine and immediately hollered at the mechanic to bring me a screwdriver. I removed the screw from the cockpit heat knob that kept me from turning it on.
When I got back to the field I wound up with a chance to show off my mechanical drawing prowess. They needed a right angle bend in the ca 2 inch aluminum tubing. I laid out the templates for a four part bend. They would cut them out of sheet and bend them around and then weld them together. They were most surprised when it worked!
One day I came into my own as engineering officer. I had spent a
lot of time pouring over the tech orders for the P-51. One of the pilots had brought back a P-51
complaining of sloppy controls. The crew chief checked the tension in the rudder cables and it was
very low. No wonder there was a problem. Sometime later the crew chief and line chief came and said
they couldn't get to the turnbuckles needed to tighten the tension. They thought they would need to
take out the fuselage gas tank to get at them. I had been reading about this so I told them that to
take out the fuselage gas tank they would first have to take out the coolant cooler and that it was
fragile and weighed 246 pounds dry. We probably would have trouble re-installing it without creating
a leak. I said, "Let's look at an exploded view of the fuselage in the tech orders and find out
where the turnbuckles are supposed to be." So we did and there they were, between the cooler and the
rudder. I pointed out the inspection panel immediately below and asked if they had looked there.
They said they had but a radio was in the way. I told them I had too much confidence in North
American to believe that it was going to be difficult. "Let's go out and take a look!"
I lay down on the concrete under the appropriate part of the plane and there was the inspection plate. I asked for a screwdriver and removed the plate and sure enough, there was the tail warning radar unit. But, it was mounted on a shelf that was fastened on each side with three Dzus fasteners. So I removed them. The connections all came in in one cannon plug. So I gave them the screwdriver and asked for a water pump pliers. (Nowadays we call it a slip joint pliers.) I removed the cannon plug, tilted the radio up so it was clear and took it out. And there were the turnbuckles! I handed the radio to the line chief, climbed out and in my most insufferable (but smiling) tones said, "There it is. Have it fixed in a half hour." I think at that moment they accepted me and I felt good that I had learned so much!
At another time we were having an annoying problem with one of the planes. I arranged to have us put the plane in the hangar while we worked on it so we could leave the cowling off from day to day. The next day was Sunday and I went to the hangar and went up to the mezzanine overlooking the hangar floor and went into the glass fronted room where they kept the library. I got out the tech orders for the 51 and tried to look up the problem we were having. While I was doing this I looked down on the hangar floor and there was the mechanic and the line chief discussing the problem. I went down and we talked it over. Finally we began to develop an idea. So the crewchief offered to go get some tools and we would try it out. We agreed. As he was leaving, a car pulled up with a number of their friends in it. They hollered at my people asking if they wanted to go swimming, but they both turned it down immediately saying they had something to do. We did fix it. I was surprised and pleased that they didn't mind working on Sunday.
Every base had a group called the Alert Crew. This was a group that took care of visiting aircraft and meeting planes that were landing or taking off at odd, non-working hours. I occasionally had to leave or come back at very odd hours like midnight or 3 AM. At these times I would tell my people they didn't have to meet me but every time I came or left at an odd hour, one of the crew chiefs would be there to take care of the airplane and get it re-fueled! I was very flattered by this!
We had an "Armed Forces Day" display, in August I believe. My P-51 was on the display line. So I had to stay there and watch it all day. It's amazing what some people will try to do. I had several children that wanted to climb up on the tail. I was particularly concerned because my planned trip to Fargo was the next day!.
In about August 1945, my brother-in-law Rollie, Helen's husband,
returned from duty in England. He had the traditional leave so I asked for permisssion to take a
cross-country. While this sounds self-serving I assure you it was not. We were allowed two
cross-countries a year. It should be looked upon as part of navigation training. This training is
not less of a training exercise because you have family on the route. Unless, of course, if you go
back again. I had taken one such trip to Seattle in a P-40 with friends at the destination.
It was 1400 miles and I figured that if I tried to made it in one jump I would run out of gas four miles south of Fargo. So I decided to gas up at Lincoln, Nebraska. I took off at 7:40 AM and flew at 25000 feet, the most efficient altitude for the second stage supercharger. I landed at Lincoln, gassed, filed a new flight plan and took off for Fargo. Tis took about an hour. I landed at Fargo at 5 minutes after noon!
As I approached North Dakota from the south I started to let down from 25000 feet. I passed Big Stone Lake and started looking for Wahpeton, forty miles south of Fargo. I was around 16000 feet when I looked off to the left and saw this big town with a large airfield at the northwest side. I thought to myself, "When did Wahpeton get that big airport?" Then I realized, "Hey, that's Fargo!". I learned to fly there and and I was surprised by how small the area was. I had previously flown here in a Cub Coupe at 60 mph! So I heeled over and buzzed Fargo at about 3000 feet at 460 mph. I had to circle the field three times to slow down to land. I landed to the east and lightly bounced about three times! I was embarrassed. We used to say, "Hey, there were logs on the runway!".
Rollie and Helen's daughter, Linda Gayle Holsen, was just over three. The day I left to go back to Alexandria, they all came to the airport with me. There was a light drizzle. Although I was qualified to fly on instruments, I never enjoyed it. So I got my clearance, but I waited around to see if it would clear a little more. It would run out in an hour so I eventually had to go out and get ready to go. The wind was from the southeast, not a common direction in my memory. The terminal was at the SE corner of the airport and the runway was just south of the terminal. I taxied out to the NW corner and took off at full power, 61 In. Hg and 3000 RPM, leveled off at about 50' and went past the terminal at about 220 mph. I saw them standing on the steps at the terminal, waving. Helen told me later that Linda, with wide eyes said, "Gee, Uncle Charlie took off like a big bird!" I circled the field once and went up into the clouds at 1100' heading for Pratt KS.
A half hour so later, I broke out on top at 23,000 feet. I called in and reported my position and the height of the clouds and settled in for the trip to Pratt.
I had had trouble with the radio when I came up from Alexandria, so it came as no surprise when it quit and I looked no further again. I accepted it as radio trouble. I ran out of clouds and started trying to figure out where I was. From the rivers and other things I decided I was on course, but I couldn't figure out how far along I was. Nebraska has a bunch of rivers and they all go in the same direction and have towns in the same place and I couldn't figure out which was which! A bit later I noticed that some of the instruments weren't working and they were all electrical. So I started a cockpit check that I had given short shrift at takeoff due to the haste to get off the ground while my clearance was still active. Aha, I found that the generator switch had been turned off in spite of the safety wire that had kept it on. Ordinarily there's no real reason to turn it off so we had ours on and safetied. I found out later that there was a military pilot at the Fargo airport that had flown it while I was in town. He broke the safety wire and turned it off and he did not log the flight. He deserved to be court-martialed but I let it go. I turned it on and the ammeter jumped to 25 amps. I immediately turned off the battery switch so the generator wouldn't have to try to charge a dead battery.
The radio came back on and I was right on the beam of the radio range to Pratt KS! So I was feeling great that after all I was right on course. I kept on as the saying goes, fat, dumb and happy. I finally tumbled that the radio was getting fainter. I had not done the elementary test of turning right to see if the beam changed from a steady tone to an A or an N which would have told me whether the station was in front or in back of me! So I checked it now and found out that I was already past Pratt. I had apparently had a fairly hefty tailwind! So I turned around, called Pratt and told them I would be a little late. I landed, forty minutes overdue. Yes I was embarrassed. I contacted Alexandria and told them I had to RON (remain overnight) to have the battery replaced.
I went to the flight line the next morning and found that the alert crew had run up the engine after replacing the battery. They didn't like the way it sounded and they put it on a red cross, that is, they grounded it! I was the engineering officer back at Alexandria so I told them I would run it up and see if there was anything wrong. The Rolls Royce Merlin engine is a bit odd. When running on the ground it sounds terrible. It pops and bangs and makes a disconcerting racket. But in the air it's beautiful, smooth, sweet, it sings! I got in and started it up and ran the usual tests. It was fine. I explained to them about the engine and then signed the form returning it to flying status.
I went back to the line, got in and started the engine. The alert crew waved me off and I taxied out to the runway. I took off as usual, leveled off just above the runway and looked at the airspeed indicator as I was going to pull up sharply at the end of the runway! It said zero mph! That was a shock and then I realized the alert crew had forgotten to remove the pitot tube cover. I turned on the pitot heat but it wasn't hot enough to burn it off. So I went back and landed, rather fast without an airspeed indicator. I taxied back, glared at the alert crew and pointed down to the pitot tube area. They removed it and with a last disgusted glare, I taxied out and went to Alexandria with no further incident! What a trip!
This was a large base, probably a hundred B-17's flying, training crews for overseas duty. As I mentioned, we flew patterns around them to give the gunners practice with camera guns. We could see the day's film at night in a projection room. I went a couple times. We couldn't tell who was flying of course. Except I decided to add an identifying feature which freaked out the projectionist! I made my first pass upside down. Then I would know it was me. But the projectionist thought the film was upside down or something but the right side up part came very quickly so he relaxed, I hope with a smile. I was a young idiot at the time.
As I said, we had six pilots. I don't remember all their names, but we had Capt. Watson, Lt. Harvey Gipple, Lt. Bell, Lt. Franklin James (pictured here with me), and another I can't remember and me.
One day, after we got our P-51's, the Assistant Base Operations
Officer came down and asked for a P-51 to fly. He was a Lieutenant Colonel bomber pilot and wan't
interested in any instruction from me. There are a few rather critical things to remember when
flying a P-51 and I finally reluctantly assigned him one of our planes. I expected him to have
trouble so I went out to the runway with him. I taxied behind him and I could see by the strobe
effect of our propellors that he was using too much power and had to be riding the brakes. This is a
SEVERE NO-NO. When he got out to the runway, he didn't stop at the run-up line but pulled out on the
end of the runway and parked the plane at a 45 degree angle to run it up, check the mags, etc. He
was a hot rock you see and didn't have to go by the rules. When finished, he released the parking
brake, and added throttle to taxi into position and takeoff. It wouldn't move. He added power. He
was lifting the tail but it still wouldn't move. I was parked back at the run-up line and he looked
over at me, shrugged his shoulders with his palms turned up in a gesture of non-understanding. I
killed my engine, got out and walked over to his plane and felt the brakes, They were red hot. I
gave him the hand across the throat sign to turn it off.
When he got out I explained that he had frozen the brakes by riding them. I told him to go over and get in mine and take it up. This was with great misgivings. I really thought he would kill himself but I couldn't stop him. He went back and started mine and then he shut it off, telling me that the radio was out. I told him to go back to our flight line shack and I would get back as soon as I could and get him another plane, but that I had to get the first one off the runway as soon as possible. I went back to his ship on the runway and called the tower. I asked them to page several of my crew chiefs at the enlisted mess and have them bring wing jacks, towbar, tools and tractor to the end of the runway immediately and explained that the brakes were frozen and the plane could not be moved off the runway.
Soon, they arrived with the equipment. We jacked it up, removed the wheels, took out the brakes, re-installed the wheels and towed it back home. The Lt. Col. was nowhere to be seen. As a matter of fact I never saw him again and no one else ever came down to fly a P-51.
An explanation is due here. Most airplanes like the P-40, had shoe
type brakes, like those on old cars. But the P-51 had disc brakes. They were very good. There were
23 discs total, half copper and half steel. They were very much like the New Departure brakes on a
an old bicycle. The total clearance was 0.055 inch! If one rode brakes for a distance and then set
the parking brake they would be so hot, they would actually weld the discs together. Both sets of
brakes were welded into one unit when they were removed. No wonder he couldn't move it.
In the military, in that time at least, when any part failed and was replaced, the old part was to be returned to supply with an unsatisfactory ticket called a URL as I remember. Then you could get the new part. This one time, I did not return the brakes because I wanted to show the next "guest" what they looked like and what would happen if they were abused. I was all ready and primed for the next one that never came. I was going to tell him that all of the planes were grounded at this time until I was finished telling them how a P-51 was to be flown. I never got the chance to do this, for which I was very glad. I took a large screwdriver and a small sledge and split one of the brake sets to see what it looked like. The weld did not break, there was a ring of copper on the steel ring!
They were going to convert from B-17 training to B-29 training. One
B-29 was brought in and they wanted to test the gunnery training. So I went up in a P-51 and started
trying to aattack it "in the usual manner." It wasn't working because the B-29 was faster than a
B-17, around 230 mph. A fighter has to be on the average at least a hundred miles faster to make
repeated attacks and a P-51 would average about 290.
Perhaps I should expain about air speed. The air speed is gotten from the comparison of the dynamic, ram air gotten from the pitot tube that sticks out of the wing and the static air from inside the cockpit. This comparison is registered on the air speed indicator. This airspeed is called the indicated airspeed. It is always less than the true airspeed. However, pilots put up with this because just as the ram air pressure decreases with altitude, so does the lift on the plane's wing. The effect of this is that the plane stalls at the same Indicated Air Speed, regardless of altitude. This is a very important safety feature. When I said 290 mph above, that was Indicated Air Speed. The rule of thumb is that the error is 2% per thousand feet. So I was doing the attacking at 290 mph IAS at 10,000 feet, the plane was really doing 290 +20% or about 358 mph. Probably the only time a pilot gets concerned with true airspeed is when planning a cross country.
I called the pilot and asked him to slow down. I would attack on a pursuit curve which was at an angle to the flight path of the B-29 which is why I needed the extra speed. He did and we were able to continue.
I think this flight is the one that turned me against making being a fighter pilot a profession. I attacked the B-29 from the right side. I would come underneath, back towards the tail, usually very close, maybe twenty feet away and go out on the other side. With a B-17, when I went underneath, the top turrent gunner would be aiming right at me. But when I went out the other side I could seem in hand-cranking the turret to get it around and get another shot. But by the time he got it around, I would usually be out of effective range.
But when I went under the B-29, the guns were pointed at me. When I came out the other side and looked up, the guns were pointing right down my throat. It almost scared me. They had made the turret hydraulically operated. All the gunner had was a pistol grip and where he pointed it, the turret went, right now!
Towards the end of our tour here, we were sent on temporary duty
(TDY) to Ardmore OK. They had a bunch of crews there that needed practice. One of my mechanics went
into town on the bus and came back immediately. His comment was, "First cemetery I've ever seen with
It's odd how little I remember of this time. I do remember one day when we didn't have anything much to do and two of the pilots thought they would just go out and fly around a bit. After they took off, I got the itch so I got in mine and took off to look for them.
I saw two silver planes in the distance so I climbed and got up sun from them and then peeled off for the attack from their rear right quarter. I sensed that I was approaching them awfully fast so I throttled back and I found out they were P-47 D's instead of my friends. I finally sailed by them with the throttle at idle and pulled up in a mild chandelle to the right. They seemed to be making a halfhearted attempt to break toward me so I obliged them and we mixed it up. I could have shot both of them down in a few minutes. They obviously weren't very experienced.
So we leveled off and I got on the right wing of the leader and tried to fly formation with them. Normal manifold pressure was 38-42 in. Hg. I had to throttle back to 28 inches Hg. and put down about ten degrees of flap to fly formation with them. I started to get concerned because the P-51 plugs were very finicky and could load up very readily at low power settings. One could lose the engine that way. So I moved out to the right, eased the RPM up from 2450 to 3000 and then firewalled it at 61" Hg. I leapt out in front. I let it roll for a minute or two and then pulled up in an Immelman (a half loop and a half roll on the top) and went back over them about 1500 feet higher. I had always known the P-51 was far superior to the P-47 but I had never had a chance to really compare them in the air before!