• 3400 Horsepower Motorboat

I grew up on my Dad's tales of glory in the skies over the Pacific when he was with the 5th Air Force, 417th Bomb Group flying the Douglas A-20 'Havoc'. One tale I recall in particular was about flying low enough for the props to leave wakes in the water, so-called 'motorboating'. Modern flight sims are good enough now that I was able to experience it for myself. I sent him some screenshots and vintage pictures to him, and he replied:

I don't know why, but as a neophyte to the 5th Air Force, I was among those chosen to remain behind with the planes while everyone else with the organization moved north by ship from the New Guinea to the Philippines. So while we waited for them to arrive up north, we had a lot of time on our hands; and, of course, we had to keep the planes in shape by flying them once in awhile. We were so bored without the rest of the organization with us that when the word came to fly, we all jumped into any ground transportation we could find and rushed down to the strip deeming it a privilege to be the first one off.

With the cooperation of the ground crew, as soon as I had one engine running, I started taxiing and cranked up the other one as I went down the taxi-way. I can't remember what number for take off I was but I do remember making a 360 and buzzing the next planes as they took off and from then on, it was free for all down the Owen-Stanley mountains to the bay at Lae.

That's when the real competition began with ever tighter Lufftbery circles, shaking and shuddering (in a vertical bank with the stall warning blowing!) from wherever we started down to the water level, where we played motorboat whenever we could.

Once down on the water, one time, we harassed the Aussies on R&R in landing craft by buzzing them, trying to blow water in on the beer drinking party. I can still see their heads duck as we approached them broadside.

The Manila Bay incident happened about this time when I was elected, along with a few others, to fly some of the older planes that weren't going to go up to Okinawa into Clark Field, which meant going past Corregidor, through Manila Harbor and lots of freighters, etc.

Remember that I was all alone in an A-20 (a single pilot cockpit), and there was no need for the gunners on this trip. As we approached Manila we started playing motorboat, low enough for the props to leave a wake, in a very tight three ship formation. I was on the right wing of the lead ship, of course, watching the leader. Suddenly he pulled up, leaving white wing tip vapor trails, but took the top off of the mast of a merchant ship with the antenna attached to it. I can still see it tumbling end over end through the air in my mind's eye. I hit right rudder and scooted past the stern without damaging the ship--or myself!

We arrived at Clark we taxied those planes so far back in the jungle that they probably haven't been found yet. The mast took about three feet off the lead plane's right wing and we sure didn't want that blamed on us!

Days of glory? Naw, boys will be boys.

1st LT T. I. Harnish, USAAC

• The Westbound Mail

A drizzling rain was falling
A nearby clock tolled eight
They watched the sky with an eager eye
The westbound mail was late.

The rain beat down on the hangar roof
The station chief stood by
The thrumming tone of a motor's drone
Resounded from the murky sky.

The beacon sent it's welcome beam
To the rider of the night
He brought her down on the soggy ground
And up to the glaring lights.

They swap the mail and shout "Okay!"
Then she roars and lifts her tail
She's up again in the snow and rain
On, with the westbound mail.

The dim, blurred lights of a city
Loom in the murk below
Their work is gone, but the mail flies on,
And on through the blinding snow.

Rain is freezing on her wings
She seems to feel the weight
It'll soon be dawn, she staggers on
Hoping she won't be late.

Crystals stick on the windshield
Forming a silver veil
Icy struts and a man with guts
And sacks of westbound mail.

Over the peak of a mountain
Clear of the treacherous rim
Way up there in the cold night air
Just God, the mail and him.

His thoughts turn back to a summer night
And a girl, not long ago
She shook her head and firmly said
"As long as your flying, it's no!"

He tried to quit this flying job
And stick to a ground bound trail
But the wish came back for the canvas sack
And the feel of the westbound mail

The wind kept whispering secrets
About his life's travail
So back he went to the big blue tent
Flying the westbound mail.

The sleet and snow were far behind
Before the night was gone
Out of the rain the gray dawn came
And found him flying on.

He tilted her stick and banked her in
She responded to the gun
Then muted her wrath o'r the cinder path
At the end of a perfect run.

Three points touched and she taxied in
Up to the hangar rail
He stretched 'n grinned as they checked him in
"ON TIME," with the westbound mail.


• CT

And now for something completely different. Some aviation fiction. Jeff 'Magnum' Acord is a retired FAA controller, active corporate jet pilot, and an aviation world record holder many times over. His aviation roots go way back. His grandfather, known to everyone as 'CT' was one of the first pilots to graduate from the new (in 1917) flying school at Kelly Field.

Heavy sigh. Here we go again. Beacon on, engine start, taxi clearance, checklist, line up, takeoff, gear up, flaps up, contact departure. I reach for the com switch and think, "When did flying become a chore?" Too busy now, think about it later.

Touchdown at some obscure airport in the desert southwest. I watch the pax go off in their limo and the captain walk into the FBO to pay the fees. I then realize that the field was suddenly fogged in. I mean damn near WOXOF.

I hear whistling coming from a nearby hangar, I walk over and step into a typical hangar with all the trappings of tools, airplane parts, paint, etc., except for an old Link trainer in the corner that I would swear was making a humming sound. Bent over a workbench tinkering on some project is an old geezer in white coveralls, whistling.

He stops looks at me and says "Ah've been waitin' for ya".

"Me?" I say.

"Ya, Jeff, you" he replies.

There was something strangely familiar about this guy. "Have we met before?" I said. He just smiled and said "Ya need to get the flyin' back, son. Get in the Link and strap in".

Feeling like this was a dream, I get in the Link.

He leans in, flips a switch and says, "Don't forget to look the window". Before I can question this...


A bright spring day and I have a stick in my hand and the biplane and I are rolling down a perfect grass field. I FEEL the airplane and a gentle back pressure we are in the wind. I smell new mowed grass, hot oil, exhaust, clean Midwest air. The biplane and I turned crosswind and there is the old water tower with Joplin on the side. We roll and loop and stall and slip and skid and laugh and fly. I then realize that my front passenger is the mechanic, looking back at me with much younger face, hair tousled in the wind, sporting a huge grin. Touchdown is a whisper of grass, a perfect three pointer.


The biggest, tallest, meanest, most beautiful looking squall line I have ever seen is filling the windshield of our DC3. The sky is a palette of blues, purples, yellows, oranges and white tumbling around in a maelstrom that is about to swallow us up. Belts tight, pax briefed (and scared), last drag on the cigarette and we go in. Throttles up, props forward and our world is turned into violent up and down and flashes of lightning and thousands of jackhammers on the skin of the airplane.

"Needle, ball and airspeed, Jeff" says the copilot.

I look to my right and there he is again. All complete with the wrinkles of a million miles flown on his face and a name tag that only reads "CT"... Gripping the yoke I do battle with the clouds. I FEEL the airplane and together we fight. I smell the sweat, the stale cigarette smoke, the ozone, the fear. And as suddenly as it started, it stops. We are bathed in warm smooth clear air and the runway is dead ahead. The rotating beacon is a friendly "welcome home". Gear down, flaps down, and a barely perceptible chirp from the mains as we make a perfect wheel landing. A round of applause from the pax.


Accelerating down the runway, afterburner on, I only hear my breathing in the helmet. Power 103%, instruments in the green, 120 knots and I FEEL the side stick coming back and I am in the sky. Straight up and...roll. 1, 2, 3, 4 and...1/2, pull back and inverted; I look up at the airport. Roll level and I pass Mach 1 crossing the shoreline. RADAR lock on the aggressor and so begins a twisting rolling straining 9G dance in the air. A dance I will win, I must win, for I must be ready to fight for real. My world is clear blue sky, clear blue ocean, radio chatter and my grunting when the G-suit squeezes me.

Suddenly that now very familiar voice crackles on the radio "Magnum-BREAK RIGHT- HIGH YO YO LEFT!"

The aggressor is now right in front of me...missle lock...good tone...FOX1! Splash one aggressor.

Now there is the spot on the water that is the carrier. Gear down, flaps down, hook down, steady...steady. Call the ball. Fly the AoA. The burble of air from the island and then a perfect three wire. Full power and the airplane and I are stopped. Taxi to the tie down, canopy open and I am in the fresh salt air and sea breeze.


I am back in the hangar in the Link. I am stunned. I am trembling. I look at my hands and I can still FEEL the stick in the biplane, the yoke of the DC3, and the trigger through the NOMEX gloves. I smile. I just flew, by God, I really FLEW!

The old mechanic is standing there in his white coveralls and I notice "CT" is embroidered on his left breast.

"Ah told ya, Jeff, ya just needed to get the flyin back" he says with that grin.

"What just happened?" I ask.

He replies in a strange echoing voice, "Flying is our gift to you. All of us that came before you, are with you each and every time you get into an aircraft. Go and enjoy."

I have to ask him: "You look very familiar. Have we met before?" He just smiles, returns to his project and starts whistling again. It is time for me to leave.

I walk from the hangar still trembling and trying to wrap my mind around what just happened, when I realize that the sky is as clear as it can be. It felt like I was in there at least 4-5 hours. This can't be real.

I see the captain walking back from the office and I stop him and say "Don, how long were you in there just now?"

He looks at me rather puzzled and replies, "I dunno 5 or 10 minutes, why? Jeff are you all right?" I say "Oh man, you gotta come see this!"

We walk back to the hangar and find it deserted, dusty and nothing in there but some trash on the floor.

"Can I help you guys?" We turn and standing there is a rather old security guard.

I ask, "Hey, where is the old mechanic, 'CT' and that Link trainer?"

He looks at me with the same puzzled look as Don and says, "Don't know anybody by that name, and this is how this hangar has been for the last 30 odd years ever since the owner left. Weird story. The owner was this old geezer named Tookie who flew along time ago. He walks into the FBO September 21st, 1974 and says, 'He's joined us'. Before anyone can reply he turn, walks out the door and disappears. Nobody has seen or heard from him since. Funny thing though, when they unlocked his hangar, and looked in, it was empty, just like it is now. Why do you ask?"

There is an unmistakable shiver down my spine. "No reason" I say, "I must have been mistaken."

I couldn't bring myself to talk about this on the flight back. I just FELT the airplane all the way to landing. I flew. When I got home I told Connie about it and that I was sure it was a daydream.

She said "Are you sure it was a dream?"

"I don't really know. I just have this feeling that I met that guy somewhere before. I can't explain what happened in the hangar. I do know that I really did enjoy flying back home."

I went to open my logbook and record another block of time on another page and for some strange reason my book fell open to the back where the endorsements are located. There, plain as day, was an entry that looked as though it had been written a long, long time ago.

It simply said: "Basic flight, advanced instruments, ACM. Don't forget to look out the window, Jeff."

It was signed: "Clarence Tooker"...my grandfather.

It was dated: August 5th, 1935...the day he died.

I then remembered that I soloed on September 21st, 1974. Tears of joy began streaming down my face.

-- Jeff Acord