• Genetics and Bureaucracy

The first Navy aircraft I flew in were older than I was, vintage Beechcraft UC-45J Bugsmashers. Piloted by recent fighter and attack jocks with a chip on their shoulder because of their assignment to a menial training job, it wasn't the most fun flying I'd ever done. Sir! No Sir! But it did put wings of gold on my chest, and a bunch of interesting experiences in my log book.

It all started when I was flunking out of college. Even though I was studying my ass off every day (and half the night) nothing seemed to be working, so I decided in desperation to try something different. Driving from the dorm out to the little local grass strip in a friends car I hoped that whatever I had to do to learn to fly would somehow lead to better grades or at least a non-college-graduate career. And, lo, by the time I'd earned my private pilot's certificate my name had actually appeared on the Dean's List (once, by the skin of my teeth), and I was close to graduation.

As college days came to an end in 1969 the war in Vietnam was going on hot and heavy, and the draft loomed in the future. While the call-up was based on a lottery I've always mistrusted the adage, "you can't win if you don't play," and favored the one that admitted, "your chances of winning are essentially the same if you play or not."

Self-determination rather than luck seemed a better course. The idea of slogging through a hot jungle where people try to kill you wasn't appealing. So thanks very distinctly to the inspirational even patriotic (but not very cautionary) Victory At Sea television series, I applied for Navy flight training.

Assured by the recruiter that I'd be sent to flight school after going to regular navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, I signed on the dotted line. Finding myself in an office in the Philippines six months later, not a cockpit in Pensacola, I was sadder but wiser. But less than a year later the Admiral I worked for wrote to a buddy who just happened to be CINATRA (Chief of Naval Air Training), and before long I was where I wanted to be, young wife and infant daughter in tow.

My eyes didn't meet the pilot standard so Naval Flight Officer (bombardier/navigator or radar intercept officer) training was my destiny even though I had a pilot's license in my pocket. I've never been happy about that convergence of genetics and bureaucracy, but it did mean I could Fly Navy, and that was better than driving a ship or sleeping in a foxhole any day.

Scheduled for an 3 hour cross-country radio navigation hop, I reported to the flight line with a bit of a head cold and a little stuffed up. Eager to fly and even more eager not to show any weaknesses, I ignored my sniffles. But not for long.

Climbing out of 2000 feet to our initial enroute altitude of 7500' my right ear felt like someone was trying to drive an ice pick in it with a hammer. I suffered for a couple of minutes, and scribbled a note to the pilot I had a medical problem and we need to get down now!

He gave me a puzzled look, I pointed at my ears. He held his nose and did a 'blow' demonstration. I gave him a thumbs down sign, the cut sign across my throat for "this has gotta stop," and pointed emphatically at the ground.

A former Douglas AD 'Spad' driver he got me down. Oh baby did he get me down. Chopping the throttles, he dumped the gear and flaps and did a split-S. I have a very clear image of looking out the windshield from a seat in the rear cabin and seeing green/brown Florida dirt up and blue/white sky down. Hard to tell what it did to the poor old engines and 100 knot Vfe flaps, but it sure fixed my ears.

I gave him a thumbs up and he passed a note back, "OK low? Continue?" I nodded yes, and enjoyed my first low level, really low level, navigation lesson. But that's another story.

Moral? Don't ignore the little things. Eager to excel, I didn't want a mere head cold to thwart a studly Navy flyer on a mission. Your sub-conscious can't talk, but it can whisper to you. Your body certainly can talk, and it'll yell if you don't listen up!

Blue skies and tailwinds,


1 comment:

  1. In 1942, I enlisted in the Army Air C orps after having passed(by memorizing the chart) a squeaker of an eye exam. Left home the same day because the recruitment sarge said I would be flying far ahead of those who waited for a spot to open in Preflight School. I became a pilot and an officer and a gentleman in August of 1944. Genetics proven once again in your case!