Friday, July 28, 2006

16 May 1955

Dear Folks

I awoke this morning at about five o’clock and, though it was really too dark outside to tell, decided that we weren’t going to fly today. It seemed as though I had been sleeping for several years, and had full intentions of sleeping several more. At five forty-five, though, I forced myself out of bed, got dressed, folded my bedding (I haven’t made my bed since pre-flight), washed, & straightened up my room, which always seems to be in a state of high disorder. By morning formation, at six thirty, the clouds covered about nine-tenths of the sky, but there were still some hopeful-looking holes.

Dual hops were sent out on schedule at seven-thirty, although they held solos on the ground. By eight, the western sky (where we do most of our flying) was getting ominously dark. Mother Corry began getting anxious, & called her chicks home. I stood outside the hanger and watched the little yellow J’s running home, chased by dull, flat-bottomed clouds. As soon as the planes landed, they were tied securely down, and the wind started blowing. On the horizon I could see the rain, a grey curtain hanging beneath the clouds. Finally the rain came, very undramatically, & it has been drooling monotonously ever since. Everyone is sitting around the hanger waiting for the magic words "Secure from flight operations."

Friday was what I consider a beautiful day for flying. I went out on a solo first thing in the morning—the sky was full of huge, billowing clouds that reminded me of mountains of whip cream. We aren’t allowed to fly through them, or even get within five hundred feet of them, but it is fun to know that you could, if you wanted to . I like to dive down toward them & then pull out & skim over them. Also it’s fun to go behind the clouds, to see what’s there. Friday I found a clear spot, like a valley in mountains, completely surrounded by huge puffs of clouds. I played around, doing my acrobatics, all by myself and having a wonderful time.

On the radio, which solo students must have turned up all the time, I kept hearing someone calling the tower at Corry: "Corry Tower, this is Charlie Baker 302 (CB are on all our planes): I am on a B2 solo and would like to know if Magnolia Field is open for Corry planes." Magnolia Field is one of our small outlying surfaced fields, usually used only by Barin Field students, but one of the fields we always use, Summerdale, is being resurfaced, & we’d been allowed to use Magnolia in the afternoon while they worked on Summerdale. B2 students are on their very earliest solos—their second, in fact (A20 is their first—B1 is a dual, & B2 is the second solo). He kept calling & calling the tower, which evidently didn’t hear him, for it never answered. Finally he shut up, and about two minutes later, someone called "Crash! Crash! Crash! Plane down one mile southwest of Magnolia Field." I thought "Oh, oh…." I was sure it as the poor little guy who couldn’t get the tower.

Although you aren’t supposed to go near the scene of an accident lest you get in the way of rescue operations, I headed toward Magnolia, flying down alleys & corridors between the clouds. On the way, I was kept busy listening to the radio—the crash crew from Magnolia had reached the scene…the plane was completely demolished, in at least twelve pieces…they had not yet removed the pilot…Search and Rescue had launched a helicopter from Corry Field….no word yet on the pilot’s condition….

By this time I was in sight of the field. It is a fairly large field, with four runways, arranged so that, from the air, it looks like an arrow pointing to the south. They were using the Southwest/Northeast runway, taking off toward the Southwest & Mobile Bay.

Very close to the end of the S/w runway are a large grove of trees, and beyond them, plowed fields. I had used that runway the day before, & several times just missed the trees while taking off. This guy had evidently hit the trees and crashed into the plowed field beyond. I got close enough to see the crash truck and several cars around, and the tail section of the plane lying on its side, sticking up into the air. I didn’t want to get too close & have them take my number, so I headed back to Corry in a light rain shower. On the way back I learned that it hadn’t been my radio friend but some O.I. from Barin. He wasn’t killed—just broke his hip, several ribs, an arm or two, & severe lacerations. Incidentally, it was Friday the 13th.

I Am

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