Tuesday, July 18, 2006

23-29 March, 1955

Dear Folks

As of today I am the proud possesser of a small gold bar about 1 ½” long, with a small silver oval in the center adorned with an anchor & twisted rope. This is my reward for seven months & ten days service; I believe I’ll wear it to bed with me.

This morning began just as the preceeding five days had—I woke up at 5:45, dressed, washed, & ate breakfast. At 6:30 we mustered and marched to the hanger where, at 6:45, another muster was held. Upon checking the board, I found I had been assigned an instructor—Lt. Ashbridge. As he is a new (to Corry Field) instructor, the usual floursihing grapevine, which supplies all data on moods, temperments, & generosity of all instructors, could not help me.

At 7:15 I had the L-11 lecture for the third time. This lecture is given every day you are assigned an A-20 (first solo) hop, & you keep taking it until you finally get the hop. Subject matter is a summary of all the other lectures you’ve attended; what to do when, if & how.

(FIVE DAYS LATER) The lecture was over about 0815. I raced out to the board & met my instructor—a short man with greying hair. I told him I hadn’t flown for five days; he said he didn’t expect too much & that he’d take the five days into consideration. He said “Climb on up to 8,000 ft & do a spin, then we’ll do some high work & go on over to 8-A & let you take it.”

Our plane was CA100—a plane borrowed from BTU-4. It was parked as far away as it is possible to be. I pre-flighted it (checked to see everything was OK), got in, started it, & went to report over the mike to my instructor—but when I reached for it, it wasn’t there. Since we were parked way out in the middle of nowhere, & had to take a bus to get to the plane, someone would have to run all the way back & get one. We sent a plane captain (enlisted man who helps strap you in & stands by with a fire bottle while the plane is starting), but he took too long, so the instructor said to taxi the plane to the hanger & get one.

Lt. Ashbridge is new here at Corry—he’d just come over rom Whiting; so he wasn’t certain of our taxi patterns. As a result, he had me taxi against traffic to get to the hanger. Fortunately, no other planes were coming toward us, because those taxi-ways are not wide enough to let two planes by comfortably.

After about fifteen minutes of delay, we took off. He was very nice & didn’t yell at me like most instructors do. We climbed on up, did a spin, some stalls, & did some cross-wind landings at Wolfe field. Cross-winds are tricky & dangerous—you’re always supposed to land into the wind, but sometimes that is not possible. At Wolfe field, everyone always lands on a runway that isn’t directly in line with the wind. As a result, you’re always being blown off to one side or the other, & you must make corrections for it, or else.

After that, we headed up to field 8A, a huge grass field where everyone solos. We shot three landings; two ½ flaps & one full flaps (flaps slow the plane down—the degree of flaps determines how fast or slow you’ll land). On the full flaps landing, he told me to taxi off the field & stop. Then he got out of the plane, came up to the front cockpit & said “All right, you’ve got it—go out & bust your ass.” (Instructors are noted for their poetic phrasing.)

I waited for a signal from the yellow crash truck which always is parked beside the runway in use, got a thumbs up, & took off. As I said on the phone, after five days of waiting & sweating & getting all keyed up for nothing, when it finally did happen I felt almost nothing. I did two ½ flap landings, which a buddy told me he watched & said were beautiful; then did a full stop, full flap landing & went back to pick up my instructor, & we came home.

No sooner had I said so-long to my check instructor, I looked on the board & saw I had an A-20 immediately. A-20 is your first real solo hop—you do everything yourself. The plane I was given was number 227.

I checked out a parachute & two back pads (otherwise I have a hard time reaching the rudder pedals & brakes) & went out to the plane. I secured the rear cockpit—strapped everything down so that it can’t flop all over & hit the instruments, took the instructor’s stick & secured it in a special holder (also that it wouldn’t whip around and hit anything).

Silverhill is a paved-runwayy field; the farthest one from Corry. It is used only by solos for landing practice. I decided I’d try a few. I entered the traffic pattern, lowered my wheels & ½ flaps; did everything necessary. Made a good approach, & landed.

There is a big difference in the handling, especially in the landing, of a plane when it is 160 lbs lighter—but I didn’t know that. The first landing wasn’t too good; the second was worse. On the third, I landed wheels, bounced, turned a little to the left, hit again, bounced again, & started to flip over on my left side. God, but I was scared! I thought for sure that I’d had it. But somehow I made it. I wanted to go home then, but thought I’d be afraid next time if I quit now. So I shot two more, neither one of which was too good, & came home.

So there you have the long story of the day I soloed. Hope it didn’t bore you; I rather enjoyed it , in retrospect.

Last Friday morning, as you know, the band went down to Miami again. It was very hot, as I said in the card. Friday night we marched in a parade in Hollywood, Florida. For such a small town it certainly had a large parade. The occasion was some sort of festival or other, & the main street was lit up like a thousand Christmas trees. They had an almost solid ceiling of colored lights over the street. Ten minutes after the parade started moving, every light in the downtown area went out. Nobody probably thought of the terriffic overload all those lights would cause.

The streets were jammed with people. Then, to top everything off, one of those Amvet “trains” started to backfire with loud booms, getting everyone thoroughly shook. I think they suspected it was all a Yankee plot, & that Sherman was on the march again.

Some forty-five minutes later, the lights came on & the parade resumed. Oh, yes—during the lights-off episode, while everything was in slight confusion & the Hollywood city fathers were tearing their hair out, the Goodyear blimp floated over, flashing “Best of Luck to Hollywood’s Fiesta Tropical Parade---Goodyear.” I’ll bet that made the city fathers happy!

And so my days pass, with nothing much happening (except on those occassional trips). I always resent the fact that so much valuable time is wasted on doing nothing.

Well, enough drivel for now—I’ll be sending the films home, along with an itemized manuscript. I’d best send this off tonight, or you’ll never get it.

Till next time, I am

P.S. By the way, we’re going to Calif. On the 26th of May.

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