UPDATE 2: February 27, 2000 web page
UPDATE 1: November 5, 1994
ORIGINAL: January 11, 1993
WINNING MY WINGS
Robert E. (Bob) Boydston
July 5, 1943 to August 30, 1943 circa
Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, Mo.
Basic Army Training.
My father accompanied me from our Chicago home to the Reception Center at 166 W. Van Buren St. My boyhood friend, George Montgomery, and his father, joined us. At the Reception Center I would join a group of about 80 men(1) going to the La Salle St. station for a train to Jefferson Barracks, while George would go to Kessler Field, Miss. Besides these two locations, five more basic training centers were set up to accommodate the thousands of would-be cadets for five weeks of basic military training. George and I had passed our aviation cadet mental and physical tests in March and had been sworn in before our 18th birthday. This action insured that we would not be subjected to the choice of the draft board.
That evening we arrived at Jefferson Barracks to the tune of "you'll be sorry" from the base soldiers. My first night in the Army was spent in a tent-like-hut with seven strangers who were also hoping to become cadets.
I am second from left, bottom row
At basic training we learned military discipline, got our shots, took rifle range with turn of the century Springfield rifles and .45 caliber revolvers, took classes in poison gas, bayonet practice, booby traps, etc., took bivouac and marched, stood on the parade grounds and took plenty of PT (physical training).
After about a month I got a little homesick; I had never been away from my home before. When our training ended, we were to go to a CTD (College Training Detachment), but a small group of us were held over for a few more weeks. I wanted to get started with my cadet training and developed a bad attitude over the delay. I got a good chewing out from the sergeant.
Eventually we did leave; anywhere but Missouri we hoped, but the train
took us to Kansas City, Mo.
August 30, 1943 circa to October 12, 1943.
CTD (College Training Detachment)
Rockhurst College, Kansas City, Mo
Because the requirement for two years of college for cadet training had to be dropped due to a shortage of qualified people, the CTD was developed to give us an accelerated course in the basics of math, physics, etc. Actually the Air Force was pooling its reservoir of cadets to protect them from duty with the other services and keep a steady supply for its own programs. More than 150 colleges were used at the peak with about 60,000 men. The program phased out in July, 1944 due to public criticism about protecting cadet candidates while other persons were being quickly trained for combat.
We stayed at the Brookside Hotel, which had been completely taken over
by the Army. Each morning we marched through the streets of Kansas
City singing the Ohio State Univ. football fight song, as we trooped to
the college. The college was run by Catholic fathers; life was much
nicer than Jefferson Barracks. On Saturday night we could go into
downtown Kansas City, which was really not far away. However, I was
very shy and unsure of myself and did not much enjoy venturing into the
city. The training was supposed to be five months, but because I had scored
well in a college aptitude test, (I came in fourth out of a total of approximately
250 cadets), at the end of about six weeks, a small group of us was shipped
out by slow train to the Classification Center in San Antonio, Texas.
October 13, 1943 to December 7, 1943
San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center, San Antonio, Texas.
The purpose of classification was to determine, by a series of tests,
your aptitude for pilot, navigator, bombardier, or GDO (ground duty only).
SAACC belonged to the Central Flight Training Command. The East Coast
and West Coast Commands had Nashville, Tenn. and Santa Ana, Cal. cadet
classification centers respectively. The tests consisted of the toughest
Army physical (the 64); a two day long series of mental tests involving
subjects like map reading, space visualization, numerical series, written
comprehension and the like; and a psychomotor series of tests which checked
physical coordination and performance under stress. The last day of testing
consisted of an interview with a psychiatrist. The results were called
the "stanine", (for standard nine); a stanine of 9 was tops and a 1 was
the bottom. It took a grade of 5, or better, to be considered for flight
training. I had trouble with the psychiatrist in my first interview; he
did not like some of my answers, (probably because of my immaturity; I
was one of the youngest cadets and had led a sheltered life). I had
a second interview with another psychiatrist. This time I gave better answers
and was accepted. The psychiatrist asked me what my preference was, and
I said "pilot". He told me that I had qualified and that I would do pilot
training. My stanine scores were pilot 7, navigator 8, bombardier
8. Probably because of my good scores I was given a second chance with
the psychiatrist. This was my first brush with the chance of washout; there
would be others to follow. The survivors (usually about 15% fail),
who were pilot candidates, were ready to be marched across the dividing
street to another part of SAACC which was Pilot Preflight training. There
were over 3,000 pilot candidates in that march.
December 7, 1943 to March 14, 1944
San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center, San Antonio, Texas.
Cadet Guy Caldwell, on right, with myself at SAACC
Pilot Preflight consisted of ground school classes only. Our group would from here on be identified as Class 44H. Typical subjects were weather, navigation, aircraft frame and engines, principles of flight, aircraft identification at 1/100th of a second, morse code at six five character words a minute, etc. I had not yet developed the study habits that I used later in life, but I managed to get a passing grade in my classes. One class that depended on ability more than good study habits was aircraft identification. My recognition ability was outstanding; I was tied with another cadet for top student in my class. The fact that I had 20/10 vision may have contributed. The class that most cadets feared was morse code; it was the biggest cause of washout. You could do it or you could not. One cadet, who was in trouble, went to San Antonio the night before the final test and got drunk. On test day he was apparently so relaxed that he passed.
After our ten weeks of Preflight with a washout rate of about 15%, (when
a cadet washes out, for morale purposes, he is shipped out so quickly,
that most of the other cadets don't realize it), Class 44H was ready for
Primary Flight School. However, to our disappointment, a group of
us were held over and joined Class 44I. The Army Air forces were
not losing as many pilots as before and the training program was adjusted.
We continued with makeshift ground classes for another 5 weeks. Then
our turn came and we were bussed to Primary.
March 14, 1944 to May 23, 1944
Jones Field, Bonham, Texas.
Primary Flight Training School.
On our bus trip from SAACC we stopped at Blackland Field, Waco, Texas for lunch. From the cafeteria windows we could see cadets shooting landings in the BT-13, the Basic Flight trainer. Basic would be the next step if we passed Primary Flight training. This was the first time I had actually seen cadets flying and the BT-13 was an impressive looking plane and I was thrilled to think that maybe I could do that too.
The Primary Flight Schools belonged to civilians with a component of military officers to instill army discipline. There were 55 such schools in the United States at the peak of cadet training in November, 1943, divided among the three flight training commands. We were being turned over to the civilians to actually teach us to fly. The Army would then take us back to teach us to fly military style.
At Bonham, we had a location just north of town where we had barracks, a cafeteria and classrooms for ground school with the usual subjects. Flying would take place at Jones Field, which was located directly behind the barracks area. PT was done next to one of the hangers. The underclass started its flight training at Brown Field, which was an auxiliary field and was located a short bus ride up the road. After we had soloed we would fly from Jones Field. There were 207 cadets in our class.
The flight training was done in the 175 HP PT-19A, a monoplane built by Fairchild. The cadets liked them; they were a good stable airplane. Our job was to learn to takeoff and land, hold altitude, make turns, and do acrobatics like slow rolls, snaprolls, loop the loop, chandelles, immelmanns, etc. and to recover from stalls and spins. We also would learn to use visual landmarks for navigation and do instrument flight simulation in Link Trainers.
Unlike most of the other cadets, I had no previous flying experience. In fact I had never been up in an airplane before. So I started slowly. I also annoyed my instructor because I would usually have what I thought was a good excuse when I did something sloppy in the air. At about 6 hours of flight training, cadets began to solo. I was still struggling along and not getting along with my instructor. After a morning flight, which gave me about 12 hours of instruction, as we were
getting out of the plane, he said to me, "If you do not do better tomorrow, I am going to send you up with the check pilot for an elimination ride." That got my attention; cadets were already washing out and I did not want to join them. That night back at the barracks, I concentrated on all that I had been taught and visualized the way to do each maneuver, reviewing them over and over in my mind.
The next morning, I flew with my instructor as best I could, really concentrating on my performance. After we had landed and were getting out of the plane, I still had no idea how I had done. He had said nothing and I thought that he personally did not like me. I turned to him and said, "OK, let me have it.", thinking that I had not made it. He said, "I am not going to let you have anything. You did better today. I think you could use a change in instructors." Hooray, another brush with the washout danger was overcome.
With the new instructor and about two more hours of instruction, on April 11, 1944, I was allowed to solo. My instruction time totaled 14 hours and 24 minutes. I told my old instructor that I had soloed and I thanked him. He seemed glad for me.
I was the last cadet in our class to solo; the rest washed out. My bunkmate, an older, experienced soldier, washed out and I could hear him sobbing through the night.
I enjoyed flying by myself over the Red River Valley area of north Texas and I finally talked myself into doing my first solo spin. It seemed to me that it took some courage, because if you froze and forgot your training, you would crash. I also knew unless I could make myself do it ,I would not be able to continue as a cadet. I did my spin and that freed me to feel quite confident about flying.
My parents and younger brother, Gene, came to Bonham while I was in the upper-class. We visited some but my cadet schedule did not allow much time with them.
The survivors were now ready to go to Basic. Official records show that our class had 39 cadets wash out because of flying deficiency, 4 for physical defects and 15 were held over because of incomplete training. Normally, the washout rate in Primary is 35% or 40%; ours had been 29%. Actually, we had thought the washout rate to be higher, perhaps as high as 60%; many of the people in my part of the alphabet had washed out.
I met a member of Class 44K later on, who had been in the bus load coming in as we were leaving for Basic. He said that they were heart sick when they saw how few of us were left. He and I had not known that an earlier bus load had already left with the other half of the class.
My log book showed 35:24 hours dual, 29:36 solo and 5:00 hours of Link
trainer time. There were 209 landings.
May 23, 1944 to December
Perrin Field, Sherman, Texas
Basic Military Flying
Sherman, Texas is only about 25 miles west of Bonham and we traveled
by bus. Perrin Field was between Sherman and Denison and was a well
established base, having been built in the early pilot expansion program.
We had two-story wood barracks with 3 or 4 cadets per room. Our class
was large; approximately 350 cadets. The Bonham cadets had been joined
by the graduates from the Stamford Primary Flying School.
Basic Military Flight Training consisted of transition to the 450 HP
Vultee BT-13A trainer, aerobatics, instrument and visual navigation, formation
and night flying. I liked the BT-13; it took about 7 hours to solo.
The BT-13 looked like a military plane and this would be the last plane
I could truly be solo in; my training after Basic would be in multiengine
craft with fellow crew members. I felt very confident about my flying.
I showed good skill in formation flying and won some admiration from my
I was about 6 weeks into my training and having fun. We were scheduled
to fly a cross-country training flight in that part of Texas. We
were told that if we were lost that we could fly low into a town and get
the name of the town off the water tower. This seemed to me to be an open
invitation to buzz a town. I was having no trouble doing visual navigating,
but I decided to accept the invitation. I picked out a small town near
Greenville, Texas, and dropped down to read the town name from the water
tower. There was no name on the water tower, but there was a railroad
station on the edge of town. So I flew out of town and came back
flying a few feet over the railroad tracks. I passed the station
low enough so that I had to look up to read the town name hanging from
the roof. The name confirmed what I had already known. However
now I found myself flying directly into town. In fact I went down
the main street at an altitude of about 100 feet. I saw two teenage
girls walking on the sidewalk and dipped my left wing and waved at them.
They waved wildly back. I then climbed and left the town behind.
If I had met those girls while out walking, I would have been too shy to
say hello. My confidence level while flying was entirely different
than my confidence in social situations.
When the cadets had returned from their cross-country flights, we all assembled in the flight room. We were asked if anyone had become lost and read a water tower. I was surprised to find that I was the only cadet who had taken advantage of this opportunity.
The next day I was scheduled to fly formation with my instructor and another cadet. The events of that day, June 28, 1944, greatly affected my cadet career and the rest of my life.
We took off from Perrin Field early in the morning. I flew left wing with my instructor in the lead plane. Our objective was to fly to Bilbo Field, a small auxiliary field, just across the border in Oklahoma, and shoot a formation landing and take-off. We made a good formation landing and taxied back to take-off position. As we jointly applied power and were on our take-off run, my engine skipped briefly and I thought to myself that this was something to tell the other cadets. Shortly after leaving the ground, my engine died completely and the other two planes quickly left me behind. I went into the standard forced landing procedure, thinking at the same time that I would now show my instructor how well I could handle a situation like this. When I looked for a landing location, I could see only solid tree tops ahead. I only had about 100 feet of altitude. I was going to have to crash and had no more than 15 seconds to decide how. I was too busy to be frightened and picked a more open spot to the right to drop down into. I did not even think about going back to the field. A cadet at Waco, Texas had tried that in the same situation about a week earlier and had died with a broken neck.
I tried to go between two trees and shear the wings off to absorb the energy. The official mishap report, which I obtained exactly 50 years later to the month, said that before the plane reached the two trees I had selected, the right wing tip struck the ground and the airplane cart wheeled and was totally destroyed. The engine separated and was about 200 feet from the rest of the wreckage. A cartwheel is the worst kind of accident in that as the plane disintegrates, gasoline is sprayed over everything including the pilot. This kind of accident almost always results in a fire. I was momentarily knocked unconscious but came to trapped in the cockpit. I had a skull fracture, some metal from the instrument panel was wedged in my right eye socket and, with my hand I felt for my nose, which had been moved to the middle of my forehead and felt like a lump of fat.
The rescue crews came quickly to rescue me. All the auxiliary fields come equipped with rescue crews, fire engines and ambulances. The first person to get there said to me later that he thought that I would likely be dead. I remained trapped in the cockpit for about 45 minutes while the rescue crew was cutting apart the metal trapping me. The post flight surgeon flew in from Perrin, and while I was still in the cockpit, gave me a blood transfusion, which felt warm and welcome, and also some narcotics and asked me why I was not wearing a shoulder harness. I told him that this plane was not so equipped. I could hear the men telling the others to be careful of sparks while cutting the metal, because of all the gasoline in the area; I had two full tanks when leaving Perrin. As they lifted me out they said my legs were probably broken. I asked them if I had been blinded, but nobody replied.
I was taken by ambulance across bumpy dirt roads; they had to physically
hold me down because the bumps were so bad. I was operated on at
Perrin; the metal was removed from right eye socket and my nose was rebuilt
from cartilage. The doctor had no picture to go by, so he gave me
a standard size and shape which actually was better than the original.
I had long thought that my nose was too big for my face. One of the
other cadets called me "eagle", but I tried to assume he was talking about
my flying ability. There were some minor cuts on my fingers and my
right thigh, but outside of my skull, no other broken bones. I had been
very lucky. Actually, I probably had less than a 10% chance to survive
such an accident. The official mishap report, which rates mishaps
on a scale of 1 to 5 gave this one a straight set of 5's for airframe,
engine and propeller damage. From 1939 until the end of 1945 about 3,500
cadets had been killed in training. This figure represented about
1% of the 193,440 cadets who became pilots and another 140,000 who washed
out. My parents were notified and were told that I was hovering between
life and death on the operating table. My mother worked at
a defense plant on the second shift and it was not until she received a
phone call from my father while at work that she found out that I was out
of danger. They had no clear idea of the extent of my injuries and
how permanent they might be. They came to Perrin to see for themselves
about a week later and were relieved to see that I was better than they
had feared. My mother had thought that I might now have a plastic
I recovered fairly quickly; I was 19 years old and, thanks to all that PT, had been in great shape. About ten days later, I started to walk and I found that I could see out of my right eye. My fellow cadets came to see me in the hospital and my roommates told me that my bloody flying suit had been returned to my room and was hanging there. I was also interviewed by an accident investigation officer. I had survived a tight spot and had flown as well as I could have under the circumstances. I apparently was not held responsible for the crash. The only two questions the Air Force had were: could I regain my physical qualifications and would my mental attitude be seriously affected.
I spent about three and one half months under the hospital's control
while I fully recovered. The flight surgeon was very kind to me; I was
given a three week sick leave to go home. He told me to play plenty
of ping pong to strengthen my right eye muscles which were contracted and
reduced my right eye sideways movement resulting in some double vision.
After I returned from Chicago, I was sent by train to San Antonio for medical evaluation. The flight surgeon there told me I would never fly again. I went back to Perrin and resumed recovery. Fortunately I reached a point were I regained 20/20 sight in both eyes largely through playing ping pong, and having 20/10 vision to start with. The flight surgeon at Perrin Field, probably overlooking the double vision a bit, put me on flying status again. For the third time a washout danger had been overcome.
On October 11th, I joined Class 45A in progress; Class 44I had left
Perrin on August 7th and were now in Advanced training. They were due to
get their pilot wings on Nov. 20th.
When I reported to the flight line, the flight commander took me aside and said that I did not have to fly if I preferred. I told him I wanted to continue, that I really wanted my wings.
I was very tense on my first takeoff with a new instructor, but I quickly got back into the feel of flying again and resoloed in six hours. The next day, after my first solo day, I was flying solo late in the afternoon, when another important event occurred.
While at about 3,000 feet and about 12 miles northeast of Perrin Field, my engine coughed and died. Understandably, I was a little shaken by the prospect of another forced landing, but I also felt that if did not do it right I would be washed out. From that point on I forgot about fear and concentrated on flying. A farm pasture looked like the best bet to set down and the wind direction was determined by smoke movements. I glided down at about 500 feet/minute as I planned my approach. My Air Force training proved excellent as I entered normal landing pattern elevation and direction. My final approach to the pasture was perfect and I felt great accomplishment as the plane went through an opening in the trees used as a wind break and cleared a fence at the edge of the pasture at just the right height.
When I had rolled to a stop, I found the reason for the engine failure. There are two gas tanks on the BT-13. When one gets low, a switch in the cockpit brings the other on-line. My gas had run out in the first tank and I had not realized it. I now made the switch, got the engine started again and called Perrin Tower. I told them that I was down safely, had got the engine restarted, (I did not tell them the real reason for the engine stoppage. I said I thought it was a vapor lock.), and gave them directions.
Soon a spotter plane came flying over and afterwards a jeep came to the farm with two seasoned pilots. They looked the situation over and decided that one of them could fly it out. He used a short field take off procedure, and just managed to clear the trees. The other pilot drove me back to the base in the jeep.
While driving back, I felt awful; another forced landing - what would they do to me. I said to the driver, "I guess I'm in for it now." "Hey, don't worry. You set it down OK.", he said.
When I got back to the barracks, some of the cadets teased me about now having two forced landings. No other cadet had any. They said jokingly that it would be the unlucky cadet who would be assigned to fly with a jinxed person like me.
Because pilot losses were continuing to decrease in the combat areas, it was announced in September that all flight training would be extended for additional five weeks at all phases. Here was yet another delay, but the additional flying probably did me no harm.
We had a cadet sports contest at Perrin Field. I selected ping pong for my event. Taking advantage of all the ping pong playing I had done during my crash recovery, I played well and became the cadet champion. Actually I did not think the competition was all that great.
An episode happened that was quite poignant for me. The cadets were assembled on the flight line in formation for probably some announcement from the flight commander. At the same time, a P-51 Mustang, one of the AAF's best fighter planes, appeared overhead and rather dramatically circled the field and came in for a landing. A short time later, while we still stood at attention, the P-51 pilot came walking by. I was startled to see that he was one of my fellow cadets from Class 44I. Taking a chance on facing a chewing out from my military superiors, I yelled out, "Shoemaker". He looked over and waved.
A short time later I was relaxing in my room that I shared with two other cadets, when I heard, "attention", being yelled downstairs. An officer was entering our barracks. Soon Lt. Shoemaker appeared in our doorway. I yelled, "attention", but he quickly put us at ease. He looked just great in that coveted uniform. He wanted to know about me and I wanted to know how all my former friends were doing. He told me that my former roommates from Class 44I were now B-17 pilots. We talked about 10 minutes and then he left. He had been a reminder of what I had lost, but, at the same time, what could be achieved if I could survive the program.
Night flying was our last major training exercise in Basic. One of the cadets, Carlton Mullis, had said to me a few days before that if he ever had a crash experience like mine he would quit the program. That night as we marched to the flight line in columns of twos for our first night instruction, Carlton marched directly behind me.
As my instructor took off with me in the front seat, I was shocked by how dark the night was. It was like driving a car down a dark lonely road and turning your headlights off. I felt uncomfortable about the lack of visual orientation. Instrument flying was now going to be necessary and we had been well trained for it.
While we were out there in the night, the tower called my instructor and asked if he had seen or heard from Lt. Jacobs' plane; it was overdue.
After we had landed, we learned that Carlton and his instructor had flown into the ground and had been killed. A few days latter we saw the wreckage as it was being brought back to the base. The front, were Carlton had sat, was completely gone. As has been stated above, about 1% of the cadets get killed in training. We had about 350 cadets in our class, so probably three or four deaths would be about normal, although I did not know about these statistics at the time, (we actually had two cadets killed at Perrin). I felt sorry for Carlton, but I looked at his experience objectively, I wanted my wings and I was quite willing to face some danger to get them. Also, in a way, it made our training seem more real; it was not kid stuff anymore.
I became used to night flying and particularly enjoyed night landings. Rolling by the runway lights gave me a feeling of speed and accomplishment. I had completely regained my confidence in my flying ability.
Our Basic flight training was now over and it would be on to Advanced. Some cadets would go to single engine Advanced for fighter plane preparation. The rest would go to multiengine Advanced for bomber preparation. The breakdown for Class 44J had been: two hundred and eight four graduates of which one hundred and eighty one went to twin engine training at Waco, Texas and the rest or 36% went to single engine training at Victoria, Texas. You were asked for your preference, but bomber pilots were in bigger demand than fighter pilots. There were more fatalities in bomber flying and there were two pilots per plane.
I put down bomber as my choice. I was 6 feet and 1 1/2 inches tall; too big for fighters. Besides I had a tendency to black-out during acrobatics, due to my body configuration. I could think, but I could not see until the blood came back to my head.
We heard that some advanced multiengine schools were using B-25 Billy Mitchell bombers for training. This had been the plane that made the daring Doolittle raid on Tokyo, flying off a carrier. I was hoping to go to a school like this and get into the real big time.
Those of us going to multiengine school were sent to Pampa, Texas. They flew B-25's there and I was excited.
At Perrin Field Class 45A had graduated 317 cadets of which 18 had been holdovers from Class 44K. The wash-out rate was 11.3% of which 33 were for flying deficiency, 3 for physical reasons, 4 resigned and 2 were killed. Eighteen cadets were held over.
My Basic Flying experience was:
Total flying 132:05 hours, of that 75:10 hours were solo. Night
flying consisted of one hour dual and 5:40 hours solo. Formation: 8:05
hours; navigation: 13:55 hours; and acrobatics: 3:05 hours. There was 17:50
hours of Link trainer time. I had flown, as observer, for other cadets,
for 7:50 hours. The landings totaled 248. I don't know if they counted
the forced ones.
December 31, 1944 to March 11, 1945.
Pampa Air Force Base.
Advanced Multiengine Flying School.
Pampa, Texas ia located in the Texas Panhandle and is about 300 miles
from Sherman, Texas. We were given a delay in route because of the
Christmas holiday but most of us had no place to go and little money so
we went directly by bus to Pampa.
The first sight we saw as we enter the field, was the wreckage of a B-25. It was reported that two cadets had buzzed a girlfriend's farm house and had struck a windmill and were killed, but official reports do not confirm this. But Class 44K did lose 4 cadets in a night-time mid air collision. Other cadet fatalities occurred in the our under-class just after we had been graduated. Four cadets, all with last names starting with "A" or "B" like mine, were also killed in a night mid-air collision between two student B-25's. Cadet fatality statistics indicated that 12.5% died in Primary; 33.6% died in Basic; and 53.9% died in Advanced. The Advanced training planes were more powerful and less forgiving, and the military flight training was more complex. I would not be able to put a B-25 down in some farmer's pasture. On the other hand there were two engines.
Our class would be successful at Pampa. Unlike the classes ahead and behind us, we would have no fatalities.
Advanced multiengine flight training consisted of transition to the more complex multiengine plane, formation, instrument, and night flying. The combat theater experience stressed the need for latter two. Unlike the fighter pilots, we got no aerobatics.
Pampa Air Force Base had been built in the latter stages of the pilot training expansion period. It was done quickly and cheaply. We were in open, one story tar paper barracks. I was in with 21 other cadets with names starting with the first letters of the alphabet.
I have less of a remembrance of Advanced compared to Basic, but here are some things I well recall.
Our training crew consisted of the instructor and two cadets. Twelve to fifteen hours was usually required before soloing. After we soloed, the two cadets would take turns as pilot or copilot.
On our first takeoff in the B-25, I sat behind the instructor, with the other cadet in the copilot seat. As we roared down the runway, I was pushed back into my seat by the acceleration. I was very impressed.
Now for a more earthy event. We were practicing takeoffs and landings with our instructor. I was feeling bladder pressure and asked to pause after a landing so that I could relieve myself. My instructor obliged; parking the plane on an unused runway, with the engines idling. I climbed down and went about 80 feet off to the side of the plane. While I was relieving myself, I heard the engines roar and the B-25 was rotated 90 degrees. I was put directly into the prop wash and I was confronted with a giant swirling mist of fine droplets, impossible to escape. When I returned to the plane the crew seemed to be meticulously checking the instrument panel. I did not know if they were putting me on or what. I said nothing.
By now flying had become so commonplace that I do not even remember my daytime or night time solos. If a cadet had not soloed the B-25 by 15 hours of instruction he was washed out. It generally took 25 hours of instruction before the cadet team could fly solo at night.
We flew mostly at night and on instruments. One night while my class was out practicing solo, the tower announced that a storm was coming and to quickly come back to the field and land. There were 70 or 80 B-25's with student pilots, all coming back to land at the same time. It was like a swarm of mosquitos; the air was full of B-25's, but I was impressed by how well the cadet pilots gathered in the landing pattern and everybody came in safely.
One night the moon was full. As another cadet and I flew along, our wings glistened in the moonlight, I got WGN, a clear channel radio station in Chicago, on the radio. They were playing the musical composition, "Bahia". The whole effect was serene.
On another night, with an instructor, we did a nighttime cross-country
going to Dallas; Oklahoma City; Wichita, Kansas, and then back to Pampa.
I was to navigate on several of the legs . I sat behind the pilot.
It was a dark night and very dark in the cabin. I was to calculate
ETA's (estimated time of arrival) and other estimates. I was forced
to do my work in the dark. Later, when asked for the results, I could
not find them or my calculations due to the darkness. I had to hurriedly
do them again. The instructor got the impression that I was unprepared.
After the flight, he lectured me on the need to plan ahead.
The instructor who lectured me.
B-25's were used for skip bombing, particularly in the Pacific; they would skim over the water and bounce a bomb into an enemy ship. We practiced this by flying right on the deck through Texas and Oklahoma. I loved it. We were low enough to have to raise a wing to get over a windmill. There was a tremendous feeling of speed. As we approached, the chickens ran first, followed at the end by the farmer hurriedly coming out of his front door.
Another cadet, whom I did not know well, and I were to fly to Wichita Falls, Texas, Air Force Base and make a strange field nighttime landing. I was the pilot. As we flew there, this cadet, as copilot, seemed to be second guessing me a lot.
The runways at Wichita Falls were set in a triangle. The tower gave permission to land on the designated runway and then I was to taxi on the other two sides of the triangle and get into takeoff position. It was another very dark night; all that was visible were the runway lights. I got confused. After taxing the two legs, I thought I had one more to go and turned on to takeoff runway. I realized what had happened, but it was not possible to back up. I could not take off; the plane had not been put through the pre takeoff checklist. Fortunately, traffic was light and no plane was trying to land on that runway at the same time. I hustled the plane down the runway to clear it as soon as possible. The tower and my copilot became aware of my mistake at about the same time. The tower was asking for my intentions. I told her meekly that I was trying to clear the runway. As I went through the taxi legs again, I had to listen to the copilot tell me what a dumb move I had made. I already knew it was a dumb move without him reminding me. We finally got to the takeoff position and got properly checked and got the tower's permission to take off. As we powered down the runway and became airborne, the copilot decided that he had seen enough. He was convinced that I was a complete dodo and tried to wrestle the controls from me. I did maintain control, but there was a lot of tension in the cockpit.
When the College Training Program was phased out in July, 1944, there remained a big pool of unclassified cadets. It was decided to ship them to various training fields for actual on the line experience. They were called "on-line" cadets. Each base could do what they wanted with them. Some fields had formal programs, other just let them mill around. As pilot training needs decreased, some were swept into the ground forces. They were a very frustrated bunch. They wanted to get started on their flight training, but few, if any, would get the chance. Later on it was decided to train some of them as flight engineers in the B-29 program.
There was a group of them at Pampa. The flying cadets wore winged propeller insignia on their collars; the on-line cadets wore none. That was the only difference in our uniforms.
One evening I went to the base movie theater. It was intermission and the lights were on. As I walked down the aisle, another cadet came walking up it. He stared at my collar and I looked at his. He was "on-line". I rather imperially strode by him. After all I was an Advanced flight cadet in the upper class and he was a lowly "on-line" cadet. I remember yet the frustration on his face when he had seen my collar insignia; I was a reminder of all he had hoped for and was not going to get. I should have given him recognition as a fellow cadet and said, "Hi", and let him know that I could understand his feelings. But I just strode by saying nothing. This guy Boydston had not yet grown up.
About a week before graduation, our graduation ranks were posted on the bulletin board. I was going to be a Flight Officer. About 40% of the class were to get this rank; the rest were to be 2nd Lieutenants.
The Air Force created the Flight Officer rank because of a concern about the fact that our pilot training consumed all our time and that we spent no time on military leadership. I found out much later that you were likely to become a Flight Officer if you had no college or were under 20 years old. I had a semester of engineering college, but I was only 19 years old at graduation time. I was disappointed at the time, but in retrospect, the choice was probably right. Even for an 19 year old I was not mature. I did not date girls, was uncomfortable in many social situations and tried to duck out of social responsibilities. Often my word was not good. I showed no leadership qualities, often hiding in the middle of the pack. But in the air it was different. I was confident, serious about flying, and showed some courage. The rank of Flight Officer had been created with me in mind. By the way, I believe I did manage to correct some of the character flaws by the age of 23, when I got married.
Two days before graduation, another cadet, John Bomar, and I were completing
our required nighttime flying time. It was again a very dark night.
I was flying copilot for John as we cruised along. Suddenly, we were
startled to hear the roar of engines over ours. We both frantically
tried to spot the source without luck. Just then a fellow B-25 roared
right over the top of us; coming from the rear and just a little from the
right, and going maybe 30 or 40 miles faster than we were. They gave
no sign that they had even known we were there. The plane had missed
us by maybe 15 feet. We were both stunned. After we had caught
our breath, I turned to John and said, "Shall we take this plane back to
the base, land it and turn in our resignations?". I did not really
mean it, but it seemed appropriate at the time. John did not say
a word the rest of the flight.
The weather at Pampa in January and February, 1945, was the worst it had been in several decades. Because all our required flying time could not be completed, we were allowed to graduate on a proficiency basis by special order.
On March 11, 1945, we got those cherished wings. The ceremony was held in the base movie theater. There were few guests; just a few wives.(2) We went up to the stage in alphabetic order and were instructed to take the wings with our left hand and salute with our right. There were 213 graduates of which 87 were Flight Officers. There were about 70 air bases used for Basic, Advanced and four engine transition training. Allowing for 10 four engine transition bases, there would be about 30 Basic and 30 Advanced training bases. At the peak in early 1944 the Air Force was trying to graduate 90,000 pilots a year. When our turn came, the annual rate may have been down to 70,000 with 11 classes of about 6400 each. At that rate each graduating class at each Advanced base would have about a little over 200 graduates.
I had my wings pinned on by Morton, who was held back because illness had interrupted his training. I did this so that I could give him the traditional dollar for my first salute.
Our wash rate had been 2.5%, with five cadets being eliminated; four for flying deficiency. The principal flying deficiencies were:
Laxness in use of check lists.
Faulty judgment in use of flaps on landings.
Excessive use of brakes in taxing.
All the cadets that I flew with appeared competent to me, but others reported that some cadets were reluctant to fly a plane like the B-25.
My log shows my B-25 time to be 63:20 hours total time with 36 hours
of solo, mostly at night and on instruments. There were 79 landings
and 10:15 hours of Link trainer time.
We were given two weeks leave. Then the majority were to report to Sebring, Florida for B-17 transition. My group was to go to a pilot pool at the Frederick Air Force Base in Oklahoma, and wait for our assignment.
A sergeant in the base office helped me arrange my trip home to Chicago. I was to take a Greyhound bus, which would stop for me in front of the Pampa base. It would go to Oklahoma City, were I would take a train to St. Louis and then another bus to Chicago.
When the bus stopped for me, I saw that it was almost completely filled with enlisted men; one or two seats were open in the back.
When we stopped at Oklahoma City, I waited in the back of the bus for it to empty. But nobody moved. Finally, heads began to turn and a large number of soldiers looked in my direction. I then realized that they were waiting for me. I quickly went down the aisle and got off. I thought, "Wow, what a new world I am in". It also says something about army discipline and respect for rank.
At this time the war in Europe was close to ending. The Air Force was preparing for the invasion of Japan. The veteran combat pilots from Europe would be given first pilot positions on the B-29 Super Fortress along with many of the instructors of the training program. The new pilot graduates, like myself, would be the copilots. But first we would have to have first pilot experience in either the B-17 or the B-24, the two workhorse four engine bombers used in combat. Of course, I knew nothing of these plans at the time.
I reported to the Frederick pilot pool on March 28th. I did no
flying at this base. While I was there I read about the midair crash
at Pampa killing four cadets in Class 45B. Two weeks later we got
our orders. We were to report to Liberal, Kansas for B-24 Liberator
April 11, 1945 to July 16, 1945.
Liberal, Kansas Air Force Base
B-24 Airplane Commander School.
I went to Liberal from Frederick by bus. When I first saw the B-24's on the line, I was again impressed with their size. When I was an early seventeen year old, George Montgomery and I would go out to the Chicago Midway Airport and watch the planes come in. At that time the Air Corps was using that field for its planes. One day a B-24 came in for a landing. We stood at the head of the runway and were close enough as it landed that I could see the pilot's face. The plane swooped over us. I had never seen such a large plane before and I was completely awed by the responsibility of the pilot. Now I was 19 years old and going to fly one.
Our training would focus on familiarization with the airplane and subjects like weather, radio communications, aircraft balance for takeoff with heavy loads, bombing simulation and airplane commander duties.
Again two students would fly with an instructor along with a crew chief.
After 12 hours of instruction, my partner, Bill Becker and I soloed.
Bill was a real solid guy and I felt we made a good team. He was
a little older than I and a good influence on me.
Bill Becker on the right
Each crew chief had his own plane and would accompany us on our training flights. They were much older. One day after I had made a practice landing, the crew chief came up to me and said, "Nice landing sir". He looked like my father and I felt embarrassed by the situation.
Part of our training consisted of emergency situations. One such exercise consisted of the instructor killing one of the engines on the takeoff run. Just as the plane was leaving the ground, the instructor would kill the other engine on the same side. There were no control systems to assist with elevator or rudder movements. This meant that the pilot had to supply all the muscle to keep the plane on course. I weighed about 150 pounds at that time and I braced myself in my seat, using arms, legs and anything else I could think of, to hold the plane on course. It was summertime and hot. After I had returned to the barracks and my flying suit had a chance to dry out, it became white from all the salt my body had lost.
When a person is in the service, he is actually living 24 hours a day with people quite often like himself. It is an opportunity to develop real friendships. Such a friend was Doug McRoy, a young Flight Officer like myself. He was my best friend in all my military experience, although there were other good friends too. We separated after our B-24 training. I got a letter from him several years later. He had stayed in the Air Force and was flying a fighter in Korea.
At the controls of a B-24.
One night we were practicing night landings. Bill Becker was my copilot. As I was about to touch down, a gust of wind pushed the B-24 off to the left of the runway. I made a quick decision and yelled, "We're going around". Bill made the necessary changes in prop pitch, flaps and landing gear as I applied full throttle. We were right on the ground and I could see blades of grass go by in the landing lights as we struggled to get altitude. We hung that way for the length of the field and finally started to gain. I was too busy flying to worry about our situation. Bill said later that I had really surprised him when I had made my decision.
We had a cross country flight as part of our training. We flew from Liberal to Cleveland, Ohio for an overnight and then to Cheyenne, Wyoming and then back to Liberal. We had about eight crew members aboard and I had a good time following them to the night spots of wartime Cleveland. We were like war heroes there; people buying us drinks and the girls seemed crazy about us. However I was still too immature to know how to handle it.
I made the takeoff at Cleveland and flew the leg to Cheyenne. Our flight
path took us just south of Chicago. I had this tremendous feeling
of accomplishment, flying a bomber over my hometown area.
One day while we were out on a training mission, our field at Liberal became socked in with fog. There were several experienced pilots aboard, many with combat experience. They were along to give the other student and myself a check ride. I was the pilot. As we headed back to Liberal, we entered the fog. I kept looking out at the left wing as we flew along. I was fascinated by the fact that the wing tip disappeared into the fog and could not be seen. After I had looked out there several times, I said to myself, "Forget about looking out there; it will just make you nervous". From then on I kept my head in the cockpit and flew on instruments.
We flew on the beam back to the Liberal station. The transmitting station was located several miles from the base and periodically would give its identification in Morse code. So this why we took Morse code in Preflight! As the plane flew over the station, the beam would disappear in a cone of silence. This was our signal to change course heading and start a controlled rate of descent from a prescribed altitude. There was no visibility and if you did not do this right you might be coming down in the barracks area or the town of Liberal.
We broke through the overcast at 500 feet elevation and there was the runway right in front of me. What a beautiful sight. Under this procedure, the wind has to be ignored; there is only one direction to come into the field. On this day the wind was at our back, which made for a hot landing. I applied brakes cautiously and got the plane stopped before the runway ran out. This would be the only time in my Air Force career were I would make a real life instrument landing. We passed the check ride.
Our class did not escape fatalities. I was sleeping in my room one night, when, at about 4 AM, I was momentarily awakened by the sounds of sirens and the room became light from the glow of flames. A B-24, with two student pilots and the crew chief, had crashed while attempting to land. The crew were all killed. I did not know them personally, but had seen their names on our rosters several times.
My 20th birthday was spent piloting my B-24 through the tops of clouds on a nice sunny afternoon.
My B-24 training was over and so were my days of being a first pilot. My log showed 31 hours of flying of which 10:35 hours were solo first pilot time. There were 54 landings.
We were now to be given leave, but that was soon canceled and we were
sent to Roswell, New Mexico for B-29 transition.
July 16, 1945 to October 16, 1945
Roswell Air Force Base, Roswell, New Mexico
B-29 Super Fortress Transition.
There were 125 crews of us, consisting of a first pilot, copilot and
flight engineer. We were to be given 5 weeks of training, pick up
the rest of the crew and were destined to be based on Tinian or Saipan
in the Pacific for bombing raids on Japan. There were similar B-29 training
fields at Clovis, New Mexico, about 100 miles to the northeast and Alamogordo,
New Mexico, about 100 miles to the west. There were altogether about
a total of 25 such bases. It was obvious that the Air Force was intending
to cover Japan with a dark cloud of B-29's.
The cadet training programs were being sharply phased out and many of my instructors from Basic and Advanced flight training joined us as fellow students. They, along with the combat veterans, would be the first pilots.
Our crew was put together on the basis of the fact that we were all from Chicago. The first pilot had combat experience in Europe. I was the copilot and the flight engineer had come from a location which gave special flight engineering training. The B-29 had been rushed into production and still had some bugs. One of the bugs was the tendency of the engines to get overheated, particularly on takeoff. The flight engineer had his own instrument panel and watched aircraft performance carefully and would independently make adjustments to improve aircraft performance.
Many of our B-29 training planes had seen service flying the hump in Burma.
Flying the B-29 was like sitting in an office and adjusting toggle switches.
I had little sense of actually flying. Gone were the days of flying
solo in a BT-13 or being first pilot on a B-25 or B-24. But this
is what I had been trained for and it was my job to do it.
Relaxing at Roswell AFB
The only excitement I remember was when an engine caught fire on our first night flight. Our experienced instructor quickly got it under control by feathering the propeller and using a CO2 cartridge that was built into the engine nacelle for just that purpose.
We completed our five weeks training at about the same time the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The war soon was over and further training was suspended.
The log shows that I had almost 8 hours of copilot time, with about 12 hours of passenger time. There were 52 landings.
My total Air Force pilot time was 397 hours.
I was discharged from the Air Force at Roswell on October 16, 1945.
Our class of pilots really had the best of it. Training had evolved
so that we had experienced instructors, good planes and facilities with
extended training periods. And the war ended just before we had to
go into combat.
Back home in Chicago
I am grateful to the Air Force for the superb training for something that I had wanted to be from about the age of 14. Also for taking very good care of me during my post crash recovery period.
After my discharge I immediately resumed my engineering education.
Because of the need to get on with the pursuit of education, marriage,
children, profession, etc., I never looked back to my cadet days.
That is - until now, almost 50 years later, (written in 1993).
The Army Air Forces in World War II.
Volume VI Men and Planes.
Edited by Craven and Cate
University of Chicago Press 1955
Washout! The Aviation Cadet Story.
Charles A. Watry
California Aero Press, Carlsbad, California 1983
Cecil Edward Hargrave
Personal Document 1994
PICTURE AND DOCUMENT CONTRIBUTORS:
Fellow pilots: "Andy" Anderson, Bill Becker, Roy Blackledge, Cecil Hardgrave, Doug McRoy and Andrew Tivald.
Fellow cadet: George Montgomery
My mother, who saved the mail that I sent back home.
1. By coincidence, Ralph Silvis, whom I meet in 1955 was also in this group. Ralph became a life-long friend. His Air Force experience was almost identical to mine.
2. One of the cadets graduating was Cecil Hardgrave, whom I did not know at the time. Cecil and "Andy" Anderson, Pampa 44K graduate, and I regularly get together for lunch in Berkeley, Cal. and talk about the old days and have a great time together. Cecil and Andy went on to be advanced flying instructors at Pampa.