FLYING MEMORIES 2
Maxwell Field, Montgomery, was the headquarters of the South East Army Air Corp of the US Forces and was situated a short way outside the town. The base itself is huge being used as a transit camp for us as well as being an Advanced Flying School. One of the first things that happened to us on arrival at Maxwell Field was to be marched to the large camp cinema, where we were not only greeted by Top Brass, but instructed on how to behave now that we had set foot in the States, followed by the most revolting colour film on V.D. (I had no idea on this subject at this time, it frightened me to death, especially the methods used to cure it then.)
My stay at Maxwell consisted of Drill, drill and more drill the American way, with endless inspections and everything having to be done by numbers, even eating until we complained. The barracks were first class and were inspected on occasions twice a day, when our kit had to be laid out in a specific way, bed to be made up with square corners and the officer inspecting, checking every nook and cranny for dust with his spotless white gloves. If it failed to pass inspection you were either put on extra guard duties, or made to march around the parade ground with full kit and rifle after the others had been dismissed for the day. The Temp. always seemed to be 70F or more. On camp we wore Khaki Drill but were not allowed out of camp except in our light grey suits, and I had the task of sewing on Corporal stripes on my shirt simply because it was a case of tallest on the right and shortest on the left, what an army!!
After three weeks of boring drill, organization, P.T. and the odd lecture on health and hygiene, we were informed of our Primary Flying Schools. Mine was to be in Florida at a place called Lakeland. It sounded good even before seeing it, and it was!! Lakeland site consisted of three or four two- storey modern barrack type buildings, in which we lived, dined and received all our academic instruction. There were Orange Trees just outside our bedroom windows together with Lemon and Grapefruit nearby.
The Flying part of the school was within the camp boundary and only a few hundred yards from the barracks. It consisted of I think, two hangers used mainly for maintenance, with a wide concrete perimeter strip on which maybe 15 to 20 Stearman Biplanes were neatly parked. The P17 or Stearman was the American version of our Tiger Moth. It was slightly larger and had a Radial engine whereas the Tiger Moth engine was inline.
The flying instructors were mainly civilians, (that is until the USA was attacked at Pearl Harbour) when they were all immediately sworn into the US forces and commissioned.
My instructor was called Mike Covert who was not much taller than me but a really first rate chap and an excellent teacher, who immediately made four others and myself most welcome. He managed to get all five of us away SOLO, and was over the moon when I just missed the school record for so doing in just over 6 hours. The record was 6hrs and I was about 10 minutes longer. Being so short I required two cushions to sit on in order to see forward in the Stearman. The Pedals would move backward and forward, but the seat could not be raised or lowered. Gave everyone a good laugh when they saw me waddling out with my Parachute strapped on and carrying the cushions.
Once you had soloed your flying time increased, with maybe two flights a day either in the morning or afternoon, with academics taking up the other half of the day. The weather was good and the flying was magic.
I was very lucky in that I took to flying like a duck to water, and never at any time felt sick or uneasy when the Instructor did his best to turn me green. Life was marvellous but it was nice to receive news from home, confirming that all was well. Shortly after my 19th birthday the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour thus bringing the USA into the war, panic reigned for a short while and all the aircraft had to be dispersed, mainly into fields we were using for practice forced landings.
It also meant that we could revert to our RAF uniform again, which entailed the cleaning of buttons and badges again. My class number was 42-E which signified that all trainee pilots who began their initial flying instruction at any of the several different flying schools in the States, would graduate in the 5th month of 1942. This designation applied to both British and American pupil aircrew.
Christmas came, and during the short break from training, which had now been intensified due to Pearl Harbour. Denis Galloway a fellow trainee and I were invited out for the day by an American couple on one occasion. They took us sight seeing followed by a wonderful meal at their luxury home situated on the sea- shore. Even loaned us swimming trunks so that we could have a swim on Christmas Day. They thought we were mad as they considered 65 -70 degrees was too cold for swimming.
On having passed all the written and flying exams under the first class instruction from Mike Covert, we entrained in Lakeland town with what seemed the whole population waving us off, and set course for Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama.
This second visit to Maxwell Field was a great improvement on our previous one, in that we were partially through our training and had arrived there to begin our Basic Flying.
Once again 5 people were assigned to an Instructor who was hopefully going to instruct us in the art of flying an aeroplane called a HARVARD. 1