FLYING MEMORIES 3
The Harvard 1 is a Low Winged all - metal, fixed undercarriage, radial engine monoplane, with added refinements such as flaps and a variable pitch propeller. The cockpit was enclosed by means of a sliding canopy whereas the Stearman was an open cockpit.
Having soloed on this much faster and advanced machine we were introduced in the art of formation flying, which requires not only flying skill but also tremendous concentration. One soon found out that it was easier to formate closely, because the gap between you and the plane you were formating with became apparent far more quickly and therefore could be corrected sooner. I admired our instructors who coaxed us into getting inside the wing tip of the aircraft we were formating with, you were only a matter of 3 feet away and to begin with it seemed very dicey.
After about 3 hours of dual doing this, one started doing it solo but not with just one other aircraft but with anything from three to nine aircraft. Quite an experience if you are the outside plane and the leader decides to execute a fairly steep turn, you are either looking down on four very close aircraft, or waiting for the four aircraft to slide into you when on the inside of a turn.
We were also learning the skills of navigation, instrument flying and night flying. Daytime navigation was aided considerably because of the endless cloudless skies, the numerous straight roads and the fact that you could climb high enough to see either Montgomery or Atlanta, and so be able to pin point your position.
Night flying navigation was done by use of a radio beam; a preset arrangement of letters in Morse code was transmitted from one large town to another with the beam being about half mile wide. On one side of this beam was a continuous series of dots being transmitted and on the other side another continuous stream of dashes, hence you knew that you had to make gentle turns left or right to return back on the beam. It was vital that you flew at the designated height allocated, because both the military and civilian aircraft used these beams.
On my second solo night flying flight which consisted of getting airborne, climbing to a specified height and orbiting at that height in a quadrant of airspace allocated, waiting for the control tower to inform you it was your turn to land, I found that my Radio was not working. I think there were twelve aircraft airborne at the time with three stacked at different heights in each quadrant. The control tower would call the lower aircraft one by one into land, and instruct the planes in the higher slots to reduce altitude to the next stage down. I was the middle plane of our quadrant and without radio hadn't a clue who was being told what, fortunately we all flew with navigation lights on, so I was able to follow the progress of the aircraft making its final approach to the airfield. Having counted four landings, I knew that I would be one of the next four to be called into land, so I carefully descended to landing circuit height putting on my landing lights in order to attract attention. When I felt it was safe to buzz the runway I did so, and was given several green lamp flashes in return.
These green flashes indicated that flying control were giving me the all clear to land, which I did much to my relief and also my instructor. It transpired that flying control had been trying to contact me for 40 minutes. Red star for keeping my cool, but more so for not damaging the plane.
It was while stationed at Maxwell Field, that a charming couple named Cottingham befriended Denis Galloway and me. Bill and Helen lived in a super bungalow in the posh part of Montgomery, and they owned a most loveable Red Setter called Rusty. Bill was the Vice President of the National Bank of Alabama, very interested in flying and both he and Helen made us more than welcome. I stayed with them far more than Denis and was allowed to drive the Cadillac on numerous trips, I was taken to Augusta, the home of the Masters Golf Tournament for a T-bone steak meal. At this time I had absolutely no interest in Golf but well remember the immaculate condition of both the Fairways and Greens. Flying was my only interest.
Time came for the final flying check of which there were numerous, together with all the written exams, having passed to be sent onto the Advanced Flying School. This turned out to be a place called Selma and was for pilots selected for further training as Fighter Pilots. The number going to Selma had been whittled down to less than half the course, most going elsewhere to convert onto twin-engine aircraft with a view to flying Bombers in the future.
Selma was not all that far from Maxwell and so it was that Bill and Helen insisted on inviting me to stay as often as possible, collecting and returning me as often as time allowed, they were a second Mum and Dad to me.
At Selma we advanced onto a low winged monoplane called AT-6, which had a more powerful engine and also had something else to worry about, namely a retractable undercarriage. More knobs, dials, to move and watch. Always glad to see two green lights come on after selecting wheels down. If you closed the throttle and the wheels were not down and locked, a Klaxon horn would blast your head off.
We were now learning how to throw the aircraft all over the sky, having trips called Rat Races, where you get in line astern and try not to let the instructor loose you, and he being able to get on your tail. Simple Dog Fighting.
Also we were introduced to Air to Air and Air to Ground gunnery, this was very exciting, especially the Air to Ground as you could see the result immediately, whereas in Air to Air you had wait for the drogue to be dropped and the number of hits recorded. As more than one aircraft attacked the Drogue in the Air to Air firing the bullet tips were painted different colours, in order to check which pilot had made the strike.