rncopilt.jpg (32000 bytes)

Ray and co-pilot Norris

Chapter 7 - Operational Training and Crew Bonding

The flight routine at Drew Field was as hectic and consuming as before. Emphasis was placed on developing crew discipline and coordination. Each of the crew members was familiarized with the requirements of the other positions so that in case of an emergency he could take over. The bombardier and navigator were given time at the controls so there was a possibility of bringing the aircraft home in case both pilots were incapacitated. We were an informal crew with a minimum of `sirs’; first or last names were utilized. This led to some differences with the check pilot, however, I ignored his comments we worked best that way.

There were simulated missions flown in formation at high altitudes. Unfortunately not as high as the combat missions were flown. The flight characteristics of the aircraft are affected by the air density and consequently the 25 to 30,000 foot altitudes made the aircraft respond very sluggishly. Even the 12,000 foot altitudes of our training missions made for tricky handling in formation. Two aircraft were lost in a cross over maneuver on one mission due to the inexperience of the pilots and the other just being there.

One of the pilots of our training squadron was a West point graduate. Because of his background, not his skill or experience level, he was chosen to lead formations. On one flight after 8 hours of continual formation flying he started an ever tightening spiral. At 60 degrees I was forced to peel off or slide into him. Poor judgment on his part and I reported this to the squadron operations officer with a request that I not be assigned to flights that this individual would lead in the future. Unfortunately, as the fates would have it, we were to meet again in England. He was a major and operations officer of the combat squadron I was assigned to. West Pointers were pushed into command positions which occasionally they were unprepared for. More of this later.

While all this was going on Doris had found Mrs Maney (or Johnny as she preferred to be called) a lively and compatible personality and they spent time together recreationally. Johnny was particularly interested in meeting the members of my crew, she did and before we knew it a red hot affair was initiated between my bombardier, Chapman and Johnny. Her husband had been away for 18 months and war has a way of disrupting lives. Doris and I became innocent participants when Johnny asked us to leave by the back door for her neighbors sake; when Chapman visited; ostensibly to see me. This affair caused Chapman to postpone his wedding. Happily things fizzled out ultimately and Chapman married his home town sweetheart after the war and his release from a German P.W. camp. Details of this happenings will covered later.

Johnny apparently enjoyed the freedom of the war atmosphere and frequently invited Doris out roller skating which they both enjoyed. Unfortunately Doris was forced to refuse these invitations since she was expected to participate in Johnny’s man hunts. None the less we enjoyed our stay with Johnny and got to know her family and friends which gave us a peek into the local culture of that time.

Flying over Florida in the summer time had its unique aspects. Large thunderstorms and squall lines could build up rapidly. Often we had no choice but to pick a spot and fly thru them. We picked the lightest spot in the cloud formation, reduced our speed and entered. On one occasion my choice evidently was faulty because as soon as we entered we were in extreme turbulence being buffeted in a frightening manner. A glance at my rate of climb and altimeter instruments showed a rate of climb of 2000 feet per minute. Pointing down and increasing power did not help. I kept the wings level and hung on. Those of us without safety belts were occasionally lifted completely off the floor. This continued for several minutes. Suddenly we were out in bright sunlight at 18,000 feet. We had centered at 6000 feet. A dive took us back to a more reasonable altitude with a sigh of relief. I had learned another lesson; a graceful 180 degree turn and a judicious detour is appropriate at times. Very often planes were seen to enter a thunderhead and emerge from the bottom in pieces.

An amusing incident occurred on one of our flights. This was a realistic search mission; one of our ships had gone down and several of us were assigned to fly parallel flight lines at 500 foot altitude to locate it. At this low altitude, because of high ground temperatures the air turbulence is high, soon, most of the crew was stricken with airsickness. After running out of containers and wishing to keep the aircraft interior reasonably clean, my navigator sacrificed many of his maps, folded them into containers and passed them up to those of the crew that needed them. What a sorry lot came back from that mission - fortunately I was able to hang on to my cookies - had too - I was flying but it was close.

Shortly before finishing our training I was once again called home to New York by the Red Cross, my mother critically ill. Doris and I left hastily to find the crisis was past, so after a few days of visiting we returned to Florida to find my crew had been shipped out with an instructor pilot in my place. About two years after the war I ran into Flynn, my engineer in downtown Brooklyn. They had been shot down on their third mission; a fact I was aware of, but unaware of any survivors.

Flynn had survived the blowup of the aircraft, barely, by managing to hook one ring of his parachute before he was pinned by centrifugal force. The subsequent blowup threw him clear but he broke a leg upon hitting the ground. Sadly he described the pilot and copilot fighting each other to get out of their seats to the escape hatch. Chapman, the bombardier was blown thru the plexiglass nose and also survived. Laferty the waist gunner close to the flak hit jumped immediately and was clear before the spiral and explosion. All three survived 10 months as PW’s. The rest went down with the aircraft.

I was assigned a new crew, whose pilot had broken a leg playing volley ball. They were in the mid phase of their training. Norris the engineer from North Carolina, quiet and competent Jackson the copilot a good solid pilot from Indiana who resented the copilots seat, Kelly the bombardier from Chicago, 19 years old, and a happy good lucky inveterate gambler (good at it), Mulvaney, the navigator, a husky six footer from New York, who I later found was continuously airsick; as a result a poor navigator, Barclay, the radio operator from Georgia quietly competent, Irons the ball turret gunner another 19 year old was from Hot springs, Arkansas, considered the baby of the crew, Sweeney from Pittsburgh was the waist gunner, cheerful and a hard drinker, later converted to toggler ( enlisted bombardier who toggled the bombs out on the lead ships smoke bomb signal). Kelly was later converted to a navigator because of their shortage. Miller the tail gunner from Iowa was the oldest man of the crew 25 years old, small, energetic and a father image for Irons.

It only took a short while to blend into the new crew. They had been well trained and since I was repeating a month of training, with an additional hundred hours of flying experience I felt very prepared for what was ahead. This crew was quieter less boisterous, perhaps less standout in a crowd but always ready to overcome problems when they materialized. Our completed 35 mission tour over Germany proved this point.

Doris was able to find another place to stay, near Johnny, our former landlady so the rest of our stay was pleasant, complicated only by Johnnys desire to meet my new crew. She immediately set her cap for Kelly who was receptive with fewer complications than with Chapman. Our new accommodation were shared with several mice families, an arrangement which Doris fought against until she succumbed to the baby mice’s cuteness.

The last phases of our training ran into the Florida hurricane season which came in with a bang in October 1944. Because of the high winds anticipated the decision was made to fly all of the aircraft out of the storms path. This meant flying westward to Barksdale, Louisiana en masse; giving us some feeling for what was ahead in the large bomber formations flying over Europe from the bases in southern England. Doris stayed with Johnny and a group of her friends, which included a sprinkling of Drew Field ground personnel at Johnnys house during the height of the hurricane. Doris’s recollections if the 24 hours is somewhat hazy but we are both sure Johnny was at her best. No damage occurred and a good time was had by all. I returned the next day having spent the night in Barksdale first at the officer's club and then in town taking advantage of the time off.

Shortly afterward we received shipping orders to the port of embarkation in New Jersey so Doris headed back to New York. Some of the crews were selected to fly B-17s across the Atlantic to England. Strongly enough those of us who shipped by boat, in my case, the Ile de France, arrived in England before some of the B-17s. They were held up and detoured by adverse weather conditions; we made the crossing in eight days, unescorted. A fringe benefit of shipping from the New Jersey P of E was spending an additional week in the metropolitan area. I and several others discovered a hole in the fence so Doris and I were together several evenings. Finally I cut those clandestine meetings out because each parting was emotionally draining since I never knew if I would be on shipping orders the next day. We left on the Ile de France a couple of days later, around midnight, picking up doughnuts and coffee from the Red Cross ladies as we walked up the gangplank carrying our gear; 8000 of us were loaded, hopefully no German subs waiting for us as we left the harbor.

Incidently our next meeting with Johnny was approximately twelve years later. She was now a sedate suburban housewife living in a new development built on what was formerly Drew Field much concerned about the activities of her 14 year old daughter with the local lads.
home.gif (4036 bytes) index.gif (6408 bytes) onward.gif (10122 bytes)