Aviation cadets at Stewart Field are so busy that they're lucky to snatch five minutes for a weekly hair "shingle." Training Director Colonel Benjamin Webster has set up some hangar barber shops to take care of pilots between flights. These boys begin their day at 5:30 AM, are fortunate if they turn in at 10 PM. Realism becomes a keynote as thunderous air battle noises fill darkened classrooms. There's the roar of motors, staccato bursts of machine-gun fire, the whine of diving planes but the boys sit unperturbed, identifying Allied and enemy aircraft flashed on a screen for one tenth of a second each. This is just one of the many new training devices incorporated by instructors at "Wings of West Point" located twelve miles from the academy. Professors at this air school include twenty-seven-year-old Major Everet Holstrom, who took part in Major Doolittle's Tokyo raid, and Captain Arthur Andres, a Pacific veteran who wears the DFC. There's no fooling here: sometimes a cadet is seen wearing a large placard labeled DEAD. That means an instructor figuratively shot him down. His name is placed on the casualty roster for a week in the hope that the lesson proves that a man with a still neck doesn't last long in combat.
An agent of destruction will become an angel of mercy as the helicopter is pressed into service carrying the wounded from battlefields. Plans are in the oiling to have these ships fly to the scene of battle, hover over the field, while hospital corpsmen place wounded soldiers on litters, lift them into the helicopters. It's added emphasis on today's strategy of speed and mobility where the American wounded are concerned. Ninety-seven per cent of our boys injured since Pearl Harbor have recovered, demonstrating the success of this policy.
A non-spinnable plane will most certainly be an advantageous feature in an all purpose ship that Americans will own after the war. The Skyfarer, produced by General Aircraft and Grand Rapids Industries, combines this important characteristic with complete control in a stall. Taking army tests now, this observation plane fits war demands because of quick takeoff, and short 150-foot landing space required. These same qualities, plus its 100-mile cruising speed, render it useful as Mr and Mrs America's private flying car.
Thunderbird II, youngest of Southwest Airways' four Arizona pilot training schools, and an AAF primary base, marked its first birthday, graduating the 11th class of aviation cadets. In its initial operation year, the field graduated over 1,000 cadets, the total number scheduled in AAF's first expansion program in 1939.
When the Navy disclosed the loss of an American blimp shot down by a surfaced German sub, it was probably the first case on record where any aircraft was hit by a submarine. Loss can be explained only by assuming that a shell from the sub's gun tore a large hole in the blimp's envelope, letting the helium escape. A blimp's weapon is depth charges, and they have no trouble spotting the dark shadow of a submerged sub. The sub's only hope is dodging ammunition until the blimp runs out. Two hundred types of American balloons along our enormous coastlines have proved most effective weapons, for theoretically and in practice, it's a thousand to one that the sub will sink the blimp.
One more college is added to the roster of the army's giant educational plan as Massachusetts Institute of Technology instructs aviation cadets and enlisted men to be weather officers. Uniforms are much in evidence as 3,000 out of 4,000 students wear Marine and Navy blue and Army drab. These soldier trainees of the AAF Training Command will be sent to fields all over the globe as soon as they finish their twelve-months course. It's a real grind, for in addition to taking standard subjects as math, physics and geography, they study the composition and structure of the atmosphere, factors controlling long-period climatic changes, air mass characteristics, wind-velocity measurements. Really equipped by graduation time, these meteorologists can tell the operations officer just what kind of weather lies ahead.
It's difficult to believe, but sticks of raw spaghetti manufactured with a fine precision are proving superior to critical steel in speeding production of electronic tubes for war communications. Young electronics engineer William A Hayer, who personally abhors a good spaghetti dinner, has introduced this Italian dish to war manufacturing at Westinghouse Electric, Bloomfield, New Jersey. Placing a stick of spaghetti inside a tiny wire coil of a tube filament supports the coil while it is being welded a piece of steel was used formerly but is more difficult to burn out than the spaghetti, which goes in a flash. In order to weld a wire filament, support is necessary to keep the spring coil in alignment. Mussolini, if he's still reading magazines, would be doubly disconcerted for not only is his favorite dish being used in American war production, but the die maker who manufactured this particular die for Westinghouse used to ply his trade in Italy. The WPB is so pleased with the spaghetti adaption that Mr Hayes has been presented with the Award of Individual Production Merit.
When fifteen AAF men piloting P-40 Warhawks, shot down 11 out of 21 Jap planes, and didn't lose one of their own, that's high flying. Jap airplanes were attempting to attack US shipping in Rendova Island harbor but our pilots pressed attack, broke up the enemy's aerial formation before the slant eyes could see through the clouds of gunfire.
Nine basic camouflage colors when used in proper combination will protect fighting men on any terrain in the world at any season. Aviation engineers of the 1st AF designate sand, loam, olive drab, earth brown, light green, dark green, earth red, earth yellow, field drab, as hues that will match a sun-baked desert or a multi-colored jungle. Experiments have proved so successful that a soldier can be absolutely invisible to a person standing ten paces away. Three of the nine basic colors should be utilized at any one time, one for shadow, one for basic terrain, one for contrast. Artist camoufleurs have developed a reversible suit for engineers. One side is colored to match the terrain in which the unit is operating, the other is the regulation green fatigue uniform. Nature can always be put to work when man lacks materials, and these engineers are taught to slit their suits, insert leafy protection to simulate surrounding terrain.
Brigadier General Frank Armstrong's philosophy about rank in the air is strong, explicit, and simple. Taking part in the first heavy bomber raid against Rouen, this succinct conversation took place. "Navigator to pilot, will you swing 220°, please?" "Pilot to navigator," replied General Armstrong. "Don't ask me to swing 220°. Tell me!" He later explained that each Flying Fortress crew member has a job irrespective of rank that there's no room for dignity at 25,000 feet with a battle in progress.
To a group of observation pilots in Sicily, winging above the ground at 500 feet is high flying. In the warfare of yesteryear, armies sent a cavalry detachment for swift patrol work, to gather information and break up enemy detachments. In 1943, it's P-51 Mustangs, flying at a 50-foot average, that are hedgehopping in Sicily doing reconnaissance for the Tactical Air Force. They reconnoiter roads, noting vehicles, harbors, searching for ships, and they can see faces as they fly. It's dangerous work, but these pilots are so speedy that although bullet holes pierce every plane, there has been only one casualty during recent Sicilian operations. Ordinarily, the Mustangs fly at 5,000 feet, in photographic reconnaissance, and it was this ship that first discovered an unmapped road in northeastern Sicily that played such an important role in the final stage of the campaign.
Compass deviations of a few degrees in long distance navigation may mean disaster for the pilot. In every type of plane, the compass setting is affected by permanent and residual magnetic fields of the steel parts, magnetism in the soft iron induced by the earth's field, and magnetic fields which are produced by direct electric current flowing through wires distributed through the ship. Today a testing method for magnetic fields is "swinging the compass," often inaccurate. One of the most practical instruments yet devised for checking magnetism is the Magnetometer, manufactured by Waugh Laboratories. Almost magic in operation, the Magnetometer locates magnetized members in the plane, checks the magnetic effect of electrical circuits in aircraft, may also be used in place of a compass to obtain the uncorrected deviations of the compass.
Another war hero story can be succinctly told of a dying gunner on a B-26 who crawled to his gun, shot an attacking Messerschmitt, then photographed it crashing to earth in flames. Sgt G P Corl, with three bullet wounds, thrown away from his gun, fought back to position, and shot a square burst against the attacker. Staff Sgt Bullian administered first aid, kept him alive until the ship landed, but the shock had been too great.
There'll be no more glider accidents like the fatal episode in St Louis on August 1, for the AAF is bringing Robertson Aircraft's inspection department up to standard. No sabotage was discovered; faulty manufacture by a subcontractor, faulty inspection by the prime manufacturer, inadequate enforcement of inspection procedures, combined to produce a fatal hidden defect in a wing-strut metal fitting. Wing strut end fitting failed in tension, causing wing to fold back.
This column was originally published in the October, 1943, issue of Air News magazine, vol 5, no 4, p 45.