Since I posted the pix of me and the Stearman Biplane, folks have asked questions about my experiences in the CAP (Civil Air Patrol) during WW-II. The CAP was structured as a civilian/military group of youngsters who were being trained to become future service pilots should the war continue for many years. The normal routine went like this: After school on Thursdays, all of us in our Cadet Uniforms were rounded up and bused to Morris Field (now Charlotte, NC’s main civil airport). There we drilled under the commands of a tough Drill Sergeant until almost dark. Then we went into classrooms where we attended “Ground School.” We were taught air navigation by visual means and used the famous E6-B “computer” which was a handheld device on which you could determine compass headings according to the expected wind drift. And we studied aircraft identification using flip cards of all the enemy aircraft.
On the weekends we went flying under the instruction of Lt. Killian. We had parachutes, but on us they hung down to our heels. But we had them because they were the “seat cushions” in the Stearman Biplane. Nobody ever told us how to use them, and we never asked. In fact, we never said much of anything except “Yes sir” and “No sir” and “No excuse, sir.” We had a Gosport system of communication from the Stearman rear seat, where Lt. Killian sat, to the front seat where the student rode. But it was one way. He could talk to us – we couldn’t talk back. My experience with the good Lieutenant was that he hardly ever used that system. He’d simply pull the throttle to idle and yell obscenities at the student, telling us that we were no good and that we’d never learn to fly. Which just made me more determined.
One of Lt. Killian’s favorite tricks was to taxi the Stearman out to the end of the runway. Then he would full throttle it but keep it just a couple feet off the runway while we raced toward the trees at the field’s boundary. When it looked as if we were going to smash those trees., he jerked the stick back and the Stearmean went straight up, like an elevator, until it almost stalled. Then he’d level it and take me out over the Catawba River and do stalls, loops, spins (in both directions), snap rolls, slow rolls, the whole gamut of aerobatics. He was a helluva pilot. Remember, he’d been overseas, and I don’t know what he flew but it was certainly a bigger more powerful aircraft than the Stearman trainer. After the aerobatics, he’d let me fly us back to the field, and I was supposed to use what I had learned in Navigation school to get us there.
At the time I thought Lt. Killian was an asshole. But I think what he was doing was to weed out those who could not become, or were not, suitable for flying. And he did. Our squadron got smaller and smaller as time went on.
In the summer we had a two-week encampment assignment at Morris Field, much like the AF reservists have today. We slept in barracks, had meals in the mess hall and then were assigned to duties around the base. I mostly remember “latrine duty” where I had the pleasure of cleaning toilets. Those summer sessions were to acquaint us with life in the military and I don’t recall any flying during that period, although we did wash a bunch of airplanes and ran lots of errands for the Officers.
My brother was serving in the Army Air Corps so I fantasized doing my “preliminary training” to join him, should the war go on forever. But it didn’t. My brother was killed, the war ended, and so did my tour in the CAP. But what I learned helped me a lot in later life when I sought my own pilot’s license. I already knew how to fly. And it taught me something else that young people today have never had – it taught me discipline. That training served me well in many ways for the rest of my life and I’m thankful for the opportunity CAP gave me.