Flying for the Air Force Navigator School

Air Force Days - Aug 23,2018

FIRST ASSIGNMENT AS A PILOT
  B-25 and C-47 - Years 1951-52

My first assignment after pilot training was to Ellington AFB, south of Houston, Texas, as a "mission pilot."  I was there for about 18 months beginning in November, 1950.  Then I was sent to instructor pilot training at Craig AFB, Selma, Alabama and from there back to Reese as a flight instructor. Ellington was a navigator training base.  They were using B-25's for radar navigation training and C-47's for map reading, use of the drift meter, and celestial navigation.  Since I had been flying the B-25 in student days, the "checkout" procedure as B-25 pilot was quick and easy, and I flew radar training missions for about six months.  Then I shifted over to the C-47 and only rarely flew the B-25.  They also had some T-6 airplanes which I got to fly occasionally.

The C-47, DC-3, or "Sky Train," as the commercial models were known, is a remarkable airplane with a very long history.  I think there are a few of them still in service.  Notice that it has a tail wheel.  Any airplane with a tail wheel is inherently more difficult to land than one with a nose wheel, because the center of gravity is behind the main landing gear.  That causes two problems.  One is that after landing, there is a tendency for the plane to make a violent turn called a ground loop, and the other is that if contact with the ground is made first (and abruptly) with the main landing gear, that causes a pitch-up which can send the plane back into the air just as it is stalling (losing flying speed).

While still a rather new pilot, I had an embarrassing experience with this pitch-up tendency.  Apparently my supervisors thought I was doing well, so I was assigned to be pilot of a night mission in which numerous high-ranking officer navigators were trying out some new technique for night celestial computations.  When we came in to land - I even remember which runway it was! - I misjudged our height and flew it into the runway, causing a pitch-up from which I might not have been able to recover.  I had to make a "go around," that is, give it power and climb back up to try again.  All was quiet in the back, but I can imagine what those people were thinking!  The next approach and landing were decent, and when we got out of the airplane some of the passengers made kind remarks to make me feel better.

One peculiarity of the C-47 was the wheel brakes: they would "fade" badly, meaning that in use they would quickly get hot and become ineffective.  The correction for this was to use rudder on landing roll as much as possible so there would be sufficient braking when it was really needed.

During my time of flying the C-47, we made lots of "day-night" cross-country flights.  We would take off about mid-day, fly to some place like Denver, Albuquerque, or Macon, eat supper and then come back at night.  We commonly got 80 or more hours of flight time per month and occasionally 100 hours.  To put that in perspective, airline pilots are not allowed to exceed 80 hours per month.  Sometimes I slept a few hours in the pilots' lounge because of having another flight briefing too soon to make it worthwhile to go home.

I had my first in-flight engine failure while piloting a C-47.  We were well trained for that.


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