Monday, September 29, 2014

Airman's Story Part II

Airman's Story Part II
I used my acquired poker skills to good advantage and that added to my income from my $99 monthly pay. My year at OSU wasn’t totally wasted after all.
Near the end of the A&E course the upper ten percent of my class was offered an opportunity to become Flight Engineers on B-29 bombers. The Air Force was searching for more crew members to man the primary heavy bomber used in the air war over North Korea. The offer was made as an experimental program to man the primary heavy bomber used in the air war over North Korea. The offer was made as an experimental program to see if students without actual maintenance experience could become qualified engineers. The standard requirement was for applicants to the engineer career field to be a staff sergeant and have at least three years of aircraft maintenance experience.
We volunteers for the program were pulled out of A&E school and assigned to a newly formed, two month long B-29 maintenance course at Sheppard followed by a promotion Airman 2nd class. [E-3]
After completing the B-29 course at Sheppard we “experimentals” were sent to Chanute AFB at Rantoul, Illinois. At Chanute we received three months of advanced B-29 systems training followed by an intensive three-month aircraft performance course.
While at Chanute we few two stripers were assigned to the same open-bay barracks as the regular Staff and Tech Sergeant students. Since NCOs were not required to march to school nor perform KP we fellow members of the Flight Engineer student squadron piggybacked on the privilege. We thought we were hot stuff.
The system phase of our training consisted of learning the fine points of turbo superchargers, pneumatics, electrical power generation, hydraulics and engine technology systems as applied to the B-29.
While at Chanute I witnessed my first Thunderbird’s show. They flew straight wing F-84 in 1953. 
I witnessed more of the graft that seemed to be prevalent in the Training Command in those days. The base commander, a certain General Gates, closed the base one weekend and no students were allowed to leave the base. A carnival was set up on the flight line, complete with rides and a midway all students were encouraged to attend by the student squadron commanders. On another occasion that summer the base was again closed to outgoing traffic and many airman were ordered to assist in the staging of a sports car race/rally on the taxiways and runway. A few years later the Air Force revealed that Gen. Gates has financial interests in both of these activities and relieved him from active duty. These Training Command scandals were brought to a head and stopped as a result of the Lackland roller skating rip off. “Some high ranking base officers were accused of requiring basic trainees to participate in roller skating or horseback riding as part of their physical training - then getting a monetary kick back from the rink and stables. The scandal drew national interest; instructors were ordered not to talk about it. But they did. A large percentage of MTI's were forced into the program against their will.”
After the systems phase we began the aircraft performance phase also called cruise control school. Imitating my upperclassmen I purchased a brief case, engineer’s scale, cut into a small sections, but I didn’t purchase a slide rule as some did. If the Air Force wanted me to have one they would issue it, and they did. I was an engineering student albeit not at a university. However. the course was designed by the nearby University of Illinois Aeronautical Engineering department and rated as worth 18 credit hours.
Learning the functions of the slide rule gave me the math insight that had eluded me at OSU. Those gas law ratios, cube and square roots became clear when presented on the ruled surface of that simple instrument. 
We leaned to construct aircraft performance charts from basic test flight data, During the flight planning section we determined the minimum fuel required so as to maximize the bomb load. We learned how to apply lever physics to the weight and balance problem in order to obtain the center of gravity of varying of fuel and bomb loads. 
The experimental students did well in the academic atmosphere of performance school. We defied the normal washout rate when 100 percent of us completed the course.
Near the end of the course, responding to requests from the on base recruiting office, I investigated the cadet program for pilots. In an effort to build up the pilot corps the Air Force was waiving the college requirement and allowing applicants to enter the program after scoring well on an intensive testing regime. When I realized that if I took the offer I would be committed to a five- year service obligation I declined the offer. 
In July of 1953 the Korean action ended but we students hardly noticed. The bomber school was still starting new classes and it seemed to we 18 year olds that life would go on as planned.
fter our October graduation we received orders assigning us to a student squadron at Randolph AFB in San Antonio, Texas for crew assignment and flight training. We did not receive the promised third stripe at graduation but we were not too upset. We were going to fly!
A classmate from New Hampshire who had an actual car agreed to pick up us easterners from our homes and we would travel to Texas together. (To be continued)

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