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Columnist: Winging along in my flying machine

My last column found me at Lemoore Air Army Air Base in Fresno California where I was taking basic flight training during WWII.

Fresno is in the beautiful San Joaquin valley and might be called the breadbasket of the state. The valley is home to lush farms that grow all kinds of vegetables as well as cotton and of course the grapes that are dried into raisins.

The climate in Fresno is very mild during the winter months so it makes for very good flying weather, as well as the other activities of a very busy air base.

We began our flight training at Fresno in the BT-15 which was a step up from the PT17 we flew in primary training. Generally all of basic training would be done in a single engine plane, but, in an unusual step, we found out that we would fly the BT-15 for the first half of our stay at Lemoore and then switch to the dual engine AT-17 advanced trainer.

I don’t know that we were told at the time why the change was made, because the AT-17 was normally flown in the last phase of training, but we would find out later.

I feared that it meant we would not be flying fighter type planes in advance training, but no one seemed to know for sure. If they did know they weren’t telling us, but such a move was highly unusual.

Whatever the future held for us as to the type of plane we would end up flying it was out of our hands.  Just as well I suppose because I suspect that if it was left up to us we would all choose to be single engine fighter pilots. So who would be left to fly the bombers, transports, etc.?

About half way through basic we began flying the AT-17, which was built by Cessna. It was a very likable plane, easy to fly, and it had dual controls so we took turns flying as pilot and copilot. We also took instrument training in this plane which meant we had to fly under a canvas hood, blacked out to the outside world. The copilot had to act as your eyes to make sure that you were flying straight and level.

We also did link training on the ground. The link trainer was a little box that they would close you up in and it had all the instruments and feeling as if you were actually flying in the air. You had to fly by the instruments and not by feeling and it was tricky stuff until you got the hang of it because you cannot see the horizon and your inner ear plays tricks on you.

Someone said that the link trainer was the only plane you could crash and walk away from without being hurt.  It really worked to train us for instrument flying, which we would have to do in the air if we encountered bad weather or did night flying.

The food at Lemoore was good and we didn’t have to do KP duty, but we did have a full course of school and physical training. Never a dull moment.

Sometimes big bands would come up from Hollywood for a weekend dance. I remember Les Brown and his Band of Renown performed for one big Saturday night shindig that was sponsored by the local USO.

All in all our time at Lemoore was a very pleasant experience and best of all our flight training was progressing.

We would soon be moving to advanced training and earning our pilot wings.  Whoopee! That’s what we were all shooting for, but we weren’t there yet.

That’s just the way it was … in the good old days.

Charles Eurey is a Lincoln Times-News guest columnist.

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