If you think that is a strange title, wait till you hear the event that it represents! This strange event is just one of the precursors of the many strange events I have experienced, even until the present.
Let me set the stage. I was a civilian aeronautical engineer working in the aircraft industry during the first part of World War II. In February of 1943, in a surge of patriotism, I enlisted in the army and was shuffled around for a while and finally assigned to Army Air Corps headquarters at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, as-guess what-an aeronautical engineer. I spent the last 13 months of the war in the Special Projects branch of the Army Air Corps Engineering HQ, as a non-commissioned officer (Sergeant). We had civilians, commissioned officers, and non-coms in our branch. Some of the officers were pilots who had completed their training but had not yet been sent to combat. They were just put there for storage, so to speak. While they were waiting their orders they had nothing to do, but were allowed to check out an aircraft once a month for a two hour flight so they would collect flight pay. The trouble was there were not enough aircraft set aside for that purpose, and the lower ranked pilots had to compete with higher ranked ones for air time. I became buddies with one of the low ranked (second lieutenant) pilots. He was really frustrated because he hadn’t been able to get aircraft time and the month was almost over.
One morning he came over to me all excited and said he had a flight reserved for that morning, and did I want to come along for his two hour flight. I got permission from my supervisor and eagerly accepted. But he got word that a Major had bumped him and the flight was off. He was really mad, and I was disappointed.
Lunchtime came and I went to the mess hall to eat. They served a greasy but delicious lamb stew, and I pigged-out and left the mess hall stuffed. When I got back to my drafting table my pilot buddy ran up to me and said, “I got a cancellation, so meet me at the flight line right away.” Yipes! And me with a stomach full of lamb stew. I wanted to go, and didn’t want to disappoint my buddy, so I decided to risk it. I rushed to the rest room to empty my bladder, and folded up a bunch of paper towels and stuffed them in my pocket-just in case.
At the flight line we checked out parachutes, and went out to the waiting aircraft. It was a North American AT-6, the AT standing for Advanced Trainer. This was the aircraft that the pilots used to learn aerobatics in with a big 600 horsepower Pratt and Whitney Wasp engine, and LOT’S of performance. My buddy got in the front cockpit and I climbed into the rear cockpit, and we buckled up. We could talk to each other via the intercom built into our helmets, and I was instructed to cinch up my harness tight! I didn’t appreciate the implications, and a bit of apprehension crept into me, centered in my stomach area.
This particular AT-6 had a checkered paint scheme on the tail, which my pilot buddy explained was a warning not to do aerobatics as it might harm special instrumentation installed on that aircraft. I breathed a sigh of relief. Alas, it was very short lived.
We got airborne and climbed to altitude over the area assigned to our flight. Then all hell broke loose! What is a checkered tail in comparison to the pent up rage and frustration my pilot had endured? He began an uninterrupted series of hard aerobatics, one maneuver after another. I was only a professing Christian then, and don’t think I prayed for help, but I did everything I could to make peace with my stomach. I would barely make it through one maneuver and its G-loads and get release as h positioned for the next maneuver, and a new set of G-loads would begin. He wrung out that aircraft mercilessly, and not only the G-loads but the vibration of the whole aircraft as he poured out the whole 600 horsepower was awful.
On and on it went. Never did two hours seem so long. I marveled that my stomach and the lamb stew hadn’t parted company yet. I thought, maybe I’m going to make it.
Finally my buddy said we were running out of time and needed to head back. Glory, get me back on the ground! But he went on, “I’m going to do one last maneuver-it is called a “Falling-Leaf.” Oh-oh! I don’t like the sound of that.
From a high altitude we started down, very much like a falling leaf. On and on we fell, during which my stomach began to say, Tilt! Tilt! I grabbed the towels out of my pocket and was able to catch the lamb stew. Fortunately I had brought enough towels so that I didn’t foul the governments aircraft.
We landed without incident., and I can’t describe how great it was to get out of that aircraft and on good old terra firma!
My buddy pretended not to notice my gray pallor or my bundle of towels. I’m sure he was grateful that he didn’t have to clean out the rear cockpit. So was I!