- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Robert H Allison
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 August 2005
This story appears courtesy of and with thanks to Robert H Allison.
Was I at any time frightened while flying? Just a couple of times. Once while at Los Alamitos I was flying wing on Bugs Dunagan in a rather lose, relaxed manner and a little wide of his wing tip. All of a sudden a couple of planes made an overhead pass on us. One of the planes, I'll swear, went between Dunagan's plane and mine. I'm sure the "Nut" driving that thing was not aware of my plane. What was not needed anywhere, especially flying, was a bunch of "Smart Asses".
One type of flying that was scary was blind flying. One kind of flying blind was making a slow pull-out from a dive at high speed such as a gunnery run. This blindness is the result of blood draining from your head and eyes causing the temporary loss of vision. After the dive is completed the blood returns, your sight returns and all you have to do is locate the horizon to get your bearings. To avoid trouble while you are in this sightless condition is to hold the stick in the center with a little back pressure so that the plane will be coming up out of the dive when your vision returns. It is a funny sensation but not particularly dangerous.
Another spooky situation was flying in formation while climbing or descending through a heavily overcast sky or through a very dense cloud. You are intent on watching and holding your position on the plane you are flying wing on when all of a sudden you cannot see it or any of the other planes in the formation. Immediately you are on instruments and hoping to God that you don't fly into each other. The more dense the clouds and the longer your are blind the greater the chance of a collision. It is a great feeling to come out the other side and see the other planes at some distance from you- any distance, just so they are away. This I experienced many times and every time I was spooked.
Probably one of the most God-awful sensations to happen to you is to return to the carrier after dark and find the ship blacked out. If you are fortunate, there will be a little moonlight or maybe enough twilight to have a dim horizon or maybe a vague shadow of the ship. If none of these exist you will arrive on radio and radar. Your approach and landing procedure is accomplished by communicating with the ship by the radio and radar. Once in the landing pattern and on the down wind leg you are advised to make your turn into the cross wind leg and when you are about thirty degrees off the upwind leg you gain visual contact with the carrier. Up to this time you have been flying blind. When you sight the carrier all you see is a stick man. This is the LSO. His uniform is a flight suit with narrow strip of florescent cloth down each leg, one strip up the center of his torso and one out each of his arms. At the end of the arm strips is a round florescent circle with horizontal narrow strips of this florescent cloth. All you see are these florescent strips until you are very near being directly aft of the ship. At this time, if you are lucky, you will make out the outline of the deck of the ship by seeing lights spaced down each side of the flight deck. These lights are small and can only be seen from directly behind and slightly above the flight deck for security reasons. Don't think for a second that you are going to land between those lights on your own. Your visibility and depth perception just aren't good enough. You place your faith in God and the man with the paddles. With your faith and his talent you will land safely aboard. When you feel the plane hit the deck and the cable brings the plane to stop you breath a deep, deep sigh of relief and mop the sweat from your brow. I had a few twilight landing but only one near dark landing. On this one I could barely make out the outline of the ship. It was close enough to being black. Thank God there were no more!
It was not the standard practice to fly at night but did happen occasionally and if you were caught in this situation just pray that when you arrive at the carrier there is no rain or fog and the sea is relatively calm.
Many times I was apprehensive but I don't recall being frightened by any of my experiences. I can hardly believe that these pilots who flew early in the war were not scared out of their wits when the best plane the Navy had was the F4F Wildcat. The Wildcat was no match for the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero either in speed, in maneuverability or in numbers. The only advantage the Wildcat had going for it was it's protective armament and the ability to take a lot of punishment. As a result the Navy losses were running fairly high. And as the old saying goes: "necessity is the mother of invention". The inventor who came along at this time was Commander John Thatch. Commander Thatch developed a defensive maneuver that made it possible for fighter pilots to meet the Japanese in combat and survive with considerably fewer losses. This maneuver was named after Commander Thatch and was called the "Thatch Weave".
The gist of this maneuver was to be applied when the Navy planes were attacked by a superior force of Japanese planes. If a section of two planes or a division of three or four planes was attacked, the planes would split into two sections and fly parallel courses to each other about a half mile apart. The pilots of the planes on the left would keep a visual observation of the area above, beyond, below from twelve o'clock ahead to six o'clock behind on the right side of their course. The section on the right would keep a visual observation of the opposite half of the area. In this manner the entire sky is under complete observation.
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