On returning to the base at Moultrie I was immediately given an assignment to get a check-out in a fighter, a P‑40, at Tifton Army Air Force Base in Georgia, several miles from Moultrie.
Some of my buddies and I were delivered by truck to the airbase. Almost immediately we were given lectures on the flying characteristics of the P‑40. We also had available a copy of the book, "God is my Co-Pilot", to read in the evening. As some of you know, this book is about the Flying Tigers in China, and they were flying P‑40s with the shark mouth painted on the nose. I suppose the army thought that we would get a feel for the airplane if we read about it.
We were not allowed off base since this was to be an intensive training course.
The Curtiss P‑40 or Warhawk was a low wing monoplane with a V12 cylinder liquid cooled engine manufactured by the Allison Co. It was a single-seater, with the pilot seated almost on the floor. The visibility forward when on the ground was very poor since it had a tail wheel instead of a nose wheel. This placed the airplane in a nose-high tail-low attitude. There was no way to see in a forward direction. It was necessary to continually S turn the aircraft when taxiing. For the sake of accuracy let me add that all of the aircraft which I had flown up to this time also had to be S turned when taxiing since they were all tail wheel aircraft. However, this one had a much longer nose since it housed that huge V12 engine. When the nose turned to the left, you could see the runway to the right, and visa versa. When ready for takeoff the nose was pointed as straight down the runway as possible and as the airplane traveled down the runway, it was aimed by watching both sides of the runway until there was enough speed for the tail to come up to give better forward visibility.
We were instructed on the flight habits of the airplane for a couple of days and then brought to the flight line for the real thing. This turned out to be quite hazardous, particularly to the airplanes. After starting out with about twelve flyable planes, in two days we were down to two of them. The rest were missing wingtips, landing gear, and other vital parts.
On the third day I was installed in the cockpit of a war weary P‑40 with an instructor standing on the wing of the airplane for my first flight, reminding me that this was not like a training plane. It was much heavier on the ground and it would want to turn to the left strenuously on takeoff so I had to be ready with plenty of right rudder, etc.
He then jumped off the wing and saluted as though I were on my last day on earth. I was ready to go.
I pushed the throttle forward slowly as instructed and started down the runway. As I added power the airplane tried to turn to the left, but I kept it straight with a great deal of right rudder and as I picked up speed the tail came up giving me much more visibility forward. I had no previous idea of the large amount of force with which it was trying to turn to the left. It also seemed to take forever for the airplane to become airborne, but once it was flying it was very responsive.
Now that I was airborne I was aware that I had a tiger by the tail. When I began a turn the "G" forces dragged everything down and I became very heavy. I noticed that my goggles were moving down my nose and my jaw felt very heavy. I also noticed that my stomach felt a bit queasy.
Two things became apparent at about the same time. First, I realized that I hadn't flown for about three weeks and second, that it was a very warm day. These two problems were adding to the initial problem of a queasy stomach. As a matter of fact I didn't know if it was the heat or the stomach that was now causing me to sweat so profusely.
The problem became more acute with each turn that I made. Every bump became more noticeable and I was progressively becoming more and more airsick.
The flight was supposed to last for one hour, and I was now airborne for about ten minutes. I opened the canopy to try to cool down, but that didn't help and I was becoming more panicky. I was really losing it.
Now, if you have ever been seasick or airsick you could appreciate how I felt. I could barely concentrate on flying the airplane, and I just wanted to be on the ground and lying on my back as soon as possible. I tried to fly straight and level thinking that it would help, but you guessed it, it didn't help and I had to fly a box pattern to stay close to the field. I was getting sicker.
I kept thinking that I would never be able to land the plane in this condition and that it would be best if I bailed out and lost the airplane. At least I would be alive, and that was worth something.
I was soaking wet and my face must have been a deep shade of green, but I persevered.
The clock now had me flying for thirty‑five minutes and I decided to get set up for the landing. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and eyes with my sleeve and began a pre‑flight check. I lowered the landing gear and took up a heading for the home field.
I was now down to the eight hundred feet, the traffic pattern altitude, and in a position to begin my landing descent. My eyes were burning from the sweat, and I lost all power of concentration and could only think of being on the ground. I knew that I couldn't land this demon safely on that small patch of runway which was now beginning to get closer and become more ominous minute by minute.
I was able to speak to the control tower, and that surprised me. They gave me landing instructions and told me that they would talk me in since this was my first landing, and I was grateful for that.
The sickness now was coming in waves. I had to really try to concentrate on preparing to land. I remembered that my wheels were down and that now it was time to put the flaps down and enter the final approach. I had the feeling that this would be my final approach, because even if I survived the landing I would never want to fly one of these things again.
The runway was now straight ahead and the tower was talking to me, but I wasn't listening too well. I heard them ask me if I were okay and I answered in the affirmative, and I had the suspicion that they knew that I was lying. They now told me that I was five feet above the runway and that I should flare out and let the airplane slow down. Then they told me that I was two feet above the runway and to hold the plane steady and slow my descent. Apparently I was following the instructions and I felt a slight jar as I touched down and began rolling on the runway. In seconds I was in control again, and the agony was over. I was soaked, but the sweating had stopped, and when I finally parked the airplane and shut down the engine I was able to climb out of the cockpit and chat with my instructor about how much I enjoyed flying this plane.
When I reported to the flight line the next day, I was apprehensive, but anxious to try the airplane again. This time I did not get sick and I did enjoy a marvelous flight in this beautiful ship and never did get sick again.
I had completed about five hours in the P-40 when two newly rebuilt P-40s arrived to add to the remaining two aircraft still intact since we arrived.
I was assigned to one of the new aircraft and my instructor cautioned me to be careful to not fool around. The numbers identifying these two airplanes had not been painted on the fuselage. The only identification was the white nose cone on one of the airplanes and the red nose cone on the other airplane. If I were to be caught doing anything illegal I would certainly be court marshaled. The reason that I was assigned to this airplane was because I had made some very good landings thus far. It was great to fly this renewed airplane. Everything looked fresh from the factory. I looked forward each day to climb into my bird and take off. I tried every maneuver in the book. The airplane was solid and it felt as though I had been born in it. I was ready to stay here forever.
After two weeks we had completed the course and were returned to Moultrie for another assignment.
This time it was to Eglin Field, Florida, for air to air gunnery practice.
The airplane that we flew for the gunnery was the AT6, Texan that we had flown in advanced flying school. However, these airplanes were each equipped with a 30‑caliber machine gun that was mounted inside the engine cowling and was synchronized to fire in between the propeller blades as the propeller was rotating.
The field that we used was way out in the boondocks many miles from civilization. It was a very small field with a relatively small runway, and with no relaxation facilities. It was very quiet and lonesome. Fortunately we did a great deal of flying. After hours was for reading and writing; remember, there was no television.
Every day someone took a turn flying to the main field for the mail and newspapers. The main field was very interesting. There were all types of airplanes to be seen, including a German ME109, which type of aircraft we were possibly to face in combat in the near future.
I did have an accident!
Most of the flying was for target practice. Shooting at a moving flying target that was used to simulate an enemy airplane. The actual target was a long section of wire mesh about 4ft.x 25ft. attached to the tow plane by a long heavy steel cable. It trailed the tow plane by about 50 feet and it was kept vertical by a steel pipe with a large lead ball at the lower end of the pipe.
Since the target was moving, it was necessary to aim the bullets at a point forward of the target so that the bullet and the target would reach the same spot at the same time. This is called "lead", as in leading the target. The smaller the angle that the target made with the flight path of the pursuing aircraft the smaller the amount of lead necessary. When directly behind the target no lead was necessary since the airplane and the target were both on the same flight path.
The procedure was for the tow plane to fly back and forth allowing the shooting plane to take shots at the target from the side at different angles. This procedure allowed us to practice judging the amount of lead that it would take from different angles in order to hit the target. Shooting from too small an angle at the rear was forbidden since this would put the tow plane in jeopardy. We all took turns flying the tow plane, and therefore there usually were no problems enforcing this rule.
Each aircraft would rendezvous with the tow plane flying above and to the right of the tow plane, going in opposite directions. The shooting plane would peal off and make a U-turn that would put it in a position behind and somewhat in the same direction as the tow plane. Because it had been above the tow plane and had to dive while turning it had more speed than the target and pulled up to it rather quickly.
This put the shooting plane in a position that would enable the pilot to get off a short burst of fire at the target and then head back up and out to begin another pattern. This was done until the ammunition was expended. There were usually four airplanes shooting at the same target. The ammunition was dipped in a different colored paint for each plane in order to identify the pilot for scoring purposes. If a bullet made a hole in the target longer than six inches, the pilot could be court martialed, since that meant that the shot was taken from too narrow an angle behind the target. When the shooting was over, the tow plane would fly over the field and drop the target where it would be picked up and the hits counted.
My first mission was an orientation flight with an instructor in the front seat flying the airplane and demonstrating how to fly the pattern and when to do the shooting. I was in the rear seat watching the show.
The instructor was speaking to me over the intercom as he was approaching the target. "Jacobs, I want you to know that my students get very good grades because I teach them to get close to the target before shooting. Watch how close I am to the target before I fire". He kept repeating this as the target came closer and closer and grew larger and larger. Suddenly we hit the target with the right wing!
It wrapped around the right wing, breaking the steel cable and with the steel bar tearing through the leading edge of the wing. The instructor yelled at me to bail out!
As I was opening the canopy to jump, I heard him calling the tower at the field. He told them that we were bailing out, and they asked him why? He answered that he expected the wing to come off at any second. They suggested that he bring the plane back to the field. It was their opinion that if the wing hadn't come off already, there was a good chance that it wouldn't come off. In retrospect I later realized that their opinion was an uneducated guess.
I asked him if I could stay with the airplane and return to the field. He shrugged his shoulders. I decided that I would take my chances and risk what would happen if the wing came off, rather than bail out and land in this wilderness.
As you can tell we did reach the field intact and were able to walk away without injury. However, there were two vehicles waiting for us. An ambulance took me to the flight surgeon. When I told him I was OK, he sent me back to the operations room where I was ordered to immediately take off in another aircraft and shoot at the target. When I explained that I had not yet completed my orientation, I was told that I had all of the orientation that I needed.
The other vehicle waiting was a jeep which was used to transport the instructor back to his barracks where he was ordered to pack his belongings. He was sent to another duty post, probably flying a small artillery spotting airplane.
I did very well at the gunnery school getting good grades and I was feeling comfortable with my flying. I really felt at home in the airplane and it became routine except for the propeller incident.
One morning as I was shooting at the target, apparently the synchronization went awry and I heard a strange noise as I pulled the trigger and at once the airplane developed a vibration and a whistling sound. I assumed correctly that one of the bullets went through a propeller blade throwing it out of balance.
I returned to the field, and sure enough there was a clean hole through one blade of the prop. The mechanics drilled a hole in the opposite blade at exactly the same spot as the bullet hole had made in the other blade. They filed the hole to remove the sharp edges and balanced the propeller. The propeller blades were made of aluminum.
They explained that if this happened to this propeller a second time then they would replace the propeller. My own feeling was that if the propeller took another hit, it would probably break off. I was happy that I never did get assigned to fly one of the airplanes with a wounded prop.
It took two weeks to complete the shooting and we were brought back to Moultrie and civilization again.
Now we were sent to fighter school; to learn to fly and shoot from a combat type fighter aircraft. This was the P‑40 again, but this time it was for extensive training under all situations.
Sarasota was on the Gulf coast of Florida in a beautiful setting. It was like being on an extended vacation.
A typical day consisted of having an early breakfast at the Officer's Club and then walking over to the flight line, changing to our flight gear, checking with our instructors, and then climbing into the cockpit of a P‑40 and preparing for takeoff. The airplanes had been armed with a small practice bomb on the belly and 100 rounds of 50 caliber ammunition in each of two of the six machine guns, one in each wing. Again, the ammunition had been dipped in a different color paint for each pilot in order to identify the pilots when scoring the targets.
The guns were installed inside the wings, three in each wing next to each other, and far enough outboard in the wings so that the bullets would not hit the propeller. The guns were stationary, and the aiming was done by aiming the airplane. The trick to hitting the target was to figure out how much in front of the target to aim the airplane. This depended on the angle of the airplane to the target. The higher the angle, the greater the lead necessary to get the bullets to the target when the target arrives at that spot.
Because the guns were not in the centerline of the airplane, they had to be installed so that the bullets converged 300 yards in front of the airplane. This then put another factor into the equation. In order to hit the target with the most firepower, it would be best to be about 300 yards from the target when shooting.
We took off two at a time and joined another two to form a flight of four. We flew in echelon and first headed for a small island off the southern tip of Longboat Key and kept at a minimum altitude just above the water. This was called "skip bombing". We aimed our bomb by sighting the engine exhaust stacks protruding from both sides of the engine. When the number two stack was lined up with the target on the island, we pressed the bomb release button on the control stick and looked back to see how close we had come to the target. I don't ever remember scoring a hit.
We then headed up to meet the tow plane with the target. We peeled off one at a time making a fighter curve toward the target. The fighter curve was an S. The formation flew parallel to one side of the target, and about 500 feet above. The lead plane in the echelon formation peeled off turning toward the target in a vertical turn. Now, closing in on the target at about 90 degrees, the turn was reversed allowing the attacking plane to get into position to aim and fire. A one or two second burst of fire was used leading the target and then breaking off and climbing back up into formation and waiting for another turn to peel off and fire again. Since the attacking airplane was above the target and began the attack by peeling off and diving at the target, it was going faster than the target. Therefore, the target was in range for only a few seconds. It took four to six or more passes to use up the ammunition and then head back to base again in echelon.
We approached the base at minimum altitude aiming for the threshold of the runway. As the lead plane came over the threshold of the runway he peeled off in a climbing, tight turn to the left; the other three aircraft peeling off in the same manner as they each in turn came over the threshold. The tight climbing turn and chopping (closing) the throttle allowed the airplane to slow down enough so that the landing gear could be lowered, and then the flaps. The landing was made at the end of the 360‑degree turn, allowing the airplane to quickly lose altitude during the second half of the turn. The first aircraft usually made the landing out of the turn in less than a minute. The loud, popping noise that the engine made when the throttle was closed quickly during this procedure caused the unknowing individual on the ground to think that the airplane was coming apart.
We also spent time going off two at a time away from the base to practice dog fighting. We would turn on our gun cameras (16mm movie cameras) and try to get into position to shoot the other plane down. When the trigger was pulled the camera turned on and recorded the attack.
One of the procedures that I enjoyed tremendously was the "rat races". We would take off in a two ship formation with the instructor in the lead plane on your left. The instructor would climb to about three thousand feet, which was at about the level of the small cumulus clouds and the student was signaled to get in real tight to the lead plane. The instructor would begin to climb over and around the clouds, diving and wheeling about, having a ball. The student would automatically become attached to the lead plane and as the maneuvering heated up it became an exercise in tight formation flying. The concentration level increased as the turns became tighter and the diving and climbing became more intense. When I saw a smile on the instructor's face I knew what was coming. He was going to try to lose me; and I was not about to let him!
He had the advantage of course and at first he did lose me. This he did by rolling the elevator trim tab forward, holding back on the stick and then when climbing over one of the small clouds he would release the back pressure and push forward on the stick and disappear into the cloud. The reason that I couldn't stay with him was that if I tried to push the stick forward quickly in order to keep in formation, the airplane would pitch forward forcibly pushing me upward. Instead of pushing forward on the stick, I was using it to hold onto in order to keep myself down in the seat. So after doing this a couple of times I figured out what he was doing and I did the same thing. I stuck to him like glue and I had a ball.
This type of flying made me feel that I was part of the airplane. It was intense, never boring and, I was getting paid while I was enjoying myself.
Whenever I began to feel satisfied with myself, I managed to overcome that feeling by doing something stupid. One morning as I was taxiing to the active runway for takeoff, the engine misfired and quit. When I tried to start it again I found that the battery was too weak to turn the starter, but there was enough power left for me to call the tower. They told me to stay in the airplane and that they would send out a portable generator.
Sure enough a few minutes later a tractor drove up towing a large portable electric generator. They plugged it into the outlet in the side of the plane behind the pilot's seat. I then restarted the engine and since I was late to rendezvous with the other airplanes, I immediately began to resume taxiing to the runway. I happened to glance back and saw that I was still connected to the generator. The mechanics were screaming at me to stop, which I immediately did. They disconnected the generator and I was able to take off. I was happy that I didn't hear what they were screaming at me.
We also practiced dive bombing. There was a very small island in Sarasota Bay that we used as a target.
The procedure was for two aircraft to fly in formation with a bomb on their bellies to about four thousand feet above the island. The first aircraft would peel off and enter a vertical dive toward the island and release the bomb and pull out of the dive at the same time. Again I don't think that any of us ever hit the island with the bomb. However, one morning one of my close friends did hit the island with his airplane. His name was Jackson and his fifteen year old brother had come to visit him the day before. He slept in our barracks and as I remember shared my room for the night.
We went to breakfast that morning at the officer's club and spent some time showing Jackson's brother around the flight line. The young boy was thrilled to be that close to a fighter aircraft and we enjoyed watching him.
Jackson and I took off on this mission leaving his brother in the operations office. Jackson peeled off first and went into his dive while I circled looking down at him so that I could begin my dive as soon as he pulled up.
He never did pull out of the dive and hit just off the island in a tremendous splash.
I immediately called the field and headed home with my bomb still attached. I landed and as I taxied in the squadron commander came out to meet me. He wanted a full briefing about what had happened. He also wanted me to tell Jackson's brother about the accident. This I refused to do explaining that I was in no condition to carry it off.
We never found out exactly what happened, but a very good estimate was that the canopy probably had an air leak, and that the speed built up in the dive had caused the canopy to impinge on the pilot so that he could not move the controls.
There were other mishaps, but not fatal ones.
I spent a great deal of my time at the threshold end of the main runway, watching the landings. I felt that I could learn by watching the mistakes that some of the other pilots were making.
One morning after I had flown a mission I went out to my usual spot to watch and I witnessed one of the accidents. The pilot was too high when he broke his glide and leveled out about twenty feet above the ground. Instead of adding throttle to keep the aircraft from stalling too high and dropping in, he froze on the controls and the airplane did stall and dropped in like a rock. Fortunately the airplane was in a landing attitude and hit the ground that way. It hit so hard that the landing gear struts were pushed up through the top of the wings and one of the wheels tore loose and was pushed down the runway by the wing. It rolled for awhile and then fell over. There was a great deal of noise and sparks were flying from under the airplane until it scraped to a stop. The pilot was in shock and he quickly jumped out of the cockpit, jumped off the wing, ran down the runway, picked up the wheel and carried it back to the airplane in both of his arms. He then realized what had happened and he sat down and cried.
It was about this time that I fell in love! It certainly was not love at first sight; it was a slow process. It was not a sweet young thing, and it was not a sexy, slinky female. It was a P-40! I loved that airplane, and I know that I was not alone. It took awhile to learn to handle this one, but once that happened, the love set in.
I believe that any pilot who learned how to fly this airplane properly felt the same way. I was surprised that I liked the P-40 better than the P-51, which had a much better reputation, but I found out later that many pilots felt the same way that I did. I was having breakfast one morning a few years ago with one of the pilots from the old fighter group at a reunion when he shyly said to me that he wished that he had a P-40 in combat instead of the Mustang. When I told him that I had felt the same way he smiled and said that this was the first time that he had admitted this to someone and he was happy that I had agreed with him.
Certainly the P-51 was faster, had much better range, could climb to a higher altitude, and looked more glamorous, but that P-40 really got to you. It became a part of you.
Now that I have that off my chest I can continue with my story.
One of the high points of the fighter school was the minimum altitude(low level) cross country that we would be scheduled for before we left Sarasota. This was sort of a graduation present from the army and we all looked forward to it.
Low level flying, otherwise known as "buzzing" was forbidden and could result in a court martial. The only low level flying that was sanctioned during training was flying a mission that called for it; such as during strafing practice. Of course, in actual combat no holds were barred.
This mission was for about an hour, and it called for minimum altitude for the entire mission. There were four of us in the flight in tight formation, with an instructor in the lead ship. It was necessary to lift a wing to keep from hitting a tree, or any other obstacle. The ground slid by showing us how fast we were traveling. This was about the last adventure that we had at Sarasota. We would soon be on our way to combat.
While in Sarasota I met a very fine girl, Ann Glover, and we saw each other almost every evening after duty hours. We would go to the Lido Beach for a swim and then eat a picnic dinner at the beach. It was a wonderful relationship and I sort of intimated that when I completed my combat missions I would return to Sarasota. A few months before I met Ann her brother was killed during pilot training and when I climbed aboard the bus to leave after the training was complete, she broke down completely. Ann had taken the day from work to see us off. It was a sad time and although I kept reassuring her that I would make it back she couldn't control her sobbing, and that was the last vision that I had of her.
The evening before we left Sarasota my friends Matt, Ozzie, Willie, and I went into a bar so that they could get a drink. I had a beer, and we left the bar to have a last look at Sarasota. Willie still had his cocktail glass in his hand, and when he finished his drink, he threw the glass over his shoulder and it landed in the street. A policeman was watching us and he immediately arrested Willie. We all went along to the police station with him and we spent an hour persuading the magistrate to free Willie. We explained to the magistrate that this was our last evening in Sarasota and that we were leaving for overseas the next day. Finally the magistrate gave in and we took Willie back to camp.
Sometime during this training period I met Ann Glover.
We were at the Lido Beach with mutual friends having a beach party. We were all swimming, eating hot dogs, and drinking beer. When the party was over we were able to get rides back to the mainland. I was placed in the rear seat of some ones auto and Ann, whom I had just met, was placed on my lap in order to save space.
On the way back to the base we sort of got very friendly and when I got out of the car I said goodbye to Ann and she turned to me and planted a kiss directly on my lips. I had never been kissed this way and when I returned the kiss I discovered that we both had enjoyed the kiss and the embrace. This started a friendship that lasted until I was shipped to the next base, which was for more training in survival.
Ann was a wonderful individual and we had great times together. Almost every evening I would take the bus to her home and we would walk together and talk about our families. Annís dad worked as a pharmacist next to the railroad station. Her mother was a wonderful housekeeper and a wonderful mother.
Annís older brother had been an aviation cadet at the beginning of the war an was killed during a training flight. Ann also had a black Cocker Spaniel named Chandell.
After our walk we would usually sit on her front porch and continue with our kissing I quite sure that we fell in love with each other. I would take the bus back to the base with a lonesome feeling. On the last day of my training Ann took off from work and borrowed her dadís car and came to the field to see me off. I told her that I would be very careful and that when the war was over I would come back to Sarasota and we would be married.
I climbed aboard the bus and had a seat at the window overlooking her auto. She was crying and that was the last that I saw of her as the bus was pulling away.
I did write to her for awhile until I went into combat.