Dive Bombers and Other Birds

Tudor Richards, USNR

prev next

The last period in the primary squadrons introduced us to formation flying, but not in Stearmans first
flying, in
but in little Ryan (NR’s) low-wing monoplanes, which permitted much better visibility. Though powered with only a 125 H.P., five cylinder engine, they cruised at about 85 knots or around five faster than the N2Ss, but they were poorer climbers. These being very easy to fly, we were given only one instructional flight before soloing them and soon were flying in three-plane sections. Howie Turner (2 classes or so behind me at Harvard, by the way) gave me my solo check, which, however, consisted only of spot landings (with throttle) and wingovers, the latter being performed very nicely by the little NRs even if they did put-put rather at the top of each. Both when soloing and when riding with instructors we rode in the front cockpit instead of the rear as we had in N3Ns and N2Ss, and this made it seem more real. After a little practice formation with two other boys came the check, but all this amounted to was an instructor following us to see if we got along all right, which we did. Two of us carried enlisted men in our rear cockpits, our first real passengers (brave men indeed!).

In the meantime, ground school more
continued right along in the morning or the afternoon depending on which week it was. Radio code was gradually speeded up and for a while was pretty tough. Code sent by blinker was rather more difficult, however, and there was a time when I had to join the night radio group to practice this and perhaps regular code too. As I remember, we had to be able to get up to (receive) a speed of twelve or fifteen words a minute with radio code and ten with blinker, and we also had to learn to send code by key.

Navigation got progressively harder and relatively more important. Celestial navigation, which is used only in large planes, was, for unknown reasons, given to everyone whether they were to be fighter pilots or patrol bomber pilots, and I personally found it very difficult, principally because of the speed necessary to work at to complete the problems. Slips were all too easy to make, but hard to spot even when the “fixes” came out all wrong. On top of the celestial navigation course came the final and so-called “Practical Navigation” course, which was a necessarily awkward attempt at making problems as complicated as possible by combining all forms of navigation. Unfortunately this came along just when I was having the most trouble flying, and the result was “double trouble.” It took several reëxams before I finally got through, eventually passing an exam I had had before, though, curiously enough, I was never made to repeat the course as some others were.