Dive Bombers and Other Birds

Tudor Richards, USNR

prev next

The duties of instructors in VB operational training were not far different from the students. We gave the boys “cockpit checkouts” and then either led them or chased them on their various exercises. After being given a refresher course in instrument flying in SNJs, but with emphasis now on the artificial horizon, we had to put our students through the same, instructing
in instrument flying
though regular instrument instructors did a great deal of the work. The artificial horizon, once one got familiar with it, was a wonderful instrument. consisting of a miniature aeroplane that appeared to move in relation to the bar that represented the horizon as the real plane moved. Actually it was the bar itself that moved. The whole instrument was great for all kinds of maneuvers under the hood, especially wing overs, performed by merely “flying” the little plane. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the horizon tumbled at about 100 degrees of bank and something like 60 of dive or climb we could have actually stunted on instruments. We did no beam flying in this course, but concentrated in refreshing the students and practicing instrument take-offs, wing-overs, evasive tactics (rapidly executed turns first one way then another, preferably varying amount of turn and bank as well as altitude yet trying to keep a generally straight course), recoveries from unusual positions, etc. It was fun if unkind to execute a loop or barrel roll with only the student on instruments and then ask him to take over—to see if he realized he was “straight and level.” This instrument flying broke up the monotony of flying SBDs all the time and usually in formation and gave us instructors more chances to see the countryside and practice up on our stunts, which the SNJ is an ideal plane for.

We had a few duties besides flying such as attending ground school with the students, giving them occasional lectures, and standing watches. The regular watch for assistant instructors was “ready duty pilot,” just as its title implies: a standby job ready for any emergency or other errand by air.

The routine training in SBDs was excellent routine instructing experience and often enjoyable. We assistant instructors usually led the second division when our training squadrons occasionally flew together, the usual ten students giving us five apiece or altogether a twelve plane squadron. More often than not one division went off by itself, as in gunnery, one of the six planes towing a target. dive bombing For dive bombing one instructor usually led the ten students while the other circled the target at low altitude recording the hits. It was very satisfactory to find oneself really putting them “right in there” when the students were dropping their bombs all over the map, as on most windy days, but some students got very good and often one’s own dive bombing had setbacks. We usually split up into three-plane sections for navigating flights, which meant that instructors couldn’t always go along, and considering the way the boys sometimes behaved when we were along, there’s no telling what they did when we weren’t. Squadron 33 was the last to arrive at Daytona that had had pre-operational training at Miami (similar to that some of us had instructed in at Lee Field), so after that students were given a two month course instead of a one month course. Fortunately the SBD was an easy plane to fly and was rugged and reliable as well, so we never had to give any dual instruction in it, though we had our worries when a new bunch of students flew it for the first time, it being so heavy and sluggish compared with an SNJ, especially when coming in for a landing. Inevitable accidents happened occasionally, and some of these were of course fatal, but the less said about these the better except that they were few and far between, several months sometimes passing without any.