Fred Carl Gardner

Fred Carl Gardner at Randolph Field - Fall of 1942

When an old eagle reaches his seventy-fifth year, he tends to look back and to some extent, live in the past. My memories of the years 1942 through 1945 are not bitter as they are for many aviation cadets who graduated from the advanced flying schools in April, 1943. I was lucky. I didn’t “get shot at.”

I enlisted in the old “brown-shoe” Air Force at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on December 10, 1941. From there, I was assigned to Sheppard Field, Texas, where I spent five months attending the Air Corps Aviation Mechnaics School. During that period, I applied for, and was accepted into, the aviation cadet program. In mid-July of 1942, I was sent to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center, where I was classified as a “pilot” trainee in Class 43-C. During the Pre-flight phase, a number of us were given the opprotunity to go to Randolph Feld in Class 42-X. I accepted the offer since “washing-out” only meant being recycled back to Class 43-D. That is exactly what happened. After “washing-out” of Class 42-X, I joined Class 43-D.

The time I spent at Randolph was an unforgettable experience. 42-X was an experimental class. The plan was to create BT-13 flight instructors in ninety days. The wash-out rate must have been horrendous. I have no idea what it was. I’m surevery few cadets without previous flying time made it through the program. The “straight T-6” program we conducted in the Air Force Civilian Contract Primary Pilot Training Program in the early 1950’s (I was a flight instructor at the school at Malden Air Base for five years), was comparable to the 42-X program. However, in the 1950’s program, we did not expect a student to solo the T-6 in less than twenty hours. In the 42-X program, students had to solo by twelve hours, or out they went. Somewhere along the line, I acquired a Class 42-X classbook. Occasionally, I look at it to remind me of the progress that has been made in pilot training over the years.

My insructor at Randolph was a first lieutenant, and a wild man. He loved to buzz, so after a very short period of so-called instruction, down on the deck we went. At about my third hour, he demonstrated an elementary eight, then told me to do one. I started at about five hundred feet AGL, and after one sloppy circuit around the pattern, I heard his order come through my headset, “GET LOWER!” He kept repeating that order until I was just clearing the fence posts. When we returned to the briefing room, he said, “The reason I kept telling you to get lower was to GET YOU OVER BEING GROUND SHY!”

I think it was on the next flight that he domonstrated the proper procedure and technique for “raking your home town.” We were over a little town east of Randolph, when he said, “I think I’ll go down and pay them a visit.” He roared down the main street just above the telephone poles, at full throttle, actuating the two-position prop-pitch control between low and high pitch. The poor civilians of that little town would have had difficulty passing a hearing test after our visit.

On stall recoveries, he was a streong advocate of “popping the stick.” He said that the stick had to “popped” clear to the fire-wall in order to “break the stall.” He ordered me and his other three students to get “cockpit time” and practice “popping the stick.” I’m sure we must have damaged the elevator control stops on several BT’s while practicing that technique.

About the eight or nine hour level, my instructor figured that I would never solo by twelve hours, so he scheduled me for a “wash-out ride” with the the captain who was in charge of the unit and was the check pilot. The captain put me through a short series of maneuvers, then said, “Alright, take me back to the field and land.” We were operating out of the west stage at Randolph and the wind was from the southwest. I set up a rough approximation of a traffic pattern and managed to get lined-up on a final approach. Since I had received practically no instruction on three-point landings, I had only a vague notion of how to arrive at the proper attitude for a three-point touch-down. So, as I got close to the ground, I just flew along in a level flight attitude until I touched-down on the wheels of the main gear. I don’t think I have ever made a smoother wheel landing since. It was a “grease job” if there ever was one. The captain let me roll along on the wheels in a level flight attitude, for several seconds, then screamed, “GET THAT STICK BACK!” Then he took the controls and taxied in to the parking ramp.

That was the end of my flying career at Randolph. The next day, I and some other “wash-outs,” were transported back to the “hill” (the Pre-flight training area of Kelly Field). I joined Class 43-D and shortly thereafter, a group of us departed for the Primary Flying School at Evenger Field, Sweetwater,Texas.

In retrospect, I’m glad I had that experience at Randolph in Class 42-X. I don’t think I would have made it through “Primary” at Evenger, if I had not received that indoctrination, rough as it was.

© 1998, Fred Carl Gardner, All rights reserved.

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