During working hours that idle week, dressed in my new denim dungarees and blue work shirt, I roamed the flight lines and hangars to familiarize myself with the different types of airplanes. There were the Ryan ST training planes, a squadron of Brewster Buffalo fighters that were manned by enlisted pilots, two squadrons of F4F Grumman Wildcat fighters, a squadron of Douglas SBD dive bombers from a carrier in port, and two squadrons of Consolidated Aircraft PBY-1 patrol bomber flying boats that were not flyable but that we would use in the mechanics’ classes.
The old TBM biplane provided my first ride in a Navy airplane. It was probably one of the ugliest and clumsiest airplanes ever built. It had tall awkward fixed landing gear so that torpedoes could be carried under the belly of the fabric-covered fuselage (TB stands for torpedo bomber), three open cockpits under the broad fabric covered top wing, and was powered by a very noisy Wright Whirlwind seven-cylinder radial engine. It was a primitive flying machine even in 1940.
One afternoon I was poking around the flight line and fell into a conversation with the first class aviation machinist mate that was the crew chief on the TBM. When he found that I was an AMM striker and had never flown in a Navy airplane, he offered me a ride in the mechanic’s cockpit of the old airplane. He was to ride in the rear cockpit to drop a couple of parachute dummies and the airplane would be flown by a Chief NAP (enlisted naval aviation pilot) from the middle cockpit.
The mechanic’s cockpit, protected only by a small square windscreen, was located forward immediately behind the radial engine—so close to the engine that the mechanic’s feet actually straddled the accessory section. When the old airplane was ready to go, the crew chief scrounged a helmet, goggles, and seat-pack parachute for me from the supply room. I climbed into the high cockpit, one more feeling like Errol Flynn in “The Dawn Patrol”.
It was a very noisy, breezy ride. The old engine had no mufflers, only short exhaust stacks that belched smoke when the engine started, then blue flame when it had warmed up. The noise was literally overwhelming and voice communication with the other crew members was impossible. I gloried in it, however. We took off and flew east of San Diego to a drop range area. I was relieved to see that both parachutes functioned perfectly because they were the same as the one I was wearing.
After the drops, the pilot circled back over San Diego at three thousand feet altitude and I had a magnificent view of the bay area. I could identify the naval training station, Lindbergh Field where Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of Saint Louis” had been built, the naval air station on North Island, and literally dozens of grey Navy ships of all types. It was exhilarating and, in spite of the din of the engine exhaust, I was a bit sorry when the big wheels touched down on the landing strip.
Class 4-41 of the Aviation Machinist Mates school was formed on 1 October 1940. There was approximately one hundred of us under class officer Lt. Faber, a genial reserve officer, a Chief AMM Woods, and Chief AOM (aviation ordnanceman) Freer. The class was broken down into sections of twenty-four individual classes in airplane construction, engines and carburetors, electrical and instruments, propellers and fuel systems, and armament that included 45 caliber pistols, 30-caliber and 50-caliber machine guns.
The first two months of AMM school before Christmas leave consisted of classroom work in each subject. The basics were duck soup to me. I scored 87.5% on the construction exam, 90% in electrical and instruments, 95% in propellers and fuel systems, 96% on the 45 caliber pistol, and 100% on machine guns. The only score I did not like was 75% on engines and carburetors, especially since engines were on of my principal interests. The explanation was that the engine exam came on a Monday after a payday weekend when Langford and I had made liberty and I took the exam still suffering from a first-class hangover!
On the 22nd of November I was automatically advanced from apprentice seaman to seaman second class which brought about my first pay raise—from $21 a month to $36 per month. That added a second white strip to the cuffs of my dress blues and the white winged propeller badge of an AMM striker to my lower left sleeve.