VMTB-242 I

A nearby U.S. Army tank-testing unit cooperated with us for awhile on low-level skip bombing maneuvers in the desert.  They would send a medium tank crashing through the brush and gullies in a series of fast, evasive moves.  Each pilot would head down in a shallow dive, angle into a low-level run on the tank, and skip a hundred-pound water-filled bomb at the target.  In a nearby radio truck, an operator reported to each pilot his hits and misses.

We were hitting the tank about six out of eight times when the Army called off the maneuvers.

Doe-eyed Jim Chambris, we called him “Bambi,” the mildest, most easy-natured pilot in the squadron, had come roaring in so low on one run that he hit the turret of the tank with his prop and broke off ten inches of a blade.  An emergency landing followed.  Fortunately, no crewman in the tank or in the plane was injured.  But the Army called off further such maneuvers.  Meanwhile, “Bambi” received credit for a direct hit.

 ***

The tortuous training flights continued, hour after hour, day after day, as we sharpened our skills to meet what Bill Dean called, “The demanding standards of the Marine Corps.” In his engaging, Boston-Irish accent, Barney McShane put it differently.  He told us, simply, “A well-practiced pilot flies better and lives longer.”

 ***

Col. C. L. Jolly of Marine Fleet Air, West Coast, lived up to his name when he issued a directive that made it possible for the pilots and aircrews of VMTB-242 to escape briefly the angry, hard-biting heat of El Centro–and revel in the haunts of L.A. after dark.He authorized Bill Dean to inaugurate TBF overnight liberty flights to Los Angeles.  And he cajoled the Douglas Aircraft Company into allowing our planes to land at Mines Field, a privately owned facility near the Douglas plant in southwest L.A.

The Douglas people also graciously provided us with van transportation into the heart of Hollywood.

Holding to a schedule of alternating liberty sections, several TBFs were loaded to capacity with hell-raising “liberty hounds” each Thursday and Saturday afternoon and flown to L.A.—returning to the desert with hung-over cargo the next afternoon.

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