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rules and regulations, flight manuals. The pressure was relentless. I studied harder than ever before in my life. 3 kept telling myself that failure was out of the question. We spent time in the water, learning emergency water landing procedures and survival techniques. We learned how to send and receive Morse code, fast. We continued never-ending drills on instant plane and ship recognition—split second flashes on a screen. And we each learned how to fire, field strip and clean the Colt .45 automatic that was to become an integral part of our flight gear in the South Pacific.

In the air, we flew the Vultee SNV Valiant, a cantilevered, metal, low-wing monoplane with an enclosed cockpit, two-way radio for ground communications, hydraulic flaps and a Pratt & Whitney 450-hp radial engine. It was quite a jump from the biwing Stearman that I flew during primary training at Livermore.

The Vultee was a noisy, smelly, aerobatic transition trainer that introduced us to the instruments and feel of more complex and more powerful aircraft.

One intimidating problem with the Vultee: It had a tendency to shake violently as it approached its stall speed of 75 mph. And the canopy rattled and shuddered on the second or third turn of a spin, as if the plane was about to blow apart. In the Army, it gained a reputation as a “Cadet Killer.” In the Navy, it was nicknamed the Vultee “Vibrator.”

The Vultee SNV was an unforgiving aircraft to fly. You had to pay attention in the cockpit, every second, or you could run into serious trouble. Perhaps that was a valuable lesson. It forced us to sharpen our flight skills.

After several hours in the air, getting familiar with the quirky SNV, concentrating on takeoffs and landings, I passed my key check ride. And I moved on to formation training, including basic three-plane sections, crossovers, peel-offs from six-plane echelons, formation takeoffs and other essentials that came with close formation work. We worked on precision formation drills, hour after hour, until they became second nature.


At the start of advanced instrument training, most of us considered the Link Trainer an instrument of torture. The subject was blind flying. Mounted on a stand, the Link Trainer looked somewhat like a mini-plane amusement park ride. You climbed in the black metal box and strapped

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