At that point, I gave him another shock by allowing him to take over the stick for the nextmaneuver.
He was in the front cockpit. In the rear cockpit, I softly maintained control. I kept my feet lightly on the rudders, while I coached him through a simple, straight-ahead loop. With instructions, he followed the artificial horizon line, pulling gradually back on the stick. And away we went, up and over. He successfully completed the loop without knowing it. He said he was either too dumb or too scared to realize he was all the way around. Unknowingly, he had started into a second loop when I took over the controls.
Finishing with a flourish, I decided to test Ernie with a sudden taste of danger, the feeling of peril. I gunned the plane up into a vertical stall, letting the SNJ suddenly fall off into a spin, a fast tailspin headed straight down toward the ground. Seemingly out of control. I recovered, of course, and easily pulled it out at about 5,000 feet. The SNJ was a good plane for aerobatics.
It was time to go home.
Today in Alliance, Ohio, Ernie Linsmaier still talks of that flight as the most exhilarating experience he encountered in all of his six months at El Centro.
During the first week of my 22nd year, orders came through for VMTB-242 to prepare for immanent departure.
All TBF flights were secured. Our well-used planes, with Bugs Bunny insignia still attached, were transferred to the training unit at Santa Barbara. Mountains of other squadron equipment, aircraft parts and materials were loaded on a lineup of trucks. Our personal foot lockers and flight gear were packed and ready to go. Throughout the squadron, letters were written. Farewell calls were made to loved ones.
A night or two before departure, we held a final squadron dinner party at the Officers’ Club.
White clothed tables were set end to end, forming a long banquet table, with all officers present along each side. Full bottles of cheap bourbon, coaxed from the Club’s liquor locker, served as centerpieces. The simple menu was sizzling grilled steaks. What else? I don’t remember. I do know, however, that near the end of dinner, the whiskey began flowing, along with toasts and tributes and bawdy songs from the combat zone.