'That Men May Fly'
A SUNNY afternoon in May 1941. The scene is Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas — Kelly Field, the Advanced Flying School par excellence of the U. S. Air Corps. Today Kelly is no longer the only advanced training centre. Alabama has its Maxwell Field and California its Stockton. There are others and there will be more, many more, but the field named after the first U. S. Army pilot to lose his life on active aviation duty, Second Lieutenant George Kelly, killed in a crash at near-by Fort Sam Houston on May 10, 1911, is still the great traditional finishing school of the Air Corps, in whose heterogeneous barracks have lived and through whose curriculum have passed so many of the outstanding aviators who today hold army pilot rating, and whose device is ‘Ut Viri Volent’ — ‘That Men May Fly.’
A distant hum. From between two layers of mile-up cumulus clouds a formation of low-winged monoplanes slide into view, AT6’s, the last word in advanced training planes — twelve of them, in close clusters of threes. At 180 miles an hour, in perfect symmetry, they ski over the billowing contours of the cottony mountain that floats above the eastern end of the terrain; vertical bank and round the field. The controllable pitch propellers shift into low and a different timbre. No monkey business. No stunts. The hot Texas sun glints on the smooth fishlike bodies. They are losing altitude now — a final wide turn as they come in for the straight glide. In unison the retractable landing gears swing down into position. From trailing edges the hydraulic flaps inch outward. The level off; the long moment of horizontal suspense; and then, like so many feathers, 5273 pounds of metal and efficiency, — multiplied by twelve, — traveling at seventy miles an hour, lightly brush the greensward and roll to a stop in faultless grouping.
Again the deep-throated roar of the 600-horsepower Pratt and Whitneys as they taxi to the line, one by one dying away with a final spluttering cough as cowlings are slid back, goggles and headsets pushed up, and twelve young men, lean and bronzed, slide from their cockpits to the wing to the ground, hunch their parachute seat-packs to walking position, and make for the Operations Office. In a few days now each one will have received his commission. Each will have completed 210 hours of flying time. To each the 30 instruments and 50 odd knobs and levers whereby the nervous system of the famous AT 6 is directed and controlled are second nature. So are formation flying, blind flying, night flying, cross-country flying, not to speak of navigation, meteorology, ‘time and space’ and ‘interception’ problems. Each one will be ready for a tactical unit of the Army Air Force, will have got what he wanted — wings.
Another scene. Still May, but morning; and, it so happens, just twenty-three years ago to a day as this is written, the brilliant sun of Auvergne shone down upon the ungainly forms of ten old Breguets lined up in the middle of the field of the 7th Aviation Instruction Centre, Clermont-Ferrand, Puy-de-Dôme, France. In the sparkling mountain air, the newly painted wings and bodies glistened becomingly, though their green and chocolate streakings, cunningly designed to deceive and bewilder the enemy, scarcely camouflaged the already venerable vintage of the planes themselves.
At 10.30 A. M. our mercurial Commanding Officer, Major Harry K. Brown, A. S., U. S.A., swung himself into the front cockpit of the leading ship. His observer clambered to the rear position. Nine other pilots and observers followed suit in their respective machines. Ten wooden propellers were swung (there were no self-starters in those days), ten 300-horsepower Renault motors clattered and hummed, and a few minutes later the 96th Aero Squadron, First Day Bombardment Group, had graduated from school and was headed towards the front.
Yes, sir, school had let out. No more manual of arms, close-order drill, sentry duty, and latrine digging. Finished the tedious six hours of dual control, the nervousness of that first solo, the endless waiting round to get in flying time on OX Jennies, Caudrons, Nieuports, Spads, or Breguets (depending on what school you got sent to). Behind us the gunnery and precision bombing practice. Sure — we had been out on the range at least two or three times and dropped smoke bombs and shot at fixed targets on a sandbank. We’d even had some formation flying. So far no collisions. Come to think of it, No. 3 is bobbing around a little too close for comfort — probably confused by all these new instruments they have given us to go to the front: altimeter, air-speed indicator (75 miles per hour — pretty fast, that, but with those spring flaps you can land at about 45), the tachometer (that’s sensible), and a clock. The Major had talked about having compasses installed; makes quite a lot to think about, and anyway it seems a compass never works in the air — just keeps spinning. Foolish to complicate things. What the hell, we’re experienced pilots. Altogether, we have had at least twenty-five or thirty hours in the air and we’re on our way to the front.
Elsewhere, and in some detail, the subsequent ups and downs of the 96th Aero Squadron, First Day Bombardment Group, have been recorded.
‘When on August 20, 1917, the Squadron formed at Kelly Field,’ observed its two earliest biographers, Lieutenants Bruce Hopper and David Young, ‘neither the Commanding Officer nor any of the enlisted men who had come in a body from Fort Slocum could have prophesied the particular work laid out for the 96th in the war — the coveted honor of being the first squadron of the American Air Service to carry bombs over the lines, and for many weeks the only American bombing squadron in active operations against the enemy.’
An honor, no doubt, albeit a costly one, for when on Armistice Day the Squadron’s score was tallied up it worked out as follows: in 63 raids roughly 64 tons of bombs were dropped on enemy objectives; in 19 combats the Squadron was credited with the destruction of 14 enemy planes and liberally sprinkled with individual and collective citations; but, on the debit side, our losses in planes stood at 40, our losses in pilots and observers at 47, and, of the light-hearted crew that graduated from Clermont on that sunny May morning in 1918, exactly 90 per cent were listed as killed, wounded, or prisoners.
And why at this late date, you may ask, bring that up? Well, primarily to point up the fact that things have changed. Self-evident? Possibly. Just the same, the extent of the change is perhaps most striking to those whose associations with army flying go back to the early days. And it is significant that so many key positions in our Air Force of today are held by ‘old-timers.’ Robert A. Lovett, the able Assistant Secretary of War for Air, is himself a former naval aviator, and beginning with General Arnold, who learned to fly with the Wright Brothers thirty years ago (and no slouch today at the controls of a modern tactical ship), the high command is studded with the pioneers and organizers of the old Air Service, men who have grown up with the game and know it from beginning to end.
Take, for example, General Davenport Johnson, in charge of Training and Operations. He was flying with the Signal Corps in 1916, with the Punitive Expedition into Mexico the following year; and in the summer of 1918, over the forests of the Woëvre, he was taking on Fokkers one to two. But today he does not waste time talking about his decorations. He talks like this.
‘You will understand,’ he says, ‘that in view of the rapid expansion of everything connected with the Army Air Corps we were rather busy when on April 3  the War Department announced an increase in the rate of training, as follows: pilots, from 12,000 a year to 30,000 a year; mechanics, from 45,000 a year to 100,000 a year; with corresponding increase for training navigators, bombardiers, observers, and gunners required in the combat teams.’
Rather busy is right, since the 12,000a-year program was in itself quite a step-up from the 5000-a-year quota of 1939.
‘This expansion from 12,000 to 30,000 a year’ — it’s the General speaking — ‘means about double the number of schools. Contract civil flying schools for primary training jump from 26 to 41; basic training centres from 7 to 15; and for advanced training, the 3 singleengine schools become 7, and the twoengine schools multiply from 8 to 14. As for the training itself, go down to Randolph and Kelly — you’ll see that things have changed.’
Randolph and Kelly Fields, land of the Flying Cadet. And what is a Flying Cadet? He is a young man — the correct designation is now Aviation Cadet — who has been accepted for flying training in the Army Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corps. He must be an unmarried male citizen between the ages of 20 and 26 years inclusive, not less than 64 inches or more than 76 inches tall, weighing at least 113 pounds and not over 200 pounds, who has passed a special physical and written examination. If the applicant has completed two years of satisfactory college work, — received, that is, half the credits required for a college degree, — the written examination is waived.
The pay of the Aviation Cadet is $75 a month, plus an additional dollar a day subsistence. Thrown in is a $10,000 life insurance policy, premium paid by the government. On successful completion of the training course, the Cadet is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Corps with monthly base pay of $125; flying pay, $66.50; subsistence, $18; rental, $40 — making a total of $249.50 a month. In addition there is a $500 bonus payment for each complete year, or additional fraction thereof, of active duty.
For the Aviation Cadet the training itself begins at one of the score of Primary Training Schools, civilian schools under contract to the Air Corps and at which Air Corps officers are on duty in a supervisory capacity. Here the Cadet gets his first taste of army life, his first ten weeks of flying, during which time he will acquire 60 hours in the air, of which about 25 will be dual instruction. On a Stearman PT 13, or perhaps a Fairchild or a Ryan, ships that cruise at about 100 miles per hour and land at 40, he will progress from straight and level flying through gentle and medium turns, confidence manœuvres, climbing turns, stalls, spins, and forced landings, to chandelles, lazy 8’s, pylon 8’s, vertical reverses, Immelmanns, slow rolls, half rolls, and snap rolls. He will also have absorbed a considerable amount of classroom work, calisthenics, and foot drill. He will have learned to call upperclassmen ‘ sir ‘; to sit at mess on one half of his chair, to eat a ‘square meal’ and to ‘sound off’ when so ordered; to travel at all times, except when in formation, ‘at double — all corners to be ninety-degree turns.’ When and if he has performed all these activities proficiently enough to avoid being among the 35 per cent or so who at this stage of the game are ‘ washed out,’ he will pass on to a Basic Flying School — Randolph Field, for example.
Randolph Field, $12,000,000 Basic Training Centre for the Gulf Coast Area: you’ve seen it in the unforgettable flying sequences of Beirne Lay’s I Wanted Wings — the model city (population 7500) with its attractive stucco houses, its neatly laid-out streets, its police force, fire department, post office, hospital, shops, clubs, swimming pools, theatres, barracks, and hangars, eighteen of them, the whole completely surrounded by over two thousand acres of superb flying field — the West Point of the Air.
In the vibrant atmosphere of this amazing academy the Cadet absorbs an additional 70 hours of flying. On faster, heavier craft, North American BT9’s and 14’s, 400 and 450 horsepower respectively, which cruise at 140 miles per hour and land at 60, the student flyer continues to learn his trade. The first part of the ten weeks’ course on Basic Stage is a repetition of Primary, but in a cockpit containing a complete instrument panel. Proper use of the landing flaps, those air brakes of the modern plane whereby reasonably slow landings are effected, and complete mastery of the various instruments and adjustments are emphasized at this stage. Then to the already-familiar manœuvres are added formation, cross-country, instrument, and night flying. Spectacular, that — the flood-lit runway, the signal lamps on the hangar roofs, the outer darkness of the field, the border lights beyond. Up in the control tower the Director of Flying is talking through his hand mike to a student in Zone 2, 1500 feet above the bejeweled roof of the farthest hangar.
‘How much gas have you got left?’
‘About twenty minutes’ worth, sir.’
‘ Go round the field and come in for a landing.’
‘Roger Wilco’ — which, being translated, means ‘Order received and understood. Will comply.’
In Zone 3, at the 2500-foot level, another class is diligently circling the terrain.
‘Stay up in your zone till further notice.’
At the foot of the tower, in the glare of a flood light, mechanics are refueling a bright blue ship. Far out beyond the borders a small bat-like shape is gliding in: a red eye and a green one — the Cadet from Zone 1. He levels out. Now, in the dazzling brilliance of the floods, he hangs like a moth transfixed by a headlight beam. His wheels touch, carom, settle down. ‘A little high,’ the Director intones. ‘Roll up your flaps. Take off again, and go back to your zone.’ And so, far into the warm Texas night.
At each stage there are meticulous supervision and control. An ingenious system of grade slips appraises every step the student takes. His individual qualifications are duly noted. Coördination, headwork and judgment, retention of instruction, sustentation (ability to recognize loss or gain of speed), tenseness (apprehension, aggressiveness), confidence (lack of), are in each instance carefully tabulated. Inadequacy in any single item forebodes a ride in the ‘ Gray Ghost,’ the Stage Commander’s ship — the last ride one takes, the last chance one gets before being washed out.
There are fewer washouts here, and in the entire training very few fatal accidents — different from the old survivalof-the-fittest days of the last war. General Brant, Commander of the Gulf Coast Training Centre, himself an oldtimer, was talking about it this morning.
‘Remember 1917?’ he was saying. ‘How much dual did you have? About six hours? Right. Well, when I was at Kelly a British R. F. C. Major came down to visit us. He liked the system but couldn’t understand why we wasted so much time on dual. “We only give them two hours,” he said.
‘“How many do you kill?” I asked him.
‘“From ten to fifteen per cent,” he said, “but those who get through make good flyers.”
‘Probably he was right. Anyway, it made our six per cent school casualties look conservative. Today? Oh, today it’s a safe game. Maybe one casualty for every forty thousand hours flown. Less than half of one per cent. Things have changed.’
And now we are at Kelly, the Cadet’s last lap. Here on the speedy A T 6’s he puts in his final ten weeks, his final 70 hours — something over 200 hours in all. In the short space of thirty weeks he will have completed what is unquestionably the finest training course in military aviation that the world today affords, and traveled a long way on the road to proficiency in one of the most highly specialized and exacting branches of modern warfare. For, make no mistake, our contemporary military aviation is no longer a mere sportsman’s game. Its organization, its personnel, its equipment, and its training have come into being for one single and consistent purpose. In respect to this purpose an excerpt from an official bulletin tacked up on the board at Kelly Field is, I think, apposite. ‘The essential use of the AT6,’ it reads, ‘will be to provide students who have mastered Primary and Basic training with the intermediate experience required before they are ready to fly pursuiters, bombers, and other tactical types. At Primary and Basic, the Cadet has learned to fly. In the third phase, that of advanced training, he will be taught the use of the airplane as a weapon.’
And what a weapon!
June 13, 1941. It is 8.45 A. M. At the farther edge of the wide cement apron in front of the hangars, ground crews are loading the bomb bays of six planes. Very familiar are the painted insignia high up on gleaming aluminum shoulders. There is the 20th, farther on the 11th, — they were both with us during the St. Mihiel attack, — and sure enough the leading plane bears the triangular coat of arms of the 96th: the jaunty Red Devil, a bomb in one hand, the other thumbing his nose at the presumptive recipient. The last time I saw him was on the crumpled flank of an overturned Breguet, crashed in a German wheatfield. As background to my observer, stretched out on the ground with four bullet holes through his groin, that old Devil cut quite a sardonic figure thumbing his nose at the German sky.
But enough of reminiscence. Here is no rocky pasture over whose uneven surfaces bounce the ungainly forms of ancient instruction planes improvised into wartime bombers, but the highly organized tactical centre known as Langley Field, Virginia. It is 1941, and — at present writing — we are theoretically ‘at peace.’ Those six monsters into whose yawning maws the ground crews are dexterously feeding those sleek yellow porpoises, each and every one is a B 17, which is the Army’s name for the famous Flying Fortress. Their mission today will be the precision bombing of a stationary target. The day before I’d seen it from the air — a simulated objective 600 feet long and 100 feet across, on a small island a mile off the spit of land on which the expectant West Point Cadets for whose edification the show is being staged are presently assembled.
By the ladder at the plane’s entrance, receiving the Sergeant’s report, is Major Darr H. Alkire, Commanding Officer of the 96th. Of medium height, springy and compact, alert — very alert blue eyes. He looks at his watch and up at the low, overcast sky.
‘Plenty of time,’ he says. ‘This won’t lift for another hour or so.’
In spite of last night’s rain it is hot. He is in his shirt sleeves, and his trim slight figure and close-cropped blond hair are youthful. He is explaining the loading operation. Probably looks younger than he is. He’s been around, the Major has; came to Langley on his first tactical assignment after the training centre. That was back in 1924. Five years in Honolulu and on pursuit; then seven years of various assignments, including instructing; back to the 96th about the time they received their first Flying Fortresses; participated in quite a few of the spectacular flights which made history, the famous Buenos Aires show led by Lieutenant Colonel Bob Olds, the Brazilian good-will flight, and last month the flight to La Paz with the body of the Bolivian aviator who himself was killed taking off on a good-will tour from Washington Airport. Yes, the Major has been around. He’s got about 7000 hours in the air.
Down the line a flight of medium bombers are warming up, and farther on a pursuit squadron is readying itself.
‘The pea-shooters will do their stuff first,’ the Major says. ‘ Single and formation diving on a fixed target. The mediums over there are scheduled for pattern bombing. After that we’ll do our precision work.’
Again the Major looks at his watch.
‘Might as well start along,’ he says.
Sergeant Tucker, engineer, and the crew are waiting at the ladder. The Major steps briskly up the aluminum rungs. Next Lieutenant Finn, co-pilot. I follow them into the tunnel gun compartment, forward through the radio control compartment, along the catwalk of the bomb bay, squeezing between the flaring V of loaded bomb racks, and into the control cabin. The Major takes his seat in front on the left, Lieutenant Finn across the narrow aisle on his right. They adjust their parachutes, which are ready in the seats, and clamp on their headphones.
‘You’d better sit there,’ the Major says, pointing to the seat directly behind the co-pilot. The seat is adjustable and can be raised to obtain all-direction visibility through the dome-like ‘blister’ of glass immediately above it. He explains the earphone mechanism whereby one can get outside communication and interphone connection between the various battle stations. Sergeant English, the bombardier, appears from the bomb bay, opens the trap door in the floor of the control cabin, crawls down into the nose compartment in front and beneath, closing the trap after him. Sergeant Tucker steps up into the seat behind the Major and across from me.
‘All right,’ the Major says, ‘wind ‘em up.’ A button pushed, a lever pulled. The starter grinds for a moment, and with a metallic swish one of the 1000horsepower Wright engines breaks into its idling song. Another, another, and still another, and soon the four great motors are throbbing happily and relaxedly, and four propellers describe four shimmering disks in the leaden morning light. From the control tower half a mile away messages come crackling in over the earphones. The medium bombers are being moved out to the starting line. The Major and Lieutenant Finn are going through the checking ritual.
‘Everyone at his position?’
‘Cross feed valves, off.’
‘Cross feed valves, off.’
‘Automatic flight control, off.’
‘Flight controls, tail wheel, unlock.’
Brakes, warning lights, altimeters, main-line switches, battery switches, propeller controls (low-pitch, lock), wing flaps, trim tabs, oil cooler shutters, oil temperature, oil pressure, fuel pressure, cylinder temperature, mixture controls (full, rich, and locked), revolutions per minute, wheel blocks — remove. That’s about all. On the myriad dials, needles flicker and grow steady.
The tower is calling.
‘The Second Group’ — that’s us— ‘will take off when ready and proceed to prescribed target as per orders.’
‘All ready, sir.’
‘No. 1060, leading Second Group, will take off on runway No. 8. The others will follow at prescribed intervals.’
A crescendo roar as the Major gives the right-hand engines the juice. The great right wing trembles as it pivots. Juice for the left motors, and we rumble down the runway to the starting point. A turn and we face the straightaway. Four successive roars as each engine is cleared. The final checks. Tail wheel — lock for take-off; manifold pressure, check; close windows.
The Major picks up his phone.
‘Ready,’ he says.
‘No. 1060 take off at will on runway No. 8. Wind twenty miles.’ The control tower seems momentarily less distinct.
Alkire looks back over his shoulder. In the rear compartments the crew are in position. In the bomb bay, two rows of miniature yellow submarines nestle closely against their racks. The toy propellers on their noses are about six inches from our seats.
Like pianists playing four-hands, Alkire and the Lieutenant bend to the maze of levers before them. The four great engines break into a throbbing, swelling song, and the wheels start rolling. Ahead the long stretch of concrete. No matter how often you’ve done it, it’s always a great moment: the suddenly unleashed power, the pressure of the seat-back against your shoulder blades. Acceleration, speed — we’re going fast now. The tail is coming up. The runway isn’t as long as it looked; we’re halfway down it. A wheel failure at this point wouldn’t be so good: those yellowjackets. Faster — you can feel the load lightening. And now we’re off the concrete. To gather added speed, Alkire holds her a few feet off the ground, and a moment later the great ship rises buoyantly, triumphantly to soar over the road, the trees, and the waters of the bay beyond.
Good visibility from that blister. Behind us the next ship is halfway down the runway. And now it too is off and climbing after us, and the third, and the fourth. The other two, for reasons of expediency, await further orders on the ground.
As we sail over Old Point Comfort at reduced cruising speed, No. 2 plane draws up to position on the left, and there is No. 3 settling into place on the right. From now on their movements are our movements — as though bound to us by invisible umbilical cords, a single organism.
In the glass-fronted nose compartment, the bombardier of No. 2 plane is leisurely thumbing a notebook. He makes a calculation, then turns his attention to the bomb-sight. Under our feet I imagine Sergeant English is doing likewise. Looking up at the ceiling of gray clouds immediately above, Alkire shakes his head.
‘Too low,’ he says.
The Lieutenant grins. ‘ We don’t want to blow our own wings off.’
Alkire reaches for the phone: ‘No. 1060 speaking. Can we go up over this and try bombing through it?’
A pause, then a crackle.
‘Use your own judgment.’
We rise steeply, engulfed in swirling mist, to emerge a moment later into brilliant sunshine. Clear azure above; beneath, the clouds are now a dazzling floor of new-fallen snow. Here and there a thin spot — glimpses of the turgid waters of Hampton Roads.
Alkire is on the interphone.
‘Sergeant, can you see enough through this to bomb safely?’
We make a wide turn upwind.
‘There’s a hole over there,’ Alkire says. ‘We’ll circle around it. Maybe it will move over the target.’
No luck. By the time we get there it has closed in solid.
The radio is squawking again.
The control tower.
‘Precision bombing will be suspended until the ceiling lifts. Cruise around until twelve-thirty.’
Twelve-thirty? A couple of hours or more. Rather different from the old days, when you were lucky if you had gas enough to go there and back without any detours — not to speak of motor trouble. Motor trouble? Just look at those engines out there. Listen to them humming away like four happy bees.
We are fairly well up now — 8000 feet. Through the window glass the sun is warm, but the air is crisp and very clean. Somewhere below that sparkling snowfield, people are sweating away at their perpetual routines, but we are up here at 8000 feet in a marvel of mechanical perfection surrounded by beauty, a ton or so of T. N. T., and nothing to do till twelvethirty. Alkire removes his earphones, stretches, reaches for the cigarettes. We all light up. In the rear compartment a gunner reclines at full length on the locker top, his head pillowed against the inflatable water jackets. A magazine is propped against his upbent knee, and he is reading. Farther aft a door opens. Another gunner emerges from the toilet and descends into the tunnel gun compartment. In the bomb bay those smooth yellow torpedoes lie peacefully in their racks. Inert, innocent —as benign in appearance as the oxygen tank over there in the corner.
Alkire points downward. We are out at sea now, and the clouds are somewhat dispersed. Far below, on the surface of the water, a strange-looking craft is making for the open ocean. Were it not for the long wake, one would swear it was motionless. Preceding it is a destroyer.
‘The good ship X,’ Alkire says. Well, well, that’s what a carrier looks like from the air. In the door of the bomb bay, Sergeant Tucker surveys the passive yellow eggs. He gives one a thoughtful pat and resumes his seat. The carrier is now directly beneath us.
‘What we could do to that baby!’ the Sergeant mutters.
And now the radio is stuttering again.
‘The ceiling over the target is lifting. Prepare to carry out precision bombing. Go ahead when ready.’
A sharp bank, and the formation heads inshore, losing altitude.
Terse, crisp orders on the interphone: every man to his battle station. We are coming through the ceiling. There is the shore line. It is still misty, but the visibility is much better now. Another turn, and we are on the course. A sudden blast of air — the bomb-bay doors are opening. In two great wings the entire floor section is folding downward and outward. Ahead is the island. You can see the outline of the target. The final straight run. Except for the engines and the rush of air from the yawaning chasm of the bomb bay, all is silence and concentration, for this is precision bombing — a roaring silence, tense and terribly alive. A series of clicks, like a steeple clock about to strike the hour: the bomb racks unlatching. There they go — eight yellow dolphins toppling one after the other. Rapidly dwindling in size, they are lost to view. We are now passing directly over the target. There she is, the ‘simulated objective’— serene, intact. Can something have gone wrong? I should say not. On the target eight flashes, almost simultaneous, searing an incandescent path from perimeter to dead centre. Billowing clouds of gray-black smoke. Did we do that? The same roaring silence as before. Eight sharp detonations — like the roll of a snare drum, yet each one separate and distinct, felt as well as heard; like a string of firecrackers touched off under the dishpan on which you’re sitting.
A left turn. Another cloud of smoke rises from the battered target: No. 2’s bombs. Not bad. We pass through a patch of mist; out again; homeward bound now. Alkire is calling the tower.
‘Mission completed, coming in to land.’
‘Come in for landing on runway No. 8. Wind twenty-five miles.’
A wide turn around the field; a long straight glide, the motors idling. Landing gear and tail wheel down and locked; roll down the wing flaps. Lieutenant Mickey Finn is calling off the air speed. We slide over the treetops and the road. A shot of juice to clear the border lights. The wide concrete runway, backward racing, as we hang suspended. An imperceptible cushioned thud, and twentyodd tons of specialized equipment and organized intelligence roll smoothly to a stop. Flying time, three hours, thirty minutes. Mileage, rather more, in a straight line, than from London to Berlin. Results, one simulated objective demolished. The written Flight Report is terser: ‘Terminals and mission: Local — U1. Time 9.45—13.15. Number of landings: one. Signed, Alkire, D. H. Maj. June 13, 1941.’
About the same time of day, on June 12, eight planes of the 96th Aero Squadron carried out the first ‘ precision bomb-
ing’ on an enemy objective. ‘Bursts,’ says the log, ‘were observed in the railroad yards of Dommary-Barroncourt, and the trail of bombs, 640 kilos in all, extended to the warehouses beyond the tracks. Anti-aircraft, active but inaccurate. Plane No. 7 received two explosive bullets in the motor but was able to reach the airdrome. Three planes were forced to land with empty gas tanks. That night the entire Squadron joined in a camp jubilee to celebrate the unqualified success of the first American bombing raid.’
That was twenty-three years ago. About twenty-three minutes ago a single ship of the 96th, on a routine practice flight, under poor weather conditions and at an unfavorable altitude, had with the greatest of ease plumped its entire load on the centre line of a relatively small individual target — a load more than twice that of the entire pioneer formation. And tomorrow? Well, the ships that will replace the Flying Fortresses are, from all accounts, something.
Yes, things have changed; are still changing — fast. During the last war the Air Service gave the young men of that day an opportunity to engage in a new game, and as amateurs — in the literal sense of the word —to fight. I know of no survivor who is not deeply and permanently grateful for that opportunity. But the present-day Air Force does far more than that. It teaches men to fly, — to fly well, really well, — and, when the need comes, to fly and to fight effectively.