Got FAA "Private License"-flew light planes while at Princeton University

First a college freshman's reminiscence:

Back in December 1944 Buz Merritt and I decided to swipe the clapper from Princeton's Nassau Hall bell tower illustrated above. We had heard stories from a classmate's grandfather who had attended Princeton shortly after the civil war in the mid 1800's about the schemes and tricks played by Princeton students who tried to swipe the clapper and stop the bell from ringing which was the university's alarm clock in those days.

First, we had to find out the night watchman's schedule of entering and checking out Nassau Hall late at night. Shivering in the snow we watched him usually enter the west door of Nassau Hall around 2:00 AM every night and leave about five minutes later from the east door.

The tools we needed were:

1. an eight foot ladder to reach the first floor window for entry into Nassau Hall and then to reach the heavily padlocked trap door on the third floor that led to the ladder in the bell tower.
2. a monster 24 inch bolt cutter to cut through the big padlock on the trap door.
3. an eighteen inch pipe wrench to unscrew the clapper from the bell housing.
4. a big padlock identical to the one on the trap door so that when we departed it would appear that no one had been there.
5. and of course, two dimmed flashlights to help us climb the long flimsy ladder up to the bell and let us see what we were doing as we unscrewed the clapper from the bell.

Around 5:00 pm the evening of our escapade we made sure that one of the office windows was unlocked on the first floor after the secretaries and deans had gone home. Sure enough around 2:00 am the night watchman arrived. He made his regular tour of Nassau Hall and we watched him leave.

We both climbed up the ladder and went through the unlocked window into a first floor office dragging the ladder up after we got in. Then, up to the third floor, ladder and tools. The heavy duty padlock on the trap door was a bitch to cut, but we finally did it and made our way into the bottom of the bell tower. The long ladder up to the bell looked like George Washington's troops had made it during the Revolutionary War so we each climbed it separately up to the bell. Unscrewing the 24 inch clapper from the bell was a snap with our big pipe wrench.

We reversed our course and departed the way we had come in with no problems except for the weight of the clapper which was cast iron and weighed about 30 pounds. We left the key to the new padlock on one of the secretaries desks with a note attached. To make a long story short, we later had the clapper, metal band sawed in half lengthwise and mounted it on plaques for display. Freshmen fun and games long ago.

Spent many months in 1945 in the U.S. Air Force as an aviation cadet. They made aviation cadets go through a full Basic Training program which was the same as the Army infantry basic training. Reason for this was that many pilots in China did not know a thing about using a rifle, pistol or machine gun and when the Japanese advanced on some U.S. airfields they were lost. The war was over before I entered flight training, so was discharged and returned to Princeton University.

Stepped up to the 65 horsepower Piper J-3 Cub which was a 50 percent plus in horsepower over the little Taylor E-2 Cub. After putt-putting around New Jersey for a year in J-3 Cubs, Aeroncas, and Cessna's finally got my Private Pilot's license which allowed me to fly with passengers.

Had fun cross countries with friends to Connecticut, New York City, Harrisburg, Pa (enroute to visit your Grandmother), and to Atlantic City, NJ. Also got to fly an old Waco F biplane much like the one illustrated below, but without the engine cowling and wheel pants. A real helmet and goggles experience....just like Errol Flynn in the movie 'Dawn Patrol' about World War One fighter pilots.

After three year of prep school at the Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, Princeton University was a somewhat of a disappointment. Mercersburg had brilliant, gifted teachers in every department. My freshman year at Princeton was a monster bore since most all the courses I had to take as an aeronautical engineering major were the same ones I had just finished during my senior year at Mercersburg. Many of the Princeton instructors were Phd. candidate graduate students and about as inspiring as a wet mop. Princeton may be a great university for liberal arts majors, but in my humble opinion for engineering majors it was behind the times in 1944 - 1947.

During summer vacation 1947 I was invited to re-join the U.S. Air Force's pilot training program at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas which was the famous 'West Point of the Air.' Needless to say, I jumped at the chance and began pilot training on October 1, 1947.