Advanced fighter pilot training at Williams Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona
June, July, August and September in the desert outside of Phoenix are downright miserable.
Runway temperatures (measured 18 inches above the runway), usually were above
120 degrees F. by 11:00 am and all takeoffs thereafter were cancelled. So,
we got up and had breakfast at 5:00 am, did our flying in the morning and then
had ground school in the afternoon. The only air conditioning was via evaporative
water coolers which blew air through a drip/wetted sawdust filter and were better than
nothing at all.
Two seater P-51 Mustangs were unknown at that time. Each student got a few hours dual
instruction making takeoffs and landings from the rear seat of an AT-6 advanced trainer
with the instructor sitting up front. This did a pretty good job simulating what takeoffs
and landing were like in a P-51 because you had virtually no forward visibility at all.
The D model P-51 Mustang was an easy aircraft to fly. Propellor torque from the 1500 horsepower
engine's 4 bladed rotol prop was of course considerable when you rotated the tail up on
takeoff and required generous use of right rudder, but beyond that it was an ideal fighter
plane. Most of our 30 hours of P-51 flying was in formation with our instructor and/or rat racing
(follow the leader in trail), around the sky. My only P-51 cross country was solo to Burbank, California
and back one morning. At a cruise speed well over 300 miles an hour it was a very short trip.
There were 2 training squadrons of 25 student pilots in each squadron. My training squadron won the
contest to see which squadron would continue their next 30 hours of flying time in the brand new
Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star jet fighters. The other squadron continued their next 30 hours flying
At that time the Lockheed 2 seater T-33 had not been designed or built, so after a few hours of P-80
ground school I found myself alone in a P-80 jet at the end of the runway early in the morning, went through my
pre-takeoff check list, spooled up the centrifugal flow J33 turbine to 100 percent power and released the
brakes. Acceleration was NOT impressive, but once we got going was not all that bad. After getting the
gear and flaps up we accelerated very quickly and climbed out with wings rocking. The reason for the
wings rocking was that the P-80 had 11 to 1 aileron hydraulic boost which took a little getting accustomed
During this 30 hours of flying some was just getting to know the aircraft's characteristics doing acrobatics
of all sorts, some was formation flying and rat racing with our instructor and lastly a 4 ship formation
flight to Lowry Air Force Base at Denver, Colorado. Many people from Denver came out to Lowry to see
their first jet aircraft. We partied all night and flew back to Arizona the next morning in spite of awful
hangovers. The P-80 was air conditioned and a joy to fly compared to the P-51 which at low altitude was
hotter than Hades.
After each Saturday morning's inspection we had the rest of the weekend off. My two favorite pastimes were
either riding my motorcycle to Tucson to visit an Aunt (about 75 miles) or riding my motorcycle via Apache
Junction up the Apache Trail to Globe, Arizona. There were lots of bridges over small reservoirs on the trail
through the mountains where my room mate and I would stop, dive off the bridge and go for a swim.
Though we explored the area pretty well we never did find the much publicized "Lost Dutchman" gold
mine, but had a lot of fun trying.
Our graduation ceremony was held on October 8, 1948 where we were awarded our pilot's wings and 2nd
Lieutenant commissions in the Air Force. Those us who had flown the jets were given the MOS (military
occupational specialty) of 1059 = fighter pilot jet. My parents from Washington, DC had driven to Arizona
for a vacation at a dude ranch near Tucson. They drove up to Williams Air Force Base for the graduation
ceremonies and fly bys. We then drove home where I had 3 weeks leave/vacation before my assignment to the
15th Tactical Reconnaissance/Fighter Group at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina.