Flying the Polikarpov I-16
Discover the quirks of the unique and deadly Russian Fighter operated by the Confederate Air Force. In Russian, "Rata", "Mosca", "Yastrebok" and "Ishak" are all names for the Russian I-16 fighter...full article
Be careful what you wish for - it may come true.The following article appeared in the Confederate Air Force magazine in 1995, after Dave flew the Wildcat off the USS Carl Vinson. Many years ago when I was sixteen or so, just starting in aviation, I remember thinking about what I wanted to be and the things I wanted to accomplish. The things that came to mind were fly a Pitts, a Mustang and a Lear jet, fly for United air lines, fly off an aircraft carrier and do a first flight on a prototype aircraft. Although at the time most of these seemed little more than dreams as my vision would prevent me from the airlines and Navy , I'd never seen an actual Mustang up close and I'd only been allowed to wash a Pitts .
As it turns out over the last 25 years I've managed to accomplish most of these goals. I had an acrobatic school and taught acro in a Pitts, I was a partner in a Mustang, flew Lears for four years for an air ambulance company. .My vision improved and United ran out of perfect- visioned pilots although I found I hated the regimented life of an airline pilot, I'm glad I got to try it. And , I also started a company to test fly new homebuilts and have done over twenty prototypes first flights.
This was way more than I could have hoped for but my aircraft carrier goals were not forgotten either. In 1978, I found a program that if you're in the navy and wear glasses, you can transfer to a flying job and have less strict vision requirements. This was a gamble but seemed the only way that I'd get to fly off a carrier so I enlisted in the navy. Twenty-three days later I was discharged because of an allergy that prevented me from having the required flu shots. They offered me submarines or a discharge and that was an easy choice. At this point I thought that I'd never realize that dream but the best was yet to come.
About two and a half years ago I read an article about the CAF (Confederate Air force) and the sponsor program. It listed the aircraft available for sponsorship and their location. I'd just sold my helicopter and had some cash and this seemed like a good time to get in. I was amazed that there were two navy planes on the west coast that were looking for sponsors. One had a waiting list and the other had an immediate opening. I made several calls to people about the Wildcat and how it flew and decided to send in my ten grand. I then received a call confirming my deposit and informing me the airplane landed gear up and it would be a while before I could check out as the repairs were going to take quit a while. A long fifteen months passed before I got to fly the plane but I used this time to meet all the CAF requirements and take the checkrides etc. so when the Wildcat was ready to fly I was too. Id been flying the cat for about a year going to as many events as possible and was invited to display the plane at the Alameda Naval Air Station in June of 95. During the display someone official looking asked me if I'd be interested in flying off the USS Carl Vinson for fleet week . Although I said yes, I really didn't think much of this as it barely qualified as rumor and this guy didn't really seem to understand all the logistics required.
Then at the end of July out of nowhere comes a letter from Admiral Spane stating that the Yankee Aviation Museum is the point of contact for the civilian fly off? As I'm sitting reading this letter the phone rings and I meet Bill Klaers .He is the coordinator for YAM (Yankee Aviation Museum) and wants to know if I'd like to go to Hawaii with the Wildcat, if so, be in Alameda next Wednesday for the plane and pilot qualifications.
Thus began one of the truly great adventures of my life. Before we went to Alameda we received a condensed version of what we'd needed to know about carrier operations .All the hand signals needed to be learned and the basic procedures were outlined. When we arrived in Alameda the navy's attitude was not only to check us out but they had a big learning curve as well since they (the modern crews) had no idea of our operations requirements. One of the first and to me funniest events was we had to devise a new way to taxi the airplanes. The planes on a carrier must always have a plane director and as a pilot you can't even move a control surface let alone the airplane without direction from your assigned plane director. In our pilot briefings we were told if we lost sight of our director stop instantly and don't do anything until visual control is regained. The navy had drawn the outline of the carrier on the ramp at Alameda and we would practice lining up and staging our launch just as we would in Hawaii . The problem came when the plane director started me turning, as my nose would cross in front of him. I'd lose sight and stop as ordered, plane directors are not allowed to move themselves when directing a plane, so we had the perfect Mexican stand off. I knew where he was and what he wanted but couldn't move he couldn't move to reestablish visual on me and so a new method of multiple directors and handing control over before and during turns was worked out.
Having made the cut and been asked to go to Hawaii the fun was just beginning . Leaving Bob Lombard to try and finalize sponsors for this undertaking, Bill Klaers and Alan Wojciak started a whirlwind tour going from Alameda to Hawaii who knows how often. Some of the problems to be addressed were that in Alameda the planes would take the same route to the carriers as Jimmy Dolittle did with his B 25s but in Hawaii there was only one pier big enough for the Carl Vinson and it was nowhere near any place we could land airplanes. Arrangements were made to rent barges and a floating crane to take the planes from Ford island to the carrier at its pier in Pearl harbor. Also event insurance and liability insurance was secured as well as damage insurance for the trip over all this in about three and a half weeks. I also had some logistical problems as the CAF general staff wasn't sure they wanted the plane so far from home. The staff kept assigning me what seemed like impossible tasks(given the time frame) and whenever I'd complete one there would be another. Their concern wasn't with the event, the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. Or the chance to display the plane in front of millions of people at one of the biggest events of its kind. They just wanted to be sure all chances of getting stuck in Hawaii were covered beforehand. Finally Bob Reiss (the aircraft donor) and I were able to offer enough assurances and it was time to load aboard the Carl Vinson.
Here again Bill Klaers worked his magic in arranging for all the special bridals and tools for the load aboard as well as assembling a crew that treated loading vintage warbirds as an every day job. About half the planes had someone present to oversee the load aboard but everyone just chipped in and helped where ever needed. That was another of the very special things about the whole experience. Most of the planes were privately owned and the owners ran from doctors, lawyers and TV producers, to big I mean big, business men. Yet with all these egos running unchecked, Bill managed to keep us focused on the tasks at hand. Even though most of us had never met before, we worked on the ground or shipboard and flew together like a well oiled machine. The Navy was also really into this event as I remember Capt. Baucom (the skipper of the Carl Vinson) scurrying around the number one hangar deck with a tape measure and scale drawing of how the planes would fit . And fit they did without a scratch. The only concern was these navy guys can't waste one inch. They are so used to not having any spare room that they'd drive you nuts towing your plane inches from the edge of the deck when there wasn't anything in sight to hit inboard. When they brought the Wildcat on deck to take a picture with a Tomcat, next to the island, it took five tries before they were happy that it was as close to the other plane as it could possibly get without trading paint. Several people from our group accompanied the aircraft on the carrier over to Hawaii. The interest in the airplanes was incredible and endless tours were given and many friendships started on the transit over. My crew chief Cal Howell and I elected to fly over commercially and then Cal would return with the Wildcat on the return transit. We arrived a day early just in case there was any chance to go out to the carrier and watch some air ops. Luck and good planing prevailed and we spent a full day watching air ops and getting an arrested landing and cat shot to boot. The next day we flew out for real and stayed with the ship until our fly off.
Our fly off was the first event in a week of events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. Some of the other events were a parade of ships with 16 ships from five nations. A massive flyover with nine formations from three different airports comprising well over a hundred planes and helicopters. A special commemoration aboard the Vinson. The President visiting the Arizona memorial, a hangar dance aboard the Vinson ,a huge airshow and several static displays of the vintage warbirds at various functions around the islands.
I don't think any of us slept very well the night before our fly off. Aircraft carriers aren't pleasure boats and in Hawaii it was always hot and loud.the one exception was my bunk as an air duct was pointed right at the middle of my bunk at full blast so I slept in my clothes with my flight suit over them and still shivered until morning. Morning started with a very long and intense briefing from the navy. Everything was printed out and handed to us in a briefing packet. The emergencies were all gone over again and nothing was left to chance. Briefing over we moved on deck. It was a beautiful morning and with the low sun angle there were several images that struck me as scenes from WW II. We were just off Diamond head and we all started up and warmed up our planes as they'd been sitting for about ten days. The navy never really believed so much smoke could come out of a plane and not be on fire. Some of the navy guys really wanted to extinguish the fires that they were sure had to exist from so much smoke. We assured them this was a normal occurrence for a radial engine that had been sitting for a period of time. On my runup I had a wet mag (the aircraft were spotted on deck the previous evening ) and collected my share of attention with backfires before I got it warmed up and dried off. All the planes checked out and we headed out to about thirty miles for the flyoff.
Waiting for the start time most of us were getting pretty pumped up. This was the event I'd been dreaming of for years and I didn't have to give up six years of my life to get it. Some of the pilots had flown off before but this was different and we all were very up handshakes and good lucks etc. .But as we started engines and followed all the hand signals all as we'd done before in the training, it felt very familiar and all the repetitions paid off in this being just another take off. I remember the plane director signaling me to go and a huge calm came over me knowing my dream was coming true so enjoy it. As I started my left turn and was cranking the gear up I had the biggest smile you could imagine. My assigned orbit was a half mile astern of the ship as the others launched. Wow that ship got real small real fast. As I watched the others launch, I just kept grinning and circling until I was called down to my flyby and roll. As I climbed up from the pass the ship called and said Wildcat head to the beach. As the others landed at Barbers point we all shook hands and we all had those silly grins that you get when you do what you thought you might never do.
So what's next ,well I've got some new goals, one is to do some flying for motion pictures and some other stuff that I'm almost afraid to think about for it seems anything might be possible.
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