Navigation Ground School -- Santa Ana, California

Finally, transfer orders came through on October 1, 1942, and I again boarded a Pullman for Santa Ana, to prepare for entry into Navigation School. Since there was no reporting date on the orders, I spent three days in Los Angeles before going on to camp. On October 6, I arrived at Santa Ana again. By then, the base was better developed than it was when I first was there, and it was not nearly as muddy as before. I was assigned to standard GI barracks instead of a tent as in my first stay there. My roommates during part of the time were Tom Smith and Phipps, and the rest of the time Still, Neilsen and Stubblefield.

When I arrived there, Class 43-7 was just past the half-way point of their session at Santa Ana, causing a jam in the flow of classes there, and I had to wait about five weeks to begin ground school with Class 43-8. During those five weeks members of my class were required to perform the most mundane of duties, such as drill and "policing the area". I spent that New Year's eve night doing guard duty in the rain, and spent many days doing kitchen police. This was not what I joined the Air Corps for!

But on the other hand, we received more pass-time away from the base during that period than later, after our classes began. Favorite destinations were Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Los Angeles. Hollywood was probably the most favorite place, with the many famous locations there. The Hollywood Canteen, in particular, was an attraction; many movie stars came there and danced with GIs and spent time associating with them. In Hollywood I also located a cousin whom I had never met before, and spent some time with him. In Los Angeles, I also spent some time with the Kuehnert family. I saw my first USC football games, using free tickets provided by the USO. All weekend passes were cut short by a three-o'clock appointment every Sunday afternoon on the parade ground at Santa Ana.

After five weeks at Santa Ana, the log-jam broke and pre-flight navigation ground school actually began. To some extent, these classes were a repetition of those I had taken along with my pilot training. On that basis, I tried to have this phase of navigation ground school waived, but the effort was unsuccessful. As it turned out, I thoroughly enjoyed the classes, which provided a good foundation for Advanced Navigation School. It was a good chance for me to apply some of the simpler college-level mathematics in which I had majored before Uncle Sam took me.

In the second week of February, 1943, our Class 43-8 finished at Santa Ana. But before leaving there, we held our graduation party at the Beverly Hills Hotel, one of the nicest hotels in the Los Angeles area at that time. A special feature of the party was the presence of several Hollywood personalities, including Rudy Vallee and his orchestra, Judy Canova, Ann Miller, John Boles, and Elaine Verdugo. Elinor, my future wife, was my guest.



Roommates Glen Still, me,
Stubblefield -- October, 1942

Acey deucy

Four vagabonds: Stelzriede,
Ralph Smith, Tom Smith,
and Phipps




A fella has to find privacy
someplace. Lon Wernecke --
traveler, wit, roommate

Roommate Nielsen -- a man's
work is never done




Between halves at the
USC - UCLA football game,
November, 1942

USC (University of Southern
California) campus as seen from
the Los Angeles Coliseum




The Hollywood Palladium

The Hollywood Canteen --
good entertainment here!




Hollywood and Vine

Hollywood Radio City




Part of downtown Hollywood,
from Sunset Boulevard

Vermont Avenue and
Hollywood Boulevard




The Long Beach Auditorium

Tom Smith doing some Christmas
shopping in the rain in Long Beach.
December, 1942




Rainbow Pier, Long Beach

Stubblefield (left) and Glen Still
left for Mather Field on
January 24, 1943, three weeks
before I did



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Advanced Navigation School -- Sacramento, California

On February 14, 1943, we left Santa Ana for Advanced Navigation School at Mather Field near Sacramento, the capital city of the state of California. The trip was made, as usual, by train, up through the lush, beautiful San Joaquin Valley. At one point in the mountains it was interesting to see the train gain altitude to climb over a mountain by making one turn of a spiral over itself.

If one is required to spend time in the military, Sacramento is an ideal place to do it. The area is steeped in the history of the great California gold rush of 1849. Sutter's Mill, the site where James Marshall discovered gold [in January, 1848], is located nearby at Coloma, on the American River. Land Park was a good place to play baseball or touch football, and the old Senator hotel was a source of wonderful food. On a hitchhiking trip toward South Lake Tahoe one weekend, a buddy and I took a side trip at Placerville along state route 49, the so-called "Route of the 49ers," and visited a number of the quaint gold-mining towns located along it. The term "49ers" refers to the gold miners of 1849. We were fortunate to be picked up on this trip by a man who owned a five-room cabin on the banks of the American River. Of course, we accepted his invitation to spend the night there, and managed to get in a couple of hours of very successful fishing. I can't really remember whether there was any gambling at South Lake Tahoe in those days, but I do remember our host that night advising us to "keep your money in your hand and your hand in your pocket", so I assume that there was gambling somewhere.

San Francisco was another of our favorite places to spend a weekend away from Mather Field. In later years, I went there many times, but this first view of the cable cars, Nob Hill, our ride on the bay, Telegraph Hill, Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Park, and all of the other points of interest left many lasting memories.

Physical training became fun at Mather Field, because it was devoted mainly to playing basketball. My team ranked at the top because we developed a fast break -- long before they became commonplace at the college and professional level. We had one player who could throw the ball accurately from one basket to the other and another who could outrun all the others to get there to receive it.

There were two primary purposes for a navigator in the Air Force. First, it was his job to determine where the aircraft was at any point in time during a flight. It was also his job to provide the pilot with the necessary directions to fly from where you are to where you want to go. Navigation, using the procedures practiced in WWII, was an art and not a science. However, during ideal situations, it could be reasonably accurate. The purpose of the Advanced Navigation School was to teach students to navigate accurately under those ideal conditions, and to navigate successfully under non-ideal situations.

The training at Mather field was a combination of ground school, to learn the processes, and air time, to practice what was learned on the ground. In those days, there were basically four methods of navigation: pilotage, dead reckoning, radio, and celestial, and the methods were very mechanical and relatively crude compared with how navigation must be performed today, with computers and all.

Pilotage is a method of determining location of an airplane by following a map. The ability to perform pilotage requires that the navigator recognize features on the ground and locate them on the map. Continuously following the map over a distance enables him to plot a course that is being followed, and correct the course if necessary. Obviously, this method can only be used when visibility outside the airplane is good.

Dead reckoning is a method of navigation that can be performed whether visibility is good or not, and is normally carried on under all conditions of flight to some extent as a cross-check of the accuracy of other methods of determining position, and as a convenient method of maintaining the log sheet. It uses such aircraft instruments as the compass, the air speed meter, the altimeter, and others.

Radio navigation requires that bearings, or directions, of two or more radio stations of known locations, as determined by means of a radio compass, be plotted on a map. The crossing point of two bearings, or the center of a triangle in the case of three bearings that don't all cross at the same point, is considered to be the location of the airplane. This method is the least accurate of all the methods, because the bearings can be bent by air or thermal conditions, coastlines, or even deliberately bent magnetically. Once during WWII, the Germans bent the bearing of radio stations that were being used by a squadron of American planes returning to England from a raid and the planes ended up, tragically, over a nest of anti-aircraft guns. Radio bearings have probably never been used for wartime navigation since.

Celestial navigation is the most sophisticated of the methods. An instrument called a sextant, or octant, depending on its configuration, is used to determine the angular elevation of a known bright star or stars. The navigator was required to memorize the identity and location in the sky of 50 stars that might possibly be used for navigation in various parts of the world. The precise locations of the stars in the heavens were tabulated and available to the navigator. To utilize the elevation readings, the navigator would assume the best location of his position that he knew, apply the location information of the star he observed, and calculate how far he was and in what direction from his assumed point.

Every feature of these navigation processes were taught and drilled in the classroom and practiced in flight applications. The flights were made in Lockheed Hudsons, with four students and an instructor on each plane. In a typical instructional flight, all of the students would perform dead reckoning and pilotage for the entire time while headed for a destination named by the instructor. But the path flown by the pilot would not be a direct path, but would involve a number of turns. Then the accuracy of the course plotted by each student would be graded by the instructor. Occasionally, the destination would not be announced, but the students were graded on where they thought the actual course had been. The flights to practice celestial navigation were mainly flown at night, when the students chose the stars each would take shots on. But each was given a time to shoot the stars, so the instructor could grade the accuracy of positions determined by the students at those times.

One of my lasting memories of those flights was of the student navigator who would invariably become airsick and vomit on every flight. This, of course, was a "washout" offense which would terminate his navigation career if the instructor found out about it. But he would carry a double paper bag every day in which to vomit, and dump it in a trash can after leaving the plane. One day, however, he decided to drop the bag into a flare chute in the center of the aisle of the airplane. But when he took the cover off the chute and stuffed the bag into it, the wind blew up from the bottom of the tube and blew the vomit all over the cabin and the other students, including me. He was fortunate that the rest of us never told on him, so he did graduate with us. But then he was transferred to an airport in his home town, where he continued getting airsick, was grounded, and spent the whole war at home.

On May 28, 1943, Class 42-J, including me, graduated from Advanced Navigation School at Mather Field with the rank of Second Lieutenant and qualified as Air Navigators. All were issued orders transferring us to bases where we would join the crews we would fly with on combat missions, and orders that would give us leave time to go home before reporting there. We were also issued the heavy flight clothing and the navigation equipment we would need in the new phase of our Air Corps careers.

I was faced with an additional decision that was not difficult to make. When I joined the service, I signed a contract with the Army Air Corps Reserve. Many of the other Cadets were a part of what was called the Army of the United States (AUS). Upon graduation, I received a discharge from the Reserve, because the contract was terminated, and, as a matter of fact, I could have gone home if I had not accepted transfer into the AUS along with all the rest of the Cadets. But who would have been the first to greet me at home but the friendly draft board! As it was, I signed up immediately for the AUS, and when the war was over, I was probably one of the relatively few veterans who had received two honorable discharges from the service.



Tom Smith and a friend
at the zoo in Land's Park

Me and a friend




I caught up with
Glen Still (left) again
at Mather Field

Sutter's Fort, near where
gold was discovered in
California in 1848




California State Capitol
building

Traffic in San Francisco
was almost as bad as
in Los Angeles




Market Street, San Francisco

The hills were really
steep in San Francisco!




The swimming pool at
Golden Gate Park

Tom Smith near Placerville,
in California's gold country --
he broke his arm while
playing basketball




The American River --
the river in which
gold was discovered

Reno, Nevada




Virginia City, Nevada

Don Snyder and some
trappings they gave us
with our commissions




Lt. Glen Still -- killed over
England on May 13, 1944 while
on a practice mission in preparation
for the invasion of Europe


Continued...

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