Legacy Page




Legacy Of:

James  P.  McKenna


Personal Legacy
Army Fir Forces
Blackland Army Flying School
Waco, Texas

August 2, 1943

Dear Jo,

I received your letter quite some time ago but didn't get a chance until now to answer. I've just been shifted to another field and what with packing, getting clearance papers signed, finishing up our necessary flying time, and handing in equipment, I've been kept pretty busy.

Right now I'm at advanced flying school down here deep in the heart of Texas. Judging from the heat of the place, I'd say I was down deep in the heart of some other place down below.

The field itself is not worth talking about. The barracks are temporary things built from packing crates the plane came in and covered with tar paper to protect us from the elements. Unfortunately for us the only thing we need protection from is the heat. That's where the tar paper comes in --- it holds the heat fine.

I'm not really complaining about things though. We've got a swell flying field and plenty of swell planes and that's enough to satisfy us. Then too, we spend most of our time up in the nice cool blue sky and in the ground school We therefore don't spend enough time in our, "please don't rain shacks" to raise a legitimate complaint.

Speaking of spending time, around here they don't believe in wasting time. The motto around here is, "if you have time to kill, work it to death" and work it to death we do. We get up at 5:30 and finish at 9:30 ... at night. If ever anything should ever happen to us it won't because we were neglected. Everything is here at our disposal, everything that will save our necks and keep us out of trouble. The emphasis is on safety all the time. We are told that we know how to fly but not safety. Everything we do must be done with a thought to the safety of others, our plane and ourselves. For instance, suppose I'm on a cross-country flight and suddenly I notice that directly in my path is an area of bad weather. Years ago, the vanity of the pilot made him take a foolish chance and keep on going, just so that he could land and say "well, I've never turned around yet." Now however, we are taught to avoid anything that will put us in danger. We'll be able to fly through anything some day, but right now we are too green to do it. For that reason, half our time is spent learning to fly by instrument. A good instrument flyer can bring his ship through any kind of weather. In order to make us the best pilots in the world we'll sweat and sweat for hours down here in Texas sitting in a closed box called a Link Trainer, learning to fly by instrument. This trainer has every instrument that can be found on a complicated airplane. We have to perform every maneuver while under the hood, simply by watching these instruments.

In order to do this we have to disregard our feelings entirely. That is, we cannot fly by the sense of feel when we have no visual reference to the ground and horizon. Put a blindfold on a bird and he cannot fly. Put a blindfold on a pilot and he cannot fly either, but give him some instruments and he can fly. Imagine yourself up in a cloud. You can't see a thing, everything outside three feet away from you disappears. You can't tell whether your're going up or down, right or left or straight ahead. You can't tell by feel because your senses lie to you when you're up in the air. The experienced pilot sets his eyes on his instrument panel and flies by that just as though he were looking out and watching the ground and horizon. The inexperienced pilot tries to do the same thing because he's been told to do that. But then he finds himself in the situation where his feelings tell him one thing and his instruments tell him another. Due to inexperience he'll come to the conclusion that the instrument has gone hay-wire and he follows his feelings. That's where he makes his mistake and then he's in real trouble. To avoid such occurences we are told to avoid anything that will put us into trouble until such time as we are experienced enough to cope with any situation that may arise.

If everything goes right for me for the next two months, I'll graduate from here and get my wings and bars. At that time and not before then will I consider myself a good flyer. Well, anyway I'll be pretty good---if I have to say so myself.

As you probably know, I've been leading a pretty nice life since coming into the Army. The only thing I to kick about is being sent to Texas. I can't see why anyone would live down here voluntarily.

We're treated pretty nicely be the townspeople every where we go. We're aften invited to someone's home for Sunday dinner. They may stop us on the street or be introduced to us someway and before we know it we've got an invitation. A good many of them have nice, big, rich-looking homes too. I guess most of them have oil wells in their backyards.

In regards to Vin and Ken coming into the Air Corps, I simply told them what it was like here. I didn't advise them one way or another. The government would give a lot to find a man who could tell who would and who would not make a good pilot. I couldn't write home and tell Ken to come on in as I thought he'd make a good pilot. I had to leave it up to him. If he wanted to fly bad enough he had the battle half won because if he wants it bad wnough he's do anything to get through.

They should have it pretty good when they do come in. They'll go to a college for a few months before they start flying and they'll always be able to continue the college training where they left off as their credits will always be good. It'll give them a taste of college life too and I'm sure they'll want to continue when this bloomin war is over.

You ask if we wear those slouch hats you see Air Corps men wearing. Yes, we do, but we're not supposed to. Cadets are not supposed to do a lot of things, for instance:

Cadets don't gamble ... (we just have the money on the table and keep track of who's winning).
Cadets don't drink........ (they must freeze it and chew it, then)
Cadets don't have dates with WAACs.....That's what they think. Every WAAC has a civilian dress in her locker somewhere.
Cadets don't ................. etc. - there's a book full of them

Right now we're going to be measured for uniforms. We have to order them now so that they can be made and ready for us. We haveto havae a complete set of (officer's) uniforms before we leave here.

We'll also get a complete flying outfit of our own. This is probably twice as expensive as our uniforms, as it is made entirely of leather with fur inner lining. We'll also be issued our own paarachute too. These cost about two hundred dollars. I guess that's why we're called the spoiled kids. We certainly do get expensive equipment place at our disposal.

Well Jo, I hope the continuity of this letter doesn't wander too much. Somehow or other I've found time to sit here for two hours and write to you. I've kept a constant lookout for the keeper. He maybe on my trail right now and if he is I'll have plenty of time to do some writing this Saturday night. They'll find some very nice tedious work for me to do, I'm sure.

I hope this letter finds all in good health.

Cousin, Jim
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