Rare it is to find a book like this one, written by a little known pilot who played a significant role in aviation's early years. Dean C. Smith had liRare it is to find a book like this one, written by a little known pilot who played a significant role in aviation's early years. Dean C. Smith had lied about his age to join the U.S. Army in 1917. His dream: to become a pursuit (fighter) pilot on the Western Front.
Upon acceptance in the Army Signal Corps (where the Aviation Section was attached), Smith was sent to Kelly Field in Texas in the Summer of 1917. At the time of his arrival, Kelly Field was little more than a large, open space with a few, hastily constructed buildings. The U.S. was in a hurry to develop a credible military air arm. Like other recruits, Smith was put through the early stages of soldiering, which was the Army's way of keeping them occupied. Drudgery ensued -- that is, until Smith, in answer to a call from a rather surly junior officer for anyone with prior military experience, said: "I have been to military school, if that is any help to you." This marked a beginning of a change in Smith's fortunes. He helped to bring some semblance of order out of chaos at base where "tens of thousands of recruits were pouring into the camp before facilities could be prepared and with only a handful of officers available."
Another unexpected talent that Smith possessed that stood him in good stead was his skill at playing craps among his Army buddies. Smith won more often than he lost, as a result a regimental sergeant major named Jones owed him $150. Jones was hard put to pay Smith back. He didn't have the money. So, he struck up a deal with Smith. Jones handled all the paperwork for the adjutant and the colonel on the base and snuck in Smith's name among the paperwork. Thus, within a short time, Smith was made a permanent sergeant in the Regular Army.
Ever the enterprising sort, Smith managed one day during that seemingly long, hot summer --- having already made up a phony document (signed by himself) which officially assigned him for flight training --- to gain entrance to the office of the chief instructor, a civilian named Joe-Ben Levrie. He presented Levrie with the phony order and their exchange went like this:
"Humph...Flying duty. How much flight training you had?"
"Don't sir me. My name is Joe-Ben Levrie --- call me one or the other; I'm no damn officer. Glad for once to get somebody that doesn't think he already knows all there is to know about flying. A lot of these bums come down here with four or five hours at Hammondsport [where the Curtiss Flying School was located] and want to tell us how to fly. Come on, I'll give you a ride."
Thus, Smith was taken aloft in a Curtiss JN4 (affectionately known as "Jenny", one of the Army's primary training aircraft) for the very first time. Training began for Smith. But he was found out and had to report to the lieutenant colonel (himself a certified pilot) on the base. After being given a bit of the third degree, the colonel, appreciating Smith's honesty and admiring his pluck and determination to become a pilot, agreed to allow him to apply officially for admission to flight training as an aviation cadet. His parting words to Smith were:
"You still have a long row to hoe. The physical examination is severe. Ground school is worse. If you bust out of ground school, I'll see that you dig ditches for the rest of the war. That is all."
And so it was. Smith passed all the initial exams, went on to ground school, and received flight training both in Texas and in the Midwest. He qualified for his wings with about 60 hours of flight to his credit, graduating at the top of his class. Indeed, Smith (by now, a newly minted second lieutenant) was rated so highly as a pilot by his superiors that he was offered the opportunity to serve as a flight instructor. This made him, at 18, the youngest flight instructor in the Army. It was July 1918 and Smith yearned to be sent to a pursuit squadron in France. But, he agreed to take on the instructor's job, because he was assured that after completing a 3-month stint, he would be sent to France. Alas, for Smith, by the time he had completed his assignment, the war was coming to a close.
With the Armistice, Smith was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with his life. He wanted to remain in the USAS (United States Army Air Service) as a pilot, for he loved flying. And for a while, Smith was able to borrow some time, being assigned to a pursuit training school in California, where he continued to train pilots. But, it was a short-lived assignment. The Army was cutting back and it was made clear to Smith that if he wanted to remain in the Army, it would have to be in the cavalry. That didn't appeal to him at all. And so, Smith received an honorable discharge from the Army in March 1919.
For the rest of the year, Smith became involved in some barnstorming work, performing at air shows, and taking on some airmail work with the Post Office Department. The next year - 1920 - in response to an offer by the Post Office Department for pilots in its developing air mail service, Smith applied and was accepted. Here is where the heart of the book is, and Smith freely shares with the reader his many and varied experiences as an air mail pilot. (Smith was the first to fly the mail at night. He also helped to develop blind flying techniques which later became a standard part of pilot training.)
By 1927, with the Post Office Department and its Air Mail Service having pioneered the development of a continental airmail routing network, the commercial air carriers were allowed to take over. Smith didn't have to wait long for another job. The polar explorer and naval aviator Robert Byrd offered him an opportunity to serve as a pilot in his Antarctic Expedition of 1928–1930. Smith then regales the reader with some of the most incredible experiences of braving the rigors of flying and surviving the hazards of living and working on the South Pole. Simply put, I loved this book.
Notwithstanding that, the only thing that prevents me from giving "BY THE SEAT OF MY PANTS" 5 stars is that no photos were provided in the book. (Only 2 photos were placed on the back cover of the 1961 edition I read.) No photos relating Smith's time as an Army pilot, a pioneering airmail pilot, and with Admiral Byrd's South Pole Expedition. Why the publisher failed to add these photos I cannot fathom.
Ernest K. Gann, in his day, was one of those aviators with a gift for conveying to the general reader the thrills and perils of flying. And in "BLAZEErnest K. Gann, in his day, was one of those aviators with a gift for conveying to the general reader the thrills and perils of flying. And in "BLAZE OF NOON", he succeeds brilliantly.
The story begins in September 1925 with the 4 McDonald brothers (Roland, Keith, Tad, and Colin) demonstrating their flying skills at a county fair in Iowa. This is the era of barnstorming, when active pilots, many of them --- like Roland the oldest brother --- First World War veterans who first experienced flight in a flimsy Curtiss Jenny trainer at one of the Army stateside airfields hastily created after America's entry into the war and later became either instructors or seasoned combat pilots over the Western Front. After the war, being enamored of flying and at a loss what to do in civilian life, several of these pilots found ways to keep aloft. Barnstorming, despite being a precarious livelihood, offered the way out of a life lived in the doldrums.
Aviation was a wide-open endeavor in the U.S. during the early to mid-1920s. But by the time the reader meets the MacDonald brothers, it is becoming increasingly clear to Roland that barnstorming is losing its appeal. (Aviation is fast becoming a serious business, with the federal government establishing rigorous standards for pilots, mechanics, and aircraft manufacturers.) He persuades his brothers to follow him to New Jersey, where he meets up with Mike Gafferty, an old friend and fellow aviator who runs a business flying mail for the Post Office Department from New Jersey to Upstate New York and Northeast Ohio.
Though now assured of steady paychecks and a more settled way of life, the MacDonald brothers find that the risks inherent with pitting a Pitcairn Mailwing radial-engine biplane against the vagaries of the weather can exact a high cost. For instance, one night when Roland is hard pressed to arrive at his destination with a load of mail, he makes a calculated gamble while in the midst of a menacing storm front in winter. "He patted the pint of whisky and thought of Albany as he gritted his teeth and pulled up into the low overcast. Then he concentrated with all his will on the turn-and-bank instrument, relating it to his compass, which for a time held obligingly at eighty-five degrees. When he reached three thousand feet he leveled off - or assumed he did, since the altimeter and air speed held steady. Now would come the test, not of the theory but of himself. He would have to endure this new and strange flying sensation for exactly twenty-one minutes. Then, according to his figures, he could let down until he broke out of the overcast and Rochester would be just ahead. He had only to hold his course and believe the instruments before him."
This is nail-biting stuff! There is also romance, brotherly devotion, and a few snippets of life characteristic of the 1920s.
Reading "BLAZE OF NOON" has been a thoroughly rewarding experience. I highly recommend it to any reader who loves thrill-seeking tales....more
This concise book represents the story of a unique individual. Marion E. Carl was, perhaps, one of the finest aviators who ever lived - FULL STOP. A nThis concise book represents the story of a unique individual. Marion E. Carl was, perhaps, one of the finest aviators who ever lived - FULL STOP. A natural pilot, he soloed after 2 hours of dual instruction. He later went on to become the U.S. Marine Corps' first fighter ace, seeing action at the Battles of Midway and Guadalcanal during the Second World War. (A little more than 20 years later, Carl commanded a Marine combat air wing in Vietnam, flying several missions himself.)
Carl became known for achieving a number of "firsts." He became the first Marine to fly a helicopter, the first Marine to land a jet on an aircraft carrier, and he also set a number of altitude and speed records. Carl also was an outstanding test pilot, and by the time, he retired from the USMC (United States Marine Corps), he had flown 14,000 flight hours. ...more
This is the author's Korean War memoir. Through his university studies, Leue joined the U.S. Navy's V-5 program, and trained as a fighter pilot, winniThis is the author's Korean War memoir. Through his university studies, Leue joined the U.S. Navy's V-5 program, and trained as a fighter pilot, winning his wings in late 1949. He learned to fly the vaunted Chance Vought F4U-4 Corsair of World War II fame and shares with the reader the wealth of his combat experiences aboard aircraft carriers between 1950 and 1952. By the time Leue was tour-expired, he had transitioned to jets, flying the F9F-2 Panther fighter on flak suppression missions against Chinese and North Korean forces.
As a way of rounding out the memoir, Leue shares with the reader in the final chapter the crystallization of his decidedly right-wing views on the Cold War since his service in Korea. This is the first Korean War memoir I've come across and it was very much well-worth reading. Leue takes the reader with him in the cockpit so that you, the reader, can vicariously experience the thrills and hazards of flying and combat. ...more