Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Friday, March 31, 2017

An Army Flying Instructor Hoist with His Own Petard

In his memoir, Burning the Days (1997), James Salter gives a wonderful example of an action backfiring on its initiator.  A flying instructor in the Army Air Force (as it was called in WW II) had a favorite trick he'd play on students who were slow to learn how to land:

"After exhausting the usual means, above the traffic pattern somewhere he would shake the control stick from side to side, banging the student's knees--the front and rear sticks were connected--to get his attention.  He would then remove the pin holding the rear stick in place and, with the student twisting his neck to see what was happening, wave it in the air and toss it over the side, pointing at the student with the gesture You, you've got it, and pointing down.  It had always worked.  One day for still another lagging student he rattled the stick fiercely, flourished it, and tossed it away.  The student nodded numbly, bent down, unfastened his own stick, and ignoring the instructor's cries, threw it away also.  He watched as the frightened instructor bailed out and then, fame assured, reached down for the spare stick he had secretly brought along, flew back to the field, and landed."

Burning the Days has the best account I've read of what it was like fighting the Russian MIG's in the Korean "conflict."  Salter eventually left the Army to become a writer of novels and screenplays, but the second half of his memoir doesn't match the interest of his West Point and flying days.  The first half, though, is well worth reading.