My father and grandfather worked for Republic Aviation Corp. from when I can remember until my family moved from New York. I remember looking at the F-84s flying over and thinking "that's my dad!" He was only an assembly line worker, though, but I was HOOKED on the thought of flying. My Dad had been in the Navy during WWII, a Petty Officer 1st class, Aviation Metal Smith, working on F4U Corsairs. I still love looking at his old Navy photos around those warbirds!
Growing up in Southern California, there were a lot of Air Force people around. The family living behind my home, was a young Air Force pilot and his pregnant wife. 1st Lt. David F. Edwards, KC-97 co-pilot. He took me to my first "Base Open House" and showed me the cockpit of his KC-97. We saw a movie on the Thunderbirds, flying the red, white, & blue F-100s. Now I was really HOOKED!
One of my best friends while growing up, was the son of Boeing's field representative to Strategic Air Command at March Air Force Base, Mr. Lyman Welliver. On my 16th birthday, the Welliver's gave me an "introductory flying lesson" at the local Cessna dealer. If you ever had the desire to fly, this is a fantastic opportunity--relatively inexpensive, and you actually get to fly the airplane. The anxiety didn't last long, and the smile lasted a long time. I had to fly more!
Going through High School during the Viet Nam War, we were "recruited" heavily by the armed services. We were shown "propaganda" films in the gym during P.E. classes. I had always been patriotic--Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Sea Cadets. I wanted to "fight" in the war, but I wanted to fly. The films of A-1Es and F-100s dropping bombs and napalm were intoxicating. My parents wanted (required) me to attend college, and since 2 years of college were required to get into Navy flight training, I signed up for the easiest road I could think of--Physical Education! My great plan, as I graduated from High School, was to go to Navy flight school after 2 years of college, fly off carriers for a few years, then get out and fly for a commercial airline. Things tend to change!
#1--By the time I had my first semester of college, I decided I hated it! I had a girlfriend back home, and never liked school. I went to the Navy recruiter to inquire. Alas, by then, you needed a college degree (4 years!) to be an officer, which was required to go to flight school. POOP!
#2--Girlfriend was getting serious, and the thought of going to sea on an aircraft carrier for months started to sound pretty BAD.
Plan 2! The Air Force. Change colleges to San Diego State--a high school buddy was there and it sounded a lot better than Cal State Fullerton, and it had Air Force ROTC.
Accepted into the 2 year AFROTC program, I went to "boot camp" at March AFB the summer before my Junior year. I was lucky and was 1 of 2 cadets that got an "incentive ride" in the T-33. Rolls, Loops, dive-bomb attacks, I was not only addicted to flying, but now I knew that the only way to FLY, was in Fighters!
Through AFROTC, I got my private pilots license my senior year. I made it through college, barely, and had a slot for pilot training. After graduation and getting married, we sponged off relatives until August, then packed up and moved to Mesa, Arizona, to begin "our" Air Force career.
Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) was advertised as "The Year of 53 Weeks." Due to the war in Southeast Asia, our year was a year of 48 weeks! After administrative actions, lots of paper work, and physical examinations we began training to fly. After about a month, we began flying the T-41 (Cessna 172). It was a short course of about 12 "sorties," mainly to weed out those with "manifestations of apprehension" (air sickness), and to teach the very basics of flight. Around November we graduated to the T-37 squadron. My UPT class was around 80-90 in the beginning. We were split into two "sections." My section flew under the T-37 squadron "Raindance (see patch), our sister section was "Scat Pack." After a number of rides, proving basic flying competency and proficiency in emergency procedures (including spin recoveries), we were allowed to fly without an instructor, or "solo." Upon successful completion of a T-37 solo, you were allowed to wear the T-37 patch (above), thus differentiating those who had, and those who hadn't. We lost several more of our buddies to "manifestations of apprehension" when confined by an oxygen mask and helmet (which we now wore, flying jets) coupled with the increased G forces and exaggerated attitudes. Some just felt they couldn't hack it, and were terminated through "SIE," or "Self Initiated Elimination." Luckily, my class didn't lose anyone to fatalities. By the time we graduated to the T-38, we became somewhat proficient at instrument flying, aerobatics, formation, and basic cross-country flight procedures. Of course, the T-37 didn't go much faster than 200 mph.
Our T-38 squadron was called "Beercan" (patch above). Like the T-37, when you achieved you initial solo flight in the T-38, you were allowed to wear the T-38 patch (above). Our sister section flew with "Tipper" squadron. By now the speeds were approaching the speed of sound. Had to think (and act) a lot faster. More aircraft handling (aerobatics and other maneuvers), lots of instrument flying, formation, and an introduction to Basic Fighter Maneuvers (BFM). Some final tests and checkrides, and our time was up. We graduated about 70 pilots. Our "class ranking," based on check ride scores, academic examinations, and recommendations from our instructor pilots, dictated what aircraft we went to from UPT. I graduated around #12, and we only had 7 real fighters (if I remember correctly)- 1 A-7, 1 F-106, 5 F-4s. They all went before I got my pick, along with a C-141, a T-38, a T-39, and a B-57. My 9th choice was a T-33 to Alaska, which was the next available when my "pick" came.
Before reporting to our first duty stations, we had to go to Water Survival school at Homestead AFB, FL, and the infamous Basic Survival Training school at Fairchild AFB, WA. "Basic" included "resistance training" and "escape and evasion" techniques in preparation for combat operations in Viet Nam.