[AVweb's reprint of A Pilot's History began with Chapter 1.]
Today, I look back on the years of stimulating growth in aviation during World War II. As a pilot, I saw great nations competing against one another to design and build aircraft in huge numbers, upon which their very survival would depend. The best brains and assets were mobilized to defeat the enemy with this high-technology tool for war.
The factories spewed forth planes in unbelievable numbers and quality. The U.S. approached the fantastic number of 10,000 planes a month, which President Roosevelt had asked to be produced. It was amazing how housewives came out of the kitchen to be put in a factory and build aircraft, one after another. Where did the designers, engineers and materials come from? There were very good managers and production engineers to set up assembly lines for untrained and unskilled people to turn out the new, high-performance planes.
How about the flight crews? It took time and assets. It was fortunate the entire population got behind the war effort. I never saw anyone being a laggard. There wasn't any hesitation or opposition in civilian support when the casualty figures began to show up. Losses among the Marines in the Pacific area were high. However, casualty figures of aircrews over Europe exceeded the Marines' losses in the Pacific area. Due to the contribution of scientists, we did not have to invade the Japanese homelands.
After the war was over, the Air Corps pretty well closed up operations from the flight crew's viewpoint. That left too many of us to overflow the small air operations that existed in civilian life. We believed in the future of civilian aviation and tried to expand it in every possible way. The economics of it was a very tough go for many years. As a result, many a fine aviation enthusiast had to find other lines of work.
I remember all the companies I worked for that could not economically outlast their competitors. I kept flying for many discouraging years. Those years allowed me to see the vast expanse of the Artic and other continents I had not seen during the war. I also remember the "movers and shakers" connected with aviation and then all the skilled people that made it possible for aircraft to fly. I remember Mr. Arthur Vining Davis telling me of the glorious day his partner, Charles Martin Hall, and he extracted, for the first time, a piece of aluminum from bauxite, and how he was able to guide this small beginning into a huge industry, providing the world with a versatile metal it could not do without today.
On a more personal level, my mind scans over the very exuberance of flight. Flying gave us freedom to go anywhere in the world and to experience the wonders of the unlimited skies. To be suspended among the clouds on a bright sunny day or perhaps being alone at night in the cockpit of a fighter at 40,000 feet, with the peace of the star-studded heavens, would stretch anyone's imagination. The means of exploring the wonders of the world will be difficult to leave and forget.
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A pretty airplane with a pretty backdrop makes for a pretty nice Picture of the Week. Air to air is always the result of teamwork and the chase plane team of pilot Tom Mitchell, photographer Jay Beckman and Bonanza pilot Tom Rippinger combined for a winner