Flight Training and Escapades

By: Bruce Frazer


     My father was a non-flying officer in the Army Air Corps in World War II. We rented our house in Westport, Connecticut, “for the duration,” when I was 12, and the family followed him to several stateside bases. Boys my age were intrigued with all things military, and I was especially interested in airplanes. I couldn’t grow fast enough to start flying. So, when we moved back to Connecticut when I was 14, I started taking lessons in a Taylorcraft on floats.

     My first instructor had flown in the Air Corps, and he soloed me just after my sixteenth birthday with about seven hours training. Then I changed to a Cub J-3 at another seaplane operation, with a new instructor closer to home. She was Ann Shaw, who became America’s first female helicopter pilot. Ann was everybody’s favorite, but I remember two things about her in particular: she had her students fly barefoot to get a better feel of the controls, and she had us practice spins every time we gained enough altitude. I learned to love spinning, and this would eventually save my life.

    After 32 hours, at age 17, I took an F.A.A. flight check and was given a private pilot’s license. After this I had a number of nonprofessional civilian flying experiences that are memorable to me. I’ll share some of these as brief vignettes:

  •     Took Joe Thorndike, Managing Editor of Life magazine, and his family for ride in a Stinson Voyager on floats. I was 17 with about 40 hours of flight time. Ran out of water on first takeoff attempt and aborted. Made it on second attempt. Brave man, that.

  •     After checking out in an open-cockpit Fairchild PT-19, rode with former Navy aviator who showed me how to do loops, Immelmans and snap rolls while communicating through gas port tubes – all in an hour. I felt pretty rakish in a helmet and took a friend up to demonstrate my new found aerobatic skills. Stalled out from a vertical attitude attempting Immelmann and fell backward in a tail slide. This could have torn the airplane to pieces. It was scary and humbling!

  •     Checked out Aronca Champion on skis – a real hoot.

  •     Without real aeronautical training, didn’t realize stalls often result in steep turns without enough airspeed. Stalled and entered an over–the–top spin at about 1,700 feet above ground level (AGL) in about two seconds. Thanks to Ann Shaw’s insistence I practice spins, I had a “been there, done that” feeling and recovered in about 400 feet. Passenger barfed.

  •     Flew friend 230 miles home from college. He fell asleep in back seat on return trip. I trimmed down along narrow valley floor so trees were flying by and shouted “Hey, Jim.” This woke him up for sure!

    I accumulated close to 200 hours before I finished Norwich University in Vermont. We had a flying club with its own, rather antiquated, Aeronca Champion in which I was able to fly simply by purchasing the gas.

    After finishing military ROTC as Distinguished Military Graduate, I was commissioned in the regular Army. Soon after starting Basic Infantry Officers’ School at Fort Benning, I was on a 40-mile forced march on a blistering hot day when two Army L-19s buzzed our column. I instantly realized the pilots’ lifestyle was better than mine, but, beyond this, with their sleek lines and amazing performance, these were airplanes I really wanted to fly.

    I never have and never will lose interest in flying, but new interests later preempted more of my time.

    – end –

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