Purdue Flies into War

Transforming Trainees into Pilots

Ruth Eve Owen, Purdue University

Intangibility permeates the very nature of the sky in much the same way that contrails crisscross it.  We can never fully control it, but we can tame and master it. The very first aviators after 1908, when the Wright brothers premiered their “Flyer” in the U.S. and Europe, faced challenges of flight in which the slightest error could produce a brutal fall to certain death.  Pilots had to master the weather patterns, work the controls, and govern the mechanics of the plane. But the battle against the skies was even more arduous for war pilots. Throughout the course of World War II, they faced a series of escalating challenges: from initial training to fly, to military training, and lastly to the battlefronts in war. Purdue University’s “Civilian Pilot Training Program” offers a case in point. Purdue taught young men their first flying skills, but military training gave them the mastery of the battle craft, and the war finally tested their instincts. Even when not under the threat of an attack, wartime pilots perished due to mechanical dilemmas, or weather catastrophes, or a variety of accidents. Beyond these challenges, they had an even more pressing problem: the enemy. They had to devise strategies in order to create deadly explosions in the sky as well as on the ground, and even more importantly, how to avoid becoming one. These were all the challenges, learned in their stages of training, which separated the pilots who survived from those who did not. With war came great tribulation, and these men needed sheer piloting talents–like reaction time, focus, and common sense–as well as perseverance, in order to survive. These skills, along with a little bit of luck, created the “aces” among pilots.

Mastering any art or science requires quality training. Aviation is no different. In order to be successful, the best training was vital, and the more experience in training, the better. Purdue University was just such a place to acquire those skills. The university’s Civilian Pilot Training Program challenged its students to rise to achievements and make new discoveries, challenges that would not only benefit themselves, but also help create a better world. These discoveries included advances in “aircraft power plants and jet-propulsion devices” (1). Between 1921 and 1930, the university began to teach courses in aeronautical engineering and built its own airport, all as a gateway to help conquer the skies. Due to these investments, the U.S. government granted Purdue the privilege of being one of thirteen colleges and universities to operate a flight school under the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), founded in 1938 by Robert Hinckley, a “quintessential New Deal administrator with ties to Harry Hopkins (who was one of President Theodore Roosevelt’s closest advisors) and the regional Works Progress Administration”(2). The purpose of the CPTP was to teach young men the essential skills needed to pilot an airplane. Purdue was also the first to accept and begin the CPTP: “Purdue University…where all classes of flying are taught, and where the federal civilian pilot training program first was tested”(3).

This local program began with a total of fifty students, who set out to learn the basics and essentials of piloting, to become what administrators called “a badly needed reserve of pilots with the basic know-how”(4). The initial focus of training consisted of learning the names of airplane parts, being able to read the piloting instruments, and learning how to fly an airplane in normal conditions. The cadet was then taught to “execute a few simple maneuvers, like wingovers and loops…stall his machine with the engine on or off, slip safely into and out of a tailspin and read his instruments”(5). They also learned the basic knowledge of the history of aviation, civil air regulations, navigation, meteorology, parachutes, aircraft and the theory of flight. The CPTP cadets needed these 72 hours of ground school, but also 35 to 50 hours of flight school”(6). They learned to fly around the surrounding towns and countryside of Purdue, and as the hours per flight increased, they flew further distances. These distances were primarily local, only to such lengths as within the state. For example, Purdue students went as far out as Marion, Illinois, and, on very rare occasions, a little further. One student, Jerome Goldman, ventured as far as Amarillo, Texas and Colorado Springs, Colorado. They stopped throughout the journey, but that was still an unusually far distance(7). For the most part, students stayed local, including Goldman himself. While this training was very basic, it still managed to prepare most cadets for the military service.

The CPTP Flight School turned out to be a highly beneficial investment upon the entrance of the U.S. into World War II, once it became evident that air battles would be crucial in order to win the war, in a competition for the fastest and highest planes, with the best pilots. As Paul Stanley, a Purdue flying instructor and later professor of Aeronautics, wrote, “The Navy realized that the outcome of the war depended on pilots and that pilots depended on instructors.” At first, the CPTP managers understood that training more pilots was useless unless they knew how to properly fly. The U.S. needed top-quality pilots most of all. Unfortunately, there was a shortage of instructors in the military to properly train as many pilots as needed. “There were not enough [Navy] instructors to start sending them [cadets] aloft”(8). Or as Dominick Pisano put it, “the CPTP was a qualitative rather than quantitative success”(9). Thus, Purdue University (like many other colleges and universities) began to adapt to the war years by turning its focus towards war-related contributions. This meant transforming the Civilian Pilot Training Program into the War Training Service (WTS).  It was officially changed in 1942. “When war arrived, the Airport became a center for the training of military fliers”(10).

The crucial question was whether the CPTP/WTS training was adequate enough to prepare these men to fly as military pilots. The training needed to provide the military with top quality pilots, and the more the better. In order to fulfill this demand, the flight schools around the country had to momentarily abandon their goal of teaching civilians how to fly as a hobby or for sport, and instead prepare civilians to fly into battle. Instead of calm, leisurely rides in which students took in the sweet scope of flying amongst the clouds, they were taught how to succeed under high pressure. They had to pay close attention to every minute detail of the plane and all of their surroundings. Anything less than perfect resulted in failure and required a second attempt until it was perfected. Precision was the key. If a cadet failed his solo flight after a number of times, he was forced to drop the program. Ralph Schneck, a “Hoosier pilot” who went on to serve as a pilot in the Eighth Air Force during the war, put it this way: “If you come up to par you are OK.  If you don’t they put you up for a washout ride…if you don’t pass that check you go”(11). This was far different from what they were used to as civilian pilots. It was no laughing matter; the military was serious about its flight training and only accepted the top flyers. The goal of the WTS was to provide the military with pilots that suited the title: military pilot.

WTS flight training consisted of seven different levels. As Patricia Strickland notes in The Putt-put Air Force, cadets had the option to stop at any level of training whenever they desired to do so; unless, on a few rare occasions, they did so well that they were called in to join the Army Air Forces immediately. Each level prepared pilots for the next [one] and was eight weeks long, except for the last one which consisted of ten weeks. The first level was called Elementary. This required 240 hours of ground school and 35 to 45 hours of flight instruction. Ground school consisted of exactly what it sounds like: the material pilots needed to learn for exams. Flight instruction taught students how to actually fly and pilot the planes. The next level was Secondary. This consisted of 240 hours of ground school and 40 to 50 hours of flight instruction. Level three was Cross-Country, which required less training in ground school at 108 hours, but instead of flight instruction cadets had to accomplish 45 to 50 hours of cross-country flying during both night and day. Cross-Country flying consisted of flying long distances. After cross-country flying, cadets moved on to what was called Link Instrument. Link instruments, or “blue boxes,” were plane simulators that reacted like a plane, but never actually left the ground. Pilot trainers went inside one of these and worked different controls, each of which created a different reaction that would actually occur in flight. “The trainers were used as a step preceding actual flight training and as an opportunity for experienced pilots to sharpen their skills”(12).  It also required a minimum of 108 hours of ground school, but now 15 hours of link training, as well as 20 to 25 hours of flight instruction. Level five was called the Instructor Course. Seventy-two hours of ground school and 50 to 60 hours of flight training were required to complete this level. After that level was the Flight Officer’s level of training. This is where it really got tough. The ground school hour minimum rose to 325 hours. Trainees also had to have 20 to 25 hours of single-engine flight instruction and 21 hours of multi-engine flight instruction. But that was not all; they then needed to complete 20 to 30 hours in the Link. Finally, the last level was referred to as Liaison Pilots. This required 50 to 60 hours of flight instruction and 240 hours of ground school. But this was not the end of training even for those who passed. Upon completing the last step they were then prepared for advanced training in the Field Artillery (of the Army Air Corps). It was time for these flyers to leave the dream-like clouds and enter the war zone. Would they really be prepared for what they would soon face?

A set of student pilot rating books in the Jerome Goldman papers at Purdue University illustrates the intensity and scope of wartime training. Goldman was a Purdue flight school student during the war. These rating books are comprised of written critiques given to the flight student from the instructor. Below is a rating sheet from his first book dated March 20, 1942, on which different piloting traits are checked (see Figure 1). This is an evaluation about one of his first flights. A second rating book from 1944, although a bit different, contains essentially the same quality checkpoints. Central to the grading and evaluating were traits associated with control and safety. Notice which boxes are checked: eager to learn, tense, alert, poor coordination, nose too high, nose too low, and skids on turns. Most of these are not boxes a trainee would want checked. Also notice the writing on “Skids on turns.”  It reads “to left” and the instructor changed the period to an explanation point. This specific critique allowed Goldman to immediately notice what and how to improve. As if Goldman might fail to realize that he had a lot of work to do with skidding on turns, his instructor also wrote down, “Having Trouble with left turns, ‘skids;’ Nose High, Nose Low in turns.” There was little room for praise, but remember that he was still in his first weeks of flying; criticism was inevitable, in fact, without it Goldman never would have learned and improved. If the instructor chose not to grade him so intensely, how would Goldman have been able to be a better pilot? This very criticism was important in maintaining safe piloting. It determined those who were suited to fly from those who were not. Take a quick look at the mental traits (C). Being “alert” is an important safety characteristic in and of itself. It was also located at the top of the list followed by the positive mental traits, “careful” and “consistent,” both of which were also qualities of a safe pilot. The (negative) qualities thereafter, “erratic, forgetful, and mechanical,” give off a sense of recklessness, considered a “special fault.” The term, “Mechanical” may be a difficult trait to understand, but a cadet quoted in Rebecca Hancock Cameron’s, Military Flight Training, offered a decent breakdown. “If a pupil is given too many rules of thumb instead of a real appreciation of what he is trying to do; if he is taught in a mechanical way; taught to fly by numbers; taught to follow rigid and precise flying patterns without variation, when something unusual happens he just does not know what to do and his reactions will be slow”(13).  Being mechanical was a bit like being a robot, stiff and routine, without creative adaptability.  For example, in the category, “Special Faults,” we see such traits as “overconfident and overcautious.” Moderation was the key. The CPTP and WTS and military branches wanted pilots to have a strong balance between self-assurance and alertness.

Figure 1. Excerpt from Lesson 5 of Jerome Goldman’s student pilot rating book, 20 March, 1942.<br> Source: Student Pilot Rating Book (Private Course), Box 33, Folder 1, Jerome Goldman papers, 1937-2005, Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.

Figure 1. Excerpt from Lesson 5 of Jerome Goldman’s student pilot rating book, 20 March, 1942.
Source: Student Pilot Rating Book (Private Course), Box 33, Folder 1, Jerome Goldman papers, 1937-2005, Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.

Nothing was more important to successful piloting than safety. The CPTP was the safest flight program around, almost notoriously so. For example, in the year 1941, the CPTP had “approximately 1,900,000 hours flown (160,000 miles), and only 19 trainees were hospitalized and 21 were killed. That was 7,750,000 miles flown per fatality; the highest figure ever established in private flying”(14). The Army Air Corps, on the other hand, had 199 fatalities in 1941 creating a fatality rate of 9 deaths per 100,000 flying hours(15). With as good of a fatality rate as the CPTP had, it was easy for skeptics to make crude accusations. Some in the military and media were skeptical about its fatality record and claimed that it hid some deaths. But the Civil Aeronautics Board had a different opinion. “In our opinion, it would be unlikely that the occurrence of any accident…could escape the knowledge of the Safety Bureau.” The plain truth was that the CPTP placed a huge emphasis on the safety of its members. Part of what made this record so low was the CPTP’s emphasis on having excellent flight instructors: “controlled instruction; standardized instruction; wholly committed instructors and serious students changed the picture”(16). In many cases, these instructors themselves joined the war and sometimes returned to the flight program to teach more apprentices the science and art of flying. Other cadets in the flight schools became instructors rather than going into the war, so assigned by their military superiors(17).

In the war years, instructors were usually pilots who had expertise and were given the authority to teach others their expertise, but were, in some shape or form, unable to perform the task of wartime flying. For example, some cadets were dropped from training because they lacked the qualities of a soldier; others were withheld because of previous battle wounds. Not everyone could handle the hardships and fears that came with war, so skilled pilots with this problem were used to teach other potential war pilots (and future instructors) how to handle an airplane. Veteran pilots with physical injuries from flying in the war also became instructors. Even some pilots who acquired emotional problems from fighting in the war became instructors, as their expertise was too valuable to let go to waste.

In any case, flying an appropriate plane was as important as the instruction in it. Of course, the plane had to be in good condition to fly, but it also had to be as similar to the actual military planes as possible, this in order to prevent extra stress to the pilot. As was usually the case, planes became more complicated and harder to fly as a pilot’s flying abilities increased. The primary plane used by the CPTP was the Piper J-3 Cub, which was in continual use even during the WTS. Unfortunately, this popularly-used model was insufficient for further training. “[W]hen the planes were tested for structural tests for airworthiness and flight tests for acrobatic safety, nearly half were rejected,” and the program had to receive new planes “required to have both a military rating and a CAA approved type certificate”(18). This type of plane was hard to find, especially with a low budget. Only a couple hundred planes were purchased, but even the military was in a low supply of airplanes at the start of the war. To make matters more difficult, sometimes a strong wind or storm blew planes over and they had to be either fixed or used for spare parts. Worse still were the cases in which a plane crashed during a training session, frequently killing the instructor, student or both. In one letter Schneck wrote to his parents, he explained the death of an instructor and cadet in flight:

There was another Instructor & Cadet killed yesterday. This makes 4 deaths in 2 weeks…It was the first period of the morning and we were getting ready to go up. This plane took off just as I sat down in our plane. I noticed it taking off because it was the first one off. After it got up about 300 or 400 ft I heard its engine sputter a little and it turned back towards the field. I had my headset on so I plugged it in & flipped on the radio and the instructor in the plane was calling the tower to clear the field for a forced landing. As I was sitting there watching him he made a turn. It was a very flat turn, no bank, and he must have been holding bottom rudder so it would skid around the corner. Evidently he was holding the nose up so as to stretch his glide and he got it too high. It stalled and started nose first towards the ground and because he was holding rudder it started to spin. It went about one full turn & then hit the ground. They were both killed instantly”(19).

The planes often had mechanical errors, which were expected, as they were complicated machines. This just goes to show just how much training pilots needed. If they did not understand their plane they could not so easily notice a problem and possibly resolve it as quickly as possible. It was important for pilots to learn the mechanics of the plane they flew in order to properly react. In the above story, Schneck displayed a prime example of this. He gave a clear description of what was going on in the plane as though he was there, with the unfortunate crew trying to steer themselves to safety. Not only did he know what caused them to crash, but he knew what they should have done to avoid it and safely recover. This skill of acute discernment was shared by the top pilots. It showed just how involved the pilot was with his occupation. He (or she) did not fly because he was forced to, but rather because it was what he wanted to do. And if a pilot so desired to continue his or her training in more depth, he moved forward into the military training programs—-despite the difficulties of getting in as a pilot. Jerome Goldman did exactly this. He was a student of the Purdue Civilian Pilot Training Program who continued his flight training in the United States Army Air Corps as a flight engineer for a B-29 of the Twentieth Air Force, later returning to Purdue to become an aeronautical engineer and airline pilot(20).

Once WTS Flight School cadets graduated from Flight School they moved on to the military programs, the U.S. Navy and Army Air Corps (renamed Forces in 1941) in particular, despite the fact the Air Corps was not satisfied in the least with the transformation from the Civilian Pilot Training Program to the War Training Service. The Air Corps had a hard time accepting that students who had been taught under the CPTP/WTS were as good as its own pilots. Even President Franklin Roosevelt recognized the problem on January 7, 1941:

“The Army and the Navy don’t think we are getting enough out of these schools in the way of military and naval pilots…[I]t may mean…that all these people who go into these schools, largely at the expense of the Government, with thereby some obligations on their part to serve in the Army or Navy–which there never has been up to present time”(21).

The Air Corps gave the WTS cadets a harder time than it did its own cadets and made sure the WTS knew that it was dissatisfied. As Dominic Pisano has written, “the CPTP would train AAF [American Air Field] enlisted reserve personnel as noncombatant pilots for a variety of duties–as instructors, ferry, liaison, and as glider pilots and commercial pilots for Air Transport Command–but not for combat.” This likely degraded a soldier’s confidence; unless of course they did not wish to engage in battle in the first place. The Air Corps was not alone on its opinion that flight school trainees were not an asset to the military. “[The CPTP] was continually criticized by the military, in general, for its alleged failure to produce sufficient candidates for military pilot training,” although “the program began to make subtle adjustments to bring itself into line with military needs.” Training gradually improved, and Hinckley modestly claimed it “produced better equipped men for military flight training than those untrained by the CPTP”(21).  But according to Paul Stanley, the program was much more successful than that. “Purdue was officially known as the No. 1 War Training Service flight instructor’s school”(22). The university was producing results.

On the contrary, the Air Corps still thought otherwise. There was still so much tension between the CPTP and WTS programs and the military that they went to court against each other. It all started because the military wanted to take over the programs and turn them into full-fledged military flight programs. Hinckley refused. The CPTP was his “brain child;” he could not let it go so easily. The military then claimed that the men in CPTP programs were not suitable for military training. The Air Corps found that civilian pilots were incapable of flying in the hazardous conditions required of war pilots. They simply were not soldiers. It then claimed further that “[t]he CPTP never became a very active recruitment device, even after the program shifted more purposefully toward the defense mission”(24). The CPTP’s political sponsors strongly disputed these claims, arguing that it at least prepared some pilots for later military training, although they now approved it transformation into the WTS(25).

Purdue University’s Flight Program adapted significant changes with its WTS branch in order to serve military needs. This necessitated a new level of training with more advanced skills and more knowledge learned, as well as the most difficult lesson learned: dealing with the logistical and emotional stresses associated with war. This was the primary issue that preoccupied the Air Corps. To adapt, the WTS instituted early morning wake-up calls and late night flying for trainees. In another letter from Schneck to his parents, he explained the exhaustion a single mission caused, “I had to get up awfully early yesterday as we went on a mission. I was really tired when we came back. Wearing all the equipment we do is enough to make you tired”(26).  The extra clothing Schneck mentioned was to prevent frostbite and hypothermia, as the crews now flew to very high altitudes. They had to shake off the exhaustion, and find the passion in their training to succeed.

We can see this newfound intensity in a photograph from the Paul Stanley papers (see Figure 2). The cadet is unknown; however, he displays all the bravado of someone training for war. The gaze in his eyes and the air of his walk tell it all. He is the spitting image of what director Tony Scott later tried to capture with Tom Cruise’s facial and body language in his acclaimed film, Top Gun (1986). Only Tom Cruise did not quite capture the true visage (see inset), and notice the differences and similarities. Cruise captured the pose and the body language, but he failed to catch the magnificence of the unknown cadet’s gaze. In fact, he distorted it into something else, arrogance maybe, which only goes to show that a pilot has unique characteristics that even the best actors cannot imitate. Tom Cruise’s face gives off an air of complete conceit and daringness. While these qualities are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, it portrays a stereotype far from the truth.  The unknown man above gives off an air of hope and adventure.  Despite the struggle of waking up early in the morning and loads of chores to do, he still conveys a pride and swagger for what he is doing. It is as if he has always dreamed of flying through the clouds to see the world from an eagle’s eye, while accepting every challenge that comes his way no matter the difficulty. His eyes are young and vivacious; whereas, Cruise’s eyes are not so inspired and lively. Another difference is what they each are carrying. The unknown cadet is carrying a Switlik parachute, which symbolizes safety. Cruise, on the other side of the spectrum, is carrying a helmet, which while it also can symbolize safety can also symbolize toughness, which was probably the intent.

Figure 2. While it is not certain whether this young man was in the Civilian Pilot Training Program or the War Training Service; an educated guess leads to the belief that it he was a WTS pilot due to the year being 1942 (when the WTS was officially formed), and the apparel worn by the men in the background. They are wearing military attire. We can also see some J-3 Cubs in the background. Source: Photograph of unidentified flight student at Purdue Airport, Box 1, Folder 1, John C. Franks papers on the Civilian Pilot Training Program, 1942-1946, Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN. Inset. An image from Top Gun, by Sarah Fannis, "June 29, 2015 - Top Gun." WLGZ. Accessed April 20, 2016. Retrieved from "http://www.legends1027.com/June-29-2015-top-gun/14567509?pid=493960

Figure 2. While it is not certain whether this young man was in the Civilian Pilot Training Program or the War Training Service; an educated guess leads to the belief that it he was a WTS pilot due to the year being 1942 (when the WTS was officially formed), and the apparel worn by the men in the background. They are wearing military attire. We can also see some J-3 Cubs in the background.

Source: Photograph of unidentified flight student at Purdue Airport, Box 1, Folder 1, John C. Franks papers on the Civilian Pilot Training Program, 1942-1946, Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.

Inset. An image from Top Gun, by Sarah Fannis, “June 29, 2015 – Top Gun.” WLGZ. Accessed April 20, 2016. Retrieved from www.legends1027.com/June-29-2015-top-gun/14567509?pid=493960

As a step beyond initial Purdue training, the Air Corps training consisted of primary, basic, and advanced training. The primary training was made up of basic flight skills and book-learned knowledge, and it was taught by the CPTP and WTS. Cadets needed 28 or 29 hours of dual flight instruction and 31 or 32 hours of solo flight instruction. Students practiced stalls and spin recoveries, climbing and gliding turns, forced and normal landings and takeoffs. Then they learned figure eights, cross-wind landings, night flying, navigation, and instrument training, etc(27). After all of these were achieved, cadets moved on to basic training, where they acquired ground school skills such as aircraft identification, navigation (again), code (Morse), and weather safety. Pilots still learned more plane maneuvers, but the military focused most of the attention on basic knowledge. In advanced training, students delved deeper into flight practice. In this stage, cadets practiced single-engine flying and double-engine flying, which essentially meant flying better planes. After advanced training, pilots finally learned combat skills, and they got to fly military planes in Transition Training. Basically, they were given lessons on how to survive and earn kills in battle. They practiced with different military airplanes, depending on what they were assigned as bomber pilots, fighter pilots, glider pilots, etc. There were always more skills to be learned.

Not only did cadets require more hours of flight training and more skills learned, but they were also introduced to new planes. These military planes were different than the usual Piper J-3. They were far more complicated. This meant having to learn more controls, often a mind-boggling amount. It was now all too easy for a pilot to accidentally put an unintended maneuver into operation. In casual flying across the country, this was not very dangerous, but this would not be the case for wartime flying, when a control accident might cause the failure of the mission or death of the crew. Switching from the Piper J-3 to the Fairchild PT-19, and some other forms of the Fairchild PT (the standard military planes used for primary training in the AAF), as well as the AT-6 (the standard military planes used for advanced training) was a grueling challenge for the trainees. These Fairchilds had issues of their own, namely “excessive vibration and rough engine performance”(28). In time, the trainees adapted, and after so many practice flights the controls became second nature just as with the Piper J-3.

In addition to getting used to the plane, the cadets had to gain new knowledge about foreign lands. Cadets also had to upgrade their book knowledge of the world, not just of America. In order to fully succeed as a pilot in a “world” war, they needed to learn about the climate and weather of different global locations, as for example from Purdue’s lessons in Aeronautical Meteorology(29). It was also important for them to know about the geography of the lands over which they might fly in order to better navigate them. Such tasks were usually taken care of by the other members of the flight crew, such as navigators, engineers, bombers, gunners, and, of course, co-pilots. So, the pilot did not have to remember every single little detail. But the more they knew, the better. For example, in Laura Hillenbrand’s biography, Unbroken, Louie Zamperini recalled being taught by native Hawaiians how to survive in the Pacific Ocean in case his plane went down. One lesson proved to be beneficial when Louie and two of his stranded crewmates tried to catch a shark. “In his Honolulu survival course, Louie had been told that the liver was the only part of a shark that was edible”(30). These lessons proved to be extremely useful, often making the difference between life and death.

Working with a crew was yet another new condition that the cadets needed to master. Trainees in the university flight programs worked with a flight instructor or solo, depending on their experience and skills. Now in the military they had to get used to working with other people (unless, of course, they were a solo fighter pilot). Unfortunately, many pilots who preferred to fly solo did not get their wishes. Pilots had to develop their teamwork skills, and especially their leadership skills. They had to get used to each other’s habits and the atmosphere of risk and danger. There was a huge difference between the dreamy and almost romantic flight with oneself into the wispy clouds, all alone with one’s thoughts, and waking up to reality and flying in a frenzy of human activity, often punctuated by the chaos of war.

All of these new demands were exacerbated in the heat of a mission or battle. War meant certain danger, along with injury or death. Pilots had to get used to not getting too attached to crew members. They had little time to mourn for their losses. While Ralph Schneck never admitted serious problems with the pressure, some of his crew did. His first crew member with severe anxiety and fear issues was his first navigator. He described the dramatic event in another letter to his parents on September 30, 1943 (from Watertown Army Air Base). Ralph explained how on one flight there was an issue with the gas gauge. Prior to this error, his navigator reported that he was “lost and didn’t know where he was.” Then he found out (via his engineer) that the gas gauge incorrectly read that they had double the amount of gas than they really did have. The first engine went out right when Schneck decided to cut the bombing-practice flight short and head back to base. The fourth engine went out just two minutes later, but they pumped gas back into it in order to make it back. He had his crew put on parachutes just in case of a crash landing. They made it to the field, and then the terrible happened. As he wrote, “just as we parked the plane and was in the process of cutting the engines the navigator runs out of the plane and right into one of the propellers. It cut the whole right side of his head open.  They rushed him to the hospital but he died about 6 hrs. later”(31).  His sister, Juana, then wrote about this event to their folks (again), but elaborated further by adding Ralph’s impressions about the young man. “He said this fellow was a very nervous sort of a fellow in the first place and somehow got lost and couldn’t find his way. He got all excited and when Ralph called the tower at the field to get on the beam they were further away than expected”(32).

They were not yet even in battle, and his navigator already could not handle the stress. This is just one example of thousands of similar stories. A teammate went down, and they had to adjust on move forward, although many pilots and crew members never really got over the trauma of death. Knowing someone who died is one thing, but watching them die is completely different. These pilots had to stay strong to keep everyone else strong. The Air Corps believed civilian pilots did not have it in them to handle the stress of battle, or of crewmate injuries or deaths, as well as needed. One pilot offered this perspective:

“…The beginner still felt an anxious tightness in the chest when approaching the first solo flight, horror and denial on witnessing the first fatal accident, wonder and disorientation on the first night mission, and the temptation to fly by the seat of the pants rather than by instruments. Thoughts of combat brought a rush of exhilaration; fear came at the prospect of washing out, which was viewed as unequivocal failure. As one airman put it, ‘it sounded as though you turned colorless and just faded away, like a guilty spirit'”(33).

Here are some clues as to why the Army Air Corps was so mistrustful of the civilian flight programs in the CPTP and WTS. Its military pilots needed more intense practical and emotional preparation from the start, in keener senses, quicker reactions, and most of all a will to fight and die together. The CPTP and WTS did not teach their cadets these attributes. One pilot described his view as to why civilian-trained pilots were “wash-outs,” unable to adapt to the military’s “soldier” characteristics. “[T]here were those who had previous civilian flight training, who evidently had trouble flying the ‘Army Way'”(34).

A commendation in the Goldman papers, praising his crew’s efforts during the war, offers further confirmation as to the flying qualities that the military most valued, and that best contributed to the Allied victory. The war was much more difficult than any pilot training, solely because no matter how hard they trained, crews were never fully prepared to endure the traumas of war. Since most of them were young men, certain qualities were necessary in order to survive. Lieutenant General Nathan F. Twining said they displayed the “courage, perseverance, and skill” to complete the mission(35). Skill and courage make sense in terms of wartime flying, but perseverance is something new and different. A lack of sustained effort meant that the crews succumbed to failure, and failure meant defeat. To fail meant death in wartime terms. For example, in Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, Louie and two crewmates who survived the crash were trying to make it through being stranded in a raft in the middle of the Pacific. Louie and one crewmate, Phil, were persevering, but the other mate, Mac, has lost hope. Hillenbrand wrote,

What is remarkable is the two men who shared Mac’s plight didn’t share his hopelessness…Though they both knew that they were in an extremely serious situation, both had the ability to warn fear away from their thoughts, focusing instead on how to survive and reassuring themselves that things would work out. It remains a mystery why these three young men, veterans of the same training and the same crash, differed so radically in their perceptions of their plight(36).

Those who optimistically persevered, survived. They did not allow their style of training or their unfortunate situations to get them down into desperation. Excuses did not exist in their book.

Major General Curtis E. Le May, who directed the strategic bombing campaigns in Europe and the Pacific during the war, gave an even more telling description of the qualities demanded of the best units: “the outstanding courage of combat crews… the high degree of technical ability, devotion to duty, morale and determination… the aggressive planning and action… the gallantry, skill, and inspired resolution of the combat crew… the loyalty shown me”(37). Le May highlighted courage, skill, and perseverance, but what about this “devotion to duty and morale” and that very last phrase, “loyalty”? Pilots had to believe in what they were flying for. This may have been one reason a civilian pilot would wash-out. Civilian pilots flew for themselves and their plane, while military pilots flew for their country. If civilian trainees did not acquire this loyalty to the military and country, they could not fly with the necessary focus and passion.

Loyalty and devotion to country was not the only loyalty needed. Crews also needed loyalty to each other. Rear Admiral F. E. M. Whiting summed this up by giving the most uplifting praise; short, sweet, and to the point. “The Island Commander congratulates you on your brilliant and decisive record of your wing. The never faltering courage, ability and effort of your officers and men despite bitter obstacles has set a standard that will never be surpassed by any other flying unit”(38). No pilot could wish for a better congratulatory speech than this: it was a group effort. They all worked together to overcome the trials and tribulations of warfare, and through that coordination they made it out alive and accomplished their ultimate goal—together. We see similar praise in a commendation by General Carl Spaatz, who was the commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces in the Europe during the war (see Figure 3). He elaborated more on this essential teamwork, which now included the teamwork of other crews, both living and lost.

Figure 3. “This little pamphlet depicting some of the highlights of our operations, has been prepared as a souvenir for members of the 73rd Wing,” circa 1945. Source: Pamphlet, Box 4, Jerome Goldman Papers, 1937-2005, Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.

Figure 3. “This little pamphlet depicting some of the highlights of our operations, has been prepared as a souvenir for members of the 73rd Wing,” circa 1945.
Source: Pamphlet, Box 4, Jerome Goldman Papers, 1937-2005, Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.

This commendation highlights not only the qualities displayed by the best pilots of the war, but also the sacrifices of those who either were not as skilled, or were not as lucky. Luck was important in war. The best soldier could be shot simply by taking one step in the wrong direction. The same fate applied to the pilots. Going just five miles per hour slower or faster might have prevented a bullet to the window shield or engine. But those were the things no one could fully control. The best way to get around bad luck was to ignore it, and keep doing one’s job.  General Spaatz noted this in his final paragraph: “You carried on.” His crews did not give up. Ralph Schneck never gave up when his engines both went out, nor when his navigator died. He pulled through the hard times just as Jerome Goldman and his crews did. They carried on for their fallen comrades, for their fellow crewmates, for their loved ones at home, and above all else as survivors–for themselves.


1. Rodman Sims, “Purdue Goes to War: World War II Would Irrevocably Change the University,” The Purdue Alumnus (December 1991), 24.
2. Dominick Pisano, To Fill the Skies with Pilots: The Civilian Pilot Training Program, 1939-1946 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001), 3.
3. Unidentified newspaper clipping announcing Franks appointment as chief pilot in charge of flight training at Purdue University, Box 1, Folder 2, John C. Franks papers on the Civilian Pilot Training Program, 1942-1946 [hereafter Franks papers], Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN., circa 1942.
4. Patricia Strickland, The Putt-putt Air Force: The Story of the Civilian Pilot Training Program and the War Training Service (1939-1944) (Washington, D.C.: Dept. of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Aviation Education Staff, 1971), 3.
5. Strickland, The Putt-putt Air Force, 10.
6. Strickland, The Putt-putt Air Force, 3.
7. Pilot Log, Box 33, Folder 2, Jerome Goldman papers, 1937-2005 [hereafter Goldman papers], Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.
8. Bulletin Purdue University at Work During the War Years of 1942-1943, Box 3, Folder 1, Paul E. Stanley papers, 1910-1969 [hereafter Stanley papers], Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.
9. Pisano, To Fill the Skies with Pilots, 79.
10. Horton Budd Knoll, A Record of a University in the War Years, 1941-1945 (Lafayette: Purdue University, Archives of Purdue no. 4, 1947), 53.
11. Ralph H. Schneck and Donald R. Schneck, Cheerio and Best Wishes: Letters from a World War II Hoosier Pilot (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2013), 81.
12.  “The Link Flight Trainer,” The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) International (Roberson Museum and Science Center, 2000), 3, Resource Available Online
13. Rebecca Hancock Cameron, Training to Fly: Military Flight Training, 1907-1945. (Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 1999), 390.
14. Patricia Strickland, The Putt-Putt Air Force The Story of the Civilian Pilots Training Program and the War Training Service 1939-1944 (United States Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, undated), Box A, Folder 1, Emilio Salazar papers, 1928-1975 [hereafter Salazar papers], Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN., 71
15. Marlyn R. Pierce, “Earning Their Wings: Accidents and Fatalities in the United States Air Force during Flight Training in World War Two” (Manhattan, Kansas: Kansas State University, 2013), 231, Resource Available Online
16. Strickland, The Putt-Putt Air Force, Box A, Folder 1, Salazar papers, 69.
17. Schneck, Cheerio and Best Wishes, 165.
18. Strickland, The Putt-Putt Air Force, Box A, Folder 1, Salazar papers, 81.
19. Schneck, Cheerio and Best Wishes, 115. Schneck was not a Purdue University CPTP/WTS cadet, but was a CPTP/WTS cadet in Lemoore, California and later Stockton, California.
20. B-29 Standard Procedures for Flight Engineer, July 18, 1944. Box 4, Folder 1, Goldman papers.
21. Cameron, Training to Fly, 318.
22. Pisano, To Fill the Skies with Pilots, 128.
23. Bulletin Purdue University at Work During the War Years of 1942-1943, Box 3, Folder 1, Stanley papers.
24. Cameron, Training to Fly, 318.
25. Pisano, To Fill the Skies with Pilots, 46, 47.
26. Schneck, Cheerio and Best Wishes, 268.
27. Cameron, Training to Fly, 392.
28. Ibid., 393.
29. PAC Recurrent Training Aeronautical Meteorology Lessons 1 -19, circa 1963-1964, Box A, Folder 3, Salazar papers.
30. Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (New York: Random House, 2010), 256.
31. Schneck, Cheerio and Best Wishes, 208.
32. Ibid., 212.
33. Cameron, Training to Fly, 390.
34. Ibid., 395.
35. Souvenir pamphlet prepared for members of the 73rd Wing, Box 4, Folder 5, Goldman papers, circa 1945.
36. Hillenbrand, Unbroken, 230.
37. Souvenir pamphlet prepared for members of the 73rd Wing, Box 4 Folder 5, Goldman papers, circa 1945.
38. Ibid.

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