Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I spent 8 years as a Marine Pilot. The FLYING SECTIONS will relate stories and thoughts from my first flights as a student aviator flying the T-34 to my final service as a co-pilot on Marine-One.

I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in June of 1968 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.  This was a time when the college and country were sharply divided by the war in Vietnam.  The day before my Class Valedictorian had raised a huge ruckus when he stated: " Thank God we are losing the war in Vietnam" . The press would soon convince the country that we were losing the war after  the Tet Offensive where US forces decimated the V.C. and N.V.A.  It was an exciting time to become a Marine Officer. 

I was soon off to N.A.S. Pensacola to learn to fly and and earn the coveted Wings of Gold of a Naval Aviator.

                                    Mom                                 2nd/Lt Irwin                    Maude Irwin

VT-1 Training Squadron-One:

From VT-1 at Saufley Field,  we flew the T-34 Mentor, commonly known as the "Teeny Weenie".  It was there that I realized that learning to fly the Navy-Marine Corps way was not going to be fun and games.  The traditional 18 month syllabus had not been shortened but had now been crammed into 12 months.  The call for chopper pilots for Nam was heard loud and clear.  Our instructors were battle weary helicopter pilots just back from combat tours in Vietnam.  They were flying far too many instructional flights per day and were seeing the same mistakes being made by every "stud" day after dayWe quickly learned which instructors were "screamers" and were likely to yell "God Damn it Relax " and beat your knees with the stick as you tensed up while making an approach.

One day, with a massive 12 hours of dual time in my log book, my instructor Captain Major (yes he eventually became Major Major) told  me to land at an outlying field.  Saying " I gotta get out of hear before you kill me",  he climbed out and sent me off for my first solo touch-and-goes.  I did three T&Gs, stopped, picked him up and flew back to Saufley. That evening, at our weekly Beer-Bust, Captains Major and Young cut off my tie to celebrate my first solo flight. Something the three of us, at  times, thought might never happen.

Flying did not come easy to many of us.  NAMI, The Naval Medical Institute did studies revealing that a student pilot who studies and memorizes procedures for a hop forgets 80% upon leaving the ground.  On the syllabus flight when the student pilot first had to make the radio call: "Gear Down, Brakes Firm, Mixture Rich"  it was all he could do to get the plane on the deck in one piece! The mere added process of talking and flying was awesome at first.  Who thought flying and talking at the same time would be difficult?  Years later we talked to the other pilot, monitored  air traffic control, listened to the grunts on the ground, all while listening to Merle Haggard on the A.D.F. Radio!

I never became air sick while flying on instruments or even while doing aerobatics.  However, the stress of trying so hard, with such high expectations on myself, I often puked behind an aircraft on the flight line before facing my instructor.

We fledgling aviators were soon kicked out of the nest and sent on to VT-2 at Whiting Field in Milton, Florida.  Here we would meet the infamous T-28 Trojan.

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