Friday, May 6, 2011


HT-8 was the last squadron through which future Marine and Navy  Helicopter pilots passed before earning their Wings of Gold.  It was here that I first climbed into a helicopter and found out what real flying was!  By this time I had around 150 hours of flight time, had been through Basic Instruments, Radio Navigation, Aerobatics,Formation Flying and I was Carrier Qualified...  SHIT HOT
Jet Ranger
It was now like starting at the beginning  all over again.  Learning to HOVER was a whole new thing. My instructor flew me out to a huge field in a shiny new Jet Ranger. After he had the bird in a rock solid hover he progressively gave me one set of controls at a time:  The Rudder Pedals,  The Cyclic (stick) and finally the Collective which adjusts power and make the helo go up and-down.  It was all I could do to keep the aircraft in the humongous field and not spin it around and bounce it off the ground.

Helicopter pilots learn to hover as a second sense, taking cues from scanning the horizon.  At first this scan is very deliberate and takes extreme concentration..  It eventually becomes second nature.  Years later as a maintenance test pilot I could have my head bent down inches away from an instrument -to read it carefully- and the bird would stay steady as a rock.  If you can rub your tummy, pat your head and do fancy foot work all at the same time you would be a good helo driver!


It was at HT-8 where I learned my biggest problem in learning to fly.  An older Navy Lt. Commander told me that I had about the best natural ability to fly that he had seen.  He said I tried way to hard and that my self imposed stress was my biggest detriment.  Jokingly, he prescribed 2 shots of scotch before each flight!  I never tried his antidote. I believe the words of LtCdr. Villar gave me the confidence that carried me on in my aviation and other careers.

HT-8 passed quickly.  The big event was hiding out in the strongest building at Ellison Field - the Officers Club during the disastrous Hurricane Camile.  Soon it was down to the last week and a long cross-country flight in a Huey (UH-1D) from Pensacola to N.A.S. Glenview outside of Chicago.

Finally, at a small ceremony with no family present, I was presented the Wings of a Naval Aviator by the Squadron Commander. I was very proud to have made it.  This year was the most challenging year of my life. I had made it!  I was now a Marine First Lieutenant and a Naval Aviator.  I had joined some pretty good company.

So this was the end ..... but actually it was just the beginning!

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