One of the rewarding aspects of producing a history magazine is the mail from readers. We enjoy reading the compliments, agonize over the goofs, and get caught up in the challenge to identify a picture of an old airplane. But we especially get a kick out of letters that tell of a personal experience connected with a story we published in Aviation History. A recent letter is a good example.
The September issue had an item in our new "Legacy of Flight" department about a B-29 that, in 1946, made the first nonstop flight across the North Pole, from Honolulu to Cairo. The picture showed the pilot waving out of the cockpit of Pacusan Dreamboat. We soon received a letter from reader Bernard M. Masyga and a photograph he snapped of that very same airplane–in 1946. Imagine the goose bumps he felt when he saw that airplane in Aviation History.
The same could be said for this editor when I stared at the faded photograph and enjoyed "the rest of the story."
I’ll let Mr. Masyga tell it himself: "I was stationed at Fort Worth Army Air Field (later renamed Carswell Air Force Base) in 1946 and saw the Dreamboat when it stopped over one night [see photo above]. There were several of us who were interested in both photography and aircraft at that time, and whenever a strange aircraft came in, we tried to get photos of it. Security was not very tight in 1946, and we were able to take pictures most anywhere. I wonder if many of your readers knew that PACUSAN stands for Pacific Air Command United States Army and Navy? The Air Force needed all the publicity it could get at that time."
Proponents of a separate air force were closing in on their goal in those days, touting the airplane’s contribution to winning the recently concluded World War II and demonstrating how even greater capabilities would be achieved if the service were independent of its second-class status within the Army. And, no, I didn’t know the origin of the nickname PACUSAN–Thanks, Mr. Masyga, for the rest of that story.
‘I Yam What I Yam’
Remember that oft-repeated statement by Popeye the Sailor of who he was–and who he was going to keep on being? Brigadier General Chuck Yeager expressed a similar philosophy some time ago during an interview in the Air Force’s Flying Safety magazine. A man accustomed to speaking his mind whether or not he conforms to the establishment’s approach, Yeager has a way of underscoring the obvious when it comes to aviation.
Yeager said, "We need to put professional guys in the cockpit and leave them there. We’ve got to streamline into a lean fighting force, and let those professional guys stay in the cockpit. There’s nothing wrong with putting a guy in the cockpit, teaching him to be a professional, and keeping him there for 20 years. You may end up with a squadron of 16 full colonels flying airplanes, but that’s okay, because you’ll have an elite force of professionals."
For the past several years, the U.S. Air Force has been urging–nay, pushing–pilots to "expand their horizons" by cross-training and cross-educating them into something other than "mere airplane drivers." The path to advancement has become paved with college credits, papers published, and success in on-the-ground jobs. No one can argue against bettering one’s self through education and wider experience, but Yeager has a point that should be considered–if not as an absolute, at least as point of balance–by the Air Force and individual pilots, as well as by potential pilots.
Piloting skills and a commitment to good piloting require a big investment by both the service and the individual, and trained pilots must be kept honed by constant attention or they can become rusty. Pilots who wish to expand their careers outside of the cockpit certainly should have that opportunity, but those who choose to remain in the cockpit rather than fly a desk should be encouraged to do that as well, with promotion opportunities equal to those who seek their advancement elsewhere.
By the way, I am sure that General Yeager, when he refers to professional pilots as "guys," includes all the people who are dedicated to flying well, including those female pilots who over the years have shown the same capabilities and dedication as male pilots.
Arthur H. Sanfelici, Editor, Aviation History