Wayne Shearer’s World War II Memoir, Part 26: Soloing In A BT-14 In Kansas

Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - by Dr. C. Wayne Shearer
Wayne Shearer and dog, Daisy
Wayne Shearer and dog, Daisy
(Editor’s Note: Dr. Wayne Shearer, 95, is a retired optometrist and retired colonel from the U.S. Air Force Reserve now living in Hixson. In his early 90s, he decided to sit down and write from memory and a few records he still possesses his recollections of going through Army Air Corps pilot training at several bases in the United States during World War II. A lifelong writer, he wanted to pen them as he remembered them happening at the time.He also recreates now-lost letters as best as he recalls writing them and references newspaper articles he collected at the time and still possesses. This is the 26th in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)


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Setting: Independence Army Air Field, Kansas

March 20, 1944: 

This morning (Monday), I got an hour and 10 minutes dual time in before the snow blizzard and gusty winds really hit this part of Kansas.

My instructor had me do several take-offs and landings, saying we’ll take advantage of this strong crosswind. As I was taught in Primary, I lowered the wing into the crosswind and did OK. There were ground loops in abundance with the BT- 14’s narrow landing gear and the strong crosswind. 

Our barracks is shaking and vibrating tonight as a Kansas snow blizzard has arrived in full force. It’s not to this South Georgia boy’s liking. The steel cables are serving their purpose to hold these temporary-style Army barracks in the ground so they don’t blow away. It is winter again! 

At last night’s dining hall meal, even with the blizzard, the main topic of conversation was, naturally, flying. Here at Independence Army Air Field, we are enjoying good food with plenty of fruit and desserts while we are questioning the chances of flying tomorrow due to the weather. 

In war news, our fellow airmen are going deeper into Germany! 

March 22, 1944: 

Today (Wednesday) we were back on the flight line with our first duty being to clean off the snow from the airplanes. Yesterday, there was no flying due to the storm that’s now moved to the east. 

I had slightly over one-hour dual time with my instructor. Lt. “Rusty Bars” was in a foul mood, almost convincing me that I’d forgotten everything learned in Primary. I bounced the plane in landings. He says very little to any of his cadets, but when he does, I’m learning cuss words that I didn’t know are in a vocabulary. It’s for sure he wants us “to keep your damn head out of your butt.” In a faster airplane you’ve got to be more alert and “swivel your head.” 

In our BT-14s we have heat of sorts in the cockpit, which is a small opening from the engine by the right foot. This results in the right foot being uncomfortably hot and the rest of the cockpit cold, especially the left foot. 

This week, several of us were assigned to keep the coal stove doing its job keeping the barracks warm. After morning roll call in the freezing darkness in front of the barracks, then back inside, the stove thawed us out. Our tactical officers let us know over and over that this is a military operation. We are to be and to look as sharp as West Point cadets. “Look sharp Misters!” Gigs for walking tours are still being used for punishment. For sure we can’t miss or be late for any formations; or, not have shoes and brass shined! 

March 24, 1944: 

Tonight (Friday) in the mess hall, I was sitting across from several upperclassmen and one said he was out practicing acrobatics when, as usual when inverted, the engine quit. No problem, as once right side up again, it would come back to life; but not this time. He had about 7,000 feet and didn’t want to jump out. Looking around in a panic, he saw one of the auxiliary fields. He knew he didn’t have the altitude for a regular landing pattern, or even a straight in, so he landed across the runway. It was a rough landing, jarring the carb float loose, so upon trying to restart the engine, it roared into power. 

He taxied over to the control tower and was met by an instructor pilot. He let him know that what he had done was unauthorized and completely against rules and regulations. He told the cadet that he had landed cross wind and across an active runway. As he continued to explain, a mechanic, who was at the auxiliary field changing a tire on another BT, walked over to the lieutenant instructor pilot and pointed out how the rough landing had broken the stuck float loose. The lieutenant accepted this explanation and saved the cadet from being “washed out.” He told the cadet to write a 500-word minimum explanation for the record. 

We are continuing in the Link trainer as we did in Primary. The feel is different from a real plane. It is now with more seriousness, as in a few weeks we’ll be doing night flying in the BT-14. I must keep working in the BT cockpit learning where everything is and pass the blindfold test. All of this is part of getting ready for night flying. We’re all getting behind in real flying time due to the winter weather; so, this allows us to get more Link time. 

The Wichita Sunday Beacon, Wichita, Kansas, on Sunday, March 26, 1944, said: “REDS SMASH DEEPER INTO RUMANIA.” Russia’s three Ukraine armies are hurling the Germans back on opposite ends on the long Southern front. They have advanced to within less than two miles of the Black Sea port of Nikolayev. 

Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “ALLIES AND JAPS TRADE BLOWS ON BURMA FRONT.” A New Delhi dispatch from Adm. Lord Louis Mountbatten’s headquarters announced Japanese invasion forces have driven deeper into India. In Northern Burma, American and Chinese troops led by Gen. Stilwell outflanked the Nipponese forces. 

“MIGHTY HAVOC IS WROUGHT IN RAID ON BERLIN.” A record load of 2,500 tons of bombs carried by 1,000 RAF bombers is rained on the capital. 

“DEWEY GAINING FAVOR AMONG KANSAS GOP.” It is apparent that delegates to the national Republican Convention in Chicago from Kansas, with Alf Landon’s approval, will go for Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York. 


March 31, 1944: 

Today (Friday) is the last day in March and it’s going out like a lamb, but came in like a lion. You can see that the grass and other plants are turning green. It is warmer but we’re keeping the coal stove fired up. 

I got 45 minutes dual time today doing landings and takeoffs at one of the auxiliary fields. Our instructor says very little, so none of us know how we’re doing. Several cadets in my barracks/flight have soloed. We think that Lt. “Rusty Bars” is deciding who to wash out and who to solo. One of the aviation students who is a staff sergeant tonight is very discouraged because he was eliminated today. He is leaving tomorrow for Fort Benning, Georgia, to rejoin his paratrooper battalion. Every day someone is “washed out.” We hate to see him go. He told us that he was the second one his instructor had assigned for an “E” ride. 

One of the upperclassmen at breakfast said he was shooting night take-offs and landings and he was on hold at the runway, Number 2, for take-off. As he was ready to move into No. 1 position, he saw the lights, suddenly, of the departing plane go into a hard left bank. It then cart-wheeled and went out. He said he called the tower and reported a crash to the left of the runway. The tower told him to stay and shut his engine down. All the emergency people went out and searched but found nothing. 

He was ordered to restart his engine, taxi back to the ramp and park, and wait for the air officer of the day to pick him up. Next, they went out in the staff car and began searching. All this time he answered questions. After about 20 minutes, they saw a waving flashlight. They went toward the light and, to everyone’s relief, they found a cadet walking with his parachute over his shoulder. He was bleeding from a cut forehead. 

The cadet reported that at lift-off, he lost all rudder control. He said that when he felt the wingtip hit the ground, he cut the master switch and all power off. At the evening meal, we were told that, during the day, a mechanic’s inspection revealed the rudder cable had snapped with the engine torque, then got him into the left turn. He was lucky. 

The Tulsa Sunday World in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on April 2, 1944, announced: “REDS 20 MILES FROM ODESSA.” Moscow reports “tremendous losses” suffered by the enemy by slashing their escape route. The Russians drive to Tartar Pass. 

Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “ALLIES OPEN FLANK DRIVE.” Allied mountain troops on the central Italian front captured Mt. Marrone menaces the Nazi line of supply. 

“SOONER’S PLANE TOLL EQUALED.” A London communiqué today said Capt. Don Gentile of Piqua, Ohio, an Eighth Army Air Force Mustang pilot, downed a Messerschmitt 109, boosting his total to 22 and moving into a tie with Capt. Robert S. Johnson of Lawton, a Thunderbolt pilot. 

April 4, 1944: 

Today, my instructor let Bill and I solo. He assigned Dennis to an elimination ride; I, again, sang the Air Force song in exhilaration. But it’s hard to determine how we’re doing because Lt. “Rusty Bars” doesn’t say much. It’s as if he doesn’t care whether we are learning to fly this BT-14 or not. I’m happy for Bill and me, but I regret about Dennis. The weather has gotten us all behind in flying hours. I’m pulling for Ralph, our fourth cadet, to solo soon or he’ll be a “wash-out.” It looks more often that the instructors are intent upon heeding the stunning directive stated by I.A.A.F.’s commander when we arrived. I thought he was deadly serious, but others thought that was his manner for us to work harder. He meant what he said because the washing machine is working overtime! From observing and talking to others in the barracks, only half of us may move upward to an advanced flying school. 

Letter home:
April 4, 1944
Dear Mother and Dad,
Today, I soloed this BT-14 and am glad to get it behind me. It will be fun to do some solo air work and get better at handling this heavier airplane. The weather has gotten more like spring. It’s not South Georgia spring type weather yet. We still keep the iron stove burning for heat and fuss about whose turn it is to put in the coal. Tell Norma her big brother loves her. 

Your loving son, Wayne 

The Independence Daily Reporter in Independence, Kansas, on Friday, April 7, 1944, stated: “GENERAL MONTGOMERY SPEAKS TO GENERALS ABOUT INVASION PLANS.” 

Another headline from that day’s paper: “JEWISH NURSERY AT IZIEU-AIR FRANCE OVERRUN BY NAZI.” 

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To see the previous story in the series, read here.


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Dr. Shearer can be contacted at docshearer@epbfi.com.
Wayne Shearer in a BT-14 in Kansas in 1944
Wayne Shearer in a BT-14 in Kansas in 1944

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