Wayne Shearer’s World War II Memoir, Part 21: The Thrill Of Finally Getting To Solo!

Sunday, August 4, 2019 - by Dr. C. Wayne Shearer
Dr. Wayne Shearer and dog Daisy
Dr. Wayne Shearer and dog Daisy

(Editor’s Note: Dr. Wayne Shearer, 94, 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 This is the 21st in a series of regular excerpts from his as yet unpublished book, “Under This Arch.”)


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Setting: Grider Field in Pine Bluff, Ark.


January 24, 1944:


Today (Monday) I had only 39 minutes of dual flight instruction.

I’m fortunate to have the instructor I have and I like him. Some of the other cadets have instructors who beat their legs black and blue with the control stick along with a bellowing stream of curses through the gosport. Some instructors say if you don’t improve soon, you’ll get “washed out.” We don’t need to be told because it’s always in the recesses of our minds ever since we started last April. My instructor remains calm and professional.


In my 7 hours flying time, he’s having me fly the plane more every day. I’m getting smoother and better coordinated at turns, stall recoveries, spin recoveries, flying the Grider Field landing pattern, and maintaining correct altitude. To be an Army Air Corps pilot, you can’t be a sloppy flier!             


The Commercial Appeal, in Memphis, Tennessee, on Monday morning, January 24, 1944, said: “NEW ALLIED LANDINGS REPORTED IN ‘LEFT HOOK’ ASSAULT ON ROME.” Allied forces exploiting a surprise “left hook” invasion south of Rome have punched several miles inland, headquarters announced Sunday, while Axis broadcasts told of new landings along an 80-mile stretch from the Tiber to the Gaeta just behind the Germans’ trans-Italian line.


Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “200 MARAUDERS LASH NAZI MYSTERY COAST.” Medium and fighter bombers officially numbered at “several hundred” and including more than 200 B-26 Marauder bombers blasted Nazi mysterious installations in the Pas de Calais area and two airfields in France and Holland Sunday. German fighters refused the challenge of American P-47 Thunderbolts sweeping over Northern France. The Marauders dropped over 300 tons of bombs.


“AVIATION CADET KILLED” – A cadet from Jackson, Mississippi, was killed Friday in an airplane crash at the Malden, Mo., Army Air Corps training airfield.


January 25, 1944:

Yesterday in reading the “Poop Sheet” on the bulletin board outside the administration building, regarding afternoon flying this week, we knew we’d be warmer in the cockpit. We had the usual blackboard maneuver explanations in the warm stage house.


The five of us are getting close to 8 hours flying time, which means in another hour or so dual, he will let us solo. We seem to be about the same, meaning he hasn’t chewed anyone out anymore than the other. Before a cadet solos, he must be able to recognize a stall and make a smooth recovery. This happens when the angle of climb is too steep. You can feel the plane shaking and quivering all over and the airplane seems to fall out of the sky. You practice at 2,500 feet or so to have the altitude to recover by stick forward and full throttle before it can go into a spin. Once you have air speed again, pull it out of the dive into straight and level flight, easing the throttle back to normal RPM.


Recognizing a stall is important in landing a plane because our instructor wants a gentle stall into a 3-point landing. I’m getting smoother with the stall series, but am bouncing the plane during landings. I need more practice. Our “touch and go” practice landings and take-offs have been at Long Auxiliary Field that is used for first solo flights.


Our instructor keeps emphasizing to swivel your head constantly to avoid getting killed in a mid-air collision.


The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on Wednesday morning, January 26, 1944, said: “GERMANS WITHDRAW FROM CASSINO TO AVOID ENTRAPMENT BY ALLIES; REDS SEVER NAZI FORCES IN NORTH.” American troops, throwing a new bridgehead across the Rapido River, reached Cassino Tuesday and found the Germans had abandoned that stronghold of their South Italian front.


Russian troops advanced into the outskirts of Krasnogvardeysk Tuesday while a few miles to the east, the Red Army broke the last direct rail link between the German forces southwest of Leningrad.


Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “TWO DAY JAP LOSSES AT RABAUL ADD UP TO 64 ZEROS AND ONLY 6 ALLIED PLANES MISSING.”


“FLIER’S BODY RECOVERED.” An aviation cadet and widely known young tennis player from Mississippi State has been recovered from a bomber trainer which crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. Nine were killed when the bomber and a fighter plane crashed, it was announced at Buckingham Army Air Field, Fort Myers, Fla.


January 27, 1944:

We had another big snow yesterday (Wednesday) and for two days we’ve been grounded and only taking academic classes. This snow is not the blizzard type snow of a week or so ago. Again, we’ve enjoyed it and the break in routine. There’s a large room off of the dining hall with chairs, reading material and two regulation-size ping pong tables, where I enjoy playing ping pong. The competition gets fierce!


January 30, 1944:

Today (Sunday) it rained all day and no flying, calling for more ping pong. We all flew Friday and Saturday after the snow began to melt. We broomed off the tails and wings again and made a very careful walk-around inspection of our instructor’s plane. I got almost an hour dual each day. My take-offs and landings are a lot smoother, and that’s about all we did. I think he was pleased. Once more we were at Long Auxiliary Field.


Some instructors are soloing their cadets. My instructor hasn’t soloed any of us. I feel like I’m ready and, probably, we all are. He’s being extra careful with his kids! He knows what he’s doing.


The Commercial Appeal in Memphis on Sunday morning, January 30, 1944, announced: “FRANKFURT HIT WAR’S WORST BLOW BY MORE THAN 800 U.S. BOMBERS; VIOLENT AIR BATTLES RAGE IN ITALY.”  The greatest armada of American heavy bombers ever sent into action – more than 800 Flying Fortresses and Liberators – flew through an almost solid corridor of escorting fighters Saturday and deluged high explosives, incendiaries and propaganda leaflets on the big German manufacturing and transport center of Frankfurt.


Another news headline from that day’s paper: “37 NAZI SHOT DOWN.” Allied air forces operating, literally, in swarms across the length and breadth of Italy in some of the greatest air battles of the war with the 37 German planes destroyed, bringing their two-day total to 87 enemy aircraft destroyed.


January 31, 1944:

This morning I woke up before the reveille bells. Here we live by the bells as we did at Preflight School. My thinking was that maybe today is the day I’ll get to fly this beautiful blue and yellow plane by myself.


After breakfast our squadron marched to the flight line. There was talk that if our instructor directed us again today to fly him to one of the auxiliary flying fields, it meant we were getting closer to soloing. There is not much air traffic on these small sod auxiliary fields and they are ideal for a cadet to fly from for his first solo flights.


We gathered around our flight instructor for the usual comments about the planned air work. Every minute in the air is valuable and not to be wasted. Each time we have specific goals. He told us that today we’ll do the usual air work and end with “touch and goes.” He told Joe to get into the cockpit and for Mister Shearer to crank, which meant I’d be second to fly. Over the nine months or so time in training, most of us had become sick of being “Mistered” by too many new second lieutenant tach officers; but something in the way my civilian flight instructor uses it in a non-derogatory manner, I don’t mind, nor do the others.


In about an hour, they landed and taxied up to the parking ramp and shut the engine down. Joe got out and our instructor motioned to me to crawl into the cockpit. I called contact to Louis, who was cranking as I turned the ignition switch on. Through the gosport, as I was taxiing for take-off runway position, parking at the 45-degree angle for visibility, he said, “Take us to Long Auxiliary Field and land.” Upon landing, he told me “to taxi to the end of the runway and let me out.” He got out on the wing and, leaning toward me, said, “Make three full-stop landings and come back to pick me up. You can fly this airplane by yourself now.”


I was surprised but highly exhilarated as I taxied into a take-off position, checked both left and right mags, then full throttle. Without the weight of my instructor, I was airborne much quicker. Flying around the pattern I, loudly, sang our Army Air Force song of “Off we go into the wild blue yonder, etc.” I felt like I belonged in this blue sky dotted with a few pretty white clouds floating in from the West. And I said a short prayer to have a successful solo flight.


My first landing was smooth. My second landing was bouncy, but as I taxied by my instructor, he waved me to go the third time. In the landing pattern again, I thought that I needed to be more relaxed and not be in such a hurry to be on the runway. For this third landing after lowering landing flaps, I eased the throttle, then the stick back and made an acceptable three-point landing. My instructor climbed in saying I did OK and for me to fly us back to Grider Field. Now, I’m no longer a dodo and can wear my goggles on my helmet when not flying, instead of around my neck.


In the warm stagehouse, Joe was excited about his solo flight. At the end of the day, the other two cadets and the first lieutenant had not soloed. My logged time at solo was at nine hours dual instruction.


The Pine Bluff Commercial in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on Tuesday, February 1, 1945, said: “ALLIED TROOPS ARE 16 MILES FROM ROME TODAY AS BIG DRIVE GAINS MOMENTUM.” General Clark’s Allied troops are bursting forward in a big offensive from their invasion beachhead and have struck the outskirts of Campoleone, only 16 miles southeast of Rome.


Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “RADIO SILENCE HIDES ACTION IN THE MARSHALLS.”  Invasion winds blow around pivotal Japanese base in the Central Pacific today.


Letter home:

February 1, 1944

Dear Mother and Dad, 

Yesterday, my instructor thought two of his students were ready to solo and your son was one of them. I’m still excited about it and, again, today (Tuesday), I did additional solo take-offs and landings for 16 minutes at Long Auxiliary Field. None of these flight instructors are too complimentary; but they’ll give us an earful if you’re not flying the precise military way. He only said, “I want to see a perfect 3-point landing each time.” That is what we’re all working to achieve.


Rain is forecast for all day tomorrow and no flying. We’ll still march around though to the academic classes and the 1½ hours P.T. in the gym. Give Norma a hug for me and tell her my news. Write soon.

Your loving son,  Wayne


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To see the previous entry in this series, read here.




* * * * *


Dr. Shearer can be contacted at docshearer@epbfi.com.

19-year-old Wayne Shearer in Pine Bluff in 1944
19-year-old Wayne Shearer in Pine Bluff in 1944

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