Earning Their Stripes

Sorting the Wheat From the Chaff; Basic Flight Training

An artist’s rendition of a recall Stearman bringing the student pilots and their instructors back to base to avoid the impending bad weather

USN & USAAF Flight Training in WW2

USN and USAAF flight training began with Primary training taking ten weeks. Up to 40% of candidates failed to make the minimum 8hrs of supervised flight instruction and washed out of Flight Training in this period. To accomplish this, the aircraft both the USN and the USAAF employed for this task was the PT-17 Kadet made by the Stearman Airplane Corporation.

United States Navy NS-1s of the NAS Pensacola Flight School, 1936.

Primary training taught pilot candidates how to fly; how to take off, land, basic manoeuvres. How not to crash, but also visual flight, basic instrument flying, an. introduction to aerobatics, radio instrument navigation, formation flying and culminates with several solo flights.

United States Navy N2S-2 at NAS Corpus Christi, 1943.

The Stearman was a perfect aircraft for this. Easy to fly, rugged and forgiving mistakes and hard landings, but sporty enough to give the candidates a taste for what they had signed up for.

Here’s a typical first flight experience…

When we get up pretty high the instructor tells me that I’m in control and that he’ll tell me what to do.  He tells me to move the stick with more “pressure” than motion right and left and forward and back to get the feel of the controls.  Then he tells me to move the rudder with my feet, right then left.  We are to make some gentle turns.  Left turns are simple.  Just pressure the stick a bit to the left.  The left wing drops into a bank and the plane starts to turn left.  With the engine turning the airplane tends to turn left so the rudder wasn’t even necessary.  When I come back to level I use a little opposite pressure on the stick and a little push on the rudder pedal.  To go to the right requires the stick to be moved a bit to the right and right rudder applied for a coordinated turn.  After turning right and left a few times it was easy.  The instructor tells me that I can determine a 45 degree bank instantly as one of the bracing wires is at a 45 degree angle so when I lay that wire flat on the horizon I’ll be at 45 degrees.  That’s a neat little trick only us pilots know.  After a few turns I have the feel. I can fly!

“First Flight” by Hugh T. Harrington

Recall Aircraft

One of the features, or lack thereof enjoyed by the candidate pilots and their instructors was the Stearman’s lack of radio. In most circumstances this was not a problem but in the event of bad weather the candidates needed to brought back to the airfield with some haste. To accomplish this, each unit had one or more recall aircraft with distinctive paint schemes for easy air to air recognition.

It didn’t always end well…

Revell 1/48 Stearman PT-17 Kadet

Revell’s Stearman is a truly great kit. The fit and engineering is intuitive and very crisp and this is supported by an excellent manufacturing quality.
The interior builds up very nicely to quite a high level of detail. While Eduard does produce an upgrade set for this kit, there’s little to justify using it in my opinion.
My first choice of subject was this one; it’s been through an interesting time (a tree by the look of it] and there are markings available on a couple of after-market decal sheets. But, despite its obvious attraction in terms of an interesting story and painting challenge, it paled in comparison when I saw the pictures below…
Masking was a little tedious but not overly difficult. I had to mask for the national insignia as [at the time I thought] I didn’t have any suitable markings with a white outline. as pictured here, all that remained of the main paint scheme was the fin and rudder.
Decalling posed a little bit of a problem, particularly the U.S. Navy on each side of the fuselage. Readers will no doubt spot that I had to make a compromise between how the actual aircraft was marked and how I would execute it. I simply could not find a way to outline the letters such that they would match the photo. The “9” and “7” were also a slight compromise as the decals I used were larger than ideal but did have the required outline. (I’m sure the subtle irony that they are in fact Luftwaffe numbers would also cause a wry smile on the original pilots of this one).
The stars and bars were in the end decals; I found some of the correct size with a white outline which tidied up the look (as I hadn’t done a perfect job of painting the white outline in the first place.
As usual, I failed to take many in-progress shots of the final assembly and finish. Sorry!

References and Credits

Copyright:  I claim original work and Copyright 2020 for the text in this article and the photos of the model.  As usual though, I am indebted for the material used in research listed above in the References and Credits section. Except where noted otherwise, I sourced all other images and photos from the internet and are used under fair-use.  Any copyrighted images will be removed or credited forthwith upon request by its rightful owner.

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