Flying T-28s in Georgia, Summer, 1959

In the summer of my second year at the academy, those of us in our class who were physically qualified were dispatched to various flying fields cross the American south to participate in what was called a pilot indoctrination program. For two weeks we received instruction in the North American T-28A. The idea was to make sure that we had the ability and motivation to complete the Air Force pilot training program, which for us was three years away.

To this point, I had flown in an actual airplane four times in the previous year (and in my life): once in a TWA Super Constellation, once in a T-33, once in a T-29, and once in an F-100. I lost my lunch on every flight except the Super Connie, so I had some doubts about how I would do.

I and ten of my classmates were assigned to Spence Air Base, located in Moultrie, Georgia, the flattest section of the state. Also one of the hottest. We were there in the middle of July. Our WWII-era barracks had no air conditioning, so we slept in a sweat. There were only four places where we could be relatively cool: the club, where we ate our meals; the school house, where we learned about the T-28 and its operating systems; the club’s swimming pool, which closed at nine PM; and in the T-28 above ten thousand feet.

Pilot Indoctrination Program, Spence Air Base, Moultrie, Georgia, July, 1959. Left to right: Me, Fred Sykes, Paul Pirtle, George Lyddane, Dick Schoof, Scott Seward, E. C. Newman, Leonard Wright, Tom Kennedy, Charlie Price, Dick Mangold.

The T-28 was a single engine, propeller-driven low wing trainer. At the time I flew it, it was soon to be phased out of active use as a training aircraft in the Air Force.

North American T-28A

The first time my instructor, Mr. Craig, let me try to make the takeoff in the T-28, I almost put us in the weeds on the left side of the runway.

“Right rudder! Right rudder, Mr. Vaughan! You got to counter the torque!”

I put the right rudder pedal all the way to the stops. Because I had not adjusted my seat, I had to slide down in my seat to apply full right rudder. As a result, I had trouble seeing the centerline of the runway.

“I got it!” he said, disgustedly, from the rear cockpit.

The nose of the aircraft snapped to the right and soon lifted up. I adjusted my seat as best I could. Now I sat higher and closer to the instrument panel.

“Think you can manage it now?” he called.

“Yes, sir!” I grabbed the stick and waggled it.

“You got it. Now raise the gear and take us out to the practice area.”

I loved that aircraft. Bubble canopy. Great visibility in every direction. You could sit high in the seat and see the whole world. Rural Georgia looked much more appealing from the air than it did from the ground. Retractable gear. Flaps.

Enter the pattern high over the runway, pitch out to the left, medium bank, roll out in the opposite direction, lower the gear, flaps, descending turn back to the runway heading. Back pressure. Flare over the numbers. Hold it off. Touch down on the main gear. Let the nose wheel down, not too hard.

I had eight hours in the aircraft, air work, traffic pattern practice. I could have soloed the aircraft, but the program allowed dual flying only.

When the program ended, I knew I could succeed in pilot training.