Rushville Republican

March 15, 2013

Ward: Flying the Gooney Bird

Bill Ward
Rushville Republican

RUSHVILLE — I am always pleased to hear that I have helped someone through one of my columns. Norm Voiles e-mailed me that he and another friend were in a quandary about a name for an airplane he had flown on once. My last week’s article about a DC-3 answered that question for him. I had been able to fly one of those particular type of planes, which I bet Norm hasn’t. Way back when I attended Butler University and was a member of the Air Force ROTC unit I got two opportunities to fly on and to fly the military DC-3 called the C47. We flew out of Bakalar Air Force Base in Columbus, Ind., part of Camp Atterbury.

I only attended Butler for two years, but both of those years I had the opportunity through the ROTC to fly to West Palm Beach, Fla. and the second year to Castle Air Force Base in California. I had been in the US Army Junior ROTC in my high school in La Jolla, Calif. for all four years so the AFROTC was not my first time out. While I was in California through the JROTC I was able to spend a full day running around the Pacific Ocean on a destroyer, which was a lot of fun. Also, we had short trips to Army facilities as well as Navy and Air Force facilities close by. But Butler and flying around was the best of the lot.

My first year during Spring Break a few of the cadets had the opportunity of flying to West Palm Beach for several days. The pilots of the unit had to keep their flying status by flying so much each month. This was one way they kept their flight pay, which was pretty good. So, to keep their flying status they would take these trips and often would also take some of the students along for the ride. My first trip to West Palm Beach Air Force Base was very interesting and lots of fun. We flew there and on the way down and back each of the cadets had the opportunity of flying the Gooney Bird (the C47 military nick name) for a time. Now, the Gooney Bird was one easy to fly plane and one that would be able to have a lot of mistakes and still stay in the air. This was one reason we got a chance to basically guide the huge plane under very close supervision.

We landed at West Palm and were put up in the Bachelor Officers Quarters. We were also allowed the use of the Officers Club, which for a bunch of college students was really a big deal. Our instructors had made arrangements for us to be taken to the beach in Lake Worth close to West Palm. Each morning the bus would take us to the beach and then pick us up later in the afternoon. We had the entire day to ourselves to enjoy in any way we wanted. Funny, this was years later when I got married and we spent our honeymoon at my new wife’s parent’s trailer in Lake Worth; we spent a lot of time at that same beach. Over the years we spent a lot of time in Lake Worth and enjoyed in greatly.

Next year we had a huge treat. We flew to California with a stop in Las Vegas. The C47 was not pressurized and needed fuel to make it that far. We left Columbus and flew to Las Vegas, getting there in the late afternoon. Arrangements had been made with The Sands Casino Hotel for us to stay there overnight. We had a medium sized bungalow for all of the cadets to stay in. Some were over 21, legal drinking age, so we had those order some booze for the whole group. The only thing we got was the Colonel, who told us good try but no booze. The next day we left and flew to Castle Air Force Base.

We got to California again in the late afternoon and were put up at the BOQ for our stay. We again were allowed to use the Officers Club without booze if we cared to. The next day we got up early and were ushered into a bus with blacked out windows and an armed guard in front and one in back. We had neither idea what was going to happen nor where we were going. We were warned, heavily warned, what we were to see was something that we must not speak about to anyone. That got our attention. We then proceeded to the flight line of the base and had the opportunity of doing something that in 1957 was a big deal; we got to tour a B52.

We could not take pictures or anything else about the tour. It was a new, at the time, air plane and something not everyone got to see, let alone tour. The armed guards and all of us were escorted to the big plane, to me a huge plane. My first thought was how in the world did that thing get airborne? It was huge. We got to get into the plane and the pilot and copilot were there to answer questions that they could for us. We were in awe and spent almost the entire day there with that big bird. Little did we think that in 2013 that particular type of air plane would still be flying and a main stay of our bomber force. We got to fly the C47 and tour the B52 and a trip to California. Man, what a spring break!