Office Training School (OTS) was a bit of culture shock for me though it wasn’t all that difficult to get adjusted to a rigorous and well defined schedule. Most the guys in my training flight were bootstrappers — enlisted personnel who had been offered the opportunity to join the officer corp. In fact, as I recall the average length of my classmates’ prior service was somewhere in the range of 12 years. There might have been a civilian type like myself in the group but if there was I can’t recall his name.
Once I completed Officer Training School at Medina AFB, TX, I was assigned to Undergraduate Navigation Training (UNT) at Mather AFB, CA. Upon graduation from that program seven months later, I transferred to Navigator Bombardier Training (NBT). It was during that latter assignment that I found myself for the first time in my life really dedicating myself to my studies because we were told that the top student in our class would be given the opportunity to take an FB-111 slot.
For those unfamiliar with the military aircraft of the day, the FB 111 (a swept wing strategic fighter) was the dream machine for alpha males. Sitting second seat, navigators not only navigated the plane and managed weaponry but by necessity were required to learn how to fly and land the aircraft as well.
Well, the hard work paid off when I learned that I had, indeed, ended up at the top of my class. I remember that day quite well because I was called into the training commander’s office to be congratulated on my achievement. When I entered I was introduced to some Colonel who had flown in from Strategic Air Command HQ to promote his Baby Radar program.
B-52s required the presence of two navigators — the navigator who basically told the pilot where to go and the more senior radar navigator (bombardier or RN) who was responsible for the delivery of weapons once the crew got in the vicinity of its intended target(s).
As one might imagine, I was not just a little devastated to learn that the FB 111 slot had been taken away and that the Colonel was there not to congratulate me but to sell me on the idea of taking a radar navigator slot to K.I. Sawyer, MI. When I asked for an explanation regarding the withdrawal of the FB 111 assignment, the Colonel made it clear that I was not due an explanation and then proceeded to tout his pet project.
After a sleepless night I joined my classmates to participate in the long awaited assignment selection process. The commander, playing to the assembly and feigning ignorance about the selection order, eventually called upon me to make my choice. “Wright Patterson,” I said taking an introductory level navigator slot instead of opting to participate in the Colonel’s program. My decision was followed by the sound of the classroom door closing abruptly behind us. I assume it was the Colonel because he was no where to be seen after the final assignment had been handed out.