Flying was something I never thought I'd ever do. It was for rich people. I never even considered it until I stumbled into it.
I was approaching high school graduation. My dad would have paid for me to go to college, but I could see the writing on the wall. I was tired of school and had no driving interests for any particular major. With my attitude back in those days, I figured I would be wasting time and money. I did want to do something worthwhile though.
I knew how to scuba dive. I thought learning to be a commercial diver could be an enjoyable and worthwhile occupation. The movie "Men of Honor" detailing the true story about the first black Navy diver would not be released until many years after my decision making process, but I thought the Navy would be a could place to discuss the possibilities of meeting my goal. I also thought it was a good idea to let the Navy pay me to learn what I wanted to do, so I contacted a Navy recruiter.
The Navy recruiter paid me a visit at my dad's house. We sat in the living room as I told him what I was interested in doing. I have a pragmatic streak and wanted to focus on commercial diving knowing it could be something I could continue to do after leaving the military.
The Navy recruiter told me that they had more combat divers than commercial divers. He said that if I was really interested in being a commercial diver I should talk to the Army because they use more commercial divers than the Navy does. Before he left he told me a story about being on a helicopter that picked up a team of Navy Seals. The Navy Seals had captured a large lizard and took it on the helicopter alive with them. After boarding they ate the lizard alive for lunch in his presence. As a high school kid full of testosterone I thought that was a cool story, but I still wanted to be practical so I contacted an Army recruiter.
The Vietnam War was going hot and heavy in those days. The majority of people I talked to tried to dissuade me from joining the military. I met a man that had been an Army diver. He told me that he had cleaned more toilet bowls than having chances to dive. I met another man that told me that if I was serious about joining the military I should at least try to go in as an officer because officers had an easier go of things. That piece of advice caused me to ask my Army recruiter what it took to become an officer.
The Army recruiter told me that normally it took a college degree, but they just happened to have this high school to flight school warrant officer program. If I tested out okay I would get a written guarantee that the Army would send me to flight school. That did not mean that they would guarantee that I'd pass, but I would have the opportunity. And, if I did complete flight school they would make me a warrant officer upon graduation. That sounded like a good deal to me. So we started the paperwork.
I really lucked out with the Army recruiter I had. Sgt Copeland. He was a straight shooter, and a man of honor. Many kids wanting to fly would approach Army recruiters and ask about Army Flight School only to be told that if they enlisted for crew chief training they would then have a better chance of being selected for flight school after completing crew chief school. That was really a bunch of bull. The paperwork for crew chief school was easier on a recruiter than the paperwork for Army Flight School. A lazy recruiter could fill his quota easier. Fortunately Sgt Copeland's integrity was intact and if flying was meant to be my destiny, Sgt Copeland was a major player in sending me on my way.
I passed my medical examination which amounted to a first class physical. I passed my FAST (Flight Aptitude Selection Test) with only two points of gravy. A long serious of questions involved looking at an attitude indicator and determining from the attitude indicator what the aircraft was doing. This picture shows an aircraft banking right in a slight descent. Halfway through the series of questions I realized I was looking at the attitude indicator wrong. It was a timed test and I didn't have time to go back and correct my answers, so I simply answered the remaining questions in what I now thought was the correct manner. Two points of gravy is still passing, so I cleared that hurdle.
I then had a review board that I had to sit before consisting of Army aviators who ask you a series of questions. After the review board was complete, one of the officers told me that when I first opened my mount they thought they were dealing with someone with an IQ of about 2. I have a strong southern accent. The officer also told me that it didn't take long for them to realize that their first impression wasn't the case. They all gave me high marks.
I cleared my other hurdles, background investigation etc., and received my written guarantee that I would be sent to Army Flight School before I ever had to sign an enlistment obligation. Once having the written guarantee in hand I signed an obligation for if I remember correctly was 6 years.
I was on my way...
I had to complete basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana before going to Army Flight School, but if things continued well I would get my opportunity to try to become an Army Aviator...
My personal destiny for better or worse was set in motion.
Hope you enjoyed this tall tale...ciao