Testimony of Pilot (7): Frederick Trapnell – Test Pilot at War

Testimony of Pilot #7

Aeroplane testing . . . demands for satisfactory results the highest training. It occupies no special place by virtue of this—it merely comes into line with the rest of engineering. Now, one can learn to fly in a month . . . but an engineer’s training requires years. It is evidently necessary, therefore, that engineers—men with scientific training and trained to observe accurately, to criticize fairly, to think logically—should become pilots, in order that the development of aeroplanes may proceed at the rate at which it must proceed if we are to hold that place in the air to which we lay claim—the highest. 
CAPTAIN William S. Farren, British Royal Aircraft Factory, 1917


1) 1933, Trap in F9C Sparrowhawk testing the trapeze recovery system on the airship USS Macon; 2) jet testing; 3) book cover; 4) April 1943, first naval aviator to fly a jet – the Bell P-59A Airacomet at Muroc

Remembering the sky trajectories from Kill Devil Hill to Paris to the Battles of Britain and Midway, to transcontinental airlines and to the edge of the atmosphere and eventually the Moon are the truest “this is no s…t” stories of so many great men and women. They were not only brave risk takers and great “sticks” but extraordinary engineers using aircraft as their data sources and computers in a continual effort to stretch the envelop of flight.

And so (more later) this second chapter takes its characterization as “harnessing the sky.”  Below are excerpts from the book of that title telling the story of the test pilot who led naval aviation out of bi-planes to the airwings that won the war in the Pacific, and along the way became the US Navy’s first jet pilot, then founding the Navy Test Pilot School. With way too many critical stories for a complete picture of Trap, specific focus here is on his crucial role in the design and testing of the F4U Corsair of WWII and Korean War fame. TINS

Making the F4U Corsair a Combat Star

Harnessing the Sky:
Frederick “Trap” Trapnell, the U.S. Navy’s Aviation Pioneer, 1923-1952

by Frederic M. Trapnell Jr. and Dana Trapnell Tibbits

Since when were Navy test pilots redesigning their aircraft? Continue reading

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Testimony of Pilot (6): Charles Lindbergh – THE Flight

Testimony of Pilot #6

An experienced aviator through his own eyes seeing and telling another aviator’s story of a dark and stormy night over the ocean most certainly more than qualifies for a “this is no s…t” testimony. With more night flying and night carrier landings than I ever needed, the selection from Dan Hampton’s THE Flight really strikes home and is spot on for this series.


THE Flight Chapter Six – Excerpts

by Dan Hampton

… THE LAST GATE is closing behind me. I’ve reached the point where real navigation must begin.

… as Slim stares out at the lonely black Atlantic, New York seems another world: chatting with the mechanics in the drafty hangar, eating a hot meal, writing letters. Right now it’s after 8 P.M. back in New York and there are folks dressed for dinner, or off to see a Broadway show, as he had done the night before takeoff. Others would be visiting with family, as he had the prior week. Arriving from Detroit, Lindbergh’s mother, Evangeline, had spent May 14 on Long Island, then left, satisfied that her son knew what he was doing. How strange was the fate that had put him here. Now he was alone in this frail cotton-and-steel cocoon over a dark ocean while millions of others around the world were warm and safe. People were doing all those mundane tasks that constitute most of life, and are so seldom appreciated unless one realizes it can all be lost. In his case, very quickly. Would anyone remember him? His whole life summed up in a few lines of newsprint to be read, then forgotten.

Shifting and stretching, Slim checks the gauges again. Continue reading

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Testimony of Pilot: Chapter One – Of Dragons and Ghosts

Testimony of Pilot #5

And like no other sculpture in the history of art,  the dead engine and dead airframe come to life at the touch of a human hand,  and join their life with the pilot’s own. When you believe in something as true as the sky you’re bound to find a few friends.
Richard Bach


Corsair II Dusk Delivery by Peter Chilelli

With the four previous articles this concludes the first chapter of a new series for Remembered SkyTestimony of Pilot is intended as anthology of TINS, memorable quotes, and story-telling art.

Dedicated to Max – Navy flyer, Champ, great husband/father/grandfather, unforgettable friend, and
the best story teller ever

Everyone at one time or another stumbles across something or someone that sends their mind cascading back in time to people and events that have shaped their lives. Aviators in particular are notorious for that instantaneous hands in the air “and their I was, flat on my back, running out of airspeed, altitude and gas… but here’s what I did…” – airshow time at the bar. Late 1999 I experienced that moment when daughter Tracey – made in Hong Kong 1972 in the midst of the war over Vietnam – announced she was bringing home for Christmas 1999 an F-14 Tomcat type naval aviator. The result was really my first effort at story telling by actually  writing – The Ghosts of Christmas Past…Fly Navy, the BEST Always Have. Continue reading

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Testimony of Pilot: Sightings – American Dragons

Testimony of Pilot #4

Sometimes no matter whether the words of a Hemingway or any author, no matter how skilled, the complete essence of story  just can’t be captured  as well as on the artist canvas. Sometimes the event itself precludes the photograph, or  in combat aviation particularly, I think the dynamics sometimes prevent  complete recall of the pilot in sufficient detail. But with only minor information the imagination and talent of the artist can bring that story to life or indeed stand by itself as the telling. Peter Chilelli used that talent to recreate my memories of that first Alpha Strike and THE SAM near the Than Hoa Bridge in early May 1972.


He has now graciously volunteered use of his art for the Testimony of Pilot seriesWhere story and his art are in sync his work will be a major aspect of this series. Below are several examples of Peter’s aviation art as the story. His work can be found at Fine Art America.

The aviation storytelling of Peter Chilelli

“I am a dragon.  America the beautiful, like you will never know”

Continue reading

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Testimony of Pilot: “I Am a Dragon, America the Beautiful Like You Will Never Know”

Testimony of Pilot#3

From AIRSHIPS; Testimony of Pilot

by Barry Hannah

… Through Lilian I got the word that Quadberry was out of Annapolis and now flying jets off the Bonhomme Richard, an aircraft carrier headed for Vietnam.


 He telegrammed her that he would set down at the Jackson airport at ten o’clock one night. So Lilian and I were out there waiting. It was a familiar place to her. She was a stewardess and her loops were mainly in the South. She wore a beige raincoat, had red sandals on her feet; I was in a black turtleneck and corduroy jacket, feeling significant, so significant I could barely stand it. I’d already made myself the lead writer at Gordon-Marx Advertising in Jackson. I hadn’t seen Lilian in a year. Her eyes were strained, no longer the bright blue things they were when she was a pious beauty. We drank coffee together. I loved her. As far as I knew, she’d been faithful to Quadberry.

He came down in an F-something Navy jet right on the dot of ten. Continue reading

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Testimony of Pilot: “I’ll Remember”

Testimony of Pilot #2

by Richard L. Newhafer

I remember the things of the past four years. They are as much a part of me now and forever as my very soul. The years of my life may be many or may be few, but I’ll remember . . .


VF-6 Hellcat on the USS Hancock
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Richard L. Newhafer  for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron SIX (VF-6), attached to the U.S.S. HANCOCK (CV-19), in a strike against major units of the enemy fleet, including aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers and destroyers, in Kure Harbor, Japan, on 25 July 1945.

I’ll remember a glistening bar atop the El Cortez in San Diego in September of 1943, cloudy with cigarette smoke and noisy with a hard and forced laughter. I remember the gold wings and battle ribbons on the chests and Bates sitting beside me looking westward out over the sea.

‘Well, Batesy, tomorrow we go. A week from today we’ll be in it. So tonight we either get drunk or go to church. What’ll it be?’ And Bates smiled and ordered a drink for the house. Continue reading

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Testimony of Pilot: Of the Telling of TINS and the Avoidance of Lawyers

Testimony of Pilot #1

You love a lot of things if you live around them, but there isn’t any woman and there isn’t any horse, nor any before nor any after, that is as lovely as a great airplane, and men who love them are faithful to them even though they leave them for others. A man has only one virginity to lose in fighters, and if it is a lovely plane he loses it to, there his heart will ever be.
Ernest Hemingway

spitfire_Barry Clark

Spitfire by Barrie Clark

This Ernest Hemingway quote is from an article he wrote for Collier’s when he was their correspondent in London during World War II. Titled “London Fights the Robots”, it’s about the R.A.F. effort to shoot down incoming buzz bombs. – From the book, By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, a compilation of much of his journalism – It can certainly be supposed Hemingway was characterizing one of the most beloved aircraft in history from the Battle of Britain.

With this note Remembered Sky begins a new series Testimony of Pilot. The intent is to provide an anthology of aviation TINS (“this is no shit” as contrasted with “once upon a time”) stories, some by me some by others. Focus is good stories in general rather than digging into Vietnam or WW II or airpower concepts, etc.  As to those by others, a major factor is to prevent some really good TINS from being lost within the vastness of Google or lost forever through the passage of time. Continue reading

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; (Part 11+) – “Why Is China’s Navy Studying the Battle of Guadalcanal?”

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 11+

The National Interest magazine recently published Why Is China’s Navy Studying the Battle of Guadalcanal? by Lyle J. Goldstein a research professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. The following provides key excerpts and  points. The original article can be found here.

China’s military has not had much combat experience in recent decades, and this is recognized among Chinese military leaders as a potentially serious problem. The reasons for this scarcity of battlefield know-how are obvious and might even be praise-worthy. It has been nearly four decades since Beijing undertook a significant military campaign, so how would its armed forces have attained this knowledge? 

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has sought to remedy its lack of actual combat experience by the careful study of military history, including the bloody Pacific War … Continue reading

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TOPGUN – Book Recommendation (2)

Highest recommendation for Dan Pedersen’s (CAPT. USN, Ret) just released book TOPGUN; An American Story

Topgun… we sent our people out there not trained for dogfighting. We sent the aircraft out there not equipped for dogfighting… and we got into nose-nose combat situations where neither the guy flying the airplane nor the airplane itself had ever fired a missile.  Further, based on the expected nature of air war and our technical developments to intercept bombers at long range, we have lost expertise and continuity in ‘being dogfighters’ … there is a need to establish a fighter weapons school to reverse this trend and to eliminate aircrew and ground personnel error…. The Ault Report (1968)

Book reviews for historical works are mostly written by other authors, historians, or folks with significant knowledge of the subject matter, in this case naval aviators, TOPGUN graduates or instructors. Captain Pedersen’s new book timed with the 50th anniversary of the first Navy Fighter Weapons School class has received many excellent and well deserved reviews, so here I’ll take a slightly different tack.

For me there are four significant threads woven into this anniversary book: Continue reading

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Scream of Eagles – Happy Birthday TOPGUN (1)

As the first of two parts recognizing 50 years of training fighter pilots/instructors the below is a modified version of the article written for TOPGUN’s 40th anniversary and serves as introduction for a book review of TOPGUN; An American Story by Captain Dan Pederson USN, Retired, the founder and  first Officer -In -Charge.


Fifty years ago,  the first Fighter Weapons School -TOPGUN – class  was in their second week of“graduate level” fighter pilot education and training in an old trailer next to the  VF-121 hangar at Naval Air Station Miramar. (3 March 1969 start date) They were there because eagles screamed. Continue reading

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