Thursday September 24, 2020


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Dan Johnson's
Light-Sport Aircraft

Flattop Army Aviator

In West Texas, where it precipitated only every third May, large collections of water existed only as mirages, and children on those barren plains marveled when granddads in rocking chairs told those youngsters about the one time when it actually rained two days in a row. Since water there was such a precious commodity, children weren’t taught how to swim; there was no need. Furthermore, in order to prevent youngsters from polluting the few, small bodies of water that did exist, they were encouraged to avoid those bodies. Adults told them stories of drownings and other watery hazards that convinced youngsters that bodies of water were more dangerous than rattlesnakes. Consequently, according to my mindset, flying over water was as terrifying a thought as Prohibition.

So, instead of becoming a Navy pilot, I became an Army helicopter aviator. But I felt this was no second-rate outcome. On the contrary, I was grateful that fate placed me in this position of superiority among all aviators.

We Delta Devils of the 235th Aerial Weapons Company sometimes supported Navy Riverine Operations, and I surmised that it came to someone’s attention—likely some official whose job bore the heavy responsibility of deciding whether a sheaf of papers placed on his desk ought to be bound together by a paper clip or a staple—that because these operations used an LST as an offshore support craft, there could be times when we might be called upon to park a Cobra or two on an Navy LST. Then this official must have found a regulation somewhere stating that pilots had to be instructed and qualified in order to perform such a feat.

Only a few of us Devils were selected for this LST instruction. It appeared to me the Army selected us because we were the ones who had the most flying time; that is, we were the ones nearing the end of our tours and hadn’t yet been eradicated. I suspected the Army, holding that against us, must have sought other opportunities to get its money’s worth out of us, and since we had proven so resistant to the Army’s normal means of accomplishing our demise, it must have seized upon this instructional requirement to collaborate with its sister service, the Navy, to serve that end. And, thus, from these precepts, the adventure began.

For our instruction, we were told that we would receive a ground school (or was it a water school?) on Navy aviation operations, followed by flight instruction involving landing on, and taking off from, an LST.

Late one afternoon, the Army gathered us together, and a Navy officer, not even an aviator, conducted the school, beginning with Navy terminology, explaining things like “port”, “starboard”, and “poop deck”.

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