Aviation Officer Candidate School and Initial Flight Training
"Not everyone who starts AOCS will finish. Twenty-four percent of those arriving at
AOCS will drop in the first week!"
In the late 1960's, there were a number of different paths toward becoming a naval officer and then entering U.S. Navy Flight School at NAS Pensacola – among them, the U.S. Naval Academy, NROTC, the NavCad and AVROC programs.
My vehicle to Pensacola (aside from my 1963 Rambler) was the Aviation Reserve Officer Candidate (AVROC) program.
"Through These Doors Walk The Future Of Naval Aviation"
As an AVROC, I attended Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS) in Pensacola (the "Annapolis of the Air") during each of the summers following my sophomore (1966) and junior (1967) years of college at Creighton University. To my surprise, the training was done by experienced, hard core, and tremendously intimidating Marine Corps Drill Instructors, who along with our extreme physical training in high heat and oppressive humidity, put us under tremendous stress and pressure. Indeed many candidates dropped out during the first few days of training. But what excellent and most challenging training it was!
Then, upon college graduation in 1968, I was that summer commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy,
and returned once again to the "Cradle of Naval Aviation," NAS Pensacola, to commence naval flight school. I had passed a major challenge, but many more difficult challenges lay ahead.
After commissioning, my aviation journey got off to an inauspicious start when traveling in the summer of 1968 from my farm home near Anamosa Iowa, to initial flight training in Pensacola, my old green "college car " finally died in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. However, within a few weeks like most new Ensigns, I would be driving a shiny new sports car, fresh off the lot... and in debt.
We would be brought into an auditorium. Then an Officer would say: "Take a look at the man on either side of you. One of you is not going to make it." - Meaning not getting his wings.
Following a few short weeks of pre-flight ground school at "Mainside" NAS Pensacola, it was only a few miles up the road to NAS Saufley, VT-1, and basic T-34B flight training. Finally, after two summers of AOCS (Aviation Officer Candidate School) and another summer in ground school, in the fall of 1968, I would finally fly.
As I eagerly approached the main gate to check in, a T-34 crashed just behind me into the golf course, well short of the runway.
As I would later learn, this rude welcome to a new duty station would unfortunately be repeated a number of times. Naval Aviation of that period had a real and palpable element of danger.
With only 16 hours in the T-34, and no prior flying experience, I soloed on October 4, 1968. Then after 20 days and a total of 25 flight hours in the T-34B, I had to follow a choice for further training: Props or jets?
I chose jets based as much upon what my friends had decided as my own desire. Very soon I would realize what an excellent choice that was!
Nevertheless, for jet training I unfortunately had to leave the excitement and friends of
Pensacola for VT-7 in Meridian, Mississippi.
"A career Navy pilot faced a 23 percent likelihood of dying in an accident. This did not even include deaths in combat, which at that time with the war in Vietnam in progress, were catastrophically high for Navy pilots.... also there was a 56 percent probability exactly that at some point in his career a Navy pilot would have to eject from his aircraft and attempt to come down by parachute." Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
[Fortunately I beat the odds by not only not dying, but also never having to eject from any aircraft. Nevertheless, I did - with my life passing before my eyes - seriously reach for the ejection handle twice in my career, without actuating it.]
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