Robert's first airplane ride was when he was in high school. Hanging around the airport at Vicksburg and being useful long enough would sooner or later lead to an airplane ride. After high school, Robert attended Hinds Junior College for two full semesters and a summer semester. At the time, Hinds Junior College had a CAP program. Piper Cubs would come over from Vicksburg Municipal airport to a field near Hinds for CAP training. After WWII started, Robert tried to get into the CAP program but could not.
However, another option for flying appeared when the Navy and Army began recruiting at Vicksburg. Since both branches were recruiting, Robert had to decide which one to join. His choice was made when he found out that the Army couldn't guarantee a chance at a pilot program, but that the Navy would give the new recruits a chance at the pilot program. For the Navy, it was up to the recruit to make it or not. Also, the Army only trained its Aviators as pilots, navigators OR bombardiers, whereas the Navy trained its Aviators as pilots, navigator AND bombardiers. So in August of 1942, Robert joined the Navy.
Here's some photos of Uncle Robert checking out an old Vought Corsair at Pensacola.
The Navy sent him to pre-flight school at Athens, Georgia. After pre-flight school he went to Hensley field near Dallas, Texas where he soloed at Dallas Naval Air Station in the Navy N3N. (Note: these photos are shown as examples of the aircraft models flown by Uncle Robert not the particular aircraft he flew.) After his solo at Hensley field, he then moved to Grand Prairie where the rest of primary training was in the N2S Stearman. He flew a total of 85 hours in primary training.
After primary training, the next stop was Corpus Christi, Texas as a member of class 1C. (1943). There he took training in the Consolidated Vultee SNV-1 (also known as BT-13). It was at this time that he took instrument training in the back seat of the SNV.
While at Corpus Christi, Robert also flew the Vought-Sikorsky OS2U, Kingfisher. Robert said the OS2U was a bit on the heavy side, but stable. There was a fixed gear version of this aircraft also. "When you moved the controls it wasn't quick, but it was firm and when you landed it on land you had to mess up bad to make it bounce. I enjoyed what little time I had in it". It had a 450 hp Pratt & Whitney R-985 engine.
At Corpus Christi, Robert was assigned to Squadron 18A they flew Consolidated Vultee PBY-2, PBY-3, PBY-4, and PBY-5. These were all flying boats. He also flew the PBY-5A which had retractable landing gears. He also did night navigation training in the PBY-5A.
After Squadron 18A, he was then assigned to Squadron 18C where he flew the Beech SNB-1 and SNB-2, (known to the Air Force as AT-11). In the Navy flight training program the "aviators" were trained in all aspects of flying; including piloting, navigation, and bombadier duties. Some of the navigation training flights were as long as four hours.
Due to bad weather, his original graduation date of May 1 1943 from flight training school was postponed because he could not get the required night flight finished. He had expected to be the 4th pilot on a PBY or the Martin PBM. When he did graduate on June 6, 1943, he did not have any orders, so he got a 15 day leave and then reported to Atlanta.
At Atlanta, Robert attended instrument flight instructor school. Then from June to August 1943, he worked as an instrument instructor at Atlanta flying the Howard NH-1 (also known as DGA-15)
Then, it was back to Corpus Christi as an instructor in Squadron 13A for one year. From Corpus Cristi, he went back to Atlanta as an instructor until the end of the war.
Robert had a hair-raising experience one night with St. Elmo's Fire while on an IFR. He was instructing in a SNB. "We were coming back from Kansas City and we had stopped in Louisville, Kentucky on the way to NAS Atlanta. It was night; we were on IFR, and about 45 minutes in the flight we encountered heavy clouds with mild turbulence. At first, the propeller tips started to light up; soon the whole propeller was covered with a blue electric glow. Then the glow spread to the top of the wings and about ten to fifteen feet behind the wing. We turned the instrument lights up to full brightness just so we could read the dials. Keep in mind that we were still on full instruments as there were no breaks in the clouds. For over an hour, we were covered by two big blue balls on both sides."
For 3 to 5 months, he was stationed at Glencoe Naval Air Station, in Brunswick, Georgia. Here they were preparing aircraft to be sold to third world countries. While he was at Brunswick, Robert got to fly more interesting aircraft including the Grumman F6F (Wildcat), Curtiss SB2C, dive bomber, and the Grumman TBF torpedo bomber. In addition to readying the aircraft for sale, he was also instructing and flying the "Brass" around. They were dealing with problems having to do with closing down a number of bases which were not needed after the war. These various tasks kept him so busy, he didn't have time to catch a ride on one of the numerous Navy blimps that flew from Brunswick to Puerto Rico!While stationed at Brunswick, Robert noticed that there was always an abundance of rum. He found out how this came about on one trip to Key West. He had the assignment of taking three pilots to Key West. They flew a Grumman J4F-1 Widgeon. At Key West, they parked it under the wingtip of a R4D (Douglas DC-3). The next morning when Robert went to the airfield, Marines were guarding his Widgeon. He opened the cabin door and it was loaded with rum. Robert was informed that he would be at max gross weight. Unfortunately, they had not taken into account the fuel weight. Even after entering the runway with some forward speed, it took the whole runway to get off. Robert retracted the gears as soon as the tires broke the ground. He thinks that if the gears were not up, they would have hit the retainer wall at the end of the runway. Even so, they used max continuous power all the way to Miami never getting above 500 ft. While they had scheduled a fuel stop at Jacksonville, it turned out that there was enough fuel to make it to Brunswick. Since Robert thought he would never be able to take off at Jacksonville, he decided to continue on to Brunswick. For the landing, "Captain (RumRunner) Robert" carried a little power and greased it on. Captain RRR later states demurely that he "most likely" shared in the loot-- after all, the war was over!
While at Vicksburg in July of 1946, a funny thing happened. Robert had stopped over while ferrying a Grumman Widgeon from Brunswick, Georgia to Oklahoma. Horace Butler had an Aeronca C-3 at the Vicksburg Municipal Airport, which was Lawrence Bell's flying strip that was "shared" with some cows. Robert took the Aeronca C-3 for a flight. A few seconds after he broke ground, he felt a bump. Later, he found out from eye-witnesses (Horace and Ed) that a cow had ran in front of the C-3, the wheel had went down her back and knocked her to her knees. She got up and ran off. Apparently, Captain Robert was testing the theory that the visibility out the front of the Aeronca C-3 was as bad as advertised! On the same stop-over, Robert and Ed flew the Widgeon. Ed said he spent a whole week's pay putting gas in it. They didn't do any water landing though because the Navy had strict rules for cleaning any aircraft after any water operation.
Robert was discharged from the Navy August 9, 1946 at NAS Jacksonville, Florida.
in In September 1950, with some financial assistance from his sister Catherine, Robert bought a Piper PA-12, N2666M. He used it for instruction, charter, and anything else applicable. Catherine took some flying lessons in the PA-12.
When Graham aviation opened in Greenville, Ed and Robert applied for jobs and Ed went to work immediately as a Mechanic. Robert started there on May 1, 1951, the year he and Barbara got married. Robert instructed at Greenville for 1 year, accumulating 1200 to 1300 hrs in the back seat of T-6.
When the Korean War started, Robert went to Memphis, Tennessee. Once there, he was supposed to get a 30 hour refresher course in the SNJ (Navy version of the T-6) because the Navy didn't recognize any of his time in the Air Force T-6. With only 2 days at Memphis under his belt, he was called in by the chief flight officer. This was a little worrisome because it usually meant a person was in trouble. This time was different, however. The operations officer, chief flight officer, exec officer of unit, a Commander, etc were there and they wanted to talk about his instructor experience at Graham. They explained; "As a favor, would you work as an instructor here as well?". It was here that Robert got his 60 hours in by giving the other trainees their 30 hours--plus some.
At the same time Robert was at Memphis,Eddy should this spelling be Eddie?) Johnson was there also. Eddy Johnson was a pilot with the Army Corp of Engineers. He flew a Mallard which was based at Vicksburg. He and Robert rarely saw each other in Vicksburg, but in Memphis, they encountered each other often. Eddy was getting his 30 hour refresher course at Memphis also. He had mostly multi-engine time during the war.
Eddy suggested that they should apply to helicopter school as there had only been one helicopter pilot shot down, and he was rescued. So both Eddy and Robert applied for helicopter training. And, both were accepted. From Memphis, they went to Pensacola, Florida as a part of HGT (helicopter training group). Robert trained in the Bell HLT-2 (Bell Model 47D-1). Some of the Bells he flew during training had wheels, but most of the ones he flew later had skids or floats. The other Bells he flew were, HLT-4 (Bell Model 47D-1) and HLT-5 (similar to HLT-4 but powered with a 200 hp Franklin O-335-5). Robert also flew the HO3S-1, Sikorsky and the Hiller HTE.
After Pensacola, Eddy and Robert were both assigned to Helicopter Utility Squadron One (HU-1) in San Diego, California. Flying HO3S-1, Sikorsky, (powered by a 450 hp Pratt & Whitney). Robert also flew the twin rotor HTK-1 Kaman (powered by a 240 hp. Lycoming O-435). Another twin rotor Robert flew was the Piasecki HUP (powered by a Continental R-975)
After transferring to ALF Ream field in San Diego, Robert had trouble getting someone to check him out in the SNJ, because they didn't want to ride in the back seat. The standard way for checking someone out is for the instructor to ride in the back seat and the person being checked out is in the solo position which, in the case of the SNJ, is the front seat. Eventually, someone agreed to check him out, but they did not fly from the back seat. Because Robert had over a thousand hours in the back seat of a T-6 (Air Force version of a SNJ), flying from the back seat was OK with him. Even though the SNJ and T-6 are the same aircraft, the Navy did not recognize any of the 1200 hrs (or more), that he had in this type. With 1200+ hours in the SNJ, Robert's check ride was no problem. They did spins with hands-off recovery and three near-perfect landings. Then, they traded places and shoot a few more landings. The second series of landings were not as good as the first as Robert was not used to the perspectives in the front seat.
In the winter of 1953, while based at San Diego, Robert
was sent on a short assignments on the ice breakers
Burton Island (AGB-1). He was supposed to go on a long cruise to Korea, but due to Barbara's pregnancy, he got the short cruise to Alaska instead. Their son Butch was born in March of 1953. While on these assignments Robert was flying a utility helicopter, doing any flying which required a helicopter. Also a Coast Guard ice breaker, the Northwind went with them. Robert was not sure
what the object of this mission was, but there were some scientist-engineer
types on board studying the ice.
On this trip, Robert had two emergency landings. Fortunately, there were floating ice sheets large enough for an auto-rotation landing both times. Both emergencies were caused by water freezing in the fuel line. Here's a photo of Robert's crew on the Burton Island.
Here's a photo taken by Robert Feb 16, 1953 of the Ice Breaked Northwind (W-282) and another Bell, UP-7.
While stationed in Japan from July to October 1953, Robert was assigned to the carrier USS Sicily, CVE 118. On the Sicily, Robert flew the Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter. The Sicily was involved in anti-submarine warfare. The aircraft used were the Douglas AD Skyraiders. The carrier had one HO3S and two pilots. Robert's first rescue was a "blueshirt" (deck handler) who had jumped overboard. An aircraft had missed the wire and was coming into the barrier which goes back 100 feet or more. The blueshirt was behind the barrier and attempted to jump over the edge onto the catwalk below, but miscalculated and jumped too hard and went into the sea. Robert found him directly in the wake of the ship. "We picked him out of the water so fast, his shirt wasn't even wet! He couldn't swim but he was kicking so hard he was waist-high out of the water!" Here's a photo from the Navy Archives of a HO3S-1 helicopter making a rescue in 1951. The helicopter was always in the air when aircraft were landing or taking off. The rescue helicopters always flew the "angel" position, which was behind the carrier on the port side, at an altitude of 500 feet. This angel position was opposite the traffic pattern side of the carrier and at this position an aircraft on base leg would be pointing directly at the helicopter's position.
Robert said the HO3S-1 was a very reliable helicopter. For each rescue a pilot made in a Sikorsky helicopter, Sikorsky gave the pilot a Rescue pin and a certificate. By the end of his assignment on the Sicily, Robert had five of these pins.
Another one of Robert's rescues involved a Neptune P2V long range patrol aircraft. These planes were so loaded with fuel that they needed a long runway to get off. If they lost an engine early in their patrol before using a large quantity of fuel, the aircraft would go down because there was no way of dumping fuel. This P2V had lost an engine and landed about 3/4 mile from the carrier. Robert rescued 3 or 4 men, and another chopper got the other guys.
Robert made another trip to Alaska when the DEW-line (Distant Early Warning Line), a system of radar stations in Canada, Alaska, & Greenland were under construction. They had two choppers on the flagship USS Mt Olympus (AGC-8). Some of the other ice breakers had more choppers. Robert was flying a HLT-4, (Bell-47D-1) and he did any flying that needed a chopper from ferrying big shots around to delivering mail. In the cool dense air, the little Bells could carry a huge load. At one time, Robert carried 600 lbs of mail, which pretty much filled up the Bell. There was mail everywhere with just enough room for the pilot. Conversely, on a hot day in Corpus Christi, the little Bells would struggle with only a student and an instructor.
One day when Robert was returning to the Mt. Olympus and had just called "wet feet" (which meant he had crossed the shore line,) he heard a loud bang. The fan belt had broken, and cylinder head temperature had pegged, so he quickly made an auto-rotation landing on the deck. Since Robert had called in the problem, the mechanic had a jump on it and had a new belt on before Robert could get out of the helicopter! The engine started with a little reluctancy but when it did start, the cylinder head temperature dropped back to normal.
As one of the helicopter instructors who helped train numerous pilots, Robert also trained James F. "Skeets" Coleman, a Convair engineering test pilot. Coleman's primary goal however, was to get enough helicopter training generally to be able to test the Convair XFY-1 Pogo. The Convair was one of two tail-setting vertical take-off aircraft built in the mid 50's (the other was built by Lockheed). Because the Pogo stood on its tail, it flew like a helicopter in the vertical mode and as regular aircraft at all other times. In the vertical position, the pilot was literally on his back and could not see the ground; this was remedied by installing a large rear view mirror. Robert had the privilege of seeing the first flight from vertical to horizontal and back to vertical then landing. This took place at Brown Field on November 2, 1954. Robert said Coleman moved just a few feet off to the right and started to climb, when at about 25 feet he began to push the nose over. Coleman was warned not to exceed 200 kts, but after he started the transition to horizontal flight, the speed increased so rapidly that he could not get the power off and went over 200 kt. That was faster than the chase planes could go. He never used over 60% power on both of the flights. This aircraft is now part of the National Air and Space Museum collection.
After his last trip to Alaska, Robert went back to Pensacola as a helicopter instructor. There, on Aug 1 1958, he received a special commendation for more than 1000 hours of accident free helicopter instruction.
Once, while giving auto-rotation instruction in a HUP, they experienced a total power loss; since the student was not doing that good, Robert took over for the touch down.Robert left the Navy in June of 1959.
Now a civilian, Robert took a correspondence class in electronics, earning his Hamm radio license about 1954, with the call sign of K6IQD. He then got into the communications business at Madison, Mississippi. It seems that getting into this business was purely happenstance. Barbara's dad ran a grocery/service station business in Madison. While visiting on leave, Robert was repairing a radio which needed a capacitor. So, he went to the local radio shop; the shop owner said he did not have the necessary part, but that Robert could look through some junk radios for the capacitor. The part was found, the radio repaired, and the shop owner was so impressed he offered him a job. Robert ended up working for the shop owner installing two-way radios. By this time he had already gotten his second-class radio license. Robert did this work until about 1960.
For a short time while in Madison, he also flew a Hiller for the Forest Service.
Around 1960, Robert and family moved to Panama City, Florida and started J & S Communication. The "J" was for H. B. James which was Barbara's uncle. Robert retired on Dec 24, 1990.
Over the course of several years and numerous moves, Robert had lost all of his Sikorsky Rescue pins. For his 80th birthday, we were able to get a new pin from the Sikorsky Archives. The certificate and pin which was given to him at his birthday celebration (February 16, 2002). Here's two photos taken at Robert's birthday party.
Uncle Robert visiting Air Repair at Cleveland, MS Oct, 2002 with Uncle George and my father Ed.
Uncle George, Uncle Robert, My Father, and Aunt Cathrine at Oshkosh Fly-In,2003.
While visiting his son Terence in Oregon, August 2006, Robert was taken for a ride in the Cessna 172 that Terence learned to fly in.
Here’s some photo from Terence of Robert standing by some of the planes he flew at Spruce Goose museum, August 2006.
Here’s Robert at his 90th birthday, Feb 2012.