4/19/2012

Ivan the terrible?

Standing: Boggs, Murphy, Wheaton, Lindsley, Blair. Sitting: Hughes, Dunn.


In the previous blog, I mentioned that the brothers Hughes were students at Mineola, and that there is a wonderful book written about their experiences, which includes flying with Ivan.  They wrote many letters to their mother, and recounted their recollections regarding their flying careers.  I shouldn’t be too amazed, but it really is kind of thrilling to read historical accounts of your ancestors in books, even if it’s less than flattering of them.

In the book, the brothers recount that they began flight instruction in April of 1917.  Ivan’s logbooks document his promotion to Junior Flying Instructor on May 9th, and that Hughes was his 5th flight of that day.  He spent 22 minutes with him in tail number T176.  He makes no entry as to the type of machine, although it might be inferred that it was a JN-4B as he had mentioned before.  I’ve had feedback here that these ships could not have been JN-4Bs due to the dates in question, and I won’t argue that point, but may return to it if it becomes clear that Ivan was in error.  At the time he transcribed these logbooks, he was a Senior Civilian Flight Instructor, and had hundreds of hours in Jennys.

At any rate, Hughes recalled Ivan, whom he remembered as “Wil” and the men in Ivan’s first group of aviators.  Jerry recalls the time by saying…
My instructor was a young fellow named Wil Wheaton.  This lad probably didn’t have much more than fifteen total hours in the air when he started with us, and he was perhaps more afraid of flying than his students.  There were six of us who flew with him - Willis Boggs, Sid Murphy, David Lindsay, Shiras Blair and Mike Dunn. And me, of course.  Mike Dunn had the distinction of being the only member of the entire outfit to crack up a plane.  I remember how Wheaton kept a tight grip on the controls all the while I was with him. It was only when he soloed me, and I was alone in the air that I felt that I was flying the ship.  This experience with Wheaton taught me a lesson because later, when I was instructing, I put myself in the place of my cadets and after a short time with them I held up my hands so that they could see they were flying - not me.  The one flight control on those craft which could get you into real trouble was the rudder.  You worked that with your feet, of course, and so for awhile I kept my shoes close to the rudder bar - just in case.  When the student overcame his initial nervousness, he was in complete control.
A couple of things about this. First, Ivan had nearly 69 hours of flight instruction on May 9th, according to his logbooks, and nearly 2 hours the day of Hughes first flight. While I might be accused of feeling the need to defend Ivan as a relative of mine, I feel it is fair to note that he was a seasoned racecar driver prior to taking up flying, so it's pretty unlikely that he was afraid of flying.  If you’ve followed this blog, you may remember that Ivan has already seen a number of his fellow flyers killed by this time and his own flight instruction seemed pretty rigid. So, it may be that he had a bit of a control problem. Hughes brother was under the tutelage of Bert Acosta, one of the most seasoned pilots at the field, so it’s not unlikely that their comparisons left Ivan on the very short end of the experience scale. After all, Bert had been flying since 1910. 

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this book when it arrives.  Since the Hughes brothers were much more prolific in their documentation, there’s a chance that more of their personalities will be shown.  I’m also learning more about historical accounts.  Simply writing one’s recollections down does not make them historically accurate, it merely makes them a recollection, which can be skewed to one’s own liking. I’ll have to keep in mind that this applies to Ivan, as well.

-kpw

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