Congratulations to Bryan Stinekens for correctly answering the question about the balloon registration number N7927A! It is the same registration number used on the E-1, Arnold’s world record setting airplane. And now, back to pilot training.
After finishing primary flight training at Goodfellow in early September 1953, Arnold was assigned to Foster AFB for advanced training. Foster AFB was located near a small town named Victoria, close to the Gulf Coast. Even in September, the heat and humidity were oppressive.
The cadets were assigned to small “flights” of three students, each led by an instructor. A flight with two Belgian students and a Norwegian student was appropriately named the “Falstaff Flight,” but Arnold’s “riff raff Flight” seems to have been assigned as a whim by the pilot training leadership. Other cadets endured colorful names such as “Yo Yo,” “Odd Ball,” and “Moonshine.”
At Foster, the cadets first flew the 800-horsepower T-28A. Once they were used to flying the more powerful airplane, they switched to a jet trainer, the T-33A. Arnold’s first flight in the T-33 was on the Monday before Thanksgiving, on November 23rd.
Arnold flying T-33s at pilot training, Foster AFB 1953
From Arnold Ebneter personal collection
The Air Force commissioned Arnold as a second lieutenant and awarded him his silver pilot’s wings on March 15, 1954. After graduating, Arnold took two weeks of leave before reporting for his next assignment at Nellis Air Force Base, just north of Las Vegas for additional training. With no time to spare, he made a mad dash to St Paul and married Colleen on March 18, ending her patient two-year wait as he romped around the United States flying airplanes.
After the wedding, the furious pace continued unabated; Arnold and Colleen drove west to Las Vegas, arriving in time for a short honeymoon before beginning the next phase of his training. Like many military couples, there was no time for a real honeymoon, but at least the Air Force paid for the trip to Vegas.
At Nellis, Arnold learned to fly the F-86, which was then the Air Force’s frontline fighter. In addition, he learned the tools of the fighter pilot trade – air weapons, intelligence, aircraft recognition, Air Force operations, survival, physiological training, air-to-ground weapons, tactics, and both air-to-air and air-to-ground gunnery. Part of the weapons training included special weapons, or “ABC” – atomic, biological, and chemical. After F-86 training, he returned to Foster, along with five of the other top cadets in his class for his first real assignment, this time with Colleen in tow. Although Foster had been a training base when Arnold left, by the time he returned it was an operational fighter base assigned to the Tactical Air Command, which was responsible for most of the fighter aircraft in the Air Force.
Arnold and his fellow lieutenants got down to the business of learning to be fighter pilots. This involved endless training in gunnery, air combat maneuvering, and instrument approaches, but there was also time for occasional fun. Not long after arriving at Foster, Arnold and several pilots in his squadron flew their F-86s to Miami for the weekend so they could practice their cross-country flying skills. Colleen was already learning about the lonely life that military spouses can lead and thinking like someone who would be moving a lot. When it came time to buy furniture for their small apartment, she bought end tables with legs that unscrewed for easy shipping.
The F-86 could fly faster than the speed of sound in a dive, and the pilots started “booming” Foster AFB every afternoon at 4:30 to announce the beginning of the retreat ceremony that signaled the end of the official day. One pilot would climb to a high altitude directly over the base, and then point the nose of his airplane at the ground. As the airplane accelerated through Mach 1, a loud cracking noise shook the ground below, rattling windows and waking babies. Although the nearby Victoria residents loved the daily air show, senior Air Force officials weren’t amused and soon told the pilots to knock it off.