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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Learning to fly from a WWII Ace



I can honestly say I learned to fly from an 'Ace' Flight Instructor. After earning my Private and Instrument License at Santa Paula airport in Ventura County,  I moved to San Diego to study Aeronautical Engineering at San Diego State University. It wasn't long before I 'supplemented' my official University studies by starting on my Commercial, Flight Instructor and Multi-Engine ratings at Gillespie Air at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, just east of San Diego My advanced instructor was an 'old guy' named Mac, who was surprisingly soft spoken and calm, and very hard of hearing, but he knew a LOT about flying and had a lot of wisdom that I and the other students soaked up each time we flew with him. Everyone just called him 'Mac.' 


One day someone said "You know, you are learning from a World War II ace!" I had not known, and looking at Mac it was hard to imagine him as a fierce fighting pilot. I pictured all fighter pilots as fierce. Mac reminded me more of a retired librarian with an extra occasional glint in his eye. Mac never got mad if we made mistake, he would just say something like "You better study some more if you want to be ready." 


One time, I was preparing to fly to retrieve a light school customer on the other side of the Julian mountains at Borrego Springs, in the desert.  A storm looked like it was brewing on the horizon. I was torn between flying and to - the weather was one of those conditions where you coudl go, but you'd better expect to be bounced around a bit. While I was preflighting the twin Duchess, Mac walked out , and looked at me then at the clouds then back at me and said "You can fly it if you want but I wouldn't go." that's all he said. I looked at the clouds again darkening over the mountains, and without another thought pushed the Duchess back onto the line and tied her down. Mac had that type of gentle effect - you listened closely to what he said, and he only needed to say it once. 


Years later the internet arrived, and one day I looked up his name on the internet and was amazed at the information I learned about my old instructor. He's now passed away but those eyes and that smile you see in the photo of the combat ace are the same as I would see when he was in his seventies and  we were lifting out of the pattern into a bright blue San Diego sky, and the props would be a little out of synch and Mac would just nudge me and roll an eye to the prop levers "prop" would be all he'd say. Now looking back at his signature 'McWhorter" line in my yellowed first log book, I smile at the skill and gentle strength exhibited by this man.


You can read more about Mac's exploits here: http://www.acepilots.com/usn_mcwhorter.html


Onwards and Upwards!


Rob Bremmer







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