Saturday, October 31, 2015

Glider pilot recalls Plainview as ‘uptown’ place during WWII

A 1950s photo taken by William T. Larkins shows a retired WWII-era WACO CG4A glider used as a rooftop advertisement for a tire shop in Fresno, California.

Clent Breedlove started training glider pilots at Finney Field on June 1, 1942, under a contract with the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). Hundreds of pilots, ground crewmen and employees worked, trained, and lived there during the war.

David A. Allen Jr. was born in December 1920 in Poynor, Texas, which is located in Henderson County southwest of Tyler. He is almost 95 years old today. On Oct. 17, 2015, he gave an interview about his time training as a glider pilot in WWII.

Allen grew up in Poynor and attended school there but he had to drop out of high school after ninth grade to go to work on the family farm to help during the Great Depression. His father grew corn and cotton.

He stayed out of school and worked for one year before returning. He then went through the 10th grade in Poynor before he had to drop out again, this time for two years.

Allen was in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for a brief time in the mid-1930s. His CCC camp was located in California, but he did not recall much about his time there.

He eventually graduated from high school, but not at Poynor. By that time his family had moved to Terrell, Texas. He graduated from Terrell High School in May 1940. The passing grade to graduate was 75. which Allen said he met.
Allen did not realize it at the time, but his new hometown of Terrell would one day be the original home of the National WWII Glider Pilot’s Museum.

According to information found on the Silent Wings Museum website, former glider pilots from WWII came together in 1971 to form the National World War II Glider Pilots Association, Inc.

One of their first goals was to locate a WACO CG-4A glider. They found one which was sitting atop a tire store in Fresno, California. It was being used for advertising.

They purchased the glider and restored it in time for their 1979 reunion, held in Dallas. After the reunion, they decided to build a museum to house and display this glider.

They opened the first Silent Wings Museum in Terrell on Nov. 10, 1984, according to the SWM website.

David Allen thinks Terrell was chosen as the site for the museum because that was where many British airplane pilots trained during the war.

Charles Day, national secretary of the National WWII Glider Pilots Association, added, “The museum at Terrell for the RAF training was started circa 1980. The SWM was started circa 1984. It might have been that the SWM ended up there because the RAF museum was there.”

By 1997, however, the former glider pilots realized that they needed a more permanent place for their museum.

South Plains Army Air Field (SPAAF) in Lubbock was the largest advanced glider base during WWII and where almost all of the glider pilots earned their “G-wings.” So this locale was determined to be the best place to move Silent Wings Museum, which opened there in October 2002.

Allen joined the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) in February 1941. He was sent to Santa Monica, California, and was stationed at a civilian aircraft mechanics school at the municipal airport. This civilian school was operated under contract with the U.S. Army Air Forces.

At this time, Allen’s rank was private first class. He and his fellow mechanics were quartered at a hotel in Santa Monica.

On Sunday morning, Dec., 7, 1941, Allen recalled being at the hotel in Santa Monica when he heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

Recalled Allen, “Someone told me they heard it on the radio and Hell, I didn’t even know where Pearl Harbor was!”

Allen was stationed at the mechanics school in Santa Monica from October 1941 to April 1942.

Next, Allen was sent to an army base in Santa Ana, California, where he was re-assigned to pilot training, but did not do any actual training there. Santa Ana was just a holding center where men were placed until given new orders and posted at a new field.

Hemet, California, was Allen’s next post. It was a civilian school owned by Ryan Aviation of San Diego. Ryan Aviation was famous for building the high-wing monoplane named the Spirit of St. Louis which was flown by Charles Lindbergh non-stop across the Atlantic from New York to Paris on May 20, 1927.

Allen never flew in an airplane during high school back in Texas, and he never envisioned himself as someday being a pilot. Although he knew who Charles Lindbergh was, Lindbergh was never one of his childhood heroes. So his time training as a pilot at Hemet was his first experience flying an aircraft.

At Hemet, the instructors were civilians and wore civilian clothes, said Allen, but he did not recall any of the instructors referring to the program as the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program.

They used the Ryan PT-22 aircraft for training at Hemet at the local airport.

Ground school was held in the morning and then in-flight training was given in the afternoon. After a few weeks, this schedule was reversed.

Mr. Haynes was Allen’s instructor. Four students were in each instructor’s group.

Allen did recall the name of one of his fellow students at Hemet. Traver was his last name but Allen could not recall his first name or his hometown.

Allen thought there were around 25 PT-22 aircraft there for training.

The Ryan PT-22 is a low-wing monoplane tandem trainer which means that the student was seated in the front and the instructor was seated behind him.

The student and instructor used a Gosport tube for communication while flying. The Gosport tube provided one-way communication.

The Gosport tube looked like a long stethoscope used by a doctor. The student would put on a cap which had two ear pieces. The ear pieces were connected by flexible tubes to a single mouthpiece in which the instructor would speak the commands to the student pilot, but the student could not speak back to the instructor.

“If you misbehaved, he put the speaker out in the air,” Allen chuckled.

By this, Allen meant that the instructor would point the mouthpiece into the oncoming air outside of the cockpit which resulted in the student receiving a blast of noise and high air pressure in his ears.
“You would appreciate that air, the pressure on that tube!”

Allen soloed in a PT-22, as well. He did the usual training maneuvers: climbs, banks and turns.

When he finished training at Hemet Field, he was still a private first class.

He then went to Bakersfield, California. It was there that he learned of the glider program. The Army Air Forces encouraged Allen and many of his fellow powered pilots to become glider pilots, so Allen decided to try flying gliders.

Allen’s next stop was Plainview, Texas, for pre-glider school. He arrived in Plainview around the first of July 1942. He and his fellow students travelled there by rail from California.

The military paid for all of their travel expenses including their meals aboard the train. Allen and the other student glider pilots would give their meal tickets to the leader of their group and he, in turn, would give them all to the dining car conductor.

Allen was mighty impressed with Plainview, Texas.

“It was pretty much ‘uptown’ after we had California. It was desert out there.”

“We lived in a hotel there. There was a little café down the street and a good many girls there.”

“Hell, Plainview was a nice place!”

“The people were real cordial, too,” recalled Allen fondly.

More about the history of Finney Field will be discussed in the next article.

Readers are asked to visit the Silent Wings Museum website at for more details about the glider program of WWII.

Anyone with information about the Plainview Pre-Glider School at Finney Field should contact John McCullough at 806-793-4448 or email

Original article can be found here:

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