Saturday, February 13, 2021

Krueger: My Navy career had its glitches

By Gerald Krueger

My 12 years associated with flying for the Navy didn’t always run smoothly. Career glitches appeared quite frequently.

Here is one that is worthy of note.

When I separated from the Navy in June 1963, I was eager to join a Naval Reserve squadron in Minneapolis. Coming from a fighter squadron it was only natural I would join VA 813 Fighter Squadron and become a weekend warrior. Joining a new squadron always involves getting to know your fellow pilots, and I must say the pilots of VA were an outstanding group of guys who became my lifelong friends.

Years before I arrived at VA813, there were jet fighters for the crew to fly. Well, some of them kept dropping out of the sky and crashing in and around the naval air station. Finally, the Metropolitan Airport Commission voted to ban Navy jet fighters from operating out of the Minneapolis airport. So they went back to props. About the time I arrived at the Minneapolis naval air station they were finally allowed to have jets again, and the first choice for Reserve pilots was the A4D Skyhawk.

What a beautiful plane to fly.

About two months after I reported, I got orders to go to the Naval air station in Norfolk, Va., to check out in the A4D. Three of us went and spent two weeks working with that neat bird.

When I came back to my regular Reserve weekend, we learned that in order to allow jets back on the airport there were going to be some caveats. One was that any pilot living more than 40 miles from the Minneapolis naval air station had to discontinue being a jet pilot. Well, that meant I was out of a Reserve billet, but we could join a Reserve patrol squadron and learn to fly the old Navy P2V-5 Bomber.

I must comment here. To mold an old jet jockey from single-engine jet fighters to a multi-engine prop air machine was a bit of a challenge. The first things that emerged were the adaptation to this new airplane and the completely different philosophies possessed by the pilots.

I had to make the change because I was teaching junior high in town and needed the extra funds to keep my family housed and fed. I began a non-motivated checkout in the P2V, which required three grades of qualifications.

First, I had to be a patrol pilot No. 3. So, I obtained a PP3 designation. Then, I had to become a real co-pilot or PP2. With this designation, I actually became qualified to land and take off.  I stuck it out for six long years. Finally, I just could not take it anymore, so one Sunday evening I asked if I could talk to my commanding officer.

I told him I just could not go on. I ascertained that it is nearly impossible to make a bomber pilot out of an old fighter pilot. By then, I had become quite comfortable flying that old beast, but it was just not fun. I didn’t feel any elation at all when I was designated a PP2. In the interim, I did get promoted to lieutenant commander and, of course, I enjoyed the increase in pay. My commanding officer did his darndest to talk me out of resigning but by then, I was determined. I was giving up a retirement pension when I turned 60, but that didn’t matter. After I turned 60, I sort of regretted my actions, but that was looking way back when I was in my 20s. 

The only real thing I missed was the camaraderie I had developed through the years. To this day some of those fellow Reserve pilots hold a special place in my memory, and I still miss them.

Nuff said.

Gerald “Jerry” Krueger is a retired educator, coach, commercial pilot and farmer. 

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