The military has a very practical view of training for combat operations: You train the way you fight. Their goal is to train the troops in such a authentic manner that actual combat will hold no real surprises. In fact, graduates of the National Training Center fighting in operation "Desert Storm" noted that their training was even more severe than actual combat against Iraq turned out to be. With modern electronics, the only difference was the lack of friendly casualties during training.

During World War II, preparation was much more rudimentary. Antiaircraft gunners practiced their aircraft recognition skills using simple wooden models, often built for the services by school children using government-supplied plans. The museum has an authentic example of one that was built for the US Navy. The model represents a US Army Air Force B-26 Marauder medium bomber (Navy designation JD-1).

The Marauder led a checkered career early in the war. Equipped with two powerful radial piston engines and an abbreviated wingspan, it was a handful for pilots used to a more-forgiving aircraft. The slight wingspan earned it the sobriquet of "Flying Prostitute" (since it had "no visible means of support") and the abysmal safety record the fitting designation of "Widow-Maker." So many of them were crashing on routine training flights out of Florida that the slogan was "one a day in Tampa Bay."

The solution, in part, was to train pilots to fly the plane more like a twin-engine fighter than a bomber. Attitude played a major role in this. General James Doolittle, a former air racer and the hero of the famous raid on Tokyo, would demonstrate seemingly impossible low-level aerobatics to air crew, then repeat them using only one engine!

Come and see this piece of history and others in "Granny's Attic," the Belhaven Memorial Museum.

Belhaven Treasure #32

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Diane K. Mason, HTML Editor 1998