National Geographic : 1961 Aug
and, after the war, became Commander in Chief, Pacific). On February 1, 1913, he told me I could go up alone. "Bellinger is doing fine in the air," Towers had reported, "but he is very erratic in landing. I still have hope of teach ing him to fly. After he learns how to do something, he never forgets." You can be sure I tried to remember everything that morning. I bubbled all over with excitement, and the plane - which had its engine and propeller behind the seat didn't let me down. It was a wonderful feeling. I was nervous and fascinated, all at the same time. The plane soared and flew like a bal loon, light and responsive to every touch of the controls. "You're sitting on top of the world, Pat," I told myself, "but how much do you really know about flying? Not much." None of us did. We learned our lessons and made up our rules as we went along. For instance, as we flew, we always figured the wind's force and direction, for rough air could toss you out of the sky like a flipped playing card. Motors were primitive, and they often quit in mid-air; so we flew with an eye on the sur face, picking out the nearest open space in case of a forced landing. The most important rule was: "When something goes wrong, point her nose down." All these were more than just useful habits. They were the difference between survival and disaster. First War Missions in Mexico Some pilots who flew in those days will tell you they were never scared. They are either liars or were too stupid to know what they were doing. Of course, we never realized we were scared when we were in serious trouble - we were too busy trying to save our necks. But sometimes antici pating danger could squeeze your stomach and parch your mouth so that you thought it was stuffed with cotton. It happened to me at Veracruz, on the east coast of Mexi co, in April, 1914, when I flew the Navy's first observation missions under war conditions. Our fleet was trying to ex tinguish a smoldering revolution, and occupied the port to keep shipments of foreign arms from coming in. I flew scouting missions, spotting revolutionaries fighting U. S. Navy forces in outposts around the city. I took an observer up every day for a month, and then I began to have trouble sleeping, because I was worrying about my seaplane being forced down in hostile territory. The chance was more than imaginary. Once a piece of the carburetor snapped off and bounced into the propeller. An other time the crankshaft broke, and again the gasoline line. Fortunately, I always limped to the coast and landed on open water. By accident, I set a record of sorts at Veracruz. The en gine faltered one day, and before it caught again, we dropped low over a village. After I landed at our beach airbase, my mechanic found bullet holes in the wings. Mine was the first U. S. plane hit in action. Our orders were not to fire back (all we carried were pis tols), but on the last flight before we packed up to leave, I decided I'd drop some small change for the punishment 282 A. C. Read skippered the NC-4 on its transatlantic crossing in 1919. Then alieu tenant commander, he re tired as a rear admiral. Churning Lisbon harbor, the Curtiss flying boat NC-4 (opposite, lower) taxies tri umphantly toward shore aft er completing the first flight across an ocean. She took off from Newfoundland on May 16, 1919, and spanned the Atlantic, via the Azores, in 11 days. Two sister planes accompanying her failed to complete the historic flight.