Veteran journalist Douglas Waller, who wrote The Commandos after observing the training of special forces soldiers, chronicles his rare and intimate experience with the training program for Navy pilots in Air Warriors. Waller, who was granted permission to participate in the pilots' grueling training regime, has written an absorbing behind-the-scenes account of the physical and psychological trials endured by the most specialized group of pilots in military history.
From his bird's-eye view in the passenger's seat, Waller follows pilot trainees through two years of intense preparation. He offers vivid illustrations from the fray: hair-raising aerial dogfights; stomach-swallowing dive-bombing runs; high speed tactical maneuvers grazing the desert floor; and numerous nerve-twisting aircraft carrier takeoffs and landings. In addition to his own experiences and those of the group of trainees he joins, his research is based on interviews with hundreds of other students and their instructors. Hurtling through the air at death-defying speeds, these pilots-in-training struggle to maintain their composure while withstanding conditions that are designed to challenge them to the very limits of human endurance.
Waller's deftly drawn portraits of the men and women he encounters in this singular culture of elite pilots are as satisfying as his adventure narrative. The pilots, whose grit, determination, and mental agility operate on an elevated threshold, come into sharp focus behind Waller's keen lens: their aspirations, awe inspiring. Air Warriors combines an examination of the modern Navy, recovering from past sex scandals, with a portrayal of a privileged cadre of men and women whose ambition and commitment coexist within a tightly knit group. Waller is able to capture images of these pilots training, living, and fighting with an acuity and intelligence that are often absent from Hollywood and television treatments of this diverse and fascinating subculture. Air Warriors takes the reader for the first time inside the cockpit and behind closed doors for the real story of the making of a Navy pilot.
Chapter One: The Chamber
McKinney inhaled deeply the smell of nylon canvas and metal and plastic from the flight equipment room. For three weeks he had been sitting through dreary classes, about as far as it seemed to him that he could get from anything having to do with flying. Now he was finally being fitted for a helmet and oxygen mask. The helmet wasn't too small or large like the ones he had been told to wear in the past. This time it fit perfectly. A sailor measured the distance from his nose to chin for the size of the oxygen mask that would clamp snugly to his face. For the first time in his training, Charles G. McKinney II, ensign United States Navy, felt like a pilot.
McKinney walked to the room next door. Its whitewashed, cinder block walls reached two stories high. In the middle sat the chamber, a white steel box the size of a railroad car with green tinted glass windows around it and a control panel at one end with dials and switches that would activate ...
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