Triplane Builder

Poems by Triplane Builder - William (Bill) Woodall

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In retrospect, a youthful mind is frightening to behold-
Utter trust in what it reads-believes what it is told.
Really not a mystery that fighting men are young--
Guys they need who question not-as into a breech they're flung.

A case in point (involving me) comes sheepishly to mind.
[Navy planners surely be-the most perceptive kind]-
(Would never replace the SBD, unless with a better plane).
That newest from Curtiss they're building now-must really be a gain!

The fact that these are tested-not far from where I'm based-
Rides in them are possible--(as acceptance squawks are chased).
To me it's strictly pleasure; (flight skins are not a quest)-
Whether or not a gunner's aboard-not a factor in the test.

The wide stance of the landing gear-the big four bladed prop:
The jutting of the cannons-bomb doors that hide the "drop".
The rear-seat-twin machine guns-the frame from which they aim,
Give a look of "strictly business" to this latest battle plane.

Non-com's arriving Saturdays (if early in the day),
Might get chosen for a "hop", (while tests are under way).
Quizzical looks from assignors, could raise a bit of doubt,
As if by volunteering-your brain might not be stout!

I just thought them jealous as they "flew" their office space,
And knew I really had it made, when seat-packs left their case.
Glad was I to make my climb, to that rear-most gunner's seat.
And tighten up the various straps that would hold me in -complete.

The briefings by the pilots were very blunt and terse;
"If I say our condition's RED!-bail-out before its worse"!
Clearly, I'd be on my own -to conquer any fear,
No one was going to stick around-make sure I don't stay here!

All hops I had were thrills for me-glad to been in the steed-
Like the time we dived on 'Flying Forts'-their gunners practiced "lead".
And our split-ess into a bombing dive-to see if our dive brakes serve,
And the many G's that shoved me down, as we rounded out the curve.

And the thunderous surge of "pick-up" as the big prop hit the air,
Coupled with the brake release-flung me backward in my "chair".
The numb of cold at altitude, when my gunners fairing failed,
And the spiraling, biting slipstream-my hands and face-assailed.

There was a point that troubled me, and left a lingering 'thing'.
It had to do with that seat pack 'chute, and the twin gun's mounting ring.
'Cause when the flights were over and we are safely back at base-
Far too long for me to egress-get my 'chute up through the space.

I wonder what would have happened-with not a second to spare-
If I had to do that red thing-get quickly out of there?
Slack in the seat pack risers, let the pack fall back and away.
Larger, now than the hole in the ring-was why it tried to stay.

There should have been instruction-from someone who knew how-
Spell out the proper sequence a chance for escape-allow.
Some seeds of doubt were planted about the candor of the "brass"-
(If officer ranks rode that gunners seat-be a plan to save their ass)!

Another confidence shake-up, was when I came to learn-
That the SB2C bomber didn't easily take its turn!
There'd been so many problems-'bout using it with the fleet-
The SBD soldiered on and on-though their status-obsolete.

There is a way with pilots (and the nick-names they provide)-
"Slow but deadly" (for the SBD) shows respect for what they ride.
But the SB2C Curtiss had different names-and paired-
Sometimes simply called The Beast-or the "Son of a bitch that's squared"!

So a long time after all risks had flown-I came to realize-
Naval planning [not above mistakes] and boys have starry eyes.
I was lucky no emergency cut short my glory days;
For wisdom was sadly lacking in those "not required" forays.

Bill Woodall

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