Saturday, August 2, 2014


As part of a group of French aviation cadets sent to the US for pilot training during WWII, we observed the traditions associated with successful first solo flights, including the bucket of water doused on the airman after landing.

The short-snorter is less well known since it is no longer part of the solo ceremonies, but in the ′40s it was a ritual for first flights.

Before I describe this memento, I want to mention the flight that brought me to this point:
Soloing was one of the most important events in our flight school lives. I was in Primary Training, Hawthorne School of Aeronautics, Orangeburg, SC.  My first flight alone was November 14, 1944, just four days short of my 21st birthday. The instructor, Harold Ackerman, turned to me as we shut off the engine of my PT-17 on November 13, and said, “Narboni, tomorrow you’ll solo.”

On the morning of the solo flight, I donned my equipment and, with Mr. Ackerman in the right seat, www.whenigrowupginonarboni.comflew to a nearby airfield.  Mine was the only plane.  We did a couple of “touch-and-gos” in the PT-17 and after landing the second time, the instructor told me to taxi to the rest area.  He climbed out, came around to the left side of the cockpit where I was sitting and gave me his instructions.  They were simple:  Take off and land twice.  Taxi back to the dispersal area. 

I taxied to the end of the runway, turned around and gunned the engine; it was simpler than I expected. I was airborne!  I kept looking around for other traffic, all the while keeping altitude and orientation in the landing pattern.  I kept talking to myself, particularly, on final: watch air speed and let’s have a nice flare-up for the instructor to watch.  Everything came naturally.

As soon as I landed, I pulled out a dollar bill and handed it to Mr. Ackerman, who was waiting for me.   He signed the bill, and then I wrote the date, airfield location, and airplane identification number on the border.  Tradition ruled that if I were to meet Mr. Ackerman in a bar and he asked to see my autographed dollar bill, and if I could not produce it, I would have to buy him a shot, or a “short-snorter.”

I am prepared.  My short-snorter is in my wallet as it has been for the past 70 years. 

Gino R. Narboni
Col. USAF, MC, Ret

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