P5M Seaplanes: Hops but no Jumps

After a six month deployment to Naval Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, our squadron (VP 48) returned to Naval Air Station North Island at Coronado, California. There were a lot of personnel changes going on. Many of the guys were going home on leave. Some were being transferred out, and, of course, some were being transferred in. The new guys included pilots, co-pilots, navigators, and potential crewmen. The officers needed to get used to the type of reports and data they would receive from the operators of the ASW gear, and the enlisted men needed to become proficient as operators. The electronic technicians needed to learn to operate the power panel and operate the HF radio, and how to use Morse code.


The future pilots and copilots needed to get in some stick time in order to get qualified. Unfortunately, on these hops, their favorite destinations were Catalina Island and Hearst Castle. If I had a dollar for every time I have circled these two places, I could buy my own P5M.


At the time, I was a third class petty officer, pay grade E-4. Officially, that’s a Third Class Aviation Electronics Technician. I didn’t have enough time in grade to test for Second Class. Having a wife and twin boys meant that I was working hard and looking for opportunities to advance and also to save money. The flight pay was important to me. Also, being married, I received what was known as commuted rations, COMRATS. COMRATS amounted to thirty bucks a month to pay for food at home in lieu of eating in the chow hall. When I was on duty, I could eat in the chow hall, but had to pay for it. However, flight crews received box lunches when flying short hops or a box of groceries they could prepare in the galley if they were making long hops. The grocery meals were usually steaks, canned vegetables, fruit, bread and butter and coffee. At the end of a flight, the other married guy and I would divide up any unopened cans, sticks of butter, coffee, or whatever else was left over. Every little bit helped.


What I remember most was the condition of the airplanes. We had P5M-1’s on deployment, but when we returned, they were to be replaced by P5M-2’s. The P5M-1’s were tired and they were suffering from a lot of flight time, some hard landings, and a lot of vibration. The results as we experienced them were engine failures, electrical fires, and hydraulic leaks. These were problems that increased the heart rate and adrenaline flow.


Protocol said that when you got aboard the aircraft, the first thing you did was don your parachute harness. The harnesses were just a bunch of straps with some rings and snaps and were no big deal to wear. The parachutes were stored in racks in the plane and could be grabbed if needed. The chutes themselves were maybe 14 x 14 x 2, and just attached to your harness with a couple of snaps. During this training period using the old planes, I got real good at attaching the parachute. It seemed like every hop I was on turned into an emergency, and I was ordered to grab my chute and head for the exit hatch. Fortunately, I never had to jump.

Dave Thomas



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