If anybody has the inside story on modern naval aviation, it's Capt.Richard Linnekin, a retired Navy flier from Annapolis.
Flying forthe Navy has been the family business ever since his father-in-law, the late James H. Mill, USNA 1929, took off from off some of the first carriers to join the fleet. Also, his wife's first husband was a Navy flier, and his son, a Persian Gulf war veteran, flies a Marine Corps Harrier jump jet.
"My wife has been daughter, wife, widow, wife, and mother to fourgenerations of naval aviators," Linnekin, 70, said. "Poor woman."
In his new book "Eighty Knots to Mach 2: Forty-Five Years in the Cockpit," published by the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, Linnekin looks back on on a 27-year career that began as a flight student at the end of World War II in an old Stearman biplane and culminated in a supersonic Phantom II jet fighter at 70,000 feet during the Vietnam era.
Part reference work and part memoir, his book sums up a part of his life Linnekin jokingly compares to "getting paid to steal," because he enjoyed it so much. The author describes his work as a sort of diary, covering technical specifications, history and flying qualities of the various aircraft.
It also includes what the author describes as a "professional recollections section, where I try to personalize it a little further with anecdotes, stories, incidents involving some of the folks while they were flying those airplanes for a living, and some of the mischief they got into when they weren't flying."
Asked if he figured in any of these misadventures, Linnekin smiles, saying only that certain names were omitted to protect the innocent.
The book, he says, is "an insider's view, but what I was tryingto do was a little different -- to maybe strike a responsive chord for the general public, especially the aviation buffs, and give someone who's not in the business a feel for what flying is really like, with respect to the feel of it and the smell of it. There was damned little of that around, from what I could see, and I thought it would beworth trying at least to tell some folks what it was like for the pilot."
Despite his interest in flying, Linnekin began his Navy career on the cruiser USS Louisville, before entering flight school to get his wings in 1945. He was a combat flier in Korea and later became a squadron commander.
After leaving the Navy, he went to work for Westinghouse Corp.'s Defense and Electronics Center, from which he recently retired.
During his 27 years in the military, Linnekin, whograduated from the academy in 1943, flew about 70 different versionsof Navy aircraft.
"Mine is both the last and almost the first generation of pilots that could start out flying stick-and-wire biplanes, not too different from World War I fighters, and finish up flying something like the Phantom II, which could come pretty close to Mach 21/2," he says.
One of his favorite aircraft to fly was the Grumman Bearcat, which he said could "simply do everything better than anything else that had a propeller on it. As long as you kept it below 10-12,000 (feet), you could whip anything else. It was just about as fast as some of the early jets, and it could out-turn them like crazy."
Things used to be much less complicated. When he started, Linnekin says, fliers could "read the handbook, get a cockpit checkout by somebody who had flown it before, get a briefing, a friendly pat on thehead, and off you went."
Today, "it's almost like a semester's college work to get yourself up to where you can get into a new airplane. And the operating rules are so strict and so rigid, that you simply don't have the freedom you used to have. The sky was the sky, and it was basically unregulated. Today, it's all controlled airspace, andprobably not as much fun."
None of which, he adds, is meant to denigrate today's fliers.
"These young men today go through such a screening process to get where they are. The mental and intellectual requirements are much tougher than they used to be, so these guys are just flat out much, much better than we were."