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INCREDIBLE JAPANESE FIGHTER-PILOT TRAINING ROUTINES
The following is an extract from his descriptive autobiography "SAMURAI". (Ballantine Books, New York, copyrighted to Martin Caidin, 1957, with writing assistance from Fred Saito.)
Apparently I was never to cease being surprised at what awaited me in each new naval training program. Hardly had I arrived at the new school than I discovered that my prior experiences with naval discipline were minor ones. I was amazed to realize that the disciplinary customs of the Sasebo Naval Base were pleasant interludes in comparison with those of Tsuchiura. Even the Navy Gunners School was hardly more than a kindergarten alongside the Fliers' School.
"A fighter pilot must be aggressive and tenacious. Always." This was our initial greeting from the athletic instructor who called together our first wrestling class. "Here at Tsuchiura we are going to instil those characteristics into you, or else you will never become a Navy pilot." He lost no time in showing us his ideas of how we were to become indoctrinated with constant aggressiveness! The instructor at random selected two students from the group and ordered them to wrestle. The victor of this clash was then allowed to leave the wrestling mat.
His opponent who had lost the important match had no such luck. He remained on the mat, prepared to take on another pilot trainee. So long as he continued to lose, he remained on that mat, tiring with every bout, slammed about heavily and often sustaining injuries. If necessary, he was forced to wrestle every one of the other sixty-nine students in his class. If, at the end of sixty-nine consecutive wrestling bouts, he was still able to resume standing, he was considered fit - but for only one more day. The following day he again took on the first wrestling opponent and continued until he either emerged a victor or was expelled from the school.
With every pilot trainee determined not to be expelled from the fliers' course, the wrestling matches were scenes of fierce competition. Often students were knocked unconscious. This, however, did not excuse them from what was considered an absolute training necessity. They were revived with buckets of water or other means and sent back to the mat.
Following a month's basic ground training, we began our primary flying lessons. Flight lessons were held in the morning, classroom and other courses in the afternoon. Following dinner, we had two hours in which to study our subjects until the lights were turned out.
As the months wore on, our numbers diminished steadily. The training course demanded perfection from the students, and a trainee could be dismissed for even the slightest infraction of rules. Since the naval pilots were considered the elite of the entire Navy, of all the armed forces, there was no room for error. Before our ten-month course was completed, forty-five out of the original seventy students had been expelled from the school. The instructors did not follow the violent physical-discipline system of my former training installations, but their authority to dismiss from the school any student, for any reason, was feared far more than any mere savage beating.
The rigidity of this weeding-out process was forcibly brought home to us on the very eve of our graduation; on that same day, one of the remaining students was expelled. A shore patrol discovered him entering an off-limits bar in the town of Tsuchiura to celebrate his graduation. He was pre-mature in more respects than one. Upon his return to the billet he was ordered to report at once to his faculty board. By way of apology the student knelt on the floor before his officers, but to no avail.
The faculty board found him guilty of two unpardonable sins. The first, every pilot knew. That was that a combat pilot shall never, for any reason, drink alcoholic beverages the evening before he flies. As part of the graduation exercises, we were to pass over the field in formation flight the next day. The second of the two crimes was more commonplace, but equally serious. No member of the Navy was ever to disgrace his service by entering any establishment marked "off limits".
The physical training courses at Tsuchiura were among the severest in Japan. One of the more unpleasant of the obstacle courses was a high iron pole which we were required to climb. At the top of the pole, we were to suspend ourselves by one hand only. Any cadet who failed to support his weight, for less than ten minutes received a swift kick in the rear and was sent scurrying up the pole again. At the end of the course, those students who had avoided expulsion were able to hang by one arm for as long as fifteen to twenty minutes.
Every enlisted man in the Imperial Navy was required to be able to swim. There were a good number of students who came from the mountain regions and had never done any swimming at all. The training solution was simple. The cadets were trussed up with rope around their waists and tossed into the ocean, where they swam or sank. Today, thirty-nine' years old and with pieces of shrapnel still in my body, I can swim 50 meters in thirty-four seconds. At the Fliers School, swimming that distance in less than thirty seconds was commonplace.
Every student was required to swim underwater for at least fifty meters, and to remain below the surface for at least ninety seconds. The average man can, with effort, hold his breath for forty or fifty seconds, but this is considered inadequate for a Japanese pilot. My own record is two minutes and thirty seconds below the surface.
We went through hundreds of diving lessons to improve our sense of balance, and to aid us later when we would be putting fighter planes through all sorts of aerobatic gyrations. There was special reason to pay strict attention to the diving lessons, for once the instructors felt we had received enough assistance from the boards, we were ordered to dive from a high tower to the hard ground! During the drop we somersaulted two or three times in the air, and landed on our feet. Naturally, there were errors-with disastrous results.
Acrobatics formed an important part of our athletic instruction, and every requirement laid down by the instructors was fulfilled or the student was expelled. Walking on our hands was considered merely a primer. We also had to balance ourselves on our heads, at first for five minutes, then ten, until finally many of the students could maintain position for fifteen minutes or more. Eventually I was able to balance on my head for more than twenty minutes, during which time my fellow trainees would light cigarettes for me and place them between my lips.
Naturally, such circus antics were not the only physical requirements of our training. But they did permit us to develop an amazing sense of balance and muscular coordination, traits which were to have lifesaving value in later years.
Every student at Tsuchiura was gifted with extraordinary eyesight; this was, of course, a minimum entry requirement. Every passing moment we spent in developing our peripheral vision, in learning how to recognize distant objects with snap glances - in short, in developing the techniques which would give us advantages over opposing fighter pilots.
One of our favourite tricks was to try to discover the brighter stars during daylight hours. This is no mean feat, and without above-average eyes it is virtually impossible to accomplish. However, our instructors constantly impressed us with the fact that a fighter plane seen from a distance of several thousand yards often is no easier to identify than a star in daylight. And the pilot who first discovers his enemy and manoeuvres into the most advantageous attack position can gain an invincible superiority. Gradually, and with much more practice, we became quite adept at our star-hunting. Then we went further. When we had sighted and fixed the position of a particular star, we jerked our eyes away ninety degrees, and snapped back again to see if we could locate the star immediately. Of such things are fighter pilots made.
I personally cannot too highly commend this particular activity, inane as it may seem to those unfamiliar with the split-second, life-or-death movements of aerial warfare. I know that during my 200 air engagements with enemy planes, except for two minor errors I was never caught in a surprise attack by enemy fighters, nor did I ever lose any of my wingmen to hostile pilots.
In all our spare moments during our training at Tsuchiura we sought constantly to find methods by which we could shorten our reaction time and improve our certainty of movement. A favourite trick of ours was to snatch a fly on the wing within our fists. We must have looked silly, pawing at the air with our hands, but after several months a fly which flew before our faces was almost certain to end up in our hands. The ability to make sudden and exact movements is indispensable within the cramped confines of a fighter-plane cockpit.
These improvements in reaction time came to our aid in a totally unexpected way. Four of us were racing in a car at sixty miles an hour along a narrow road when the driver lost control of the car and hurtled over the edge of an embankment. The four of us, to a man, snapped open the car doors and literally flew from the vehicle. There were some scrapes and bruises, but not a single major injury among us, although the car was thoroughly demolished.
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