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The use of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki impressed upon the world with dramatic and explosive suddenness the major role that science was playing in World War II. At the same time the atomic bomb, with its still incompletely studied implications for the future, has tended to blind people to an appreciation of the other contributions of science in the war. The scientists who were fighting on our side were opposed, especially in Germany, by technical experts of rare skill and ingenuity. The enemy, who for years had been preparing for war, had sponsored research and experimentation in the tools of war without regard to cost. On the other hand, our scientists were more concerned with inventions for a peacetime existence, and at the same time funds were limited for research for war.
Once the war started, our science demonstrated that it had two assets that enabled it to surpass the enemy. In the first place, our scientists showed under pressure that their abilities were fully as great as those of the enemy and often exceeded them. Coupled with these skills was the fact that American industry, and particularly the aircraft industry, developed successfully the technique of introducing modifications (or slight changes in design) without disrupting the system of mass production. Thus it was possible for American engineers and scientists to maintain continuous superiority in quality as well as quantity.
In an account such as this, there is no place for a detailed description of the work of science in naval aviation. This work extended to all fields of aviation activity, and in many cases was exceedingly complex. On the other hand, the results of many scientific developments are observed in the combat narrative, as, for example, the introduction of a new plane, the use of radar, or the value of radio to certain operations. In addition, it is the purpose of this chapter to note in a very general way some of the major scientific problems that confronted naval aviation and to p372 indicate the solution to these problems that helped build naval aviation to its high peak of efficiency.
A dominant problem, of course, was to create planes superior to those that would be met in combat. Not one, but a variety of planes had to be produced — trainers, fighters, dive bombers, scout and observation planes, torpedo planes, patrol craft, and transport and cargo planes. In the building of carrier-based planes, we had special problems to solve. Compared to airfield runways, the largest carrier deck is extremely short, and methods had to be devised, therefore, to get planes into the air with shorter take‑off runs. Two solutions to the problem were suggested by the engineers and scientists. One was the improvement of catapults and their use on carriers as well as on other ships of the line. The other solution was the development of what was called JATO, or jet assisted take‑off.
Jato (Jet-assisted take-off) lifts a Mariner into the air. Jato permitted heavier loads and short runs for heavy patrol bombers.
Engines were also built which added a jet unit to the standard reciprocating aircraft motor. This type combined the longer range of the ordinary engine with the great speed resulting from jet propulsion.
Carrier craft, also, must normally have stronger under carriages and fuselages than land-based planes in order to withstand the shock of arrested landings on the carrier deck. The scientists in this case were confronted with, and satisfactorily solved, the problem of providing strength without unduly increasing weight or sacrificing performance. The result was one of the most amazing developments of the war, namely, that carrier planes were able to compete successfully with land-based aircraft.
A military plane consists primarily of three components, the airframe, or body of the plane, the motive power, and the accessories, such as armament, navigational gear, radio, and radar equipment.
In the matter of airframes, the Navy's problem was doubled by the fact that both land and seaplane types were needed. Several types developed prior to Pearl Harbor were found adaptable to combat operations. The PBY's, for example, were found to be a satisfactory type of seaplane for many functions, and aside from the addition of an amphibious version, its production continued without too much variation. The PBM, on the other hand, underwent a number of modifications before the top‑performing PBM‑5 was produced. Constant improvement was made on fighters and dive bombers. The durable F4F gave way to the superior F6F, and had the war continued, the F7F and F8F might have made equally enviable names for themselves.
Experimentation was continuous on such matters as flaps on the trailing p373 edge of wings, and brakes to check the speed of a dive bomber; tests and studies continued throughout the war on problems of strain and stress.
On lighter-than‑air aircraft, the K‑type ship superseded the smaller L‑ship, which was not suitable for long patrols. By 1944 a third type, the M‑ship, considerably larger than the K‑ship, was introduced, but did not have enough advantages to displace the K‑ship.
In the field of motive power, science achieved outstanding successes. For a variety of reasons, the Navy has tended to concentrate on the production and perfection of the air‑cooled engine. Among the results have been its light weight in relation to its power, and, most important of all, its great durability.
In the early stages of the war, for example, at Midway, high-altitude fighters were necessary. As the war progressed, we turned to the offensive, and low‑altitude aircraft became more important. The result was the development of two main types of engines. For altitudes above •25,000, two‑stage engines were developed, embodying superchargers and other equipment for producing maximum performance at high altitudes. For medium- or low‑altitude flight, the additional stage was not only unnecessary but actually impeded the performance of the plane. Consequently, as the war progressed, more and more attention was devoted to the single-stage engines, and by the end of the war the Navy had top‑performance engines of both the single- and two‑stage types. In addition, naval aviation made use of devices such as water injection. With engines operating at continued high output, there was danger of cylinders becoming overheated and the combustible mixture detonating. It was found that with a proper injection of water or a special coolant directly into the cylinder, the cylinder could be cooled sufficiently to remove this danger. As a result, the speed of a plane could be considerably increased. This added spurt of power at the right time saved more than one pilot's life.
Although in the closing months of the year, increased attention was being given to the jet engine, it could be said that in general, throughout the war, it was found that the greater durability and all‑round performance of the reciprocating engine made it still the best type to use. Because the account herewith is limited to the war record and does not include predictions of the future, it is perhaps enough to state that the Navy continued to conduct careful tests and experimentation on all kinds of motive power.
The air‑cooled engine brought with it special problems. One of the p374 most difficult was that of properly cooling all parts of the engine. In the early days, the engine was placed where it got the full force of the wind. The parts exposed to the wind were cooled, but portions of the engine not reached by the wind became overheated. A long process of experimentation and adaptation produced a number of answers to this problem. In the first place, a covering or cowl was placed over the engine, and flaps or "gills" were hinged into this cowl to make possible a regulated access of air to all parts of the engine, and, in addition, special baffles conducted air to vital parts, such as spark plugs. In the main, this use of cowl flaps has been the most widely employed method. There was, however, one difficulty with flaps: they created a drag that in some cases slowed up the plane more than was desirable. Consequently, experiments were made with other cooling devices. In the South Atlantic, where engines were consistently overloaded and had to contend with tropical weather, fans were used to direct the air to different parts of the engine. In later experiments, some fans were powered, jet‑like, from the exhaust gases of the engine itself.
A great deal of work went into the types of metals to be used in engines. In this connection, naval aviation had to contend with problems of corrosion from sea air and sea water, of deterioration in tropical areas, and damage as a result of cold in the North Atlantic and Aleutian regions. Combat operations, obviously, created a great strain on engines. It was found, for example, that dive bombers burned out bearings in the pull‑out from a dive; the Navy found a solution in the production of a silver-surfaced bearing that could withstand a temporary loss of lubrication.
Fuels presented another difficult problem that resulted in a great deal of research. One of the Navy's contributions in the field of high gasoline performance was the establishment of a dual standard for aviation gasoline — a minimum requirement for a "rich" mixture and another for "lean" mixtures. As a result of the extreme variation in temperatures which developed in aircraft engines, great attention had to be paid to lubrication. It was found, for example, that oil returned from the engine was filled with air and could cause trouble if reused in this condition, especially at high altitudes. Consequently, means were developed to de‑aerate the oil. Another problem, especially in cold weather, was that of maintaining the proper temperature of lubricants. Aviation engine oil is more viscous than automobile lubricants, having the consistency of toothpaste at •32° F, and when below •0° F being almost as solid as wax. Quick warm‑up devices were p375 necessary, therefore, and were developed after considerable study and testing.
A great deal of effort was expended on the subject of starters. The question of weight was very important in this regard, as a starter is just so much dead weight once it has completed its function of starting the engine. On airfields, portable starts could be used, making use of the electrical power of the station, but the aircraft had to have its own starting mechanism for use away from a well-equipped station. For a time, the Navy made use of the cartridge type starter. A cartridge, similar to a blank shotgun shell, was fitted into a chamber and the engine was turned over by firing the cartridge. This had the advantages of light weight and low energizing power, since the cartridge could be operated from two flashlight cells. It had the disadvantages of being somewhat unreliable, and of requiring careful maintenance. The Navy had developed and used as standard equipment the so‑called inertia type starter, which made use of energy created by a rapidly spinning flywheel, turned either by hand or by electricity. Generally speaking, however, efforts have been concentrated on the development of a direct cranking starter similar to those used on automobiles. The main drawbacks were problems of weight and power, but as the war progressed, satisfactory answers were found.
Closely allied to engine development was the improvement of propellers. The casual observer might think that there is nothing unusually complicated about a propeller. On the contrary, the study of this important airplane part has taxed the ingenuity of the best scientists. Questions of air density, the pitch, shape, radius, and number of blades, all combine to create questions difficult of solution. The blades of early propellers were at a fixed angle to the hubs and merely whirled about. By the end of the war, however, naval aviation had light-weight propellers of hollow steel of great strength, that constantly changed the pitch to give the maximum performance for the particular requirements of the plane. On take‑off, for example, the blade setting was adjusted to speed up the ascent; on level flight the angle was shifted, analogous to "shifting into high" in a car; and at high altitudes where air density decreases, the blades were set at a greater angle to take larger "bites" of air. If an engine gave out, a propeller could be "feathered" and stopped to reduce its drag, and also prevent damage to the engine which might result from the propeller's windmilling and turning the motor over in flight. It was also found that correctly designed propellers could be used to check p376 the too rapid descent of a dive bomber and relieve the pressure on the wing flaps. On the M‑type airships and on large seaplanes the propellers could be reversed, so that the airship could go backward and the seaplane could reverse while taxiing on the water.
Among the most important accessories of naval aviation were those operated by electricity. The significance of radar and radio in modern warfare is difficult to exaggerate. Once again, the problems connected with electronics are far too complicated and technical to be taken up in any detail in this report. It may be of some value, however, to point out a few highlights along the road, since these developments did play such a major role in gaining victory.
Naval aviation first came into contact with airborne radar through the work of the British in anti-submarine warfare a considerable period before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Our patrol planes operating from Iceland in 1941 made use of a relatively crude form of radar secured from the British. After we entered the war, the United States developed an American version, and by the end of 1942, hundreds had been installed in patrol craft both in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of war. It was this model that made possible the depredations of the "Black Cats" in the New Guinea area, and saved pilots' lives in the Aleutians. This type of radar was too heavy for use in fighter aircraft, however, and one of the outstanding developments of naval aviation was the introduction and successful use of a light-weight radar in fighter planes. At the same time, bigger and better radar equipment was developed for use in the larger planes.
During most of the war, information regarding radar was highly classified, or "hush-hush." Since the termination of hostilities, however, the restrictions have largely been dropped, with the result that the average American probably has a fair idea of the nature of its operation. At the risk of pointing out that which is generally known, a brief description of the operation of radar might be in order. Radar is an instrument that sends out a series of electrical impulses. When these impulses hit an object that stands out from the surface of the land or sea they bounce back and are reflected on a cathode ray screen. This screen is graduated so that one can tell the distance the object is from the radar. In a rough way, the image, or "blip," on the screen resembles the object that is indicated. The contour of a coast line p377 being approached from the sea will appear on the screen, and if, for example, there is one mountain that stands out, it can be used as an aid to navigation. A conning tower protruding from the surface of the sea could be picked up on radar, thus poor visibility did not stop the search for submarines.
From relatively crude beginnings radar has developed into a great variety of specialized instruments. It has been used not only for search and navigation, but for aiming bombs and torpedoes. It has been outstandingly successful in night fighters; in fact, it is safe to say that night fighters could hardly have operated so efficiently without this equipment.
As we have noted, radar is of no use below the surface of the water. Scientists, therefore, tackled the tough problem of attempting to develop a device that could detect objects under the water. Two devices were tried with a certain amount of success. One of these is known as MAD (magnetic airborne detection) gear. This equipment, as its name indicates, locates underwater objects that are constructed of metal. Installed on K‑type airships, the MAD equipment has been fairly successful in covering limited areas in search of either submarines or mines. The other device was a type of sonar equipment. This consisted of an expendable buoy that was dropped from the plane into the water. Within this object was a mechanism that picked up underwater sounds, such as the noise of a submarine propeller, and transmitted it to the search aircraft.
Another use of radar was in the field of recognition. In the dark days of the Battle of Britain it was essential to know the identity of planes flying across the Channel. The British, therefore, developed a system, known as IFF (identification, friend or foe), that was adopted by the United States. By setting up a standard recognition device, it was possible to recognize both friendly ships and aircraft. Installed on all our ships and planes late in 1943, this equipment was of great service throughout the duration of the war.
Another vital electronic device was, of course, the radio. More was known about radio than radar at the outbreak of the war, but there was still a great deal of work to be done. What was needed was a light-weight instrument that could be tuned quickly and that would be thoroughly reliable. During 1942 a satisfactory long-range radio was produced and installed on planes. It was found, however, that long-range transmitting had one serious defect. The enemy could listen, too, and in fact assigned men to monitor our circuits. An alternative was suggested p378 in the development of VHF (very high frequency) radio equipment which transmitted over a much shorter range and could reach planes from a carrier, for example, but would not normally be picked up by the enemy. This type of radio was rapidly improved to include more channels and to have more reliability of operation.
Radio was of great value in air‑sea rescue work. One of the most interesting "gadgets" was the so‑called "Gibson girl." This was a little transmitter with a pinched‑in middle portion that was held between the knees of the life-raft survivor while he cranked enough energy to send out a message for help. Later the VHF "Handy Talkie" was developed; it was but little larger than a flashlight. This was even more satisfactory for the downed pilot since he could communicate directly with his rescuers.
Electronics came to the aid of aircraft navigation, or avigation, as it is sometimes called. Both radar and radio were widely employed in this connection, and there were a number of variations that increased the security of air travel. One of these variations was called LORAN (long range navigation). Using what might be termed a combination of radio and radar, LORAN transmitters were set up at strategic spots throughout the world. By means of the proper equipment a navigator within •approximately fifteen hundred miles of one of these transmitters could fix his position at any point in that area. This is one wartime device that will be of inestimable value during peace.
A good deal of attention was given to the development of radio and radar countermeasures. The enemy was carrying on scientific work, too, and if his radar or his radio could be rendered useless, a great advantage could accrue to our side. Both sides made frequent and effective use of "window" or "chaff." These were thin metal foil strips that were dropped from a plane as it approached the target. These strips had a tendency to clutter the radar screen with so many "blips" that the plane itself could not be isolated in time to prevent the attack.
The question of lighting had a great many ramifications. A great deal of study and experimentation had to go into the kind of lighting, for example, to be used on the panel of a night fighter, so that the pilot could see the instruments without impairing his night vision. Some work was done, also, on the use of very powerful searchlights to blind the defenders during night attacks on submarines.
The field of electronics in war is relatively new. Electronics played an important part in determining the character of World War II, and p379 our successful use of electronic devices aided materially in achieving victory.
When war appeared imminent, it became painfully obvious that we knew next to nothing about Japanese installations in the islands of the Pacific. For years, the enemy had excluded all prying eyes from his possessions and from military areas in the home islands, yet exact knowledge was necessary to any amphibious landings, indeed was vital even to the success of air strikes. The intelligence information so urgently needed was in a large measure supplied by the marriage of the airplane and the camera, whose offspring in the form of thousands of pictures were subjected to analysis by a new art — that of photographic interpretation. As in so many other respects, we learned our first lessons from the British who had of necessity gone about developing the art after being driven from the continent in 1940. When the first United States naval officer to visit England and observe their methods returned late in the summer of 1941, plans got under way for the establishment of a school at the Naval Air Station, Anacostia, D. C., and the first students reported in January 1942. Before hostilities came to an end over 800 received basic instructions in photo interpretation and 650 were given further training in special aspects of the subject. Because of the close proximity of the school to the Navy Department, photographs were constantly being referred to it for expert analysis, and early in 1943 an interpretation unit was set up at Anacostia to handle the growing number of requests. By November of the same year, the value of this activity had become so great that a Photographic Interpretation Center (redesignated as the Photographic Intelligence Center in January 1945) was set up not only to include the school but also to provide services to the Navy Department, to maintain a central file of reconnaissance photographs, to develop new interpretation procedures, to carry on liaison functions with the Army and other government agencies, and to have in readiness photographic interpretation teams for the use of the fleet. Another activity of the center was training in methods for constructing three-dimensional terrain models, which had been begun early in 1943. Made from aerial photographs and other such sources of information as might be available, these models gave an exact picture of terrain features and were of inestimable value in planning amphibious operations and briefing pilots. Not only was instruction given at the center, but it also built over five thousand rubber models for the use of the armed forces.
p380 As the students of the school permeated through the fleet, there was a growing realization of the need both for photographic planes in existing fleet air wing and carrier organizations and also for long-range photographic squadrons to which were assigned specially equipped Liberators. The first of these squadrons commissioned in October, 1943, served in the South Pacific where in the hard school of experience many additional lessons were learned and applied. Most interesting of these was the centralization of trained personnel in a photographic interpretation squadron, which when joined to one of the specially equipped aircraft squadrons became a photographic group. The first of these groups was created in August, 1943, in the field at Guadalcanal. Even so brief a word as this indicates that photography was becoming a big business; it was also one in which techniques were constantly changing and developing; and it was considered important enough so that the Navy built a special laboratory for it at Anacostia. At the same time that the Navy was building up its work in this line so were the Army and our allies and there existed a constant exchange not only of intelligence information but also of techniques and procedures. Joint manuals were issued and the experience of one branch of the service proved invaluable to the other. For example, when our carriers moved against the Japanese homeland, photographic interpretation techniques developed by the Army Air Forces and the RAF for industrial Germany were taken over by the Navy and applied to the similar problems encountered at Kobe or Nagasaki.
Gasmata airfield, New Britain Island. Photo interpreters determine number, type, and operational condition of enemy aircraft and estimate state of repair of runway.
Bititu Island, Tarawa Atoll, scene of one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history. Photo interpreter's analysis of defense installations why.
Low level oblique of some of the defenses annotated on the previous page (i.e., in the immediately preceding photograph).
The improvement of weapons kept pace with other aviation developments during the war. At the outbreak of the conflict, the most generally used weapon was the .30‑caliber machine gun. As the war progressed it became necessary to replace this gun with weapons of greater fire power. The introduction of armor plating and self-sealing fuel tanks rendered the .30 caliber gun more or less impotent, and it was replaced by the more destructive .50 caliber machine gun, the 20mm gun, and, in the PBJ, the 75mm cannon.
Some of the most important changes made during the years from 1941 to 1943 were those in weapon accessories. Hydraulic chargers were developed, as well as pneumatic and electric chargers, and electric remote-trigger controls were installed. During the next two years, improvements were made on the .50 caliber and 20mm guns. The barrels were improved, for example, to permit more extended firing.
p381 The dropping of bombs involved a number of problems. Strong and foolproof bomb racks had to be constructed. Because effective aiming was necessary, various bombsights were utilized, and toward the end of the war radar was used with success in securing hits through clouds and overcast. Bombs not only have to be constructed to explode but must detonate at the right time. A depth charge, for example, has to explode at a certain depth and proximity to cause maximum damage to a submarine. A bomb dropped from a slowly moving plane at low altitude must not explode too soon or the plane itself would be a casualty. Different types of bombs were needed for various objectives; for example, fragmentation bombs were more effective against personnel, heavy bombs were needed for large ships or huge gun emplacements. The Navy Bureau of Ordnance worked on these and many other problems and produced superior fuses and bombs for all occasions.
In the main there were two types of gun installations on planes, fixed and flexible. The former were directed by aiming the entire plane. Planes having a number of these guns installed and synchronized in their operation, presented a terrific fire power over a restricted area, capable, for instance, of cutting an enemy aircraft into fragments. The fixed fire power of navy planes was enormously increased. In 1935 the Navy's standard fighter, for example, carried two .30 caliber machine guns; the F7F, on the other hand, had four 20mm guns and four .50 caliber guns and could fire 22 times as much weight of projectile per second as the older aircraft. The free firing guns were on flexible or movable mounts, that sometimes were and sometimes were not installed in turrets. The advantage of a turret, which could be power driven, was that it could be extended a short distance from the body of the plane and thus made possible a wider range of fire.
One of the outstanding weapons developed in this war was the rocket. Like most ordnance developments, this was the product of work by all military services and allied scientific agencies. A rocket was essentially a missile that carried its own motive power (jet‑like in form) within it. Its main advantage was its combination of light weight with a terrific impact effect. With an installation of rockets, a fighter plane could become virtually a bomber, and the advantage of this development to carrier warfare is of course obvious. Like all other innovations, the use of rockets required a great deal of experimentation. At first, long runners or launchers were attached to the underside of aircraft wings. These tended to create too much of a drag, and it was with considerable relief that it was discovered that a "runway" was unnecessary, and that p382 rockets could be started on their way from "zero length" launchers that weighed little and did not materially affect the aerodynamic performance of the planes. A great deal of study also went into the problem of making rockets more accurate, and significant gains were made in this direction. An outstanding rocket developed for aircraft use was the "Holy Moses." This was a •five-inch rocket that was especially valuable for strafing and pin‑point attack, in view of that fact that it had greater accuracy of aim than a bomb. It also proved to be especially effective against lighter shipping. Need for a more powerful weapon led to the development of an •11‑inch rocket named "Tiny Tim." Although it delivered a blow nearly equal to that of a torpedo, it could be carried and launched by navy fighters.
Another important offensive weapon was the aerial torpedo. The Japanese had demonstrated the power of this weapon in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and, once again, we improved it, and turned it back on the enemy with devastating effect. As in the case of other weapons, a great deal of experimentation was made on the torpedo. One of the major problems to be solved was that of launching the device successfully from a plane traveling at high speed. There was a danger that the torpedo would hit the water with such an impact that its course in the water would be deflected. A solution to this problem was found in a device that protected the vital control surfaces and still permitted the torpedo to run "hot and true" through the water to the target.
As naval aviation improved its offensive weapons, it also gave attention to protection of the personnel in naval aircraft. Some sort of armor had long been thought of, but before 1940 it was out of the question because of the excessive weight that would be involved. The development of lightweight metals and other materials of great strength, however, made armor possible. At first, main consideration was given to protecting the pilot; but later, as materials were improved, the gunners and other personnel were afforded a certain amount of protection. As we have already noted, the introduction of armor was a major factor in causing a shift from the .30 caliber machine gun to weapons of heavier caliber. By 1944 heavier armor became necessary and was installed because of the enemy's use of heavier guns. There was danger not only from enemy aircraft fire, but also from antiaircraft fire, commonly known as "flak." It was found that anti-flak suits constructed of laminated layers of nylon and other synthetic materials could be of considerable protective value. Flak curtains of nylon were also discovered to be an effective substitute for fixed metal armor plate.
Ranking high in the scientific aids to naval aviation have been those in the field of medicine and surgery. The work that surgeons, doctors, and nurses have done for the wounded in all the fighting forces is an indispensable contribution that lies outside the scope of this account. In addition to these services, however, medical science has brought its special talents to bear on a number of problems that deal specifically with aviation. In recognition of the fact that such problems existed, a separate classification of Flight Surgeon was used to designate a group of doctors who flew and who were aware of the particular problems of the pilot and other aviation personnel.
One of the most important functions of this group of men was to see that only those physically and mentally fit to fly became aviators. Carefully designed examinations were prepared for the candidates for flight training. The medical officers' functions, however, did not cease with picking out the right men. Their task also was to see that these men, once they passed their training and were engaged in naval aviation operations, maintained their fitness. Periodic tests were given to make sure that personnel did not slip below the physical requirements. Mental conditions, likewise, were watched. Combat fatigue and excessive tours of duty under unfavorable weather conditions were observed by flight surgeons with a view to keeping men in good mental as well as physical shape. The flight surgeon had the last word on whether or not a man was fit to fly and could remove men from flight lists until he considered that they were in condition.
In other ways medical science concerned itself with naval aviation. One of the important developments of the Navy's air war was dive bombing. As planes were improved to stand the strain of pulling out of a dive, something had to be done to enable the pilot to resist this same strain. It was found, for example, that as a plane pulled out of a dive, the blood in the pilot's body rushed toward his feet. If the dive and pull‑out were sufficiently strong, enough blood would be forced away from the aviator's head to cause him to "black out," and the chances were strong that he might not recover his senses in time to prevent a crash. Aviation medicine attacked this problem from two angles. One was to attempt to educate fliers so that they would know their limits in such matters. The other was to attempt to devise a so‑called "Anti‑G" suit that would prevent or lessen the possibility of blackouts. Roughly speaking, this was a suit that could be pumped up so tightly about the p384 lower portion of the body that blood could not force its way down and away from the brain. Although these suits were not the most comfortable apparel in the world, pilots soon found that wearing them gave an added edge over the enemy.
The Bureau of Medicine and Surgery made many studies of the problem of maintaining life at high altitudes. The use of oxygen had made possible flight operations up to •about 43,000 feet. These altitudes, as well as flight conditions in the Aleutians and in other cold climates, brought about, in addition, a great deal of experimentation on various types of flight clothing. As a result, a number of different flight uniforms were devised, from lightweight summer equipment to electrically heated clothing for the coldest weather.
Medical science performed a great service in helping the development of night fighting. Careful studies of night vision were made, and tests were conducted on proper lighting. Conversely, daytime flying was made easier as a result of the development of high-grade sunglasses and goggles.
Both the Bureau of Aeronautics and the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery were interested in all types of safety devices. For example, originally the safety belt extended merely across the waist. It was found, however, that in crash landings, the occupant of the plane was often thrown against the instrument panels. A scientifically devised shoulder harness was developed, therefore, that saved many lives. The effects of parachuting were also studied; parachute harnesses were improved, jumping techniques were developed, and once again a saving of life resulted.
Another problem connected with safety was that of survival after crashes or forced landings. Studies were made of compact foods that would sustain life over an extended period. In addition, there was the question of providing an adequate water supply. Outstanding in this connection was the development of a kit that produced a drinkable water from sea water. Its main importance was that it permitted a seven days' supply of water in the space that formerly would have held but a single day's supply. For protection against the sun, special sunburn lotions were developed, and exposure suits of light weight were made the subject of experiment.
Toward the end of 1944, a new service was offered by medical science. At NAS Alameda, a school was started for nurses and corpsmen for the "air evacuation of casualties." From the graduates of these schools, together with flight surgeons and others, so‑called VRE squadrons were set up. Wounded had been evacuated by air from combat areas as early p385 as 1942, but in these new squadrons the problem was tackled by a well-trained team of experts. The nurses had to learn how to administer oxygen, they had to be prepared for "ditching" procedures in case the plane should be forced down in flight, they had to be able to deal with air sickness, as well as with the various injuries of the patients who were being evacuated. By a careful screening process, the wounded who most needed to be flown back to this country made the trip — and made it under the expert care and men and women specially trained for their duties.
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World War II
U. S. Naval
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