Screaming Purvis

Owen Garriott has some interesting recollections of his time during flight training, and of one instructor in particular.

''As already noted, being sent to jet training felt just like Br'er Rabbit must have felt upon being thrown into the Briar Patch! That's just what we would want. The first primary jet that we saw was the T-37, a small side-by-side seating aircraft, not too fast, but very noisy.

''Although only thirty-four years old at the time, the USAF apparently thought I might be too old to learn how to fly fast jets. They even thought I might have difficulty being the student of some young, Second Lieutenant flight instructor - or at least that was the story told to me by my assigned T-37 instructor, Captain 'Purvis' (name slightly changed for reasons that will become apparent in a moment!). Purvis was also in his mid-thirties, the oldest Instructor-Pilot (IP) in the squadron. He considered himself an excellent instructor, but had had the misfortune to have been involved in an earlier mid-air collision and had then been passed over for promotion to major. As a result, any rapid head motion from the student sitting next to him, such as a quick turn of one's head to the left, could easily initiate an excited 'Where? Where?' as if the student were about to involve him in another mid-air collision.

''Captain Purvis was known by another nickname throughout the Training Squadron, acquired from his personal technique for instructing his students - it was 'Screaming Purvis.' He had no favourites; everyone got the same treatment, literally screaming at them all. However, for particularly egregious errors (perhaps failing to set in an 'out bound heading' correctly for example, or any number of others), the screaming could continue on for quite a number of seconds. Then when back on the ground, he was usually quite calm, even complimentary, about the student's overall flying technique and if one dared inquire about the excited nature of his instruction, he was informed that it was for the purpose of teaching the student to 'concentrate.'

''Upon occasion, it exceeded what could even be reasonably tolerated. One of my fellow students had made some simple mistake which apparently drove Screaming Purvis into a rage. He reached across to the student's oxygen hose (we always flew breathing through an oxygen hose and face mask), grabbed the hose cutting off all air flow and jerked the student's head up and down, all the while screaming some kind of correction, never understood by the student! They made it back, with a somewhat shaken student-pilot, but almost no mention was made at the post-flight debriefing of the now-forgotten cause of the incident.

''But this did provoke some serious thinking on my part. What should I do in a similar circumstance? The first thought was to simply return the favour with a sharp blow across his face mask. But a fight in the cockpit would almost surely end both of our careers, and I had a lot more to lose than he did! I finally decided that in the same situation as my fellow student, I would simply fold my hands in front of me and declare 'Captain Purvis, you have the airplane.' (I would take back control, however, if the ground appeared to be approaching too fast! High speed 'chicken,' I suppose.) I was convinced that his superiors on the ground would see the wisdom in my action.

''I could very well have been mistaken in this, however, because he was finally promoted to major later in the year. Vietnam required all the pilots the Training Command could supply in 1965-66. And I was fortunately never faced with this decision, only my share of the 'screaming.'

''An interesting sequel to this story was provided by another 'elderly' student. Twenty-six-year-old Lieutenant John Fabian had been scheduled to be in our class starting in July 1965, but he was notified by the AF that he would be delayed about five months because the AF had to accept four NASA students in the earlier class. But when he finally arrived at Williams, he was placed right in the original slots where we had been. In fact, his T-37 instructor turned out to be the infamous Screaming Purvis as well. He endured all the screaming and the polite debriefings as before, except this time he also encountered a grabbed oxygen mask and head jerks to the point of his face mask striking the control stick of the airplane! After graduation, John completed a PhD program in the AF, flew ninety combat missions in Vietnam, and was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1978, flying two Space Shuttle missions thereafter. As close friends now, we can almost joke about these experiences but neither of us would attribute any of our later successes, whatever they might be, to the flight training of Captain 'Purvis.' We should also add that we believe the AF IP ranks no longer hold any of these outdated, bizarre examples of misguided instruction.''

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