Mar 3rd, 2020

Midway Hero Richard “Dick” Best

As recorded in last week’s blog, I recently viewed the movie, Midway.  One of the pilots highlighted in the film is Midway hero Richard “Dick” Best.  I decided to research Dick Best further.

Over the years, I learned that Hollywood can take “artistic license” to an extreme.  So much so that the actual events and characters are badly distorted.  I wondered if this was the case with Midway and Dick Best.

Flight Deck of the USS Enterprise, May 1942

In one of the opening scenes of the film, Best is pictured flying his Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless over the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.  In order to practice engine loss procedures, Best cuts the engine off (scaring his back seater).  Best explains that he is practicing engine out procedures in case he has to do it for real one day in the future.  (This is standard operating procedure in flying). 

Best descends towards the Enterprise at a steep glide slope.  Best then puts his SBD into a “slip”.  A slip is when aileron is inputted (controlling the roll) and opposite rudder is inputted (controlling the yaw).  So, for example, Best would put in left aileron and right rudder. 

Aircraft in a slight slip

Picture a car fishtailing around a snowy curve and then continuing in the fishtail position while traveling along the straight portion of a road.  This is the best picture I can give the reader of an aircraft slip.  Of course, besides the fishtail the aircraft is descending as it operates in three dimensions versus the two dimensions bounding a car.   

The Slip

The slip allows an aircraft to safely descend at a steep glideslope.  Just as the pilot nears the round out and flare for landing, the aileron and rudder are released.  The aircraft returns to a “straight ahead” position and the pilot accomplishes the landing.  As an aside, the slip is sometimes used by pilots in approach to landing during high crosswinds. 

Additional Thoughts

Best and his squadron mates of VB-6, six months before Midway

I won’t spoil the movie for those who had yet to view it.  Perhaps in a future blog I will examine the oxygen problem that some of the fliers encountered. 

As for the question of artistic license, suffice it to say that alcohol use and abuse was emphasized and glamourized as part of the film.  I was not alive at the time and obviously, was not part of naval flight during this period.  I can say that contemporary military aviation films made during my time “in the wild blue yonder” emphasized and glamorized alcohol use and abuse far more that I personally witnessed it at any Officer’s Club or flyers’ gathering.  Ditto for the use of foul language.  However, as for the flying footage of Dick Best’s “slip”, I can attest that the maneuver (perhaps not the entry or exit) was faithfully portrayed.

Richard “Dick” Best

As a final note, I wanted my 16 year old son to view the film.  I wanted to make sure that he understood that men, just a few years older than he, paid a great price to win World War II.  The United States could have easily lost that war and as a result, the world would be a much different place.  “To those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor that the protected will never know.”

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