As Benny said, "It would have been interesting."
The next day the field was closed and put on wartime alert. The training schedule of his flying class was speeded up and most leave was canceled.
Reconnaissance flying training had a big surprise for Benny; he would be flying fighters. For three months at "recon school," the pilots got extra training in photography, pin point navigation, code and aerial observation. Following graduation, Benny's group was transferred to New Orleans and flew submarine patrol in the Gulf of Mexico.
In a few months he was transferred to North Carolina into a squadron on maneuvers, getting ready to go overseas. It was then that Benny flew his first P-40. The fastest plane he had previously flown had a top speed of 120 mph; the P-40 cruised at 200 mph.
Benny got "checked out" and took off. He said, "I knew this was the hottest thing around. The P-40 flew beautifully, as responsive as a Cub It was so hot that after a couple of hours of flying time, Benny decided to try some aerobatics taught to him by the civilian instructor at Brooks Field.
He slow rolled the P-40 and flew it upside down. The plane did a beautiful job. Next he decided to try a loop. Then he put the plane in a dive, pulled back on the stick, and as Benny put it, "I lost the world. I didn't know where I was. I couldn't find myself." He pushed the stick forward, but by that time he had lost air speed and went into an inverted spin. Of course, pilots are taught how to get out of stalls and spins.
Benny remembered. He made a turn and a half and kicked the plane out of the spin. He didn't try aerobatics again for a while.
A couple of days later the squadron operations officer told Benny that there was a new P-40 at an aircraft replacement depot in Charlotte, N.C. If P-40 could be tested, the plane could go overseas with the squadron. Benny went to the field near Charlotte to check the new P-40. As he ground checked the plane, the fuel warning light came on, but being a mechanic, he back checked it against the fuel pressure gauge and decided it wasn't anything to worry about. He took off, got to 300 feet, and the engine quit. The field was out of reach. He told the tower he was in trouble and that he was going down.
Benny was thorough person, and it was his strict policy to read all emergency information before taking off in a new or unfamiliar airplane. He tried everything on the emergency checklist except the last two - drop the belly take and let the engines override the throttle. He was out of time. The plane hit a line of trees and landed upside down, headed the same direction he had been flying. And he walked away!
In October 1942, Benny's squadron went overseas on the Queen Mary. His squadron had four P-40s.
In England, the squadron received 15 more planes and consisted of 19 second lieutenant pilots and planes. After months of training in log flight navigation and gas consumption, the squadron followed an 825 to North Africa.
The airfield where they landed turned out to be an improved narrow road with desert on both sides. By the time they arrived, the planes were so low on gas they could not circle the strip and had to go straight in. The fighters had 6-8 gallons of gas in their tanks, but they all made it.
They were trucked to an airfield 10 miles south of the Kasserine Pass, where American and allied forces were taking heavy losses from German forces. Flying weather was terrible.
With the German tanks so close to the field, the pilots were told to be ready to fly their planes to another field or destroy their planes and get out any way they could.
The squadron went into action as soon as the weather cleared. Intelligence wanted information as to where the German tanks were and how many trucks and how many men were with the tanks. The navigation had to be pinpoint. They flew in two or four plane groups, flying just 10 feet off the ground, about 100 yards apart, bouncing and flying sideways to avoid enemy ground fire. All the reconnaissance was visual - they didn't have cameras.