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"Last Roll Call - The Adventure of a B-17 Tailgunner"

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Kristina McMorris recently published her first novel; set during WWII, Letters From Home, is having great success. Her second novel, Bridges of Scarlet Leaves, is due for release in February of 2012. The setting is also WWII and her main character is a B-17 tailgunner. The following exchange of emails will reveal how she came across Last Roll Callas part of her research and will also reveal the pains taking effort she put forth to make sure she "got it right." The most shocking and exciting email came when Kristina informed Ken that an incident in her story had been inspired by his recount of the time his parachute had been stolen.

 

Letters From Home was published in the US by Kensington Books, in the UK by Avon/Harper Collins and the condensed version by Reader's Digest. Chinese rights have been awarded to Beijing Mediatime Books. The film rights have been acquired by Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles. Learn more about Kristina and her books at  http://www.kristinamcmorris.com/home.php?pg=media

 

 

 

 

     US/Canada                                                                         United Kingdom

 

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Kristina Yoshida McMorris's Photos

WWII RESEARCH - BOOK #2

 

 

Copied from her Facebook Page. http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?

 

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 They're absolutely right; flying in a B-17 is a dream come true.

 

 

 

 Aluminum Overcast": one of only 14 B-17s that still gives flight tours. This was the best Mother's Day gift ever! (And yes, I was the only female onboard - lol.)

 

 

 

 And here, folks, was MY SEAT on the B-17 flight!! The view from the nose was absolutely breathtaking. To reach this spot, I had to literally crawl through a small opening under the pilots' seats.

 

 

 

 The waist gunners' station and ball turret (on floor). Note the yellow tank of oxygen for the ball turret gunner

 

 

 

 The waist gunner's view; gorgeous and relaxing when you're not looking for enemy aircraft. For a moment, I could imagine what it must have looked like cruising over English farmland.

 

 

 

The bomb bay as viewed from the cockpit. Notice the tiny width of the walkway to reach the radio compartment. (Glad I didn't have that extra bagel for breakfast - ha.)

 

 

 

The navigator's station near the nose of the aircraft. Thankfully, they didn't put me in charge of navigation; otherwise, we'd still be flying around.

 

 

 

Two of the four engines that kept us airborne. Sending love to those propellers, lots and lots of love.

  

 

 

Here I am, still buzzing after taking my flight. You can see my seat in the nose of the B-17! Except for takeoff and landing, we were allowed to walk around the entire ride.
 

 

 

 Giving thanks to "Aluminum Overcast" and its pilots for a fabulously smooth and safe flight (aka - a "milk run").

 

 

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"Witchcraft" - a B-24 from the Wings of Freedom Tour

 

 

 

It takes one small person to fit into the ball turret on the floor of a B-24. 

 

 

What could possibly go wrong on a mission with me manning a waist gun on a B-24??
 

 

 Interviews with three amazing WWII vets, Japanese-Americans who served in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), a secret Army branch responsible for code-breaking and interrogations against the Empire of Japan.

 

 

Having coffee in L.A. with Sets Tomita, a former internee during WWII and uncle to actress Tamlyn Tomita (Joy Luck Club, Karate Kid II).

 

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The following are shots copied from Kristina's Facebook Page. They were taken when she was researching her first novel at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum WWII Air Show.                 http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1381235526094.2056412.1088124709&l=87f1038eda

 

 

 

Members (reenactors) of the 33rd Signal Construction Battalion resting in the French Village. 
 
 
 
The latest addition to the motor pool. Clear the roads, folks!
  
 
 
 
Attendees sporting vintage clothing and Victory curls.
 
 
 
 
Thanks to Eric, I got to handle several WWII weapons. Luckily for the crowd, they were unloaded.
 
 
 
A Japanese "Val" dive bomber -- these models flew in the first wave to hit Pearl Harbor.
 
 
Don Malarkey, famed vet from Band of Brothers. After years of sharing common acquaintances and correspondence, Don and I finally had the chance to meet!
 
 
 
Lynn "Buck" Compton, famed vet from Band of Brothers -- one of the most inspirational, accomplished, and generous people I know. It has been an absolute joy getting to know Buck, and seeing him again was one of the highlights of my trip
 
 
The letters that sparked my literary career. Wartime courtship from my grandfather (Papa) to Grandma Jean. Such a treasure!
 
 
 
-----Original Message-----
From: Kristina McMorris <mc2daniel@aol.com>
To: kenstucker <kenstucker@aol.com>; wandatgoodwin <wandatgoodwin@aol.com>
Sent: Thu, May 27, 2010 12:31 pm
Subject: Last Roll Call

Dear Mr. Tucker and Ms. Goodwin,

As a WWII novelist in the midst of researching the AAF for my next book, I wanted to congratulate you on your wonderful memoir. It came highly recommended by several people on the AAF online forum, and I can certainly understand why. Although serving in the Pacific, my character is a B-17 gunner, so your book was incredibly insightful. I will no doubt be citing "Last Roll Call" in the Author's Note of my novel as a fabulous source of information.

My journey into the publishing world was also ignited by the wartime stories of loved ones. It was from reading my grandfather's love letters penned during his naval service that first made clear to me how important it is, now more than ever, to spread word about the heroic acts of your generation, Mr. Tucker -- even if you, like so many vets I have since had the pleasure of interviewing, humbly insist you were "only doing your job."

Mr. Tucker - If you have a moment, and are comfortable sharing, I do have one area of inquiry. I was hoping you could tell me your approximate height and weight during your service as a tail gunner. It is my understanding that the ball-turret gunners required the smallest size of the crew, but I had heard that this was also an element of importance for tail gunners due to the limited space in your compartment. I would welcome your input, as I strive to be as accurate as possible.

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to fly in a B-17G as part of my research. Aside from takeoff and landing, I was encouraged to roam the entire flight, and I can assure you that it's an experience I will never forget.

Again, a heartfelt congratulations on your memoir. What a treasure for your family to share!

Kind regards,
Kristina McMorris

 
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Hello Kristina,
Thank you for ordering my book and I'm glad to hear that you found it useful in your research. As to your question concerning my height and weight - at that time I was 5'9" and weighed 160 pounds.If you look at the picture on page 52 you will notice that the guy standing third from right was the ball turret gunner. Because of his small size the pilot immediately assigned him to the ball turret. I don't remember seeing any tail gunners taller than me. There just wasn't enough room back there, however, the G models did have more room in the tail than the E and F models but still not enough room to accommodate a person much larger than myself. I will be happy to talk with you about any questions you might have about my WWII experiences. Email me or call me at 850-265-1321. I usually don't read fiction but I will make an exception for your book. I am looking forward to reading it. Best of luck.
Sincerely,
Ken
 
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Hi Ken,
I have an area of research I'm hoping you can help me with....
For B-17s on an air-sea rescue mission (in this particular case, late 1942 in the Pacific with no enemy in the vicinity), do you recall what was standard procedure once survivors were found floating on a raft?Would the pilot have likely radioed the coordinates to ASR boats run by the Navy, then continued to circle the area if the B-17 had enough fuel?
(I've also heard that some B-17s were fitted with rafts under the belly that would be lowered for rescues. Not sure if that's the case.)
Also, on air-sea rescue missions, would crew members usually man their stations during the search?
Thank you in advance! Have a wonderful weekend.
All best,
Kristina
www.KristinaMcmorris.com
LETTERS FROM HOME, coming 3.1.11
Kensington Books (US), Harper Collins/Avon (UK)
 
 
Can't find Ken's response but I remember that he told her he was never involved in an air-sea rescue so he could not answer her questions.
 
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Sent, Jul 10, 2010 10:05 pm

Ken, Hi again,
Sorry! I do have a few more for you....
While stationed on Oahu during the war, I have an Air Corps sargeant who seeks permission for an extended furlough based on a family emergency. Who would he likely approach with this request? (I was hoping he could approach an officer who has an actual office on the base and with whom he doesn't usually interact.) For example, would a Lt. Col. be too high ranking?
Also, if memory serves, after you graduated from gunnery training you weren't promoted to corporal as was promised. I believe you were a PFC? Was this what you recall as being typical for others?
The reason I ask is that a fellow WWII Air Corps author (who does an enormous amount of research) claimed that after gunnery training many/most gunners were promoted to sergeant, under the belief that if captured overseas they would receive better treatment according to the Geneva Convention -- which, from what I understand, proved often to be the opposite by the Japanese.
I would love to know what you recall of the sergeant promotions.
Thanks so much!!!
Kristina
www.KristinaMcmorris.com
LETTERS FROM HOME, coming 3.1.11
Kensington Books (US), Harper Collins/Avon (UK)
 
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Sent: Fri, Jul 16, 2010 12:12 pm

Kristina,
Your first question - It was customary to first talk to your commanding officer who would probably have been a major or lieutenant colonel. If there were any issues with the commanding officer then the soldier would go directly to the chaplain ( usually a captain) who had the final say so. The chaplin's decision would be final. There were two people who could override any order and that was the chaplin and the flight surgeon (doctor).
As far as I remember if you had attended another technical school (radio operator or aircraft mechanic etc) and then attended gunnery school then you would be promoted to sergeant. In my case, we had been in aviation cadets and not in another technical school so we were considered career gunners and not given the higher rank of corporal as promised.
It was standard procedure that no matter what your rank, if shot down, you automatically became at least a sergeant. The officers had their rank on their flight suits. We had no insignia of rank on our flight suits or our ID card (look on page 88 in my book) so the enemy would have no way of knowing our true rank. I only flew three combat missions as a corporal then was promoted to sergeant. It is my understanding that the Germans did honor some of the rules of the Geneva Convention but the Japanese honored nothing.
I hope this was helpful. If you have any other questions please let me know. I will try to answer sooner next time. Best regards, KEN

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Sent: Fri, Jul 16, 2010 2:50 pm

Dear Ken,

Your answers have been extremely helpful. Thank you so much!

My only other questions at the moment are, what rank would your commanding officer likely have been as a PFC? And as a corporal?

Thanks again!

Kind regards,
Kristina
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Sent: Sun, Jul 18, 2010 12:50 pm
 
Kristina,
As a PFC I was in crew training and my squadron commander was a lieutenant colonel and the same was true when I was a corporal. Keep the questions coming and I'll answer them if I can. Looking forward to reading the book. KEN
 
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Thank you, Ken! You're the best. :)
 
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Sent: Thu, Mar 31, 2011 12:58 pm
 
Hi Ken,

I hope this message finds you well.

Since last corresponding with you, I'm happy to report that I've completed my latest novel, which is due for release early next year through Kensington Books in the U.S. and HarperCollins in the U.K.

Given that the manuscript will soon undergo its final edits, I was hoping you or someone you know might bewilling to read a small handful of chapters that involve the Air Corps during WWII (totaling approximately 20 book pages) in order to flag any possible errors. Specifically, these chapters feature a tail gunner on a B-17 in the Pacific. I've done a great deal of research on the subject -- even flown on a restored B-17 (an experience I'll never forget!) -- but I would hate for any inaccuracies to slip through if I can help it.

If it's too much trouble, please don't worry. You've already been amazingly helpful.

Thanks so much for your consideration.

With kind regards,
Kristina

 
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Sent: Sat, Apr 2, 2011 6:05 am

Hi Kristina,
 
I would be honored to have a look at any portion of your book. Please send the pages to my daughters email address because she has a printer and can print off the pages for me. Her address is wtgoodwin@aol.com. I'm looking forward to helping you out any way I can. I recently went up in a B-17 after over 60 years. What an exsperience. If you have time go to my web site www.lastrollcall.net and follow the link to my daughters blog where she talks about the event. Ken
 
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Hi Ken,

Oh, that's wonderful news. Thank you so much! You're a sweetheart. I'll email the pages to Wanda right now, and will look forward to hearing from you.

How exciting that you were able to fly in a B-17 again. I imagine it was a much more relaxing flight this time around. :)

I'll definitely check out the blog link and your website to read more about it.

Thanks again. Enjoy your weekend!

Warm wishes,
Kristina
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-----Sent: Thu, Apr 7, 2011 7:55 am
Kristina,
We're slow I know. This is my first attempt at editing a manuscript on the computer. Many of my dad's corrections had already been made in the second manuscript but he had a few suggestions. I threw in a couple of my own; hope you don't mind. There are suggestions only in Chapters 27, 30 and 45. Best of luck and speed at this final phase. We can't wait to read the book. I'm already convinced that it's a moving and compelling story. If my dad can be of further assistance don't hesitate to contact him. He LOVES it. If there is a problem with the attachment also let me know. As I said, I'm new at this. Wanda

 

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Sent: Thu, Apr 7, 2011 10:53 am

 

Wanda,

 

Oh my goodness, not slow at all! I'm so grateful for the comments from both you and your dad. They're very helpful. I've already applied changes, yay.

What's funny about the "flight bag" issue is that I originally used "duffel" and "duffel bag" to describe it. But then the other WWII airman (an engineer) told me that "duffel" was wrong; that I should use "flight bag" or "B-4" bag instead. Since most readers would have no clue what a B-4 bag looked like, I went with "flight bag." LOL. Just goes to show you how subjective some of this stuff is. For what it's worth, in all of my research reading, I'm fairly certain I've always read it as "duffel."

Would you mind asking you dad if the following would also be acceptable in narrative (not dialogue):
"Army-issue duffel (bag)"
"Air Corps bag"
"Air Corps duffel (bag)"

As for your question about "reveille" (which I appreciated!).... I was fairly certain it's a generic term, a French word literally meaning "wake up." But prompted by your note, I wanted to make sure. So I did some searching in my AP book and online, and came across this page that I found pretty interesting about both reveille AND Taps. Thought you might enjoy it too: http://johnemcintyre.blogspot.com/2009/12/three-volleys-and-bugle-call.html

(I personally agree with the capitalization of Taps; I think it warrants the upgrade.) :)

Thank you again for everything, including your kind words about the story!

Warm wishes,
Kristina
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Kristina,
Sorry for not getting back sooner. Dad says he's never heard anybody use any other descriptive words along with "duffel." To him it's always been and always will be just a duffel bag. Hope this helps. Dad says he sure is looking forward to reading your book. Wanda
 
 
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Wanda,

Wonderful! I'll be sure to stick with that. Thanks again to you both!

Have a great weekend.

Warm wishes,
Kristina
 

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Hi Ken,

First off, THANK YOU for your very helpful comments on my chapters! The notes have been wonderful.

Based on your suggestions, I've adjusted the sentence about the Zero firing a cannon shell to read as follows:

Out into the clearing, the Zero sprang up from its cover and unloaded machine gun fire that barely missed the rudder.

1) Is that sentence acceptable now? Specifically, is it plausible that the B-17 gunner would be able to actually see the trail of machine gun fire?

2) Or do I need a bullet or two to instead hit (or graze, nick, etc.) the rudder? And if so, would the B-17 react to the minor hit?

(If the revised sentence reads fine, obviously skip #2.) :)

Thanks again!
Kristina
 
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Sent: Fri, Apr 15, 2011 3:21 pm
 
Kristina,
 
Dad says this, " The tail gunner would not have been able to see machine gun fire that missed the rudder, in fact he wouldn't have been able to see the rudder at all. The rudder is just above the tail gunner position and out of his sight. In my book it was the rudder cable that was hit and I could see that because the rudder cable is inside the tail gunner compartment above his head. It was a freak hit because the cable is only about a half inch in diameter. Maybe say ' a bullet passed through the skin of the tail just below the Plexi glass and above the gun mounts.' The bullet could go through the tail behind him but he wouldn't know about it until he left his position. Maybe have a bullet hit and shatter a section of the Plexi glass. It wouldn't necessarily fly out and injure him. Likely it would just shatter and stay in place. Let me know if you need more suggestions." Wanda
 
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Ken,
I'm so glad I asked! I'd hate to get that wrong.

If machine gun fire hit the Plexiglass, would it definitely shatter? Or could it do less damage - like "gouge it" or "take a bite out of it" or something similar?

If it would indeed shatter a "lower section" (if that's the correct wording) of the Plexiglass, would air start blowing in from outside onto the tail gunner?

Just want to make sure I'm understanding correctly.

Thanks again!! I'm so grateful for the help.
Kristina
 
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Sent: Fri, Apr 15, 2011 5:04 pm
 
Kristina,
As soon as the situation settled down the tailgunner would probably get on the radio and say something like,"Tail to crew. Everything' s OK back here. Took a hit to the left side window. Shattered it and went through the right side, shattered it too." I believe that any hit with a 50 caliber bullet would shatter the window, not nick it. For some reason I keep thinking the window would stay intact, just shattered. I just don't think the window would take a nick without shattering but I'm not positive. It never happened to me so I can't be sure. The Japanese might have fired something smaller that a 50 caliber which might actually have nicked the window without shattering it, again I'm not sure of that either.
Ken

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Sent: Fri, Apr 15, 2011 7:22 pm
 
 Ken,Gotcha. If it shatters one of the windows, would a flow of air hit the tail gunner, in your opinion?

As an alternative, what else could a bullet hit (instead of the Plexiglass) that the tail gunner would be able to detect? As you mentioned before, would he likely know if a bullet hit just outside, or perhaps just below, the Plexiglass?

Thanks for your patience with all these questions. :)
Kristina
 
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Sent: Thu, Apr 21, 2011 2:01 pm

 

Kristina,

 

My dad has been a little under the weather so hasn't checked his emails. I just talked to him and I'll try to tell you what he had to say. He said a .50 caliber bullet could easily enter the side (the skin) of the tail above the guns and below the plexi glass and in front of the gunner and travel through and go out the other side. It would leave holes about half inch in diameter which would easily be visible to the gunner. If a bullet hit one of the guns it would ricochet and do damage to the tail compartment or the gunner and/or damage and disable the gun. I think he's having trouble with this question because it never happened to him except the one time when the bullet hit the rudder cable and of course cut it in two. I'm trying to help with this but honestly I don't know enough to add anything. I know you're getting close to finishing and that must be so exciting. Don't hesitate to keep the questions coming if need be. 
Wanda 
 
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Wanda,


Thanks so much for passing your father's answers along, Wanda! Please tell him that I hope he feels better soon, and that I'm again grateful for his help.

Enjoy your weekend!
Kristina
 
################################################################
 
 
-----Original Message-----
From: Kristina McMorris <mc2daniel@aol.com>
To: kenstucker <
kenstucker@aol.com>
Sent: Wed, Apr 27, 2011 2:16 pm
Subject: More questions

Hi Ken (and Wanda),

I hope you're well!

I'm still doing a final polish on my manuscript. Since an incident in my story was inspired by your recount of the time your parachute was stolen, I was hoping you could share a little more detail about the circumstances.

1) After a mission or training flight, did you check in your parachute pack with your other supplies at the "crew shack"?

2) Did you personally discover it missing the next time you were in the crew shack preparing for a flight?

3) Were you reprimanded by a commander for its disappearance? If not, is that plausible?

4) Also, do you recall if your parachute was made of nylon?

Thanks so much for letting me pester you further. I'm ever grateful. :)

Warmly,
Kristina
 
 
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Hey Kristina,
 
It's Wanda and I've got Dad on speaker phone so he can tell me what to type. Hope this helps and remember he thoroughly enjoys helping you out. Keep the questions coming. Wanda
 
1. Yes, you put your parachute and parachute harness in a bin in the personal equipment shack which was on the flight line. The bins weren't locked but there was a supply sergeant who issued flight equipment. The thief had to get past him. I really don't have any idea how the guy got my chute. It was a random act. He wasn't after my chute, just any chute. They were iIdentified by stenciled first initial of last name then last four numbers of serial number so mine was T2107.
 
2. Yes, we were preparing for a training mission so I immediately reported it to the supply sergeant. He was not too happy but I was able to convince him that I didn't steal it and I think some of my crew members chimed in and assured him that I had no reason to take it. At first he was going to write up a statement of charges which would have had the cost of a replacement taken out of my pay. We all moaned and carried on so that he said he would just wait until the next plane crashed and write it up as lost in the crash. Yes, we lost planes on training missions. Wish I could remember how much it would have cost me. I know it would have taken a huge chunk out of my next paycheck, if not all of it. He issued me another one from the extras that were issued to visitors who were not on a regular crew. Nothing was ever said about it again and I don't remember if he ever stenciled my identification on the replacement. Remember, my incident happened during training in Alexandria, Louisiana and not overseas in the war. The consequences might have been different if it had happened in Italy.
 
3. No, but possibly he could have said something to my pilot but I don't think it would have gone any further than that if even that far.
 
4. Yes, that's why the girls wanted one so they could make slips and pajamas etc.

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Hi Wanda!
 
You're a fabulous transcriber. Thanks so much for doing this! :)

I received the rescue mission info that you sent. That and the answers below are extremely helpful.

A little follow up....

Back in the '40s, would airmen have thought of the supply shack he mentioned as an "equipment shack"? And/or "crew shack"?

Is "equipment shack" too vague versus "personal equipment shack"?

Thanks again. I'm happy to be including your dad's parachute story in my book!

Kristina
 
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Sent: Wed, May 4, 2011 6:56 am
 
Kristina,
Dad says, " The personal equipment shack (usually a Quonset hut) was specific to air crews only. We usually said something like 'I've got to stop by personal equipment to pick up whatever.' So actually we referred to the building as just personal equipmentand dropped shack. I really don't think it matters if you want to leave shack on the name. Hope this helps." Wanda

 

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Hi Ken,

Quick one for you....

Are the terms "training flight" and "practice mission" fairly synonymous? If not, what's the major difference?

Thanks so much!!
Kristina
 
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Kristina,
 
Dad says, "Training missions were only done in the states like I did my crew training in Alexandria, LA. but I think practice missions would be the same thing. We never did a training or practice mission after we got overseas. So basically I think the two are synonymous. When we first got overseas we took severalfamiliarization flightsto get acquainted with the plane, equipment and the geography of the area. Keep the questions coming."
 
Wanda