It is a well-worn cliché that “necessity is the mother of invention”. While sometimes annoyingly simplistic, clichés can be useful in that they usually state truths which have been learned from long experience. The unusual landing techniques that pilots in WWII adopted were born primarily of necessity, i.e., the necessity to be able to see the runway before landing.
The exigencies of war, and the attitudes that are engendered therein, often lead people to engage in behavior and the adoption of habits and techniques that are unorthodox, if not actually roguish. The fighter pilots of the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II were no exception to this. Presented with a troublesome situation (poor visibility over the nose of the aircraft upon approach to landing), and what could be politely called “the suspension of formal behavior” which is ubiquitous in a combat zone, they gravitated to inventive methods of getting their airplanes “safely” onto the runway.
It could be reasonably argued that one of the methods of landing which they adopted, which consisted of diving at the runway, turning hard at low airspeed, and leveling off at the last possible second before touchdown, is hardly a “safe” way to land an airplane. That having been said, we ought to also consider the extreme situation that these pilots were placed in on a daily basis.
Mostly ordinary kids from ordinary American homes, they were asked to, and did, put their lives on the line every day. They regularly saw many of their comrades killed or horribly injured. Like all those in the armed services who have ever served in harm's way, they were told, and they naturally understood, that it was their duty to disregard their safely and their lives for the success of the mission-- victory over the enemy. That is the terrible nature of war.
Once that mind-set and generally fatalistic attitude sunk in, it was inevitable that it would spill over into other things that they did, such as the way that they flew their aircraft. Once these pilots were actually in combat on a regular basis, the “book”, flight manuals, and the niceties of formal flying methods which had been well-learned in training, were thrown out very quickly. In combat, practical reality becomes the rule, and a kind of (to put it politely) “devil take the consequences” attitude is inevitable in such a situation.
Similarly, supervisory and commanding officers usually looked the other way when such unorthodox behavior was exhibited by their young pilots. The wisest of these officers recognized and understood that the exuberance of youth, combined with the grim reality of war, created a volatile mixture that sometimes needed venting. to be left alone, and not micro-managed (although I don’t think that “micro-manage” was a term used in those days).
The combination of the foregoing things was the likely reason why we see films of pilots doing what seems to us to be these incredibly daring and dangerous landing approaches. To these pilots, it was not a big deal, I am sure. They flew their aircraft for as many as eight hours almost every day; flying and handling their aircraft was akin to breathing to them, and their skills were honed to near perfection. That they successfully pulled off these maneuvers with such apparent ease and aplomb is a testament both to those well-learned skills, and equally to the superior eyesight, reflexes and abilities that youth often possesses, however fleetingly, in such abundance.
These pilots, like pilots everywhere and at all times, took great pride in their extraordinary and unique abilities. I think that we must forgive them, as their superior officers forgave them, if they pushed the envelope of conventional behavior here and there.
This "envelope pushing" was probably due to a combination of things: traditional AAF enthusiasm, a bit of prideful showing off, a “daredevil” –like desire to test personal limits, and perhaps more than a little peer pressure.
All of the above is not unique to the WWII era. People in combat have exhibited such behavior and attitudes from time immemorial, and right up to the present day.
As to how this “dive and turn approach” became so popular a method of landing in the AAF, no one apparently knows for sure. Probably, one day, a pilot figured out this method as a way to keep the runway in sight during the approach, and after doing it, successfully made it down. The other pilots in his squadron, seeing him pull it off, and thinking that it was too cool for school, copied him. The grapevine being very sophisticated and deeply entangled in the armed services, these kinds of things tend to spread very quickly.
Anyway, that’s my speculation about it. What do you think?