Zorro Composes Flash Fiction

My old aircraft commander and pal, Zorro E.D., sent the following story to me today, wondering if I might find a publication home for it.

A Pilot’s Story:                                                     

 Once  upon a time a pilot asked a beautiful princess, “Will you marry me”? The  princess said, “No”!                                                           

 And the pilot lived happily ever after and flew airplanes all over the world and drove hot cars and chased skinny, long-legged, big-breasted flight attendants and hunted and fished and went to topless bars and dated women half his age and drank Belgium beer and forty year old single malt scotch and never heard any bitching and never paid child support or alimony and kept his house and guns and never got cheated on while he was at work and all his friends and family thought he was unbelievably cool. And he had tons of money in the bank and left the toilet seat up. The End.

Helluva fantasy. Over.

Memories Are Made of This

Thor’s Hammer, Thud Memories

I know   that some of you are deeply alergic to Long E-Mailed Harangues.  I      didn’t write this one and it is NOT political.

I am not      sure that anyone is more nostalgic than an old pilot, particularly military      ones and most particularly old combat pilots.  I certainly see it in      myself. With each year, sunrises and sunsets gain importance, not just for      their beauty and grandeur, but because I remember what they looked like from      40,000 ft.  Don shepherd’s new book, “Friday Pilots.” stoked the      nostalgia a bit.  Airplanes that I flew, flew into combat or just plain      admired for any reason grasp my attention and imagination, if not always      affection. I am an unadulterated romantic about aviation and all those that      gave their youth to it.

The      attached story, essay, love letter to one’s past, or whatever you wish to      call it; was sent to me by one of my pilot training classmates. Although I      never flew the “Thud” I always admired it from afar.  I know many, many      who did fly it and they are nearly universally ardent admirers of the      aircraft, despite its many flaws. However, I have considerable combat time,      I have flown where he flew in the face of lethal opposition, and have also      delivered more than one of my beloved mounts to the, “Boneyard.”

I don’t      think I know Mr. Carlson (but I might and just can’t remember right      now).  If our paths perhaps cross in the scrambled halls of the      internet, I would love to shake your hand.  Regardless, we have flown      the same aircraft, scorched the same paths and our senses are well      attuned.  I think this is a very good piece of work and well worth your      few minutes of retirement.  This, is how it is.

Best      Regards,

Dick      Hellier


A        Requiem – by Thomas R. Carlson
I                was looking through a spreadsheet that summarized the disposition                of the Air Force’s F-105 fleet. Little did I know that what I                discovered would start me on a journey into the past that I didn’t                really want to make. I had been more or less content with leaving                the past where it was and had long since come to grips with                memories of decisions and deeds, some right and some fearfully                wrong. “Don’t look back unless you want to go there” is usually                good advice, and still I was drawn into a place where I imagined                that I heard the sounds, smelled the smells and felt the old gut                feelings from times past. There was a near physical presence of                machines, places and people from the now long                ago.
When                I found the tail number that I sought, the message was terse,                unequivocal and final. “1984 June Scrapped.” That meant that my                faithful old #246 had been chopped into pieces and melted down to                make beer cans! 246 had been the warhorse of my youthful days, my                ride, my big afterburning, supersonic heavy metal. The aircraft                had been a proud old war veteran that had once carried the name                “Thor’s Hammer” and had met its end at the hands of scrappers,                rather than a foreign enemy. A line from Oliver Wendell Holmes’                epic poem about the ship “Old Ironsides” came to mind. “The                harpies of the shore shall pluck the eagle of the sea.” Enemies                had tried to bring about its demise, and it wasn’t for their lack                of trying that it survived the Vietnam War only to meet its end at                the hands of scavengers. The war in Southeast Asia had raged for                years and Republic F-105D Thunderchief, tail number 62-4246 had                been there from the beginning of the air war until the end and had                survived against incalculable  odds.
246                belonged to the American taxpayers and was posted to the outer                frontier of the country’s sphere of influence. In keeping with                tradition, pilots were allowed to have their names painted on the                canopy rail and, with that done, it was “their” airplane. With my                name on the left side of the canopy and Staff Sergeant Myers, the                crew chief’s name on the right, 246 was properly adopted. Other                names would occupy those same rails over the years as pilots, crew                chiefs and airplanes rotated from unit to unit or pilots were lost                to accidents or combat. My good fortune was to be first. Fresh                from the Republic factory on Long Island it still had the                distinctive new car smell and the crisp, clean look of a new                machine. In Cold War livery, it was painted silver and had a dark                blue stripe around the nose, just aft of the radar dome. The new                fighter was ferried from Republic Field to Mobile Alabama to                Okinawa with the ultimate destinations of the forward bases of                Korat and Tahkli Thailand.
By                comparison with other fighters of the day, the Thunderchief was a                giant of an airplane and incredibly more complex. My                contemporaries and I had originally viewed it with suspicion and                admittedly some trepidation. For such a machine to be powered by a                single engine and operated by a single pilot seemed optimistic at                best. Twenty- five tons of machine when fully loaded gave some                credibility to term “Fighter, Heavy.” This was almost comically                noted in the designation FH that preceded the buzz numbers on the                side of the sixty-four foot fuselage. The Thunderchief name would                give way to the universally adopted term “Thud”. What was                originally meant to be a put-down would eventually become an                accepted and revered name. The term “Thud Driver” would be a badge                of honor and respect that would be worn with                pride.
246                was assigned to the 44th Tactical Fighter Squadron on Okinawa. The                44th was a unit with a proud tradition dating to the attack on                Pearl Harbor where it’s pilots in P-40s rose to meet the Japanese                attackers. During the course of World War II, the Vampires, as                they were known, earned many battle honors, including the                Distinguished Unit Citation. Then equipped with the F-100 Super                Sabre and a legacy of excellence, the 44th would be among the                units in the Pacific Air Forces to be the recipient of the F-105                aircraft in 1963. This would be a proper home for 246. It would be                more than a year before the war in Southeast Asia became heated up                to the point that the authorities committed the unit to action and                posted the 44th to Korat Thailand on temporary duty. This time                interval had been an opportunity for pilots and ground crews to                become familiar with the new machine. Maintenance and operations                schedules didn’t always match, but when they did, it was squadron                policy that pilots flew their own                aircraft.
Far                from being my personal chariot, 246 was a warplane. The existence                of the machine and its presence in that part of the world was for                a grim purpose. The Cold War mission was well defined and far too                terrible for most to even contemplate. Much of the time, aircraft                and pilots were on alert and loaded with the deadliest weapons                ever devised. Republic had built the craft to carry and deliver                those weapons and the pilots had been trained to carry out the                nuclear mission. The alert duty was never taken lightly and yet, I                doubt that most pilots, myself included, thought that such madness                as a wholesale exchange of such weapons would ever happen. Carried                to a logical conclusion, there was no logic to                it.
The                warplane role of the Thud would play out in quite a different                direction. The twenty millimeter Gatling gun in the nose of the                craft fired projectiles at a hundred per second. The destruction                wrought by such a stream of exploding shells was a new dimension                in firepower. A one second burst, fired into a truck, a structure                or an aircraft would tear the target to shreds. Hard points on the                belly and wings carried the bomb load of a B-17 bomber from                another era. Missiles of several types were carried, intended for                airborne and ground targets alike. All the conventional weaponry                available was to be employed by the Thud drivers in the years to                come.
Modifications                were made to the aircraft over time. Hydraulic lines were                re-routed and other changes made to enhance survivability.                Introduction of the two-seater models to combat expanded the role                of the aircraft even more. Wild Weasel, a concept started using                the F-100, was soon transferred to the F-105 F, later designated                the G model. The Weasels tormented the enemy missile sites and                destroyed them when their radar came up on the air sometimes even                after the missiles had been launched. The Soviets reportedly                believed the Weasel crews were on marijuana or other stronger                drugs. The more traditional Thud drivers simply thought that the                definition of an optimist was a Weasel crew that quit smoking. The                Weasel pilots and their “Bears” (Electronic Warfare Officers)                earned a revered and special status in the hearts of all who knew                that they had performed the most dangerous task in an environment                where all faced grave danger. No tale of the Thud could be told                without acknowledging the role of the                Weasels.
The                spectrum of pilots sent to Asia to fly the Thud would be broad.                Initially, the Wing and Squadron Commanders, Ops Officers and some                Flight Commanders would be the veteran warriors from the skies of                Europe and the Pacific in World War II and From Mig Alley in the                Korean War. The younger pilots would be the Cold War era trainees                from the fighter pipeline. The Thud drivers would be West Point,                Air Force Academy and Annapolis graduates, from The Citadel and                VMI as well as those from the ROTC programs and Aviation Cadets.                Most would give a good accounting of their time in the                airplane.
There                would be Medal of Honor recipients, Mig killers, 200 mission                survivors, former astronauts and future General Officers. As the                war dragged on, and fighter pilot ranks thinned, there would be                transport and other multi-engine pilots as well as some staff                officers who were hurriedly trained to fly the Thud. While many of                them distinguished themselves in their new role, they were, after                all, in a new and far different element for which their previous                training and experience had done little to prepare them. In                training and in combat, they would die in numbers disproportionate                to the long-time fighter pilots but nobody would ever question the                courage of those who flew. Thor’s Hammer would respond to the                hands of pilots from all these                backgrounds.
246                was transferred to Takhli Thailand after my return to the States.                It was a successor of mine, Capt. Nels Running, a future                Thunderbird Pilot and future Major General, who named it. The                legend of the Norse God who brought down thunder from the skies as                he wielded his mythical hammer, was a well-chosen and appropriate                nom de guerre. Memphis Belle, Old Ironsides, Glamorous Glennis,                Enola Gay, Protestor’s Protector and Thor’s Hammer. Some of these                names would be remembered in aviation and naval history and some                forgotten. The little-known names of ships and aircraft would be                remembered only by the generation that flew or manned them. The                Thud would be legendary among aviators, aviation enthusiasts and                historians as the workhorse of the Vietnam War. Museums, memorials                and pedestals would be home for many of the retired fleet.                Memories of Thor’s Hammer and those who flew it would grow dim and                eventually disappear as the passage of time relegated them to                history’s margins.
Unlike                most other fighters, in addition to a conventional pneumatic                engine starting system, the Thud had one that utilized an                explosive canister much like an oversized, slow-burning shotgun                shell. Pilots and ground crews became accustomed to the acrid                smell of burning cordite as the coffee can sized powder cartridge                spun the big turbine engine to life. Since Chinese alchemists                invented gunpowder in the ninth century, that smell had been the                essence of war. To the doughboy in the trenches of World War I it                was his constant companion, bearing witness to the incessant                artillery fire that took friend and foe alike by the hundreds of                thousands. To the sailor on a battleship, it signaled the firing                of the big guns, sending huge projectiles toward the enemy. To the                Thud driver and his crew chief it usually meant a successful                engine start. In many ways, it was a hint of things to                come.
With                the tachometer indicating idle speed, there was a high-pitched                whine as the small air turbine motor was brought on line to power                the hydraulic and some electrical systems. An almost imperceptible                movement of the machine could be felt as compressors and turbines                came up to speed, pumps and generators came on line and the start                sequence was completed. The smells of hydraulic fluid and burned                jet fuel mixing with the dissipating gunpowder aroma completed the                sensory inputs and told the pilot that the machine had come to                it’s form of life.
Whether                in combat or on a routine training mission, flying the Thud was                always an adventure. It wasn’t trepidation as much as anticipation                of the adrenalin rush which was sure to come. The culmination of                boyhood dreams and fantasies of one day being a fighter pilot had                been fulfilled. There was the thrill of advancing the throttle to                full power for take-off. The landing gear struts which stretched                nearly eight feet from their mounting point in the wing to the                surface, bent slightly aft as the power was advanced and sprung                forward as the brakes were released. Feeling the gear “walk” was a                uniquely Thud experience. The throttle was moved outboard to the                afterburner detent and, when needed, water injection was selected                by a toggle switch forward of the throttle. With that done, 26,500                pounds of thrust accelerated the Thud along the runway and into                the air. The painful decibel level reached by the shrieking                afterburner and the continuous thunderclap of the engine exhaust                were not heard by the pilot. The tight canopy and special                fluid-filled, snug fitting headphones in the helmet left the                painful noise to torment those on the                ground.
In                a combat environment, details such as aircraft numbers appeared on                scheduling boards and mission cards but were not recorded in the                pilot’s log. I don’t know how many times I flew 246 in that role.                What were called “good” missions during that early phase of the                war were hard to come by and eagerly sought after by most pilots.                Nobody much cared about the aircraft number. Escorting unarmed                RF-101s on their low-level photo missions, interdiction sorties to                Laos, armed reconnaissance along the Ho Chi Minh trail and the                real plums, the initial “Rolling Thunder” strikes north of the                DMZ, were considered good. There was a “Bitch Board” in squadron                operations where missions were tallied in grease pencil to insure                that no pilot got more “good ones” than someone else. It wasn’t as                though they relished war and the possibility of dying. They were                Fighter Pilots who lived on the edge even in peacetime. Going in                harm’s way is what they had been trained for, what was expected of                them. It was who they were and what they were there to do. No more                scrimmage. It was time to get in the deadly contest. This time                frame in the war is reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling who made an                observation that the “Old Sarge” was usually a bit more                circumspect about going into battle than the young                recruit.
Each                pilot has his own indelible list of remembered places, previously                known only to cartographers and locals. The Plain of Jars, Vinh,                Than Hoa, Sam Neua, Mu Gia Pass, Dong Hoi and Route 1 were the                locations of early targets and were on my list. Those pilots who                were there as the war intensified would be exposed to a far more                dangerous and foreboding environment of air defenses and a new set                of names. Thud Ridge, Downtown, Hai Phong, the Paul Doumer Bridge,                Kep, Phuc Yen, the Red River, most of these in what was known as                Route Pack Six, would be imprinted in their memories. A hundred                times they were required to go where missions were no longer                “good.” Surviving one hundred missions to those places, however                unlikely that was, would earn those pilots a special status in the                aviator’s pecking order. While they might have reveled that their                skill and a measure of luck carried them through the ordeal, like                soldiers throughout history, they would grieve for their comrades                whose fortune was not as good as                theirs.
Every                combat mission was permeated with risk and, a predictable                adrenalin overdose. Even though one was in the company of other                flight members and usually part of a larger effort, there was a                feeling of aloneness. One engine, one seat, one pilot, one set of                thoughts. Dryness in the mouth and the hint of the taste of bile                were the signs of trepidation, however slight or well concealed                from the others. The mission would be flown and even the slightest                thought to the contrary immediately put aside. If a pilot didn’t                fly his assigned mission, someone else would have to go in his                place.
Surviving                one phase of flight was only a set-up for the next phase. There                was always the heavyweight take-off where every available foot of                runway was needed. The bomb laden Thud gained speed slowly at                first. It seemed to have feet of clay as the afterburner and water                injection were selected. Further along the take-off roll, the                pilot became committed to flight, since there was no stopping once                refusal speed and distance had been reached. Clearing the                arresting barrier at the far end often seemed in question. Having                survived that, the struggling Thud felt as if it remained airborne                only by virtue of the downward thrust vector of the blazing                afterburner and the extra boost of water injection. As speed was                gained and the water injection depleted, the flaps were retracted                to the subsonic flight position. The pilots breathing rate                returned to somewhere near normal as the speed increased to a                comfortable 400knots or so. A join-up with other flight members                into normal four-ship formation preceded the tanker rendezvous.                Fuel loads were usually topped-off prior to entering the target                area.
The                refueling was generally a routine matter, but there were notable                exceptions. One pilot, Gary Barnhill, suffered an internal                aircraft fuel system failure. His Thud exploded in a giant                fireball as he backed off the tanker’s boom. At the urging of John                Betz his wingman, who observed a massive fuel leak, he ejected a                split second before the fireball would have engulfed him.                Miraculously, he survived. The bombs on Ned Miller’s aircraft were                thought to have detonated because faulty proximity fuses sensed                the density of the tanker. Ned perished in the blinding flash that                left only bits and pieces of his Thud fluttering and tumbling                earthward. George Sasser, flying Ned’s wing, saw the Gatling gun                propelled forward out of the fireball as if it had been fired out                by a larger cannon. He saw Ned’s limp form descending toward the                undercast in his parachute.
The                tanker guys always seemed to be where they were supposed to be.                They hung around to refuel any post strike fighters that may be                low on fuel. This was done at great peril to themselves and with                the everlasting gratitude of the fighter pilots, especially the                ones they saved.
The                heavy weight of the Thuds soon after takeoff made refueling more                difficult than usual. There were times when the bomb load and                considerable weight of fuel already on board taxed the ability of                the engine output, making it difficult to hook-up. Being late on                the tanker or not getting a prompt hook-up was undesirable since                that may require following the tanker around a racetrack circuit                and arriving late on the target. It was better to get there first.                Flying Col. Bill Craig’s wing one day, we arrived late on target                because of a circuit with the tanker. Predictably, the flight                scheduled to follow us was already there. A B-57 pulling off the                target went between the leader and me going straight up. He didn’t                miss either of us by more than what seemed like inches. I know                that he didn’t see us and there wasn’t even time to tense. The                episode was over in a fraction of a second but the image                remains.
With                the refueling done, the target area was next. Time seemed to                switch to fast-forward between tanker and target. Lurking                somewhere in the recesses of the mind was the knowledge that one                could instantly be propelled from the comfort and familiar sounds                of the cockpit into the unknown. From the tip of a high-tech                spear, into the silent void of nothingness would only take a                fraction of a second. Transition to a grim and uncertain future in                a primitive cage, far from home and far removed from the thin                veneer of civilization, would take a bit                longer.
On                a dive bomb run at some long forgotten place, I marveled at the                countless projectiles heading my way. There were bright colored                tracers and those that were less visible shades of gray. The                anti-aircraft guns usually focused on the plane presenting the                most immediate threat and all of them seemed to be firing directly                at me. It looked as if each round was destined to come through the                center of the windshield. That none of them had hit me yet seemed                impossible. At a speed close to 600 knots, I glanced out the side                of the cockpit and it seemed as though tracers were actually                arcing up and over my right wing, following the airflow around it.                I dismissed this as an optical illusion and concentrated on the                delivery of the bomb load. The ripple of the six thousand pounds                leaving the aircraft meant that it was time for afterburner and                lots of back stick. Vision grew narrow then dim as the G load                increased, in spite of the functioning of the G suit and the                tightening of body muscles. Acceleration to maximum speed and                heading for relative safety away from the target followed. This                same drama was to be repeated thousands of times by hundreds of                pilots over the next seven years.
Surface                to air missiles (SAMs), MIG fighters, 37,57, 85 and 105 millimeter                anti-aircraft shells and small arms fire filled the airspace where                the Thud lived. According to the data contained in the article                where I learned of the fate of my airplane, by rough count, some                423 Thuds were lost to combat or related accidents. Too many                pilots and crews died in their prime and too many of them suffered                and languished in the fetid torture camps of another culture. One                could debate the Vietnam War to infinity. Good war, bad war or no                war at all. Wars throughout history represented the failure of                diplomacy and were waged as instruments of national policy. Some                wars were fought with final victory as the goal, and some weren’t.                In my experience, they were neither initiated nor relished by the                soldier since it was always the soldier who bore the heaviest                burden. Those pilot soldiers who were ordered into battle and flew                246, always made it safely back to their base. On other days and                in other aircraft, many of them were not so                fortunate.
The                heavy losses of aircraft and people were less due to any                deficiency attributable to the Thud than because of the incredibly                hostile environment where these aircraft and pilots were sent, day                after day for some seven years. Against almost incalculable odds,                Thor’s Hammer was a survivor, as were those pilots who flew it on                each individual mission. Perhaps a thousand times it went to war                and a thousand times returned safely. It would be impossible to                estimate the number of SAMs and the countless rounds of artillery                and small arms that had been fired at this aircraft and failed to                bring it down.
246                spent semi-retirement with a reserve unit at Oklahoma City where                systems were upgraded, war scars and blemishes repaired and where                it continued to serve in the nation’s arsenal. The reservists                would have known the airplane’s history since some of them had                probably flown it in combat. The old fire horse had found a new,                quieter fire station and waited for the bell. The bell, when                finally heard by the keepers, would have been a death knell from a                distant five-sided steeple. It would have appeared on the daily                scheduling board in the squadron simply as “246, ferry, DMA                (Davis-Monthan Air Force Base,                Tucson).
I                would have wanted to be there to fly Thor’s Hammer on that last                ferry flight to Tucson when it was time to go, much as a saddened                owner would take a beloved dog on that dreaded last trip to the                vet. It might be logical for Gen. Running to make the flight, but                I’ll have him occupied elsewhere (after all, it’s a fantasy).                Besides, Generals didn’t usually engage in anything so                mundane.
With                a knowing wink and nod, a Master Sergeant assisting in the                pre-flight inspection would remove the cover plates on the                outboard wing pylon stations, leaving a pair of round voids that                worked much the same as blowing across a bottle. They would be off                for the traffic pattern at destination so the familiar shriek                would be heard as the Thud approached. As a young airman he would                have done this in the past. He would have remembered the days of                sweating-out the mission on a distant flight line, counting the                Thuds as they returned. His contribution would be noted and                appreciated.
I                would have been aware that many better men than me had challenged                fate and survived, strapped in the seat of 246. It would be for                them that I would advance the throttle, release the brakes and                feel the gear walk for the last time. The afterburner would bark a                final defiant insult to the earth-bound’s ears as we lifted off                and headed west. In aviator’s jargon, “Gone West” means that one                has flown the last sortie to that final and uncertain destination.                The irony of geography dictating the direction of flight would not                be lost. This would be Thor’s Hammer’s judgment day but there was                no uncertainty.
It                would have been tempting and so easy to let the speed build and                slip through the Mach to supersonic flight. The strike of Thor’s                hammer would have brought down thunder from the heavens once more,                just as in the Norse legend. Windows would have shattered and                dishes rattled along the route of flight. Officialdom would not                have allowed such a transgression. I would have to have been                content with the memories of other days when supersonic flight had                been effortlessly attained in the same cockpit, hand on the same                throttle, looking through the same windscreen. Pushing eight                hundred knots on the airspeed tape wouldn’t be necessary on this                day. After all, we wouldn’t be headed out of the chaos and carnage                of battle, or outrunning a pursuing MIG, but bound for a vast                graveyard for old, un-needed war machines. Guns that had once                fired at the stiletto shape were far away and long silent. The                scrappers patiently waited, assured of success where the enemy’s                guns had failed. No need to hurry.
A                New Mexico rancher astride his horse, who except for his clothing,                might have looked like a knight or a cavalryman from another time,                would have looked up briefly at the long thin contrail in the                stratosphere and the barely perceptible dot pulling it along. He                and his mount would return to their earthbound chores without                knowing the meaning of the melancholy                wisp.
The                Captain of an eastbound 767 would have nudged his co-pilot and                pointed upward as his airliner passed underneath the old fighter.                With his face pressed to the glass, he would have recalled to his                captive audience other days and times when he too had been                strapped in the cockpit of the magnificent Thud. It wouldn’t have                had much of an impact on his younger colleague who was most likely                a new-age child of the magenta line. To him, old fighters would                probably have been a historical footnote, of some significance to                the old guys who lived in the past. The unmistakable silhouette of                the needle nose and the forward sweeping intakes would quickly                pass from view but not from The Captain’s memory, which would have                been instantly at flood tide. He would watch until the contrail                left by the Thud dissipated then vanished. He would turn again to                the relatively mundane yet important matters at hand. After all,                he would have thought, that was then and this is                now.
Of                course, a good solid 4 G pitch-out to downwind from a 500 knot                initial approach would be in order for the last overhead traffic                pattern. To hell with it, make it 650! In for a penny, in for a                pound! Stay just under the mach so I wouldn’t end up in jail for                destroying the place with a sonic boom. . “Black Matt” Matthews, a                legendary Thud driver, former Thunderbird pilot and genuine good                guy had already paid a price for slipping through the mach during                a flyover at the Air Force Academy. Much of the glass construction                was reduced to rubble. Matt’s good name was cleared of any blame                but still, no need to repeat that. Unlike Matt, I wouldn’t have                been blameless.
The                massive speed brakes, idle power and 6Gs would combine to slow to                the 275 knot gear down speed. The voids in the outer wing panels                where the cover plates had been removed would shriek their                high-pitched wail. Dogs for miles around would howl and the                ground-bound folk would look up and take notice. Some of them                would have known immediately without even seeing it. that this                wasn’t just another aircraft in the pattern, this was a                Thud!
Approach                control would already be on the phone to the Airdrome Officer,                making note of the speed violation to be filed. Screw ‘em. The                plastic colonels who would revel in violating this rogue pilot’s                transgression didn’t matter. Neither would a violation matter.                Thor’s Hammer’s last traffic pattern would not be one of the                post-modern era but from another day, now far in the past when                airplane and pilot were at the top of their game. Anything less                could not be done nor would it be acceptable. To wimp out at this                point would result in a well-deserved chorus of “You don’t have a                hair on your ass!” rising in crescendo from legions of Thud                drivers living and dead. Beyond that, the old war horse deserved                no less than a full gallop to the ignominious end of a                metaphorical glue factory.
Gear                down, flaps down then the 200 knot final approach to a touchdown                on the numbers. A few knots on the fast side perhaps, but a good                comfortable speed and there would be plenty of runway. The abrupt                deceleration of the drag chute would hasten the slowing process                for the turn off the runway. The canopy that had completed the                cocoon of the familiar cockpit would open slowly, once clear of                the runway. Even the sudden blast of hot Arizona desert air would                feel good against the accumulated sweat and the deep imprint on                the face that had been tightly covered by the now dangling oxygen                mask. Time to jettison the drag chute and follow the yellow pickup                with the “follow me” sign on a serpentine route to the storage                facility and journey’s end.
The                brakes would be set at the ground handlers stop signal and wheel                chocks inserted. As a final, defiant and time-honored obscene                gesture in the Thud driver’s repertoire, the refueling probe would                be extended then retracted. The device, located in the nose of the                aircraft forward of the cockpit, was not visible in the stowed                position. When extended, it had the look of a large finger. The                absolute last mechanical movement called for from within the guts                and soul of the still viable machine would be a gesture to the                unseen jury that had imposed the death sentence and those who                would carry it out. The meaning of this would probably be lost on                the intended audience, the toothless scrappers with their cutting                torches at the ready.
The                well- worn throttle, made shiny by the thousands of leather-                gloved hands that had caressed it for two decades, would be slowly                and reluctantly moved to the cutoff position. The clatter of                compressor blades, as the engine wound down would be the death                rattle of a warrior who had fought well but lost the last battle.                An official notation, entered in the logbook, “Flight # 1 OK”                would be recorded. Between the lines allotted for commentary would                be added: “So long, old timer, well done.” A few minutes would be                devoted to checklist items then, a couple of more minutes seated                there with arms resting on the canopy                rails.
The                new car smell would be only a memory from the distant past. The                sweat of a thousand pilots, the decades of cordite, hydraulic                fluid and jet fuel would have permeated the molecules of the                metal, paint and fabric of the cockpit. The smells would hang                heavy in all the recesses and voids. The familiar odor of hot                titanium and stainless steel would combine with the others and                enter the nostrils and                consciousness.
The                silence would be broken only by the “tink tink tink” sound of                cooling metal.

More From the Wars, Hot and Cold

Note from my Pal Ed Haerter this morning, re the TIME story and other militaria. Most people today, even the adults are totally clueless about what went on during the cold war and most kids don’t even know what the term means. But here’s one anecdote of the kinds of things that happened.


I read your posting about the bailout flight. OMG, what a goatrope. You guys were really fortunate, not only to survive, but to not get hurt.Never had to use a chute. Got hit a lot in Vietnam, but always felt I’d stay with it until it got untenable in then cockpit or the aircraft was out of control. Had to deadstick an F-100 into Gila Bend when I was a student. Engine flamed out at 42,000′ in a fight. The IP was a cool guy, and he only made one remark. “If I see anything I don’t like, I’ll tell you to bailout. If you see anything you don’t like, you bailout.” It went well until I got back to Luke and the Wing CO chewed my ass for saving an obsolete aircraft and risking what he called a 2 million dollar pilot. He chewed out the IP too, but we both decided that we’d do it again under similar circumstances.

One very unusual thing happened on alert one day at O’Hare. We had two “E” models with the airline engines-real hotrods-on alert, and one day I was pulling an alert shift and we had a practice start. We’d almost finished, with the engines still running, and we got another message. The Nav, who was the chief of the Plans shop, went white. When I asked him what was wrong he said “I think it’s an actual go message. He was shaking so hard he couldn’t get the scissors out to cut open the classified package, so I had the copilot guard the brakes, and I got out of the seat and opened it. It was a real message. So, I got back into the seat and called for taxi with the proper priority words. We started to taxi, and I was kind of puzzled why there wasn’t any more message traffic, so I had the Nav contact Wurtsmith, our controlling agency, and have them say again the message. When he called them they freaked out, and said to stand down. I, of course, after sitting on Nukes for years, knew there was no “stand down” after a launch unless there were specific authenticated recall messages, etc, so I told the Nav to have them say again the message. This time a very authoritative voice came on the radio and said to return to the ramp. So, I got on the radio, and told him no fucking way, that we were going until we received a proper message we could authenticate. At that point he requested that we at least stop and give him a minute, and they came across with another recall message. I had the Nav make them authenticate it three different times, and then we returned to the ramp.

What had happened was that after the practice alert they had forgotten to turn off their transmitters and they were running a Command Post Exercise that we weren’t supposed to hear. It resulted in every agency in the world that had a classified packet having to be changed to a new one.

When we got back into the alert shack, I got a call from Wurtsmith from a very pissed off Colonel, the AD Commander, who had just been called by the Chief of his Command Post that this ANG crew had tried to start WWIII. He started screaming at me about what happened, and I cut him off by saying “Colonel, just who in the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” This is BG Haerter, 126th ARW CO. and you are totally out of line, and as soon as this conversation is over I’m calling Gen Johnson, the SAC DO and inform him about this morning’s cluster fuck, totally caused by your troops, and how totally unprofessional every one of you has been”  He got really quiet, and literally begged me to not do that. However, I informed him we had to, because SAC HQ would be wondering pretty quickly just why everyone worldwide had to change out their classified package, and I didn’t want the wrong story to get there first, where they’d figure out some way for us to get the blame.

Not much happened except for some retraining for the CP troops. However, when he calmed down, my Nav was telling everyone what a steely eyed killer his boss was, and how I jumped out of the seat and ripped open the classified package with my teeth (not true), etc. I listened for awhile, and then told him, “John, the only thing I was thinking about was my pink little body. If that message was real, this place was about to become a large smoking hole in about 15 minutes, and I didn’t want to be here if and when that happened.”

Fun times

Best, Ed

Air Tales from Airline Aircrews

From pilot pals, from the civilian airline side. Airline Crew Stories:

Some of these stories are somewhat unusual to say the least but the closest I experienced was as a brand new Captain at age 38, I flew a flight with the number 1 flight attendant , Ida Staggers, in the back who referred to me as sonny, ha, ha.

 — The Capt on my flight pointed out Meteor Crater to the pax.  The young #1 came into the cockpit for a better view. “Wow” she said, “It just missed that road”….

 — As a soon to be off probation FO on the Airbus, came to the jet and met a very senior Long Island momma who was already in the galley building her nest.

 It was 0530 in the AM and she had a cigarette lit with a 3 inch ash hanging off it that moved as she talked. She had her hair up in a bun that looked like it could have housed 5 of her 12 cats that she shared a one bedroom apartment with. She sounded like a frog-throated Paris Island DI as she barked at me in a thick NY accent, “Hey sugar-britches, I been here 30 years and gave up sweating 20 years ago so turn on the Air Conditioning, alright?” The F/A shows up and we get ready to go.  About ten minutes before scheduled out time, she pops her head in the cockpit and says to the boss “Hey junior, we ain’t in this for the sex on layovers anymore so how about you pop the brakes so we can start getting paid, alright?” She was a classic.

 — I had a #1 that came up going into Seattle and wanted to know what mountains those were. Well I said that’s Mt Baker off the right and Mt. Rainier on the left.  But you know recently they changed the name of Mt Baker to Mt Fuji. Yeah, the guy that owns the Fuji film company moved there and donated a bunch of money to the local town so they named the Mt after him. She said OK thanks, someone wanted to know. 

 — Flying DC 10 out of DFW … Capt is 59, FE is 70 and I’m 35. Very senior FA (in her 60s) comes up and takes drink orders.  Capt and FE give theirs and she turns to leave. I say “Wait, what about me?” She turns and says “I’ll be back to breast feed you later kid!”.

 — Even earlier, when I was a new FE on DC 10, A senior F/A kept complaining about the cabin temp being too cold.  I thought I was doing great.  After several complaints, she finally came up and said “It ain’t the hot flashes, it’s just too cold.” With that she unbuttons her shirt and lifts up her bra. She says ” When these ole nipples stick up like this it ain’t because o’you, it’s because I’m fickkin cold.  Now can you you warm it up?”

 — In a previous life, a particular FO did not have the best of landings on one of our trips.  After clearing the runway the interphone rings, it is the #4 who proceeds to ask whose landing that was.  I tell her the FO’s, why? She says to tell the FO “if his dick is as hard as that landing that she is on her way up to the cockpit”   I almost ran off the taxiway laughing my ass off.

 — Most of my stories would involve Brenda Ward (Star-later).  If you ever had the pleasure of flying with this wonderful woman-you have stories. Rule 32 was designed around about 20 things Brenda is famous for.  You Chicago guys are lucky if Brenda is still around.  I’m only going to tell of my very first encounter with her as I am sure bringing up her name will result in stories from others.

 — As a new engineer, the Captain ‘warns’ me in ops about our #1-Brenda.  She sizes up new-hires by grabbing them by the ‘package’.  Sure enough, I walk on the 72, and there she is, standing in front of the cockpit door.  I stop in front of her.  With a hint of a smile, she grabs a hand-full of my manliness and says, my name is Brenda.  I sit my kit bag down, put one hand on each tit, and say, “Hi-my name is Greg.”   With a loud laugh she tells me that she and I will get along just fine, and we did – for the next 20 years. miss you Brenda – and I miss the Airline we used to fly for.

 — So here I am … squeaky FNG (F-ing new guy) on the 767 … triumphantly returning from Paris as the FO…flying back to Miami. I roll onto the ILS to 9R, fly a perfect profile … and then planted it like I was going for carrier landing of the year. The closest thing I could use to describe the touchdown would be the sound the guys make when they are emptying trash dumpsters and put them back on the ground at 0500. Anyway, we get to the gate, the skipper clicks off the seatbelt sign and 1/1000 of a second later, the cockpit door pops open (pre 9/11) and a pair of leopard spotted panties fly up onto the throttle quadrant.  The Captain grimaced and looked away…the FB said “Uh oh” and I just sat there dumbfounded (typical for me, BTW).Anyway … the #1 walks in a few seconds later and booms loudly “God dammed kid … if you wanted to get my panties off … all you would have had to do is ask!”  She then told me to get my ass out there and take credit for that crash landing.

 Ah yes…the good old days…

 – Prior to 911 when FAs came into the cockpit and on occasions stayed awhile, we were in a B-727 westbound on a very clear day when the sun overhead and behind us showed a very distinct shadow of the contrail on the ground just ahead of us. A young F/A asked what that line on the ground was. Without thinking, I told her it was the border between Kansas and Nebraska , to which she replied “OH, I always wondered how you guys always know where we are!”

 — Chicago to LA 15 years ago, young FA comes up to tell us that Eddie Van Halen is on our rather sparsely occupied jet. He gets up to use the lav. She calls him into the galley and closes the curtain to ask him for his autograph, which he provides using a black sharpie marker.  She comes into the cockpit to show my FO and I his signature and penmanship by unbuttoning her shirt and undoing the front clasp bra to expose her entire chest with “Best Wishes, Love Eddie Van Halen” Classic stuff. She says ‘I can’t wait to show my Mom, she loves rock and roll’

 –Two women get onto the Fokker and sit in 1st class, they are obviously strippers/hookers by the way they are dressed, seriously trampy. The #1 comes flying up to the cockpit mouth agape.  Having spotted them in the boarding area I tell her they are famous adult film stars …. “Amber Waves and Tiffany Crystal”. The #1 runs off to find the manifest to get their real names. I am now giggling to myself. The Captain who was in his late 40’s, never married due to anal/ego/complete lack of humor/personality issues and will remain nameless overhears the exchange and says to me ….”you know they are not porn stars right? I would know, because I follow that industry very closely and I have never seen them”…..Yikes.

 — DC 10 trip LAX-HNL-Number 1 comes in and tells new young FE (now a CA) to turn on the blowers.  He tries to tell her it is his panel. She pinches his cheek — Says “Right now Sonny, I use to baby sit you when you were a year old.” He couldn’t get them on fast enough. Good old days on the 10.

 — I’ve also had one believe (at least for a few minutes) the irrigated fields were “pizza farms”.

 — Nope, those are the fields used to graze special cows that produce round steak … I would gladly add more to this thread but I would get fired, divorced or both.

 –Flying RDU-DFW with a group of new hires doing their work trip, Capt. is Rox Moyers.  Long, tall Texas sorta boy with a really dry sense of humor.  Dinner’s over and each of the new girls visits the cockpit. The last little girl is barely “out-of-the-box”, blond (what else?), pixie cut, 5 foot nothing. She’s on the jump seat in the -80 and we’re about over MEM when Rox says “ain’t that a beautiful sunset ma’am?” Eyes as big as saucers she replies (and I’m not kidding): “I’ve never seen a sunset before.” Rox and I both turn around and look at her. He says “excuse me ma’am?” To which she replies: “I was born on the East Coast in Virginia Beach and you have to be on the West Coast or on a mountain or in an airplane to see a sunset!”  After a while she leaves.  Rox ponders all of this, turns to me and says without cracking a smile.  “Someday some young feller’s gonna think he’s got himself a hellova catch there”.

‘Nuff said.


Infamous Aircraft Accident

Boom operator forwarded this to friends from 46 ARS, who forwarded to me. I don’t remember the incident. But the report is instructive in a drone world.



I graduated UPT at Laughlin on 3 Sep, 1967 in class 68-B. This accident happened in front of the next graduating class 68-C. Later in my AF career I ran into several of the guys from that class that I knew. According to them a couple of the graduates, after witnessing the F100 come apart, took off their wings and refused to ever fly…I received this article from the guy that was the Boom Operator on my KC135 crew ’69 – ’70.  His comments are below…………….. “Don’t hold back Jimmy”… ;o))]

[“This is the asshole that started the AF on it’s death spiral.  nothing against fighter pilots, but fighter pilot thinking was the only way he new how to move his brain.  when he became chief of staff AF he started changes even fighter pilots could not understand.  he didn’t even like the uniform he wore.  officers were charged with and thrown out of the AF on charges that had not been used since the civil war.  he was on a crusade to revolutionize the AF and remake it in the thunderbird fighter image.  bombers and their crew were scum, tankers were grudgingly only slightly better.  don’t get me started on this bastard.  jim   ]

 Del Rio could be the movie set of a West Texas border town. It’s windy, and the weather tends toward seasonal extremes.

 A large U.S. Air Force Base 6 miles east of town is named after Jack T. Laughlin, a pilot and Del Rio native killed over Java within a few weeks of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Our Thunderbird’s Team flies into Laughlin on Oct. 20, 1967, for an air show the next day, honoring 60 or so lieutenants graduating from pilot training.

 We go through the standard pre-show routine. Lead and 5 do their show-line survey routine, while the rest of us walk the rounds of the hospital and school and give interviews. Next day, proud parents watch as new pilots pin on wings. 

 At noon, we brief at Base Ops. As usual, an inspection team comprising base and local dignitaries joins us for a photo session before we step to the jets.

The film Bandolero ! is in production near the base, and its stars, Jimmy Stewart and Raquel Welch, show up in the inspection team. Jimmy’s a USAF Reserve brigadier general, a founder of the Air Force Association and a big hero to all of us. Raquel Welch is . . . well, she’s Raquel Welch. 

We’re wearing white airshow suits, my least-favorite outfit. Lead can choose from among gray, blue, black or white. But today, we look like Good Humor ice cream men dressed in white.

Plus, I work hard during the demonstration and sweat deep soaked my collar. This would not matter much, except we do a lot of in-trail taxiing. And with only 6 ft. between the end of my pitot boom and No.5’s afterburner, I take a load of black carbon engine ex-haust in my cockpit. Soot clings to the dampness, leaving a noticeable ” dirty ring around the collar ” when I wear white.

At Del Rio, I follow my usual routine and I roll the collar under once we have taxied away from the airshow crowd. After the show, I’ll roll it back out again, the chimney-black dirt still there, but now underneath and out of sight for the picture takers. 

We taxi short of the active runway for a ” quick check ” pre-takeoff inspection by a couple of our maintenance troops. I’m flying my soon to be acid-etched memory . . as No. 6 Super Sabre F-100 D . . # 55-3520.

We take the runway, the 4 aircraft Diamond in finger-tip and Bobby Beckel and I in Element . . 500 feet back.

At precisely 1430 the Diamond releases brakes. Bobby and I run up engines, my stomach tightening against the surge of singular isolation. 

And thrill that comes before every air show takeoff. 

 By this time in the season, the Thunderbirds’ Team is really ‘ clicking along.’

We have a lot of shows under our belt.  And know what we are doing. Twenty-one minutes into the event, it’s going well–a nice cadence and rhythm of a favorite song.

 We approach the climax, the signature Bomb Burst. My job is to put “pigtails” through the separating formation, doing elevator-unloaded, Max-rate vertical rolls. 

The vertical rolls require establishing a perfect up-line. And more than a few rolls requires beginning the rolls with a ton of entry airspeed. 

 I grab for altitude as swap for diminishing airspeed as the Diamond pirouettes into their entry for the Thunderbirds’ well-known ‘ Bomb Burst.’

 And at just the right moment, dive after them, hiding behind their smoke trail.

The steep dive builds airspeed quickly after clicking in the afterburner.

 The Thunderbirds had switched to the F-100, making us the world’s first supersonic flying team. I have to be mindful of a hard-and-fast rule :  DO NOT GO SUPER-SONIC  DURING THE AIRSHOW.

 No booming the crowd. So, I want to be subsonic.  Just barely. Let’s say . Mach Point  = 0.99. 

 However the biggest mistake I can make is to be early in this ultra-coordinated maneuver. The Diamond is about to break in all four directions, so if I get there too soon, I don’t have an exit strategy.

 Today, my timing looks good, so I light the ‘ burner and start a pull into the vertical. We don’t have a solo pilot’s handbook on board.  But if we did, the handbook would say this maneuver at this high rate of speed would be allowed a 6.5 G pull. 

 If I get it right, I’ll hit the apex of the Bomb Burst [5] five seconds after the Diamond separates, snap the throttle out of ‘ burner, ‘ turn on smoke, then go perfectly vertical . . moving the ailerons to full detent . . as the Diamond pilots track away from each other to the four points of the compass, I’ll put on those lazy, lovely pigtails. Then I’ll click off the smoke and figure out how to do a slow-speed vertical recovery to that quick upward move. 

But at Del Rio, it doesn’t turn out as planned.

 I made the aggressive pull into place the Super Sabre in the vertical.  And the aircraft . .EXPLODES !     F-100 pilots are accustomed to loud noises. Even in the best of circumstances, the F-100’s afterburner can bang ‘ pretty hard when it lights up.  It’s also fairly common for the Super Sabre’s engine compressor to stall, sometimes forcing a violent cough of rejected air back up the intake. A dynamic flame belches forward from its oval nose . . and definitely gets your attention. The resulting shock can kick your boots right off the rudder pedals.

Any F-100 pilot who feels/hears a loud ” BANG ! ” automatically thinks : ” compressor stall.”

 And he unloads elevator pressure to get air traveling down its oval mouth . instead of the other way out.  So, instinctively, the explosion causes me to relax stick-pressure to unload the airplane’s centrifugal G load.

 But now, I’m fully into one of those fast-forward mental states where seasons compress into seconds . . and allows Fall colors to change . . as you’re watching. Fairly smoothly, I move the stick forward.  I even have time to think” HEY !  THIS  IS  NO  COMPRESSOR   STALL  ! ” 

In retrospect, the airplane had already unloaded itself . . making my remedy superfluous. 

 But there was some pilot lore and wisdom at work here : No matter what else happens . .FLY YOUR AIRPLANE . .ALL THE WAY . .INTO THE DIRT !

 Forget all that stuff about lift and drag and thrust and gravity, just fly the airplane until the last piece stops moving.

 The good old Super Sabre F-100 # 55-3520 . . . has QUIT flying ! 

 But I have not.    

Now flames envelop the inside of the cockpit. I have to eject or ‘ get fried.’  I grab the seat handles and tug them up, blowing off the canopy and exposing ejection triggers on each side of the handles.

 I yank the seat triggers and immediately feel a no-nonsense kick in the rear out into into an almost ridged slipstream. 

Seat separation is automatic.  Too fast to track, the ejection seat was disappearing as I curled into a semi-fetal posture to absorb the parachute’s opening shock. Jump school helps here . . and I nod in agreement to my brain on good body position.

Then the chute snaps open.  But at a very high speed.  The parachute harness jolting me back to real time . . short-circuiting the transition from borderline terror ‘ to giddy elation . . the evil Siamese twins of leaping out of an airplane without a secondary chute.

  My helmet is missing. Where did it go? I look up and see a couple of chute panels are torn, several shroud lines snapped.  And there’s one large rip in the 28 ft. canopy. I’ll come down a bit quicker than necessary. Going to land in the infield . . near show-center. Have to figure out the wind, get the chute collapsed fast so as not to be dragged.

 Heck !

  I’m on the ground and being dragged already. Get the damn chute collapsed ! Pick up handfuls of shroud lines as you roll right side up and begin running on to the yet inflated canopy.

 Finally, I stand up, unhook and perceive I’m in one piece. And here comes a blue van with several of our wide-eyed people in it. 

Then it begins to sink in. In 14 years and 1,000-plus air shows, the Thunderbirds team has been ‘ clever ‘ enough to do all its metal-bending during its training sessions.

 This is our first accident in front of a crowd. And that dubious honor to have thousands of eyeballs watching. . is mine. 

I gather my gear and climb into the van. Somebody wants to take me immediately to the base hospital.  But I say : ” I don’t want to do that right now. Let’s go over and tell the ground crew I’m OK.”

 So we stop, I get out of the van, shake hands, toss the Thunderbird’s crew chiefs an insincere thumbs-up.

Jimmy Stewart is still there and comes over to say nice things, but Raquel hasn’t stayed for the show, so no air-kiss. As I’d given our narrator, Mike Miller.

That’s when I learn that I’d jerked both wings off F-100 Super Sabre.

 Of course, I had been watching the Diamond, ahead and well above me. I hadn’t seen the wings come off. All I knew was . . it blew up. 

The F-100 has a large fuselage fuel tank, on top of the wing center section and forward of the engine.

 When the wings folded, a large quantity of raw fuel from that fuselage tank dumped into the hot engine.  Then exploded.

 The shock wave from the fuel blast blew off the Super Sabre’s nose. And as the fuselage separately fluttered down, many in the awed crowd thought I was inside. 

The engine instantly shot flames through the cockpit-pressurization system. Conditioned air enters the cockpit at the pilot’s feet and also behind his helmet.

  My flying boots, ordinarily pretty shiny for an ROTC grad, were charred beyond repair. I never wore them again. Above where I had rolled my collar underneath, my neck got toasted. 

I have no idea how fast I was during ejection. I was barely subsonic when the wings failed. But with the nose blown off, the F-100 is a fairly blunt object and would have slowed quickly. On the other hand, I had remained with the aircraft no more than a second or two after it exploded.  So there wasn’t much time for me to decelerate. When I came out of the jet, the near sonic wind blast caught my helmet, rotated it 90 degrees and ripped it off my head. It was found on the ground with the visor down, oxygen mask still hooked up and chin strap still fastened. As the helmet rotated, its built in neck protector scuffed my burned neck causing substantial bleeding. The Thunderbirds keep a zero-delay lanyard hooked up during airshows, giving us the quickest possible chute deployment. And that explained why my chute opened fast.  Too fast, as it turned out. The parachute’s immediate, high-speed opening was much harsher than normal, and as my torso whipped around, the heavy chute straps did further damage to the back of my neck. 
  Walking into the base hospital, I was startled by my image in a full-length mirror. Above it . . a sign says :” Check Your Military Appearance.”

  The white show suit is a goner, the flaming cockpit had given it a base-coat of charcoal gray accented by blood . . with a final dressing of dirt, grass and sage-brush.

 Being dragged along the ground accounted for this camouflage.  I looked like the main scene in a slasher movie –-‘ The Solo Pilot From Hell.’ 

After I jumped out, the F-100 continued on a ballistic trajectory, scattering parts and equipment. The engine and the main fuselage section impacted 2 miles away.

 All the bits and pieces landed on government soil with  no injury or property damage.

 My aircraft was destroyed–I signed a hand-receipt for $696,989. 

 On the other hand, if there is a good kind of accident, this was it. Nobody was hurt, and all the scrap metal was collected for ‘ post-game ‘ analysis. 

When my aircraft’s wing center box was inspected, the box was found to have structurally failed.

 North American Rockwell, the manufacturer, tested the box on a bend-and-stretch machine.  And a section recently off Rockwell’s assembly line also broke under

an equivalent load of 6.5 G wing loading. It shouldn’t have happened, since the F-100’s positive load limit is 7.33 G.  But my F-100’s wing center box broke along a fatigue crack . . and there were about 30 additional fatigue cracks in the vicinity. 

Some then-recent F-100 losses in Vietnam looked suspiciously similar. The recovery from a dive-bomb pass is a lot like my high-speed, high-G pull-up into the Bomb Burst.

 In the Vietnam accidents, the pieces had not been recovered, and the aircraft were merely written off as combat losses. 

Later, specialists discovered considerable fatigue damage in the wing center boxes of other Thunderbird Super Sabres.

 Immediately, the Air Force immediately put a 4 G limit on the F-100 and initiated a program to run all the aircraft through depot modification to beef up the wing center box.

 My accident almost certainly saved lives by revealing this serious problem.

Merrill A. (Tony) McPeak

Note : USAF General Merrill A.McPeak flew F-100, F-104, F-4, F-111, F-15 and F-16 fighters, participated in nearly 200 air shows as a solo pilot for the Thunder-birds and flew 269 combat missions in Vietnam as an attack pilot. He commanded the Misty FACs, 20th Fighter Wing, Twelfth Air Force and Pacific  Air Command, and completed his career as the 14th USAF Chief  of Staff. -30-


Photo Blasts from the Past

My former pilot Art Smith (and wife MaryJo)  sent along some great pix of some of my artwork from the 1960s. Art drove B-57s in the Guard, then RF-101s in Vietnam before joining us in the tanker force. Great guy, great pilot, and our irrepressible super pro boom operator Rick Clark. The photo of the wall shows an oil painting I did during that time, and didn’t remember it until Art sent along a photo a couple of years back. Now he sends this  big cartoon, which I don’t remember at all, but I certainly recognize the style and technique.  Over.


More History From the Air

November 2013


Thud 1

Editor’s note: I like this photo just because it displays the Thud’s distinctive silhouette so well. Note that the KC-135 still has the original J-57 engines with the signature black smoke stains on the flaps from those interminable takeoff rolls with water injection howling and all the crew pushing. One day at Hill AFB, a KC-135 from the SAC satellite alert force took off to rotate back home to Beale. He rolled all the way south down the 13,500′ runway, rotated within the last 1000′, managed to avoid the ILS localizer antenna but took down the perimeter fence 1500′ beyond, as well as a stop sign on the civilian street outside. Fortunately the ground sloped away toward the town of Layton & the Great Salt Lake and he was able to get it going. I’d love to know what the drivers had to say to each other afterwards…

After the advance copy of this issue was sent to our Tech Advisors, Jim Webster provided this remarkably similar later view he took of Marty Noel’s loaded-for-bear Weasel “G” somewhere over Laos carrying a Standard Arm and 2 Shrikes. The wingtip vortex streamers indicate we’re talking heavy iron here… The tanker has gotten a lot dirtier and more scabrous over the years.


Thud (F-105) refueling somewhere over Laos enroute to North Vietnam

Published by email for the enjoyment of all those associated in any significant way with the Republic F-105 Thunderchief a.k.a. Thud, Ultrahog, & Squashbomber; and the Lockheed/Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon a.k.a. Viper, Electric Jet, & Lawn Dart, hereafter know in this publication as “Thud” & “Viper” respectively.This includes, but is not limited to, Pilots, Bears, Maintainers, Armorers, Flight Surgeons, & Tech Reps. We solicit stories of your adventures, combat or otherwise, to keep alive the memories & legends of these outstanding fighter aircraft. Bits of trivia about them that might be of interest to fellow aviators are also welcome.

Dedicated to all those who have flown west to join up with that Great Rendezvous in the sky.


There are no dues to receive this letter, we only ask that you support this effort by contributing such stories of adventures/misadventures as you care to share.

Address your stories, suggestions, queries, or complaints to your editor, Norm Powell at sywitchcraft@peoplepc.com

Please submit your items for publication as a text email, not an attachment, in your choice of easily-read 12-point font. We will edit them only as necessary for clarity or to correct spelling/grammar. Slang & euphemisms (YGBSM) are accepted & welcome. If for any reason I deem your submission unsuitable for dissemination, I will contact the author privately to see if we can work it out.

The intent is to compile and publish your submissions at least monthly, or more often if the volume of material warrants. An advance copy of each issue will be reviewed by our Technical Advisors: pilots Jim Miholick, Bane Lyle, Greg “Blotto” Garrett, Jim Webster, and myself to correct any possible technical misinformation. Having said that, this is not a pure historical document, but a forum for our veteran members to tell their stories as they remember them. We recognize that memories are fallible and when combined with the infamous “Fog of War” may result in different accounts of the same event.

Here’s one final account of the intercepts of supersonic Thuds by English Electric Lightnings of the RAF in the early ’60s.

Lightning-Thud Intercept – John Heron

Thud was one of the few aircraft which could provide a genuine supersonic threat during exercises. I’ve checked my log book and on 15 Jan 1964 I was scrambled in a Lightning F2 to engage a single F-105D which was approaching the coast at Mach 1.4 about 100 miles east of Lincolnshire. As I closed he turned left on to a heading of about 140 at around 34,000 ft. I was concentrating on the radar and missile acquisition with my head in the radar sun visor, and not paying attention to speed. On a cold Winter’s day at the troposphere there was power to spare and inadvertently I reached Mach 2.0 as I passed the Thud, just off his right wing. Who was he I wonder?

Sixteen months later I was at Nellis appreciating the merits of that fine fighter bomber and some years later at least two of our students on the 4526th were exchange pilots with the RAF flying the Lightning. Happy memories!

Barracuda Two is down – Gordon Jenkins

Note: This is written as an addendum to the article “The Best Job I ever had (the rescue of Maj. R. E. Stone) giving the perspective of the Navy rescueman published in the previous edition of the MIG SWEEP.

I was among the second class of First Lieutenants to be checked out in the Thud at Nellis and shipped out directly to Thailand to bomb the North. Among my group were Bob Lodge, Jim Shively, Gary Smith (all USAFA grads) and Bob Abbott, Bob Weskamp, Ken Matthews, and Paul Sheehy.

Thud 3

Lodge was a very interesting fellow, himself shot down trying to get his third Mig on a second tour in F-4s. Bob Lodge had a photographic memory, most aptly demonstrated during our 100th mission, when I had a hung 750-pounder on the centerline MER. Bob joined up and advised me of the situation, then transmitted “250, 1g, no flaps” reciting the limitations from the manual as though he had the page in front of him. Without his astute input, I’d have toggled the rack at 400 knots – after all I am an LSU graduate. Shively and Abbott were shot down after 50 missions and spent 7 years as POWs in Hanoi. Bob Weskamp was shot down while inbound to a target near Hanoi and never bailed out. Matthews, Sheehy, Smith, Lodge and I were able to complete 100 missions over North Vietnam. Our group of 8 actually beat the odds, as upon our arrival at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base in December, 1966, we were ushered into the lobby at Base Operations awaiting representatives from the three squadrons to ‘divvy up’ the eight Lieutenants. On the wall in Base Ops were two 4X8 pieces of plywood with titles “100 Missions” and “POW/MIA/KIA”. There were an equal number of small nametags on each board, showing us that this was a 50/50 proposition!

My most challenging mission was flown on July 2, 1967. This was my 96th mission and flown the day after my 37th one to the Hanoi area (Route Pack VI). This was my first flight as lead, having been approved for this status by Col Bob White of X-15 fame, who was the Wing Director of Operations. Bob Lodge and I were the first lieutenants placed on flight lead orders at Takhli, as the Wing Commander, Col Bob Scott, thought only senior officers could be trusted with this position.

Thud 4

On this date, I was Baracuda One, with Major Bob Stone as two. This was a mission to Route Pack II, with our fragged target being a river crossing on the “Black Route”, the designation of a 50 mile stretch of river leading from the Laotian Border to the Gulf of Tonkin. We had an uneventful refueling and, as I had learned from some really fine fighter pilots, flew the entire length of Black Route hoping to see some ‘movers’ so we could drop our six 750 pound bombs on a visual target of opportunity. Nothing was moving that day as we weaved back and forth at 8,000 feet eastbound over the river. We reached the coast and I determined that the best we could do that day was to hit the fragged river crossing which was about thirty miles inland.

We headed back west and approached the target from the northeast. I pulled up to 12,000 to dive bomb the river crossing, with Major Stone taking spacing outside my climbing turn. I released bombs at the standard 5,000 ft AGL in a 45 degree dive and 540 knots. Pulling up and turning left, I saw my bombs hit just on the south side of the river at the underwater crossing point and observed a new ‘cloud’ appear below me at about 6,000 feet. This was 37mm anti-aircraft fire that had been fused to explode at that altitude. Unfortunately for Bob Stone, he flew directly into the metal overcast and suffered major damage. His aircraft was shedding parts and burning. I transmitted “head west” because I didn’t think he could make it to the Gulf with that much damage — and heading west would take him into mountainous terrain from which a rescue would be possible. He leveled off at 8,000 ft heading west, going fast. I saw more and more of his aircraft falling away and told him to ‘bailout’, which he did. Unfortunately he was doing 500 knots and the windblast from an ejection at that airspeed can cause major whiplash to neck, arms, and legs. I watched as his chute landed in a tree covered hillside. The chute appeared to hang up in the topmost branches of a tree canopy that I estimated to be 100 feet above the ground. I tried to reach him on ‘guard’, but got no response. I immediately contacted Red Crown, the controlling agency for search and rescue, advising them that “Baracuda Two is down” and transmitted the Doppler lat/long position to aid in the rescue. They asked if I had a visual of his location and if I had radio contact with him. I lied. I said I had a visual and had spoken to him on the radio, so “send a chopper to get him out”. They said a rescue force was on the way.

I needed gas, so after doing a ‘fix’ on my doppler navigation system I headed for the nearest tanker. Folks were most helpful in arranging for my much needed poststrike refueling. I then returned to the area of Bob’s chute and contacted Red Crown to determine the rescue status. They replied that the chopper was inbound over the coast and taking heavy fire from the ground – and were about to abort the rescue. This would not do! I had already lost my wingman on the first mission I had been trusted to lead, and I wasn’t about to let them turn back. I got the chopper pilot to give me a ‘hold down’ so I could use my UHF radio direction-finding feature to locate him. I flew out to them, circled the chopper, now about 2,000 feet above the flats east of the mountains. I said “follow me” and lowered half flaps, slowed to 250 knots to stay within sight of the slow moving chopper, then S-turned southwest bound over the flats of North Vietnam just south of Vinh to lead him to the parachute hanging in the trees. I don’t know to this day why I didn’t get shot down during this highly risky maneuver at 2500 feet over a highly defended area of North Vietnam. I was just above traffic pattern altitude! Someone was watching out for me.

We made it to the hills and his chute and they said that he was not responding to the tree penetrator they had dropped near him. I said “send a PJ down to help him” and they did so. The chopper was hovering for some minutes just above the chute and they moved to a clearing where the PJ was able to descend and get Bob secured and lifted aboard. The chopper pilot advised that he was unconscious and had multiple broken bones. They returned to their ship in the Gulf of Tonkin and I returned to Takhli logging 3 hours and 20 minutes of combat.

Bob Lodge was our awards and decorations officer and he attended the debriefing. I never knew he had written a citation for my second Silver Star until it was presented to me at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, Texas.

On July 8th I was again flight lead for my 100th mission with Bob Lodge on my wing. TSGT J. J. Smith, who was my crewchief during five assignments in the Thud, launched me in “Darlin Dianne“.

Thud 5


Bob and I changed positions after dropping our ordnance so I could be on the wing (as we had practiced on the previous mission) and we beat up the airfield with four passes – first in fingertip at 100 feet AGL and 550 knots, followed by a slow-speed pass with the probes extended (giving the guys the ‘finger’), then a high speed pass leading to a vertical pullup midfield where I split from Bob and we flew an opposing pass down either side of the runway at 500 knots, crossing directly in front of our squadron. I then rejoined Bob and we ended our airshow with a 200 foot, 400 knot initial followed by each pulling up and doing a 360 degree roll and turning left to downwind for landing. Col Scott met us after engine shutdown for photos and shook our hands. I understand that he changed the rules for flybys that same day.

I returned to Korat RTAFB as a Wild Weasel pilot for my second tour but only got eight more combat missions before they cancelled the war on me.



F-16 iraq

Flaming Beer Cans….Operation Iraqi Freedom, March 2003′ – Rob “Smokey” Ray

Our Mission was fragged as a standard (if there is such a thing) Search and destroy patrol with a 4 hour Vul (vulnerability) time, (6.5 hour mission). “Potsi” and I would launch as a 2 ship from BASE-X, fly through a narrow exit gate, refuel and enter Iraqi airspace. Our loadout was 2 GBU-12’s and one 2000# JDAM (GPS guided MK 84), 2 Aim 120 Amraam’s and 510 rounds of HEI 20MM plus an ECM pod and 2-370 gal wing tanks, chaff and flares. The mission would be 1/2 Day and night, NVG’s would be worn for most of the patrol time. Start taxi and takeoff from our bare base was fairly standard, taxiing through a FOD nightmare and middle eastern Min Comm procedures. The Runway at Base-X was pockmarked from repairs of attacks from Israeli jets many years before, and Lawrence of Arabia had camped nearby on one of his campaigns. The historic landscape had many warriors pass by over the past 2000 years, us included. As Potsi lines up next to me I can’t help but notice the brown tinge our normally grey jets had taken after living in this dusty land for 3 months. Every leak or grease spot now had caked earth attached. I suppose we carried a little bit of our host country around with us wherever we went. My left hand eases the large meat cleaver-like throttle handle forward and my GE F-110 comes to life. I move the handle past the forward stop and with a left outward motion slide into afterburner. Soon thereafter 60,000 pounds per hour of kerosene and noise transfers itself into 27000 lbs of thrust. Acceleration is brisk and even with the full load underneath me I am airborne by mid field and climbing quickly. Ten seconds later Potsi is right behind, dodging jet wash and watching the stucco buildings surrounding the base zip past. Wonder if anybody down there has a cellphone and is passing our launch times to their brothers downrange? Soon I turn us East and start getting our systems on and working. Without a Targeting pod, ECM pod, working RWR or NVG’s you might as well not even refuel, you’re going home. So, all of those items are checked prior to refueling and the eventual FENCE check. My Jet’s good to go and I echo the same to Potsi on VHF. We perform a “stare” (targeting pod lock on and lase) on the last corner of friendly ground before heading to the tanker. Our SADL (data link display) is happily showing little symbols where everybody is, including our tanker. With a click of my pinkie on the nosewheel steering button I see everybody’s fuel and weapon status who is airborne. The flight in front of us is fairly skosh (low fuel) so I give them a wide berth as we silently join on the KC-135R’s left wing. The last rays of daylight fade and I lower my goggles to peer at the tanker, “good to go, back to stow”. Soon the flight ahead has left and I smoothly slide into position, the Tanker’s boom extends as I wonder how many times this old 707 has refueled fighters? All the R’s are converted A’s, maybe it was doing this in Viet Nam…hard to say. I reach back and flick my intercom switch on, even though this is a single seat Jet. When the boom connects, I will be able to chat with the boom operator like sitting at Starbucks. Through one eye I can see the boomer in his lair moving the probe to the right and out of my way, the other spies the director lights under the Tanker’s nose, beckoning me closer. Moving forward at a walking pace less than 15 feet below the KC-135;s belly I see the UHF antenna potruding from the 135’s enormous belly lined up with his nose wheel door and know I’m there, director lights or no. I stop my forward motion. The pregnant pause subsides when my Jet moves slightly and a clunk sound is heard and suddenly a giant hand seems to hold my airplane against my will. The fuel gauge increases, life is good. I say “howdy” to the boomer and the rest of the crew chimes in. The Tanker pilots comment that it’s already been a busy day, several SAM’s seen and AAA around Hadithah Dam, right where we are headed. Looks like a long night ahead. Minutes go by as I chit chat with the crew and ask them how their 8 hour day has gone. The fuel gauge finally reads full of JP8 as I simultaneously say “see ya” to the boomer, click the disconnect button and slide aft, down and over to the Tankers right wing while my left hand reaches down behind me to close the refueling door. The flight controls feel sprightly again as takeoff and landing gains are cancelled with the door closed. Eventually Potsi has refueled and I call for the FENCE check/Ops check/post AAR/go “active.” A switch to “active” translated means to switch to UHF frequency and go to active Have Quick (anti jam) UHF. Suddenly the airwaves are alive with a Brit accent from Bondo, our AWACS and several of our Bros getting tasked to support Special Operator teams in Kill Boxes. I turn my ECM pod to auto, switch my exterior lights to covert, arm my chaff flares and check my IFF in auto. I check us in and Bondo calmly gives us our tasking as if he was taking our order for a pint of Guinness back in the UK. “Honcho 21, proceed to 88 Alpha Romeo and contact Striker 14 on Grape Three” I respond with a simple “Honcho 21”. Western Iraq is the Wild West as far as de-confliction of aircraft and airspace goes, with literally hundreds of aircraft on separate frequencies droning around lights out. Rule number one is to stay in your assigned block and everybody is happy. Stray high or low and you might hit something, simple as that. It’s dark out here and only the narrow view in your NVG’s brings the dark world into and eerie green hue. Potsi’s covert tail strobe is happily blinking a double blink, mine set in “1” giving me a single flash and if there was a Honcho three or four, theirs would blink appropriately. Potsi’s colored covert wingtip lights flash away making him look like he is sitting still under the quarter moon. To make sure his lights are covert I lift my Goggs slightly and look at him with my naked eye, nothing but dark. Amazing thing that visible light spectrum!

We are heading Northeast across the vast wasteland of Southwestern Iraq towards Mesopotamia, the Euphrates river and a huge Dam holding back it’s waters, the Hadithah. I send us to a discreet Have Quick UHF and we switch to Grape Three on VHF secure. “Striker 14, Honcho 21 as fragged” A far away voice answers “Striker 14 copy, standby 9 line” After a few seconds I see out of the corner of my eye a message on my up front control and a digital text appears on my HUD. Striker’s 9-line CAS brief is here. My Targeting pod and INS/GPS has already received the coordinates and my Pod view is showing the target area. I dare not get caught up in the “green stuff” yet as my job is to first make sure we don’t get shot, hopefully and not kill friendlies. Striker 14, our JTAC is probably an Air Force enlisted specialist attached to Special Ops and working with the best of the best. The teams working with us in Western Iraq are a Dream team of special operators, hand picked to perform the mission at hand: Counter-TBM or more simply, SCUD Killing. Striker has apparently located a cache of munitions he wants us to take out, the weapon of choice tonight is the GBU-12. I set up my SMS for GBU-12 and glance at the 9-line brief. The target is less than 1 mile from Striker’s position, nothing new for Special Ops. There are enemy forces near the cache and AAA has been seen nearby. Our patrol altitude block of 15-19K above Earth is well within the range of most anti aircraft guns and nearly every type of SAM. I nudge the throttle slightly forward to achieve 400 KIAS and turn away from the target. I quickly calculate a 12 mile run in for the attack with Potsi as cover while I drop and self-lase. The familiar scenario repeated from habit, practiced to ad nausea back home in our MOA literally hundreds of times. “Honcho 21 laser arm, one is arm hot” Potsi simply answers “Two”. I center the locator line in the HUD, see that the “ARM” is showing and I have a single GBU-12 selected. I acclerate to 450 Knots Calibrated at 17K AGL with my ground speed approaching 600 Knots. I check to see if Potsi is with me. He;s right where he is supposed to be, checking my 6. The miles click away as I stare into the 6 inch square world of the FLIR in our Litening Targeting Pod. The target gets very clear as I get closer and in no time it seems a blinking circle in the HUD appears, I am in range to drop. My crosshairs are centered on the target, and Striker has already cleared me “hot” 12 miles back, a trusting soul for sure. I ease my right thumb off the laser designator on the stick and onto the release (pickle) button. With a press and hold on the button I feel a slight shake in the airframe and a release cue in the SMS shows a 500-pound laser guided bomb is headed for it’s destiny. The laser is locked on and I watch the seconds slowly tick down as I ease into a 30 degree left bank, careful not to gimbal the Targeting Pod mounted on the right side of the Fuselage. Then simultaneously as the seconds tick to zero, a bright flash appears in the Pod, target destroyed. Seemingly an instant later a very calm voice comes on the radio “Smokey, break left.” For all the seemingly millions of times I have practiced reacting to that unavoidable call for action, all the times I wondered what it would be like for real, there it was, when I least expected it. With a flick of my wrist I simultaneously pull the Jet into a harder descending left bank, apply full throttle, pop chaff and flares and look outside. What I see seems in slow motion and odd, large fiery balls or even what appears to be flaming aerial beer cans right outside my canopy sailing past my tail. I feel a slight ripple of turbulence as I fly through where the projectiles just were. Then, through my goggles I see a flash and what looks like Christmas tree Tensile flying outwards. So this is AAA…My brain jumps back into real time and I make a simple call “Defending AAA”. Potsi immediately and very calmly echos “copy defending, airburst behind you” After a full 180 degree turn back towards Syria I continue to accelerate away from the AAA site and switch to Air to Air radar clearing our flightpath North. I pop more chaff as Potsi makes the call “AAA ceased fire.” Striker chimes in “Honcho, you are taking fire” I think to myself, no sh—t Sherlock but silently thank him for his vigilance. “Webe” a flight of 2 A-10’s holding nearby chimes in “Tally AAA site, request suppression” Striker immediately responds, “Target in sight, cleared hot”. As I pass over the A10’s a thousand feet above and opposite direction I tell Potsi “Hook Left” and execute a 180 degree turn back toward the AAA site. We are 3 miles behind and slightly above the A-10’s providing mutual support for their “Gun Run.” One mile from the site I see fire spew forth from Webe 1’s nose as he delivers 30 MM cannon rounds downrange. The tracers arc upwards and then back to Earth, sparkling the ground as they impact the AAA site. My targeting pod records the event as bright flashes of light and explosions. As quickly as he has fired his big gun Webe and his wingman execute a 180 degree about face as secondary explosions erupt around the former AAA emplacement. I echo his tactic and call “hook left” once again. We cover Webe’s egress and I pass along, “Nice shootin Tex” to them on VHF. With two targets burning and fuel becoming scarce, I tell Striker “Honcho is Texaco, Webe, cleared in”. We then safe our switches and head South for more JP8, a quick breather and re-tasking. Potsi performs his best night battle damage check and I confirm there seems to be nothing leaking. The trip to the tanker takes almost 20 minutes with an amazing panorama of Iraq at night through my NVG’s. In the distance I can see Baghdad under fire, explosions going off in the distant North and lightning over Saudi Arabia, 200 miles away. Our little world at war…

We would later support 2 more CAS taskings that night and then drop our JDAM’s on a telecommunications facility as the Eastern horizon was glowing with the pending sunrise. Our targeting pods recorded the direct hits with pinpoint accuracy from our cruising height “well above” 20,000 feet. We continued our trip West and home passing through several friendly SAM gauntlets and tiptoe down the Syrian border once again…Denny’s (our chow tent) awaits.



Slow and Low in an SR-71

As some infamous aviator said a long time ago, “ALTITUDE IS LIFE, AIRSPEED IS LIFE INSURANCE!!!SR-71


  Brian   Shul, Retired SR-71 Blackbird Pilot via Plane and Pilot Magazine
  As a former SR-71 pilot and keynote speaker, the question I'm most often   asked is :
  'How fast would that SR-71 fly ? '? I can be assured of hearing that   question several times at any event I attend.
  It's an interesting question, given the aircraft's proclivity for speed.   But there really isn't a single number to give . . as the turbo ramjet would   always give you a little more speed if you wanted it to.
  It was common to see 35 miles a minute.? But we typically flew a programmed Mach   number.
  But because we never wanted to harm the plane in any way, we never let it   'run out ' to any limits of temperature or speed.
  Thus, each SR-71 pilot had his own personal ' high ' speed that he saw at   some point during our missions.
  I saw my highest speed over Libya whe n Khadafy fired two missiles my way   when max power was in order.
  Let's just say that the Blackbird truly loved speed . . and effortlessly   took us to high Mach numbers . . we had not previously seen.
  So it was with great surprise, when at the end of one of my   presentations, someone asked : ' What was the SLOWEST . . you ever flew the   Blackbird ? '
  This was a first. After   giving it some thought, I was reminded of a story that I had never shared   before, and relayed the following:?I was flying the SR-71 out of RAF Mildenhall,? England, with my back seater, Walt   Watson. We were returning from a mission over Europe and the Iron Curtain   when we received a radio transmission from home base.
  As we scooted acro ss   Denmark in three minutes, we learned that a small RAF base in the English   countryside had requested an SR-71 fly-past.
  The Commander of air cadets there, a former Blackbird pilot, thought it would be a motivating moment   for the young lads to see the mighty SR-71 perform a low approach.
  No problem, we were happy to do it.
  After a quick aerial refueling over the North Sea ($$$-W W), we proceeded to   find the small airfield.? In the back seat, Walter had a myriad of sophisticated   navigation equipment and he began to vector me toward the field.
  Descending to subsonic, we found ourselves over a densely wooded area in the   slight haze.
  Like most former WWII British airfields, the one we were looking for had a   small tower and little surrounding infrastructure.? Walter told me we were close.? And that I should be able to see the   field.
  But as far as I could see in the haze . . I saw nothing but trees.? We got a little lower, and? I pulled the throttles back from our   325 knot cruise.
  With the gear up . . anything under 275 knots . . was plaint uncomfortable.? Walt said were practically over the   field. Looking hard . . there was nothing in my windscreen.
  I banked the jet and started a gentle circling maneuver. . hoping to pick up anything   that looked like a field.? Meanwhile, below, the Commander had taken the Cadets up on the   control tower’s cat walk . . to get a prime view.
  It was a quiet, still day with no wind and partial gray overcast.? Walter continued to give me indications   that the field should be below us.? But in the overcast and haze, I   couldn’t see it.
  But the longer we continued to circle and peer out . . the slower we got.   With our power back, the awaiting cadets had silence.
  I must have had good instructors in my flying career, as something told me I   better cross-check the gauges.
  As I noticed the airspeed indicator s-l-i-d-e below 160 knots, my heart   stopped.
  My adrenalin-filled left hand . . shoved both throttles FULL FORWARD !
  At this point we weren’t really flying…but were falling in a slight bank.? Just at that moment both afterburners   lit with a thunderous roar of flame!? And, what a joyous feeling that was as   the aircraft fell into full view of the shocked observers on the catwalk.
  Shattering the absolute quiet of that morning, they now had 107 feet of   fire-breathing titanium in their faces as the plane leveled and accelerated,   in full burner, on the their side of the infield . . much closer than   expected . . maintaining what could only be described as some sort of   ultimate knife-edge aerobatic pass.
  We proceeded back to Mildenhall without incident . . not saying a word to   each other for those next 14 minutes.? After landing, our commander greeted us   . . and we were both certain he was reaching for our wings.
  Instead, he heartily shook our hands and said the Commander had told him it   was the greatest SR-71 fly-past he had ever seen.? Especially how we had surprised them   with such a precise maneuver that could only be described as . .   breathtaking.
  Some of the cadet’s hats were blown off.? The sight of the plan form of the plane   in full afterburner . . dropping right in front of them . . was stunning . .   unbelievable.
  Walt and I both understood the concept of ‘ breathtaking ‘ very well that   morning. And we sheepishly replied that the Cadets seemed . . just excited .   . to see our low approach.
  As we retired to the equipment room to change from space suits to flight   suits, we just sat there-. . hadn’t spoken a word since ‘ the pass.’? Finally, Walter looked at me and said :? ‘ I saw One hundred fifty-six knots.? What did you see ?

Trying to   find my voice I stammered : ' One hundred fifty-two.'

We sat in   silence for a moment.? Then Walt calmly said : ' Don't ever do   that to me again ! '

And I never   d id.
  A year later, Walter and I were having lunch in the Mildenhall Officer's   club, and overheard an officer talking to some cadets about an SR-71 fly-past   that he'd seen one day.
  Of course, by now the story included kids falling off the tower and   screaming as the heat of the jet singed their eyebrows.
  As we stood there with lunch trays in our hands, the officer noticed our   HABU [shoulder patch icon of a deadly snake] and asked us to verify to the   Cadets that such an event occurred.
  Walt just shook his head and said : ' It was probably just a routine low   approach . ..they're pretty impressive in that airplane.'
  Impressive . . indeed.
  Little did I realize that LOW SPEED experience . . would become one of   the most requested of my stories.? It's ironic . . that people now became   very interested in how slow the . . World's fastest jet aircraft . . can fly.
  Regardless of your speed . . It's always a good idea to keep up your   instrument cross-check, I'm certain you'll agree.
  However keep your Mach up, too.


In a Weirding Time, Weird Theories Abound

The government is shutdown. Politicrappis are going freakozoid over the gamesmanship being played in the nation’s capital.

Putting this entry under The Right Stuff might have been better under the Wrong Stuff, but I don’t have that category available, so here it sits.

How all this  political unrest, polarity and sheer folly can manifest is creepy. I heard something disturbing the other day and I can’t get it out of my mind. A friend of mine told me, “when the President goes to disband the Marines, that will be the end, and “those Marine boys are so patriotic they won’t obey and will take up arms to stop it.” Really? REALLY!!!?

A lot of the political crap I hear are from people who have never worn the uniform of their country. Nor have their kids. To be fair, these folks have no real experience with how the military functions.

The President wants to eliminate the Marines? Where the hell does this come from? Never mind that this country has looked at eliminating the marines after every war we’ve fought and that there have been five major presidential attempts at elimination, staring with Andrew Jackson, Old Hickory himself.

Here’s a news item from  three years back, August, 2010: “Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is ordering a review of the future role of the Marine Corps amid ” anxiety” that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had turned the service into a “second land army.” The review would seek to define a 21st century combat mission for the Marines that is distinct from the Army’s, because the Marines “do not want to be, nor does America need” another ground combat force, Gates said in prepared remarks for a speech at Marines’ Memorial Theatre in San Francisco on Thursday to a group that included retired Marines and foreign policy experts. In ordering the Pentagon review, Gates was deepening a long-running debate about the role of the Marine Corps, including whether one of its main missions — amphibious assaults against fortified coastlines — has become obsolete because of the changing nature of warfare and advances in precision weaponry..

[For the record, the US Army took more beaches in WWII than the Marines, but there was never  a debate over whether the Army was getting too sea-based for its missions.]

Andrew Jackson and Harry Truman wanted to eliminate the marines, Truman to save money in the wake of World War II.  Eisenhower favored their elimination as well – in the interests of streamlining.

The Corp was established Nov 10, 1775, but the corps lasted only 8 years until 1783, when the Treaty of Paris was signed, and the Continental Marines, and the Continental Navy were both then disbanded. The marines were not reconstituted again until  a decade and a half later, 11 July 1798.

Now, according to various sites, 2013 is billed as the USMC’s 238th birthday, which doesn’t add quite add up. Yes, it is 238 years since the 1775 founding.  The corps was  active 1775-1783 (= 8 years), eliminated 1783-1798 (=15 years) and 2013 minus 1798 is 215 years ago. The 238 is accurate only If you count those years when there was no U.S. Marine Corps. Actual  number of years when the USMC was alive and real is 223 years by my calculation. I know, it’s a quibble.  [And the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) have a similar gap. They were founded in 1540, but suppressed by the Church 1750-1773 because of its extreme political activities.]

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the bedrock of military law. The UCMJ is a federal law, enacted by Congress. Articles 77 through 134 of the UCMJ are known as the “punitive articles,” — that is, specific offenses which, if violated, can result in punishment by court-martial.

The law requires the Commander-in-Chief (The President of the United States) to implement the provisions of the UCMJ. The President does this via an executive order known as the “Manual for Court Martial” (MCM). Chapter 4 of the MCM includes, and expands on the punitive articles. The MCM divides the punitive articles into six parts: The text, elements of the offense, an explanation, lesser included offenses, maximum permissible punishments, and sample specifications.

Every single person in uniform, by law, reports to the commander in chief, The President of the U.S., from privates to all levels of generals and admirals.

My friend who told me about this alleged Marine “revolt” is a Navy vet from Vietnam, but seemed totally unfamiliar with the UCMJ or its existence. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) 809[890].ART.90 (20), makes it clear that military personnel need to obey the “lawful command of his superior officer,” 891.ART.91 (2), the “lawful order of a warrant officer”, 892.ART.92 (1) the “lawful general order”, 892.ART.92 (2) “lawful order”. In each case, military personnel have an obligation and a duty to only obey Lawful orders and indeed have an obligation to disobey Unlawful orders, including orders by the president that do not comply with the UCMJ. The moral and legal obligation is to the U.S. Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders, especially if those orders are in direct violation of the Constitution and the UCMJ.

Duties-and-orders offenses include failure to obey an order or regulation (art. 92, 10 U.S.C.A. § 892) and being intoxicated on duty (art. 112, 10 U.S.C.A. § 912). Superior-subordinate relationship offenses include violations such as Contempt for officials (art. 88, 10 U.S.C.A. § 888) and mutiny (art. 94, 10 U.S.C.A. § 894). Combat-related offenses include misbehavior before the enemy (art. 99, 10 U.S.C.A. § 899) and misconduct as a prisoner (art. 105, 10 U.S.C.A. § 905).

The UCMJ also includes the so-called General Articles (arts. 133 and 134, 10 U.S.C.A. §§ 933, 934), which proscribe certain conduct in nonspecific terms. Article 133 makes unlawful any conduct by an officer that is “unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman.” Article 134 proscribes “all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of a good order and discipline…, [and] all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.” The constitutionality of these articles was upheld in the face of a First Amendment challenge in Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 94 S. Ct. 2547, 41 L. Ed. 2d 439 (1974).

A little on history: The War Department became the Department of Defense in 1947 with passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which was created by and passed by Congress. This act also authorized the creation of the USAF as its own branch, removing it from the Army.

Presumably, the elimination of the USMC would also have to come through Congress, not as an executive order from the President, whose job would be to sign the bill. My friend was quite muddled on this whole thing, contending how the Marines would fight the President because they are the most patriotic of all military branches. Bullshit, I don’t feel like my Air Force colleagues and I hold second candle to Marine patriotism. This” most patriotic” thing is rhetoric and marine propaganda to make their people feel “special.” So be it. They are in many ways, but they, like all uniformed personnel are sworn to uphold the constitution, and if congress comes through with a bill eliminating the marines in order to reduce expenses, it will be done, the Marine leaders will obey per the laws and UCMJ, and follow the order as precisely as they can. All the rest of this is some sort of sick right wing fantasy, which is also linked the chronic shortage of small arms ammo in this country. (Obama has decided to take away the ammo so guns won’t be able to be used. This is being done by the Department of Homeland Security making unprecedented orders of ammo. Never mind that ammo to police and ammo to civilians are apples and oranges. That  GD N-Word in the White House is out to get guns and he’s decided this is the way to get them.

Even the NRA doesn’t subscribe to this nut-cracker thinking.

I shake my head. Is this country THAT sick, and if so, why? Is race still the central issue in this land, albeit whispered and spoken out loud only by small groups?  It makes me sad indeed. Should you too. And all of us should be ashamed.

And somehow all of this is tied to the notion that the US is, like Rome, failing after 200 years, as all great powers do. Never mind we’ve only been a “great power” since World War II, which is 60 years.  Or that the Roman Republic lasted 500 years, followed by the Roman Empire, another 500 years, and if you talk about the split between east and west Roman empires, Eastern Rome lasted until around 1500, none of which is 200 years no matter how you slice and  dice the tatey.

My Ozzie (Aussie)  friends like to say “Only in America, Mate.” This not meant as a compliment, nor is it a criticism. It’s more in the line of s statement of how ridiculous this country and its citizens can act, how stupidly extreme we can get.

The marines I know respect the chain of command absolutely, as they should, and as they must. My old man, retired military, vet of WW 2, Korea and Vietnam eras,  would have gone  ballistic to hear this kind of crap in the air.

Stop spreading mud on the reputation of the USMC with sick conspiracy theories.

Over.  It’s another beautiful morning in Paradise and I gotta go find some ammo.

Thursday Morning Above the Bridge
Thursday Morning Above the Bridge