Saturday, March 12, 2016

SAC HQ Wasn't That Bad Really - Part One

The "Bone" (Source)
Long, long ago, in the waning years of the 20th Century, a burgundy red Volkswagen Jetta, loaded down with Yours Truly, The Missus Herself, The Naviguesser, The Nuke, and The WSO rolled through the gates of Offutt Air Force Base, located in eastern Nebraska on the banks of the mighty Missouri River. (Which settlers deemed "too thick to drink, too thin to plow" back in the days of yore.)

In the trunk of the vehicle were all those earthly possessions which we had taken from Colorado down to Mississippi for a three month stint in school. Strapped onto the roof of the car were a number of items, topmost being our vacuum cleaner.

Yes, you read that right, our vacuum cleaner.

It was the year Nineteen hundred and eighty-seven. I had done gradumacated from college and the tribe was off on a new adventure. The drive from Fort Collins to Biloxi was mostly uneventful, well except for the following exchange somewhere north of Texas...

TMH: "You're lost aren't you. We should stop and ask for directions..."

Me: "We are not lost, we are in Oklahoma." I continued to consult the map while checking my compass. Yes, I had a compass. Didn't everyone in those pre-GPS days?

TMH: "Where, exactly, are we in Oklahoma?"

Me: "Exactly as in precise latitude and longitude? I couldn't tell you. But by my calculations, we are somewhere between Muskogee and I-40. If we keep going south we should hit I-40 soon. If we somehow miss I-40 we'll just keep going south until we hit the Gulf of Mexico, then hang a left and we'll find Biloxi if we just hug the shoreline and keep going east. If we hit the Atlantic we'll know we've gone too far..."

TMH: "You're an idiot."

Me: "Yes, dear."

Well, we did hit I-40 shortly thereafter but my navigation skills were suspect from that day forth. I guess being able to get from point A to point B successfully ain't enough, apparently the in-between bits are important too. To some folks anyway. Right Murph?

But that whole Mississippi interlude is part and parcel of another story which fits into a much larger story which I may (or may not) tell someday.

So we're sitting in the Jetta after a very long drive up from Mississippi, it's early morning and we're sitting outside the Housing Office awaiting their opening so that we might find some place to dwell during our stay in Nebraska. As this was a permanent change of station (or PCS as the mighty Air Force called it) we would need permanent housing. So I figured that the Housing Office might be the place to start.

TMH: "Can't we just get a motel and check in later? The kids are tired, I'm tired, we've traveled ump-ti-gazillion miles in this car, slept in motels, we haven't had a decent meal in days and..."

Me: "Oh look, there's someone here, let's go in..."

TMH: "You're an idiot."

Me: "Yes, dear."

We went in, discovered that there were openings in the Visiting Airmen Quarters (VAQ, apparently this is known nowadays as the "Air Force Inn"), we were sent off to register in those quarters and then return to the base for an appointment to check out base housing. That last bit was a big surprise, usually there was a waiting list (up to a year long) at most bases to get into on-base quarters. As I was a fairly senior E-5 Staff Sergeant we could get in immediately. Cool.

The VAQ was nice. Nothing fancy, the TV worked, the beds were okay, the air conditioning worked, and we had a nice view of the end of the runway on base, perhaps a mile away. So why is that last bit mentioned? Well, because of these guys -


Yes, the United States Air Force Flight Demonstration Team, aka The Thunderbirds were going to be in town that very weekend, performing over the base. We would have a decent view of the show without having to brave the crowds and the traffic at the air show. Even better? The 'Birds would pass directly over our lodgings with great frequency. At low altitude. Gotta love it! Which we did.

Now the whole point of this post is to regale you with tales (and photos where available) of the many different types of aircraft I got to see during my assignment to Offutt AFB. In those days it seemed that if the United States had one, odds are we'd see one at Offutt, eventually.

One aircraft which showed up outside my window one day was particularly memorable.


I remember that morning well. Our building was across the road from the runway to the north and a parking ramp (for aircraft) across the street to the east. My office (for I was a computer guy at that time) was on the second floor, facing east. Image my surprise when -

Norm: "So Sarge, what kind of airplane is that?" He said pointing to the parking ramp.

Me: "Well I'll be damned. It's Tante Ju!"

Norm: "Tante who?"

Me: "That my friend is a Junkers Ju-52, a German transport of World War II, clad in her wartime Luftwaffe colors."

Norm: "Luft what?"

Me: "Luftwaffe, the German Air Force."

Turns out that particular aircraft was owned (and flown) by the author Martin Caidin (who, sadly, passed in 1997). You can read more about that aircraft here, part of a larger (ahem) source of all knowledge (as Juvat calls it) article. This was perhaps the most exotic aircraft I have ever seen outside of a museum. And that includes the SR-71 which currently resides at the old SAC museum.

Many awesome aircraft were seen in my four years at SAC. Perhaps the coolest was the Tomcat, the mighty F-14. Watching those guys land on a regular, concrete runway was interesting, it's almost as if they couldn't believe that the field wasn't moving!

An F-14A Tomcat fighter aircraft launches from one of four steam powered catapults aboard USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) operating in the Arabian Gulf. (Source)
There will be more stories from Offutt in the future, but right now my Internet connection is moving at a snail's pace, approximately one character every ten seconds. My patience for this is exhausted. Computers, bah humbug!

As Buck used to say, "It's always something!"


  1. Fascinating airplane, the Ju-52. Tri motors were used in other successful designs like the Italian SM-79. If the DC2/DC3 hadn't hit such a sweet spot we may have seen more USA designs. Guess you can argue the Boeing 727, Lockheed L1011, and DC-10 carried on the tradition.

    1. Saw my first Ford Trimotor out in Sandy Eggo, a substantial looking aircraft.

  2. Five souls plus belongings in a VW Jetta? Ouch!

    1. Roomy compared to an Apollo capsule, and we could stop and stretch.

      So we had that going for us

  3. I thought about Buck again today.
    I don't remember why, though... dammit!

    As for navigating from pt. A to pt. B, I always want to know there is another alternative and, if I have a chance I will use it for the return trip.
    There are a few roads I have only traveled on time, but I can tell you why.

    1. As regards Buck, that happens a lot with me.

      I invariably opt for the fastest route. It's just the way I am.

  4. The JU 52 is the tri-motored plane, where the engines point in 3 different directions.

    1. Indeed they do, I didn't know that before, I do now!!

      Wikipedia: The two wing-mounted radial engines of the Ju 52/3m had half-chord cowlings and in planform view (from above/below) appeared to be splayed outwards, being mounted at an almost perpendicular angle to the tapered wing's sweptback leading edge (in a similar fashion to the Mitsubishi G3M bomber and Short Sunderland; the angled engines on the Ju 52 were intended to make it easier to maintain straight flight should an engine fail, while the others had different reasons).

  5. Sundowners!

    Over the years a lot of young enlisted fellers have rolled into Offutt with family and worldly possessions in a single vehicle. In the earliest years the vehicle make was Conestoga, and Fort Crook had yet to be rebranded in the name of Omaha's first Great War casualty. I'll bet that more than a few of those folks had prized carpet sweepers too.

    Been far too long since I've hit the SAC Museum. I feel a road trip coming on.

    1. Your adoring fans will want pictures. I remember the day the MiG showed up at the museum. Museum staff (so I heard) were told not to ask questions about from where the MiG had come.

      Typical SAC cloak and dagger stuff.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)