Friday, June 30, 2017

A Pair of 38s, and Other Tidbits

A pair of P-38s "over" Shemya. (Source)
It had been a long, tedious flight from Kunsan Air Base, in the Land of the Morning Calm, back to Kadena Air Base, in the Land of the Rising Sun. I don't remember exactly how many hours that journey took, which is odd because I did it a lot, but I seem to remember two-plus hours in the cargo hold of a C-130 Hercules. Quicker in a C-141 Starlifter, but I only did that once. (Did some quick checks, distance from Kadena to Kunsan is 667 miles, cruising speed of an African swallow C-130 Hercules is 374 mph, the older models might have been a tad slower and you need to factor in time to taxi, take off, get to altitude on the one end, then do the whole landing thing on the other end, three hours is probably closer to the mark. Juvat could probably do it in an hour in his Eagle, probably about the same in the Phantom. Which isn't as fast as a -15 and not as sexy, but the Phantom was my aircraft, so I'm partial to the old girl.)

Anyhoo. Long flight on board a military aircraft from one military base to another, our stuff was all checked at one place but, of course, the Military Airlift Command (MAC) wienies had to do the whole customs thing on the ground at Kadena. Probably because of the whole "two different countries" thing (Japan and Korea).


The MAC wienie has us all in a little room in the MAC terminal at Kadena, doing his level best to prove that he is indeed a shoe clerk, and not, most assuredly not, a fight pilot kind of guy. Did I mention that the air conditioning unit in that small room at the MAC terminal was not working all that well? Have I ever mentioned that Kadena in the summer gives Biloxi a run for its money in the "it's Africa hot" sweepstakes? No? Well, it is. Damned hot.


"Does anyone have any firearms, alcohol, or other things to declare?" sayeth the MAC wienie.

At which point a very well-endowed female captain of Security Police stands up, chest straining the fabric of her uniform, and announces -

"I have a pair of 38s..."

Before she can finish, snickering* breaks out amongst the male (non-MAC) people in the room. Yes, two or three of those fellows were clad in flight suits and may or may not have been Phantom crewmen who had to fly with the rest of us peasants because their ride was down for maintenance. Was I one of the "snickerers"? Maybe I was, maybe I wasn't. Anyhoo...

"...a pair of .38 caliber revolvers in my B-4 bag." said the lovely captain casting a gimlet eye about the room, her glance suggesting what might have happened had her (ahem) .38s not been in her B-4 bag.

B-4 Bag (Source)

The room rather quieted down after that. And no, the pencil-necked MAC wienie didn't get it. (I should say that I have nothing against those who served in the Military Airlift Command. That guy though, total shoe clerk!)

I should note that the term "pair of 38s" can, obviously, have multiple meanings. The leading photo was found by Googling the phrase "pair of 38s." Yes, there were other images which popped up. Some actually had revolvers, many did not. Let's leave it at that and move on...

In my salad days I was the day-shift NCOIC** of radar calibration at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea. I spent nearly four years at Kunsan, would've stayed longer but they shipped me out when the F-4s left. I offered to learn how to fix F-16s, but the powers that be told me, "Move along, nothing to see here." And yes, I digress.

Now on the mighty F-4C and F-4D Phantom aircraft, there was a requirement for each aircraft to have it's radar system calibrated. Essentially, tested, tweaked, and wrung out so that at least for a few days the damned thing might actually work. Okay, it wasn't that bad. When the system worked, which was more often than not, it could put a radar guided missile into a bad guy and ruin his whole day. Provided, of course, that the missile actually worked as advertised and that the pilot kept his jet pointing at the target. Which, in a combat situation, ain't always - in fact I would venture to guess never - a good idea.

At any rate, requirements being, well, required, every 180 days we got to examine every jet. No, we didn't do them all at once, that's just silly.

One fine Korean day an F-4D was brought into our hangar (yes, we had our very own hangar, no one else was allowed to play therein) and we commenced to prepping the bird for it's semi-annual radar exam. Which involved opening the radome (the black pointy-thing in the picture), attaching various power and hydraulic lines, checking various grounding wires, switches, and safety interlocks to verify that when we applied power nothing would burst into flame, explode, smoke, or otherwise endanger the safety and well-being of personnel. Which would be me and my merry band of maintainers.

We also had to remove Panel 4L, (the L standing for "Left") which I have outlined for you in red in the photo and pointed to with a big red arrow. No, the panel is not outlined in red on the jet, nor is there a big red arrow painted on the jet pointing to the panel in question.

Panel 4L gave us access to the Continuous Wave Modulator (CW for you radar aficionados) which, if bad, could then be removed from the aircraft for repair or replacement. It also helped with keeping Mr. Radar cool during our work. Though we did supply the radar package with cooling air on the ground, every little bit helped.

Now Panel 4L is secured with half-a-billion brass screws. Brass, no doubt for metallurgical reasons (think corrosion prevention and the like) and to provide gainful employment for sheet metal specialists.


Yes. Those brass screws were rather soft, and the heads of those screws would strip out rather easily if removed or replaced with too much vigor. Which was often the case. Like I said, there were a half-a-billion of those screws and oft times we would be in a hurry as the air crew might be standing there whining asking, "Is the jet ready, can we go flying now, are you done, when is it going to be done?" Et cetera, et cetera. (No, I never saw Juvat do that. OTOH, I didn't know Juvat back then and... Nah, no way he'd do that.)

And so it came to pass, that on that one fine day in Korea, we were removing Panel 4L and yes, one of the screw heads was as smooth as a baby's butt, no "X" marks the spot, no way to get the damned thing out. So we call the sheet metal guys, who have to come out and drill the thing out without damaging anything around it. Which, I must say, they were damned good at, you might say they were professionals. Because indeed, they were. (Trained and everything!)

So the sheet metal dude comes out, gets that last screw out, and we remove Panel 4L. Out of which a rather large plastic wrapped something falls out. We all just sort of stood there for a moment until I realized what it was.

"Dave, go call the cops. Me thinks we've stumbled onto a bit o' dope smuggling."

The Security Police arrived, of course they immediately starting acting like assholes, it's what they do, until I pointed out to them that our job was to calibrate the gorram radar, not to monitor the crap some ee-jit put inside said jet. If we found something out of the ordinary, we'd do what we just did. Call the authorities. A more senior cop showed up, shooed his morons out of the hangar, along with my minions, and he and I had a little chat.

We checked with Job Control and they informed us that the jet had just returned from Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Someone down there had some 'splainin' to do. No doubt someone at Kunsan did as well. The government really frowns on illicit substances being shipped aboard their airplanes.

The cops took the drugs, their commander wanted to impound the aircraft until the Deputy Commander for Maintenance (a full colonel) asked him if he really wanted an assignment to the middle of nowhere, which he swore he could make happen. (Perhaps the locale of that opening photo. A real garden spot I'm told.) The cop commander said, uh, no thanks, the bird is yours, and we all went our merry ways.

As I recall, the crew chief for that aircraft thought he was being clever shipping marijuana from Clark to Kunsan under Panel 4L. I mean there are a half-a-billion screws on that sucker, I mean who's going to pull it?

Dude should have checked to see when his jet was going into Radar Cal. We pull that panel, that's who.

Well, I suppose to cap off this trilogy, I should have a bit o' rock and roll. This tune was one we used to listen to on many a Friday night. Over at Jazbo's room, he had a huge stereo. Yuge. Beer in hand we'd listen to this melodious song, getting ready for a wild night of pinochle, more music, and more rock and roll. Oh, and more beer. A lot more beer.

As if we young airmen could afford to go downtown to the local bars and carouse with the young ladies therein.

Like choir boys we were.

At least, that's how I remember it...

Oh, one last thing. We only played that song on the "Really loud, Dear Lord, I think my ears are bleeding" setting.

* Yes, I was sorely tempted to go with a synonym for this word. Said synonym starts with a "t," but I resisted that primal, adolescent urge.
** NCOIC = Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge. Not to be confused with the HMFIC. That would have been TSgt Ernest E. "Skip" Sipes. One of the finest men I ever knew.


  1. Holy smokes, how many on-ton-druhs can one post have? Superbly told, Sarge, superbly told. Titillating, one might say.

    I got to hand fly a -141 once upon a time. Jet and crew belonged to SoCar ANG and they seemed awfully cool to me. Got a little tense when they thought I might put my foots on the rudder pedals, but other than that way cool.

    Hydraulics on the radar -- for to train the antenna?

    1. OBTW, I can smell the rain and feel the sea breeze in that F-4D image.

    2. Hydraulics were what gave the radar antenna its scanning, training, sweeping ability.

      They let you fly? Those Guardsmen, what a carefree lot they are!

    3. I had been in the Air Force about a year and a half when that picture was taken. Was on Okinawa in fact. So yeah, that's an OLD picture.

  2. Great story,Sarge. Me and the guys in beanies have a long history along the lines you describe. Good for at least one post. Thanks.
    Denali is spectacular. We're off to the boat now. More to follow.

    Sent by smoke signal

    1. Saw a couple of Raptors scramble the other day. They may have seen a bear. We've been limited go several moose only. Maybe today.

      Sent by smoke signal.

    2. I'm nowhere near Alaska at present.

    3. Well, that's what you want us to think...

  3. Post up to usual high standards. I hereby award you an Air Medal, to add to your collection, for your actions.

    Paul L. Quandt

  4. The MAC terminal at Kadena thing. First time I went there to offer five open seats to Seoul AB; the first thing the MAC NCO did was put the open seat number up on the MAC board and claim MAC credit for the seat miles despite no one needed/wanted the Space A to Korea. Thereafter, every time I was in Kadena (a fair amount, couple of times a month) I would wander through the MAC terminal asking by rank, lowest enlisted first to senior, if anyone wanted a ride to Seoul. The heck with MAC taking credit for RME efforts. More than a couple of E-3s got first class treatment because of their rank. regards, Alemaster

    1. Wienies. Shoe clerks.

      Neither applies to you Alemaster, that's for sure!

    2. I fear you are far too generous with your assessment OAFS. Thanks all the same! regards, Alemaster

  5. I remember the first time I was next to an F-14, during an air show at Truax Field in Madison. I had no idea that there were so many screws in the entire Free World!

  6. Drug-runnin Phantom? Too bad you're so honest. You could have funded a kid's college with the proceeds. As for the Security force Captain, it was once said that "Anything bigger than a handful, you're risking a sprained tongue."

  7. For some reason, the line about the O-6 wanting to impound the bird struck me as funny. CYA in full force. Where was AFCIS?

    1. He (yes, one guy) was probably tracking down black marketers. Big problem when I was there.

  8. Brass screws are used in areas that are sensitive to magnetic flux. In older aircraft you'll find them securing the flux valves for a Sperry C-4 or C-12 gyro-magnetic compass system and securing the whiskey compass. Steel screws will become magnetized if they are in areas of high DC voltage and I suspect that the whole nose of the Phantom is such an area. If some bright spark had decided to put in steel screws instead of brass you might have an unsolvable radar snag. With the panel off for testing everything would fine, with the panel on the snag would return.



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