Saturday, October 4, 2014

Shhh, It's a Secret...

Ft Walton Beach, Florida
(Google Maps Street View)
Shortly after the last Ice Age, around the time the last mammoth fell into a freezing pond in Siberia (to be found nearly intact thousands of years later), I was a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force. Stationed at the Headquarters of the Mighty Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska. (Actually Bellevue, but everyone always says Omaha. I'm okay with that.)

Back in those halcyon days The Missus Herself had kin whose husbands were also in the United States Air Force. One, married to the youngest sister, was stationed at England Air Force Base which is (surprise) not in England. Rather it was named for Lt Col John B. England, a flyer of the mighty F-86 Sabre who, sadly, lost his life in a training accident. Lt Col England had 6.5 aerial victories in WWII. That is, he was an ace. The base which bore his name (note the past tense, it was closed in '92) was in Alexandria, Louisiana.

But that is not the locale for today's story. No doubt we will visit that place in some future tale. (Which I will tell you now involves beer and fire ants. Exciting, I know.)

Today's story takes place at Hurlburt Field, home of the 1st Special Operations Wing (SOW) where my wife's other Air Force brother-in-law was stationed at the time. This particular chap we have met before, one SSgt Smith. Yup, Uncle Smitty, he of the hamsters.

Now, now, calm down, today's story has nothing to do with hamsters.

So let's get to it.

There I was (technically speaking there we were, there were five of us, but Air Force stories always start out "there I was"), traveling from Nebraska to Louisiana, then on to Ft Walton Beach in Florida. We were making the annual grand tour to visit the sisters of The Missus Herself. This particular day found us at the town house residence of Uncle Smitty. After touring the premises, for this was our first visit, Smitty turned to me and said, "Want to head on out to the base? There's something really cool there I want to show you."

"But of course!" was my ready reply. I am always in the mood to see something cool. Unless the invitation begins with, "Watch this shit" or "Hold my beer." Both of those phrases are warning signs that something cool, but undoubtedly dangerous and a threat to life and limb, is about to occur. It wasn't that kind of cool, but a different kind of cool which involved military aircraft of a type not manufactured in these United States.

So, Smitty and I hopped into the Smitty-mobile and headed on base. Oh, it's important that I tell you that it was night. It's dark out, we're driving onto a special operations base and about to see something "cool." Whet your appetite yet?

Smitty pulls up to a dimly lit hangar, in the near distance are various flying machines, but they are not our destination. We're going towards the hangar, Smitty asks if I have my military ID with me. Of course, the answer is yes. That's almost like asking me, "Are you wearing pants?" Unless I'm in my boudoir, I'm wearing pants.

Oh yeah, and carrying my military ID. I won't leave home without it!

Various and sundry aircraft belonging to the 6th Special Operations Squadron of the 1st SOW.
(Pretty neat huh?) U.S. Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Ali Flisek (Public domain)

I'm expecting something really clandestine as we enter the hangar, where we encounter a DoD (Department of Defense) type security guy. Don't think cool looking dude with shades and an ear piece wearing a suit. Nope, more like mall cop, only the guy actually has a pistol in a holster. So right there, bit of a let down.

Some idle chit-chat, how's-it-going-fellas kind of thing then the obligatory showing of the ID cards to gain access to the hangar. What is going on here, I wonder, what is Smitty playing at?

We enter the hangar and there sit two Soviet military helicopters. An Mi-8 "Hip" transport and next to that is an honest-to-God Soviet Mi-24 "Hind" gunship.


Mi-8 in Indian Air Force livery
Photo by Mark Steele (Public domain)
Mi-24 "Hind" Gunship
Camera Operator: MSGT STEVEN TURNER (Public domain)

I was absolutely dazzled by these two, very robust, very Russian-looking helicopters. The Hind looked every bit as mean and nasty as in the photo. Like some sort of giant, prehistoric predatory insect.

So there we were, oohing and aahing over the Soviet hardware. (Which were not painted up in Soviet livery but the livery, sans identifying markings, of a certain Central American country with which we weren't exactly friendly towards. Whose name starts with an "N." Said country having a very large lake which is the only fresh water lake in the world with sharks. Yeah, sharks. But you didn't hear this from me. 'Kay?) Meanwhile in the entry hallway we hear two guys talking, one seems unhappy, the other seems perturbed that the unhappy guy is being, dare I say, an asshole?

Well, new guy, another mall cop DoD uniformed security dude, comes charging into the hangar and tells us that we must "leave immediately, this is classified stuff, how did you get in here?", etc., etc.

"Uh, your colleague let us in." sayeth I.

"Give me your IDs", sayeth mall cop DoD uniformed security dude.

"I don't bloody think so!", sayeth SSgt Smith. Countering with "I work here buddy, let me see your ID!"

After some posturing, chest thumping and throwing of small trees around, Smitty and I departed the land of the super secret Russian helicopters. We went over to his shop and looked at all the cool weapons he maintained. (He was a weapons guy, what we called a "BB stacker" - no really, it's a term of endearment.)

The next day we all went to the beach. While enjoying the sun and the sand of a hot Florida day, what did we hear in the distance? The thumping sound of a military helicopter, a big military helicopter, coming our way.

There it was, flying right down the surf line, an Mi-8 Hip ("our" Hip - the one from super secret hangar land), crew hanging out the windows staring at the young ladies in their bathing suits. Waving and generally behaving like aircrew everywhere. With youthful exuberance.

At that point, Smitty and I both jump to our feet and start yelling at the other beach goers...

"Stop looking! That's a secret helicopter. Don't look! Ahhhh!"

Then we fell to the sand, laughing like a pair of loons.

The two sisters just looked at us, as if to say...

"You're both idiots."

It was a long time ago, I can't be sure, but I think beer was involved.



  1. Thanks, reminds me of a story........

    1. I am thrilled when you say that. So will the readers be I'm guessing.

  2. That turbine Gooney kinda gets my juices flowing.
    An ID card and youthful exuberance are the keys to adventure. You know it's been an adventure when Command Authority saith: "You're both idiots." (One of Master Chief Cruikshenk's favorite lines, bitd.)
    Great story.

    1. Yeah, that Gooney got me worked up as well. Cool bird.

  3. Nothing as cool as yours, Sarge, but I got to see Hinds at the Nellis Petting Zoo and at Aviation Nation :) Neat stuff!!!

    1. NICE!
      (Nellis Petting Zoo, heh, I like it. Will probably steal it.)
      Looks like I need to go back through your archives some day! Lots of good stuff.

  4. It was a long time ago, I can't be sure, but I think beer was involved.

    I'll put 50 Yankee Dollars on "beer," if you're making book.

  5. Size does count, and when I showed my little Sig what a real set of guns looks like, he shrunk into a water pistol. Wish I could take the Hind to Walmart and park it next to all those old Pontiacs that are always dinging my car.

  6. We had one at PAX for a while, and a Tarantul PPG... Fun cruises on Chesapeake Bay :-)

    1. They've got a Tarantul at Battleship Cove in Fall River, MA. Originally commissioned into the East German navy.

  7. juvat says "reminds me of a story.." Well, here's my "helo" tale. Took a sight-seeing trip as a pax with an O-2 FAC to the old Imperical city at Hue from DaNang (After Tete--complete with bullet wholes and all.) Turns out the ac broke, yet we were both on flight schedule for next day, so left the ac to be fixed and hitched a ride on an old VNAF Korean-era H-34 back to DaNang. Everyone we told was ABSOLUTELY aghast. Said one: "That's the most danger you've been in since you got in-country!"

    (Heh, you see while the VNAF had some fine pilots with beaucoup experience, their maint practices DID, ahem, definitely leave something to be desired. And the age of the ac didn't help, either..)

    1. Good one Virgil.

      For what it's worth, I had a model of an H-34, I loved that helicopter.

      (Of course, I didn't have to fly on one!)

  8. Dust is finally up on the Net. Been up in both the Hip and Hind during my tour in the Balkans in 02 - 03. Both were formerly Ukrainian. Bet they want 'em back.


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