Sunday, December 3, 2023

John Blackshoe Sends: Serendipity History – Swordfish and Warships (Part 1 of 3)

Here is a nice 504 pound, 12 foot long swordfish with 47 inch bill, caught out of Morehead City, North Carolina, the port where Marines embark for their cruises.
"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax— Of cabbages—and kings— And why the sea is boiling hot— And whether pigs have wings." Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll

We won’t stray as far afield as the Walrus, and will try to stick to Swordfish and Warships.  And remember, this is no malarkey.

Swordfish (Xiphias gladius), also known as broadbills in some countries, are large, highly migratory, predatory fish characterized by a long, flat, pointed bill. They are a popular sport fish of the billfish category, though elusive. Swordfish are elongated, round-bodied, and lose all teeth and scales by adulthood. These fish are found widely in tropical and temperate parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and also the Mediterranean Sea.  They live from near the surface to a depth of 1,800 ft., and occasionally even deeper than that.  They commonly reach 10 feet in length, and the maximum reported is 14 feet 11 inches in length weighting about 1,430 pounds.  Young swordfish have teeth and scales but all of those are shed as they mature.

Swordfish “swords” are basically a bony extension of the upper jaw, and usually about one-third the overall length of the fish.  The sword grows with the wide part of the blade horizontal, while humans like their sword blades oriented with the wide part vertical for use as a slashing weapon.  The sword fish does not “spear” its prey, but instead smacks it to stun or injure their intended meal, usually smaller fish, octopus, and also some crustaceans, although sometimes they do spear things. (Note-  Sailfish and Marlins are similar looking, but different species. So forget about them… Source)

Swordfish are found almost everywhere there is salt water in temperate climates, which is also the habitat for ships, especially warships.

“Swordfish” is a cool sounding name, with connotations of being a predator, big, aggressive, and operating in a nautical environment.  Thus we have named two U.S. submarines USS SWORDFISH (probably because sailors cannot pronounce “USS Xiphias gladius” and it won’t fit on a ball cap).    The Brits called a pre-WW2 aeroplane a “Swordfish” as well.   

Swordfish are really good to eat (except you might die of mercury poisoning if you eat a pound every day for life).  And the swordfish bill or sword is a neat souvenir item.   We will get around to all of these things, but it will take three installments, with this being part 1 of 3.

Sailors love souvenirs, almost as much as they love other opportunities to spend money when finally set ashore in foreign ports.   Since at least the 1870s, swordfish bill souvenirs have been made, virtually throughout all areas where swordfish are caught intentionally or as an unintended byproduct of commercial fisheries.  The meat is a good seller, but the swords are only useful as a nearly free leftover which artists can decorate and sell to sailors or tourists for silly money.

Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut (a wonderful place to visit!) has a number in their collection, (but not on display) dating circa 1870 to mid 1900s.

The one marked by the red V is very similar to one we will discuss below.
And the Smithsonian also has some.

Really neat, huh?   But I was only vaguely aware of “swordfish swords” when I saw this one for sale at an antique arms show.

Then I noticed that the ship was the battleship USS UTAH (BB31) and it had the date 1925.
Okay, as a Navy guy with Utah connections, I just had to spend all my beer money on this instead!
Source: Author’s collection.
So, I needed some story to justify my uninebriated purchase to my amazingly tolerant wife.  The “blade” is 39.5 inches long, and the handle brings it up to 50 inches overall, so it is a bigger than average example.  Okay, size matters, but also makes it harder to find a spot on the wall, so gotta find out some other selling points.


USS UTAH was a coal burning “Dreadnaught” battleship with five turrets with two 12”/47 guns each and eight 5”/51 guns on each side in broadside mounts, plus smaller anti-torpedo boat 6 and 3 pounder guns.   The USS UTAH was built 1909- 1911 at the New York Shipbuilding Company.   Everyone knows that that shipyard was located in ________, __.   (Hey, it's a trivia question ... ¹)

She was one of the first ships to arrive for the Vera Cruz, Mexico “incident” in 1914 and during WW1 performed convoy and port protection, but mainly did routine training cruises most of her career.

USS UTAH appearance circa 1923

USS UTAH (BB-31) in the 1920s.  Barge loaded with 12 inch and 5 inch ammunition waiting to be loaded.  Crew painting the bottom in drydock using brushes on long poles.   (Paint rollers were not invented until 1940, so that must have been an “interesting” job.)
So, where was USS UTAH operating in 1925?

She left New York on 22 Nov 1924 with General John J. Pershing aboard for a goodwill tour of South America; starting with a transit of the Panama Canal.

USS UTAH in Culebra Cut of the Panama Canal
After entering the Pacific, they crossed the equator on 3 December with the usual “Crossing the Line” festivities.  General Pershing signed the Shellback certificates along with Davy Jones, Neptunus Rex, and the ship’s captain.  On 9 December they visited Callao, Peru, and on Christmas Day, General Pershing and his group left USS UTAH to visit to other South American cities inland.  USS UTAH subsequently called at the Chilean ports of Valparaiso (probably around 1 January 1925) and Punta Arenas before rounding Cape Horn and calling at Montevideo, Uruguay.  Reembarking General Pershing and his entourage there, the battleship then visited: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; La Guaira, Venezuela; and Havana, Cuba, before ending her diplomatic voyage at New York City on 13 March 1925.  (Source)

UTAH conducted midshipman training cruises over the summer of 1925 before commencing modernization at the Boston Navy Yard in October 1925. 

On this “Dreadnaught” type battleship, the crew still slept in hammocks on the “gun deck” near the broadside mounted guns.  They did not have a central “mess decks” for eating, but dined in small “messes” similar to what might be called a “work center” of a dozen or so men.  Someone would be sent to the galley to bring back the chow and coffee in the containers shown in these two photos.  Tables and benches stowed on the overhead would be taken down and set up at meal time.

USS UTAH galley with mess buckets and coffee pots. 
USS UTAH gun deck.  Note open breech of 5” gun at center, mess tables stored in the overhead, and hammock hooks evenly spaced on the I-beams.
USS UTAH crew with some souvenirs after a port visit in Panama in 1923.
After each port visit, sailors would come back to the ship with various souvenirs, including monkeys, parrots, goats, and maybe crabs and other reminders of their fun ashore.  The occasional decorated swordfish bill was another souvenir option, but I suspect mainly for Chiefs or Officers, as these were probably a bit more expensive, and harder to stow for the voyage home in the meager space in a seabag.

My guess is that my swordfish “sword” with the battleship USS UTAH painted on it is from the 1924-25 South American cruise, purchased from a vendor in Chile or possibly Uruguay or Brazil.  In the late 20th century U.S. Navy ships still circumnavigated South America in our winter months (but delightful summer in the Southern Hemisphere) on UNITAS cruises for goodwill and interoperability exercises.   I was fortunate enough to make such a cruise visiting all the ports of USS UTAH’s 1925 cruise (except Havana), but souvenir selections were far less interesting in my day.  Good times!  

So, other than souvenir hunting in 1925, what happened to USS UTAH (BB-31)?   The overhaul at the end of 1925 converted the old coal fired boilers and bunkers to use oil; eliminated one of the stacks; added catapults for seaplanes and replaced the after cage mast to a stick type.  

But, by 1931 USS UTAH was pretty much obsolete, and converted to a target ship, reclassified from “BB-31” battle ship to an auxiliary as “AG-16”, with the main guns removed and heavy timbers placed on the decks to minimize damage from any of the inert bombs or shells which might hit. 

USS UTAH (AG-16) Note main and secondary guns all removed, but turrets remain.
On 7 December 1941 USS UTAH was moored on the back side of Ford Island but even as a target ship, it still looked like a battleship to the Japanese, who attacked her and sank her with 58 crew members going down with the ship.  So, 58 bodies are entombed in the ship, right?

USS UTAH Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
No, actually there are 59 sets of remains aboard the hulk of the USS UTAH in Pearl Harbor! Chief Yeoman Albert Walker was a survivor, but in his locker were the cremated remains of his infant daughter who died at birth in the Philippines.  They were waiting for a Chaplain to be aboard ship to do a burial at sea (as had been done for another daughter who died at an early age) but no Chaplain had yet been available.  So, 59 is the correct number.  One of the entombed victims is Chief Water Tender Peter Tomich, awarded the Medal of Honor for his insistence on remaining in the boiler room to secure the boilers as the ship was about to capsize, undoubtedly saving many lives.

After other more modern ships were salvaged, an unsuccessful attempt was made to raise USS UTAH, but having no military value in 1944, she was left in place, as a memorial.

Anyway, that’s one story about swordfish and a warship.  Parts 2 and 3 will have more stories about swordfishes and warships.

¹ Trivia Answer
New York Shipbuilding Company was located in Camden, NJ.  The company name was incorporated, intending to build a yard in the New York City area, but their land deal fell thru and they ended up in Camden, NJ, across from Philadelphia. Between 1899 and 1968 
“New York Ship produced over 670 merchant and naval ships, including 13 aircraft carriers, 26 cruisers, 51 destroyers of all types, 3 nuclear submarines, 12 naval support ships of all types, and 387 civilian merchant vessels. In addition, 9 battleships were constructed for the U.S. Navy, and another one for Argentina, making New York Ship the second largest private shipyard manufacturer in the United States.” (Source)

Saturday, December 2, 2023


Launch to the Beach (I think I took this one)

Juvat's Monday re-post about him saving Thankgiving with an F-4 Phantom inspired me to dig through the recesses of my brain to see if I too had any worthy war stories to share.  While the venerable Viking was no fighter/attack jet, it was pretty much the Air Wing's station wagon, which could bring your friends and all their stuff wherever it you needed it to go.  Several times in my career I had either joined in, or watched my squadron-mates reaffirm it's value as an outstanding cross-country bird, by bringing four guys and their skis to Hill Air Force Base, some dive gear (minus tanks) to Guam, ice chests full of crab back from Maryland, or jambalaya from New Orleans. 

But the memory that is similar to Juvat's turkey run was the VS-29/CVW-11 Pizza-Gate incident back in 2003.

While my first tour was in Japan and we were pretty much always ready, not requiring lengthy carrier-qual sessions*, it was different for the squadrons like VS 29 in San Diego (and all the state-side Air Wings).  At the beginning of the workup cycle, nearly the entire Air Wing has been away from the boat for maybe a year or more.  Therefore, all the pilots and NFOs are out of qual and will require multiple day and night landings to either achieve initial qualification or a re-qual.  Once that's done, the carrier can actually start the cycle's training events, or depart for deployment.**

USS Nimitz (CVN-68) in 2003                                            Source

So typically this was a three-day evolution to get all the pilots qualified, or maybe a day and a half or two if we were in the middle of the workup cycle.  The Viking was not a small airplane so they would often have us qualify last and/or fly back to the North Island for the night, with one or two birds away to keep the flight deck clear.  On the final day and night of CQ before actually departing for hotter and more sandy parts west, our Strike-Group's cruiser had some sort of engineering or comms casualty, so it had to pull back in for a day or so to be fixed.  Meanwhile, the Nimitz stayed out and waited, and our deployment counter was put on hold.  No chance of going back into port for us as we had already said goodbye to our families.  Also because while a fully loaded carrier pulling back into port might look good to the public, it would be embarrassing for the Navy, especially since the local news channels already reported our departure.    

However, the delay and our proximity to San Diego, combined with the Viking's useful cargo capability allowed a few of us a flight back to the beach to pick up some vital aircraft parts that a squadron or two had forgotten.  I didn't dare call my wife, as I knew she and the kids were already mentally prepared for me to be gone and interrupting that for a brief kiss and hug would be more of an interruption than anything else.  After we landed at North Island and waited on the cargo, we took the opportunity to order a dozen or so extra large pizzas from the pizza shop on base.  Our thought it would be a nice treat for the maintainers, our buddies in ready room would love us, and we'd earn some brownie points from the CO and XO.  We loaded up the pizzas just as the parts arrived and we took off for the short trip out to the carrier.

S-3B Ready for Takeoff - RWY 29 NASNI       Source: Viking Association

Source: Viking Association

Source:  Viking Association

We landed without incident and quickly handed off the parts to the CAGMO***  who was anxiously waiting outside our aircraft.  The last of the CQ flights were about to start so we rushed to unload the pizzas for transport down below.  CAGMO was still on deck however, so he saw what we were doing.  As we quickly walked across the flight deck with the pizzas, we got plenty of stares from envious and probably hungry flight deck personnel.  Once we got down below, we were generous with the cargo, giving each work center a pie, so we had one or two left over for the Ready Room.

Almost everyone was happy.  The maintainers got some much deserved food from the beach, the other pilots and NFOs slapped us on the back, and even our XO partook.  But as I said, almost everyone.  CAGMO must have reported our efforts to CAG, who was either jealous, hungry, or just in a bad mood as he called our CO to his office for not-a-little bit of ass-chewing.  

Apparently an Officer bringing a stack of pizzas from the bird to the catwalk "isn't a good look" and is "rubbing it in the faces of all those flight deck guys and gals."  Not an exact quote, because I wasn't in the room, but since this stuff rolls downhill and I was the senior man in that crew, I took the brunt of the CO's anger embarrassment, and that's what he said to me.  While the CO normally would have been pleased with our generosity, he had to relay the CAGs missive, and therefore we were first on the CAG's s#1t-list.

I laugh about it now, but I guess it's true that no good deed goes unpunished.  It's also true that there are those that will find offense in anything someone does, no matter how altruistic it is.  I remember someone from my childhood saying, "if you don't bring enough for everyone, don't bring any at all."  Free pizza is bad?  I guess so.  Never mind the fact that pretty much weekly the crew mess looked like the photos below.  Not a good start to the deployment, but privately our XO thanked us and told us not to worry about it.  We were heroes in the squadron, just nowhere else.  I think we got a little revenge at the first Foc'sul Follies though, which was fun, and well deserved.

And the good deed of bringing parts back?  Never even mentioned. One aww shucks ruins a hundred atta-boys.

As it was, our squadron was on CAG's _ _ _ _list for much of that deployment- some deserved, and some not.  This cruise we were the only tanker in the Air Wing.  Yes, the Super-Hornets could go up 3 or 5-Wet (2 or 4 tanks and a drogue refueling pod), but we were the primary tanker since those birds were needed for OIF strikes.  If a jet went down (broke- not crashed) as they are wont to dowe were under tremendous pressure to get it fixed fast and back on the flight schedule.  That happened several times over the next 8 months, as 25 year old aircraft are prone to it. 

Nevertheless, we survived the deployment, which was challenging, but successful for the most part, with plenty of green ink****, some amazing surveillance and intel collection from a few special systems we carried, and everybody came home.  For the parts that weren't?  We really didn't give a damn anyway because the Navy was disestablishing our squadron just a few months later.  The LTs all transitioned to other aircraft or communities, our CO and XO both made Captain, while I transferred to CENTCOM for Joint Duty.  And Tampa wasn't bad at all.

Anyway, I think I'm having Pizza for dinner tonight.  Anybody want to join me?  I'm buying.

*As a forward deployed Carrier Strike Group, the OPTEMPO is such that the team never goes out of qualification.  We were either at sea, just back, or preparing to go again.  In the 3 years in Japan, I had 2 years and 11 days of sea time.  Lots of flight time, but not a lot of family time.  We also didn't have the long transit from San Diego

** Carrier Landing Qualification:  4 day touch and goes, 10 day traps, 6 night traps.  If you were going back to the boat and your last trap was within 30 days, it would be less- something like 2 T&G, 2  Day, 2 Night.  This is all after weeks of Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLPs) with your squadron LSOs training and grading each pilot.

***CAGMO is the Air Wing Maintenance Officer. Often a gruff senior LDO- O-5 or O-6 at times.

**** Flight times during combat missions are recorded in our logbooks with green ink.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Turkey Day, a Review (Of Sorts)

OAFS Photo
As I related yesterday, I spent Thanksgiving down Maryland way. Though I was only there for three full days, it was good to see everyone.

The grandkids are growing like weeds. Every time I see them it appears that they've grown four or five inches. Of course, that's not really true, just feels like it. (Though Roberto has grown an inch or so since his birthday, Finnegan is completely mobile now and is on the cusp of actually walking. I think he's going to be like his mother. The Nuke went straight from crawling to sprinting, she has yet to slow down!)

I want to get into the holiday mood, I really do, but life has taught me to tread carefully vis-à-vis the holidays. (Which is, to me, the period from Thanksgiving to Epiphany, used to start around Halloween, doesn't now for reasons I might talk about in a bit, if I remember to.)

I know it's completely without foundation, but it seems to me, over the last decade or so, that death stalks the holidays. Friends dying, beloved cats, so far no relatives, but ...

I told the kids recently, well I told LUSH, that if I get sick near a holiday, you know a death bed sort of thing, "keep my ass alive until at least a month after the holidays, I don't want to ruin it for everyone else!"

It just seems that every time I've gotten a little too excited about the holidays, someone I care about died. So I figure if I lay low, not get too excited, then maybe that won't happen.

Yeah, right.

Oh, the Halloween thing, once the kids grew up and moved away (and our town became inundated with yuppy parents¹) it seemed to make no sense to "celebrate" Halloween. We live in an aging, middle class neighborhood so we don't see many kids anymore either. Kind of sad. But then again, what's the point? (Not being Catholic, or Mexican, I don't really view it as a religious holiday either. Though I do think the whole Día de los Muertos thing is kinda cool, though a bit morbid.)

Anyhoo, the trip down to Maryland having been covered, what was the stay in Maryland like?

Well, oddly enough, it was colder down there than it was in Little Rhody, which surprised me. Mind you, it didn't faze me either, we Vermonters are made of much sterner stuff than those southern New Englanders. (Meaning I don't consider it "cold" unless the thermometer is well below freezing, typically subzero Fahrenheit.) Recently one of my Little Rhodian colleagues mentioned that "it's going to be cold tomorrow," to which I replied, "colder perhaps, but not cold." Puzzled him it did. Heck, it didn't get below 30. (Which in C is bloody hot, we're talking F here.)

Now I'm not trying to claim that I'm as tough as say, the Inuit, but I've seen cold, real cold. Once delivered newspapers when the thermometer indicated -30°, afterwards I walked to school (yes, uphill, both ways). Mind you, that's still air, none of this wind chill stuff. Though truth be told, -30° due to wind chill feels much colder than the still air variety. DAMHIK.

Now where was I? Oh yeah, Maryland. Sunny (though chilly), three grandkids present, lots of food, and lots of football on the telly. I typically don't watch a lot of football these days, having grown very tired of idiotic (and mostly "woke" commercials), terrible officiating, and very bad announcers. But for Thanksgiving I'll make an exception, tradition ya know. (I also make an exception for Michigan vs. Ohio State - Go Blue! and Army vs. Navy - Go Navy, Beat Army.)

We had fun in each other's company and ate far too much. Had one rather odd incident involving cranberry sauce (not sure why it's called a sauce, but there ya go). The Nuke had purchased a number of cans of that oh-so-necessary accompaniment to the Thanksgiving meal (YMMV) and upon opening a third can (for little Roberto can't get enough cranberry sauce) she exclaimed in horror that, "something is wrong with it!" as she dug through it with her fingers.

Aghast, I looked at her and bellowed, "Dear Lord, what are you doing to that wonderful whole berry cranberry sauce! Render it hither!"

Blushing slightly, she said, "Uh, I thought it had gone bad."

Turns out, I'm the only one in the family that actually likes the whole berry variety, a taste I didn't acquire until my late 40s, or so I believe. Hated it as a kid, that much I remember. So glory of glories, I had the whole can to myself. Did I eat all of it? Why yes, yes I did. But not in one sitting, had the rest the day after.

So it was great to visit the "Old Line State," as I really love it down there. Well, except maybe Baltimore, I've never been in to the city (I abhor cities in general, well, except London and Paris) but it does have a certain sordid reputation. (Perhaps I've binge watched The Wire too many times. What? You haven't seen that? Do go find it, great television.)

Going back for Christmas, and I've promised Roberto that I'll grow a moustache (don't ask), yes, yes, pictures will follow. Speaking of pictures ...

Roberto and his sister Tuttlesdottir on their massive playground set
OAFS Photo

The holly!
OAFS Photo

Wee Finnegan looking for trouble.
If you look closely you can see that Buzz Lightyear tried, in vain, to stop him.

OAFS Photo

Roberto caught in the act of messing with climbing Santa.
He loves turning the volume up (the thing plays Christmas carols), as it annoys the adults.

(I don't count myself in that crowd.)
OAFS Photo
Putting the Christmas decorations up the day after Thanksgiving was a pleasant surprise, now I'm rather in the holiday spirit. December is here, my favorite month.

I'd best be careful ...

¹ The sort of parents who take their kids via vehicle to a rich neighborhood to go trick-or-treating. Hates them, we do.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Holiday Travel

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Blair/Released)
As you may recall (if not, read this), I had the "privilege" of traveling over the Thanksgiving festivities. Though the two aircraft I was aboard were about as crowded as shown in the photo above (not really, but it felt like it), the whole airport "experience" wasn't nearly as bad as I expected it to be.

The Nuke had made all of the necessary travel arrangements about a week ahead of time. (To include paying for the tickets, it's nice to have successful kids.) She had booked me on Southwest (my preferred airline) using the Early Bird Check-in feature (which while not free, does save time on checking in, it happens automagically, I used to do the whole 24 hours ahead of time and get stuck near the ass-end of Group B). She also recommended that I do the carry on thing, don't check any bags. (Which Southwest, unlike other airlines, does not charge you for the bag. A pessimist might say "Southwest will lose your bags for free." Which is exactly the situation I was trying to avoid.)

So, There I was ...¹

The week of Thanksgiving I only had to work Monday and Tuesday, at my place of employment it's a two-day holiday, as I only work four days a week, I had Wednesday off. That was the day I was flying.

"What!?!?! Are you crazy, flying the day before Thanksgiving?"

Probably, but I decided that the potential hassle was worth spending the day with family. So I bit the bullet.

Now I had decided which carry on to use on Monday night, we have a couple. Then I began to wonder if the one I had chosen was actually the right size. Before going to bed, I began to fret, then (even in my exhausted state) I realized: I have a cell phone to look stuff up on and a tape measure to measure things.

Using the tools available to me, I decided that I had chosen poorly in terms of a carry on bag. While it met FAA requirements in general, it might not meet the specifications of whatever aircraft I might be flying on. Fortunately, we have a smaller bag which works just about anywhere.

Now I'm going for five days (four nights, two of the days are travel days, but it's a short flight, less than 90 minutes) so I don't need to pack a lot. Everything I wanted/needed to take all fit in the carry on and the under the seat backpack. Until ...

Tuesday night, in the midst of packing, I get a text from The Missus Herself: "Bring all of my medicine."

Ah, sure. I go to the medicine chest (I realize that she had planned for a two week stay, T-Day would make it a three week stay, she was running out of meds!) and there discover that she has quite a few meds! Enough so that my carefully packed bag will require some "arranging."

Eventually I decided that one pair of jeans in the bag and one draped about my person should be sufficient for a five day trip. So The Missus Herself's meds were stowed, extra jeans put back in the dresser, NOW I'm packed!

Go time was 12:30, so I figured, it being Thanksgiving week, that I would arrive three hours before my flight, not my usual two. I awakened at 0800 local to hear the wind howling and the rain falling in sheets. Well, it was expected and the airline assured me that the flight was on time. So I got up, showered, shaved, and got dressed. Jumped in Blue and headed to T.F. Green.

Hhmm, not much traffic, this is good.

Lots of cars in long term parking, hhmm, maybe not so good. (Note that when I entered the lot I had to open my window to scan my credit card, guess which way the rain was coming from?  Yup, my second shower of the day.)

Parked the car, grabbed my bags and jumped into the shuttle.

Which was waiting for me, right behind my car. Bus was empty except for me and the driver.

"Where is everybody?" I asked the driver.

"Beats me, this is quieter than a normal Wednesday."


It was quiet.

Too quiet.

Now I'm a modern guy, I've got my boarding pass on my phone. But I'm also a practical guy, so a paper "back up" is always nice. Curbside check in provided me with that, entered the terminal and went through security. Place was damned near empty.

Had to discard my shaving cream, forgot all about that, can was twice the size allowable. (So of course they dump it at the screening area, if it was something nasty, now they have it. Well, at least it won't get on the plane!) But security was a breeze for all that.

Now Dunkin Donuts at T.F. Green is always mobbed.


Except the day before Thanksgiving. Four people. Four. Count 'em ...

Yup, four.

I turn to the fellow next to me, "Where is everyone?"

Dude shrugged, "This is freaking me out, the place is empty."

Anyhoo, went through the line, got my breakfast, had a reminder, once again, that I am old.

The kid ringing people up was telling people the number on their tickets (for when they would be called). He said to one guy, "You're number ten."

To which I had to reply "You Numbah Ten, G.I." (A phrase which old Asia hands might recognize.)

Four blank looks (from the other people in line and the kid at the register) and one suppressed guffaw from an older gent walking past.

I looked at him, got a nod, saw the "Vietnam Vet" hat and nodded in reply.

Man, don't they teach anything in school these days?

The flight down to BWI was uneventful, the aircraft, though full, had less than the normal complement of idiots, so things were smooth as regards boarding and disembarking. Not checking a bag worked well, I headed past baggage claim and went straight to ground transportation, there to await The Nuke. What I saw was chaos.

BWI has four lanes of traffic for pickup, two were intended for moving vehicles, two were intended for folks stopping to pick people up. Now at many (most?) airports in my experience, the local constabulary discourages people from parking there to await passengers. They have what I believe is generally called a "cell phone lot." You park your ass there and wait for a call to head into the LZ² and pick folks up.

At BWI (and later at T.F. Green when I returned home), there were tons of Uber and Lyft drivers parked curbside, empty. waiting for people. At T.F. Green I did see signs designating an Uber/Lyft pickup area, didn't see them at BWI. What I did see was police barking at those guys to keep moving, the pickup area was totally packed and was complete chaos.

The time I saved not having to go through baggage claim was completely squandered due to the Uber/Lyft guys jamming the LZ. Had the same issue on my return home, though on a much smaller scale.

Now don't get me wrong, I really like the Uber/Lyft concept. But at least with taxis, they stick to the designated areas at airports, the Uber/Lyft guys seem rather out of control on that front. Which, for normal travel, isn't much of a problem.

Bottom line: I was expecting a nightmare travel scenario, on both ends. Speculating with my fellow travelers (the non-Communist type, mind you), it seems that most folks traveling the day before Thanksgiving also have to work that day, so they leave later than I did. I also left somewhat earlier (I suppose) than normal holiday travelers for the return home. Which is why I seemed to have "dodged a bullet" vis-à-vis holiday travel.

And I really don't have a problem with that.

¹ SJC.
² Landing Zone.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Vegas, Part Deux (repost)


 This is also a repost.  Vegas was a big influence in not only my USAF career but in my life also.  Wanted to finish the story.  Great story about a great leader.

So there I was…an At-38B Instructor Pilot at Holloman Airplane Patch New Mexico.  I’ve been there about two years and my non-flying duty is squadron scheduler.  I have been blessed with a “good deal”, and I have made the most of it.

Current Wing Policy is that all senior Wing Personnel will receive check rides from the Chief of Stan-Eval.  The actual name is Standardization and Evaluation, most of us called them Stan Evil.  Ostensibly the requirement for the Wing King and the like to get their check rides from the Branch Chief was to reduce the likelihood of “undue Command Influence” in passing their check rides.  Works for me!  A Lieutenant Colonel looking for a Squadron to Command and therefore, earn his ticket to Bird Colonel.  No possibility for influence there…..

In any case, those thunderstorms raged far, far above my limited horizon.  My immediate problem was simple.  I had busted the Director of Operations (The number three guy in the Wing, call sign Vegas) on his last ride before his check ride.  Apparently, he had forgotton everything he’d learned in his 4000+ hours of flying about landing a jet, therefore he required another practice ride and his Check Ride was scheduled for tomorrow.

The Chief of Stan-Eval had booked a cruise for the day after and would not be available for the next two weeks. When dealing with the gods, scheduling is important.

I get back into the squadron, and the squadron CO is waiting for me.  Already having  been chastised by Vegas for having questioned my busting him on the ride, he asks me what my intention is.  I look at the schedule and see a three ship of IPs scheduled  for a continuation sortie.  Continuation sorties were missions where the IPs flew front seat and actually got to fly the jet and remain proficient at flying a fighter.  Students may or may not get to tag along in the back seat. Didn’t get a lot of them and these three guys were going to go out and fly a 2 V 1.  This was about as fun and complex a mission as we were allowed.  Highly sought after. Schedulers were able to get IPs to do all sorts of unpleasant things on the promise of a continuation ride.

I walk up to the schedule, draw a line through the 1 in the 2 V 1 and wrote Vegas and my name in.  The IPs would now be going on a 1 V 1.  Vegas and I would get our refly.  I was not popular.

Obviously, this ride was going to be later in the day and at Holloman during the summer, a later sortie made everything just a little bit more difficult.  The pressure altitude was higher, the engines responded different, winds were gusty, dust frequently blew so visibility was worse.  In short, for a person having difficulty landing a jet, flying late in the afternoon could make or break him.

We blast off, go to the area for a few minutes just to get down to landing weight, then return to the pattern for touch and go’s.  I’m a bit tense, but Vegas doesn’t seem to be worried.  He flies down initial, pitches out, configures, starts the turn, rolls out on speed and greases the landing.  Requests closed, granted, rolls out on downwind, configures, starts the turn, rolls out on speed and greases the landing.  Starts the go around, and says, “You want to fly the rest?”

I clearly had passed the test.

It’s now towards the end of the program.  Vegas had flown with other IPs, but I still was his primary IP.  We’re now in the first ride in the Air to Ground phase and Vegas is in the front seat.

 Once he sees the bombing range from the front seat, he will switch to the back seat and “instruct” me in Air to Ground techniques. Truthfully, I’m looking forward to it.  We had just completed Air to Air, and having him in my back seat instructing me (note the lack of quotation marks), had been VERY educational both for my IP skills as well as my actual Fighter Pilot skills.  I was looking forward to experiencing the same in Air to Ground. 

We’ve been to the range, dropped our 6 blue practice bombs and headed home.

We’re coming down initial for runway 16 and I hear the tower clear a flight of 4 F-15s on to runway 25 to hold. 

We pitch out, configure, turn final for a Touch and Go.  Roll out on final, I do a quick look out the nose of the Jet to check lineup, configuration etc.  (I’m still the Aircraft Commander, and IP, it’s my butt if something happens.)  As expected, Vegas is on the numbers.  I glance out the right side of the jet as we cross over the overrun….

Pause for a scenario setting .  Runway 16 and Runway 25 butt up against one another.  The overruns intersect.

The problem will occur in the light gray area at the top center of the photo.

Clearing a flight on to hold, gives that flight permission to do just that.  Taxi into position and sit there until given clearance to do something else.

It does not give you permission to run your engines up to military power in anticipation of takeoff!!

So, enough interlude.  I glance out the right expecting big wide exhaust nozzles  from 8 Pratt and Whitney F-100 Engines .
What I'm expecting when looking at exhaust nozzles

instead, I see little bitty teenie exhaust nozzles spewing exhaust gas across our approach at who knows how fast.
This is what F-15 engines look like in Mil Power and what I'm seeing

I advance the throttles into afterburner, while at the same time calmly communicating to Vegas that I was going to take command of the aircraft and would he please let go of the stick (I slammed the throttles to AB while I screamed “I got it!!”), just as we hit the turbulence.

The jet rolled to the left, and my guardian angel kicked in at that second, because my expected reaction should have been to roll back right.  I didn't, I added right rudder, which yawed the nose away from the ground as well as countered the rolling moment. I have no idea where that reaction, the only and absolute right move, came from.   I’m not sure what the angle of bank was, but I have a very clear picture of looking up at the runway.  The jet begins to yaw the nose above the horizon while rolling back towards level. We exit the turbulence as the aircraft rights itself.  I clean the gear and flaps up and remember the burners.  About this time, Vegas calls from the front seat and says “Well, that was exciting, do you mind if I fly the full stop?”  “No Sir, not at all.”

These guys practice it,  me, not so much!

Full stop, and Vegas asks what happened.  He’d never seen the four ship and all he knew was we had almost lost control.  I explained what had happened.  Debrief began later than usual that day as my student was unavailable.  Evidently, a flight lead lost his flight lead status.

About 6 months later, I’m now the Wing Scheduler and am up for assignment.  The F-4 is being phased out and F-15s and F-16s are starting to be assigned.  However, the AF still needs folks assigned to F-4Gs as well as F-111s, so the policy is that IPs  up for assignment in the next 6 months will be divided into Top Half/ Bottom Half.  Top Half will get the jet of their dreams; Bottom Half will get needs of the AF.  I’m fairly certain I’m in the Top Half, but, since I also want to be assigned with my wife, also military, and 2 year old son, I’m a bit tense.  Today is the day.  I get the call from my assignment officer.  F-4G to George.  I’m disappointed, but it is with my wife, so that’s the way the ball bounces. 

Vegas also knows this is the day.  He comes walking in to my office and asks what I got.  I tell him, his jaw drops and he says “Captain, can I borrow your desk?”  Dials an number and says (I’ve forgotten the name, so let’s use Stan)”Stan, Vegas here, do you personnel wienies still subscribe to the Top Half/Bottom Half policy?....Well, I’d like to know why Juvat here, my number one guy in this assignment tranche, is getting an F-4G? …..Yeah, I know about his wife…..Look, Colonel, I've got a retention problem here (he did) and if I can’t get my number one guy a new jet, what am I going to tell the rest of the guys to keep them in the AF? Why should they stay? I want him in an Eagle, and I want his wife assigned to the same base.” 

At that instant, it no longer mattered to me what my assignment was, I was reassured there were still people in the AF that cared about their people.  I would stay.

There’s more conversation on the phone, finally Vegas hangs up and says “Juvat, you and Mrs. Juvat are going to Kadena.”

Vegas, wherever you are in the Afterlife, I can't say Thank You enough! Leader, Teacher, Warrior, I learned a lot of that from you. Rest in Peace!