Tuesday, January 31, 2023

John Blackshoe Sends: Serendipity History - More Flying Connies

Lockheed Constellation - C-69 (military version)
Seventh production aircraft, production #1967, AAF #310315 (43-10315), 1945

So, where was I?  Oh, yeah, talking about Connies.  And remember, this is no malarkey.

Previously, I wrote about the USS Constellations, both of them, and alluded to some future possible additions  on this theme.

Fortunately, Sarge dug up a great post he had on the seductive beauty of Lockheed’s L-1049 or C-121 series “Super Constellation” with which some guests have actually had contact or even flight hours.  Really good stuff there.

But, little was said about the somewhat less attractive older and shorter members of the Connie family, with smaller tails, other than that nice (circa 1945-46) photo above of a C-69, USAAF tail number 43-10315, which was one of seven started under contract with Trans World Airlines but completed for the USAAF.  (Lockeed serial number 049-1967.)  Post WW2 she was registered as N90828 and operated by Intercontinental Airways, at one point as RX-123.  Then she went -

  1. to El Al in 1951 as 4X-AKB
  2. then to a Swiss owner as HB-IEB
  3. then to Universal Sky Tours Feb 13, 1962 as G-ARVP. 
She was then Withdrawn From Use (WFU) and broken up in May 1965 at Luton, England.

Besides an intermittent supply of superb historical fiction, Sarge (as part of his free services) also has an awesome list of links on the right side of the page.  Go check them out, this will still be here after you explore those.

Among them is this website where you can track just about every USAF aircraft ever made.  Being all diverse and inclusive, he also has links for U.S. Navy (here) and U.S. Coast Guard (here) aircraft as well. As everyone knows, the Navy provides rides for our misguided children who should always remember, “My Ass Rides In Navy Equipment” so their flying machines are in the Navy list.

In the Beginning

Lockheed’s “Constellation” began in a June 1939 secret meetings with Jack Fry¹, president of Trans World Airlines, and Howard Hughes, who had bought control of TWA and wanted a plane to carry 36 passengers at 300 mph with a range of 3,600 miles with a 13,000 foot ceiling. Lockheed suggested a larger aircraft, with a pressurized cabin for a 25,000 foot ceiling, which eventually became the Constellation. Hughes insisted that none be sold to competing airlines until TWA had received 35 of the planes. And, Hughes personally financed the purchase of the first 40 Constellations for TWA. 

Hughes is remembered as a super rich dude who made a fortune in Las Vegas real estate and as the builder and pilot of the wooden “spruce Goose” the world’s largest flying boat. The Hughes wealth came from engineering and the film industry, which Howard built upon for an even more successful career. He was also an aviation fanatic, earned a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering, set numerous speed records, including several in planes of his own design, and started the Hughes Aircraft Company. In June 1938, Hughes made a flight around the world in just 91 hours setting a new record, flying a Lockheed 14 Super Electra twin engine  transport. This experience was likely the impetus for Hughes to work with Lockheed on his ambitious airline project. The Electra model was redesigned for military use later in 1938, and Britain began buying huge numbers for use by the RAF, taking much of Lockheed’s production capacity, slowing work on the Constellation project, which was to be kept secret from other airlines.

Hughes is a fascinating guy with fame, fortune, huge ambitions and a quirky personality. At various times he dated Joan Crawford, Debra Paget, Billie Dove, Bette Davis, Yvonne De Carlo, Ava Gardner, Olivia de Havilland, Katharine Hepburn, Hedy Lamar, Ginger Rogers, Janet Leigh, and Mamie Van Doren. (Kinda Trumpy in many ways…) You can read all about him here

Design and initial work on the Lockheed L-049 Constellation was plodding along in 1941 when the Wartime Production Board inspected all aircraft plants and the secret Constellation project became known. So, Pan American Airways put in an order for 22 planes. 

But, when WW2 broke out the USAAF commandeered all aircraft production and the Constellation project was very low priority, especially as Lockheed was making the P-38 fighter, which incidentally used the same wing design as the Connie. The 80 Connies ordered were designated for USAF use, although only 15 were ever delivered to the USAAF, and another 7 remained incomplete and were finished post-war for commercial sales, and the remainder all canceled.

The Constellation’s first prototype was finally rolled out in December 1942 with a very successful first flight on January 9, 1943, using a test pilot borrowed from Boeing.


Video of the first test flight (ignore the erroneous caption that this is a C-121, it is the C-69.)

However, despite the successful flight, production languished while attempting to overcome problems using Wright R-3350 engines, which were in short supply due to high priority for assembling B-29 bombers. The prototype was modified to use Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines, but soon converted back to the original. Purchased by Hughes after the war, the plane was bought back by Lockheed in 1950 and lengthened by 18 feet and other changes to become the prototype for the L-1049/C-121 “Super Constellation.” In 1952 it became an aerodynamic test bed for the Navy WV-2 (or EC-121) Early Warning configuration. Later the number 4 engine was replaced by an Allison YT-56 turboprop engine in a C-130 nacelle for flight testing, going on to very successful use in the C-130, P-3, E-2. C-2, and Electra aircraft. (Source - Search for 43-10309)

It was not until April 1944 that a second production Constellation was ready. As a publicity stunt, Howard Hughes and TWA President Jack Fry flew that plane (tail number 43-10310 (Lockheed serial no 049-1962), painted in commercial TWA markings, from Burbank to Washington, DC in less than seven hours. Actress Ava Gardner was aboard, ensuring great publicity.²  (Source)

Here are five C-69s at Burbank awaiting completion and delivery circa late 1944 or early 1945.  B-17s and numerous P-38s are in the distance.  (Note the C-69 in the back lacks propellers, and the change from OD paint and blue circle with white star insignia of the prototype above to the late war unpainted aluminum and addition of the white bars to the insignia in this photo.)

Although many “short” Constellations were made circa 1945-1952, there is only one surviving example in the world today, and not airworthy.   It is USAAF C-69 serial number 42-94549, at the Pima Air and Space Museum, on loan from the U.S. Air Force.   It is displayed in TWA colors, as restored by local volunteers.  It was one of the original TWA contract planes, commandeered by the USAAF in WW2 and finally delivered in June 1945, serving until March 1946.  In 1948 it finally entered service with TWA as N90831 "Star of Switzerland.”

As an interesting footnote in aviation history, the first American to fly in powered flight, Orville Wright, made his final flight in the C-69 Constellation piloted by Howard Hughes and Jack Frye on their publicity trip.  While the flight to Washington on 17 April was made with the aircraft in TWA commercial paint, by the time they flew to Dayton on 26 April the aircraft had been repainted with USAAF markings, obviously to improve publicity value when dealing with a military audience. 

“On April 26, during the return trip, the aircraft stopped at Wright Field in Dayton to pick up a very special passenger: Orville Wright.  More than 40 years after his historic first flight, Wright even sat at the controls of the airplane during his final 50-minute flight over Dayton, albeit for just a few brief moments. 

"I guess I ran the whole plane for a minute but I let the machine take care of itself," Wright said of the experience. "I always said airplanes would fly themselves if you left them alone." 

Wright also pointed out that the Constellation’s 123-foot wingspan was longer than the distance of his first flight, which had traveled just 120 feet.” (Source)

A video of Orville Wright’s final flight (6:15) is at the source of this photo -

So, the early “short Constellations” had a bit of a rough start, but their subsequent iterations were indeed beautiful and superbly performing aircraft. They are a tribute to their main advocate, Howard Hughes, and their designer, Clarence Johnson. But, as great as the Constellation planes were, they are way down the list of his aviation achievements. Sounds like a story for another day, when there is time for more sea stories.

John Blackshoe


¹ See more about Frye here.
² Some sources claim that this flight was made by the XC-69 prototype tail number 43-10309 (Lockheed serial no. 049-1961), but the videos of the events clearly show that the tail number is actually 43-10310, a standard C-69 (Lockheed serial no. 049-1962).

Monday, January 30, 2023

Equipment Malfunction

 Folks, bear with me on this one.  It's going to take quite a bit of setting the stage before I get to the point on this post.  I'll get there, I promise. But I'll start with the hero of the story.

No Beans, Not Princess Leia.  Miss B!

Back in the day my folks would try and teach me the need for trust in the world.  One needed to trust their fellow man to do the right thing else one would spend his entire life looking over his shoulder for protection instead of ahead for opportunity.  

Of course they also taught that once someone had proved themselves untrustworthy...Well, don't trust them.  Ever.  I'm not talking a simple "letting you down", but actual betrayal.  Failing to do their duty to honor their word deliberately regardless of reason.  That was the ultimate sin.

Then I joined the military and realized where that ethos came from.  My instructors insisted on trustworthiness in themselves and their students.  That expectation extended through all members of the military.  If you wore the uniform, your word was your bond.  You may fail, but you failed while giving your best.



As a "For Instance", even non-flying readers will realize that an In-Flight Fire is an extremely serious event.  They would not be wrong.  Unlike a sailplane, the engines are the things that keep you aloft.  Without them, you are going to be landing.  Whether on a runway or not, is not generally your choice.  The airplane is coming down. Period.

Ok, how does the USAF address an Engine Fire?  The "Bible" on aircraft operations in the Air Force is affectionately called the "Dash One".  The F-4E Dash One can be found here.  Just as an example of how important that document is, 40 plus years after the last time I read it, looking through the Engine Fire or Overhead during Flight Emergency Procedure, I recognized some subtle changes in the wording and punctuation of the procedure from the previous reading.  That's how serious we took that book. In any case, here's the procedure. (It's found on Page 3-9 at the link above.)

Engine Fire or Overheat during Flight

1. Throttle bad engine - IDLE
2. If warning light goes out - CHECK FIRE DETECTION SYSTEM
Depress fire test button to determine that the fire detecting elements are not burned through.
3. If detection system check is satisfactory (i.e., warning lights illuminate when checked) - LAND AS SOON AS PRACTICABLE
Increasing thrust on the bad engine after the throttle has been retarded and the warning light has been extinguished may cause fire or overheat damage, and/or possible burn through the fire detecting elements.
4. If warning light remains Illuminated or fire detection system is inoperative or fire is confirmed - SHUTDOWN ENGINE
5. If fire persists - EJECT
6 . If fire ceases - LAND AS SOON AS PRACTICABLE 

Do not attempt to restart the bad engine. If the fire ceases, and a landing is to be accomplished, make a single engine landing.

Pay particular attention to #5 in that procedure.  If the fire light does NOT go out, you are to eject from the airplane. Period-Dot-End of Story.

So, juvat, interesting, but where are we going with this story?

Trust, my Friend, Trust.  We had an E-model at Moody that was pretty much a hangar queen. (For the non-familiar, the term indicates the jet has a boatload of mechanical problems which are difficult to ascertain, expensive to fix and the fix may not fix the entire problem.) One of the requirements when a Hanger Queen is thought to be "Fixed" is to give it a "Functional Check Flight" or FCF.  This is always flown by a VERY experienced crew and is flown on a fixed profile with specific parameters to make sure the airplane is fixed and ready to be put on the daily schedule.  This jet had passed it's FCF flight and was back on the schedule.

I'm Flight Lead for a 4 ship range ride to go and drop practice bombs and fire the gun at the gunnery range at Eglin AFB FL.  

No those are not 25Lb Practice bombs, those are inert 500Lb Bombs, but that is Eglin Range. Source

Typically the aircraft is loaded with 12 x 25Lb practice bombs and 100 rounds of 20mm bullets. 



 Fighter Pilots, being the competitive type, typically bet on the scores.  Quarter a bomb, nickle a Hole.  So, worst case, one could be out 8 bucks, plus the requirement to buy beer in the Debrief.

Bragging rights, however, were worth much more than that.  So, one tried their very best.

Unfortunately, I've drawn the Hangar Queen and, even with my best body English, couldn't get the bombs very close or the gun to hit the target.  I'm irritated at myself on the way home and we're about halfway there when I simultaneously hear/see the Master Caution light come on and hear the WSO yell something about "Fire" over the intercom.  Suffice it to say, I am focused at this point.  

The right engine fire light is on.  Technically, at this point, I'm supposed to ask the WSO to get into the check list and read me the procedure after which I will perform the procedure.  That works well in the Simulator.  (AFAIK no one has actually died in the Sim.)  I immediately pull the throttle to Idle.  Nothing.  I decide on a count to 10 before skipping to #4 on the Emergency Procedure.  I know it didn't take 10 seconds for that count, more like 1  maybe 2.  

Light's still on.  So I shut down the engine.  Soon as it spools down, the light goes out.  I push the test button, it lights up and goes out when I release the test.  I have one of the wingmen give me a look over.  Nothing, no smoke, no visual damage.  OK we get to skip #5 (Thank you, Lord.  My takeoff #s will continue to match my landing #s.)  

Approach and landing are normal, well, as normal as a single engine approach and landing gets and except for the fire trucks, ambulances and other crash vehicles near the runway, other than that perfectly normal.  Pull into the dearm area.  Dearm crew safes the crucial stuff and give the shutdown signal.  1.6 nanoseconds later, myself and the WSO are on the ground and vacating the immediate vicinity.  

The jet goes back into maintenance, the maintenance repair checklists are applied and she  gets back on an FCF schedule.  The same thing happens.  Back into maintenance and another FCF.  Again a Fire Warning Right Engine.  In that afternoon's Wing Honcho meeting, the Maintenance Commander wants to annotate the problem in the maintenance forms as a "glitch" and keep the jet on the schedule. Maintenance Stats...Gotta love 'em.

At that point in the meeting, the Wing Commander relieved him from command.  As he did so, he said "If the warning light comes on, how does the pilot know that the jet is not on fire? If he stays with the jet and it IS on fire, he and his WSO will likely be killed.  Is your in-service rate worth that?"

In other words, the Maintenance Officer had betrayed our trust.

The jet went to depot maintenance and AFAIK never flew again, at least not at Moody.

BTW, that Wing Commander went on to 3 stars.  IMHO, shoulda had 4.

Interesting story, juvat, but what's behind this story? That would be Miss B's monitoring equipment and sensors.  More knowledgeable medical readers may correct me, but I believe that one of the last organs that develop when a Baby is in the Womb are their lungs.  Therefore, premies, spending less time there, tend to have lung issues after birth.  Miss B is currently on O2 while her lungs get better.  She also wears a Pulse Ox sensor that keeps track of her pulse rate and oxygen saturation level in her blood.  It sets off an alarm when either reading goes below the minimum level. 

That alarm can, and should, be heard throughout the house.

However, the Damn thing goes off ALL THE F.....g time!  The medical equipment company says that's caused by the baby moving.  OK, maybe.  But, then, why does it go off when she's sound asleep and not moving.  AKA one of us is sitting right beside her watching when it goes off.

So...Next they said it's a faulty sensor cord.  OK.  They send a new one.  Except that one is for a different model sensor. 

Top two are the new cable.  Bottom two are the old cable.  I'm not an electrician, but something tells me the new ones won't work.

 They send a new, new one with a technician.  No change.  Course the baby's awake while he's here, so moving.  Later that same day.  No movement, still alarms.  

Drive down to San Antonio to meet with the Pulmonary Docs.  They hook up their device side by side with ours.  There's doesn't squawk and their readings are virtually the same as ours.  Guess what squawks.

I mentioned to them my story about Trust and the fire light and asked what, worst case, might happen in the middle of the night if LJW, being extremely sleep deprived and tired, decided it was a false alarm and rolled over and went back to sleep.

We'll see what the next appointment with them yields. Suffice it to say, the NICU Staff and Docs are on Santa's good list while the Medical Equipment folks...well...aren't!

Nap Time!
Oh, and by the way, as I'm wrapping writing this up Sunday PM, we just got a winter storm warning with icing.  Last year when this happened, electricity was off for quite a while, 3 days for us; up to 6 weeks for some people further in the boonies in the county.  Electricity is needed for Miss B's breathing assistance equipment.  Emergency Action Plans are being developed as we speak.


Sunday, January 29, 2023

Man of Action

Saturday was another fast-paced day in the life of an international man of mystery.

Not sure what that guy was doing, but I did laundry. Four loads, no kidding.

I could have gone another three or four days, I wasn't down to "situation critical, wear the really old underwear" just yet. I decided to nip that situation in the bud.

Not to mention which, I have two new shirts which I haven't worn yet, just got them from Amazon on Thursday. I seem to recall from somewhere that it's "best practice" to wash that stuff before wearing it for the first time.

Oh yes, now I remember, The Missus Herself told me that.

She is still forward deployed to Maryland, in the midst of Operation New Grandson and probably will be for another few weeks until things settle down.

At least this time The Nuke gets maternity leave, she didn't when Buzz was born. Good thing too, the gubmint was working her like a rented mule in the past few months. I guess that's why she makes the "big bucks." Unlike some government employees, she actually earns her pay.

So yeah, laundry, I did laundry and hung out with my girl Anya. She's getting up there in age and is slowing down a lot, but she's still good company.

Even if she does make me get up in the middle of the night to turn on the faucet in the tub when she's thirsty.

I can only hope someone does that for me when I get old. Er, older.

Oh yeah, Boat Guy mentioned this band a while back, I gave them a listen. Was not disappointed. The Corrs, an Irish band dontcha know?

I will be listening to more of their music, it touches something in me.

Be seeing you.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

I Give Up ...

Spent my Friday off doing absolutely nothing.

Thought about writing, then decided to go out for coffee.

Talked to the cat, she had no fresh ideas either.

Then I realized, this is NOT a job, it's a pastime.

So ...

I listened to music.

Decided to share this with you, I really like these guys.

The bass player, Billy Sheehan, is like two months older than me.

Who says old guys can't rock?

See you tomorrow.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Welcome to the Newest Member of My Tribe!

The Nuke and Tuttle have a new addition to the family, he was born at 2345 EST on the 25th of January in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Twenty Three.

Weighing in at a solid 7 pounds and 7 ounces, he bears a striking resemblance to his older brother, Buzz. Stands to reason.

I can't wait to meet the little guy. A trip to Maryland is in the offing.

No politics today, I'm too excited and too tired. (The text messaging between the far-flung members of the tribe began around 2200 local and continued well past midnight. Having waited so long to have the little fellow in the world with us, I couldn't just go to sleep. So asleep by 0100, up at 0545, it was a long day. Longer still for The Nuke, I'm sure.)

Be back tomorrow.

I love my grandkids, it's a thrill to have another one.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Seriously Sarge? More Politics?


Here's what sparked this: The Naming Commission Comes for West Point

What is the Naming Commission's mission?

The commission is chartered with five primary activities:
  1. Assessing the cost of renaming or removing names, symbols, displays, monuments, or paraphernalia that commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America.
  2. Developing procedures and criteria to assess whether an existing name, symbol, monument, display, or paraphernalia commemorates the Confederate States of America or person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America.
  3. Recommending procedures for renaming assets of the Department of Defense to prevent commemoration of the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America.
  4. Developing a plan to remove names, symbols, displays, monuments, or paraphernalia that commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America from assets of the Department of Defense, within the timeline established by this Act.
  5. Including in the plan procedures and criteria for collecting and incorporating local sensitivities associated with naming or renaming of assets of the Department of Defense. (Source)
To say that I have mixed feelings about the activities of this commission is something of an understatement. To say that I don't understand why "they" are doing this is an outright lie. That being said ...

How do you feel about this?

Remember, be nice.

¹ Tip o'  the hat to reader ColoComment who posted this link in another forum.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Ukraine - Some Thoughts

(Source Read Me!)
This is not a post from our Polish correspondent Paweł, I've just been doing some thinking lately about Eastern Europe. Quite frankly, to paraphrase the immortal Vince Lombardi -

Yes, what the Hell is going on "out there"?

In February of last year (2022), elements of the Russian Army crossed the border into Ukraine, fully expecting to finish the war in just a couple of weeks.

That was eleven months ago, the fighting continues, the Russian Army has been somewhat embarrassed in the field by the Ukrainian Army, the fighting rages on, and people are still dying.

Russia has called up another 300,000 men to replenish the ranks of the Army that went into Ukraine and the West is emptying the cupboard to supply the Ukrainian Army.

It's a mess, a giant geopolitical mess.

I was wondering just the other day, where is the United Nations in all this? Isn't that something they were created to prevent, deter, and/or reverse? (Rhetorical question, of course.)

Well unbeknownst to me, the UN did chime in on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict fairly recently. Back in October the UN voted to condemn the Russian annexation of the Sudetenland, er, I mean, certain regions in the Crimean. Full details here.

I noticed that the usual suspects abstained and the usual suspects voted "No" on the condemnation of Russia's (really, here you should read "Putin's") actions. But in typical UN fashion, nothing really came of this condemnation.

As for weapons and munitions being shipped to Ukraine by the West, whose paying for all that stuff? Ukraine can't afford it, maybe it's a example of FDRs' analogy  -

"Suppose my neighbor's home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose four or five hundred feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him to put out his fire...I don't say to him before that operation, "Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it."... I don't want $15--I want my garden hose back after the fire is over." (Source)

Of course, munitions, once expended, can't be returned. Tanks, self-propelled guns, trucks, etc., can be returned once Ukraine no longer needs them. But will Ukraine pay for their shipment back to point of origin, will Ukraine pay to have them refurbished (or replaced)? Again, rhetorical questions.

I would posit that the West has no real plan in Ukraine other than sticking a sharp stick in Russia's eye while saying "nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah, you can't touch me.²"

But what if Red China decides to get froggy over Taiwan, will we have enough stuff left over to deter that? I don't know, but it does make me wonder.

If you read the article cited as the source for the opening photo, you should realize that the tank (more properly armored fighting vehicle¹) is not dead. But once again it has shown its weaknesses when not properly used.

The infantry may not be glamorous, but you can't use tanks without their support. (Well, you can, but they're not coming back.)

Also the Russians are learning that you have to pay attention to logistics. Those infantry will be unhappy otherwise, they might even refuse to fight. I read about that here.

So yes, what the hell is going on out there?

Your thoughts?

¹ Tank was a code word coined in World War I to not give away what the British were building. Parts of the early tank looked like parts for a water tank, so ...
² Actually they can touch us, they still have a sizable stock of nuclear weapons, sure they may not all work, but they don't "all" have to.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

What's In Your Library?

As I cast about for a topic, the Muse kept saying, "Hey, it's snowing." Not wanting to revert to talking about the weather (as Skip says, when in doubt, you can always talk about the weather), I realized that I could do another "favorite things" post. Books! What do I do when the weather is crappy? I sit inside and read a book.

So here ya go, books.

As you may well imagine, I have a number of favorite books, if I was forced to pick four all-time favorites (why four, why not five, um, I dunno), that would be these four -

Two non-fiction (both concerning the First French Empire) and two fiction, one about Japan during the period leading up to the Tokugawa Shogunate (the main character Mr. Clavell chose to call Toranaga, played by none other than one of my favorite actors, Mifune Toshirō¹), the other about a fictional Soviet submarine. That last one shocked a few people in the intelligence world. Surprises me how the cloak and dagger types often don't know how many of their secrets are out there for all the world to see. (Used to read Aviation Week, which we Air Force types liked to call Aviation Leak, with some good reason.)

I go through moods in my reading, there are times that I want non-fiction, usually (heck, 99.99% of the time) that means an historical work, like those first two on my list above. Then, hey it happens, I get tired of reading history and will read a few novels, just to keep my sanity. Usually though, those novels will have a military or historical theme. (I think I've read everything by Bernard Cornwell, you might know him as the author of the Sharpe series.)

So that's my drug of choice, a good book and a comfy chair.

As it's snowing outside, I may just do that tonight (as I write). I'm still working my way through Andrew W. Field's Waterloo series. I highly recommend them. (Looking at you David!))

What do you like to read?²

¹ You will see him listed in the west as Toshiro Mifune, in many Asian countries the family name comes first, Mifune in this case. Of course in Japan he would be listed as 三船 敏郎.
² This type of blogging feels like cheating, I throw a topic out there, with a little something to start it off, then let you, the readers, actually write the bulk of the post in the comments. Easy for me, fun for everyone. Yes?

Monday, January 23, 2023

A Repost from Long, Long Ago.

Sorry Guys and Gals,  it's been a long few weeks taking care of the newest Granddaughter.  She's doing great, maxing all her scores and such. The Doc's are very happy with her progress, but she's still on O2 and other monitoring equipment.  This requires a lot of constant assisting in moving her around.  The Blog Call Sign Committee-Texas Section had an important meeting and has officially changed her Call Sign to Miss B.  (Reasoning to be included in a future Blog.) Meanwhile, LJW is being a trooper, but she, and us, need sleep (from time to time).  My brain is running low on thinking capacity.  Given that, you get a repeat of an episode from back when I felt I actually had an impact on "Things".  

JTF Prompt Return

So, There I was…* In receipt of orders to depart my hardship tour at CinCPAC headquarters, Camp Smith Hawaii, and proceed to what to what would be my final assignment in the Air Force.  Others referred to the next location as Fort Fumble, still others the Puzzle Palace.  I, with the true force of loathing, referred to it as the Northern Virginia Penitentiary for Wayward Fighter Pilots. Yes, some folks refer to it as the Pentagon, they are either non-Military types or if they are military, have sold their soul for their careers.  In other words, people I have no use nor any respect for.  But, now that I have gotten that off my chest, I will cease and desist with that digression vector and discuss where I PCS’d from.

But Juvat, you were assigned to Camp Smith, didn’t you PCS from there?  Technically, yes, but I actually left from Wake Island.  So, let’s get to that bit of oddity.

Back in the first term of Billy Jeff, before Monica, the United States actually attempted to enforce Immigration Laws.  (I know, I know.  How very Racist of us!).  As part of that enforcement, the US Coast Guard would board suspicious ships that were approaching the 12 mile limit.  Boarding them before reaching that limit was important, especially off the West Coast, because, even then, Liberal Judges would issue an injunction prohibiting their deportation until they had a chance to plead their case.  Those proceedings were always delayed and delayed….Thus ensuring that the Democrats had additional voters Justice was served.

The problem is complicated by what the USCinCPAC Commander (he was the ranking 4 Star in all the Pacific services, and was Navy) at the time referred to as the “Tyranny of Distance”.  It’s a 6 hour plane ride from SFO to HNL, and depending on the winds, a 10 to 12 hour plane ride from HNL to Tokyo.  The USCG intercepts a ship carrying illegal aliens.  What does it do with them?  If they bring them ashore in the States, they’re home free.  Taking them all the way back to their home country ties up that Coast Guard asset for a long time.  An option is to find a Non-US territory that is willing to take them in until the illegal alien’s country of origin makes arrangements to recover them.  The US had some limited success in paying some friendly Pacific Island nations to do exactly that.  

China, of course, was the primary starting point of the illegals.  After a few ships were intercepted, (I am under no illusion that all, let alone most, were intercepted, so let’s settle for a “few”), China changed the game by insisting that the “refugees” were repatriated from “US held territory”.  They did this knowing full well the problem of bringing them into the US.

My job at CinCPAC HQ was to provide an augmentation team and train them in Joint Task Force planning and operations.  I drew my team from the Combat Commands on the island (PACAF, USARPac, CincPACFlt and MARFORPAC).  When activated, we’d deploy to one of the designated three star billet commands in the Pacific.  At the time, those were 7th Fleet, 3 MEF and I Corps.  We’d join with their Command Staff and become a JTF.  The concept worked pretty well, at least in exercises.

It’s around the 1st of July, when I get called in to the CincPAC J-3s office, a Marine 2 star.  He tells me to ready the team and that sometime during the next week we’d be deploying.  No idea when or where, or to whom as yet.

I get the notification process started and attend the initial briefing.  Seems that a small Chinese fishing boat had been intercepted off the coast of California with 118 illegals aboard.  The State Department was negotiating with the Chinese for their return, but the Chinese were insisting that they be returned from US Held Territory.  Saipan and Tinian were not going to be acceptable.  Hawaii with its very Democrat infested liberal court system was definitely not an option.  We considered Midway, but discovered that also fell under the Hawaii’s District Court.  Finally, we found that Wake Island was an “unincorporated territory” of the United States. 
Wake Island

According to a Citation in Wikipedia (a source renowned throughout the world for its accuracy) an unincorporated territory is one "where fundamental rights apply as a matter of law, but other constitutional rights are not available".  Bingo.

The boat and escort are directed to Wake Island.  The JTF is to be created with the main manpower coming from one of the Army Battalions from the 25th ID.  They would include an infantry company, and some MPs.  A BG from the Division would be the CJTF.  My team would be the JTF staff.  PACAF would provide medical and dental support and personnel.  CincPacFlt would provide construction support.
The yellow line is 4500 miles long

It was going to take the boats about 2 weeks to transit and Wake’s facilities were not ready for a few hundred people to arrive.  It had been hosting a small team that supported launch activities from Kwajalein.  So there was some rudimentary facilities, a small clinic, dining hall and airport support.  The rest we’d have to bring or repair.

I’m sitting there looking at this operation knowing that I’m PCSing from this unit I’d trained. I also knew it was going into what was their first “real world” operation. I wanted to go, bad!  But I also knew that I had to be in DC by the end of August.

We have our initial meeting with the CJTF and he starts laying out the command structure.  I’m taking notes as fast as I can write.  He tells the Army Lt Col Battalion Commander he’s the Ground Forces Commander.  Lays out the Support Command structure and then starts on the JTF staff.  He looks at my replacement  (AF) who’s just been selected for O-6 and has been shadowing me for about a week and tells him he’s going to be the Chief of Staff.  Then looks at me and says “LtCol Juvat, you’re going to be my J-3.” (COO in civilian terms.)  I tell him about the PCS and he says “do you want to stay or go with us?”

“I want to go.”

“You’re in.”

Now, I’ve gotten most of the pre-PCS paper work done, but we’re now approaching that point where Physics is involved.  Physics being the actual moving of People and things.  To further complicate matters, my wife has already PCS’d to DC.  Fortunately, we had a live-in Nanny, who took care of my kids.  I deployed about 3 days later, while gone, she handled the movers, the clearing of quarters, the shipment of cars and the transportation of two unaccompanied minors. Talk about stepping up!  Kim, if you’re reading this, I still have a hard time believing you pulled it off.  And, even after all these years, thanks does not begin to express my gratitude.

The operation has two critical areas that are needed for success.  We have to restore facilities so they are fit for human habitation and we have to find enough Chinese linguists to communicate with the illegal aliens.  The first is constrained by time and the second by availability.

Wake had several buildings that had served as barracks in the 60s, so on arrival we selected the one in the best shape as the dorm for the illegals.  Best shape should really be least worse.  But the engineers got to work and by the time the boat arrived, the plumbing, lights and electricity all worked.  Bedding had been replaced.  It wasn’t the Hilton, but it beat the cargo hold of a fishing boat.  

We also had to come to terms with what we were going to do about the Enforcers.  They were a group of 10 men who were charged with bringing the illegals to the US.  The Coast Guard told us we would have to keep them separated from the rest of the group.  So we restored a separate facility and surrounded it with concertina.

To the best of my recollection, Top Left was the building housing the illegals, top right was for the enforcers and bottom was JTF operations.  

The boat and escort arrived.  We’re using the marina and a WWII landing craft to transport the illegals and their enforcers ashore.  The illegals are brought ashore first,  and given a quick in-processing, basically asked their name and given a quick medical check for anything serious. Then they were given a bus ride around to the other side of the island and checked in to the barracks.
This was high tide.  Low tide and the boat was 5 or 6 feet lower.

We handled the enforcers a little differently, upon advice from the Coasties.  We’ve selected low tide for when this would happen as we didn’t want the enforcers to have a chance to scope out the arrival facilities.

The Coast Guard had kept them bound and on deck for essentially the entire trip.  Upon inspecting the fishing boat and hearing the stories of their actions, I’d have been tempted to troll for sharks with them.  I was not alone having similar temptations for them like that...by a long shot.

At low tide, the water level in the marina put the landing craft below the dock, so the occupants couldn’t see anything behind the edge.  We had a greeting party that took the names at the front.  That greeting party had been told at the first sign of resistance to move out of the way.  

Sure enough, we’d brought 3 or 4 of them up the ladder, hands bound in front, feet free when one of them starts to do the kung fu stuff.  The greeting party moved away, leaving the Bruce Lee wannabe face to face with a squad of infantry, bayonets ready in a cordon around the docking area.  Problem solved.

By now the illegals are in their dorm and have eaten.  The enforcers are in their area, have eaten and it’s getting dark.  Shortly after dark, I get a call saying we’ve got a fire in the enforcer’s area.  That was one of the scenarios we’d gamed out.  The security team had sheets of plywood and breeched the concertina with them.  Again, with bayonets out, they herded the enforcers into one corner of the concertina away from the fire while another team put the mattress fire out.  

After the fire was out, we confiscated all the fire starters and cigarettes.  We also took away the remaining mattresses and put them back in their smoke damaged rooms.  It was quiet from then on out.

Things got pretty boring at that point.  The illegals were getting their three hots and were getting medical and dental care.  Their trip across the Pacific had been hellish.  Stuffed in a 500 square foot fish hold with a 55 gal drum for a toilet.  They’re only time on deck was when they were brought up to “entertain” the enforcers.  All of them were used that way.  Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Girls, Boys the entire group. 

Their medical condition reflected that abuse as did some of their dental problems. 

As I said, routine set in and the highlight of discussion was when was China going to accept them back.  It was about the 10th of August when the CJTF calls me in and says I should take the next 141 back.  

We had been redeploying the stuff and people we no longer needed and I now fell in that category.  I handed off the J-3 responsibilities to a Navy Commander who’d been in that shop.  She was very sharp and I wasn’t worried about the job not getting done.  As far as I can tell, she was the first female J-3.  Well done, Darah!

I flew in the 141 from Wake to Travis, hitched a ride from my Aunt to SFO and from there flew to Washington Reagan.  Met up with my wife and kids and the following Monday reported in at the Northern Virginia Penitentiary for wayward Fighter Pilots and began my sentence.

On August 12th, the Chinese relented and sent a DC-10 to pick up the illegals.  Transfer to the airliner went without a hitch.  And JTF Prompt Return was over.  

Later, when I transferred from the Air Staff to Current Ops on the Joint Staff, I worked next door to the Pacific section. The guy we had communicated with from Wake was still there.  I asked him what had happened to the Chinese when they had arrived in Beijing.  He said the illegals were sent home.  The enforcers were knelt down on the tarmac and shot in the back of the head.


A few months later, I received a memo saying that I was authorized to wear the Humanitarian Service Medal for participation in JTF Prompt Return.  I had a few rows of brightly colored cloth on my uniform when I retired.  That was the only one that gave me any satisfaction.

On a side note, if I ever decide to move to Rhode Island , I’m eligible for Veteran’s property tax relief.


Sunday, January 22, 2023


Actually it is, but I decided to take the day off.

Just my way of saying, "I got nothin' ..."

Stay tuned for juvat tomorrow, I'll be back on Tuesday.

I'll be watching the playoffs ...

The Muse is back, but she wants Sundays off.

Who am I to argue?

Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Horrors of War

City of Life and Death
I was planning on doing a piece about military music, one of the first things to come up in my searches was that scene above.

I've watched this film before, it is harrowing.

Set in 1937, when the Japanese Army seized Nanjing from the Chinese they lost all control. Insanity on a massive scale.

I had to watch the film again, doing so left me incapable of writing anything meaningful.

The horror ...

Friday, January 20, 2023

Battlefield Preservation

Quatre Bras Farm
Not too long ago I read that the historic building which was the dominant feature of the crossroads of Quatre Bras, in Belgium, was in danger of being torn down. That danger has passed, the building has indeed been torn down. A new building is going up on the site even as I write this. Another small bit of history is gone, lost to progress and no doubt due to the desire of humans to make a buck (or Euro as the case may be).

The Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach tells the officers of his brigade to stand their ground at Quatre-Bras.
Jan Hoynck van Papendrecht (PD)
The painting above shows the farm as it looked on the morning of the 16th of June 1815. As I recall, it still looked much like that in 1998, the last time I visited that area. (You can read more on this here.)

As of November of last year, the site looked like this -

Not sure what that building is going to be (Apartments? Shops? Office Building?) but there is no history attached to it. Yet.

Because every place will eventually have history attached to it. Maybe not world famous history, but history nevertheless.

Still, it saddened me to hear (and now see) the loss of this historic site.

Some years ago, as I recall, the entire Waterloo battlefield was in danger of being sold off to a group of developers. From what I remember, a number of organizations in the United Kingdom rallied and raised money to prevent that from happening.

I wonder how the Belgians felt about that? I mean it's their land, their country, what right to the Brits have to interfere in what perhaps is a local decision.

Well, the British did shed blood on that field, and one could make an argument that without that bloodshed, an independent Belgium might not exist. The Anglo-Allied and Prussian armies paid for those fields, in blood.

Still and all, I like the idea of preserving history as much as possible. Future generations should remember those who went before and sometimes gave their lives for what they hoped would be a better future.

Some preservation is good, but I reckon it can go too far. Very little preservation is also a bad thing, witness the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill -

The Bunker Hill Monument
Hard to believe a battle was fought there, innit?

Of course Boston itself has grown past its old limits, I doubt Paul Revere would even recognize the place.

Progress, it has its good points and its bad.

Still, I'm really sad that the farm at the crossroads of Quatre Bras is no more ...