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!

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

VEGAS!!! (A rerun but a good story)

This is the story of one of the true heroes in my life.

So, there I was….stationed at Holloman AFB in lovely Alamogordo-by-the-sea NM. I’ve been married about a year now and my personnel officer bride and I have managed to align the moons of Jupiter and gotten assigned together.  She is working at the Consolidated Base Personnel Office (CBPO) and I am assigned to the 435th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron (TFTS) as an Instructor Pilot (IP) at Lead-in Fighter Training (LIFT). (I’m trying to expand Sarge’s Acronym Locker).The 435th mission was to teach newly graduated pilots the basics of flying a fighter, and also trained existing fighter pilots in the AT-38B and qualified them as IPs.

I’ve completed instructor training (Ed Rasimus was my IP, story(s) at a later date), and have been working as Squadron Scheduler.  Ed’s description of his Replacement Training Unit (RTU) scheduler, Wimpy, in “When Thunder Rolled” accurately describes a scheduler’s duties.

In any case, I’m building the schedule one day when the Squadron Commander walks in.  He’s one of the VERY few people allowed in the scheduling office when the schedule is being built.  Reduces distractions, eliminates the opportunity for pulling rank, bribery or blackmail to get on the schedule.  But the Squadron Commander is the boss, so he’s allowed.  Anyhow, he walks in and says “Juvat, old boy, I've got a good deal for you!”  Immediately I think “Shields to Maximum!  Ready all phasers and photon torpedos!”  I am attentive to his every mannerism at this point and, based on previous experience, am evaluating various escape routes.

He says “You know we’re getting a new DO (Director of Operations, the person in charge of all the Operational aspects of a Fighter Wing, an O-6, Full Colonel) shortly.  Because we’ll have to work around his schedule, and since you’re the scheduler, I want you to be his Instructor.”

Now, I need to go off track a bit to set the stage for what I envision is an opportunity to commit career suicide.  At this point in time, Tactical Air Command had instituted a policy which, to me, was absolute genius.  They modified the uniform regulation for flight suits so they could include a small patch on the sleeve showing a pilot’s experience level.  One silver colored star for every 500 hours of Fighter Time.  Additionally, a pilot would have a gold colored star if he had even 1 hour of combat time and would add additional gold stars for every 500 hours of combat time. 

There were a lot of Vietnam era pilots in the 435th at the time.

Ed had at least 3 gold stars ( I think he might have had 4).  Most of the Majors and above had at least 2. 

Since I had a little less than 1000 hours in the F-4, I had one silver star.

The reason I thought this policy was genius, and undoubtedly the reason it was done away with, was you could instantly judge a senior officer’s credibility with a quick glance to his sleeve. Fighter Pilots judge credibility primarily on having employed weapons from a Fighter in anger, multiple times.  So an O-4 with 3 Gold Stars and 6 Silver stars (4000+ hours of flying time and at least 1000+ combat time, AKA Ed) had much more credibility than an O-6 with 2 Silver Stars (our Wing Commander at the time).

About now, Sarge is probably saying “Get ON with it, juvat!  We’re paying by the electron here.”  Back in the squadron, as I have now eliminated all possible escape routes as impossible, I’m thinking about the many different ways I can screw this up.  If he’s a rising star in the, as LL at Virtual Mirage would say, Chair Force, I will probably run afoul of him because, well let’s just say, I’m not very tactful.  If he’s actually a Fighter Pilot (an attitude not an AFSC), what is little ol’ minimally experienced ME gonna teach him?

But, the die is cast; I am to be his IP.  The day of his arrival is now upon us, and I happen to be looking out the window when I see a brand new Corvette sweeping into the parking lot.  By sweeping, I mean driven as a Corvette should be driven, with authority! Out steps the driver who jams his flight cap on his head at the requisite Fighter Pilot angle and with the Fighter Pilot crush at the back. 

Robin Olds, NOT Vegas, but the flight cap is right.
A quick glance at his sleeve, 3 golds, 6 silvers.  He’s been there, done that!

He strides into the squadron like he owns it (which technically he does), and the squadron is called to attention.  Bellows “As you were”.  Walks up to me sticks out his hand and says “Juvat, I’m Vegas” I reply…..”Pleased to meet you, Sir.”  We sit down and I begin the flight briefing for his first ride.

The Instructor Pilot program at LIFT was divided into 2 parts, aircraft qualification and Instructor qualification.  Aircraft qualification was 5 flights, 3 in the front and 2 in the back followed by a check ride.  Successfully completing the check ride meant you were qualified to fly the aircraft.  The front seat rides were for practicing aircraft handling as well as landings.  The back seat was for instruments.  Landing from the back seat was taught after the check ride as part of the instructor qualification.

So, for Vegas’ first ride, we’re going to go out to the area and do a little acro then some stalls and falls, then return to the base and beat up the landing pattern.  We get suited up and walk out to the jet, fire it up and taxi it out.  The AT-38 was a pretty sweet little jet and performed the LIFT role well, but takeoff at Holloman on a hot summer day was often exciting.  Holloman’s field elevation was 4000’, which meant that a lot of runway 22’s 12000’ was needed. 

Vegas gets us airborne and flies the departure like he’s been doing it for years, we get through the advanced handling without me demo’ing any of the maneuvers, the man has golden hands.  Back into the pattern, pitch out, configure, on airspeed in the final turn, touch down on the numbers on speed.  Power back up; go around, another perfect landing and another and another.  Full stop and taxiing back in, I’m trying to figure out what to say in the debrief.  I can’t say “Got nothin’ Boss, great ride!” without appearing like a suck up, but that’s what it was.  However, we get into the debrief and he starts with “Man, I think I was about 2 knots fast on that first touch and go……” and proceeds to conduct his own debrief.

Second ride is in the back seat, he wants to do the takeoff.  Smooth as glass.  We head to Roswell to shoot an approach.  That penetration and approach was pretty tricky, there’s a big descent to make a hard altitude and if you’re not paying attention, your airspeed can get away from you, making the rest of the approach difficult.  More than one pilot has busted a check ride on that approach.  His approach was textbook. 
At one point in my life, I could read this.  Now, pretty much Greek.

We get back to Holloman and I’m looking forward to maybe getting SOME stick time at least with the landing, but NOOOOOOO.  Vegas asks if he can do the landing.  Greases it.  I’m glad I let him land, might have been embarrassing.

So this goes on for rides 3 and 4.  I’m learning more from him than the other way around.  We’re now heading back into the pattern on ride 5, his last ride before the qual check.  I’m very relaxed.  He pitches out, configures, comes around the final turn and we’re over the overrun, but a few knots slow.  I notice the nose start to rise a little sooner than I expected as he begins the flare and the throttles start coming back.  BAM, we smack down on the runway.  Power comes up, we complete the touch and go and get cleared for a closed pattern (pitch up to downwind from the end of the runway rather than go out to the pattern entry point and reenter traffic).  I’m thinking, what the heck was that, a fluke?  Configure, start the final turn, rollout.  And the same thing happens again.  Too slow+Early Flare=Hard Landing.  We've got gas for one more pattern so I can’t demo. If he doesn't land correctly this time….He doesn't.  If anything the full stop was worse.  So much so, that we’re taxiing on the runway longer than usual.  He asks me “How was that?”  

The mind is racing.  Decisions, Decisions…

“Well, sir, I think you need another ride.”  He says, “Can we do that? How?”  I say “I bust you on this one.”


I’m thinking, well at least McDonald’s is hiring.

After clearing the runway, we typically would call back to the squadron with the Aircraft status (Code 1-fully operational, music to Sarge’s ears, rarely happened; Code 2-flyable, but some problems; Code 3- not flyable without repairs) and the mission status (T3C -Student Passed, T2M- mission unsuccessful Maintenance, a needed system was inop, T2W- Unsuccessful Weather and T2S- Unsuccessful Student non-progress). Hard Landings have to be written up, so the jet is Code 2.

“Black Eagle ops, Juvat, Code 2, T2S” 

“Juvat, Black Eagle Ops, say again” 

“Black Eagle ops, Juvat, Code 2, T2 Sierra” 

“Standby Juvat”

“Juvat, Black Eagle One (the commander), say reason for T2S”

Before I can respond, the DO gets on the radio from the front seat and says “If my IP says I busted this ride, I busted this ride!”

I’d follow him through the gates of Hell.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Thanksgiving with the Juvats (Rerun)

 Sorry, Its been a busy month so far and I'm  fresh out of ideas.  On the focal point of  my life right now, Mrs. J has completed her first round of Chemo without significant issues.  She sleeps a lot and has little appetite, but other than that, things are going well so far.  I appreciate all the good thoughts and prayers from the readership of this blog.  I also appreciate our host for allowing me a day to write.  It tends to keep me a little more sane than might otherwise be the case.


Thanksgiving with the Juvats

So, There I was….* Kunsan AB, ROK about 4 weeks before my DEROS (Date Estimated Return from Overseas, Hey, I don’t make the acronyms).  Under the leadership of the second worst president ever**, I’ve got almost 100 hours of operational time in the F-4 and can manage to at least hit the ground with my bombs and not myself, although that issue has been in doubt.  My next assignment will be to Moody AFB, GA where further adventures will abide and at least one life changing ceremony will take place, but that’s all in the future.  

For now my task as defined by my Squadron Commander, Lt Col Dick “Batman” Swope, is to plan and provision a Thanksgiving dinner for the 80TFS Pilots, WSOs and enlisted and the 80AMU, our maintenance personnel.
Batman takes Command of the Juvats
(USAF Photo)

  Now, Batman does not want cucumber sandwiches with tea for this soiree.  No, he wants Turkey, Dressing, Mashed potatoes, Pies, the whole 9 yards (which actually is a fighter pilot saying, Sarge should be able to tell you what it means). There’s one teensy weensy problem with this plan.  Kunsan’s “commissary” was comparable to an understocked 7-11 in what it carried in inventory.  On a good day, you might be able to purchase some peanut butter, no bread, but crackers (old, stale) to make yourself a snack.  Sodas were rationed more heavily than Beer.  Lunchmeat was generally green in tinge.  Finding the fixings to feed a couple of hundred folks might be hard.  Osan AB, the next closest base wasn’t a whole lot better.  What to do?

We had a new guy join our squadron just prior to this whose previous assignment had been Okinawa. He reported that the commissary there was very well stocked and he could probably get someone to procure the groceries if I could find a way to transport them to Kunsan.

I checked with the MAC detachment and they said they could not transport, on Military Aircraft, any victuals (they actually used that word) intended for private functions.  (I wondered if they knew about Air Force One?)

I then realized that I was a pilot of an aircraft with the ability to carry a significant payload.  Now if I could just find a baggage pod.  I knew they existed, but hadn’t seen any around.  My Dad had always told me if you need information, find the oldest NCO around.  They know everything. So, I found the guy driving the maintenance truck on the line, he looked ancient like he might have been 35 or so.  I asked him about baggage pods.  He asked why so I told him about Batman’s party.  He said if I’d save him a pair of Drumsticks, he’d get them for me.  Done.
Note baggage pod under left wing. We had one under each on both Jets.  Not an 80TFS bird, but TX ANG, given the copyright restrictions, almost as good.

Now, I've just got to convince Batman to let me have an airplane for a weekend.  Realizing that, one, this is during the reign of the second worst president ever, so flying hours are scarce and two, that I have a very limited number of them under my belt, this is going to be a hard sell.  But this is HIS party, so I've got that going for me.

After a 5 minute meeting during which I described the logistical problem in great detail, he interrupts me and says why don’t I find a flight lead and two WSO's that want to take a trip to Clark with a stop enroute at Kadena to order supplies, a day at Clark to rest and recuperate, then a return stop at Kadena to pick up the supplies?  What a great idea!  Wish I’d have thought of Clark in my version!

All of a sudden, I've got LOTS of friends in the squadron!

I get a flight lead, a Captain from Alabama, who speaks with a very slow, very deep drawl.  My WSO is also a Captain, usually rambunctious, but competent.  Lead’s WSO I have no recollection about.  We brief the mission and the supply requirements and get ready to launch.

Now, back then there were things like ADIZs ( Air Defense Identification Zones) to contend with. Radar Flight Tracking wasn't anywhere near as complete as it is now.  One would be out of Radar Coverage and Radio coverage for long sections of time.  I had never done anything like this and neither had my flight lead. The WSO’s had however, so we were comfortable.  

Launch out of Kunsan and exit Korean Airspace south of Cheju Do.  Very quiet for a while and then we start to approach Japanese Airspace.  Lead calls for a radio change and attempts to contact the Japanese air traffic control at Fukuoka.  Now, let me explain this.  Their callsign was Fukuoka Control, pronounced Foo Koo Oh' Ka.  Lead is from Alabama.  He can NOT say this in a manner recognizable to the Japanese!  This is a family blog, but it shouldn’t take much for you to imagine how he was trying to pronounce it.  And the guy on the other side was not having any of it.  Lead would make an attempt and the controller would say “No! Foo’ Koo Oh' Ka! With the accent being on whichever syllable Lead screwed up. This went on for about 15 minutes.  My WSO and I are laughing so hard, I am having a hard time flying formation for the tears in my eyes.  Finally the controller gives up and passes us off to some other sector controller with a much more pronounceable name. 

We land at Kadena, get checked in to the VOQ, call our contact and pass them the list, and then race out Gate two for a little time on the town.  First time with Kobe Beef.  Marvelous stuff that.

Next morning, we blast off and as we pass Miyako-Jima, lead calls and tells me his centerline tank isn't feeding.  He won’t have enough gas to make it to Clark, so he’s turning around and going back to Kadena.  Why don’t I go on ahead to Clark, and oh, by the way, would I pick up his crocodile skin boots while I’m there? 

He turns around and disappears back to the north.  I look in and the TACAN is searching for a lock on and will continue that, unsuccessfully, for the next hour and a half.  I’m driving on, looking around at a whole lot of not much to see, and notice that my WSO was unusually quiet.  I ask him what’s going on, and he says he’d called home last night to talk to his wife and she had informed him she wanted a divorce.  As nonchalantly as I could, I asked him if he’d mind switching the radar to air to ground mode and run it out to max range.  I figured a dead reckoning heading would get me close enough to find Luzon on the radar.

My R and R at Clark consisted of escorting a highly inebriated WSO around various locales, to include a boot shop and the Nipa Hut, and then finally carrying him to his rack at Chambers Hall.  It’s what we do.

Sunday morning, he’s surprisingly chipper, hale and hearty.  We blast off, and make our way back to Kadena.  Land, Dearm and get directed to park in front of the tower.  As I pull into the parking space and shut down, I notice a small Nissan station wagon pull up under one of my wings.  I get out as the crew chief begins refueling the jet.  Walk over to the Nissan and Lead is there setting up a conga line passing turkeys from the car to the pods.  We load a dozen turkeys into each of the baggage pods.  All the rest of the groceries are already loaded in Lead’s pods. 

Dinner loaded, Dzus fasteners tightened, Fuel in the tanks, Lead runs over to his jet, straps in and gives me the fire up signal.  Dash-60s roar and soon, so do we.  Blast off, get handed off to Fukuoka Control.  I’m waiting for the encore, but Lead comes through.  (Later found out, that his WSO had spent his R and R buying beer for Lead all the while conducting diction lessons on how to pronounce the name, not wanting to restart WWII after all.)

Re-enter Korean Airspace, come down initial at Kunsan. Not wanting to re-enact an episode from WKRP in Cincinatti, we gently pitch out and land.  

We’re met in the dearm area by the maintenance bread van and several maintainers.  Dzus fasteners opened and another conga line from pods to van.  The NCOIC says the Security Police had heard about the party and were looking to confiscate the “contraband”.  

Pod empty of all but our skivvies and a pair of crocodile boots, we taxi back to the shelters.  Shut down and are met by the SPs and the drug dogs.  Dogs sniff all around and start howling at the pods, we open them up for the cops and show them they’re empty.  Clearly disappointed, they leave empty handed.  Some of the turkeys were dispersed to all the O-5s since they were the only ones with ovens in their quarters.  The remaining turkeys were taken to the O’Club where we've bribed negotiated with Mr. Kim the manager to allow us to cook them. I think the cost was two cooked turkeys to serve to the other, uninvited, wing personnel.

Thanksgiving arrives and my clan, warriors all, has gathered.  The two reserved drumsticks are paid to the Maintenance NCOIC, prayers were said, the appropriate toasts were given and dinner is served.  

The Juvats***
(USAF Photo, of which I own a copy)

Post Script.  I ran into Batman a couple more times in my career.  When I was at CincPac, he was the 13AF Commander at Andersen AFB Guam.  Later, while I was on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, he was the USAF IG. He and I retired from the Air Force on the same day.  I was a Lt Col, he was a Lt Gen.  Sadly, I've learned he passed away in 2011 at 68. RIP.
* Standard Juvat Entry Point
**Both of which have been in office since I went to College. 
***Yeah, I'm in the picture as is Conehead, my WSO.  First person to ID get's a frozen turkey dropped at their house at 550 K.  Choose wisely, those who get it wrong get two turkeys dropped.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Two (old) Movie Reviews - Reviews from... the FUTURE

 Yes, I am now in control.  Of what?  Who knows.  I sure don't.

So because the WAGs and SAGS and, for all I know, the Wompenags, were ON! STRIKE! for unknown reasons in this wonderful economy where inflation is about three times the official government reported level, as witnessed by all the food price increases and lack of food sales (when a store normally has regular sales of lots of items, and has over 30 years, suddenly to not have the same items on sale is very suspicious) over the last three years (wonder why... not), there has been a dearth of television drama and comedy this fall.  

So we at the Beans' household (Mrs. Andrew (Bean's wife,) aforementioned Beans (moi) and Kegan the wonder dog (we were told by a reputable K9 DNA company that he'd get 85lbs, so we wonder why he so far has maxed out at 135lbs (no silly euro-metric scales here, bubs and bubbettes, it's all old American Freedom!! units)) have been watching, when we watch, old tv shows (on DVD, no commercials, new murder-death-kill crime shows ("The First 48" is the best) and DVDs of various movies.

We've watched the traditional favorites like "True Lies" and all the Clint Eastwood westerns and cop movies and lots of Nicholas Cage movies, and have come to some old ones.  Of which we must speak of now.

First is a movie much beloved of women back when it came out in 1981.  Which is "Arthur" with Dudly Moore, Liza Minelli and Sir James Gielgud.  A wonderful story of man meets woman and falls in love with said woman.  Unfortunately, Arthur is a drunk.  And an ass.  And a jerk.  Hasn't worked at a job one day in his life because his family is rich.  His family wants him to marry Susan, who is the daughter of a new money millionare, whom Arthur doesn't like. (well, to be fair, nobody except the script writers really like Arthur.)  And then he falls in love with a shoplifting waitress and... yeah.

No.  I don't. Wish I was Arthur, that is.
Have his money? Yes.
Live his life? No.
Read below why I say so.

Other than Sir John Gielgud, this movie stinks like yesterday's fish left out on the counter during a heatwave.  I mean, all Dudley does is act drunk, showing that his character had no redeeming characteristics and acts drunk all while knowing his family's money will allow him to do whatever he wants (like driving while drinking hard liquor.)

The only reason I can see why women like this movie is that the poor (shoplifting) waitress 'rescues' the drunken schmuck rich boy and will live happily ever after as she and the audience are left to believe that Arthur will finally stop drinking now that he has found true love.


I am of the firm belief that the same women who think Linda will save Arthur are the same women who love "Freebird" even though the song Freebird firmly tells the women that, no, the singer is not going to change, he's not going to do anything different and he's gonna dump your butt when he wants and can.  Doesn't stop women swooning over this song.

Again, Hobson (Sir John Gielgud) is the best character in the whole movie.  Why?  Because he is the only one that treats Arthur like the fly-covered turd that Arthur is.  And he's Arthur's butler.  The closest person to Arthur.  The only one who can or will tell Arthur the truth.  And he dies halfway through.

Wife loves this movie.  So do a lot of other people.  I think the movie would have been better if the movie was just a long version of the 'slapping the hysterical passenger' gag from "Airplane" with 'Arthur' as the slappee.

Hates this movie.  With a burning passion most associated with eating too much low-quality Taco Bell.

On the other hand, the next movie is a fantastic WWII action adventure rescue flick, based on a true story, with real WWII equipment and uniforms and stuff, with lots of big-named stars, released in 1963 and made by Disney no less.

That is... "Miracle of the White Stallions."

Yes, a Disney flick. So?
I also like the original "Snow White" and "Sleeping Beauty." Because they are very very good movies.

Whut? (referring to Miracle of the White Stallions.)

Yep.  It's about the Spanish Riding School (think Lipizzaner Stallions) in Austria at the end of WWII, and saving what they could from the Russians.  And the subsequent plea to the Americans to rescue the mares that were behind the demarcation line that became the real "Operation Cowboy" as authorized by Gen. Patton himself.  In other words, the Lipizzaner Stallions (and mares.)  (Operation Cowboy wiki:  Operation Cowboy - Wikipedia )

One of the stars is Eddie Albert (that guy from Green Acres) who sings German drinking songs in the movie.  And he's got a good voice.  Seems he did music theater for a living.  He also was a High Wire Aerialist and Clown in a Mexican Circus before WWII (actually, he was a US Army Intelligence Corps spy who was photographing German ships and U-Boats and other Germans that came to Mexico. 

And he was a war hero.  As a Lieutenant in the USNR, he was a coxswain of a landing craft at Tarawa, Bloody Tarawa, and rescued 45 stranded and drowning US Marines and directed the saving of 30 more while under heavy fire, for which he received the Bronze Star with Combat V.  (For those not in the know, Tarawa Bloody Tarawa was a cluster-copulation due to a variety of errors, like not getting the tide tables correct, so there was exposed reef for the first wave to have to cross and then high tide started coming in (thus many marines drowning and needing to be rescued.)

Even better, the battle segment has actual SS equipped troops using actual German camoflage, German rifles and machine guns, the famous MG42 seen on both a fixed heavy mount and set up as light machine guns using the built-in bipod (you can tell they're MG42s due to the sheet metal square-cross section guard over the barrel,) and a 7.5cm Pak 40 anti-tank gun. Soo friggin cool.

The rest of the German stuff, from locomotives and rolling stock to trucks, wagons, uniforms, decorations, actual castles and locations (like the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria) and, of course, the Lipizzaner stallions, clothing of civilians, is spot-on.  (Wish modern movies paid as much attention to period details.)

Oh, the Lipizzaners... These are a sub-breed of Andalusians (from the planes of Andalusia in Spain)(thus the 'Spanish Riding School' thingy) that turn white as they mature, starting out as black and turning dapple grey and then white.  And lots of action scenes of the horses doing their stuff, dancing, jumping, strutting, just being beautiful horses..

Seriously, if you can catch the Lipizzaners, whether from the actual Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria, or the copy-cat American version, you gotta go.  I've seen them once as a kid and twice as an adult and loved them every times.  These are real warhorses people.  Real frigging warhorses.

The American equipment is just as great as the Kraut/Austrian stuff.  Real M-24 Chaffee light tanks, jeeps, M8 Greyhound armored cars, M20 reconnaissance cars (an M8 with the turret removed,) M7 HMC - Priests (105mm howitzers on an M3/M4 Medium chassis) and M37 HMC (105mm howitzers mounted on an M24 light chassis.)  And rifles, and uniforms and such. 

By now juvat's eyes are glazing, so I'll just tell him in words that he'll understand.  Lots of targets and lots of not-targets.  Got it, juvat?  Hit the targets, don't hit the not-targets.  Yeesh, so simple even juvat can understand it.

In other words, horses, Nazis, Americans, real history, real issues, horses, tanks and guns and stuff.

Made when Disney could actually make a good movie.

Highly recommend watching it if you can find it.

Otherwise, have a Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

And remember, the original Thanksgiving was giving Thanks to God that the Pilgrims actually survived their brief foray into communism, and after ditching said communism they became good farmers and produced actual crops.  Not bad for a bunch of city folk that got disinvited to stay in the Netherlands and were prepared to hire themselves out as a military force to natives and other colonists from England but landed in the wrong place and tried to make a go on land that the previous tribe (that died out due to combat, poor land management and disease) had left in poor poor shape.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

John Blackshoe Sends: Serendipity History – Some Early U.S. Aeronautical Background (Part 2 of 2)

So, what was the big deal about wood for airplanes

Typical of most WW1 era aircraft, this “Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter” being restored in the UK over 20 years shows the wooden structure before being covered with fabric and paint.




For a series of photos showing construction in 2001 of two replica JN-4s go here:

 Here’s a place in the UK making three SE-5s using new tools for old results:


To meet the anticipated need for Sitka spruce lumber for aircraft production requirements, the Signal Corps set up a massive program in September 1917 after disastrous labor unrest cut production that summer.   First step was to find someone to run it.  

Brice Disque saw combat in the Philippines during the Insurrection with a volunteer infantry unit, rising from Private to First Sergeant, then Lieutenant.   He then served with distinction as a cavalry officer in the regular army, before resigning as a Captain in 1916 to become Warden of the Michigan State Prison.  He was recalled to active duty, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, then Colonel and eventually Brigadier General, and given command of the entire Spruce Production Division program.

Colonel Brice P. Disque, head of the Spruce Production Division, 1918.


The timber was mostly in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, a rugged, roadless, unsettled area.   They needed more lumber mills to process the wood before shipment to aircraft manufacturers in the east, and to allies overseas.  So, six massive lumber mills were built adjacent to Vancouver Barracks in Vancouver, Washington, on the Columbia River, not far from the original Hudson Bay Company Fort Vancouver trading post. During WW2, the Kaiser shipyards built on nearby land turned out hundreds of cargo ships and dozens of Escort Carriers.

Vancouver Spruce Mills 1918.

Interior of Vancouver Spruce Mill

Sitka spruce trees were huge, usually at least six feet diameter at the base, but some 10 to 20 feet!  Felling and trimming the trees was all by handsaws then, but steam powered cranes and locomotives helped with the heavy lifting.

 Timbers needed to be at least 22 feet long, so the logs were too large and heavy for primitive truck transport, especially since there were only a few treacherous logging trails totally unsuitable for trucks anyway.  This meant that railroad tracks would be needed.  In the space of two years about 350 miles of track were laid along with all the necessary cuts, fills, drainage culverts, bridges and trestles to bring the logs to the mills. 


Spruce logs headed for the mills at Vancouver.

This is why we ended up with about 9,500 soldiers from Aero Squadrons cutting trees for civilian timber companies, working eight hour days, getting paid Army pay plus extra to match union wages, and some armed with lever action Winchester .30-30 Model 1894 deer rifles.


“Whoa, what’s this about working conditions and guns,” Sarge might ask.  Glad you asked!



Well, back in 1917 they did not yet have Antifa socialist anarchists disrupting the not so-Pacific Northwest, but they had their ancestors, the radical “Industrial Workers of the World” also known as “Wobblies.”   They were constantly feuding with lumber companies, spiking trees, striking mills, etc and usually demanding better working conditions and more pay from the logging companies and railroads.  

The Army knew that could not be tolerated, so they countered with several measures.  First, some 1,800 Winchester Model 1894 .30-30 rifles were issued to the first 12 Spruce Squadrons to protect troops from predators, presumably both biped or quadraped- they do have a lot of bears there!   Troops destined for European combat needed all the M1903 Springfield and the newly adopted M1917 “Enfields” being made, but the common “deer rifle” would suffice, and could be provided without diminishing service rifle production.   These are popular with collectors, and often overlooked as the only indication of their use as “Spruce guns” is the addition of hand stamped “US” and a flaming bomb on the receivers.

“Spruce gun” markings and Spruce Squadron member holding one.
Source: Left- author’s collection; Right:

Colonel Brice Disque was appointed to run the program, and he basically used the existing logging and transport companies to oversee operations and provide the technical expertise and training while he provided warm bodies to do much of the work.   As an incentive for the troops, and also to undercut any Wobbly interference, he instituted an eight our work day.   Also, he got the companies to kick in the difference between the soldiers’ pay and the wage rates paid their civilian co-workers doing the same work. Having neutered the main Wobbly selling points, he also created a quasi-union “Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen” (Four L’s) pushing the patriotism and support for the war effort, and pledging not to strike.   This brilliant strategy worked extremely well, and production met expectation.




One “solider in the woods” was Private Albert Robert “Rufus” Davidson, 115th Aero Squadron, Spruce Production Division, Army Signal Corps, who built railroads and cut trees in the forests of the Olympic Peninsula. This is his campaign hat, with the hat cord of faded green and black of the Aero Service, and name and service number inside.


Source: Author’s collection.


Rufus as born in St. Vincent, Minnesota in 1892 to Canadian born parents, and by age 8 he was living in Anaconda, Montana where his father was a sewing machine agent.

From his WW1 and WW2 Draft Registration card we know that he was tall, medium build (5’9” and 218 pounds in 1942).

Census records show that he lived in Anaconda as a bachelor most of his life except for early childhood in Minnesota, his time in the Army, and a trip to England in 1927.   Rufus worked for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, one of the largest mining companies in the world at the time, noted for building the world’s tallest surviving masonry structure, the 585 foot tall chimney from the copper smelter which closed around 1980.

 Montana State Military Records 1904-1918 provide details of his service in the 115th Spruce Squadron, and in the 123rd from which he was transferred, with a total time in uniform of about seven months.



His unit’s history is summed up as:

115th Aero Squadron  (or 115th Spruce Squadron)

The 115th Spruce was formed in July 1918 at Vancouver Barracks. This unit was not created from a ‘Provisional Squadron’, unlike earlier-formed units. In July 1918, they were sent to Joyce, Washington, Siems, Carey-H.S. Kerbaugh Co. The town of Joyce, as well as a post office specially opened at Siemscary, were the main centers of operation of a major railroad construction project to reach the huge stands of spruce near the area currently bounded by Olympic National Park. This project involved over 3,000 soldiers located at many camps within Clallam County. In October 1918, the unit was moved to Siemscary, Washington. In January 1919, the unit was moved to Vancouver Barracks and were demobilized there in that month. this unit had 3 officers and 194 enlisted men.


Here is a camp where he worked, on a beautiful peninsula day with only a light drizzle.  The troops lived in tent camps, but with some upgrades like hot showers, latrines, mess hall tents, etc.  This one is in Siemscarey, Washington, in Clallam County, with the name of that now gone settlement derived from the name of the lumber company logging in that part of the woods, the Siems-Carey company.

Siemscarey, Washington logging camp (white tents) of the 115th Spruce Squadron. Railroad had just reached this point and construction is still continuing in the foreground. PVT Davidson may be one of the men working on the railroad.


Detail from above showing track construction with grading complete, ties places and steam crane moving rails into place.

Anyway, Rufus Davidson wore his hat proudly, as he served his country building railroads to supply logs to make airplanes during the Great War.  He returned home to Anaconda, Montana and lived there the rest of his life, except for a trip to England in 1927.  He died in 1982 until he passed in 1982

He chose to highlight his military service on his tombstone with the branch insignias of the Signal Corps (crossed flags) and Air Service (propeller and wings) flanking “World War I.”




The 9,500 men of the Spruce Production Division of the Signal Corps (and then the Air Service) was a major contributor to our WW1 war effort, and that of our allies, as well as the shipbuilding programs which still used huge quantities of fir in ships.

Since the start of WW1, the Army Air Service had increased from around a hundred planes to an astounding 7,900 planes.  Less than 10 years has passed since they had purchased their first Wright Model A.

The magnitude of the spruce production program is shown by the relative size compared to the other major element of the Army Air Service at the end of November 1918:

Flying Squadrons- 185
Spruce Production Squadrons- 150
Supply Squadrons- 114
Replacement Squadrons- 11
Balloon Companies- 86


On 24 May 1918 The Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was redesignated as the Air Service, U.S. Army; then the Army Air Corps in 1926; Army Air Forces in 1941; and finally divorced from the Army to become the Air Force in 1947.