Phantoms to WartHogs

Testimony of Pilot # 2X

‘Dogfighting makes movies. Close air support wins wars,’

Colonel Steve Ladd (USAF, Ret) recently published From F-4 Phantom to A-10 Warthog; Memoirs of a Cold War Fighter Pilot, and has graciously provided RememberedSky with a key excerpt  particularly pertinent to RS’s major thread of air-ground or attack missions highlighted in the last post Anthology – RememberedSky Vietnam Airwar ’72-73 Stories.

Note that definitive of US Air Force usage, despite half of his 4000+ hour career in the A-10 attack aircraft, he refers to himself as a fighter pilot, and indeed in both aircraft his squadrons were Tactical Fighter Squadrons. The Air Force and the aviation branch of the U.S. Navy have similar roles and missions but have distinct differences, mostly (but not all) of course centered around the aircraft carrier.

Through WWII navy squadrons indicated their mission – VB, dive bombers, VT-torpedo bombers, VS, scouting and dive bombers, and VF, fighter or air-air. In the 50s the VB/VS/VT consolidated under the nomenclature VA for attack, air-ground missions. This remained until the replacement of both F-4s and A-7s by the F/A-18 Hornet with squadron designation as VFA, strike fighter squadrons, tasked to do both air-air and air-ground. From the Air Corps/Air Force perspective in the 30s the decision was made to not design, purchase, or designate “A” attack a/c. They  did violate their rules with the A-1 Skyraider, A-7D, and the A-10, thus they had fighters and bombers (strategic bombing tasking – B-17, B-29, B-52, etc).

And so, Col Ladd’s  career experiences are of great interest due to the  differences in the two services, considering the focus of RememberedSky  and so…

OBTW, really well written and highly recommended!!!

PHANTOM TO WARTHOG – The Transition

In 1978, the Air Force announced that 81st Tac Fighter Wing Phantoms would be relaced by the A-10. While I was merrily proceeding with my mental plan to follow the F-4 wherever she would take me, my former backseater at Torrejon dropped by for a visit. Ed Thomas had been an F-105 Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) in the Wild Weasel program in South-East Asia. These guys went hunting for North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and used sophisticated acquisition equipment and beam-riding missiles to locate and exterminate the SAMs. The mission was dangerous but rewarding and relied heavily on the technical skill of the EWOs (known universally as ‘Bears’) to achieve successful outcomes.

When Ed left South-East Asia, he transitioned to the F-4 back seat and ended up with me as a formed crew (bringing the ‘Bear’ nickname with him). We bonded immediately; he had my total respect as a professional and as a drinking buddy and confidant. As happens less often than it should have in the Air Force, the Bear’s talents were finally acknowledged, and he was selected to go to pilot training. He departed Spain shortly after we did and a couple years later was flying the single-seat LTV A-7 Corsair in the close air-support role. Therein lies the reason for including this anecdote.

I brought him out to the house on a Friday evening, where Elaine had prepared dinner and we all had a lively chat about old times with the ‘Spanish Flyers’ – parties, road trips, mutual friends and foes and flying.

– notably the time we (oh, all right, ‘I’) dropped a 600-gallon centerline fuel tank on a Spanish gunnery range instead of the intended 25lb smoke bomb.

The hour grew late, the single malt whisky appeared and Elaine decided we were becoming unintelligible and she would leave the boys to their own devices. The conversation moved entirely to aviation. I told the Bear about the impending transition and gave him all my logical, painstakingly reasoned and compelling arguments on why I would be snubbing the ’Hog in favor of a few more years of flying Phantoms. The ’Hog was slow, the ’Hog was terminally ugly, the ’Hog failed to support my enthusiastically-cultivated image as a dashing fighter pilot; I would be mortified to climb out of this ungainly beast at a strange airfield. Having run out of logical, painstakingly reasoned and compelling arguments and lubricated with another double shot of Glenlivet, I started the list all over again.

Although he, too, only had a basic working knowledge of the A-10, his argument was cleverly constructed around a number of factors near and dear to the heart of a fighter pilot and robustly supported by the magic of Glenlivet. Why, he asked, would I want to continue to fly in an airplane with a built-in backseat passenger when I could be master of all I surveyed in the single-seat ’Hog? Without directly referring to yours truly, his former FUF (Fuckhead Up Front) he lauded the delights he had discovered since earning his pilot’s wings and subsequently swapping me for a couple of hundred pounds of JP4 jet fuel to venture forth in the land of single seat flying.

>>> He then switched his argument to the mission: the F-4 had been the consummate Jack-of-all-trades and he, like me, enjoyed the variety that role provided. Since joining the single-mission close air-support world, however, he had found genuine satisfaction in specializing and becoming very, very good at a single, complex and demanding mission. Close support of troops on the ground brings with it a powerful element of responsibility: that of delivering lethal weapons in very close proximity to those friendlies you are supporting and the unparalleled sense of achievement that follows when you’ve whacked some bad guys and saved friendly lives.

>>> It’s not completely noble in nature, however. The Bear went on to remind me of the somewhat selfish benefits of getting close to your work in an attack aircraft and getting instant feedback on your performance. ‘Dogfighting makes movies. Close air support wins wars,’ he said, and I started to believe him, although I have no doubt that there is job satisfaction in hurling an air-to-air missile at an enemy which is visible only as a blip on the radar screen many miles distant, and even a bit more when that blip goes ‘poof ’ and disappears, alleging a kill.

>>> That admittedly lofty level of video game feedback cannot compare with the air-punching elation that comes with rolling in on an armored column. You ignore the incoming tracers whizzing past in your peripheral vision, put the gun cross on an advancing tank a mile or so distant, squeeze off a few rounds and watch said tank explode as a combat mix of armor-piercing and high-explosive incendiary 30-millimeter rounds drives home and detonates. That, ladies and gentlemen, is feedback at its very best and this was the prospect the Bear laid out before me as night transitioned into dawn.

I was a beaten man. My old friend the Bear had left my feeble line of reasoning in tatters and by the time I had recovered from my raging hangover, my chosen career path had been irreversibly altered and resolved. ‘We’ came to a splendid decision that night. Thanks again, Bear; I owe you another one.

Firmly persuaded, I strolled into our Base Personnel Office on the Monday and signed over my hard-earned entitlement to awesome power, blazing speed and the admiration of fast jet aficionados the world over in exchange for a 350-knot airplane that sounded like a huge ceiling fan and looked very much like a slug with wings.

It would be quite a while before I appreciated exactly what I gained when I signed that upgrade (downgrade?) request.

As there were no A-10s based in Europe when  we  transitioned from the F-4, our first glimpse of the ’Hog came when we arrived in Tucson for training. We were taken aback by the size of the airplane, not necessarily because of sheer length, width or girth; more in terms of how conspicuous a target we were going to be lumbering slowly around the sky in this behemoth.

Virtually all Air Force flying training courses follow a similar profile. There’s always a certain amount of ground-based academic training required before they let you anywhere near an airplane and the A-10 course was no exception. We were quite amazed at the simplicity of the Warthog. Having flown a fighter developed in the ’60s for many years, we were acquainted with outdated technology but at least there was some technology to be acquainted with. The A-10 in most respects appeared to be a Second World War machine, tarted up with two fanjet engines. These didn’t seem to have much effect on the speed of the bird, but at least no one had to prime propellers to get it started.

The good news here was that pre-flying academics were relatively benign. The airplane was simple, operating systems and limitations were straightforward and, compared to learning the idiosyncrasies of the Phantom, getting ready to climb aboard the ’Hog was a piece of cake. What gnawed at us all a bit (although none of us would ever own up to it) was a slight twinge of apprehension about the crew configuration on the first hop. There were no two-seat training versions of the A-10 with space for a guardian angel to ride along. As much as we were exhilarated by the prospect of flying a single-seat fighter, none of us had ever taken a first flight in an Air Force aircraft without an instructor pilot in a second seat, just in case. This applied to all three pilot training birds and every aircraft thereafter. As motivated, confident and yes, arrogant as we all were, there was a small seed of ‘What if ?’ lurking inside us. While the instructor didn’t exactly just ‘plug in a microphone and run along outside’, he’d be chasing us in another aircraft and therefore unable to provide much more than verbal technical (and moral) support.

While we were busy getting accustomed to this kind of Second World War-era technology, another subtle and insidious event was taking place. We began to learn a bit more about the Ugly Duckling we were inheriting, and what was at first a slightly grudging acceptance of some of the less glamorous features of the aircraft began to grow into something much more substantial.

The folks that designed the ’Hog were well aware, as we all were, that an aircraft that big and that slow was going to take hits in a combat environment. It began to dawn on us that our little tantrums regarding the appearance of our new steed were a bit unfair and maybe, just maybe, there were some very positive features we were ignoring while focusing on the aesthetics, or lack thereof.

For example, the two enormous fanjet engines apparently added as an awkward afterthought to either side of the aft fuselage had one or two redeeming features: these were relatively quiet and bad guys with AK- 47s were unlikely to hear us coming until it was too late to react. They burned much cooler than conventional turbines and were therefore far less susceptible to ground-launched heat-seeking missiles. Indeed, the awkward positioning of the engines just forward of the twin vertical tailplanes meant that the reduced heat signature was actually shielded by these appendages, further reducing our heat ‘signature’ and lessening the risk of being tracked by a heat-seeker. Finally, unlike other jet’s engines snugly enclosed in the airplane’s fuselage, they could be readily swapped right to left or vice versa if damaged. This capability to ‘switch hit’ also applied to the main landing gear, primary aircraft flight controls – ailerons, rudders and elevators – and many external aircraft panels. This unique versatility proved invaluable in later years when aircraft parts were commonly switched back and forth to repair battle-damaged birds in the Gulf War and subsequent mêlées.

As I mentioned earlier, the aircraft was fitted with wheels which protruded slightly beneath their housings rendering them aesthetically repugnant and therefore of no real value. Au contraire! I was forced to recant when I learned they were designed that way to lessen aircraft damage  from  a  wheels-up  landing  necessitated  by  battle  damage  or hydraulic catastrophe. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the quirky landing gear retracts forward. Why? Without hydraulic pressure, you can unlock the gear and the combination of gravity and your headwind will help them fall into place and lock down. Oh, me of little faith!

We made more significant discoveries while we were checking out in the airplane. We were, for example, riding around on 1,200lb of molded titanium known as the bathtub. This handy bit of kit was inserted there to protect vulnerable flight control cables, fuel hydraulic and electrical lines and other components from ground fire. The most vital of those components, in my book, is my chubby pink ass and the reduced probability of being disemboweled by some Jihadi’s AK-47 round clearly trumped the flak we often caught from F-16 and F-15 drivers: ‘Going out to take another bath today, Steve?’ It was best to ignore the taunts; mincing ballerinas, all of them.

The fighter pilot’s worst nightmare, other than a fire in the cockpit, was that ‘golden BB’ (lucky shot) that penetrates the main hydraulic lines and freezes up all your flight controls with only a ‘step over the side’ option remaining. The ’Hog was designed with numerous features, not one of which improved its appearance (I keep coming back to this; what a pompous bastard I was) but instead were installed to bring us back alive from a thoroughly unpleasant outing in some Cold War or Middle Eastern shooting gallery. A few of them are outlined below.

Fighter aircraft have had dual flight control systems for a long time, but prior to the A-10 they were designed to compensate for system failure and consequently weren’t physically separated. The engineers who designed the ’Hog thought to themselves: ‘Man, the bad guys are going to beat this big, slow airplane like a red-headed stepchild; how can we get it home in one piece?’ so they set about fitting separate and distinct flight control channels on opposite sides of the aircraft which couldn’t both be taken out by the golden BB. Control inputs are transmitted to the flight controls by cables rather than the traditional rods. They are less likely to be taken out by a single bullet or jammed by structural damage. As noted above, the dual control systems are physically separated to further lessen the likelihood of catastrophic failure due to ground fire. Either system can be locked out from the cockpit, enabling degraded but controllable flight. If the proverbial shit really hits the fan, the last port of call is the manual reversion system, which provides limited control inputs to small trim tabs on the flight controls in the case of no hydraulic boost whatsoever.

Similar survival-oriented thinking went into the fuel system. Except for benign ferry missions, all fuel is carried internally. Fuel lines are protected by running them through the tanks and those tanks are lovingly cared for: they are tear-resistant, self-sealing and fitted with folded flame- resistant foam panels which expand when the tank is breached to limit fuel spillage and airflow to the damaged tank.

All the while we were learning about the survivability features the ’Hog afforded, we were undergoing a subtle but undeniable mental metamorphosis. Our going-in position of ‘I don’t want to be seen anywhere near this dreadful collection of  bumps,  lumps,  angular  irregularities and grotesque features’ was gradually being replaced with the steady emergence of an entirely different attitude. There was no denying it, flying this airplane was kicks and the more we sampled the instantaneous control responses, spectacular roll and turning capability, magnificent external visibility and efficient radio communications equipment, the more we began to appreciate the ’Hog (or, dare I say it, be seduced by her). Our training, as always, was a stair-stepped approach and, although it was sandwiched into a short period of time, the basic simplicity of flying the bird allowed relatively rapid progression. It wasn’t long before we had all mastered the nuts and bolts of getting it into the air and getting it back down again, at which time we were able to work on the fun stuff in between those two important events: employing the Warthog tactically. This involved another progression, first involving missions to the Air Force’s gunnery ranges to explore and then perfect our weapons delivery skills. In almost all respects, this phase of training was very similar to weapons programs in any other tactical fighter capable of delivering air-to- ground weapons. We carried weapons dispensers, each with six cute little 25lb blue bombs fitted with charges which discharged equally adorable little puffs of white smoke on impact. These puffs could be plotted on the target we were aiming at on the ground and a score provided; instant feedback (and something we could bet on within the flight – big stakes, normally – a quarter a bomb).

Note I said that the training was comparable to any other weapons programs in almost all respects. There was one significant difference. Shoehorned under our titanium bathtubs and occupying most of the fuselage real estate between nose and trailing edges of the wings is the most fearsome forward-firing weapon ever mounted in an aircraft. It was officially designated the Gun, Aircraft Unit (GAU) 8 Avenger. We just called it…

>>> The GUN! <<<

I’m not going to reel off dozens of technical specifications; Google ‘GAU-8’ if that’s what you’re looking for. No, I want to tell you what it does, how well it does it and how it makes us feel to pull that trigger.

When we were introducing the ’Hog to Europe, we often briefed NATO Military and European political leaders and we never failed to impress with a comparison photo involving a Volkswagen Beetle. This was a graphic demonstration of the dimensions of the Gun. The large cylindrical drum at the rear holds 1,170+ linkless rounds, which are cycled into the firing mechanism: a seven-barreled Gatling gun arrangement. After firing, the empty casings continue the cycle back into the drum so spent rounds are not ejected from the aircraft.

In my day, the GAU-8 was optimized to fire 4,200 rounds per minute (that’s 70 per second for those of you who are math dunces; don’t get upset at the label as I am among you). It has since been limited to 3,900 rpm, but let’s discuss the Gun at its peak.

The ultra-clever among you will have already noted the disparity between rounds carried (1,170) and 4,200 rpm. You are correct, but when you’re hurling seventy 30mm projectiles weighing just over a pound per second at a hapless enemy tank, size matters more than numbers, hence my comment above about the lack of necessity for prolonged bursts. Tests indicate the GAU-8 will routinely put around forty of those seventy rounds smack dab in the middle of a vehicle, unquestionably ruining a tank crew’s day in less than the blink of an eye.

These projectiles aren’t just long-neck beer-bottle-sized hunks of metal either. Going to war in the ’Hog means saddling up on a combat mix load of five armor-piercing incendiary (API) rounds to one high- explosive incendiary (HEI) projectile. The API rounds are the much- maligned depleted uranium rounds which are actually less radioactive than the average shovel full of earth from your garden, but have received lots of bad press simply because no one thought to call them something else.

The API rounds are designed to punch large holes through the substantial armor of a tank, followed in very close proximity by HEI.

This does an excellent job of ricocheting around the interior of a tank, causing the crew, in their very last thoughts, to wish they had become insurance salesmen.

The Gun is optimized to fire most accurately at around 4,000 ft from the target. This range is less important than it is for many guns because the extremely high velocity of the GAU-8 round when it leaves the barrel and the weight of the round mean they don’t decelerate rapidly. This results in a flat trajectory and an exceptionally accurate firing solution well beyond the optimum 4,000 ft.

At the same time we were integrating the airplane into the European Theater of Operations, the charisma of the ’Hog had begun to proliferate in bigger ways. Army commanders, witnessing the airplane’s performance in gunnery demonstrations and live fire displays could be heard extolling the virtues of the A-10 as a troop support weapons system. She had the ability to keep pressure on an enemy through lengthy loiter time, pinpoint weapons delivery accuracy and an impressive array of munitions, not the least of which was that crowd-pleasing Gatling gun. The grunts who would benefit most from the A-10’s act began to appreciate what we could do for them during various exercises which combined infantry and armored operations with close air support. Their enthusiasm would later reach a crescendo during the Gulf War (DESERT STORM) and subsequent skirmishes but getting used to the ’Hog took some time, for them as well as us.

>>> I was to spend the next 9 years flying the A-10 and I’ve never looked back The F-4 was magnificent and will always be a very slight favorite in my book, but the A-10 is only inches behind. The attack role is beyond a doubt the most challenging of all and the Close Air Support element provides the ultimate in testing the pilot’s skill and flexibility and providing job satisfaction.

To think I almost turned it down!

Colonel Steve Ladd, DFC, MSc, BSc was a career USAF officer, fighter pilot and commander for 28 years. During his career, he amassed over 4400 hours’ flying time, equally split between the F-4 Phantom and the A-10 Warthog. His Phantom credential includes over 400 hours (204 missions) of combat experience over North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Since retirement from the USAF he has been employed as a CAA Aerodrome inspector, Operations Director of Cardiff International Airport, Fast Jet Curriculum Development Lead for Ascent Flight Training, Ltd., and adjunct Professor of Aviation Science and Management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Colonel Ladd and his wife of 47 years live in Bristol, England.

Posted in Testimony of Pilot -Series, The Flying Circus, War and Remembrance | Comments Off on Phantoms to WartHogs

Anthology – RememberedSky Vietnam Air War ’72-’73 Stories

Testimony of Pilot # 28

“Those of us who came home will never forget those who could not ”           Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association

My return to Schoolboy from first combat mission, 28 April, 1972. Photo by Keith ‘Floo’ LaFlair

Rememberedsky was begun so as to tell stories from the ’72-73 Vietnam War beginning with response to the North Vietnamese 30 March Easter Offensive, on into Linebacker I & II operations by the USS Midway Carrier Airwing Five (CAG 5) and inclusive fighter and attack squadrons – VF-151, VF-161, VFP-63, VA-56, VA-93, and VA-115. Perspective was from my A-7B squadron, the VA-56 Champs, and the later from Dave Snako Kelly of the VA-115 A-6 squadron. An additional focal point was from the air-ground attack mission more than the air-air missions of the VF F-4 Phantom fighter squadrons – blowing stuff up, providing close airsupport to ground troops rather than hunting and killing MiGs.

USS Midway (Schoolboy) CAG Five fighter and attack squadrons: VF-151 Switchboxes, VA-56 Champs, VFP-63 Baby Giants, VA-115 A-rabs, VF-161 Rockrivers, VA-93 Ravens.

Most of that writing was done between 2012 and 2013, but stories still arise as by example the Missmus Bismus Christmas stories this last Christmas time of 2020. The expectation is there will be more on occasion, but this post provides a catalog of those stories  and links currently on line. As we go into the 49th anniversary of Linebacker I operations, some readers may find this listing of 43 TINS useful.

Linebacker I  Operations

  1. Air War Vietnam: Remembrance at 40 Years – All Days Come From One Day … Posted on September 19, 2012
  2. Dangerous Sky – Combat Rescue: Part #1 – Sandy Superb … Posted on September 23, 2012
  3. Dangerous Sky – Combat Rescue: Part # 2 – Wolf FAC … Posted on September 23, 2012
  4. Story Telling … Posted on October 14, 2012
  5. The “War and Remembrance” Thread … Posted on October 18, 2012
  6. Not On My Watch … Posted on October 18, 2012
  7. ALPHA Strike (Part 1) … Posted on October 19, 2012
  8. Stories of the Carrier – A Bad Night for Schoolboy (1/6) … Posted on October 24, 2012
  9. Schoolboy – stories from the night of 24 October 1972 (2-5/6) … Posted on October 24, 2012
  10. Schoolboy: Essence of Winning and Losing (6/6) … Posted on October 25, 2012
  11. ALPHA Strike (Part 2): Snako and Boris doing “Bidness” on same strike near Hanoi … Posted on November 20, 2012
  12. ALPHA Strike (Part 3): Snako’s MiG Kill … Posted on November 23, 2012

Linebacker II and Christmas 1972

  1. Christmas ’72 Stories: (1) The “Ornaments” from Ghosts of Christmas Past … Posted on December 25, 2012
  2. Christmas ’72 Stories: (2) Night time in the Red River Valley … Posted on December 26, 2012
  3. Christmas ’72 Stories: (4) Snako’s Two Night LB II Hat Trick … Posted on December 26, 2012
  4. Christmas ’72 Stories: (4) MiG-CAP & Roman Candles … Posted on December 27, 2012
  5. Christmas ’72 Stories: (5) What did we know? When did we know it? … Posted on December 29, 2012
  6. Christmas ’72 Stories: (6) “We had been there too long!” … Posted on December 29, 2012
  7. War and Remembrance 18 December 1972; Linebacker II and the General Who Made It So … Posted on December 18, 2017
  8. Missmus Bismus #1: The Ghosts of Christmas Past … Posted on December 22, 2020 
  9. Missmus Bismus #2: The Ornaments … Posted on December 23, 2020
  10. Missmus Bismus #3: Shangri-La…found .. Posted on December 24, 20
  11. Missmus Bismus #4: Epilogue .. Posted on December 24, 2020 

 Post Linebacker II and Into 1973

  1. Christmas ’72 Stories: (8) “A-rab Beeper, come up voice.” … Posted on January 15, 2013
  2. Forty Years Ago Tonight … Morning of 24 January onboard USS Midway inbound to Subic Bay after our eighth Line Period … Posted on January 23

Operation Homecoming 

  1. Christmas ’72 Stories, Epilogue: Linebacker II and the POWs – Prelude to Coming Home ... Posted on March 17, 2013
  2. Operation Homecoming Part 1: The POWs Come Home … Posted on March 17, 2013
  3. Operation Homecoming Part 2: Some History … Posted on March 17, 2013
  4. Operation Homecoming Part 3: Jack Fellowes … Posted on March 17, 2013
  5. Operation Homecoming Part 4: The Bracelets … Posted on March 17, 2013
  6. Operation Homecoming Part 5: Always Leading and Always Will … Posted on March 29, 2013
  7. Operation Homecoming Part 6: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton … Posted on March 31, 2013
  8. Operation Homecoming Part 7: Lady and the Flag … Posted on April 2, 2013
  9. Operation Homecoming Part 8: The First and the Last … Posted on
  10. Operation Homecoming Part 9: The POW 40th Reunion … Posted on June 4, 2013 

People

  1. Smokey- For love of the game … Posted on November 6, 201
  2. Christmas ’72 Stories: (7) A Gentlemen’s GentlemanPosted on January 6, 2013
  3. Gifts & Reflection – No Better Title: “These Good Men” … Posted on February 2, 2013
  4. Memorial Day 2015: Mondo and Arlo ... Posted on  by Ed

Reflection

  1. Christmas ’72 Stories: (Final) Gifts, a Tree, and a Turkey with all the Trimmings … Posted on January 24, 2013
  2. Year of War- Reflection … Posted on June 4, 2013
  3. Missmus Bismus #4: Epilogue … Posted on December 24, 2020 
Welcome to North Vietnam

Posted in War and Remembrance | Comments Off on Anthology – RememberedSky Vietnam Air War ’72-’73 Stories

Of tin gods and STEEL MAGNOLIAS

Testimony of Pilot #27

There are much safer and more bountiful ways to proceed successfully through life than jumping into a “tin” fast mover, looking  for fun and adventure playing with the clouds or screaming down some riverbed at 100 feet with your rear end on fire. This is strikingly and soberingly true when you are called to do for real what you’ve been  trained for, war from the air.

This post is for the wives who wait… sometimes in vain… for the return of their tin gods from that charge into the fire.

These women most assuredly were and are Steel Magnolias.

Prelude – A Chapel and a Bridge

11 March 1972, Point Mugu Chapel one really beautiful woman and if I do say so myself, a rather dashing swash buckling Naval Aviator attack pilot type join in marriage. No time for a honeymoon we head back to Lemoore to continue training to go out for carrier qualification in the A-7 including first ever night landings. Little did we know that a month later, I’d be on my way to Yankee Station and the sky’s of North Vietnam on Linebacker missions as the result of the NVN invasion of the South on 30 March – the Easter Offensive. My squadron had a shoot down, POW within a month.
Left crying on the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge as USS Midway sails beneath – one really crappy way for a brand new bride to start a new life. But here we are 49 years later. She’s still beautiful, a great artist, and I can still use my hands –“there I was at 100 ft…” – to tell some TINS ( “this is no s..t” ) flyboy stories.

Here’s to you my love
Words from a recent read: “Burning the days”

Training Unavailable

On the morning of 11 March this year, FaceBook offered up for me one of my“most liked posts of 2016” – the picture above of my wife and I on our wedding day in 1972. The prelude was my posted reply.
Lots of memories of leaving a bride so soon and unexpectedly, with first combat not long afterward. On this day 49 years ago USS Midway had crossed the Pacific, bypassing Hawaii, spent a couple of days at Cubi Point and her aircraft were now flying their first combat in  siege relief missions at An Loc, South Vietnam.
Needless to say, the VA-56 wives went through some serious trauma over the next 11 months with the loses of Garry, Smokey, and John and POWs Al and Mike. The picture above, the memories all lead to me wanting to remember those aviator wives, a part – important part – of RememberedSky and “Testimony of Pilot.” We shit hot naval aviators in speed jeans considered ourselves invincible and doing what we’d been trained to do – uh Tin Gods so to speak as one book title relates.. But the wives – now they were something else, something a lot more “else” ….

Perspective…. of sorts

Hollywood has ALWAYS  played on the love interests in war movies particularly related to aviators with the pictures below offered by way of example. The 1927 Wings with Clara Bow was the winner of the first Academy Award for Best Picture. Grace Kelly is unforgettable as the Navy wife of William Holden in The Bridges at Toko-Ri …
And of course, the more recent TOPGUN with Kelly and Meg.
But movies are just movies, sometimes they get it close but other times its just playing the entertainment click bate advertising shtick.

Sex and the Naval Aviator

Sometime in the 70s,  a Navy flight surgeon, Lieutenant Commander – later Captain –  Frank Dully, created a briefing and provided talks at multiple naval air stations focused on mission accomplishment and safety that was also aimed at helping the wives of naval aviators better understand their husbands. It was entitled “Sex and the Naval Aviator.”

In today’s climate he would most likely find himself in front of whatever board in the Pentagon resembles corporate human resources, but in those days the title, the colorful language and irreverent references were designed to capture the attention of the fine young men and their wives (yes, only young men were aviators in those days).  His motivation was aviation safety and he wanted to  drive home the message that distraction in the cockpit kills, no matter the source.

Dully suggested a method for eliminating the distractions not only of  family life, but of everything but flying. He called it “compartmentalization.” It is a technique of mentally boxing up everything unrelated to aviation in your brain and filing it away in a sealed “compartment.” That way your sterile cockpit -your whole mental approach – begins as you start a mission brief and that rule persists through your preflight, cockpit checks, start-up, run-up and takeoff—right through the entire flight, whether combat or training.

But that was not the whole message. He also addressed the wives end of the equation.

Dully emphasized that she has this invisible trash bag over her shoulder and all this stuff goes in there. The bag does not have a vent at the bottom. It just gets fuller and fuller and fuller. It gets heavier and heavier and heavier. Wives are left behind much of the time to take care of the family, often living in Spartan base housing or in off-base homes they can barely afford. The lifestyle often leads to resentment and marital problems, and sometimes separation and divorce.

Dully said his research showed that Marine and Navy fighter pilots are bright, aggressive and ambitious; 80% of them are the oldest sons. He describes the typical aviator as a special breed. Many of the pilots marry the oldest daughters who also are bright, aggressive and ambitious. Both husband and wife want to be “controllers,” and because of his absence during long deployments and training missions she is forced “to become independent in a way that she never thought existed.

And that’s just the peacetime flying environment.

Combat Wives: Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs)

This has been a hard section to write. But then it hit me… upfront, I’m not qualified to write this section.”Pilot-speak” is simply inadequate, this story telling needs to come from the women who lived it. so, what I’ll attempt to do is provide some context.

New aviators – nuggets – come into their first squadron possibly not knowing anyone BUT they’ve been through the same exacting training and know many of the stories.  They have much to learn but the day-day environment is common and the basis for that learning is well laid out.

Wives on the other hand have found a partner but the flying is not their dream, they weren’t picked by the military, they just got thrown into the cauldron. There has been no training pipeline for dealing with the daily worry or the sudden notification of a shoot-down or a POW.

They learn quickly, throwing Mexican food parties augmented with ample margaritas -have each others back. Fortunately there are always a couple of senior officers’ wives who’ve done this before. While a military wife has no rank, the commanding officer and executive officer’s wives lead in a way hard to describe -mother, sister, best friend and always as vulnerable as all the others – maybe even more so because their husbands lead the missions, set the example, always out in front.

For us their tin gods, their “mission accomplishment” always seemed harder than ours. WE chose the life, we trained for it and we knew pretty much what to expect on any given mission, AND we knew for a fact we were invincible.  They on the other hand dealt with day-day uncertainty and the definite possibility of loss. tin gods but STEEL MAGNOLIAS.

Reflection

Flying a tactical fighter/attack aircraft requires a lot of training, focus and attitude, but the level of fun is almost immeasurable. Neither getting shot at by AAA or SAM, nor landing on a carrier at night can be classified as fun, but it is adventure of the highest order. Marriage to that is one whole different thing… so here’s to Mona, Pat, Kent, Lorna, Betsy, Carole, Ellen, Susan, Valerie, Karen, Virginia, Gail, Bev, Dianne, AND of course, most particularly Paulette, and to all the various squadron wives…
From the Willie Nelson in all of us
maybe I  didn’t hold you all those lonely, lonely times… You were always on my  mind … you were always on my  mind

Epilogue

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The Flying Circus Toy Shop: Recommendations

The Flying Circus

Hey Mom, when I grow up I wanna be a fighter pilot …………… Son, I’m sorry, but you can’t do both

… of flight jackets, patches, aircraft pictures, models, books, watches, coffee mugs, ‘I luv me walls’ and old toys and … of  history, memories, and of the  friends

The “Remembered Sky” Enterprise [ 😉 ] includes this site, a Facebook page of the same name, a collection of flight jackets, coffee mugs, ball caps, old flight suits, model airplanes, pictures, and the museum-ish office/library/computer center referred to as the Toy shop or Pilot Lounge. I have collected a lot of aviation stuff since obtaining wings of gold in 1969 and some cleaning up and putting some away in boxes is periodically required. Many of my friends relate that their wives have relegated ALL to the garage, but for me I’m lucky to have had my third car garage converted to an office by the previous owner and my wife lets it be mine -all mine!!!

Working Remembered Sky I’ve made lots of new friends, collected a lot of stories to come out in the future and done business with some great folks. My five aviation best are now represented as “highly recommended” (no financial connections other than out of my wallet) on the right side of the web page. You can read about them on their sites, but below are my stories of why  the links are there.

RS Recommended Aviation Business Links Continue reading

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Missmus Bismus #4: Epilogue

Testimony of Pilot# 26

I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable. — Viktor Frankl

All I claim to know is that laughter is the most reliable gauge of human nature. — Feodor Dostoyevsky

At the ‘Prom’ – Mike ‘Manny’ Bader, Kent Bader, Ed ‘Boris’ Beakley, Paulette Beakley

The four part Missbus Bismus series is based on memories brought on by the Christmas season and particularly those of 1972 during the Vietnam War. I’ve tried very hard to center the writing on either people or laughter.

As the historical story has been told, the end of the war in Vietnam is considered mainly the result of the Christmas bombing operations of Linebacker II –the eleven days of Christmas.

I’ve used the convention of memories as ornaments and gifts and so I’ll end this “Christmas Stories” series discussing what I choose to refer to as the extended in time gifts of Christmas 1972 – memories beyond price. There are seven story gifts, all but one (the picture above in context) in the link below and summarized here: Continue reading

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Missmus Bismus #3: Shangri-La…found

Testimony of Pilot# 25

The comic and the tragic lie inseparably close, like light and shadow. Socrates

The human race has only one effective weapon, and that is laughter. Mark Twain

  • Shangri-La is a fictional place sought and wished for by many, described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. He describes Shangri-La as a mystical, harmonious valley amongst high mountains. Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise, particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia – a permanently happy land, isolated from the world.

USS Midway and Airwing Five had deployed seven weeks early because of the North Vietnamese 30 March’72 invasion of the South known as the Easter Offensive, We began combat operations on the 28th of April and were now in our seventh line period (of nine eventually).  A little pleasure of “shangri-la” would most certainly be welcome.

But before getting to discussion of finding Shangri-la and  of Bob Hope, Red  Foxx, and all the ladies, plus some serious partying, a little context  is appropriate. Continue reading

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Missmus Bismus #2: The Ornaments

Testimony of Pilot# 24

Missmus Bismus, Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas

USS Midway in San Diego Harbor. Photo by Sandi Whitteker.

Remembered Sky was introduced on September 15th of 2012 and the first post included the introductory piece of Ghosts Of Christmas Past written for Christmas 1999 in relation to the upcoming first meeting over the holidays with “Frenchy”- fellow Naval Aviator and my future son-in-law. Ghosts offered the words of writers like James Michener and Herman Wouk as Christmas “ornaments” collected over a career and love affair with flying and Naval Aviation. Originally sent along the old-boy naval  aviator e-mail chain, it was later published in MIG SWEEP, the magazine of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association (River Rats), and then on Project White Horse 084640 as part of the 100th year anniversary of Naval Aviation.

I like these written ornaments and though I’ve posted them before, it seems a good way to reflect on the intersection of  traditional Christmas elements and those special people and memories that arise out of the military wartime experience.  … Merry Christmas to all and particularly to “these good men” still serving the United States of America.

Here is the link to the original 1999 second part of Ghosts of Christmas Past republished on RemberedSky on Christmas Day 2012:

Christmas ’72 Stories: (1) The “Ornaments” from Ghosts of Christmas Past

Continue reading

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Missmus Bismus #1: The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Testimony of Pilot# 23

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”   Jacob Marley (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

Missmus Bismus, Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas

The back wall in Boris’s toy shop, the domain of Elvis the Elf, fixer of all model aircraft, hammer in hand

Christmas of course is a time of the birth of a child , of a star, and of ornaments, brightly wrapped presents, eggnog, parties, long established traditions, family and good friends and most certainly of memories.  For some of us, there are those inescapable memories that come like it or not of a war finally unleashed, but with the accompanying stress, fear and inevitable loss. The 1972 eleven days of Christmas included some incredible stupidity, multiple examples of above and beyond bravery, a manifestation of hope long battered for the residents of the Hanoi Hilton, and the portending of their return to freedom.

The intersection of those great Christmas memories and the unbidden wartime memories is the people . For the Christmas of this horrible year, I’ve dusted off some writing that focuses on the friends indelibly linked – “these good men.”

It would most certainly be an unforced error in ignoring ole Marley’s words, no? Continue reading

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Complete Series List: 1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier

Blown Slick Series #13 

1942 – The Year of the Aircraft Carrier

Given the two years plus this series has taken, below is a list/linkage for easy access  for all 30 posts. But first a bit of  site background review ...

Remembered Sky began as a way to tell the stories  of myself and my friends on that ’72-’73 Vietnam war cruise on USS Midway, for Linebacker I and II. A significant catalyst was also my decision in regard to the 100th year anniversary of Naval Aviation to spend some time re-reading my collection of books and articles, discussing the details of that 100 years. This included my continuing fascination with the history of the Battle of Midway which encompasses  the evolution of carrier warfare and the 1930’s Fleet Battle Problems, and then finally re-treading my own years within that  story.

Moving along first, these paths of exploration of naval aviation’s beginnings, and second, the distinct passage for all U.S. airpower that was the air war in Vietnam, and the somewhat different tracks that the Air Force and Navy followed post Vietnam on into Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, I began to sense and then finally acknowledge that  with my own experiences and aeronautical engineering education, I was developing very distinct questions, arguments, opinions, and outright disagreement with certain aspects of the analysis and conclusions about airpower being offered by many of the current crop of well respected academic, historian, and military analysts.

That questioning along with a recent bit of research and analysis I conducted as a paid consultant focusing on potential testing and training scenarios for the F-35, all together convinced me that the next step for Remembered Sky should be a move from air warfare storytelling to air warfare analysis. This then is the back story for discussion of the evolution of fighter, attack, and strike fighter airpower application  – Blown SlickLight Attack Fast Pursuit Airpower Analysis – the series.

Any assessment of future air power must certainly take into account China’s growing defense capability, objectives, and ongoing operations in the South China Sea. This suggested that a  reasonable starting point  would be a review of that first year of WW II in the Pacific, the Japanese island chain or co-prosperity sphere, and the emergence of aircraft carrier warfare. The sub-series posts provide a review of the four major carrier battles throughout 1942. And thus, Blown Slick #13 – 1942 the Year of the Aircraft Carrier.

Tales of the South Pacific

The following is a complete listing with links to each article:

Continue reading

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1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 30 – Conclusion* or “Tales of the South Pacific”

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 30

Life is rooted in narrative, humans construct their lives and shape their world in terms of these  memories. Storytelling taps into existing knowledge and creates bridges as a means for sharing and interpreting experiences. Facts can be understood as smaller versions of a larger story, and thus storytelling can supplement analytical thinking and demonstrate the potential of human accomplishment.

This is the concluding post for a two year effort focused on carrier aviation in 1942. The final piece borrows the title of James A. Michener’s  Pulitzer Prize winning 1947 book Tales of the South Pacific to emphasize a point.

This effort was never intended as a draft of a book, or as a retelling in shorter form of the battles of 1942 in the Pacific. I’m not an historian, nor author. I am though, a great reader of history and if it concerns combat aviation – particularly Navy – I’m you’re huckleberry! But digging in type reading reveals elements and stories that even interested people may never have realized. And so my offerings. Continue reading

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