Category Archives: Army Aviation

American Bomber Boys

I have long had a fascination with the aviators of WW2. In training, it was up or out. And by “out”, so many were killed in training flights and not simply washed out. Chuck Yeager’s autobiography had a chapter or 2 on his training days at Tonopah, NV.

I’d have to admire any aviator who, graduating from the venerable PT-17 (Stearman) biplane, to the T-6 (called by the AAF) or SNJ (called by the Navy) when finally strapped into a 1,500 hp Mustang or 2,000 hp Corsair (there were no dual seat trainers) and takes off, hopefully giving it enough rudder so the massive torque wouldn’t run it off the runway.

And kill yourself.

Happened to a lot of students.

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8th AAF Attrition

Bill Brandt, June 24, 2022

I just started a book that Hogday recommended, about the 8th Army Air Force in England. I know that they suffered tremendous casualties, but just cold numbers really don’t tell the whole story. Yes, more were killed flying those bombers and fighters into Nazi-occupied Europe than all of the Marines killed in the Pacific. Over 26,000 airmen were lost in those skies.

One had to complete 25 missions before you could rotate home and the odds, particularly in 1943, of doing that were if not stacked against you, pretty heavy. I’m trying to remember a statistic citing death or seriously wounded before those 25 missions were complete, but 1:3 seems to come to mind.

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Lady Be Good

Lady Be Good, as discovered 16 years later, in 1959

She was named after a popular song that had been written by George Gershwin. It had been turned into a movie.

She was a nearly new B-24D, just flown from the States to serve in the 376th Bomb Group at Soluch Airfield, Libya where the Group was tasked with bombing Italian ports feeding Hitler’s war machine.

Her crew of 9 were typical of men during that time, all in their 20s, some leaving young wives and fiancées. They had never been on a combat mission previously.

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The Ones Who Didn’t Return

I have been doing more reading these last few years, and a book recommended by a fellow Lexican is almost finished. Chickenhawk, by Robert Mason, tells of the author’s journey from Army Helicopter training at Ft Wolters, TX to some of the biggest battles, such as Ia Drang, of the Vietnam War. All from the prospective of an Army UH-1 “Huey” pilot. His story begins with the start of the massive build up, in 1965.

He wrote about everything from the difficulty in training at Wolters, to the stupid stuff like not having any flak jackets – causing the deaths of friends – for months while a neighboring unit 100 miles away had more than they knew what to do with.

And no, the book title is not about what you may think it is.

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The Memphis Belle – Her Final Mission

I’m watching a wonderfully produced program on YouTube on the Memphis Belle. Beautifully made because it goes from the restoration crew at Wright-Patterson doing the restoration, telling you how they refabricated parts, to voices of the now-gone crew talking about certain missions, to general information on her missions first to France, then Germany.

The Belle was famous – became an iconic piece of American history, for finishing 25 missions and boosting the morale of a war-weary American public.

Among the things I learned during her 6 month combat tour was that 10 engines were replaced, major wing parts, and the vertical stabilizer.

That a flight crew had only a 28% chance of surviving though the magic 25 combat missions and the ticket home.

How A-List Hollywood Director William Wyler, in Europe as an Army Major, picked the Belle as the B-17 he would use to document the war.

How every day in the War, the Pentagon sent 297 telegrams to the families of the 8th AAF crewmen giving them the worst news.

When I reviewed the book by Erik Larson on Churchill’s first year as PM, I came to the realization to get those fantastic recollections of family members, they had to have kept diaries.

Apparently many people in the 40s kept diaries, including the co-pilot of the Belle and a waist gunner.

We are the richer for it.

“After 13 years in the restoration hanger, the Memphis Belle was ready for her final mission. She would tell a story of valor and sacrifice for those whose voices are now silent”

It is well worth the hour it takes to view it.

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An Act of Chivalry and Nobility Amid the Carnage

A painting by John Hall commemorating that event.

For those you who have used the Internet awhile, you probably heard the story decades ago. Probably in the early 90s. The interesting thing about this is that when it was revealed it was a mystery solved after 47 years.

In the darkness of a December 20, 1943 morning in an English side Quonset hut, an orderly shined a light into the face of Lt Charles “Charlie” Brown to tell him that it was time to get up and attend the briefing.

Members of the 379th Bomb Group of the mighty 8th Army Air Force were to receive their briefing for that day’s bombing raid.

They were to bomb the Focke-wulf aircraft factory on the Northern German coast at Bremen.

They were told to expect heavy flak and hundreds of fighters in opposition. The CO giving the briefing, Col “Mo” Preston, would be leading the massive formation. He was no commander who led from the desk.

Although LT Brown and his crew had trained together and had 100s of hours stateside in the Flying Fortress, this would be his first bombing mission with that crew. After 100s of hours, the crew became as a family.

At Bremen during that same hour, a German Luftwaffe Leutnant, Franz Stigler, was most likely sleeping. They wouldn’t know about the raid until hours later. The B-17 crews deliberately had no radio communication once they started up on the tarmac.

Because the enemy was listening.

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Don’t try this at home

Posted by lex, on September 5, 2006

Received in an email (tks, dwas):

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Filed under Afghanistan, Army Aviation, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, GWOT, Heroes Among Us, Lex

The Mighty Eighth

TheColdBlue

Last year, I screened The Cold Blue, which was an amazing film. In WW2, 5 famous Hollywood directors, William Wyler, John Huston, John Ford, George Stevens, and Frank Capra went into harm’s way with small film crews and documented the war. John Ford, for example shot – I believe- the only footage of Midway as it was being attacked.

I’m in danger of swaying into this fascinating story, but I will say one thing. The war affected them all, and it can be reflected in their post war work. George Stevens, for example, having seen so much death and destruction in Europe, in making Shane, thought gunfire and being shot should be portrayed realistically, a first for a Hollywood Western.

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Filed under Air Force, Army Aviation, Movie Review, Patriotism, USAF, Valor

A Distant Christmas Eve

For those of us who have been allowed more years, it is interesting what age does to perspective.  When I was in the Army serving in the FRG – Federal Republic of Germany in 1973 and 1974, I thought WW2 was ancient history. I was 23 years old.

And I had had a college deferment, so by the time I got drafted at the ripe old age of 22, I was considered an “old man” in some quarters.

And how I ended up in Germany – a bureaucratic quirk of fate – is the subject of another story.

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Book Review: Vietnam To Western Airlines

Vietnam

Imagine for a moment that you are an airline Captain or First Officer who is also a Vietnam aviation veteran. You’ve leveled off at cruising altitude, the autopilot is on, and it is a dark, quiet night.

You naturally start up a conversation with your left or right seater to while away the hours.

You learn that he also flew in Vietnam, and you hear his story. Sometimes the story you are hearing is the first time it’s been told, outside of his family.

There were stories told, from veteran to veteran.

After a few of these stories, you have the idea to put them in a book “someday”, and you ask your fellow crewmen if they would put their own stories to paper for you.

The years go by and a lot of these stories are sitting in a box in your garage.

There’s others that you get from your friends who know other Western Airlines Vietnam veterans with their own stories.

Thirty-seven stories and 25 or 30 years later, the book is finally published.

I’ve just described this wonderful book, Vietnam to Western Airlines.

It was loaned to me by a friend, who also happens to be a retired Western Airlines pilot.

He had been telling me about this book for some months and naturally, since Western merged with Delta in 1986, 28 years ago, I figured that this book must have been published years ago.

It came out just last year.

Virtually all of the writers will tell you how a typical mission went from takeoff to landing. You’ll hear from a B52 pilot who was involved in a midair collision with another B52, and another B52 pilot who will tell you how a typical Arc Light mission went.

There is a story involving 2 Navy A-1 pilots searching for a downed Air Force pilot. Night was coming; they were running low on fuel but didn’t want to abandon their fellow airman. The rescue involved the use of a cigarette lighter and a co-operative carrier captain, and couldn’t have been imagined by the best Hollywood screenwriter.

You’ll land at a remote Special Forces camp – so close to the Ho Chi Minh trail you could hear the convoys at night – and ferry Montagnard tribesmen in your C-7 Caribou. You’ll wonder how the Green Berets – in the middle of nowhere, always had clean, starched and creased uniforms.

Fly with a Marine in his UH-1 “Huey” on a typical mission to help besieged Khe Sanh. He brought supplies and took out the wounded and dead – for 77 days.

He learned quickly to time his ground time to 25 seconds – loading, unloading and refueling – because the North Vietnamese mortar men could reload in 32 seconds.

Learn from an Air Force FAC (Forward Air Control) pilot flying the little Cessna O2 about how he did his work – and did you know – once they arrived in-country they went to an orientation school informally named “FAC-U”?

Who says the military has no sense of humor?

Did you know that the Navy had a squadron of OV-10 pilots – called the “Black Ponies”?

You’ll read amazing stories from these pilots and others who flew F4s, F105s, F100s, A-4s, C-130s, AC-130s , even an EC-121.

I don’t want to reveal the entire book here but give you just a sample of things I learned. There are 37 fascinating stories, and the editor said that was just a sample of the Vietnam pilots who flew for Western Air Lines.

One other thing that intrigued me – even amused me.

More than one aviator quoted from a book entitled “Tactical Aerodrome Directory, South Vietnam”

Consider it like a Jeppensens for small airports and dirt strips throughout South Vietnam. You pilots who complain about certain difficult conditions in airports here just consider the warnings this book gave on various strips.

It was life and death seriousness during the war, but funny today. Just believe me, the warnings they gave for South Vietnamese airstrips don’t exist here.

If it weren’t for Bruce Cowee capturing and editing these stories, they would have been eventually lost forever. Equal thanks  go to his friends who gave us their stories.

This book is one of the few that having finished, will stay in my library and not passed on to a friend. This one was loaned but I am getting a copy.

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