Category Archives: Army Aviation

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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Angel Thunder 2014

(Cross posted at Air Pogue)

What is now the USAF Para Rescue concept was born in the Army Air Force during WWII out of the need to drop rescue personnel in remote locations to assist downed air crews.  Their mission has evolved over the years.  In the late 1940’s and 1950’s the cold war mission of the Air Force placed aircraft over areas where the only practical extraction was via ground, and the PJ’s (para jumpers) we survival experts who dropped to downed crews with the skills to keep them alive till help arrived.  During the Viet Nam conflict the mission evolved into combat search and rescue, with the HH-3 and HH-53 helicopters becoming famous as “Jolly Green Giants.”  With the Iraq and Afghanistan wars the mission was again modified to support special operations.

 

Yours truly providing a familiarization briefing to US and Columbian Special Forces troops.  (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Chris Massey/Released)

 

Angel Thunder is an annual Personnel Recovery exercise where US and foreign forces can practice their combat search and rescue skills.  This year our unit was involved in several supporting missions.  In the video above, the Blackhawks without the refueling probes were ours.  The grey ones with the probes are the Air Force Pavehawks.  Those special forces troops and the Columbian special forces guys shown were some of our customers.  We did several air assaults with them, and I was lucky enough to crew on three of them.

 

As part of this years exercise, we started by transporting the “White Cell” staff around for their various planning and coordination sessions.  The White Cell are kind of like the umpires of the exercise.  Other activities we were involved in were unconventional recoveries  and a downed aircrew exercise.  For the downed aircrew exercise we flew a mission that was supposed to put a Navy/Marine remote air control tower at a local airport.  The scenario had two ships shot down and a third damaged, with hostile ground activity requiring the downed crews and passengers to navigate cross country to the pick up point.  While we knew there would be a downed crew scenario, none of us knew when or how it was to come down.  The remote tower people were completely taken by surprise, and were not happy campers having to hike through mountainous desert with all their gear.  With them were a couple SERE (survival school) instructors evaluating the exercise.  After a strenuous 4 hour hike they made the PZ (pickup zone) in time for our Apache gunship escort to clear the area for us while we went in for a night recovery using night vision goggles.  This is pretty much how we make our money in Army aviation.  Fortunately for those on the ground one of the crew chiefs who was shot down with them gave them a brief on what to expect when we showed up.  A night helicopter pickup is not like you see in the movies – it’s loud, blinding and painful, particularly in the desert where the debris kicked up by the rotor wash all seems to head for your face.  It’s also disorienting being dark and dusty.  Being an exercise, we took our time picking them up to make sure we had everyone strapped in safely before picking up.  In a hostile area we would make sure we had the right number of people, close the doors and go.

 

For our air assault missions we would fly to Tuscon, pick up our troops and fly to the exercise area in Florence for the insertion.  The scenario was four friendlies had been captured and were being held by the bad guys.  Our ODA (Operational Detachment A) Team and the Columbian Special Forces soldiers would assault the target buildings and either gather intelligence, capture a high value target, rescue the hostages, or all of the above.  Being an exercise, of course the first couple of raids came up empty.  The first two raids were night operations, so there isn’t much video of them.  The final raid was done during the day, with the troops rescuing the hostages, and capturing the “high value target,” who regrettably succumbed to his injuries (simulated!).

 

This was an excellent two weeks of training – we flew 180 hours plus another 130 hours of simulator training for some of our new crew members.  We got to work with other services, federal and local agencies, foreign military and the special operations community, which is always a good time.  We also made some connections with people we can hopefully train with in the future.

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Filed under Air Force, Are we having fun yet?, Army Aviation

MAAM P-61B Black Widow Restoration Update

The MAAM's P-61B Black Widow as she currently appears.

The MAAM’s P-61B Black Widow as she currently appears.

We’ve written before about the Mid Atlantic Air Museum’s Northrop P-61 Black Widow here.

Northrop’s P-61 Black Widow is the only night-fighter designed as such from the ground up. Built and flown in 1942, the P-61 could arguably be called one of the first fighter aircraft designed as an entire weapon system, namely the SCR-720A Airborne Radar.

The P-61s SCR-720A  airborne radar as it appears under the aircraft's radome.

The P-61s SCR-720A airborne radar as it appears under the aircraft’s radome.

As we also mentioned there are a few on display throughout the world including the National Museum of the United States Air Force (at Wright/Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH) and the National Air and Space Museum Uvdar-Hazy Annex (at Dulles International Airport in Washington DC).

The only soon-to-be flyable P-61 is owned by the Mid Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania. The Museum was gracious enough to dedicate a portion of it’s website solely to give people a chance to see the restoration in progress (the website was last updated on 13 December 2013). The P-61 has always fascinated me and it’s interesting to see the aircraft from pieces to almost a complete aircraft. Just over the past few months there has been great progress on the P-61, enough that it’s being publicly displayed so you can view the Black Widow as she’s being restored. Below is one of the latest photos from the MAAM’s P-61B restoration site.

The right nose landing gear of the MAAM's P-61B

The right nose landing gear of the MAAM’s P-61B

The video below gives you a bit of a walkaround on the MAAM’s P-61:

An interesting thing to me was the detail with which the radar operator’s station at the rear of the main fuselage. Here’s an illustration of what the radar operator’s station looks like from the P-61’s Pilot’s Operating Manual (I know you know I have one…lol):

P-61 Radar Operator's Station.

P-61 Radar Operator’s Station.

Compare that with how it now appears after the restoration:

view into the RO's compartment from the boarding laddar view into the R.O.'s compartment from the aft boarding laddarPICT1352This example of the restored Radar Operator’s station serves to underline the painstaking care that the Museum is taking to get the Black Widow not only to flying condition but also “1942” flying condition.

This particular aircraft even has an interesting history in it’s own right. You can learn more about that courtesy of Warbird Radio. If you don’t only to learn about the MAAM’s P-61, you can also be part of it by donating to the restoration here. That’s your chance to be part of history.

I can’t wait to see this aircraft completed to be flyable. Hell I’d be the first to volunteer to fly it 🙂

A P-61 Black Widow in her glory days.

A P-61 Black Widow in her glory days.

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Filed under Aeronautical Engineering, Airplanes, Army Aviation, Flying, Good Stuff, Heroes Among Us, History, Plane Pr0n, Really Good Stuff

Hopes high that restored B-29 ‘Doc’ will fly in 2014 Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/2014/01/01/3206432/hopes-high-that-restored-b-29.html#storylink=cpy

The Wichita-built vintage Boeing B-29 Superfortress under restoration inside a Boeing hangar may fly as soon as this summer, volunteers on the project say.

T.J. Norman, the volunteer project manager for "Doc," points out what is believed to be a bullet hole that had been repaired in the B-29. (December 12, 2013)  Bo Rader/ The Wichita Eagle

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by | January 1, 2014 · 8:46 pm

Cutaway Thursday: Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior

Learjet 85 New Poster Layout

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Filed under Aeronautical Engineering, Army Aviation, Uncategorized

The Hump

We are losing our WWII vets at an ever increasing rate. My father-in-law and my father, both veterans of the war in the Pacific, have passed away in the last 5 years or so. I am reading about the history of the Battle of Okinawa, which my father-in-law participated in, and today I received an e-mail about the incredible losses suffered in the air wars over Europe and the Pacific, and the heartbreaking losses in…the United States. The U.S. lost 14 or 15,000 aircraft alone in training in the United States, and at least 22,000 operationally in the war overseas.

There were literally kids with barely 100 hours or so flying combat missions. Transitions to new fighters were quick and not like we know training today. No ground school, no transitional training, no practice solos. You start it, you fly it.

My Dad had a story about his training after leaving the U. S. that amazed me and I’d like to share it with you.

Dad’s story was about when he showed up in India to fly the Hump.

The Hump. India to China, with the highest mountains in the world in between. No radar, no nav systems, no accurate weather predictions, and unpressurized aircraft.  Direct reckoning navigation, and a mistake was a one time thing. Cumulogranite clouds are unforgiving.

Dad had never flown the C-46 and the first thing he does upon arrival at his base in India is to go flying as the left seater (aircraft commander) in a C-46 with an instructor. No ground school, no exams, just get in the airplane and let’s go.

That’s what his first flight was all about.

After numerous touch and goes, engine out drills, flap malfunction practice and all that, Dad made the final landing. The instructor tells him he passed his training.

A few minutes later, Dad is standing outside the airplane with the instructor and says, “That was something. How much time do you have in this airplane?”

The guy replies, “How long was the flight?”

“About two hours,” says Dad.

The instructor says, “That makes it about…seven hours total.”

Dad gets excited. “SEVEN HOURS! And you’re an instructor?!!”

The guy looks at Dad and says, “So are you.”

And walks away.

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