Tag Archives: Heroes

My Small Moment With Chuck Yeager

Since his retirement from the Air Force in the late 70s, General Yeager lived just “up the hill” in Nevada County, in part of our historic gold rush region.

He certainly was an American Icon. Not only for what he did, being the first person to break the sound barrier, but the way he did it.

Which started the evening before in the desert at Pancho Barnes’ Happy Bottom Riding Club. By the way, do you know how this legendary place, long since gone, got its name? I didn’t know for years, and as is my nature kept looking until I found the answer.

Pancho rented horses, horses allegedly so gentle, that the rider was guaranteed a “happy bottom” in riding them!

I’ve had an Internet friend for years, who is a retired Air Force test pilot, who remembered for years seeing the ruins of Pancho’s on the edge of Edwards (called Muroc in its early days).

Anyway, the icon part of the story started the evening before that historic October morning, when Yeager fell off one of those gentle horses and broke some ribs.

And since he didn’t want the mission to be cancelled the next morning and in all probability lose his ride, kept this news from the powers-that-be.

Sidebar: If someone else had taken his place next morning, would he have survived? Yeager encountered extreme buffeting in that Bell, and nearly lost control. One of the reasons they learned later on was because of the conventional elevators on the horizontal stabilizer. The fuselage was shaped like a .50 caliber bullet, but the empennage was like all empennages at the time. With a conventional horizontal stabilizer.

A typical subsonic empennage, with elevators and horizontal stabilizer. Whether on the simplest Cessna or the largest Boeing 747, this is the empennage.

What they learned from this flight, with help from our cousins the British (OK, full disclosure – I think from their own experiments into supersonic flight, they contributed this design for us!) A stabilator made the transition to supersonic flight almost seamless. Unlike the illustration above a stabilator uses the entire horizontal stabilizer as an elevator, and pivots on the fuselage.

Since this site is dedicated to Hizzoner, here is the stabilator from an F/A-18 Hornet:

From Yeager’s flight on an early October morning in 1947 to the Hornet – a stabilator to ease the transition at the sound barrier.

So anyway, back to the making of an icon. Despite the pain of broken ribs (alas, no happy bottom the previous evening!), Yeager shows up at the appointed time and because of the pain, asks his friend to help him by giving him a lever to close the lock on the hatch, which was a broom handle.

On that cold crisp desert morning, those on the ground heard a shock wave, and assumed the worst. And Yeager flew into aviation history.

I remember some passages from his autobiography I read years ago. How many airline pilots of the 50s, in talking on the passenger intercom, wanted to imitate that West Virginia drawl. How in training at Tonopah in an Aircobra, witnessed terrible attrition from new pilots.

How over in Germany, and seeing an overwhelming number of 109s and Focke-Wulfs, would just dive into the melee.

How in one of those melees, he became an ace – shooting down 5 planes- in a matter of minutes.

Part of his secret, he would admit, was his vision which was 20-10.

For a fighter pilot, particularly one before all the electronic days, being able to see enemy planes first could mean the difference between life and death.

Chuck was the epitome of cool.

I would like to think that there is some party at Pancho’s now.

Oh, and about my own small moment? It was so small I think I can say with certainty that Chuck wouldn’t even remember it.

It was probably during the time during the 80s he was associated with AC-Delco.

I was going south down Hwy 99, a rather boring and desolate highway running down the middle of the Central Valley, in my Toyota. And as was my nature at the time, trying to eck out a few MPH over the limit, while hoping not to attract the attention of the Highway Patrol.

Anyway, somewhere below Galt, I saw a metallic blue Corvette just ambling along in the right lane.

Which caught my attention because, well, most Corvette drivers wouldn’t putt along at 55 on the highway.

As I got closer I saw the license plate – “Bell X1A“. I was wondering at that moment if the driver was who I thought it might be.

As I passed, sure enough it was General Yeager, driving with nothing to prove.

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A Carroll “Lex” LeFon Primer

testLex

Who was Carroll LeFon?

The best description of Lex that I’ve heard is “Imagine Hemingway flew fighters…and liked people.

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A Vietnam Hero

To the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, he was known as “White Feather” for the feather he wore in his cap, and they had a $30,000 reward for him. They sent their own snipers to get him, and he killed them all.

One of their best, named The Cobra, had him in his sights 500 yards away, and Carlos Hathcock, seeing the flash of his scope lens through his own scope, fired a fraction of a second first.

His bullet went through the enemy’s scope, killing him. Five hundred yards and hitting a lens maybe an inch in diameter.

A number of Hollywood movies have used this as a scene, but only Hathcock really did it.

The SEAL’s own Chris Kyle, considered to be the deadliest sniper in military history, credited Carlos Hathcock as his inspiration.

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Iwo Jima 75th Anniversary

Rosenthal

On February 19, 1945, Operation Detachment commenced and the landings on Iwo Jima began.

Seventy-five years ago, U.S. Marines came ashore on a desolate eight-square-mile volcanic island dominated by Mount Suribachi and located roughly halfway between the Marianas and Tokyo. Iwo Jima’s value lay in its airfields. B-29 Superfortresses that were damaged or low on fuel could land there, and Army Air Forces fighters based on the island could escort the bombers to their targets in Japan. Three Marine divisions—more than 70,000 men—had the task of seizing the island. But an operation that U.S. commanders forecast would take a week to complete would stretch out to five weeks, and the Marines’ determination and sacrifice on Iwo Jima would become enduring touchstones for the Corps.

Before that time, the Marines didn’t know that the Japanese would be in a labyrinth of tunnels, bunkers, and caves, prepared over many months in anticipation of their landing. They could wait out the massive bombardments of the Navy ships. One tunnel was 90′ deep.

They had seriously underestimated the Japanese defenses. The battle would last 36 bloody days. For every square mile of that island, more than 800 Marines would lose their lives.

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James E. Williams

James E Williams

In between working on another post, which may take a few days, I was watching a program on Amazon Prime involving that famous trio, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May.

Except this wasn’t the Grand Tour but a boat trip through Cambodia and the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. It was a pretty interesting program, with the usual silly assortment of vehicles.

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The Real James Bond

The Real James Bond

The picture that was above the bar at the Park Distillery, Banff, Alberta, Canada.

While I was at lake Louise, our wedding party headed 40 miles east on the Trans Canada Highway and had a dinner at Banff. The Park Distillery is a bit different from the trend these days. Instead of yet another beer microbrewery/restaurant, they make gin. And they are pretty famous for it apparently.

The restaurant – on the same site – isn’t bad either.

After our group finished dinner and we were on the way out  ready to leave on our bus,  someone on the staff casually mentioned about the fellow in the picture overlooking the bar.

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Jim Clark – The Greatest Driver?

How does one measure that? Many will say only consider the confines of Formula 1 racing.

I’m not one of them.

I think today too, more than ever with technology, the car is as important as the driver.

Certainly Michael Schumacher would be on anyone’s short list with 7 world F1 championships.

I don’t wish to denigrate his achievements, but I think the evolution of his Ferrari was as important as his abilities.

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The Medal of Honor: Not all beer and skittles

Being a Medal of Honor recipient places one in one of the most elite military fraternities in the world, with just 70 living members. Created during the Civil War, 3,504 men, and one woman, have been bestowed that honor. Mary Walker, a surgeon during the Battle of Bull Run, was the lone female recipient.

For many, instead of being a reminder of having the highest honor this country can bestow, it is a reminder of the worst day of their lives.

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RIP Niki

The only Grand Prix that I have ever seen was in the summer of 1973, courtesy of the Army Special Services.

If you were off duty they sometimes arranged day trips of the local areas. The German Grand Prix was to be at a fabled course called the Nurburgring. This course, built in the 1920s, was the longest closed circuit course by far, at 14 miles or so. Fourteen miles of terrifying sharp turns, long straights, and in one area a jump through the Eifel forest.

Racing great Jackie Stewart called the course The Green Hell, and the term stuck.

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They’re Going So Fast

TheyreGoingSoFast

A Reminder Of My Father’s WW2 Service

About all that my father told me of his WW2 service was a few days before he died in a hospital. “They used to call these ducks“, he said, referring to the bedpan by his bed. “They looked like a duck“.

He was in a famous unit that a German Officer called the “White Devils” – the 82nd Airborne. Injured while trying to help a scared friend out of the C-47, he spent 6 months in a hospital while his unit went on to Sicily and suffered 80% casualties.

I suspect that if he hadn’t had that accident, I wouldn’t be here typing this.

Some years later, my parents invited me to a Thanksgiving dinner with their friends, the Millers. My mother said that that was the only time, over wine and pecan pie, Dusty Miller, in the 2nd wave at D-Day, talked about that day. He saw his best friend die on that beach.

You never think it’s going to be you“, he said.

Then a few years ago, I went back to Huntington, WV to meet my cousin and sister and clear out Uncle Peter’s things at his retirement home.

We had 3 days to clear out a lifetime of memories.

Peter was a Lieutenant in the Navy, stationed on an ammunition ship making the Murmansk Run.

Crossing a sea infested with U-Boats.

He said when he had the watch at night, it was hard to distinguish the wake from a playing dolphin and a torpedo. You’d be torn as to whether to sound the alarm.

He never was right after the war.

They’re all gone now.

And now the man who led the last air mission of WW2 has just gone west.

Proud of them all….

 

 

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