“Oh, I Dropped the Little Bastard!”

We were ‘night flying’ one night when I was in UPT. Everything was going fine that night until a classmate reported that he only had ‘2 Green’ vs. “3 Green,” with his Gear Check. We needed ‘3 Green’ to be sure that we had 3 (landing) gear ‘Down and Locked.’

So, the the RSU Controller told him to continue through the Final Turn and execute a low approach. They planned to look him over as he flew by on his go-around.

Well, it didn’t work out too well – too dark. So the student was told to clean it up, and head around the (traffic) pattern. Once he was stable at traffic pattern altitude, he was instructed to remove the errant Landing Gear light and replace it with the ‘Takeoff Trim’ green light. (Both systems used the same kind of light; simple enough, or so it would seem).

When the jet arrived back on Initial, instead of pitching out for landing, as expected, he continued straight through and turned once again to Outside Downwind. Okay, understandable, it could be tricky to change out the bulbs. Night, wearing gloves, solo, flying the jet, clearing, and so forth.

The second time he showed up on Initial, once again he continued through. At this time the RSU Controller asked him if he was having any problems. It was then that the student replied, “Oh, I dropped the little bastard!”

Not wanting a solo student to be flying around the pattern, at night, with his head buried in the cockpit, looking for a stupid light, probably under the seat, the RSU Controller told him, “Let’s go ahead and land. It will probably be okay.” And, it was…

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Two Review Rides, and Turn in a New Map

One afternoon this student, from another flight, returned to the flight room after taking his Nav Check. He had failed it. I didn’t learn of it until later when his flight commander was discussing the issue with our section commander. The student’s flight commander was HOT, to say the least.

Apparently the student had flown a ‘flawless’ check ride; a 2-hop out-and-back. Upon returning to check section for the debrief, his check pilot looked the student’s map and discovered that Emergency airfields along the way, had not been circled, in red, as directed by regulation. So the check pilot “smoked” him. Unsat!

The check pilot was a VMI (Virginia Military Institution) grad. A strict by-the-book kind of guy. In essence, because of the governing regulation, there was no arguing with him.

I do remember the ensuing conversation in our section commander’s office. What do we do about this situation? Typically with a failed Nav check, we would authorize ‘review’ out and back, to address the deficient items, followed by “progress” Nav Check. In this kid’s case, it was hard to justify 4 flights to clear up his Unsat. It was then that his flight commander came up with idea: “Let’s give him a review out-and-back ride, and have him turn a new map!”

I don’t know how it sorted itself out in the end. I do know we had to restrain that flight commander from heading down to Check Section and taking the check pilot’s VMI ceremonial sword down off the wall – and shoving it up his ass!

My take-away with this incident was how important “common sense”and “good judgement” is in grading on check rides. It was a lesson that was never lost on me, and I used it frequently when presented with situations like this…

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Because somewhere in me is still the little boy ~ who wants to kick the can down the road, ~ and write on walls, ~ and hitch rides on the tailgates of trucks~ ~ and look up to stare at a jet streaking across the sky ~

And somewhere in me is the still the “go-to-Hell” pilot, ~ in the “go to Hell” hat, ~ flinging an aircraft down boundless halls of space and talking with hands for airplanes, ~ and reliving ‘high flares’ and extended trail — and reaching out to “touch the face of God,” and laughing at those who are tied to Earth ~ and still staring up at jets in the sky.

And somewhere in me is Chief Joseph and Crazy Horse, who philosophize on the here and hereafter in a language I understand, ~ that of kindness, ~ of respect, ~ of loyalty, ~ of honor ~ and of the beauty of Life itself, ~ and of a jet streaking through the sky.

And deep inside me there is that uncompromising realist who knows that this is all a temrribly temporary gift, ~ and that sometime ~ perhaps in this next second, ~ be it the side of a mountain, ~ the slam of a stall in the Final Turn, ~ or that massive grasp of a giant’s hand on a faltering heart — this will all come to an end too soon. And when that time comes, if there is one thing to remember, it will be that sweet memory that transcends them all;

~ of the little boy,
~ of the Go-to-Heller,
~ the Philosopher,
~ the Realist,
~ it will be the ineffably beautiful picture,

…of a jet, streaking gracefully across the sky…

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Teaching A Lesson in Humility

After a check ride one day, this young lieutenant we had in “O” Flight, came back to the flight room, bitching about a couple grades he had received on specific maneuvers. I listened to him “hold court” in the corner with a few of his buddies, then decided to put a stop to it – right now! One of the things I did not tolerate well at all was, “quibbling.” Either from the students, or the IPs in the flight.

So I walked up to him and asked what the problem was. He then proceeded to tell me that he felt the check pilot was too “picky;” too hard on him. (Awww….). After listening to him for all I could handle, I decided to make this a “teachable moment.” I reminded him that he was a 2nd Lieutenant now, an Officer in the United States Air Force. And as an Officer, when we have an issue with someone or another, we don’t just sit back and bitch about them – we approach them, in a mature, respectful manner, and discuss the issue – Officer to Officer. (What I failed to mention was, this really didn’t apply in a student training environment. My bad.). So I suggested, that if he felt strongly enough – that he had been unfairly graded on the check ride – that he take his grade sheet, along with his grade book, down to Check Section, and discuss the matter with his check pilot. I then headed back to my office and soon saw him heading out the flight room door, with his grade book in hand.

His check pilot was a good guy. He had a reputation for always being fair with the students, and I never had any problems with him. So, I just sat back and waited…

When I saw the young lieutenant return, I grabbed my coffee and walked back to his desk. He seemed a little pale in color. I asked him if he was “okay,” to which he replied, “Well Sir, I won’t be doing that again!”

Lesson learned.

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Toledo Airshow – 2019

Last weekend we had an Airshow here in Toledo, OH. A good part of the planning fell to my daughter-in-law in her capacity as member of the Toledo ANG Public Affairs office out at the base. She, in turn, enlisted the help of my youngest granddaughter, Riley. Riley, who currently is in Air Force ROTC, just had a ball! And, she got to see a great deal out there.

I have been attending airshows for some 65 – 70 years now. This one was ‘pretty good,’ but not necessarily from the flying perspective. I enjoyed it because I saw two “old friends.”

The first was Bill Fier, a former student of mine at Vance AFB, OK in 1976. I was his Flight Commander when he went through T-38s. Bill impressed me from the moment I first met him. He really had a “level head” on his shoulders and actually helped a great deal in managing the day-to-day operations of his class during training – as well as performing very well in the program himself.

One of the flying programs was “Tora, Tora, Tora,” a re-enactment of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). I knew Bill was flying for the CAF, and on a ‘hunch,’ I sent an email to him, asking if he was in attendance. I was so excited to learn, he was! So we agreed to meet after his show.

Bill Fier, and Me
Toledo Air Show – 2019

The second “old friend” I ran into was T-38, Tail number 8121.

T-38C, Tail # 8121

I flew this jet when it was a T-38A at Vance AFB, OK. It is now based at Laughlin AFB, TX. I knew almost immediately that I had flown this specific jet, and upon returning home and checking my log book, sure enough, I had. In 1975 – ’78!

Explaining the T-38 to my nephew and his sons (Lil’ Gary, Landon and Brady), and my good friend, Tom.

The aerial demonstrations throughout the day were fine, but nowhere near as exciting for me as seeing my. two “old friends!”

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Tribute: Wayne Boyd Petersen

Lt. Col. Wayne B. Petersen

I met ‘Petey’ in 1974 when we were both assigned to the 56 ARRS (Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron) at Korea RTAFB, Thailand. We became friends right away.

Pete had come to the squadron from Hawaii where he was a Flight Examiner in the HC-130 H/P/N aircraft. I had just begun my IP (instructor pilot) upgrade and flew many rides with him before being certified. He taught me a great deal about the performance and handling of the HC-130.

One afternoon, on one of my upgrade rides, he flew toward the runway at 2,000 feet AGL (above ground level) and asked me to tell him when to begin the descent to land within the first 1,000 feet. Ok, so I sat there and watched the normal point where I would have begun the descent. I gave it a bit longer then said, “Ok, this looks good.” And he continued on, without word.

A short time later I said, “Now?” And, he continued on, again without word.

Finally as the runway threshold disappeared under the nose he pulled the throttles to Idle and pushed the nose over to where all I saw was ‘dirt!’ All I could think about was, “I hope he knows what he is doing!” It was a thrill, to say the least.

Those 4 huge props actually acted as speed brakes which kept us from accelerating. Then Petey added power and broke the descent – and we landed well within the first 1,000 feet! Impressive, for sure.

For the remaining part of my tour Pete and I became good friends.


As I got nearer to my DEROS (date expected to rotate stateside) Pete asked if I would consider extending for 6 months. The squadron was becoming short of experienced pilots. Pete also said that h wanted to upgrade me to Flight Examiner if I agreed to extend. I wasn’t interested, at all.

First of all, I was ready to go home. I had an assignment to T-38s at Vance and was excited about it. If I stayed and upgraded to FE, there was a good chance I would be ‘left in Rescue.’ As it turned out, it might have been a good idea to have extended. In April ‘75 Saigon fell, and the 56th was right in he middle of it all!

I later crossed paths with Pete when he came to Randolph AFB, TX in the mid-80’s. We would meet for beers every now and then, and continued our conversation we had begun years ago. I always enjoyed our conversations.

After Pete retired he moved to Florida, then on to Texas. I last talked with him in the early ‘90s.

I am saddened to learn of his passing, but will be forever grateful that I knew him. GBU, Petey…

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I am currently 72 and have had a great life. I haven’t done it on my own, by any means. I have always sensed that God has been with me – every step of the way.

I came across this ‘photo’ a while back and it really struck me. It really ‘spoke’ to me, telling me something that I have known all my life.

Last weekend I learned of the passing of a friend of mine in 2017, Wayne ‘Pete’ Petersen. Pete and I flew together in Thailand, in 1974. After returning to the States we stayed in touch for a while then drifted apart, as we (military guys) tend to do. But this does not mean that his passing has any less impact on me here this morning. So, beginning with Petey, I am beginning a “Tribute” category to those I have flown with in years long since past…

God Bless each and every one of you…

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“…Take the Bus!”

Just after I upgraded to IP (instructor pilot) in the HC-130 I would be assigned to fly 4-hour ‘locals’ with various pilots requiring currency and the like. Often we would take off and fly to one of several other bases in Thailand: UTapao, Thakli, Ubon, Udorn NKP and so forth. We would ‘shoot’ a couple instrument approaches to either a low approach or a touch and go, then head off to another base for the same. It was kind of fun, and beat just flying around the flagpole.

One afternoon I was set up as an IP for a 1000 hrs. 4-hour sortie. As it was, we really didn’t have that much to accomplish on this particular sortie – so we decided to head South to UTapao and have lunch. And while at lunch, we just might get in to some shopping at the local on-base jewelry story. They were known for “good prices” there.

The navigator on our flight that day was ‘Buck.’ He was an ‘adequate’ navigator with a reputation for continually being late, and also for being a bit of a ‘whiner.’ By this time, I had had a couple of experiences with his tardiness for alert. In addition, my roommate had spoken to me about Buck being late quite a bit. By now, everyone was just getting tired of always waiting on Buck!

When we got to UTapao around 1100 or so, we landed and shut down. Then I specifically briefed the crew that we would be departing precisely at 1300 hrs. I even looked at Buck and asked him directly, “Buck, what time are we leaving?”

“One o’clock,”” he replied, in front of the crew. And, off we went.

At 1300 we all were strapped in the Herk; everyone except Buck! So, I called for the “Engines Starting Checklist.”

“Sir,” someone said, “we don’t have our navigator.”

“So what,” I replied, “I don’t need him!” I wasn’t pissed, just resigned. And I wasn’t going to stand for his callous attitude anymore.

Once we were airborne I contacted the squadron and asked for our squadron commander. Once he checked on freq I briefed him on what I had done – I left Buck at UTapao.

The Boss didn’t seem overly concerned at all. I think he had heard of Buck’s lackadaisical attitude toward missing report times. So I pressed on back to Korat.

Upon returning I caught up with the Boss at the Stag Bar later that afternoon. He bought me a beer and I asked about Buck. He laughed! He then went on to tell me that right after my call to him, Buck called and asked that we be turned around to go back and pick him up. Then the boss told me that he told Buck “to take the bus!”

Thai Baht Bus

Now that wasn’t going to be an easy task, or a ‘pleasant’ ride by any means. Usually overcrowded, hot and noisy – and Buck was in a flight suit! The baht bus from UTapao ran to Bangkok, then stopped. Buck had to wait until the next day to catch another bus ‘upcountry’ to Korat. But he was “okay;” his wife had an apartment in Bangkok.

The next day he rolled into the squadron, somewhere early afternoon. He came up to me and told me, “I don’t appreciate you leaving me behind.”

I just stared at him and replied, “I don’t appreciate you continually being late for reports. Your turn!”

He glared at me for a moment, then turned and walked away. And that was the last time I know of him ever being late – for anything!

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King 21: 12 July 1974

In December 1973 I reported to the 56th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARRS) at Korat RTAFB, Thailand. I was assigned as an Aircraft Commander (AC) in the HC-130.

Our primary mission was “Combat Rescue.” The Vietnam War was “essentially” over with the signing of the Paris Peace Accord earlier that year, but “hostilities” were still going on in theater (South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). And, because we still had a presence in Southeast Asia, we maintained a combat rescue posture.

Our HC-130’s were configured as airborne “on site” combat rescue command centers. We had quite a bit of communications gear on board, as well as an 11,000 pound fuel tank in our cargo bay for refueling helicopters. If someone was shot down, we would respond and set up in an orbit a safe distance away – then coordinate assets for the pickup of the downed airmen. To this end we had two crews “on alert” 24/7, with response times of 30 minutes during daylight hours, and 45 minutes at night. This meant that from initial notification, we had either 30 or 45 minutes to be airborne.

Fig. 1.
HC-130P, Korat RTAFB

Our ‘alert day’ typically began at 0900 hrs., meeting at our ‘hootch’ (quarters) area. The officers (aircraft commander, copilot and navigator) met at their hootch, and the enlisted crew members (engineer, radio operator and load master) met at their area. From there the officers proceeded to the Intel (Intelligence) Shop for an Intel Brief, a weather briefing and to pick up our side arms (S&W .38 Combat Masterpieces). Then when that was complete we met up with the enlisted guys at the alert aircraft. Once we checked the aircraft forms and stored our gear, we locked the door and the aircraft was ‘cocked.’

I was my 2nd day of “Alert,” that day, the 12th of July 1974. We were just about to head into the O’Club for dinner when we got the call that we had been ‘Scrambled.” In those days we didn’t have cell phones or the like. As we pulled into the O’Club parking lot for dinner, a squadron member came running out to tell us that we had been “scrambled,” that we had a “mission.” Without even stopping, our navigator who was driving, dropped the tranny into low gear and we were off!

We headed off to the Intell Shop, ‘Ft. Apache,’ to get our Mission Briefing, a weather briefing and our weapons (pistols).

From there it was off to the Flight Line where the aircraft was being readied. The enlisted guys had pulled all the safety (gear) pins and the like, and had started the APU (auxiliary power unit) so we had power on the aircraft. Once we climbed aboard, as we were strapping in, I reached up and started Nr.3 engine. Then when it spooled up to Idle we started Engines Nrs. 1, 2 and 4, and taxied shortly thereafter.

We had been alerted at 1737 hrs. and launched at 1707 hrs., just at our 30-minute commitment.

In the Mission Brief we received there was little information about the actual mission; other than to get airborne ASAP, and head South. That didn’t make sense to me at the time, as the “bad guys” all lived up North. But off we went, to the South…

During the climbout, our Radio Operator made contact with our command center, Joker, in Nakhon Phanom (NKP). It was then we were told to make contact and rendevous with a HH-43 rescue helicopter out of UTapao, Pedro 36. Our objective was to locate a Nationalist Chinese destroyer in the Gulf of Thailand (Siam) with an injured sailor on board. The destroyer was a former US destroyer, now named the “Dan Yuang,” ship number 11. Then we were to escort the helicopter to the destroyer where it would land and take the injured sailor on board. Once the patient was on board the helicopter, we were to escort it to Bangkok, providing navigation and communications support. Our initial rendezvous with Pedro 36 occured at 1735 hrs., just after we coasted out over the Gulf of Thailand (28 minutes after our launch).

Fig. 2

This mission shaped up to be an interesting mission for a number of reasons. First of all, it involved a warship from Nationalist China. Once the Nationalist Chinese ambassador to Thailand learned of the severely injured sailor, he contacted the American ambassador (to Thailand) to request assistance. The US embassy then had to contact the Joint Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group (ARRG), ‘Joker,’ located at NKP, to coordinate for the Search and Rescue/Recovery (SAR) effort. This entailed notifying and launching the HC-130 from Korat RTAFB and the HH-43 helicopter based at UTapao RTAFB. The year before, in 1973, the Air Force had lost a single-engine helicopter off the coast of California, and from then on instituted a policy wherein single-engine helicopters would have to have an ‘escort’ if they were to operate “offshore.” That was one our roles, escort. The other roles we were to play was to find the destroyer in the Gulf of Siam all the while providing communications and navigation support for Pedro 36.

Fig. 3
Thailand Air Bases – 1974

Just after making initial contact with Pedro 36 our focus became on finding the Nationalist Chinese destroyer. Fortunately we had an IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) radar interrogator on board. The navigator had the primary scope at his station and I had a ‘repeater’ scope up front. When I turned on my scope the ‘returns’ looked like someone had tossed a handful of rice grains on a blacktop driveway! Holy cow! However after ‘tweaking’ the scope a bit to receive only the larger returns, it became relatively easy to see the larger ships. And this was a good thing because the sun was setting and we were quickly losing visibility.

About a lot of things began happening now, all at the same time. The navigator and I began looking for ‘our’ ship, and the Radio Operator established radio contact with the rescue helicopter, Pedro 36. As we got serious looking for the destroyer, Pedro 36 began heading out to our general vicinity.

Soon I spotted a ‘potential’ target and I dropped down to a couple hundred feet, and flew by the ship. It was the ship we were looking for, and a ‘good thing,’ for by this time the sun had set and it was getting tougher to see.the ‘returns’ A couple things jumped out at me right away. First, there was no one on deck; nary a soul. I thought that a bit strange but, oh well. Then I saw a signal lamp flashing…

Fig 4.
Location of the destroyer
13.24N, 100.36E

From the image above you can get a nice idea of how it all played together. Korat RTAFB is located just South of Nakhon Ratchasima. From there to the Gulf is just over 100 NM. Utapao RTAFB is just a little bit south of Pattaya City on the map above. From the destroyer to the landing field in Bangkok was about 50 NM.

As we cruised by the second time, the signal lamp flashing, the radio operator told me, “Sir, I think I have identified another training deficiency at Hill.” (Hill AFB, UT was the host for the Rescue schoolhouse). “We were only required to read 20 words of Morse Code per minute, and they are transmitting 40 words per minute,” he explained. Oh great! At this time, Monte Thames, our copilot, said, “How about on the next pass you write down the letters, and I’ll read the words!” Thanks, Monte!

From the time we reached the gulf, we had been attempting to raise the ship on various “Guard” radio frequencies; UHF, VHF, HF and so forth. No luck. Our radio operator was also working with Joker to attempt to find a compatible radio frequency. Again, no luck. So, as I pulled up for another pass by the ship, I asked the radio operator to come forward with his notepad. My plan was to fly as slow as I was comfortable with as he took the (Morse Code) message from the ship. Great plan, but it didn’t work.

Once we were reasonably sure that we had the right ship, we made contact with Pedro 36 and headed East to fetch him. As he had already been heading our way, it didn’t seem to take long, and soon we were all headed back to the ship.

When we left the ship, there was not a sole on deck. Then as we approached it seemed as if every door on board opened up, and ‘thousands’ of Chinese began running all over the place! It truly looked like an authentic “Chinese Fire Drill,” for sure.

Pedro 36 landed on the destroyer, the injured sailor was loaded and soon we all were on our way, at 1828 hrs. Just after Pedro lifted off I discovered that the sun had set. I had been so preoccupied with watching everything I hadn’t noticed the sun setting. Now we were escorting this small, little helicopter towards Bangkok – to a soccer field we had no idea where it was!

The HH-43 cruise speed is 105 knots. Our minimum maneuvering airspeed, for our weight at that time, was around 140 knots or so. So, it was challenging at first, with us doing figure 8’s behind Pedro to keep him in sight. Then it got downright “sporting” when we began to encounter the city lights of Bangkok! It was tough to keep that small helicopter in sight.

Once we made contact with Bangkok Approach Control our role was essentially over and we headed home. Bangkok ATC identified the helicopter and vectored it into the soccer field. We landed after 2.7 hours of flying that evening, with 1 “Save” credited to our crew.

About a month later I learned that the Aircraft Commanders of King 21 (me) and Pedro 36, as well as the Joker support staff, were invited to Bangkok to attend an awards ceremony – to be presented with the Nationalist Chinese Medal of Hai Chih, the Medal of Naval Distinguished Service.

Fig. 5.  Description of the Medal of Hai Chic
Fig. 6. Navy Guy from Joker, Me, Chuck Geletka (Pedro 36), Chief of Nationalist China’s Naval Ops, Nationalist Chinese Ambassador and American Ambassador to Thailand 
Fig. 7. Medal of Hai Chih
(Medal of Naval Distinguished Service)
Fig. 8  Sawadee Flyer article on the rescue.

I have always been grateful for being recognized by the Nationalist Chinese government. However, it was a total effort by everyone involved. I have always been somewhat disappointed in that ‘someone’ from the US Air Force didn’t pick up on what we had accomplished, and recognized the whole crew accordingly. If I ‘could go back in time,’ I am certain today, that ‘someone’ would have been me…

King 21 Aircrew:

Holliker, Robert F. Jr., Captain, Aircraft Commander

Thames, Monte A., 1st Lt., Copilot

Buchanan, Delbert R., Captain, Navigator

Hansen, Troy W. MSgt, Flight Engineer

Inerich, William R., SSgt, Radio Operator

McCray, Arthur L., TSgt, Load Master

Raubach, James B., Sgt., Med Tech

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“Our Town,” My Town…

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