Cold War Preparation

I had the opportunity a couple-3 days ago to talk with a friend from my Senior year of high school, General H. H. Arnold High School in Wiesbaden, West Germany. I knew of John O. in school, but I didn’t really ‘know’ him. I got to know him at our 50th HS reunion and have come to like him quite a bit…

The other day as we were talking he shared a story with me that is just “too good” not to share. It seems that at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis John’s father worked at a “listening station” in West Germany at the time, ‘snooping’ in on Soviet communications. Yes, we did that. One day his dad gave John an envelope and told him that in case “the balloon” went up (a soviet attack) that he should follow the instructions within. Matter of fact he had John pull the instructions from the envelop which contained a map, and had John make a “dry run,” not telling anyone. The route John was to follow was took him to a (relatively) safe place where folks were to muster for extraction from Europe. John laughed as he told me that he reckoned that from there his Mother and sisters would have a ring-side seat to watch the missiles flying back and forth overhead.

Neither of us thought much about his instructions as that was just what ‘we’ did, or at least some of us. But in the greater context of today, what a responsibility to saddle a kid with!

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Into a Black Hole

I was on a C-141A trip with Phil F. when we were tasked to fly into Bien Hoa, South Vietnam one night. Not a ‘big deal.’

Upon contact with Bien Hoa approach we were vectored to the airfield for an right-hand” overhead” VFR approach. Apparently there was Viet Cong (VC) activity in the area that night and they wanted to keep us in close to the airfield. In retrospect, dumb!

Once again I was flying from the left seat. Phil picked up the runway off to his left and gave me insight as to when to configure, and turn. Everything was going fine, for the first part of the final turn. I was struggling to look “cross cockpit” to pick up the runway, while maintaining a descent and airspeed. The problem was, there was almost nothing out there off the runway, to give cues as to my sink rate. It was what we call a “black hole.”

As I became totally focused on finding the runway Phil glanced in at the instruments and saw that we were in a 60-degree descending right-hand turn! Really not good! He called it out and I immediately reduced the bank angle and added power, arresting the sink rate. Then reacquiring thee runway we landed with our further incident. We were lucky that night as many others, before us and after us, have flown into “black holes” and were not as fortunate…

As a post script: After we offloaded our cargo and took on a new load, we were taxing out for departure when we spotted a snake on the taxiway. I have always thought of it as a cobra. Maybe, or maybe not, doesn’t matter – we slid over a bit and mashed it…

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C-141A No-Flap

There are moments in flying that never quite escape you. This is one for me.

I was flying a C-141A to Elmendorf AFB, AK with Phil F. one evening. He had taken the first leg to Dover AFB, DE from McGuire AFB, NJ. After taking on our cargo we headed North. As was the practice in those days we rotated seats. For this leg I was in the left or Aircraft Commander’s seat.

Everything was normal until we began to configure for landing. The flaps jammed at 3 percent, essentially a no-flap. I fully anticipated Phil to take control and fly as a no-flap constituted an emergency landing but he told me to continue flying.

Now, I have always loved EPs, emergency procedures. It is during these situations where I can really experience flying. Often it is during these situations where you have to have “good hands.”

So we declared an Emergency, ran the No-Flap check list and adjusted the airspeed as required – then settled into the approach. On C-141 no-flaps the aircraft was real sensitive to throttle inputs. So, once you were on speed, leave it alone! And it was imperative to have that speed just before beginning down the glide path. That night I nailed it and upon hitting the glide path all I had to do was reduce power a bit, and enjoy the ride.

The ride down the glide path was somewhat pleasurable. As advertised in training. Then the flare and landing went without incident – and we began rolling. The spoilers came out normally, and still we rolled. Then the Thrust Reversers were deployed, and we continued to roll. Without flaps this was expected, so no big deal. We had tons of runway available, and used most of it before turning off.

I never thought it was a big deal at all – I had fun with it all. But in retrospect that was one of those moments that really boosted my confidence in flying. Its one thing to perform EPs in the simulator; quite another in “real life.” I remain grateful to Phil today for giving me that opportunity as a young copilot…

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Eating Up Runway

Jim was in his office one afternoon when a young IP came in and asked to speak to him.  Mike was relatively new and was somewhat ‘white’ in the face.  Of course, Jim told him to come in and have a seat.  Then he asked what was on his mind.  Mike slowly began to share his story.

One of the maneuvers we performed in the Contact phase of T-38s was a Simulated Single-Engine Heavyweight approach and landing, to a touch and go, right after initial takeoff.  This would simulate a ‘worse case’ senerio of losing an engine right after take off.  Depending on the student, and where he was in training, we would either pull a throttle to Idle right after takeoff, or somewhere on Final Approach.  If we pulled the throttle back just after takeoff we would create a full imbalance that we would have to deal with later, so often we would wait until turning final.  However, in the beginning of training a throttle came to Idle just after the gear and flaps were retracted.

On this particular day Mike pulled the throttle to Idle just after takeoff.  It was hot that day, in Enid, OK so engine performance was nominal, but safe in and of itself.

Everything was normal through the approach and touchdown.  Then on the subsequent touch and go, the aircraft did not accelerate as normal.  It was noticeably slow and Mike was ‘eating up runway.’  Feeling something was “not quite right,” Mike began looking around the cockpit.  It was then that he discovered that one of the throttles was still in Idle!  Holy Crap!  (The student had only advanced one throttle to ‘full’ power.)

To lend a perspective to the gravity of it all, on initial takeoff we would use Afterburner, on both engines.  Here Mike was now, on takeoff roll, only 400 pounds lighter, using a just a single engine, in Military power.  Not good!

So he selected Afterburner on both engines and complete the takeoff – many feet further down the runway!

When Jim shared this story with me I cringed!  There but for the grace of God…

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For a Quarter?

CUATION: John, put down your coffee!

So, one day Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi find themselves standing next to each other in the Men’s Room. They both look down and spot a quarter in Bart’s urinal. After they finish their business, Bart reaches in his pocket and pulls out another quarter – which he tosses into the urinal, along with the other one. Then he bends over and retrieves both quarters at the same time.

When he looks up he sees Vince staring at him with somewhat of a puzzled look on his face, Bart exclaims, What, you don’t think I was going to stick my fingers in there for just 0.25 cents, do you?”

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The Program for the Nurnberg Trials…

A couple-3 weeks ago I was rummaging through an old footlocker of my Dad’s when I found this gem:

It contains the description of 22 German/Nazi defendants. I remember my Dad telling me about attending the trials, and actually seen Goering.

I want to be ‘careful’ in reading it for as you can see, it hardly has any creases in it now… more to follow.

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A few years ago I was visiting my old Air Force ROTC detachment, Det. 620 at Bowling Green State University (OH). I met a Lt. Col. who told me that she had flown helicopters, in Keflavik, Iceland while assigned to the 56th Rescue Squadron.  I looked up at her “I Love Me” wall and spotted a 56th Air Rescue patch.

I was somewhat excited as I had been in the 56th Rescue Squadron many years before. Only then it was the 56th ARRS, Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Korat Royal Thailand AFB, Thailand, and we flew HC-130s. She had flown HH-60s, rescue helicopters.

“Hey, that’s cool,” I told her, “I was in the 56th at Korat!” 

Thinking about what I had just told her she said, “Oh, that’s interestinmg, I have never been to Georgia…”

Not knowing quite what to say, I just let it go…

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When we graded UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training) students after a ride there was always a block called “Judgement” on the grade sheet ‘Judgement’ was a graded item in all the different phases of training: contact, formation, nav and instruments. The grades we assessed at the time were Excellent, Good, Fair and Unsat.

Usually ‘Judgement’ was a subjective grade based upon the IP’s overall feeling of how the ride went; unless something exceptional stood out, good or bad.

I recently became reacquainted with a former Vance T-38 IP. We served together briefly in 1978, maybe 4 months overlap. I vaguely remember him and now, after talking with him a bit last weekend, wish I had known him better.

As we talked he told me how he approached ‘Judgement.’ Apparently he never gave a student an Excellent on ‘Judgement’ on a ride, regardless of how well it went. Occasionally he was questioned about it, but he never relented. Then he went on to tell me that on graduation day he would meet with his students before they ‘walked across the stage’ to receive there wings. It was then that he gave them a set of Air Force Wings, with the word “Judgement” inscribed on the back of the Wings. He said that often by the time the student reached the Wing Commander to receive his wings, he would have tears in his eyes.

I wish I had thought of that…

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The ‘Mexican Standoff’ in New Hampshire

In 1977 Col. Wilson C. Cooney was assigned to Vance AFB, OK as our Director of Operations (DO). As he was settling in to the operations he wanted to visit our ACE* (Accelerated Copilot Enrichment) bases. I was a T-38 Wing Flight Safety Officer at the time.

B/General Wilson C. Cooney

For whatever reason ATC determined that putting the various ACE programs under the host Wing Safety Divisions was the best way to go. So it was determined that I could perform a “flight safety inspection’ with this unit by accompanying Col. Cooney with his ACE orientation at Pease AFB, NH. So, off we went.

Colonel Cooney had flown the T-38 previously, but had yet to begin his requal – but it was determined that he could fly in the front seat anyway. This decision made, by ‘not me,’ would soon come to bite me in the ass!

Our first two hops to Pease went without incident. We would land for our ‘gas-and goes,’ and I would direct Col. Cooney to shut down the engines once we coasted into parking. (It should be noted here that the T-38 engines could only be shut down from the front cockpit.)

I think we may have stayed overnight along the way because, if memory serves, we arrived at Pease mid-morning. It was a cool, sunny Fall morning that day, and we taxied in with our canopy closed.

The “reception” committee consisted of 4 or 5 SAC (Strategic Air Command) colonels and 1 ATC captain – all nicely lined up at attention. As we came to a stop they all saluted, in unison. Quite a nice reception if I might say so. In taxing in Colonel Cooney had taken off his helmet and replaced it with his service cap. He crisply returned the salute as we came to a stop – then we just sat there, staring at 4 or 5 SAC colonels and 1 ATC captain. With the engines running.

The 4 or 5 SAC colonels, and 1 ATC captain, were standing there at attention, and Colonel Cooney was sitting up front looking politely at them. And the engines were still running.

Then it dawned on me – Colonel Cooney didn’t realize that I couldn’t shut the engines down! And, with him wearing his hat, in lieu of his helmet, he couldn’t open his canopy! Well, damn! So, I sat there for a moment, kind of amused by the whole thing, then I though I had better ‘do something.’ So I unstrapped, opened my canopy then reached up and slapped the side of his canopy. He was somewhat surprised when he looked back at me and I gave him the ‘cut-off’ signal. Then he got it!

He then shut down the engines, opened his canopy and climbed out of the aircraft. Soon he was on his way with the 4 or 5 SAC colonels, leaving me with the ATC captain.

I didn’t catch up with him until sometime later – and nary a word was said about the incident. Never was, but I have sure chuckled about it over the years…

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I just received notification of the passing of Colonel Tom Ardern, USAF/Ret.

I met Tom when he came to “O” Flight at Vance AFB, OK in Oct 1977. I was his Flight Commander for about 6 weeks before moving on to Wing Safety.

Tom ‘stood out’ from the very beginning. Not only from his size but from his intellect (I don’t believe he missed a single academic question throughout UPT), his athletic prowess and his broad, wry smile.

Two things come to mind when I think about Tom:

  1. One Saturday morning we, the T-38 IPs, played a pick-up game of ‘beer’ softball with his class. It was toward the end of their training and most of us were more interested in drinking beer than the game. However, (Capt.) Marty Miller was playing shallow center field and was ‘taunting’ the students at bat. He continued to creep inward toward the infield while pointing behind him and shouting, “Ardern, look at all the territory behind me!” Tom, wanting to get back at Marty for being a smart ass, swung at the pitches like a man on fire, eventually fouling out… Like many of his classmates before him.
  2. The next thing that comes to mind is, one day I was told that Tom had attempted to enroll in Squadron Officer’s School (SOS), by correspondence. The folks at the Education Office told him that, because he was enrolled in UPT, he could not take SOS. Because of the intensity of the UPT program itself. So Tom went downtown Enid, and enrolled at St. Mary’s University for his Master’s degree! You have to love him for that!

In later years we established ‘voice contact’ again and shared many stories about our T-38 IP experiences. I wish I had paid more attention as some of the things he shared with me were “eye-watering!”

God be with you, Tom…

So, today I am sad to hear about Tom. I am glad I knew him, and he will be missed when he ‘walks through my mind…’

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