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.
The second “old friend” I ran into was T-38, Tail number 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!
The aerial demonstrations throughout the day were fine, but nowhere near as exciting for me as seeing my. two “old friends!”
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…
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…
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!”
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!
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.
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).
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.
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…
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.
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
In the mid 1880’s a rather unknown Chinese laborer came to America to work on the transcontinental railroad. His name was ‘Won Dum Foc.’ When the task was completed, Mr. Foc settled in Utah, married and began a family. He took that “begetting” part of the Bible seriously, and soon there were many little Dum Focs running around. And after a while they too, became fruitful and multiplied – to where we now see Dum Focs throughout America… who knew?
When we were still in training I overheard a T-38 Check Pilot once lament, ‘We have to start going to different places for our cross-country checks…’
“Well, that’s an interesting comment,” I thought to myself. “Wonder what brought that about?”
After a few moments of asking around I discovered what it was all about. Apparently ‘Buzz,’ a student in our other section, was on his Instrument/Nav Check to Tinker AFB, OK. And along the way, the Air Traffic Controllers were giving him “tips’ on what to do next. Like when it might be a good time to go off freq (frequency) for 2 minutes, to give a PIREP (Pilot Report on the observed weather), or when to ask for vectors to the TACAN Holding Fix, and what direction he ‘might’ turn in the holding pattern, and so forth. The Check Pilot was amazed at just how much help Buzz was receiving.
Well, as it turns out, Buzz’s dad was an ATC Controller in the San Antonio Center and his uncle worked the Fort Worth Center! So, Buzz had given them a ‘heads-up’ on his call sign, and he was then essentially handled with Kid gloves!
In further discussion with Buzz, he had been using his Dad all through pilot training, to keep an eye on him on check rides! While the rest of us were blowing out the sides, top or bottom of our areas, Buzz was getting radar vectors to stay within the confines of the area. Couldn’t ask for better service I suppose…
When we went through UPT, they had “Boner Boards” in each of the Flight Rooms. A “boner” was a “screw-up,” typically called by an IP. Each “Boner” carried a $0.25 value and was collected by the IPs. The collection was then used to buy the beer for some function or another (night flying, graduation, whatever).
The boards were constructed with a Playboy Playmate picture under a piece of plexiglass, covered by a solid laminated material of some kind.. Our names were then listed in the first column on the left side of the board. To the right of our names were 1-inch squares. When you were ‘awarded’ a ‘boner’ (or 2, or 3, etc), you dropped the money in a can, and peeled away 2,3,4 squares – revealing a small part of the playmate.
With our class there was no shortage of funds for the beer…
When we flew in the training command at the time, we operated off of both sides of the runway. Normally a runway has to be “clear” to land however we had a waiver that allowed us to operate with 3,000 foot spacing between landing aircraft – on opposite sides of the runway. It worked well.
One day Capt. C. was in position for takeoff, on the left side of Runway 14R at Randolph AFB, TX. As his student was checking the engine instruments prior to brake release Capt. C. noticed a ‘flash’ off the right side of his aircraft. Then he saw another Tweet (T-37) roll by and for a split second, he was eyeball-to-eyeball with him! The rolling Tweet continued a touch and go while Capt. C. retarded his throttles to Idle to regain his composure for a moment before taking off himself.
During that time he (then) noticed a couple of flares that had been short off from the RSU and only then, heard the RSU Controller screaming over the radio! It happens. Sometimes we become so ‘focused’ in what we are doing that we lose sight of everything else around us. Neither Capt. C, nor his student or ‘Buzz,’ the solo student pilot in the other aircraft, heard the calls of the RSU Controller, or saw the flares!
When he got back to the flight room, Capt. C. was still HOT! It cost Buzz about 100 “Boners” that day (about $25.00).