USAF ROTORHEAD Members
After graduation and commissioning from Texas A & M in May of 1957 I had to wait until March of 1958 to enter active duty. Went to Primary at Bainbridge, GA. (T-34 & T-37), Basic at Webb AFB, Big Spring, TX. (T-33) then on to Stead AFB, Reno, NV. for helicopters. Ellis Thiel was my flying mate and Juan (Jay) Mijia was my instructor. Dave Pittard and I graduated early (H-19 only–no H-21). Dave went to Myrtle Beach and I went to Perrin AFB, at Sherman/Denison, TX. where the H-19 was phasing out and the Kaman H-43A was brand new. Local checkout, including firefighting. My OIC was Major John Price who had flown the R-4//H-5//and the Nash Kelvinator H-6. Highlights included several missions involving boating accidents on Lake Texoma, student bailouts, and support for the Sam Rayburn funeral in Bonham, TX. Yep!! Sam was the Speaker of the House so his funeral was a big event and we became the transportation managers. The President and Vice-President came with their own helicopters–but everyone else rode with us or on Army H-34’s.
In April of 1960 I responded to an emergency called by a student pilot flying an F-102 at about eleven pm. He hit way short of the runway and burst into flames. I was airborne with the FSK and made a good approach and deployment of the FSK and firefighters who executed a textbook suppression and cockpit entry, blowing the canopy, severing the ejection gas tube, etc. Unfortunately, the pilot was killed on impact (not by the fire which was quickly controlled–this was determined later-of course). Now comes the strange twist to the story. Because the pilot was killed-ATC would not allow any mention of our participation vis-a-vis laudatory comments about the rescue effort or comments validating the Helicopter/FSK firefighting/rescue concept. So this event was buried until a successful night rescue was executed. I may be wrong but I think this happened several months later at Columbus or Biloxi. Major Price was so upset with ATC’s stance that he composed and had printed at his own expense a beautiful Certificate of Outstanding Aerial Achievement along with a beautiful desk set to acknowledge the event.
After two years at Perrin, orders to Osan AB, ROK, once again flying the H-19B. This is where I team up with Bert Berthold, Tom Fallows, Frank Chase, Jay Mijia (again), “Pancho” Nunez, Bill Lyster, et al. Two highlights from K-55. Tom Fallows and I have a night mission to P-Y-Do with the Base Flight Gooney Bird doing Nav/Escort duties. The other is the deployment to Papua, New Guinea for Bert and me under the auspices of the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA). More about these later.
Thirteen months later back to the CONUS, Williams AFB, AZ. TDY back to Stead for transition into the H-43B and Firefighting School—so this is how you do it. Lots of interesting missions in the Superstition Mountains, White Mountains, Meteor Crater, etc. Two great years at Willie and the biggest surprise of my life–a three year accompanied tour to Torrejon AB, Spain.
Most of my memories of Spain are non-military!! But let’s see—while we (the family) are still temporarily housed in the Aitana Hotel in Madrid–a B-52 and a KC-135 collide over the southeast coast of Spain and scatter some nukes about. I was on duty so I launched with medic and crew chief. The crew from Moron AB arrived first but both crews were told to remain on the scene until a Command and Control team arrived from Madrid. Most AF people are aware that three nukes were found right away–but the fourth was missing. For the next 120 days I flew in and out of “Camp Wilson” near Palomares, Spain in support of “The Search”. Later in the tour I experience one of the few complete engine failures of the T-53. I’ll talk about that event later also. Det. 7 was my first command and I had Capt Sam Langston, Capt Art Machado, and Capt Dave Cochenour as pilots for most of the tour, SMSgt Kushlan was my Maintenance Chief.
We left Madrid in December of 1968, settled the family in Houston, Texas (my hometown) and I arrived in Da Nang in January of 1969. I missed Snake School on the way over so I had to go back to Clark AB immediately to fill that square. During my tour there were many exciting events but I had the only two actual FSK firefighting missions. One was successful and one was not. The first was a Spad who lost oil pressure right after takeoff. He made a 90/270 return to land downwind, when it looked like he would go off the end of the runway into the bay he pulled the gear up. Oh! did I mention that he had a full load of ordnance? He skids off into the infield and we deploy the FSK and start to hose down the underneath side where all the bad stuff is. We have some explosions and we get some shrapnel damage, one fireman gets a piece in his thigh the other gets blown off the wing as he is extricating the pilot, but the final result is that we get him inside and get him over to the 121st MedEvac before he knows what happened. The shrapnel damage was discovered after we shut down back at The Pad. The other event was an F-4 with battle damage. He could not jettison his centerline tank and he did not know how much fuel he had so he would not wait for the runway to be foamed. He also rejected punching out “feet wet”. The SOF agreed to landing on the centerline tank with the hook down to catch the BAK-12. Bad choices–he missed the barrier and was a ball of flames for over 2000 feet before he stopped and we could deploy the FSK. The ground units were in position quickly so I simply supported them from that point. Needless to say there were two fatalities. I had one penetrator pick-up in Hai Van pass. An ARVN O-1 with an Army Capt observer went down and we got the call. It was pretty routine. I picked up “several” aircrew members from the bay. Some from army choppers and others of our own who punched out “feet wet”. I’d say it probably was a pretty typical Da Nang tour after Tet.
Although I applied for and got C-141’s after the Da Nang tour, helicopters are my first love and I am a member of the USAF Helicopter Pilots Association.
There are two other events which happened while I was at Da Nang which are worth mentioning. The bomb storage area was destroyed in a series of spectacular explosions–ostensibly ignited from a grass fire that got out of control, and the VC managed to get a satchel charge onto an ammunition barge down at the docks. It woke me up, but I went right back to sleep.
The final nine and one-half years are either C-141 or non-flying experiences.
Integrity, Honor, and Respect
Some of the best things cannot be bought, they must be earned
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