Saturday, November 15, 2014

Profile 93: FINISHED— "The greatest weapon never fired." - the Minuteman I missile

Behold, the Greatest Weapon Never Fired.

Hold that thought.

By the time I reached school, 99.9% of American schools were no longer practicing Civil Defense nuke drills.  But mine did.

See, growing up in North Dakota, we all suffered under the bumpkin anxiety that came from having one of the smallest populations, worst climates and most sheltered cultures in the nation.  Never mind that we were sitting on a bajillion dollars in oil or that you could leave the front door open while on vacation.  North Dakota basically sucked.  Except for one detail in which we were all extraordinarily and diabolically proud:  if North Dakota seceded from the rest of the Union, we'd be the THIRD.  MOST.  POWERFUL.  NATION.  ON.  EARTH.


Missiles.  Specifically, the nuke missiles that were poked into silos all across the state.  And the clinched nuke missile is the venerable LGM-30 Minuteman family.

Have a look up top—it's the LGM-30B Minuteman* I (MM I) missile, the first in a 3-version lineage that not only made North Dakota (almost) almighty but also proved out the bizarre reality that you can win a war by not firing a shot.

Minuteman missile sites.
Courtesy: National Park Service

First deployed near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana in 1962, 800 of the MM I's were eventually planted in South Dakota, Missouri, Wyoming and of course, North Dakota.  And though they were capable of reaching their targets (presumably in Russia) in about 30 minutes, their real job was to scare the hell out of everyone.  Which they did.

Remember "The Cuban Missile Crisis"?**   It was the Minuteman I that gave President Kennedy the extra confidence to draw a red line through Cuba and tell the Russians to go home.  Can you imagine Russian nukes pointed at us from 90 miles away?  I can't and am glad Kennedy couldn't either.

I remember as a kid listening to an adult scoff at the idea of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (or MAD).  "Mad?!  More like Madness!  We need to get rid of these (nukes) right now!" he exclaimed.

Movie still from War of the Worlds (1953) where the pastor doesn't use
the sense God gave him
and tries reasoning with the aliens by singing hymns.  He got fried.

The reality is that nukes won't be going away any time soon.  The machinery of diplomacy, national pride and human nature is so complicated, it's going to take decades—maybe more—to truly dismantle the world's nuclear weapons systems***.  Whereas this is a fantastic goal, it's just not realistic right now.  So, in the words of Stanley Kubric's Dr. Strangelove poster, we need to "stop worrying and love the bomb."

"Love? The bomb?!"

Sure!  And it's easy, too.  Follow along.  :)

First, every once in a while, look north and salute the men and women who are making sure that the all-important deterrent factor is real, ready and sharp.  They're called Missileers and though you'll never see their work at an air show (that'd be cool though), they have to serve-out the ironic existence of being able to do what they don't want to do in order that it never happens.
I asked Missileer Col Charlie Simpson (ret) how he processed this peculiar, last-act mission and he stated, "My real mission was ensuring that this (last act) never happened!  Throughout my service, and still today, those of us involved in strategic deterrence know that the real key is to have a force so strong, so flexible and so dedicated to the mission that an enemy would never consider starting a nuclear war."

Second, forget the idea that nukes have only been used twice—once each on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Instead, know that nuclear weapons have been used every day since and flawlessly, too.  This is where the word "deterrence" comes in.  We don't need a mushroom cloud to know nukes are doing their job.

Thirdly, whenever your talking-head of choice utters the words "Foreign Policy," listen carefully and ask questions until you have an opinion.  The world is a dangerous place and one of a nation's supreme duties is to protect its future from unwanted outside influence.  There's no saying when the next Cuban Missile Crisis is going to pop up but if/when it does, our leaders will be carrying a mega-ton burden.  On our backs.

Next up:  The mighty Atlas missile!

Blast doors of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

*Why the name Minuteman?  The LGM-30's predecessors used liquid fuel propellants that took time to prepare for launch.  In the case of the Atlas and Titan I missiles, about 15 minutes for each one.  The Minuteman used solid fuel propellant that could be ignited right away.  As a Missileer about "Guaranteed delivery in 30 minutes or less."

**Kennedy vs. Khrushchev/Castro.  Click here.

***And this is why it's so important that no new nations get nuke tech, too.

Friday, November 14, 2014

PROFILE 94: JUST STARTED—the U-2R as flown by Stan Rauch, 5th RS

Whoa... (repeat) whoa!

                   "The Dragon Lady" is here...
                                                ...and I'm drawing her!

From Jonny Quest (1965):  quite possibly the best cartoon ever made.

The U-2 is right-up-there (pun intended) with the SR-71 in terms of cloak and dagger mystery.  Granted, it doesn't fly Mach 3+ and doesn't look like an alien spaceship but when it comes to drama, intrigue and triple-dog-dare secrecy, she is the slinky siren of aircraft.

And to top it off, the only airplane currently flying that demands more from her pilot is the...maybe...well..there is none.   A U-2 rating is the kind of pedigree that silences a bar full of rowdies like the sudden slapping of swinging doors and the jangle of spurs.  Don't believe me?  Watch this space and I'll illustrate why over the coming weeks.

Drawing all-black aircraft is a terrific challenge, so I am going to be taking my time.  We'll be done before year-end though.

In the meantime, I recognize that this is a rarified opportunity for all of us to find out what it's really like to fly this amazing aircraft on missions that are even more so.  So.  If you have a good question, send it to me and if I use it, it'll be answered here and you'll get a pilot-signed print of my artwork as a memento.

In the meantime, in case the U-2's peculiar lines aren't unique enough, have a look at the picture below.  That's our man, suited up and ready to go...somewhere.


PS - my email:

Profile 92: FINISHED— "444" the F-102A Delta Dagger as flown by Jim Eisenmenger, 509th FIS


Ya'know, the Deuce illustrates the old adage that, "Wars aren't finished with the same weapons that started them."

As stated before, the F-102 was a purely Cold War creation—designed to fire Falcon missiles into the butt-end of a Soviet bomber stream.  Period.   How it got to Vietnam is purely an exercise in Preparedness.  And that's a good thing.

WWII ace Don Bryan explained to me the differences between Planning vs. Preparedness.   In Planning, the process addresses a defined set of expectations and desired outcomes.  In Preparedness, the process addresses a variety of expectations and diverse outcomes.  One process honors focus, the other the ability to adapt.  Don was a bigger fan of the later but that's a different post altogether...


That an Interceptor designed to fire missiles at a bombers ended up in the highly tactical and mobile environment of Vietnam was definitely not part of the overall plan.  But it did show excellent preparedness.  After all, what if the Ruskies had given the North Vietnamese a squadron of Tu-95s*?!

It doesn't matter. The NVAF never mounted a strategic bombing campaign.  So, Deuce drivers like Lt. Jim Eisenmenger flew almost all of their missions escorting B-52s during the "ARC LIGHT" close-air-support strikes on targets below the DMZ.

B-52 angles away, probably back to Guam.
Courtesy: Jim Eisenmenger

Jim explained to me what a typical mission was like; two 102's would take off from their base in Udorn, Thailand and join a three-ship B-52 strike inbound from Anderson AFB in Guam.  Once they met-up, the scene was straight out of WWII in that the escort would curve above the bombers in order to slow down their ground-track to meet the B-52s.

"They were about .78 Mach and though the 102 had really great slow speed handling, we had to be ready to act so we S-turned over them so we could keep our speed up."

Operations over SEA required a higher level of navigational awareness than the preceding conflicts of WWII and Korea.  The faster speeds, narrow boundaries and complicated "rules of engagement," only added to the complexity of using the big Deuce in-country.

Here.  Have a look at the map below. It's a general map of Vietnam that Jim had tucked away in his G-suit.  It may be vintage 1969,  but it provides a unique glimpse into what it was like to fly ops over there.  The markings are courtesy of some unknown, unsung intelligence officer.
GCI Map of Vietnam
Courtesy: Jim Eisenmenger

First, notice the red dotted arcs radiating south of "Bullseye," otherwise known as Ha Noi.  They're 50 miles apart.  To give you an idea of how fast things could change, an F-102 flying at with a ground speed of 500mph would cover the distance between the DMZ and Ha Noi in about 15 minutes.  And, at it's narrowest point, Vietnam is only about 30 miles wide.  Just a blink.

The black radii and peculiar names like "Point Crab" and "Waterboy" are actually Ground Control Intercept (GCI) stations that helped interceptors like the 102 locate, track and intercept targets.  The 509th was based at Udorn, about 100 miles west of the Thai/Laos border.  If you locate the center of the map, move up to find the GCI station, "Invert," Udorn is where the number 70 is written.  Jim & Co. were indeed, well-prepared for the attacks that would never come.

However, look at the crudely colored black solid and hashed areas.  Those are areas judged to be 'more desirable' in the event of having to ditch or bail out.  I asked Jim what the significance of each area meant and he laughed.  "I have no idea.  And I don't think (the Intel guys) had any idea either!"  He did note that they looked nice on the map, however. "It's nice to know where and where not to bail out," he said with a wry smile.

Jim flew 52 combat missions and only one of those crossed the DMZ.  When I asked if any particular ones were notable, he was quick to say that none really were.  Of course, he could recall the tiny flashes of AAA against the black jungle during night missions but he was also quick to state the flashes were more interesting than dangerous; I got the impression that for Jim, flying the F-102 was rather routine.   In 1969, the routine ended.  SEA '102s were ordered home; their intended mission simply wasn't going to happen.

"When the 102s were being pulled out, I was happy to go home.  But later—now—I wish I would have stayed."


Sometimes you need to bring your own table decor to coffee.
If you want one, click here.

"I don't know..." he thought for a moment, then offered, "Maybe I wanted to get my 100 missions?" He took another drink of iced tea, then self-consciously adjusted the plastic stand that held the die-cast model of 444 that he'd bought as a memento.   "But I was qualified for the 102 and that's what I flew."  I wondered if there wasn't a hint of regret that he couldn't tell me something spectacular...

But "spectacular" isn't the point.  After so many years of listening to "c-stories," I've come to appreciate people's whole story as more important than just the exclamation points.  Perhaps that's more of a function of talking to old warriors in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s—they not only remember the wars but the "peaces" in between.

Months later, over another cup, Jim was more interested in talking about the changes that have taken place since his Deuce days.

"Back then, we were graduating (thousands) of pilots a year.  We were probably killing more pilots in accidents and such than there are actually flying fighters today!" he quipped.   Indeed, there are less than 200 of the tech-bursting F-22 Raptors in service right now compared to the 1,000 F-102s that were built.   And the Raptor not only does the job of the Deuce, it also replaces the rest of the Vietnam-era suite like the F-4 (5,000+ made), the F-105 (800+ made) and, if pin-point efficiency is worth anything, maybe even the B-52.** (700+ made). It's an imprecise statement, but in many ways, one airplane today is doing what thirty used to do.

Progress, eh?  But the progress of efficiency hasn't come cheaply.  In adjusted dollars, the $1 million dollar price tag of the 1963 F-102 would be more like $10 million dollars today.  A lot of money, sure, but not nearly as much as the F-22's current price of $150 million.  We're doing more with fewer folks but paying over ten times the price to do so.

Is it worth it?  Who knows?!  The next war will reveal that when it happens.  In the meantime, I hope you see the irony in the pictures below.  It looks like we should have kept a few '102 around.

F-102 vs Tu-95    F-22 vs Tu-95
The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?  ;)

*Actually, the NVAF had a handful of Russian Il-28 "Beagle" medium bombers.  But all things considered, they wouldn't have gotten much past that first dotted red line on Jim's map...

**Just checkin' if you're awake.  Nothing replaces the B-52.  Ever.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Profile 89: FINISHED—"Shirley" - Curtiss P-40N as flown by Cliff Long, 51st FG

“Old men have no more dreams.  Instead we have memories.”
Hold that thought.

Finished—“Shirley,” the P-40N flown by Lt. Clifford Long, 51st FG, Baoshon, China, circa late 1944.

King Solomon, the wisest man ever to have lived, is alleged to have written, “The end of a thing is better than its beginning.” Perhaps it’s my own foolishness but I can’t agree here.  This particular commission has been so rewarding, it’s a shame to mark it “finished.”

The art really turned out well.  “Shirley” was one of the last P-40s to see combat in WWII and therefore had to look the part—tired, used, but still vital and deadly. The standard olive-drab paint was notorious for “chalking” under the pressure of nature’s elements and in the process, became a better surface for collecting dirt and oil stains, too.  “Shirley” was no hangar queen, that’s for sure.

Have a look at the photo below to get an idea of her natural surroundings.  It’s one of, if not the only, known color photos of 51st FG P-40s.   And the circled airplane is “Shirley” herself.  But if you squint just a little and let your mind go, you can hear the blare of the idling ’40 in the foreground and feel the warmth and dryness of the sun-warmed Chinese air.

Yet, again, “Shirley” is not about the art.  She’s about the story.  And if the art is good, the story is better (it always is).

Beginning a project has many parallels to building a model airplane.  The initial phone call, letter or handshake is like piercing the cellophane that surrounds the box, crinkling it up into a ball and  sliding the lid up off the bottom.  With a gentle “pphhumph” of vacuum, the contents are revealed and the plastic ‘trees’ of pieces are inspected.

In this case, the first “piece” I got to experience was not with Cliff, but his wife.  In the small-talk, I made a quick mental calculation and figured that they’d been married nearly seventy years.  It’s a fairly startling number and I couldn’t help but blurt, “What has been your secret to success?!”  She hesitated for a moment, obviously in thought, and then stated with a matter-of-factness that made it all seem so simple, “We help each other.”

One of my buddies has a phrase for ideas that pop in your head and wiggle around as they're being cogitated—he calls them “brain worms.”   Pop!  Though we chatted idly about weather and family, Shirley’s brain worm didn’t just wiggle, it struck camp…but I’ll get to that later.

Anyways, my interview with Cliff began shortly thereafter and the “model” begun.

Armchair historians like to poo-poo the P-40 as an also-ran piece of Allied aerial kit.  Citing lackluster performance stats and the superiority of contemporary equipment, these critics only show their ignorance.  Instead, the P-40 possessed the greatest qualities of any weapon of war:  availability and ease of use.  With nearly 14,000 produced, the P-40 series was built in numbers greater than the technically superior Corsair and the iconic B-17.   Durable and powerfully armed (no differently than the P-51 Mustang, F6F Hellcat and Corsair), the P-40 was also easy to fly.  Pilots qualified on the P-40 with regular ease.

How regular?  And how easy?  This is were Cliff weighs in.  At age 18, the Army Air Force felt confident enough in his abilities to give him wings and throw him the keys to the thing…and at age 19, they sent him to China where he would then take the '40 into mortal combat.

Though the P-40 was used in every theatre of WWII, “China” is where it’s most often identified. First-used in the famous American “Flying Tigers” mercenary group, the P-40, its branded “shark mouth” paint scheme and leaping tiger emblem have become permanently identified as symbols of the CBI (China-Burma-India theatre of operations).

By 1944, when Cliff arrived, the P-40 was being phased out of front-line combat in favor of the faster, more powerful and longer-ranged P-51.  But such a transition took time and the 51st FG was somehow low on priority list and all the while, Cliff racked up missions in the P-40.

Of course, there are marked distinctions between types of missions:  recon, escort, ground attack…each one requires a certain set of skills and faces a certain number of dangers.   By summer of 1944, Allied air superiority was well established.  The same could not be said for the war beneath the clouds, however.  In the jungles, hills, crags and steppe of southwest China, northern Burma and eastern India, the Japanese prevailed, arguably up until the last minutes of the war.

“Close air support” (not unlike the future war in Vietnam) was relied upon to destroy Japanese positions.  Armed with bombs (and sometimes rockets) the 51st used their P-40s as dive bombers.  The risk was, of course, huge.  Anti-aircraft fire could be withering and the liquid-cooled engine stopped cold with a single slice of shrapnel to the coolant line. It’s tough, impersonal work to run such a gauntlet.  It’s much more satisfying to pit skill against another man in an aerial dogfight.  At least the ‘luck’ factor is mitigated by the controllable quality of ‘skill.’  Right?

Cliff didn’t necessarily think so.  “John, the best tool for the job is the one you know best.  Our work, any work, demands focus and attention.  That I had so much experience in the P-40 was a factor in my success.  I knew the dynamics of that airplane and it was that knowledge that kept me alive.”

Recalling the moment where his Commanding Officer asked for volunteers to transition to P-51s, Cliff said all-hands shot up but not his.  Training and practice were times to learn.  Combat, on the other hand, was a time to fight.  As a bomb-delivery device, the P-40 was excellent and as long as that was the mission at-hand, the P-40 would be the mount.  He described how two highly experienced pilots but fresh with P-51s met their deaths in combat situations that may have been different had they stayed in more familiar aircraft.

“The P-40 brought me through 104 combat missions.  Of course it's my favorite airplane.  Why wouldn’t it be?!” he chuckled.   “But I’ll tell you something else about those missions,” he stated cooly, “103 of them were before I turned twenty.  I was just nineteen.”  Cliff emphasizes his age, still amazed that such youth could have been entrusted with such circumstances.  “I flew my 104th and last combat mission on my birthday.” (March 3, 1945).

Cliff left the combat arena with 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 4 Air Medals and the confidence that comes from survival and peer respect (he was regularly selected as a Flight Leader). “I never liked combat,” he said.  “To me, it was a time where I just gritted and prayed.  But I was proud that I’d passed the tests and made the grade.”  Transferred to Karachi, India in April of 1945, Cliff trained newbie pilots two and three years older than he in the ways of the wild and this further reinforced that the days to come would only be great.   But it wasn’t to be so.

“I am afraid that my main memory of WWII is a bitter one,” he said softly.  “When I came back, I had an offer to lead a Training Command and another to join the first operational P-80 squadron (the first operational American jet fighter).  But all this time, what I wanted to do most was get my girlfriend back-home out of circulation and go to college.  To me, the GI Bill offered the greater opportunity than the military.  So I left the service, got married and signed up for college at Penn State for Fall Semester, 1945.”   It was here that Cliff met a roadblock that is at once fascinating for its novelty and tragic in its commonality.

A little backtracking is in order.  

Cliff grew up as the second youngest in a family of eleven.   The Great Depression was in full-force and caring for the large family was Earl Long’s daily mission.  He held two jobs, the main one being a Tinsmith for one of the railroads.  “One of my father’s jobs was to make and repair cutlery for the trains.  Cutlery!” Cliff exclaims in emphasis.   It was a good job in that it was stable but the railroad still couldn’t bridge the gap between income and expenses.  “But dad need still needed to work two jobs.  So, he had an old truck that he used to haul coal off-hours.”

“One day, my father’s supervisor approached him and explained that the railroad was trying to keep as many people employed as it could and dad’s second job wasn’t fair to those who hadn’t any.  He was given the choice to quit the railroad or quit hauling coal.” Earl Long jumped the rails.

“I learned then that life was about discipline.  Not the switch kind (i.e. branch or stick used for beatings) but the discipline of your own life.  No one is going to look out for you.  You have to do it yourself.  And to do it yourself, it took discipline.”  The Long family’s pocketbook shrunk tight and Cliff remembers pitching in on deliveries of the black stuff.  But in time, one truck grew to two and coal delivery more than filled in any deficit caused by the loss of rail service.   His father’s example of risk and responsibility went to Cliff’s core; it is therefore no surprise that during his last year of High School, Cliff decided his time was better spent learning to fly airplanes than wood shop.  He left.

Fast forward back to Penn State.

Newly married, highly decorated, flush with confidence and backed by the G.I. Bill, Cliff was not prepared to hear that his admission to college was denied on account of his lack of a High School diploma.  “A High School diploma!” Cliff exclaimed.  “The service had taught me aeronautics, navigation, leadership and I’d passed the toughest tests a man can have only to have some 4-Fs in an office say I needed to finish…High School?!  I was twenty years old!”

The Altoona High School annual circa 1943.  Cliff was supposed to graduate in '43.  He didn't.

Cliff lost his place in college; the swell of returning vets filled the spot in a blink.  With a new bride, a life to start and of course, bills to pay, Cliff resigned to finding a job.  “After the war, there were no jobs.  There were so many people returning, there was nothing to do.”  Though he eventually found a spot working in a coal-crusted foundry (ironically for the railroad), his depression and bewilderment was so strong, it took decades for him to process it.

“At the time, I just buckled down and moved forward*. But as I got older, all of my life’s dreams have turned into memories.  And when I (finally had the chance in life to see) how my dream of college was blunted,”—Cliff’s voice trails for a moment—“I saw where that young man (himself) was let down and I understood the disappointment.”  He sighed.

Hold that thought.

If I’ve learned anything about interviewing “old guys,” its this:  Life is a trajectory that arcs from a definite beginning and ending. Along the way, highly personal circumstances are continually shaping, bumping and altering that trajectory.  At the beginning, life is about the goal.  But towards the end, the question, “How did I get here?” inevitably comes to mind and those one-time mercurial circumstances are now analyzed.  At once the “Old Guy” becomes satisfied—if not energized—by the clarity of understanding and frustrated at realizing exactly how much (or how little) a moment ended up shaping their life.

All us whippersnappers, are hereby put on notice, too.

Don’t get the impression that Cliff Long is angry.   I prompted his response when I asked him what the over-riding memory of WWII was.  He answered truthfully—he could accept the rules of war but somehow, the injustice of being held back for lack of a pedigree knocked his path in ways that it took decades to fully understand.  I took note to use care myself in how I might impact someone else’s trajectory, too.

“You asked,” he laughed. “But you know that P-40 represents the best (thing that had happened to me) don’t you?  It’s how I can also say I have so many good memories.” 

Of course, I did.  “Shirley” was named after the girlfriend that later became his wife.  

Off in the background, I heard her say something, Cliff acknowledged and then announced, “Well, that’s enough for today.  I have to go give my girlfriend a kiss goodnight.”

In my journal, I have written two sentences that, read apart, are thought provoking.  But together is the kind of advice that can lead a man through war, disappointment, success and a marriage that lasts seven decades:  

                       Remember that your dreams become memories…
                                            …and help each other.

By the way, during the print-signing, Shirley signed her name on top of the cowl.  Rightfully.

*Cliff eventually worked his way into a Sr. executive position for a large oil company with the predictable success that came from a man who learned discipline and leadership at an early age.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Profile 92: UPDATE—"444" the F-102A Delta Dagger as flown by Jim Eisenmenger, 509th FIS

Oh it LOOKS like I'm more than half-done.  But I'm not.  I'd say a third-the-way-there.

It's a quirky bugger to draw—the simple shapes are almost always so because in aircraft design, very little is left to chance.  The days of aircraft drawn purely for aesthetics crashed with the Great Depression.  By 1952, when the designers at Convair were nerding-out over their slide rules, flight was a definite science, especially due to the increased speeds afforded by jet power and expanded missions demanded by the growing Red Threat.

When I was a little kid, I remember checking a book out from the library and reading about how the "Duece" prototype was not able to go supersonic (in spite of its looks).  However, when the fuselage was "pinched," the drag created by the flow of air around the fuselage was sufficiently reduced to the point where the extra "oomph" to break Mach was within reach of the throttle.  Funny how things like that go, but that little factoid helped me understand drag and aerodynamics a lot more.

Have a look and imagine the airflow and resultant pressure gradients yourself... (if you're bored).

Though you can't really "see" the pinched fuselage in my profile drawing, it will need to be there in subtle shading and contour.  I haven't quite figured how to do it yet.  But I will.  I have to.  "444"'s pilot is definitely one of those slide-rule pilots who can do density-altitude, weight-balance and speed calculations while he's shaking hands and introducing himself.  If I've learned anything about pilots from the 1960s it's that they're especially preoccupied with the technicalities.

Anyway, it's rather amusing to do this F-102 because it ended up so out-of-place in Vietnam.  As an interceptor, it was designed to be a true fighting "system" in that it was purpose-built to climb fast, use radar and launch missiles at attacking bombers.  In Vietnam, the 102s were (mostly*) armed with AIM-4 "Falcon" missiles.

Like the Duece itself, the AIM-4 wasn't suited for the type of aerial combat that was commonly encountered in Vietnam.  For one, it had a contact-fuse.  That meant it had to physically 'hit' the target; others with proximity fuses blew up once they got within a specified radius of the target.  Against an invading Tupolev flying heavy, slow and level, the AIM-4 would work just fine.  But against the small and bee-like MiGs?  The AIM-4 was like the chubby kid in the middle of a game of keep-away.

According to one source, during a three month period between 1967 and 1968, 54 AIM-4's were launched against North Vietnamese fighters.  Four hit.  That's a 7% hit rate.  With six Falcons on board, it'd take more than two F-102 launching their entire missile bay to get one victory.   Ouch.

Photo: an AIM-4 being man-handled by a bunch of North Dakota ANG airwomen.
Source unknown but I'd sure like to know what Mr. Cameraman was thinking...

If you've been following this particular project—and judging by the statistics, more than a couple of you are—I'm guessing you're not here to read F-102 bashing.  That's not my aim anyway.  Instead, I hope to show how the airplane, in fact, kicked butt!  Only it's going to take Jim's slide-rule brain to help me.

Love this airplane.  :)

*The F-102 flew a comparatively small number of air-to-ground missions in Vietnam.  During these missions, rockets were also used. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Profile 93: JUST STARTED—LGM-30B Minuteman I missile as flown by The Missileers of the USAF


Have a look at the pencil sketch above—sharp eyes will know immediately that it's actually a Minuteman II, or, to the unenlightened, the LGM-30F.   But it represents the LGM-30A/B, the "almost" indistinguishable godfather to the incredible Minuteman Missile program.  Please trust me, the MM I will be a brand-new drawing and as accurate as can be considering the things were never supposed to be seen in the first place!

This past month, two patrons have made their case that I need to do the Minuteman I to round out my Minuteman II and III drawings.  They made their point and the MM I has temporarily bumped a B-29, an F-111 and a strange Polish airplane (more later) off my desk.

So many people are ignorant of the Missileer's service.  Until I was commissioned to do the LGM-30G of a certain Minot AFB Captain, I was too. The more I've learned about Missiles, the more impressed and grateful I've become of the devices and the men and women who make sure they're ready for the unthinkable.  But suffice it to state, it can be argued that the American ICBM system is the most successful weapon system ever created.  

Don't believe me?  Watch this space.

And have a look at my drawings of the MMII and MMIII below.   The MM I may not end up looking much different than the MM II but to the thousands of Missileers out there, II and III don't add up unless you start with I.

In the meantime, tonight's a great time to go outside, take a breath of clean, fresh, non-radioactive air.  And when you do, snap a salute towards the men and women in concrete vaults buried far below who have helped make it happen.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Profile 87: FINISHED—The RB-47H as flown by Freeman "Bruce" Olmstead

Conspiracy Theories are the sugary breakfast cereal of the History Geek crowd; everyone knows they’re bad for you but everyone also has a favorite.  And if your favorite Conspiracy Theory contains a toy at the bottom of the box, all the better!

I remember in 2003 when the Iraq war started.  I was readying to tour Europe with a group of WWII fighter pilots and, the September 11 attack loomed especially large over people's psyche.  A family friend took me aside and cautioned, “You know what they are going to do, don’t you?!  You’re over there with American heroes!  They’re going to take you hostage!”****

And who were “They”?   She wasn’t quite sure.  After all, they could have been...anyone!

Ok.  Hold that thought.

Have a look at the RB-47H above - it’s the one the Russians blew apart on July 1, 1960.  Six men went down, four died, two returned and one remains.  That remaining soul is Bruce Olmstead.  A few weeks ago, he blessed the artwork and now I can call it “Finished!”

No piece has evoked the whistles and admiration that this one has.  The owner of the printing company that replicates my art—typically quiet about my airplanes—summed it up by saying, “I had no idea we had such a pretty airplane!”   Everyone who’s seen it remarks similar.  And I agree.

Boeing nailed it.  But so did the Russians.  

According to my tally, about 50 American aircraft were lost to murky reasons between 1947 and 1973.  4 of them were ‘47s.   At least that’s what they say.  Of course, “281” was one of them.  And in this case, we know exactly who the “they” are that shot it down.  Down to the chromosome, too.  His name was Vasily Polyakov.

Vasily Polyakov
Credit: Sovfoto (is this still even in business?!?)

According to Polyakov’s nervous after-the-fact testimony, he was responding to intense psychological pressure. Bear in mind that, back then, the arms-race was really gathering steam and the world had fairly divided into a USA vs. USSR dichotomy. Though there was no formal declaration of war, the two empires were indeed enemies and treated each other with corresponding suspicion.  And violence.

To Polyakov’s ‘defense,’ a U-2 flown by Gary Powers had been shot down near Sverdlovsk just two months prior.  Immediately denied, implacably excused then begrudgingly admitted, the U-2’s flight came as a rude slap to everyone.  For one, the Americans were caught spying.  For two, the trailing Russians advanced to the point where they could do something about it.  Immediately President Eisenhower suspended any more overflights.  Yet, if anything, the shoot-down only ramified the importance of gathering intelligence on each other!

Anyway, while Powers sat in Stalin’s ex-torture chamber— Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison—it's easy to see how Polyakov got trigger happy when he scrambled to intercept 281 over the Barents Sea.  And he got close, too.  Bruce remembers Polyakov’s MiG-19 tightened right up, no more than 40’ off the starboard wing.  I bet that rarified, frigid air held so much tension, it could have been cut with a knife!  As it turned out, a knife would have been welcome.

Bruce remembers what happened next with a sigh,  “John, it was a traumatic moment.  I have grown tired of thinking about it.”

Credit: Inside spine of book.  E.P. Dutton & Company

I’ll spare you the temptation to poke Bruce one more time:  281 was at 30,000 feet and approximately fifty miles from Soviet airspace.   While the “Ravens” (see prior post) worked the dials in their dark bomb-bay closet, Navigator Capt. John McKone called for a turn to the northeast.  Pilot Major Willard Palm responded with a gentle left bank.  Polyakov banked right.

It would appear that the two enemies parted ways.

But then... 

Polyakov reversed his turn, carved in, fangs out: Poom!  Poom!  Poom!  Poom!   The MiG's three 30mm cannon spat shells, punching the beautiful Boeing with explosive jabs.  Olmstead reacted quickly to man the RB’s 20mm defensive cannon but somehow the Russian had jammed the gun’s targeting system and Olmstead’s fire ran wild.

Credit:  Me.

Right now, I can see it in my minds-eye; the devilish MiG, hot sparks of magnesium tracers, the shudders of impact, glints of aluminum shards and the wind up into a death dive...


Four Americans died*.  Two survived.  One remains.

54 years later, Bruce Olmstead was polite but clear.  “It’s all in the book, John.  It’s all old news.”  

Normally, I’d be happy to place a link but the book, “Little Toy Dog,” is way out-of-print and almost impossible to find.  In fact, I got my copy as a surprise from a reader who in-turn got it from an antique dealer!

Antique or not, it’s an important work.  William Lindsy White does a fascinating job of telling the story.  His Cold War paranoia and contrasting intellectualism are almost as interesting as the what happened; on every level, it’s worth the hunt.  But in case you’re a Gen-X’er like me with latent ADD, I'll summarize.

McKone and Olmstead were rescued from the cold ocean by a Russian fishing boat and chugged to Russia.  Palm died in the water while the three Ravens were never found.  Russian chief Nikita Khrushchev was trying to distance the USSR from Stalin’s legacy and didn’t allow the two survivors to be physically tortured.  But he did have an axe to grind.  So, though McKone and Olmstead were safe from thuggery, they were subjected to daily interrogations.

Meanwhile, the USA was on the cusp of culture-shift of its own.  The golden hue of the 50’s was setting on one horizon while the storms of the 60’s flashed on the other.  There’s no doubt that  that the 1960 presidential election played into the politics of negotiating for McKone and Olmstead’s release.  Sure enough, the two men were officially welcomed back to the U.S. on January 24, 1961 by John F. Kennedy.  It was his first official act as President.   

Olmstead and McKone come home, JFK stands by
Credit:  Unknown.  Please let me know; I'm assuming Associated Press.

McKone and Olmstead had been imprisoned nearly seven months.**

Ok.  Back to Conspiracy Theories.

Like I wrote, Bruce Olmstead is tired of telling the same old story.  To him, it’s reliving the blast of ejection, loss of friends, humiliation, deprivation and also, nursing a broken back under an enemy’s care.  He's done his duty and owes nothing more than taxes and the laws of the land.

For the most part, I respect Old Men who feel their finished talking.  But when their tales are lost in some bohemian book nook or don’t-know-what-you’re-looking-for-until-you-find-it internet-search, I get concerned that the wisdom will stay shelved.

Ok.  Have one last look at the RB-47.  It was, by role, a “Reconnaissance airplane”  Formally, “Electronic Intelligence.”  Militarily “ELINT.”   But for us regular folk?  It was a Spy Plane flown (by definition) Spies.  And the currency in which Spys trade are Secrets.

Today, in the Snowden-Nude Celebrity-Lost Email world, Secrets are like fish pellets at a Koi pond.  Toss them out and water erupts in rainbow of fury.  Personally, I really do want to know if Lois Lerner had an axe to grind.  I also want to know if there are any kind of prejudices of Congress or the President that cause them to make this decision or that.  

So, I’ve learned to look beyond the obvious and dig around.  You know.  Snoop for something else.  Bruce “got” that.  And was happy to throw me a few bits.

“Several weeks before our shoot-down, two men from the NSA defected to the Soviet Union. Through Cuba.  They had with them a copy of the SIOP.”

What?!  They had the SIOP?!

Cuba's Fidel Castro (Center) and USSR's Nikita Khrushchev

Credit:  A now defunct Latin news agency.  That's all I know.

SIOP stands for “Single Integrated Operational Plan”.  Boring title, shocking info:  it was the general plan for nuclear war that the United States operated from 1961 to 2003.  In it contained everything an enemy needed to know about US.   And when I mean everything, it's everything.   Kind of like if hackers not only got your bank account info, medical records and emails, they also got your nude photos, too.

No wonder we were snooping!  And no wonder the reds were trigger happy!  And to top it off,  this was a time when a nuclear war was still not only conceivable, but winnable.  At least for the United States. The Soviets didn’t have the tech, the defenses or the manpower to win a war with the United States.  In fact, Curtis LeMay, chief of Strategic Air Command stated, “It would have cost us essentially the accident rate of flying time…”   In other words, we could have really won.

Think about it.  No arms race.  No Mao.  No Vietnam War.  No Pol Pot.  No (fill in with whatever your imagination is conjuring).

Holy Smokes (pun intended)!   And now, "Dr. Strangelove" doesn't seem all that strange does it?!  It makes you wonder just how connected everything really is—don't forget that two years later, the Russians got caught smuggling missiles into Cuba and that standoff made whatever happened over the Barents Sea seem trivial.

Thank gawd Khrushchev and Kennedy kept their cool.

“Most of the Air Force thought we flew weather recon at night and golfed during the day,” Olmstead stated wryly.  “(But) I have (one) comment.  I very strongly believe that keeping secrets about our government’s strategic planning, military or otherwise, is an absolute necessity.  I do not believe at-all that the public has a right to know everything that our government, who’s job it is to insure our peace and safety, might be planning to get that job done.”

Hmmm.  I think about that "serenity prayer" that I see stuck on refrigerators:

                     God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  The courage to change the          
                     things I can And the wisdom to know the difference.

Thus, "281" dedicated to the Intelligence community.  Not all (of course), just the ones that are looking out for, in Bruce's words, 'our peace and safety.'  That, to me, is the only toy surprise I want out of my box of Conspiracies.

The "Little Toy Dog" that McKone carried with him for luck.  It went down down with the plane.
Credit:  E.P. Dutton & Company

You know who you are... ;)

Credit:  Wide World Photo

*Americans killed in the shoot-down: Pilot Major Willard Palm (front left), and Ravens (back row): Major Eugene Posa, Captain Oscar Goforth and Captain Dean Phillips.  Bruce Olmsted is center, John McKone is front right.

**Gary Powers ended up spending 22 months in prison, released February 2, 1962.  In comparison, Lt. Cmdr Everette Alvarez spent over 8 years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, from 1964 to 1973.

***Actually, there's more to the story and this will come at a later date.  For now, it's need-to-know only.

****Obviously not.  Had a great time, too.   Carry on you Bastards of Bodney!

Profile 90 - The F-4D Phantom "flown" by Angelica Pilato.

Have a look at the F-4 Phantom above.  It didn't fly combat and I haven't met any of the airplane's crew.  Just a chick who talked her way into the backseat.

*wink wink*...I'll explain.

A regular reader of this blog, (and Vietnam War combat pilot and MiG killer), insisted I read the book, "Angel's Truck Stop*," by Lt. Col Angelica Pilato (Ret.).  Here.  Have a look at the cover.

Cute isn't it?  And get that name, "Angel."  Sitting on a Jeep...ahhh.  Nice legs!  And I betcha she had a crush on one of those pilots, too!  (snicker).  Maybe made him cupcakes.  Gosh.

Hold that thought.

Imagine American history as a long wall.  It goes along nicely until that period between (about) 1963 through 1975.  Then, perfect storm of the Civil Rights Movement, the Sexual Revolution, Peace & Love and of course the Vietnam War, combined into a cultural tornado, scattering the times into pieces; each a separate voice onto the world-at-large.  However, the world-at-large soon becomes congested with soap boxes and megaphones.  Cacophony reigns.   Of course, I'm here to learn about "The War" and that cuts down on the clamor.  But even so, the diversity of voices is no easier to sort:  McNamara, Ellsberg, Westmoreland, Nixon, LBJ, Olds, Mason, Thorsness, Coppola, Kubrick, Moore, Cherry...hell, virtually every person alive at the time has got something to say!

In short, what I hope to be a classroom becomes an open debate with no moderator.

And that conflict persists.  Just the other night, I had dinner with a man who's son was preparing to write his Doctoral Thesis on American History.  The son's advisor gave some telling advice:  "Don't do Vietnam.  No one wants to hear what you have to say."   I've experienced this taint myself. When I decided to go to Vietnam** to see things for myself, the responses of others ranged from being called a Commie-lover (sorry Angry-Dude but I'm a devout Goldwater-ite) to hugs of "support" (why do I need support?!)  to wide-eyed gasps. 

Funny; I never experienced that at Normandy...

ANYWAY.  Back to Angel's book.  And that cute cover.  It's the only thing cute about the book.   

I'll be blunt:  Angel's Truck Stop is the memoir of a bull-headed, tenacious woman who maneuvered her way into flying the Officer's Club at Udorn Air Base, Thailand in 1971.  Instead of sugar and spice, I was sucker-punched by a chick who is unafraid to tell it like it was.  "It was the 60s and 70s and It was the time of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. I had two out of three of those covered," she said cooly.  "It's my story and I can't sugar coat it. I had to be authentic."

It isn't (sugar coated).  Angel's candor kept me flipping pages in rapt attention. Her honesty and willingness to bare herself was unsettling.  As a guy,  I cringed a few times and even asked her, "Sheesh!  Did you really have to say that?!?"  But my wife had a different perspective.  She said, "Wow!  She's a strong person!  It tells me how far things have come along!"

Regardless, Angel held her own in a "3-F"*** culture.  Yet, there's nothing prurient or gratuitous about her story and no more/less uncomfortable than reading about Slick pilots hosing blood and guts out of their Hueys.  

So.  What does this have to do with the F-4 above?

It’s a D-model from the 22nd TFS based in Bitburg Air Base, Germany, circa 1971.  It’s also the only combat aircraft Angel got to experience during her career in the Air Force.****  Yeah, I know—Bitburg is a long way from Vietnam.  But in the context of the interviewing, this was the only airplane that really made any sense to draw.  As a symbol of her ambition and quest for control, it's "her" airplane.

Anyway, I asked Angel the same question that I ask any "Old Guy" who ends up being part of this blog—"If you were to have lunch with my (daughter) and had to impart your life's wisdom, what would you say?"  Angel's reply was not only applicable to her own life but also gave me a fresh perspective on how to process what I've learned (so far) about the Vietnam War:  

"Your life is filled with choices and you’re going to make a lot of them, some wonderful and some that you’ll say, “What was I thinking?!”  When you think you have failed or made the wrong turn, don’t be so hard on yourself.  Pick yourself up, learn from it and move on. If you don’t make a few mistakes, you’re not taking any risks; you’re playing it too safe.  Life is an adventure, experience all it has to offer."

I hope we—Americans and Vietnamese alike—can adopt such an attitude and settle into a more unified voice.  Or, as I learned from a Vietnamese college student, "Remember the past but move forward to something new."

Though I can't say Angel has finally brought the Vietnam War into any cohesive understanding, her story has taken its place among the ones I trust.  

Read the book.  (click here)*****

* Full title:  Angel's Truck Stop: A Woman’s Love, Laughter a, and Loss during the Vietnam War" by Angelica “Angel” Pilato. Lt. Col USAF (Ret.)
**In case you didn't know what's been happening since Clinton normalized relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, our two countries have been growing into pretty good friends.
***Flying, Fighting and...
****Amusing story.  You'll have to read it yourself.
*****Available direct, via and tablets. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Profile 92: JUST STARTED— F-102 as flown by a guy from the 509th FIS

I've wanted to do a Southeast Asian F-102 for some time but until now, didn't have the opportunity until earlier this year.  In my opinion, the airplane in Vietnam camo looks totally awesome!

So, have a look above.  It's the start of an F-102 of the 509th FIS circa 1968.  "444" to be precise.

The only other '102 that I've done was one flown by the South Dakota Air National Guard.  Done up in her early-1960's "ADC Light Gray" paint typical of Tactical Air Command, I thought it looked more like a NASA space craft than fighter plane.  However, in my research for that particular commission, I discovered the 102 also wore SEA warpaint and filed the info in my 'that'd-be-cool-to-draw-someday' mental hard drive.

My art of the SDANG F-102

This past February, a strange chain of events (they usually are, which ironically makes them normal) put me across the table with a 509th "Deuce" pilot who had a few stories to tell.  Not many though.  Just a few.  (more later).

Hold that thought.

The F-102 was a bit-player in the aerial arena of Vietnam.  I think only two squadrons were even deployed.  Why?  Well, the F-102 was designed as an "interceptor."  In other words, an airplane sent to intercept attacking airplanes.  In other words, a defender.  More specifically, a defender against enemy bombers.  

The demands upon an Intercepter are dramatic but straightforward—it needs to be able to get the attacker before it can attack.  Qualities like rate-of-climb and heavy aerial firepower are crucial.  Back in the '50s and against a stream of Russian bombers, the F-102 Delta Dagger (normally called "the Deuce") would have crushed whatever the Reds sent.   But in Vietnam, the bombers never came.  And good thing, too because the packed American airfields would have made a hell of a target had the North Vietnamese been able to buy enough* Il-28s to become a real threat.

Here.  Have a look.

C-123s, C-130, A-37s, RB-47s, F-4s and 509th F-102s at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, circa 1968
Source unknown  

As it turned out, the only attacks on American bases were from Viet Cong-thrown satchel charges and mortar rounds.   Dồng for đồng**, the VC were far more effective than any bombing raid could have ever been; over the 509th's history, they bagged 4!

So, the Deuce's interceptor mission never even got off the ground.  "Nothing to see here, move along..." right?  No.

A 509th Deuce heads north.
Source: private collection.

In the next few weeks, I will be finishing the airplane of a pilot (no names, he prefers anonymity) who flew 52 combat missions in this wicked-looking warbird.  Yeah, it flew combat.  How, what and why are a different story altogether and will be an interesting look at how deploying weapons systems are a balance of preparedness, practicality and pure guesswork.

*It turns out they had about eight.
**Vietnamese currency is the đồng.