Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Alden Rigby - 1923-2015 (long, slow salute)


Alden Rigby, 352nd FG ace died this past May 3 at his Utah home.

I drew his airplane - click here.  But Alden was more than just an 'interview' to my family.  He remains the example of what Class looks like.

Please read his obituary:

One of the Greats of that "Greatest Generation", Alden Peter Rigby, Maj. USAF Ret., passed into history May 3, 2015 at his home in Bountiful UT. He was born January 4, 1923 to Martin and Elva Rigby in Fairview UT. He married the love of his life and eternal companion of 73 years, Eleen Barker, June 3, 1942 in the Manti Temple.

He served his country heroically as an ace fighter pilot flying P-51s in the ETO, earning the Silver Star, DFC, Air Medal with 21 OLC along with many other awards.

He served again during the Korean War with the Utah National Guard and retired from the service in 1978. He was a supervisor with the Federal Aviation Admin., and was responsible for setting up the air traffic grid for the western U.S. In 2010, in recognition of his war service and many contributions in the field of aviation, Alden was inducted into the Utah Aviation Hall of Fame at Hill AFB.

He served in many church positions including missions with Eleen to India/Sri Lanka and the Jerusalem Center in Israel. He was a sealer in the Salt Lake and Bountiful Temples for 30 years, performing over 2000 marriages. He valued his unwavering testimony of the Gospel and was an example to all. He leaves behind a legacy of much love, kindness, hard work, selflessness, generosity, humility, and so much more.

Alden has friends without number from all around the world and the Rigby home was open to many visitors.  
Alden is survived by his wife, Eleen and their four children, Jerilyn (Al Drummond), Larry (Susan), Kevin (Estelle), and Greg (Faye), 25 grandchildren and 67 great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held May 8,(VE Day) 2015 at the Oak Hills Ward, 455 S. 1200 E. Bountiful, UT. at 11:00am. A viewing will be held between 9:30 and 10:30 am on the day of at the church and the evening before between 6:00pm - 8:00pm at Russon Bros. Mortuary 295 N. Main, Bountiful, UT. Online guest book at www.russonmortuary.com.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Primary Children's Hospital.
The full obituary is here.

But, did you catch the line—"...friends without number from all around the world..."?  If that isn't something anyone would want in their obituary, I don't know what it is.

Alden—wherever you are, it's a great day because it's got to be the best Eternity has to offer.

In the meantime, the rest of us mortals can click here and listen to him tell it like it was.

Alden signs an autograph.  That's Eleen behind him smiling; she's one of the women who ranked the name on the nose of his P-51 fighter, "Eleen & Jerry."  Which brings up the question, "Who's Jerry?"  That'd be his first-born daughter, Jerilyn.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Profile 103: FINISHED—"Mary Pat" as managed by MSgt John DeBerg, 385th BG, 551st BS

Say hello to "Mary Pat," a B-17F that flew 59 flawless missions against Nazi Germany, circa July 1943 through February of '44.

Yeah, I can hear now the whistles of disbelief from all you History Geeks out there.  But for those who may not be so geeky, I'll clue you into why Mary Pat is worth the whistle:  she was an "F" model that arrived early in the 8th Air Force's sophomore blows against targets in continental Europe.

These early months were a time of untried tactics, expert Luftwaffe attacks and vicious flak.  Mary Pat's number of missions are near-miraculous because during that time period, a bomber crew's chances of not living out their 25-mission requirement was one-in-three while a B-17 airframe's odds of making 6 months was zero.

Have a look yourself:


So, now that everyone knows we're not dealing with a run-of-the-mill B-17 here, hold that thought.

The relationship between 'ground crew' and 'air crew' are oft-told tales.  I remember watching on TV as 357th FG ace Clarence "Bud" Anderson cried while describing how his ground crew worked throughout a cold night, scrubbing dark camouflage paint from the skin of his P-51 with gasoline and wire pads in order to make sure the airplane was better suited to blend-in over Europe's freshly snow-covered ground.  The next morning, Sgt. Otto Heino and crew presented "Old Crow"(in her newly shined aluminum livery) with a bloody hands, cracked open by cold, hard labor and 100 octane.

Later, while talking to Bud myself, he told the same story and cried again.  Though an ace and combat leader, Bud could not imagine that his ground crew were any less than himself.  And of these 'air crew and ground crew' stories, Bud's is just one of thousands.

Bud and Crew Chief Otto Heino, 60 years later.  While Bud went on to become a bona fide WWII celebrity (with absolutely zero of the celebrity 'attitude') Otto became a renown potter. 
The Crew Chief's role was to supervise the mechanical care of an assigned aircraft.  To put a fine point on the matter, each aircraft—be it fighter, bomber, whatever—was 'issued' to the Crew Chief as an item of responsibility.  The men who boarded the airplane were simply picking up a tool.  The Ground Crew, on the other hand, made sure the tool was useful.

No Ground Crew?  No Air Crew.  And, no mission.

Have another look at Mary Pat.  Only this time, give the title a little attention—Their brother's keepers.  You've probably figured out where this post is going; say hello to Master Sargent John DeBerg, 385th BG, 551st BG.


"Mary Pat" was John's B-17—he was the airplane's Crew Chief.  And those 59 missions?  Of course, part of the credit of Mary Pat's longevity goes to the German's poor/unlucky aim.  Part of the credit also goes to pilot Ruel Weikert and how he led the air crew.

But, imagine this:  black puffs of flak causing tooth-banging turbulence, shards of shrapnel slicing through aluminum skin and Ruel's steady hand and clear commands, all performing as expected.  Not a glitch, not a hesitation, not a fault...

Ruel Weikert's son has been emailing me asking what it'd take to get a print of this airplane for his family for some time now, but...

Look.  We're all connected—some how, some way.  I don't get it and realistically, neither do you.  But the bottom line is whatever we have is some how, some way bolted to someone else.

My interview with John DeBerg is too much for this blog post.  But suffice it to state, whatever you're doing has the potential to mean significance for someone else.

So, to the Weikert family: the DeBerg family is sending you a print—signed by John.  You asked about buying a print and now, here's your answer.  I apologize about being oblique in responding to your requests, but I've been under a higher authority; John thinks the world of your dad.  And some how, some way, I suspect your dad thought the same of him.   So, there.  Now you know why your money's no good here.  To John, he's just taking care of Mary Pat.

John DeBerg signs a print.  There's so much more to this story but it's just not the right time to share it all.  Suffice it to say, I'll give it its due at a later date.
Gawd, if you have half a soul, you're crying.  Just like Bud Anderson.

And the photo below?  That's Ruel Weikert, pilot of "Mary Pat."  The picture was taken after the bomber had completed her tour and was on her way back home; whole, hale and hearty.  No small thanks to Ruel's excellent leadership in combat and John's excellent leadership with a wrench.


PS - Just so you know that I'm not overstating DeBerg's significance as a Crew Chief, the Air Force gave the man a Bronze Star for his expertise.  Do yourself a favor and read it—that's how 'appreciation' is done...


If you'd like your own print of "Mary Pat" signed by MSgt. DeBerg, email me: john@Johnmollison.com.  But in the meantime, if someone like John DeBerg has (like the print title says) been your keeper, you don't have to give them a Bronze Star Medal.  A Thanks and a snap salute may be all that's desired.

Profile 102: FINISHED—the F-4D as flown by the 523rd TFS


And here it is - "Hunting for MiGs," the F-4 Phantom as flown by the 523rd TFS circa 1972.

Very soon, this blood-thick band of brothers will be swapping pictures of grandkids, amusing vacation stories and plans for upcoming hobby projects; it's time for their annual Reunion.  Part of the agenda will be the doling out of prints of this F-4.  The process will begin with hoots, hollers, wish-they-would-have-forgotten-that memories...but will inevitably end up with the realization that this represents their moment...

...and the room will get quiet.  For just a moment and then someone will yell, "D---d B--!" and all hell will break loose.

Fast forward to the year 2065 where some kid is looking at this picture hanging on the wall—and some how, some way, another old man lives forever.

There are aspects to 'this job' that stop me cold and this is one of them.  But don't get me wrong—it's beautiful stuff.

(deep breath)

*break break*

Onto those pictures that I promised in a prior post.  Pilot and author Darrel Couch* is quite a writer! But man, that guy knew when to take a picture!

Have a look below.  Darrel has graciously allowed my sharing them with you here.

Above:  A formation of F-4s approach another formation.  Smoky things, aren't they?  But the coolest part of this picture is where they're going; it's a 12-ship of F-4s (plus the formation ahead) going to escort Bob Hope to Clark AFB, (Philippines) circa December 1967.

Above:  Same time-frame as the shot above, only a few minutes later.  Can you ID the jets ahead?  If you can, you're pretty sharp.  Hint:  they aren't MiGs.

Above:  Same time as the top two; Darrel shows us what formation-flying is all about.  He's tucked in nicely on the Element Leader's right wing.

Above:  Darrel stands on the spine of a 523rd Phantom.  This is an interesting shot in that it helps the casual observer appreciate the size and proportions of this beast.  Can you spot the three (maybe four?)  different airplanes in the photo?

Also, a few readers have asked me about the red line that many jet aircraft have painted around the fuselage (like the one about 3' in front of Darrel).  According to the Air Force Tech Order, it's called "Plane of Rotation - Engine Turbine."  Or, as some have called, "The Turbine Line."  In other words, if the jet engine turbine decides to self destruct, shards of metal are going to come slicing out of that area faster than a ginsu knife cutting through tomatoes.  So, step aside.

Above:  613th TFS "Huns" (F-100 Super Sabres to the rest of us) circa December 1965.  I show this photo because of the sore-thumb Hun in the "SEA" (South East Asia) camouflage.

Update:  The 613th was the first Hun unit to be in Vietnam and the camo'd plane was among the first to be done (within the unit).

Above:  Darrel took this shot while flying Forward Air Control (FAC) flying the tiny, single-engined Cessna O-1.   Clearly, the man can walk and chew gum at the same time as he's in a bank, looking down, aiming a camera and timing the shot JUST as a B-57 lays a line of napalm on a target.

This kind of shot makes me swallow hard. *Stuff* just got serious...

Above:  An unidentified armorer poses with the two tools of the trade:  the AIM-4 Falcon and AIM-7 Sparrow missile.  The Sparrow is only partially visible; it's tucked up into the recessed divot on the bottom of the fuselage (right next to the crewman's head).  The Falcons are the smaller missiles hanging from the pylon.  From what they tell me, the Falcons were virtually useless.  This is probably one of the brand-spanking-new F-4Es delivered to Vietnam in 1968 (can't see any gun-pod, so that means it's likely a nose-gunned E model).

Above:  There's a bit going on in this photo—the white 'line' is actually a sequence of cluster bombs going off.  Basically, a cluster bomb (here, a CBU-2) is a bunch of little bombs held in a case that splits open after being dropped.  The first to hit (left) are dissipating while the furthest right are actually popping open in flame.  The F-100 that dropped them is just off frame.

Update:  I got my CBU info wrong; the CBU-2 was not a self-contained bomb but a dispenser-unit.

Darrel corrected me on this and added (thank you!):
CBU 2 & 12 were delivered in level flight. CBU 12, had a max delivery altitude of 75'. It ignited as soon as it cleared the dispenser tube and, if higher, would burn out before hitting the ground. CBU-24 was dive bomb delivered. The AGL release altitude was critical. Too low and area coverage was significantly reduced. Too high and the bomblet spread would create a doughnut. Center targets would remain untouched. After a few months of use, the timed case opening fuse was replaced with a radar fuse. This allowed a wide range of delivery options. When the container reached the proper altitude, the fuse would activate the explosive chain to open the clam shell and release the bomblet load. The bomblets were basically round with spin up molded in vanes. Spin would cause the bomblets to spread.
However, ever hear of Agent Orange?  If you look at the left third of the photo, you can see what looks like tan/dirt colored areas; that's where the AO hit.  Darrel told me that it must have been a recent strike as it didn't take long for AO to do a total-job of defoliating; that we can see green at all means it must have been 'fresh.'

Above:  This is Quan Loi Airfield, circa July 1967.   The top of the photo is nearly straight North and the red-dirt runway is running from NW to SE.  It's near the town of Ahn Loc.  Do your own research on the topic, but suffice it to say, it saw its share of action.

Anyway, a couple things to note;  See the dark trees that frame the runway in triangle patterns?  Those are rubber trees.  You should be able to see a C-130 airplane at the SE end of the runway; chances are good it's taking off.  But, if you look at the middle-middle-right of the photo and see a jagged edge to what looks like a growth of trees, that's where the Viet Cong would gather to lob mortar rounds into the area.

*break break*

If you're like me, these photos are a rare glimpse into the times; many thanks to Darrel for sharing his story.  He's helped me understand the cost of war, the purpose of duty and the value of friendship.

If any of the above photos were interesting to you, click here (there's more, there).

But to the 523rd, on the appropriate day, I'll be toasting you in-spirit, to the strength of your legacy.  It's been an honor to be a part of yours.

Profile 104: IN PROGRESS—"A-Bar" as flown by Newton Cobb, 364th FG, 385th FG

Have a look at "Newt" Cobb's 'A-Bar.'   It's almost finished.   In fact, it should have been finished months ago.  But it isn't.  And yet, it's a "hurry-up!" work because I'm all out of time.

(sigh)

I tell ya—though today is a balmy April day, it 'feels' like one from a bitter November; gray, spitting sleet and hissing of a vicious winter ahead.  Too poetic?  Maybe.  But years ago, when I heard so-many people moan, "We're losing all those WWII veterans so quickly!" I still had a contact-list of a hundred or more, all of who would either answer their cell phones or respond to an email (usually within a few hours).

Today?

(sigh)

By the time you view this, Newt's P-51 will be finished and if I'm fortunate, in the production que at my printer's place.   I'll post the final version here along with Newt's story of being (possibly) the shortest-time POWer of WWII.   Shot down during the last days of Hitler's reign, the man waited out the inevitable end by agreeing to a fascinating (and bizarre) code of ethics with a German officer.

Yeah, you'll want to read the final story.

But in the mean-time, I'd like you to click the link below and watch a quick video of Newt describing a encounter with another German officer that, if you're like me, will leaving you wondering about the strange poetry of how life works.

"By that time it was too late...I don't understand why I'm alive today."


Stand by.  The next post might give a little more clarity to Newt's comment about not understanding why he's alive today...

UPDATE:  I doodled this quick sketch of what Newt might have seen regarding that Me-163.  The proportions are off (the 163 was about half the size of a P-51) but you'll get the drift...
Newt Cobb vs. Me-163

Profile 99—JUST STARTED: "675" as flown by Richard Hilton, 433rd TFS


Finally!  I get to do something with that Pave Knife pod I spent half a year trying to draw!

A quick recap is in order—Dean Failor, an F-4 "Guy In Back" had been hounding me to look into the laser-guided bomb program of the Vietnam War.  I took the bait and ended up absolutely fascinated by the technology, passion, danger and importance of it all and promised him that I'd draw the "the knife."

However, the process was like trying to catch flies with chopsticks—for such an influential piece of technology, there just wasn't much out there, especially in terms of photographic references.   But, fortune prevailed; over the next few weeks, I'll be drawing the F-4 of 433rd TFS Squadron Commander, Richard Hilton.

Be warned, this won't be a terribly glamorous F-4.  In fact, according to Hilton's "Form-5" she's a run-of-the-mill D-model clad in nothing more remarkable than a few years of wear, tear and faded paint.  But, from what I know of her pilot, I don't think glamor matters too much.

Over the next post or two, we'll be heading "North" to see if Hilton & Co. can finally put a hole in that bridge.

What bridge?  Well, on May 10 and 11, 1972, there was only one bridge that really mattered...

(more to come)

©Richard Hilton.
Doh!  I forgot to tell you— about May 10, 1972:  that date was important enough to warrant a book.  Click here if you want to get yourself primed for what's to come.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Profile 98: FINISHED— "Kunk's Klunk," the P-38J flown by James Kunkle

DONE!  (whew!)  Presenting "Kunk's Klunk"—the P-38J as flown by James Kunkle, 370th FG.  Take it in because in a few minutes, it's going to get blown to pieces.

So.  Let's get back to where we left off (in December)...

"BREAK!  BREAK!"  Jim hollered.  "BREAK!"

But there was no break.  A few fruitless twists of knobs and flicking of switches made Jim realize that his radio was out!  And being the last guy in the formation, any waggling of the wings was useless, especially with target just ahead...what's a guy to do?


Jim hauled his P-38 into a tight left turn, climbing slightly, and rolling wings-level just as the onrushing gray swarm materialized into a formation of 20+ German fighters.  Though alone and certainly outgunned, the initial merge favored Jim; the enemy's focus was broken, allowing the rest of the mission to put precious distance between itself and the attackers.
Go ahead and count the little Fw-190s.  And then count Jim in the P-38.
Ummm, yeah...
If you wonder how that works, imagine the scene as a school of fish disrupted by a stone.  Instantly, the fish scatter.  But these aerial "fish" were not minnows.   Instead, they were piranhas.  And Jim was no pebble.  He was fresh meat.

Hold that thought for a moment...

A few weeks ago, a severely disturbed man walked into an office with a weapon and started another damnable headline story.  One died, another was injured.  The toll might have higherl had it not been for a guy named Brian Roesler who jumped up to tackle the gunman.  You can read about it here, but suffice it to state, Roesler's quote to the newspaper is interesting, "I didn't know what else to do."

I thought that quote rather telling in that Brian actually had a number of options, many of which would have been reasonable, if not "smart."  But instead, he thought to act as he did and in so doing, probably saved a few lives.
Brian Roesler.  Photo: Joe Ahlquist / Sioux Falls Argus Leader)
Ok, keep that in the back of your mind while we return to 1944...

The dogfight was intense.  In quick succession, the Germans snapped-to and pointed their noses at the odd-shaped American in their midst.  This was going to be an easy kill.

Kunkle, in the swarm, was able to unleash his  four .50 caliber machine guns and 20mm cannon against the targets that flashed past his nose.  Boom! chakachakachakachaka Boom! chakachackachaka Boom!

In the whirl of g-forces, Jim managed to knock one, then two Germans out of the sky.  I asked the—now that I think about it—ridiculous question, "So tell me the details behind the two you shot down!"   My question was met by a warm chuckle as Jim replied, "Really?!" Another laugh.  "I'm afraid I was a little preoccupied to remember those details!"

However, there were some memories of that combat that simply couldn't be forgotten.

"I remember my left wing.  A one-ninety was behind and to my left and he walked his bullets right up the wing towards (the cockpit).  The airplane shook and then fire blasted out the cold-air vent, down by my leg and up towards my face.  The flames shot out like a blow torch."

"And then?"

"Not quite sure.  The airplane blew up.  My next memory is falling face-down through a cloud."
I took no joy in doodling this scene.  Other than that Jim made it out.
The combat had taken place about seven, maybe eight thousand feet.  Jim remembered the cloud deck was around five thousand, so he'd fallen at least half a mile, buffeted by the wind and pained by the peeling of burned flesh from  hands and face.  Miraculously,  he had enough presence of mind to grasp the "D-ring" of the parachute release and tug it open.

SNAP!

Parachutes don't float people to the ground like a feather.  They simply reduce the speed of falling to the point to where a human can survive the impact.  Approaching  earth at approximately 22 feet per second, Jim's fall wasn't the elegant descent of today's sky divers.  If you want to get an idea of what Jim went through, climb up onto the highest peak (or 22', whichever comes first) of your roof and jump.

BANG!

But, it didn't hurt quite as bad as it could have because luck would have it that Jim's parachute snagged a proudly standing tree, smack-dab in the middle of a European courtyard.   With the same force as coasting a bicycle into a brick wall, he strained to a wood-crackling halt, hung for a moment, then released himself to fall the few remaining feet to earth.
My cheesy map.  Kunkle was a few short minutes (flight-time) from one of the greatest battles of WWII.
In case you're not up on  WW2 history, there are two things of significance about Aachen at the time.  For one, some 80 miles to the north, the British were a day away from their oddly-planned* parachute assault called, "Operation Market Garden."  Ever hear of the movie "A Bridge Too Far"?   That.  For two, the American Army had just crossed the Rhine river and had advanced into the Aachen area.  History geeks will remember Aachen as the first German city to be liberated.  But that event was over a month of bloody days away.  Putting it all together, on September 16, 1944, Jim had gone from frying pan into fire.

You can imagine the scene—a quiet courtyard, waning Fall afternoon (1745hrs to be exact) , the gentle crunch of flat-soled shoes on cobblestones and somewhere off in the distance, the spastic crackle of rifle fire...Jim ran for cover.  It was then that adrenalin's effects, having protected Jim from the worst, began to subside, allowing the searing pain a chance to inform Jim that he'd been hurt.  Badly.

"I made my way out of the courtyard and onto a road.  A county road.  My eyes were swelling shut (from the burns) and I knew I had to get help.  But I knew the Germans were there (too).  Down the road, along a hedgerow, I was able to make out some soldiers.  They had netting in their helmets and, thought,  Americans!  Wow!"

Those Americans were from the 1st Infantry Division.  Every hear of the movie, "The Big Red One"?  The 1st had just arrived into Germany and the timing couldn't have been better.  Not only had they entered Hitler's backyard, they also had a grunt's-eye view of the show overhead.

The ground-bound eyewitnesses are why we know there were 20+ Germans versus Jim's lone P-38.  While Jim recovered in a Paris hospital, the Army and the Air Force got together and managed to get the man awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his effort.  Jim had put on a heck of a show for the infantry beneath.

Do yourself a favor and read his DSC Certificate...


The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Second Lieutenant (Air Corps) James K. Kunkle (ASN: 0-763232), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-38 Fighter Airplane in the 401st Fighter Squadron, 370th Fighter Group, NINTH Air Force, in aerial combat against enemy forces on 16 September 1944, during an air mission over Aachen, Germany. On this date, while flying as rear man in a squadron on an armed reconnaissance mission, Lieutenant Kunkle noticed that his squadron was about to be surprised by a vastly superior force of enemy aircraft. Unable to summon his leader on the radio, he alone unhesitatingly pulled away from his formation and vigorously attacked the enemy, immediately destroying one of his aircraft. In so doing, Lieutenant Kunkle placed himself in a position to be attacked from the rear and above. When this attack materialized, many hits were registered on his aircraft which caught fire burning his face, neck, and hands. Despite his burning plane and the gunfire from enemy planes, Lieutenant Kunkle continued his attack against the vastly superior enemy force and succeeded in destroying a second enemy aircraft, breaking off combat only when forced to parachute to safety when his left fuel tank exploded. Second Lieutenant Kunkle's unquestionable valor in aerial combat is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 9th Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces.
General Orders: Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Forces in Europe, General Orders No. 13 (1945)


In case you're wondering, the DSC is one stop below the Medal of Honor.

So, knowing that, would you have another look at Kunk's Klunk and give the poor girl a moment of silence...?

[silence]

"So what happened to Jim?!" you ask.

Good question.  After 16 weeks of hospital care, Jim tried to get back into combat but a doctor discovered additional spinal injury and took him right out of flight duty.  The war was over.  Instead, the Doc sent Jim to what was called a "Flak House" for 30 days of peace, quiet and a chance to heal.  In case you're not familiar with the term "Flak House," it was a slang name for a the kind of convalescence that only those who've experienced mortal combat can appreciate.  Jim described it as a beautiful English Manor populated by, of all people, bomber crew.

"I was a fighter pilot.  I wanted to talk about flying.  About airplanes.  About..." Jim's voice trailed for a moment.  "But the bomber crew?  They wanted none of that!"  We talked for a few more minutes on the strange blessing that being (seemingly) in-control of one's fate could be to a man.  The bomber crew had to grit and bear the random pierces of flak and the slashes of the Luftwaffe.  But the fighter pilot, though inter-dependent, was more self-reliant.  Somehow, someway, to Jim at least, that formula worked best.

"Over the years, I can't count all the great leaders and good role models I've had.  Especially in the military.  But my mother, she was my guiding light.**   And you know, I still meet people I look up to!  But I've always been, ultimately, in charge of myself.  I may be part of a team, but I am (foremost) an individual."

Jim went on to explain that opportunities abound in spite of pendulum swings of the economy, of politics, of this or that...but only to those who have the sense of personal responsibility to account for their fates.

And only to those willing to take on 1:20 odds.    After all, he didn't know what else to do.
"Kunk" signing my artwork.  Check out Jim's office decor.  And his buddy.
Now.  If you'd like to own a print of "Kunk's Klunk," signed by the boss himself, click here and scroll down until you see his P-38.

*I'm being charitable.  "Market Garden" was a dumb idea.  So dumb, it should be a lesson plan in business schools for young executives who hope to do things like start businesses, manage people, or develop new products.  It'll scare'em silly.  Don't believe me?  Read this.

*Jim's dad died while Jim was a young boy.  Jim's father had been an aviator in WWI and was a primary force in interesting the young Kunkle in all-things aviation.  A salute goes to both parents. 

Profile 97: FINISHED— the Pave Knife pod of the 433rd TFS


Finished—the Pave Knife pod!

In case you haven't been following this story, Pave Knife was the amazingly successful laser-guided weapons system used in the last year of the Vietnam War. Though it wasn't the first* (Pave Way was) Pave Knife was certainly the best.    It's worth its own post because of its game-changing effects on everything from tactics to weapons procurement to, some say, even shortening the duration of the Vietnam War itself.

If you ask me, its enough that Pave Knife was a brilliant case of teamwork between the military and private enterprise.  From concept to in-country, the development of the Pave Knife system set records in terms of production and economy.  In case you're curious, the contract for designing and building the thing was a "fixed price."  Meaning, no chance for budget over-runs or cost obfuscation.   And since the pressure was on to deliver accurate munitions with minimal collateral and "political" damage, time was of the essence; Pave Knife went from idea to working device in approximately nine months and in-country in less than twelve.

Of course, with such short notice, not many of the things were built.  Each one was "hand crafted" and the total number that the USAF used in Vietnam was small.   Although a couple sources say there were seven, the number was most likely only six. But even that paltry number quickly whittled down to three or four due to operational loses and the wear and tear of hard use.  The photo below shows #2, the model that I used to create the illustration.

No idea who took this picture.  It's been retouched but I wonder why?!
In case the mere-months time frame doesn't mean anything to you, it'd be like going from empty lot to unloading the moving truck in...like...a week.

From here on out, I'm going to be concentrating on drawing one of the F-4s that carried the Pave Knife into combat.  However, bear with me for just a few more minutes because the gizmo deserves a bit more explanation on how it works because the rest, as my kids say, gets complicated.

The Pave Knife is actually not just the device above.  "Pave Knife" is actually a weapons system, meaning it requires the co-functioning of separate units to perform its work.    The first part of the Pave Knife system is the bomb.

Have a look at the little animation below.
The main body of the bomb is a standard "Mark 84" 2,000lb General Purpose bomb.  However, the fins have been enlarged in the rear and a "seeker head" installed on the front.  In my animation, the seeker head looks like a small rocket stuck on the bomb nose.

Anyway, the tip of the head swivels and pivots. In the nose, there's an 'eye' that detects the reflection of laser light and sends signals to the set of fins just aft.  Those fins are moving fast because in real life, they acted just as you're seeing them - bang! bang!  The fins didn't steer by subtle degrees but by making full-deflection 'bangs' to keep the eye pointed toward the target at the rate of up to ten per second!

Of course, since the bomb relied on gravity to provide motion through space, (as opposed to a rocket that could be propelled) lateral deviation from the bomb's trajectory was dictated by altitude and airspeed.  A laser-guided bomb (LGB) couldn't "fly" much beyond the flight path.  But having a bomb that could be steered like a radio-control airplane wasn't the point of the Pave Knife system.  Dialing in absolute accuracy was.

Parts for a plastic Pave Knife model.  Over the years I've learned to trust the good folks at Hasegawa models to be accurate. And, I've also learned to trust the good folks who follow my work.  This little guy was given to me by a reader who heard my cry for reference material.
Thank YOU Missouri reader!
And boy was it accurate.  In combat tests, over 50% of LGB bombs were dropped on-target.  Not 'sorta' on-target.  No 'close enough' on-target.  We're talkin' down to the pin-point on target! The remaining 50% (unless something got fubar'd) were within a yardstick's distance.  So, consider that we're talking about a 2,000b bomb, "accuracy" is pretty much academic.

Putting this into perspective, consider a typical WW2 Navy dive bomber would deliver 50% of its bombs within a 100' diameter circle.   So, it's rather easy to see how Pave Knife absolutely changed the rules of bombing.

Ok, have a look at the animation below.  It's my attempt at putting it into practice.
For illustrative purposes only.  In real life, the bombing F-4 would be coming right down the bridge line; I offset it for illustrative purposes.  The F-4 at left has just released its bomb (seek the little black speck?) around 7k-10k feet.  The F-4 at right, at about 10k-12k feet, is projecting a laser beam from the wing-mounted Pod onto a specific point on thebridge.  You can see how the two parts, bomb and Pave Knife pod, worked together.
Well, I have to start drawing an F-4D so this little drawing can do some good.  It's going to take a while because I've got a ton more research to do.  Believe it or not, due to the kindness of a long-time reader, I've managed to acquire a book of BDAs (bomb-damage assessments) of Pave Knife missions from May, June and July of 1972. My idea is to pick a particular mission (I'm thinking against a bridge target)  and analyze it.  In the process, I will confer with Dean Failor (one of the trained Pave Knife operators) and a pilot who took the device "up north."

Dean's been introduced here before.  So, it's a good time to introduce you to "Rick" Hilton, Squadron Commander of the 433rd TFS.

It's time to go bridge hunting.  With 'the Knife.'


*Pave Way and Pave Knife were equally accurate systems but Pave Knife was far better for combat for a number of reasons that will be explained later.

PROFILE 102: UPDATE - "280" as flown by the 523rd TFS

"(I) thought I was going to the big show. Vietnam.  (But) wound up in the Philippines (and) thought I had missed the action."

That quote is from James Null of the 523rd TFS.  If you've followed my work on the 523rd so far, you'll remember that this particular F-4 is going to be a "Team Airplane" and representative of the many that comprised the squadron.  More on that when I post the final sometime in April (get ready for some of the coolest F-4 photographs you’ve ever seen!)

In the meantime, much to Jim's chagrin, I'd like you to focus on the red star painted on the splitter-plate.   Why chagrin?  It’s because the particular F-4 that I’m drawing is also the F-4 that Jim and Mike Vahue flew when he downed a MiG-21 over North Vietnam.  Jim has let me know—on a number of occasions—that the story that follows neither makes him a celebrity, something special or particularly better than anyone else in the unit.  Instead, that it happened at all was, in his words, "luck."

On April 16, 1972, Jim and Mike got…lucky.  

The day before, the pilots of the 523rd were told that the USAF would be going into North Vietnam for the first time since 1968.   The squadron’s particular roles in the operation were two-fold:  one, to provide MiGCAP (protect the bombers from MiGs) and two, Air Defense Alert (wait around for a "scramble!").  Jim and Mike, on account of rank (they were mere Captains) were told they wouldn't be a part of the MiGCAP show up North and to wait it out in the lounge.

Mental picture: two guys in green flight suits, white paper cups topped off with mediocre coffee, feet up on a chair and snapping open the paper.

"(You) train for something, you want to do it!  We were on 15-minute alert which means that we're part of two airplanes that are a backup to the planes on 5-minute alert.  But, just before the main strike takes off, the two planes on 5-minute were scrambled to check the weather." 

But, about 0930—45 minutes after the main strike had been launched—the remaining Alert F-4s were scrambled.  In a scene out of the movie Battle of Britain, Jim and Mike, along with another F-4 crew lead by Gary Lorenz, bolted to their...nothing!  In the preparation for the strike mission, the airplane Gary had been assigned was used to fill a slot in the main strike force.

"So Gary goes off looking for another F-4!"

Mental picture:  two frustrated guys in green flight suits wandering around a shopping mall parking lot looking for their car.
However, after twenty or so minutes of phone calls, frustrated pleas and I'm sure a few swear words, another F-4 was found.  Finally, some thirty minutes later, "wheels  up" from Udorn AFB occurred and the two F-4s bolted north towards Laos for what was sure to be a waste of time.   By then, the main strike was on its way back home and the show over.

However, once on point over northern Laos, the two F-4s got the call that made Jim and Gary tighten and clench—"Papa 3 flight, we hold blue bandits zero six seven degrees, seventy miles from you at nineteen thousand, supersonic."

As a believer that "Luck" favors the prepared, Jim turned the flight to face the threat, and readied his F-4 for combat that he still doubted might ever come.
An F-4D cockpit.  A multi-tasker's heaven.
"(So) we blow off centerline tank. At 35 miles (from the target) we then blow off outboard tanks. I had already determined that if I ever get the chance to engage MiGs, I would tune missiles1 and go into engagement missiles tuned and armed. I had seen guys miss shots because they were late getting ready. The GCI which were Navy cruisers off shore of N.V. Nam,some 120 miles away keep giving us info on bogies. At 35 miles I ask if bogies are declared hostile! (And the) answer? YES!  Heavy breathing starts!  Now they are bandits!"

At about 19 miles, my wingman calls he has contact (and) GCI confirms that they’re our bandits. I tell him he has lead and is cleared to fire, which he does, but nothing happens!  (I) find out later that Gary fired but no missiles leave his aircraft.2 Confusion now ensues. GCI calls and says we are merged with bandits...and we don't have a tally3 on the bad guys. I call for a split-S4 but Gary doesn't hear the call.

Now I'm heading SW with sun at my back. I get a glint off a canopy at my 12 o'clock at about 7miles. GCI says that's my bandits. Now, I must interject that there had recently been some close calls on fratricide  A guy in our squadron had been cleared to fire on a bandit which (actually) turned out to be a Navy A-6. Needless to say I didn't want that! Plus this was my first air-to-air engagement (with the enemy).”

You following this?  Good.  So let’s take a break for second as a little context is in order.  In comparsion against the knife-edged duels from WWI or the more calculated tactics of WWII, the aerial engagements over Vietnam were far more complicated.   Because of the speeds, distances and “rules of engagement,” both the USAF/Navy and VPAF relied on outside help (i.e. GCI5) technology, (i.e. missiles and their guidance systems) in addition to old-fashioned flying. 

Mental picture:  think about it this way—in the 1940s, you bought a car and drove. That’s like flying a Fokker Dr.1 or Sopwith Camel.  Dogfighting is visceral and simple—maneuver, shoot.  In the 1970s, you bought a car, drove and listened to the radio.  That’s like flying a Spitfire or P-51—still fairly straightforward but the increased speeds and innovations allow for new tactics;  Today, you buy a car, drive, synch your telephone so you can listen to satellite radio, navigate with a GPS and dictate your email.   That’s like the F-4 vs. MiG-21 duels—GCI, radars, guided missiles, rapid speeds and “rules of engagement” in addition to flying the airplane.

Make sense?
Null was an hour away from home at 300mph.  Or, about 15 minutes balls-out.
Ok, getting back to the two Phantoms burning eastward towards the blips on their radar screens, we’ll pick this up when Jim realizes that the MiGs have now “merged” with the F-4s.  In short, it’s on!

“(After GCI) called ‘merged’—that their radar blips of us and them overlapped—I called for a split-S.  I Found out later Gary didn't hear the transmission, not uncommon in combat and with F-4 radios. I then got a vector of 245 degrees for 8 miles.  I (see) a glint off of a canopy, head that way and see a black aircraft with a silver aircraft about 1 mile behind. A black aircraft to me was an F-4!   A silver one was a MiG-21!  I thought I was looking at Gary's aircraft with a MiG-21 about to shoot down Gary—I called for him to break and that he had a MiG on his ass! The MiGs were in a right turn coming to a heading of 060 degrees heading back to Hanoi. I was lower, looking up at them. They were rocking to the right and left trying to find me as I'm sure their GCI controllers told them I was below them.”

Ok, hold that thought for a second.

The MiG-21 was designed out of Cold War thinking that ‘dogfighting’ was a thing of the past.  MiG-21s were made to go fast, fire missiles then run home for more fuel and missiles.  Though comparatively maneuverable, the MiG-21 lacked the crucial quality that all good dogfighting aircraft need:  good visibility for the pilot.

Check the photos below; I took these of a MiG-21 in Hanoi. You can see that the cockpit is so streamlined into the fuselage, it's as if the engineers were doing everything they could to keep the pilot from getting distracted by anything behind.


“I started a climb. With a clean F-46, low altitude, I'm sure I was above the (speed of sound) as I started my climb. I aimed at the lead MiG (black)7 and passed off of his right wing going straight up. I definitely ID'ed him as a MiG. I could see the pilot, the pitot tube coming out above the intake...I had to be inside 100 yards of him. I continued up and waited until the silver wingman to pass then I pulled down to follow. I was low at the 6 o'clock of the trailing MiG (silver).
Jim Null vs. the "Black MiG."  I doodled this while on the phone with Jim; took me three times to get
the orientation right.  And I haven't figured how to draw black airplanes with a pencil yet.
We achieved a lock on, waited the necessary 4 seconds8  and fired an AIM-7. I had fired an AIM-7 at Clark AB with the Test Squadron and knew what to expect.

The missile departed the aircraft—I could feel the launch mechanism function—but no rocket engine ignition with accompanying roar.  I thought I had screwed up! I quickly checked my switches. Everything looked good so I fired again. The second missile came off, rocket fired and the missile appeared to be tracking.  I decided to ‘up’ the probability of kill so I fired my 3rd missile.  (That one) appeared to track for a while but then it took off up and to the right and exploded harmlessly in the sky.

(But) then I turned my attention to the second missile. It pulled up to the left wing of the (silver) MiG, exploded and the expanding ring warhead took the tail off of the MiG. I saw the tail spinning off to the right and pieces of the missile exploding off to the left. The MiG appeared to be un-phased and continued on.  I'm sure it was only for an instant but it seemed much longer. It suddenly pitched nose up and had a large plume of fire coming from the tail.

We were close by this time and pulled up and to the right of the MiG. We banked to the left to keep the MiG in sight. The MiG rolled upright one last time, the silver skin gleaming in the sun. I could see the markings on the wings and the canopy was still in place. It then rolled inverted for likely the last time as we were only about 3000 feet or less and the MiG 2-300 feet below us.

We then began to look for the (black) MiG. With no (additional) tally, only AIM-4s remaining and just 5 or 6000 pounds of fuel remaining and 200+ miles to Udorn, I decided to go away and live to fight another day.”
©James Null.  Invaluable photo in finishing out the 523rd's bird, too.  
And that, thanks to Mr. Null, is how MiG-hunting was done, April 16, 1972.

Anyway, like I wrote at the beginning, I’ll post the 523rd’s finished F-4 here in April.  If you’re curious, there are no plans to offer signed prints for sale, though I do look forward to hanging my Squadron-signed copy in my man-cave.

And those promised F-4 photos?  DEFINITELY worth the wait.  You will like them.

Ok.  Now, about those superscripts1234567…

1The system that acquired a target and gave the scent-signal to the missile’s seeker-head was complicated and needed a bit of man-handling by the pilot, not unlike a crappy clock radio dial that squawks its way to find a nice, clear signal.

2Missiles in Vietnam were notoriously unreliable.  AIM-9 Sidewinders were the best performing missile with an aggregate success rate of about 18%.  At extreme close range (less than 1,000 feet) Sidewinders did a better job, hitting their target 86% of the time.   But you can see by the disparity of average-numbers how rarely those close ranges occurred.

AIM-7 Sparrows, like the one that Jim used, were a longer-ranged missile that could acquire a target moving away, towards and obliquely.  However, that target acquisition required an uninterrupted signal between the F-4 and the missile and that meant the F-4 was not completely free to maneuver.  Regardless, it’s success rate was only about 10%, hence Jim’s firing of multiple missiles.  Gary's unfortunate moment where all four of his Sparrows failed is at once astonishing and unremarkable.

AIM-4 Falcons were the least liked missile.  Though its success rate was on-par with the Sparrow, it required the longest time for the missile to acquire the target and required the most pre-launch inputs from the pilot.  It’s rumored that pilots would rather dump their AIM-4s under some other pretense (as in damage due to flying through a thunderstorm) than bring them back to bother someone else another day.
3”Tally” comes from the English hunting cry of “Tally ho!” when contact with prey was sighted.

4Split-S is a manuever in which the airplane reverses direction via a snap roll and dive.  Significant altitude is lost but the aircraft gains airspeed and a completely new direction, quickly.

5GCI = Ground Control Intercept.  Whether in a little dark room in a hidden bunker or a little dark room in an airborne command center, “GCI” are the people and tech that identify/confirm targets and relay the information to the pilots.  

6”Clean” means Jim’s F-4 was stripped of heavy, maneuverability-sucking weight like drop-tanks. 

7MiG-21s came in all colors.  Most of them were silver, a few of them were dappled green, some dappled green and brown, some brown…and as Jim saw first-hand, black (or at least extremely dark).  These were suspected to be MiG-21s designated for night-flying duty.  I’m checking in with my VN sources to verify this but suffice it to state, it’d be wicked-cool to do a black MiG-21 and talk to one of the pilots.

84 seconds was what it took to transfer information to the missile before launch.  Remember, these where information was transmitted "analog" fashion versus today's "digital" fashion.  There is not enough room here to describe in detail but it's like comparing magnetic tape sound-recording versus how an MP3 file is created today.  Vietnam-era missiles relied on technology that, in comparison to today, is Cro-magnon.

Profile 103: IN PROGRESS— "Mary Pat" as managed by the 385th BG, 551st BS

People always ask, "How do you get your stories?!"

Well, the following dialogue is how I roll.  Sorta.  At least this time...


"I'm sorry I had to cancel our meeting last week.  My dad was in town and I wanted to see him."

"No biggie!  How's he doin'?"

"He's great! Especially for a 94 year old." (antenna pops up at mention of age) "He still drives, still does everything himself.  But he's starting to slow down."

"94?   WW2 generation, eh?"

"Oh yeah.  Big time.  He was a Crew Chief."

(Little red light on top of antenna starts to spin)

"Really!  Where?"

"England.  He worked on B-17s."

"Really?!  When?"

"Why?  You want to meet him?"

(Klaxon sounds, red light goes into strobe-mode and I look for a pencil)

Anyway,  have another look at Mary Pat above.  I guess I'll be meeting her Crew Chief and of course, will post all the details here. :)  Stand by!
That'd be S/Sgt John DeBerg working on "his" engine.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Profile 100: FINISHED—"Our Mary" as flown by Edwin Cottrell, 48th FG

You know, you just never know do you?

Stop there and have a look above.  It's "Our Mary," the P-47 that Lt. Edwin Cottrell was flying on a fate-filled Sunday over northern continental Europe.

The Battle of the Bulge had just ignited; it was Hitler's audacious—but ultimately stupid—move to shock the Allies into negotiating terms of surrender.   Yet, though he was in the thick of it, battle strategy wasn't on Lt. Cottrell's mind as he looked up and saw...look below.

Click the picture to see the guns firing. 

"I'd just made one pass (dropping bombs).  One pass on a grouping of tanks that were staging for the Bulge.  (I can remember) pulling up over the woods, the trees, the snow and that 109 coming at me, guns sparkling—and then I saw them all!  I'd never seen so many (German airplanes) in my life!"

BANG!...zip zip BANG!  Machine gun bullets perforated "Our Mary's" thin skin as easily as an ice pick slammed into a soda can.  But it was the slower firing nose cannon that did the lethal damage; the German's 20mm shells exploded into the starboard wing root and cowl, severing oil lines and destroying eight of the airplane engine's eighteen cylinders.

Considering that the enemies closed at a collective rate of about 600 miles per hour and the German's bullets were traveling about four times faster, the moment began and ended in a blink of time.

"There was no time to really think. When I first saw (the particular 109 angling in from Ed's one o'clock position) I turned to face him head on.  Then, his nose started sparkling and then Bang!  The engine started to 'chug' and oil blew all over my windscreen.  I couldn't see and I knew I'd been terribly hit."

Ed announced on the radio his situation and the flight leader immediately commanded, "Get out'a here! Two-seventy, West!"  Of course, there was no argument on Ed's part.  He used the remaining airspeed to carve a path Westward in the hope of making the front line of Belgium before he would have to bail out or belly in.

"Our base at St. Trond was close to the bomb line (Front).  In fact, at the time, we were the closest forward field.  So, getting to the front line meant that I probably wouldn't be taken POW."

However, with a trail of inky smoke behind, "Our Mary" was a conspicuous point in the sky and drew  the attention of more Germans.

"I was looking.  Over my shoulders.  And I saw these two 109s coming up behind me.  I was going slow, but as fast as I could.  I could see they were criss-crossing in an effort to slow down.  I settled into my seat and waited.  I was dead or going to be a POW for certain.  But when the bullets didn't come, I looked out to the sides.  And there they were."

"Where?"  I asked.

"Close.  Close formation.  Just off my wingtips."

Stop for moment to let this sink in.   Especially in air combat, there's practically no opportunity to really see your enemy for their true shape and personality.  The transactions of war happen in flashes, sparks.  There, bang! gone.  It had to have been a surreal moment, being so close to the enemy and so powerless.

Compared to the blunt-nosed bulk of a P-47, the Me-109 was an elegant wisp.  In fact, there was over a ton and a half difference in weight between the two.  Of course, that extra weight of heft, armor and American engineering had just prolonged Ed's life.  But one must appreciate the eerie sight of these two wholly foreign beasts, so close and so lethal,  just a few feet away.

Seconds ticked by.  Ed's airplane shuddered,  rattled...and all the while, the ground below passed by at an interminably slow pace.  Ed was bewildered.

"What were you thinking?!"

"Hmmm," he paused, then answered in the questioning voice of a man who's unsure of his answer.  "Whether I was going to live?  Die?  Will I make it to the bomb line?"  Ed laughed.  "Here I was, being escorted by two Messerschmitt 109s!"

A 2 minute sketch.  Ed assured me, the 109s got even closer than they're depicted here.
"And then what?!"

"We just crossed the bomb line and I looked over (at the German pilot off Ed's right wing) and he made the OK sign.  Then, he peeled off.  I looked (to my left) and he peeled off too."

"And then what?!"

"I was able to make it back to base."

With an obscured windscreen and rattled motor, Ed brought "Our Mary" to landing at his base.  As if from a movie, the engine seized solid and coaxed the airplane to a silent stop.

"I was in shock."

Ed describes the debriefing as nervous, he was understandably, rather shaken up by the blenderized emotions of the past hour.  When I asked him about the reactions of his squadron mates, he remarked that they were—as expected—fascinated but ultimately, such acts of Grace were not uncommon in war.  Ed explained that though his extraordinary store was certainly momentous to him,  they were one of the quirks of combat that happen.

Ed finished out the war, flying his 65th and final combat mission on May 7, 1945 (the war ended on the 8th).

Fast forward to the 21st Century.

Screen-shot of the West Chester University web page highlighting Ed.
The picture above is from the website of West Chester University.  Actually, it's a pretty interesting page because it's the one that describes the "Dr. Edwin Cottrell Entrepreneurial Leadership Center."  And of course, that's Ed pointing to a picture of his WWII self.

After WWII, Ed earned his doctorate in Health and Physical Science from Penn State and settled at West Chester University where, among a whole list of things, he became somewhat of a legend as a golf coach.  Now, in case you're wondering, Ed didn't set out to create the ECELC as a monument to his ego.  In fact, he didn't create it at all.  The Center was a gift from a grateful former golf student who made good.  Pretty cool, eh?

Over the years, I've learned that people who are especially good at motivating or encouraging others to be successful are also especially good communicators.  They're clear, concise and, to a soul, positive.  Asking the question, "Can you summarize your life's advice?" caused only a few seconds before replying, "Respect."

The next half hour was a wonderful discussion of what that actually meant.  But for here, it simply means to recognize that an individual's work and actions ultimately reflects on others.  I couldn't help but think about those two Luftwaffe pilots who, seventy years prior, decided to "Respect" as they did with Grace instead of condemnation.

Now...just to be clear, until humanity evolves to the next level, the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes (3:1-8) expresses reality rather clearly—there is a time to kill, a time to heal.  A time for war, a time for peace.   A time to be born and a time to die.  And in the mystery of cause-and-effect, who knows how and why stuff comes out the way it does!

But because two Luftwaffe pilots decided to Respect as they did, one man was able to Respect, too.  Ed Cottrell is 93 years old and thinks about December 17 often; he wonders what was going on the minds of those two German pilots...

Ed Cottrell, circa 1944.
NOTE:  Ed wanted me to make sure that anyone who reads this realizes that he was, "...just a scared 21 year old American hoping to stay alive.  I hope youth and people in the the future will not forget how terrible war is and how it effects people's lives."

Note:  Forgive the shameless plug but if you'd like to put a little Respect on your wall, click here. ("Our Mary" shows up towards the bottom of the page).