Friday, August 1, 2014

Profile 89: JUST STARTED—The P-40N flown by Cliff Long, 51st FG



P-40s are awesome.

P-40s with sharks-mouths painted on the nose are even awesomer!

But you know what's even MORE AWESOMER?!    Finding a P-40 "Warhawk" pilot who is willing to talk about the 104 missions he flew over China!

Hold that thought.

I am a member of the "professional" social networking service called LinkedIn.  One of the features of LinkedIn is a regular feed of business-related articles written or reposted by members for other members to read.  One of the most popular topics of these articles is "Success" and they look something like this:  10 Things A Great Leader Always Does Before Breakfast or 6 Incredible Success Stories that Started Out As Failures or Do This One Thing to Make a Million Dollars next Week.

I like these articles.  Most of the time, they give me a positive boost or a quick idea.   But in reality, they are essentially all-the-same and their promises far out-reach reality.  After all, if becoming Steve Jobs really took only 6 essential "things," we'd all be Steve Jobs by day-end.

Steve Jobs.  No idea who took the photo but it's perfect so I'm taking the risk.

Right?  Yeah, you laugh.  And I laugh too because I know the ONE thing you have to do to be successful.  It's been told to me by virtually every "Old Guy" that I've interviewed and frankly, it remains curiously overlooked and even when acknowledged, derided as simplistic and naive.

Want to know what it is?

Hang on.

Typically, I don't draw an airplane unless I can talk to someone who was attached via combat.   With WWII vets evaporating, my pool of willing, able and documented pilots is all-but-gone.  However, a persistent patron and an especially keen P-47 pilot convinced me otherwise, hence this opening sketch.

Have a good look as there are some things you might find interesting.

1.  Notice the outline of the "sharks mouth"?   Typically, sharks-mouthed P-40s are associated with the American Volunteer Group (A.V.G.) and their mercenary service to keep the Japanese from over-running China.  But really, it was the Brits who first put the teeth on P-40s and even then, they stole the idea from the Germans.

But this one won't have a sharks-mouth.  It will have a DRAGON mouth.  What's the difference?  Have a look!


2.  Notice the square-ended canopy.  Typically, P-40s had an elongated, round-ended panel that allowed pilots an extra sliver of over-the-shoulder visibility.  The "N" model, however, cut that part of the fuselage out altogether and replaced it with an acrylic greenhouse.  It's ugly.  But functional.

3.  Notice the elevator position.  Through the P-40 E-model, the axis of movement for the elevators intersected the joint where the rudder met the tail.  But on the L, M and N models, the fin and rudder were moved back.**

(Mention this fact at your next wine-tasting party for extra conversational joy!)

and...

4. Notice that on my in-flight sketch there are what look to be tiny bombs. Actually, they're not bombs.  They're rockets.  This may be the only P-40 drawing of a rocket-carrying Warhawk*.   In short, this bird got low, slow and personal with the Japanese.

So what does this have to do with LinkedIn and all those stories on Success?

Well, in comparison to "Success" fighters of WWII (like the P-51, Spitfire, FW-190, Yak-3 and Ki-84), the P-40 is kind of an also-ran.   It wasn't terribly fast, it wasn't terribly maneuverable, it wasn't terribly awesome at anything (other than diving and absorbing damage).  In fact, its main claim to fame is simply that it was available.

Ok.  Fast-forward to 2009 and I'm having lunch with an Old Guy.  He's a retired $$$ionaire who also happened to have flown a bit of combat in WWII.  He asked me about a mutual acquaintance who was losing his business because, in this other dude's explanation, "(He) didn't have the right tools to compete."  So, the poor guy sat in his office because he didn't want to risk embarrassing himself.

The Old Guy howled in laughter, slapped the table and exclaimed, "Oh yeah!  Another success derailed by perfection!"   He took another bite of salad, then wagged his finger at me in caution, "John, a little imperfection is better than hiding behind the wait for perfection."

He stabbed the last of his greens and muttered, half to himself, "You only learn by practice and the best practice is simply showing up.  Some guys are just chicken."

And that's it.  "Showing up" —perhaps the most important key to Success.  It's not glamorous or even all-that-inspiring.  But it's true.  And, in the context of all-things-P-40, it was, by 1944, a second-string fighter that persisted in the combat arena because it was simply available.  In fact, it flew its last combat mission in 1945, well after its comparative obsolescence.

I'd like introduce Cliff Long.  P-40 pilot from the 51st Fighter Group, China-Burma-India theater.  104 missions, all in P-40s and 103 of those missions were before he turned twenty years old.  Talk about "showing up!"—today, Cliff wouldn't be old enough to drink let alone fly a modern fighter!

And it's a Success Story alright.  So show up for the next installment in about two weeks.
Cliff Long circa 1944.  Courtesy Jean Barbaud

*And, I got the rockets wrong in the pencil sketch.  You'll just how wrong they are when the art gets updated, too.

**Originally, I had written that the elevator was moved forward but esteemed aviation historian Carl Molesworth caught my error.  Thank you, Carl!

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

BREAKING NEWS 8-2-14 - CLICK HERE*

“We’d rather have the Russians come up after us.  At least they were half-way responsible because they would have to check (with their military authority) before firing.”

Oh the irony of THAT statement, eh?!

Ok, hold that thought for a moment.

When I started Olmstead’s RB-47—the one he was flying on July 1, 1960 when shot down by the Russians—the story was all about Bruce.  After all, he played such a huge role; trading cannon fire with the MiG, riding the freezing swells of the Barents Sea with a broken back(!), and resisting the brainwashing of the professionals at the infamous Lubyanka prison in Moscow.

Yeah.  There oughta be a movie...

But, Bruce was quick to point out that his part was only a sixth of the whole; aside from the traditional B-47 crew of three, there were three more in the Reconaissance versions.  Bruce also explained that these additional crewmen were the true fulcrum of the aircraft's mission.  Suddenly, a fascinating new dimension was added to the tragic story and my curiosity grew as to what exactly happened to the other three guys.

Of course, we'll never know.  They're dead.

Packed inside the jet's windowless belly, I could only imagine the muffled staccato of cannon fire, the bangs of explosions and windup of g-forces as the burning Stratofortress spun into the sea below.  It had to be a horror.

So, Bruce's story is being set-aside for a bit while some very deserved attention is given to the crew in the middle, "The Ravens." 

Here.  Have a look at my pen-drawing below.


See that capsule-like area that has the arrows pointing toward the fuselage?  That’s where the Raven’s worked.   Originally intended as the bomb bay, the R versions of the B-47 had the space repurposed by sealing it up, adding aft-facing ejection seats (they were to blow out the bottom) and whatever technological gadgetry was useful at the time.  It was cramped space, too.  But not airliner-cramped where you rub shoulders with a stranger.  Instead, think of cramped more like being in an international shipping container full of tractor parts. 

In a sense, the Ravens were the computer hackers of the day.  They probed the signal networks of the world's hotspots—Russia, China, North Korea for example—from their airborne perches, just outside of international boundaries.  Yeah, I am sure there were a few unauthorized overflights, but after the Gary Powers incident in 1960, President Eisenhower officially cancelled the practice.  From then on, monitoring had to be done via the Ravens and their tech.

So, the RB-47s prowled the perimeters, snooping for whatever agency (Strategic Air Command, NATO, even the CIA) wanted to find.
The Raven's Office.  Claustrophics and Interior Designers need not apply
Source:  Raven Bruce Bailey

Ok.  Have another look at my pen-drawing.  This time, notice the MiGs.  Specifically, those are MiG-17s and if you look really, really close, squint your eyes and take a shot of bourbon, you can see the insignias are North Korean...

...in other words, I found a Raven who could tell me what it was like to get shot at by MiGs.  This time, the date is April 28, 1965, nearly five years AFTER Bruce's incident.  

Ok - stop there for a second.

We so need a revamp of our educational system and it needs to start with History teachers.  Stories like these provide valuable insight into the human experience.  Though I haven't been alive for very long, it's mystifying when people (leaders and followers alike) react to normal events as if they just discovered Bigfoot.

Human nature isn't going to be changing any time soon, but when it does, it will be because we trust that the lessons of our past can be learned to affect a better future.

Rant switched to: OFF.  Back to the story.

Have a look at the artwork below.  It's a painting by a guy named George Back, depicting the April '65 event.  The location was over the international waters off Wonsan Harbor, North Korea.  George is also responsible for the quote at the beginning of this story—he's an authority on being a Raven and also what it is like to take enemy fire because he was "Raven 2" on said mission.



It was George's first—repeat, first—operational sortie.  Taking off from Yokota AFB (by Tokyo), the mission was routine.  Head west, sniff around, come home.  Nestled into his windowless, gadget-covered cocoon, George did just that.  Until 6 hours into the flight, the airplane violently pitched nose-down and the inter-phone came alive..."The son of a bitches are shooting at us!"

BANG!  BANG!  BANG!

The experience was completely discombobulating; the chaotic maneuver and the pilot's call, "We're hit and going down!" triggered trained response; though thoroughly stunned, George reflexed the depressurization process and armed his seat for ejection.

"MAY DAY! MAY DAY!—REQUEST PERMISSION TO FIRE—SHOOT THE BASTARD DOWN! MAY DAY!  GET ME A HEADING THE HELL OUT OF HERE!—TAKE A ONE EIGHTY!  WILL REFINE IN A SECOND! —MAY DAY!"

The RB was hit—badly—and plummeting like a silver dart.   Her pilot, Lt. Col. Hobart "Matt" Mattison struggled to maintain controlled flight and, as he had exclaimed, 'Get the hell out of (there)!'   Co-pilot, Lt. Henry (Hank) Dubuy worked the 20mm tail stingers, chattering off tracer-less streams at the buzzing MiGs and Navigator Capt. Bob Rogers worked the new course—'the hell out of here!'

Meanwhile, the three Ravens could do little more than wait for the order to eject.

Pass after pass, the MiG's made their runs.  The physics of 3D motion, slow-firing cannon and unpredictable flight paths bent the enemy's aim, but when they're shooting 30mm, it doesn't take many to destroy a plane even as big as a Stratojet.  Amidst the muffled chatter of Dubuy's defensive fire, loud bangs and metallic screams signaled definite hits.


Hydraulics failed.  The tail caught fire.  #3 engine was down.  Then #2.   Then #4.   #5 still made thrust but shook like a washer loaded with bricks...and this on a six-engine airplane.

"Hank!  Get out the Dash-1* and get to the Emergency page!  "Which one?!?"  "Any one!"

Trailing fire and smoke, the psychotic bullies left.  Arcing toward's the ocean, they must have thought the RB was dead to rights.   But "Matt" wasn't dead.  Neither were anyone else.  In fact, they weren't even wounded.  Additionally, in all this chaos, no one "left their post" to the temptation of panic.  Instead, training and self-control resulted in a complete reversal of direction, 15,000 foot decent and resurrection of the bleeding, burning jet.  Leveling off around 12,000 feet, they had one more pressing decision—where to next?

 The crew had three options:  1. Bail out.  2. Head to an emergency field in South Korea.  Or 3. attempt to return to Yokota.

Bailing out was out of the question.  The ocean was no place for airmen, especially when the enemy was closer than than the sharks.  The South Korean emergency field required turning back and the six men knew what awaited them along the way.  The only real choice was to head East.

The flight ticked off in interminably long seconds.  Shuddering and trailing her precious fluids, the airplane reenacted a scene from nearly 30 years prior when damaged B-17s would ache and pray their way home to England.  The crew's fates rested solely in Boeing's craft, a pilot's judgement and God-only-knows-what.

"Matt briefed us all on how bad the landing could be and asked if we wanted to bail out.  The answer was unanimous.  'No sir!"

Matt's leadership had accomplished that peculiar thing that happens when things go wrong, it gave the rest confidence.  Confidence to stick together, confidence to trust, confidence to accept what would come next.

Of course, Yokota was waiting.  Imagine the scene:  fire trucks, ambulances and a helicopter with a belly full of fire retardant...and the elegant shape of the wounded bird skews her way in a smokey, cockeyed approach... there could be no go-around.

BANG!  The RB-47H slammed onto the runway with such power, the Newtonian response launched her carcass back into the air.  That would not do!  Running out of runway and covering care of the ground crews, Matt pushed her back onto the concrete, ordering Hank to pop the chute and stand—stand—on the brakes...

Photo courtesy Bruce Bailey
Safe.

Man, I wanted a picture of what that must have looked like.  But none exist.  The broken '47 in the photo above is from another story but add a little smoke, a few more holes and you get the picture.

Ok.  It's time to check back in with Bruce, finish his RB and put a bow on the story.

In the meantime, the next time you read a story like this one, think about the Ravens and RB-47 crews of the Cold War.   It's a tough world out there...stay alert.

*Amazing coincidence...