16 April, 2022

Profile 161: "323" - Vought A-7D as flown by Charles "Alex" Wright, 388th TFW, 3rd TFS


I'm not sure what it is about being a History Geek (HG) that is so danged compelling.

Maybe it's the ability to keep calm in the face of chaos.... or see multiple sides of the same issue.  Or, maybe it's knowing the answer before others even understand the question...

Whatever it is, History Geeks (HGs) command respect. 

Why?  ONE WORD:  Perspective.

A trite, dated trope?  Bah.  The whole world is a trite, dated trope.
HGs know this.


Look at the pencil sketch.  It's a Vought A-7D Corsair II circa May, 1975 and based at Korat, Thailand.

* break break *

On the whole, 1975 was a year of malaise.   In case you're wondering what "Malaise" actually is, the graphic below showed up on a quick search.  Evidently, an Icon Designer figured this was the best way to represent the condition in pictograph... 

At first, I couldn't quite figure it out as it looked like someone dancing.   So, I googled popular songs of 1975 and immediately saw that Barry Manilow had his first #1 chart hit with the song "Mandy" in January!

Now, if any song can knock you into a state of malaise, it's MANDY.   And if you actually were forced to dance to the tune, it'd look EXACTLY like above.  Try it yourself.  I'll wait...

See what I mean?  

However, if you're a stickler for details, let's let "the dictionary" define the term.


Malaise — /məˈlāz/   noun

A general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.
"a general air of malaise"


Why the malaise-iousness?  Well, if we were transported back in time to the United States circa May of 1975, the following would be depressing the collective consciousness:

• President Nixon's 1972 Watergate Scandal not only ruined his leadership, it also brought the ruin of the Presidential Office into the living rooms of every American that had a TV. 

• The formal withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam in 1973.  Granted, it should have been a time of celebration but the reality is, the war had stirred up so much muck, the moment 'felt' like a disaster cleanup.

• Sure the VN war POWs were home by April '73 but a third of them were either divorced or in the process.  Putting it into perspective, that's about twice the rate of the average population.

• Saigon fell, leaving an era of military men & women feeling as if they'd been cheated by their political leadership as well as cheating the very people (South Vietnamese) they'd believed they were trying to protect.

• When Nixon resigned from the Presidency, VP Gerald Ford was promoted.  One month later, Ford pardoned his old boss, ironically ruining his own chance at a legit chance of winning the 1976 election. 

• Inflation had a mind of its own — in 1975, it had cracked 9% (and wouldn't slow down until the Reagan-era of the 80s).

• American cars were (almost all) garbage — bloated behemoths powered by emissions-strangled engines, clad in orange-peeled paint, fake-wood appliqué and acres of soft, sticky, velour.  Oh and Ford was still selling burning Pintos.

• And if you were a man, the fashion industry absolutely hated you.  See the guy with the mustache?  I don't blame him for scowling.

True story.  I asked an old person about what they remembered from the 70s and the answer I received was a grunt, sneer and wave of the hand as if someone had just farted.

Malaise indeed.

However, HGs understand that the human story is one narrated by Newtonian voice.  It works like this: when something sucks, another thing blows.  And if you were a Southeast Asian Communist in 1975, your whole world was blowing RED.

• Vietnam was now Communist (April).
• Cambodia became Communist (April).
• Laos became Communist, too (December).


Now's a good time to get back to the A-7D above (or below for that matter(.   Specifically, the A-7D, S/N 71-0323 assigned to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) based at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB), 12 MAY 1975.

For most of the Vietnam War, Thailand hosted any number of bases for American fighting aircraft.  Ubon, Udorn, Tahkli, U-Tapao to name a few.  But none were as big or involved as Korat.  From 1962 through 1975 "Korat" was the largest USAF base in Thailand, sending massive amounts of sorties into North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos... I tried to look up how many sorties but simply couldn't figure it out.  My guess?  Over half a million.   For a single-runway base, Korat was a happening place.

Until 1975.

I found this map here.  It's a pretty cool personal page on Korat AFB

By 1975, the withdrawal of American forces left a much smaller aerial footprint in Thailand.  No need for the deed, right?   The Thai government was as tired of war as everyone else.  With Cambodia and South Vietnam's fall, Thai politicos wanted nothing more than to secure its own government (which had growing Communist influences) and stay out of conflict.  Period.  The Thais imposed restrictions upon the U.S. on what kinds of missions could be flown from Thai bases (including Korat).

Thus, the A-7Ds of the 388th TFW were simply a vestige feather of a once-mighty (now black-eyed) Eagle.  I can envision the moment now — a hot May afternoon,  a row of green, brown and white A-7s sitting idle, waiting for nothing more than to go home... more malaise.

Meet Lt. Alex Wright.   He was one of the new arrivals to the USAF's cream of fighter pilots.  Too late for the action of the Vietnam War, he figured he would wind out his Southeast Asian tour flexing his aerial muscles to no one in particular and then end up back in the states.

Alex said, "Now John, look carefully.  I want my A-7 to be weathered.  See the fading?  Chips of paint? Like that. (he paused) Like me now!"  He thought that was funny.  To me, this story is not funny at all.

On the morning of May 12, Alex was just another bored American fighter pilot, biding his time in a part of the world where he wasn't wanted or needed.

By 1430 hours, however, the gods of war decided the Vietnam War needed one more battle...

(and we'll get to this notion of HGs having 'perspective' in the next post)

I hate "SEA Camo" (SEA = South East Asia) because no one is really sure what it really looked like.  Think I'm being funny?  Look up photos for yourself, multiply that by the raging sun, humidity, wear, tear... but I do know that Alex's A-7D was painted with "anti-flash white" on the bottom. And even then, it was filthy.

13 March, 2022

Profile 160: "269" - McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II as flown by "Andy" Anderson and Wade "Mom" Hubbard

"I sure love/hate the governor..."

"We went to Mount Rushmore once. My little brother/sister got carsick..."

"Watched Fargo!  Great movie!"

And of course (paraphrasing 99.97% of all graduating high school seniors) "I can't wait to leave."

Welcome to South Dakota!

Here.  Have a sign.  It's free.  Which is a good way to get to meet South Dakotans — offer free stuff.  Why?  Because, South Dakotans are simple folk, working the land, hoping that something to eat will come out of it (after the thaw) and making clothes out of grocery sacks...

Ah, just kiddin'.  But there is a point here.  

* break break *

Have a look at the F-4E Phantom II on top.  It's the opening sketch of an illustration that will soon be distributed (for free, btw) to school kids in South Dakota.   And better yet, it'll also be made into a little flingable model airplane (something to do when Tornado & Locust Season comes and families will be hunkered in the cellar).

Want one?  Of course you do.  Building paper F-4E Phantoms is satisfying and good.  And maybe I can hook you up.  But in the meantime, back to the point I'm trying to make.

Meet Wade Hubbard, you've never heard of him.  He lives a quiet life in South Dakota; pretty much the lifestyle of  everyone in South Dakota.

Ok.  Now you can have a look below.  It's the finished F-4E - specifically, "229".  From what Wade tells me, it was an extraordinary bird; Wade was a WSO (Weapon Systems Officer) and even sometimes co-pilot (the USAF had joysticks in the backseat while the Navy/Marines did not) on 229 on more than a few occasions.  

But back to the "point."   I can't really get into Wade's story right now — I will later.  But, for the moment,  his is yet another example how remarkable people surround us, often without any indication whatsoever.  Though I've been privileged to have met some extraordinary 'celebrities' of 20th Century history, the reality of life's "reality" is bound in the ordinary folk.   

I'm beginning to think that our fascination with celebrities, entertainment — "personal branding" if you will — is a terrible delusion.  As a native Dakotan, oft frustrated by certain Lack, I'm appreciating more and more the value of the Ordinary; the ordinary commitment to live one's life as fully as possible, without the need to measure it by clicks of the mouse, camera or net worth.

Ironically, Wade will soon be honored far beyond he ever imagined.  

Want to come to South Dakota?  Make plans 9-15 May... maybe you can meet Wade.  Let me know — we South Dakotans tend to be friendly (we'll share the casserole, but if you like spicy, bring your own ketchup).

24 December, 2021

Profile 158: "Mammy Yocum" - Boeing B-29 Superfortress, 468th BG, 792nd BS as crewed by Malen Powell


Have a look at my B-29 sketch above.

Now, close your eyes and try to imagine what it really looked like...

Did you notice the nose art?

* break break *


My lifestyle requires that I 'hit the gym' every day.  Without the gym, I'd be a 300lb potato; working out is the only way I know to achieve any kind of physical fitness in my line of work.  But the essential practice is boring.  And solitary.  I'm not alone in this sentiment.  

Thus, it stands to reason that - social species as we are - there are a group of us that meet in the facility's dry and steam saunas.  Once the notion of being around naked, ugly, sweaty men in their pinnacle of "ick," (wrapping up in towels does not help much) is blocked out,  the conversations that follow make the place fascinating.

A scene from the sitcom, "Everybody Loves Raymond."
I do not recommend doing internet searches with the words:
"Old men in sauna."


As a twenty+ year gym member, most of the people there know me as "the guy who does war stuff."  I'm seen as a subject-matter expert on aviation, military, politics — an odd irony in that I'm simply a repository of other people's activity.  I know nothing other than what I learn from interviewing other people.  I'm just an observer.  Of history.  I tend to keep my eye's shut in the steam room (and observe with my ears).


Years ago, one of the 'steam room guys' and I got to know each other well enough to recognize each other through the hissing steam —at the time, he was in his 80s and did his swimming/sauna routine about the same time I did my weights; our schedules in the Steam Room coincided.  

We exchanged pleasantries —"Hey."  "Hey."   and "How's it going?"  "Good, you?" But judging from his lack of direct interaction with the steady exchange of other Steam Room Acolytes, I recognized him to be an Observer, too.  

Having participated in a few WWII memorial events, I got to be a pretty-good judge of age and figured him to be about 85.  Backed with a heavy interest in all-things-WWII, I decided to ask the obvious.  But, I'd learned that The Greatest Generation weren't always best approached from the front.  Sometimes, an oblique approach was better. 

In my minds-eye, I remember the moment like this — three in the steam room, the steady hiss of hot fog, the sharp scent of eucalyptus oil and weird acoustics that come from wet ceramic tile and the odd splat of sweaty feet.

Can you picture that?

Ok.  Anyway...

"Did you happen to go overseas in the '40s?"

"Yes," was his reply.

"Really.  Where?"

"North Africa."  Through the steam, I could see his posture hadn't changed and sat hunched, looking at the floor as men tend to do in places like this.  

(Ssssssss...splat, cough, sssssss...)

That was the roundabout-answer to the question I REALLY wanted to ask, "I see you're WWII age.  Did you serve in combat?" (For those of you who are history-challenged, North Africa was not much of tourist destination in the 1940s.)

A few seconds passed and I decided to ask another.  "Anywhere else?"

(Ssssssss...splat, cough, sssssss...)

In a flash, he stood up straight, and without making eye contact, announced to the doorway in a stern voice, "Italy!  And two Purple Hearts if it means anything to you!" And he fairly bolted to the door, obviously uncomfortable with something and obviously DONE with the Steam Room.

Poking around stories of the past is my work, but when it pokes back, I don't always know how to react.  This time, I felt horrible.

So did the other, silent dude, sitting in the mist in the corner... awkward?  Indeed.


As this old guy splatted his way out of the sauna, one hand holding his towel tight, the other strong arming the door, I noticed two ancient scars on his back.  One about nine inches long across his shoulder and the other wrapped around his ribs, perhaps equally as long.  Jagged, thick — these were not the marks of a surgeon but of the butchery of mortal combat. 

Again, I felt horrible.  And it took another year before we got back to pleasantries —"Hey."  "Hey."   and "How's it going?"  "Good, you?" 

Until, one day, the conversation eased back into his combat service and this time, he seemed more interested in talking about his wartime life — "One day, we'll have to get together.  I'll tell you all about it.  All of it."  

The day never came — like everyone on earth, he died.  And like everyone on earth, he died with a story still locked away... and I was left with the sparse framework of Operation Torch, the Invasion of Italy and sobering memory of two ugly scars slashed onto the skin of an old man.

Ok, so this post is supposed to be about B-29s.

Have a look again.

My finished B-29!
© Me.

Did you notice the nose art?   You can BARELY see it.  But getting that bit right took 50% of the time required to render, "Mammy Yocum," the B-29 crewed by gunner SSgt Malen Powell, 792nd Bombardment Squadron, among the first to use the airplane in the historic bombing of mainland Japan in 1944-45.

The piece was created to represent the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) Society at Malen's 100th birthday party to be held on 11 December in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Powell was awarded the honor for his actions over a mission over Japan — in the packed formation, he identified a stick of bombs plummeting from another B-29 as on a collision course with his crew's own B-29 and helped the pilot make lightning-quick course changes to just-barely miss a sure-fire collision.  

This is a photo of bombs leaving the bomb bay of a 792 BS B-29.
I can only imagine what Malen saw...


DFCs aren't handed out like cookies.  And they're no mere 'at'a boy!' awards.  Gads, I wanted to know more about exactly what happened that day... and of course, what happened every other day in Mallen's life (which I found out was fairly stiched together with deeds of community service, profound Christian faith and friendship to many.  

Unfortunately, Malen contracted pneumonia in early December and his ill-health forced the decision to postpone his birthday party for...

"Six months?!" I said aloud, reading the notice.  


Anyway, back to the nose art.  Of all the B-29s he'd crewed, Malen wanted "Mammy Yocum"* to represent his service.  Now, as long as I have good photographic references, I'm pretty amped with nose-art challenges.  But in the case of "Mammy Yocum," I was less-so as only two (kinda) crappy references remained. 

The two lousy photos I had and my cobbled-up scrawl trying to simulate what "Mammy Yocum" would have looked like on the B-29 that Malen crewed.

You don't want to know what it took to figure out what color Mammy's clothes were and you certainly don't want to know how many iterations it took of sketching the iconic character on paper to get my head around how I could draw someone else's vision through someone ELSE'S minds-eye...

But!  The presses were fired up, proofs made, signed, numbered and readied for the party where Malen would be reunited with his airplane to a crowd of VIPs...

...when on 19 December, I opened my email to find a short note from Malen's daughter, "I'm sorry.  I'm trying to contact everyone.  He passed this morning..."


Life is terminal, I get that.  As much as we try to fool ourselves, there's a Higher Order that prevails, plucking every one of us from the time continuum.  Play by the rules, break them all or pick your ratio in-between — the end is the same.

I was really hoping Malen would have his moment, though.

However, in my brief interaction with Malen prior to his passing, he did get a chance to answer a few of my questions (thank you, DeAnna Powell for the help!)


Me: If there was painting of your plane made, would Mammy be in color?

Malen: It seems like she was.

Me: Do you remember if the colors matched the comic strip?

Malen: I just remember seeing her with her fists up like this (motions) ready to fight.  Tom Young said that she was the "fighting-est" old girl in the army.

Me: How many bombs would you want on your plane?

Malen: Well, there would be 19 bombs and 4 camels... 

My artwork showing a nifty effect I use with clear "varnish"
Notice the 100 (for Birthday), the five camels (for times flown over 'the hump')
and 35 bombs for Malen's combat total.

Later, we got around to questions of more substance.

Me:  Did WWII change you in any way?

Malen:  I don't think it changed me.  I was the same as before I joined.  We had a job to do,  we went over and did it. 

Me:  So then describe your WWII service...

Malen:  I am proud of what we did.  I saved my crew.  I've been thinking about the movie"Saving Private Ryan". In the movie the gov't heard of four brothers that were killed.  They sent a troop in to get the last surviving brother.  The leader said to pvt Ryan, we are here to get you out. The gov't doesn't want all of the brothers killed in combat.  Pvt Ryan looked at the leader and said, " Do you see that guy there, that guy there, that guy there,  they are all my brothers and I'm not leaving them". The feeling,  you've got friends here and there, but if you were in combat, your feelings for each other would be different.  There is a story of friends 50 feet apart.  One was shot,  and the other defied death to bring his friend out to get medical attention.  There's a bond between people who are in combat.  I'll use Martin as an example. We were in combat together. He was probably the best friend I've ever had.  When I lost him,  man, that hurt.  If it was the marines,  army, navy, it would be different, but when we were together,  there was no distinction between us.  Captain Barber was my Good friend. We went to the shows together a few times. When we were sitting around together there was no distinction between us.  

Me:  If you could do anything differently in your life, what would it be and why?

Malen:   That's a hard question.  I don't know what I'd do differently.  The only thing I can think of would be to go college on the GI bill. 

Me:  Are you particularly proud of any accomplishment you did?

Malen:  I took flying lessons to be a commercial pilot.  I would have been proud to be a pilot.  I'm proud of my military service.  Two different times I saved my crew from death.  I was on the last mission that stopped WWII. I'm very proud of that.  

Me:  When you go back into your memories of a B-29 mission, what do they comprise?

Malen: I made 34 bombing missions. Half of those missions I don't remember dropping the bombs. I remember the important missions.  On the Mukden Manchurian mission we (almost) to have froze to death. It was 65 below zero, and we didn't take our coats. After about 25 minutes from dropping our bombs, we crossed the Great Wall of China. On a different flight from Pakistan,  we flew over the Taj Mahal.  

Me:  Any advice you'd give a total stranger?  Like me?

Malen:  I'm not sure.  I'm not sure...

And the interview was stopped to pick up another day.  Which of course, won't happen.

I just scribbled this. That's my Challenge Coin though.  Appropriate enough for today.


That this post is the last of 2021 seems fitting as  I'm tired from interviewing old guys and drawing their airplanes.

And tired of watching generations grow up in mind-tight capsules that can't learn from the past.

Tired too of shouted words and plugged ears.

And tired of seeing old people walk through the door of life, wisdom unshared, scars at their backs while the rest of us wonder what the hell just happened.

Blue Skies, Malen.  I hear there's a place especially prepared for folk like you... 

*Mammy Yocum was the tough-talking Matriarch of Dogpatch, USA of the then-famous comic strip, "Lil'Abner."

01 November, 2021

The Aero Scouts of Vietnam - Reading the Sign

At 100mph and 100 feet altitude, it’s amazing what you can see.

It’s also amazing what you can SMELL.

Have a look above.  It’s an unusual graphic for this blog because it shows three of my drawings with a suite of logos.

I will explain.

* break break *

This past weekend, I was able to participate in an event produced by the American Flight Museum (AFM) in Topeka.  The AFM is unique in that while most museums have doors and windows, theirs coughs smoke, makes noise and flies.  

We’ll get to that in another post, probably early-ish next year.   But suffice it to say the AFM is keenly interested in ensuring that the historical record is underlined with the preservation of personal accounts and the machines that helped make them.

This'd be the AFM's AC-47 Gunship, "Spooky" dolled up in Medal of Honor recipient John Levitow's historic decor.  More on this later.  ©Me.

Earlier this year, I was commissioned to draw a particular Vietnam War helicopter - a Hughes OH-6A Cayuse (or more popularly referred to as “Loach”) flown by veteran Hugh Mills.  Hugh is an extraordinary individual in that he’s been awarded just about every medal the military and law enforcement community can offer.  Adding to it, the man can write. He’s the author of the seminal book on U.S. Army “Aero Scout” operations, “Low Level Hell.”*

Hugh Mills signs prints of my drawing - the AFM will use these as a fundraising tool for their Museum.  The title of the print, "You can't make history sitting in the office" is a quote Hugh gave me while talking to him about his history.  Great one, eh? ©Me.  And if you want to buy a print, contact the AFM.   

However, these kind of moments are like when my neighbor starts up his 800hp Camaro; within minutes, every gear-head within a four-block radius is drawn to the noise like wasps to an open can of Mt. Dew…

… and suddenly, we’ve got Vietnam-vet Loach pilots taking turns at the controls of their old war mount, a hangar full of food, new friends and a hastily cobbled Live Stream featuring three extraordinary Aero Scout pilots (and me with a microphone).

Was it awesome?

Uh… you decide. (Be advised.  The audio at the beginning starts out "not awesome."  But, after about three minutes, it cleans up).

Ok, back to the SMELL.

It needs to be stated that the mission of the Aero Scout pilot was to find the enemy and direct operations to engage.  Of course, 'the Scouts' were part of a complicated package that included Cobra gunships, troops on foot, directing tactical air support (i.e. jets with bombs)... but, the Aero Scout was often (by design) the first to make contact.  And by making contact, it could include “I see some North Vietnamese way over there about a mile away.”

But most of the time, “…make contact” meant “Holy shite!” And right below, no further than twenty feet away are the angry enemy, blasting upwards with their AK-47s. 

“So how close did you get (to the enemy)?” I asked Aero Scout, Gary Worthy.

Gary waited a few moments, processing the question, then calmly nodded towards a clump of people in quiet conversation, standing no more than twenty feet away.  “Closer than that.”

To put a fine point on his statement, on 16 October of 1968 near Lai Khe, Gary took a brace of fire that riddled his Loach with nearly eighty bullet holes and left a 7.62mm bullet lodged permanently in his head.  And he managed to fly his crew, riddled helicopter and bleeding self back to base (South Vietnam) where he waited to be lifted to a hospital.

Let that sink in.  Gary’s survival story is miraculous.

It's a crummy picture of a far-crummier occasion that ended up pretty beautiful. Gary, recovering in the hospital, was visited by Col George Patton IV - yes, THAT Patton's son. Gary was impressed by the man and grateful for the visit.  Photo courtesy of Gary Worthy.

But Gary’s engagement story was common; remember that the Scout's role meant essentially meant poking a wasp nest with a stick and hollering, “They’re HERE!”

Uh... wow.

At any rate, in Hugh’s book, he wrote about how a Loach crew*** would need to be extraordinarily observant for all kinds of “Sign” of the enemy.   Hence the word, “Scout” that harkens back to the days of the Wild West when trackers were used to find outlaws hiding in the wild country.   That Sign could include, odor.  Cooking odor, human waste odor and simply normal, routine body odor.  

As someone who grew up in the country, the concept of looking for observable Sign was somewhat easy to grasp.  But SMELL??  How on earth can people be ‘sniffed out’ from a helicopter zipping over trees at 80 miles an hour?!


Wait.  Before I get to the smell-thing, let's get back to the moment.  Remember that it started with a lowly art commissioning.  But by now, there were flying warbirds involved and a host of Vietnam War vets (and their friends, families and a slew of History Geeks).   

History Geeks + History Maker - L-R, Me, Gary Worthy and AFM President, Robert Rice. (note to world, Robert hosted the gathering, backed by a beautiful team of other History Geeks that showed up, cleaned up, poured up, laughed up, shook hands and shared in the awesomeness of the moment).

Gary had obviously survived the war and in time, established a successful business as a crop sprayer.  Over time, he'd accumulated the resources to do something he felt needed to be done — tell the story of his service in such a way that people could touch, hear, see (and ironically, smell).  To Gary, that meant buying a vintage, brilliantly restored OH-6A helicopter and fly it.

Obviously, you know where this is going. 

First flight of the day, I'm with Bruce Huffman, another highly decorated Aero Scout preflighting for a sortie over the Kansas countryside. 

I had no idea that, “Fly a re-enacted combat mission with a combat pilot who flew said mission in combat” was on my bucket list.  It should be on yours, too.

"Aero Scouts, crank engines!"  from Old Guys and Their Airplanes on Vimeo.


We’re buzzing along, maybe 100mph, right over a narrow river, lower than the tree line and I wondered, "So what's this reading Sign all about?" 

If there ever was a class in understanding the term, Situational Awareness, it should surely involve flying in a Loach!

I took this at about 80kts — notice we're below the tops of the trees. I know what I thought I saw...did YOU see anything?! ;) ©Me.

The tiny helicopter is not only fast, the bubble canopy and open doors provide an exceptional view of the world around.  Though we were racing, low-level, I could identify various sizes of submerged tires, distinguished between a 2 x 4 piece of lumber and a 4 x 4 post, spotted an old chair left to rot in a bush and could follow the weave of game trails throughout the copses and clearings.  The amount of information that I could glean was astounding. 

LOOKING FOR SIGN at 80kts from Old Guys and Their Airplanes on Vimeo.

But, the Loach was also suprisingly quiet.  Twice, we surprised animals — one was a buzzard picking at a dead raccoon; ever see a big bird flinch?!  It didn’t react until we were just overhead and even then it quite literally scared the sh*t out of it. 

Suffice it to state, I was blown away by how much information could be obtained from buzzing around in these little Loaches. I was also blown away by how little time there was to process it.

An Aero Scout at the stick (Bruce Huffman)  from Old Guys and Their Airplanes on Vimeo.

Years ago, Bruce explained to me that a Loach crew had to function on a high level to do the job.  Every set of eyes had to be working.  Every mind alert.  Unlike a Hollywood movie, there were no lazy minutes leaning on the door gun thinking of ‘back home.’  There was no time to reflect on life as the scenery scrolled below.

Nope — from start to finish, the Aero Scout mission was all about acutely tuned, astutely sensed and accurately interpreted inputs from the world outside.

Smell was one of those inputs.

Ok.  So we were heading back to base, 500’ altitude, whopping-along at about 100mph when suddenly, I get this sharp scent of a barbecue — hickory smoke, ribs, to be precise.  I look down (straight down) and one, two, three… there he was, a highly surprised Backyard BBQ Master, eyes upward, mouth agape, spatula frozen in mid-flip of the juicy rack.

And poof!  We were gone.

A few more moments passed and sniff!  Burning leaves!  Sure enough, there they were, a small pile of Fall leaves, smoldering away, and another surprised soul, stunned as our green tadpole shot over his yard.

And poof!  We were gone.

Then, up ahead I saw a column of white smoke from a much larger fire — the kind of controlled burn that a farmer would have after clearing out half an acre of old growth.   A few moments later, the smell hit me and I realized how these Aero Scouts used all of their senses to play their extraordinary role in combat operations.

Kansas?  Khe Sanh?  Doesn't matter.  Where there's smoke, there's fire.  ©Me.

Sight, Surprise, Smell… 

Later on I was sharing my experiences with Hugh, Bruce and Gary; they nodded in sober response to my musings.  But I knew that THEY knew there was way more to learn about being an Aero Scout than one flight above rural Kansas.  Nevertheless, they were pleased to teach.

Rear view, turbine heat from Old Guys and Their Airplanes on Vimeo.

“Now you can appreciate why I wanted to be off the pad before sunrise and be over our AO (Area of Operations) so early in the morning.  To catch the last wisps of smoke from cooking fires.  To smell their food.  War is about getting and using information.”  Bruce smiled, gave me a firm pat on the shoulder.

There's no better way to learn History than to actually look at the eyes, hear the voice and make the mental connection with someone who was actually there.  No. Better. Way. 

And poof!  The night was over, handshakes, smiles, good cheer... and a whole lot to think about.

L-R Aero Scouts Gary Worthy, Hugh Mills and Bruce Huffman in front of Gary's Loach, hangared and loved-up for the night.  

(deep breath, exhale)

These are tough days.  

We have a crisis in this country and it’s greater than COVID, gas prices, trigger warnings or canceled flights at the airport.  It’s the crisis that occurs when the lessons and examples of one distinguished generation fade away before the generation before can read the Sign.

(deep breath, exhale)

This is why I put “When an old man dies, a library burns” on my personal challenge coin.  Crisis, threat, terror, trouble - those things happen and they always will.   But they’re so much easier to manage when we - as a team -  stay humble, stay aware and stay vigilant in learning from the experiences of others.   

More stuff to come… I can smell it. 

Thank you to Vaerus Aviation for letting us have our little party in their "little hangar." God Bless America, Amen and Good Night. ©Me


** (pilot, observer and door gunner/crew chief) 

Hugh Mills (R) and "Roddy" Dill (L) - our prime pilot for the day.  Among History Geeks, Roddy is totally ONE OF US — on behalf of HG's everywhere, we're proud to call you one of our own. ©Me

Ah heck.  One more photo.  And thanks again, Roddy.  btw - Mills and Huffman said you're one fine pilot.   ©Me.

27 October, 2021

"The Obstinate Owl II " - F-86F Sabre, 35th FBS, 8th FBG as flown by...

 Quick post - this blog is 'trending' again and figured a post should be made to keep up appearances. 


Aside from the fact that the above is about 50% of the way to completion, the most interesting thing here is what you don't see (yet) — the nose art.

There are only TWO known photos of this airplane, almost to spite the fact that its pilot is a human legend.  One is a photo of the brand-new Sabre on its way to K-13 (the airfield from which it was based as assigned to the 35th FBS).

It's a fantastic photo of 458 in-flight! Photographer unknown but obtained here and attributed to an F-86 pilot named Paul Gushwa, 36th FBS.

How do I know it's "on it's way from Depot in Japan (possibly Itazuke AFB)?  Well, the pilot said that when the airplane arrived at K-13 (Suwon Air Base),  he picked it out as 'his.'   So, seeing that the Sabre doesn't have the pilot's quirky nose-art applied, we can assume it's INBOUND.

Prolly February, 1953 but what do I know?

Anyway, the photo below is the only other photo of "The Obstinate Owl II."  

A totally funny, ridiculous and sworn-to-secrecy story is behind the name.  I'm trying to get the man's blessing on sharing it here.  I gotta keep my promises...

So, I'm working on mastering that fantastic script-work of whomever it was with the 8th FBW that did it.  How do I know 8th FBW?  Well... the photo below is the boss's bird.  Col Walter Gotlieb Benz was obviously Sierra Hotel, awarded the Silver Star, DFC and Bronze Star... and obviously influenced a few of the 8th FBW aircraft's nose art.  Click the two photos and see what I mean — TOTALLY 'same guy' who did the brushery. 

Photo of Col Benz climbing out of his F-86F, "The Dirty Old Man."  Copyright unknown but found at: http://www.flyingfiendsinkoreanwar.com, a mighty fine site featuring the 35th FBS's sister squadron, the 36th FBS.

And here's where things get amusing — the pilot who flew "The Obstinate Owl II" does have a photo of him standing in front of "The Dirty Old Man."

Evidently Col Benz didn't worry to much about who was flying "his" airplane when he was away.  And rightly so as the guy above was pretty much Sierra Hotel himself. 

More later.  :)   I think the next post, I'll be able to share why this F-86F is so darned special to the lore of American history.

16 October, 2021

"The Obstinate Owl II " - F-86F Sabre, 35th FBS, 8th FBG as flown by...

"Gawd.  You get to meet the most amazing people..."

Ever hear the phrase, "If you're the smartest/best/coolest person in the room, find another room"?

(cough cough)

Uh... my seat in the room of "...most amazing people" is hewn from solid granite with a foundation that sinks a mile into the earth.  I ain't moving anywhere.

It's a great gig.  But, it's spoiled me.  Perhaps rotten.  At least for the word, "Leadership."

To this point, the word often makes me blanch — what my generation passes as Leadership is (often) simply not.  At best it's naive.  At worst, it's a manufactured veneer.  Narcisism anyone?

To me, this photo represents the Bonfire of the Vanities.  

"Oooh.  That's a little negative, don't you think?" 

Nah.  Hear me out. (irony-alert!)

Need to experience this for yourself?  Clue into LinkedIn and read the myriad of posts stuffed with the pronoun "I," the bullet-pointed lists of assured success-tips, pontificated musings and the remarkable youth (of all ages) from which they're conveyed.

Will Rogers was a "National Treasure."  If he were alive today, I'd vote for him.  So would you.  Prolly.

Guilty as charged, too.

Nevertheless, the more I spend time with "...the most amazing people," the more I'm convinced that Leadership is a deep, personal void that one fulfills by using God-given talent, perfecting acquired skill and confidence that every human has a responsibility to the other.

Hmmm.  Maybe I should post that. 

(cough cough)


Have a look at the sketch at the top of this post — it's a North American F-86F-30 Sabre, circa Spring, 1953, South Korea, airfield "K-13."

The story that will follow includes bombs, rockets, risk, reward, the moon, a drunk executive and his grateful wife and the kind of cache that will make even the most distinguished hero straighten up, shut up and listen up.

And it involves The Brady Bunch.  Yes.  With Marcia, Greg and Florence Henderson ("Mike Brady" was kind of a 'meh' but that's another story).

So... ©CBS (I guess) owns the copyright to The Brady Bunch.

Jan vs. Marcia.  I was (and remain) TEAM JAN.  Marcia was too vain. (Oh! My Nose!)

But first, let's get the Geeky stuff out of the way.

• This is an F model (not an A or an E or an H and certainly not a fat-nosed D).

Significance?  The F model Sabre was the perfection of the breed.  Aesthetically, it's probably the most beautiful jet fighter ever made.  But Aerodynamically, it was almost perfect.   Though unable to sustain Mach 1 in level flight, it absolutely mastered its flight envelope.  Rumor has it that if the pilot (somehow) managed to get it in a spin, all one had to do was center the controls and it would return to normal vectored flight.  

Beautiful AND pleasant.  How's that for airplanes?!*

This is an F-86D.  I drew this for a family who loved their Patriarch.

Someone actually said, "The D-model is ugly!"  Bah.  They wouldn't know 'ugly' if it farted on their lap.

• The particular Sabre I'm drawing right now is an "F" model and part of the 8th FBG.   That'd be "Fighter Bomber Group" for those who don't care to know all the military acronyms.  And in case you're wondering about FBS, that'd be "Fighter Bomber SQUADRON."

But, back to the letter "B."

Significance?  "B" in the Air Force world means "Bomber."  Though her pilot "...thinks (he) saw a MiG, once..." (and would have loved to tangle with it), this F-86F was a ground-pounder, dropping bombs and strafing targets.  

So I asked him, "Did you ever want to get into a dogfight (with the North Korean** MiGs?)"

He replied, "Ah hell no. I liked bombing missions!  I could have flown around (on MiG patrol) all day and never see (MiGs)!  But when I was bombing, I was getting something done!  'Something happened' every time I took off and something happened every time I dropped my bombs."

So, I asked, "How'd you do hitting the target?"

He just glowered, coughed, looked away for a moment... then locked eyes and stated flatly, "I always hit the target."


I got his point.  The man never missed.  Which is good because... uh... never mind.  I'll hit that point in a later post.

"Major Tom to Ground Control..." © NASA

• The F-86F that I've been commissioned to draw represents the absolute apogee of the pilot's career (at least that's what he thinks).  But, you'd never, ever guess it because the pilot of this particular aircraft is an American Gawd.

Significance?   Well, that gets into this word, "Leadership" - at least how my generation has tried to promote it. 

So.  Back to that bonfire... Thank you @Cracked.com. 

Pour yourself a cup/glass of whatever you think is prudent and clear your December calendar.  The unveiling of this art will be live-streamed.

And you'll see (hopefully) that "Leadership" walks slowly, needs a cane (sometimes) and clears whatever space he's in of poseurs. 

More coming. :)

The quote is ©ME!.  If the Kardashians call me up and want to buy it, it will cost ONE MEEELION DOLLARS.  No... Seven.  No... TWELVE.   NO... 

Stand by.  This is going to get GREAT.   :)

*The Supermarine Spitfire is beautiful, pleasant and... amazing.

**Also (disproportionately) Chinese and Russian pilots.