19 December, 2012

Profile 74: "Francie" as flown by Lt. Harold Snow

To my regular readers:  I'm still here.

54 days ago, I took on a weighty project of writing and publishing the bio of Hank Snow.  It was a surprise, really - I never expected to do it, even though I've done a number of the man's combat aircraft.

Circumstances being what they've been, I've had to move quickly and focus on a lot of artwork, a lot of writing, a lot of research...and somewhere in there, I had Thanksgiving and now, Christmas.

Suffice it to state, Hank's book is coming along nicely, it should be done shortly and I've done a bunch of artwork for it too.  It'll be first published for Apple iPad, then Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook.  I might do a traditional printing but only for PR gifts as it seems the best way to tell Hank's story is through the digital platform.  This is all well and good provided the power doesn't go out.  (Joke).

I hope it's all worth everyone's time - gawd knows a whole lot of people have invested so much into this story and it's up to me to tell it right.

Anyway, have a look at Francie!

Would you believe this is the SECOND time I've done this aircraft?  The first was nearly ten years ago and looking back, it was highly inaccurate.  Even this one has a dubious note or two - namely the serial number - but all in all, this one is the best.

Now, have a look at the photo below.  It may look like a frame from a gun camera still but it's not.  The photo is actually from a Recon P-51 called an F-6 and it shows the results of an attack by a flight of 528th Mustangs (of which Hank was one).

What you're seeing is in all likelihood the aftermath of the destruction of a Japanese locomotive atop a bridge that spanned a series of rice paddies.   The importance of Japanese rail lines in China can't be overstated.  Considering the expanse of China itself, getting items from Point A to Point B was always a primary issue for any kind of movement.  So, it made sense that one of the sought-out targets was a train.

I asked Hank about this a few years ago and he explained to me that the Japanese held China from the center of a rail line to 25' out either side.  After that, it was wild country controlled by Communist rebels, National military and a bewildering number of feudal-type war lords that controlled chunks of turf.

The 528th's daily record for train "kills" was 18.   In talking with other squadron members, 9, 11 and 14 were also hit on other days.  Can you imagine the benefit of eliminating 40 or so vital supply lines to the enemy?!

We're talkin' that the Dragon Flys (the 528th's mascot) reduced hundreds, if not more, train cars of supplies and troops from the Japanese!  I can't prove it but the raw impact of the 528th on the Japanese Army's ability to make war had to be strong.

Anyway, there's so much more to come, I can't come close to even hinting.  So, bear with me, and gear up to learn about a fantastic military career.

01 November, 2012

Profile 73: "870" as flown by Hank Snow, 173rd Airborne

Behold the Cessna 0-1 "Bird Dog."  I've skipped the pencil-to-print progress shots because I've simply had no time.  This particular opportunity popped up on the radar and I had to move

It's a long story...

But, on looks alone, the O-1 is a sweet little airplane,  even with the military paint scheme. Paint it yellow and she'd look so pretty on a grass airstrip.  And then there's that aw-shucks nickname; it's easy to visualize a cute little puppy painted on the cowling as nose art. 

Don't be fooled.  This is a bad ass warbird. And "870" was flown by a bad ass warrior.  And today, he's nearing the age of 90. 

You know, I've written this blog post at least ten times.  And deleted same.  In one attempt, I describe the role of the Forward Air Controler (FAC) in Vietnam, another the changing mode of technology...and none have satisfied until I this morning when I sat down with my friend Rick (LEO, Navy) and he reminded me, "History is about people.  Not stuff."

Thank you Rick, for the wake-up call.   I'll restart.

I first met Hank ten years ago at a reunion of a WW2 fighter squadron.  These guys were the rough and tumble type that you'd imagine - back-slapping, loud hollers, scotch-fueled braggadocio - basically, the kind of buddies any man would you'd love to hang with.  And, I was at the bar with Earl Ashworth, Bill Creech, "Doc" Perrit.  Why me?!  I could do something they couldn't - I could fly a PENCIL.

I was so outclassed.  But, Creech was buying and no one had kicked me out of the conversation...

...and (I don't know how, but)  the stories wound up to a challenge, "Who's the greatest fighter pilot that ever lived?"

Bullshit came to bullshit, bravado topped bravado.   But a few moments later, the conversation quieted when Earl pointed over at Hank (talking to the girls, one happened to be my wife) and Earl - in his 80 year old fashion said, "Hank.  Hank's the greatest fighter pilot.  No doubt."

Bill and Doc looked over, paused a moment and in resignation or affirmation - I don't know -  raised their glasses.   

Bill?  Doc?  These guys alone were giants.  One had hacked his way out of a Burmese jungle, the other built his own airplane in his garage.  Yet, they tipped their drinks toward the big-chinned guy who looked like Bob Parr in the movie, "The Incredibles."

Right then, I wanted to know, "Who the hell is Hank Snow?!"

Tomorrow, I take-off to get what will likely be my last interview with the man.

I'll leave you with this; Hank flew P-51s in WW2, F-51s in Korea, F-86s in Korea, O-1 Bird Dogs in Vietnam, F-105s in Vietnam... 3 wars, 666 missions.  I'll write it again for effect - 3 wars, 666 missions. 

Look. I know there's some Bird Dog pilots who are waiting for a great story about Hank and the 0-1 but you're going to have to wait.  This story is just too huge for a blog post.

In the meantime, that's Hank on the right, Air Force Liaison Offer for the 173rd Airborne, Vietnam.

I hope to be done by Christmas.

21 October, 2012

Final Flight: George McGovern, 455th BG

Today, the world lost "One of the Good Ones."

George McGovern - U.S. politician, social servant and WW2 bomber pilot has died.

Undoubtedly, prominent people around the world will weigh in.  George had a giant life - war hero, statesman, international figure, candidate for "the world's most powerful office,"... and, according to my mom, was "a gawd-damned Democrat!"

That's how I learned he was a man of significance.  Mom didn't swear unless it was really important.

This is awkward because I feel compelled to write something but also realize that my experiences with George are insignificant in comparison...

So, I'll tell this story.

George and I were at a Ruby Tuesday having lunch.  I announced that "I'm buying," and he picked up the colorful drink menu, and flashed the wry smile of a gambler who realized he'd found a rube.  "You having anything?"  I reply, "No" because it's like, two in the afternoon.

The server arrived - young, sparkling with pins and buttons; knowing the appetizer of the day but having no clue who she's waiting on. George picked up the menu and pointed to this beautifully photographed blue concoction.  Only judging by the photo, it wasn't so much a drink as it was an event.
Chances are good you're familiar with the offering - thirty years ago, you'd get to keep the glass and the little umbrella.  And the drink's name ends with a ™ symbol.

"That." he says, pointing to the picture.  He lowered his head, peeked over the top of his glasses and asked/stated  "You're having something?"  He grins - and suddenly, it dawns on me that George McGovern is giving me...well, I hate to say this, but...he's giving me shit!  "Loosen up," he says and leans back into the vinyl booth.

I got the joke;  I then saw myself as I'd been, rigid, professional, uptight,  my notebook out, my pen at ready...George wasn't out for an interview.  He was out for lunch.

"I'll have a glass of wine."

"Good."  And then he picked up the lunch menu and pointed at the picture of what he wanted. "I'll have that." The server took her notes, glanced at me and I nodded, "Fine.  Me too."

So, I thought - Ok, if that's the way he wants it, I'll play ball.   I broke the conversational bread by announcing, "My mom is flipping in her grave right now that I'm having lunch with you."

It didn't phase him.  "Yes.  I've heard that one before.  But you want to know something?  Times change."  And, he removed his cell phone from his suit coat pocket.  Fumbling with the keypad, focusing his glasses, he squinted, scrunched his nose and finally presented the device to me.

There, illuminated in blue and white was a telephone number.  "That's Bob Dole's number.  Shall we call him?"


The server presented our drinks - mine a foul smelling house wine and George's, a beautiful blueish sculpture that maked me realize I missed out.  "You're kidding me!"  I exclaim, gulping a mouthful of my awful red swill.  He sips his blue whatever™.

"Bob is one of my best friends.  Can you imagine that?"  He smiled. Warmly.  "He and I work with Food for Peace.  We agree that kids need a good meal."  He took another sip and raised his glass as if to toast.

It was at that moment, right then and there, I became a McGovernite.  Not necessarily in belief but out of sheer respect for a Warrior who - quoting William Wallace's dad in the movie, Braveheart could "use (his) mind first (before resorting to the sword)."

George McGovern and Bob Dole.  Buddies.  And because they could agree that something could be bigger and more important than both of them.

Damn.  Wouldn't such single-mindedness between differing minds be nice right now?

Lunch was long.  He recalled WW2 bombing missions, the 1972 presidential election, the unfortunate power of advertising agencies - it was so cool to be talking to someone that was so there at such pivotal times in American history.

Anyway, mom - wherever you are in the eternal ether,  George McGovern may have been a damned Democrat.  But "Gawd" damned?

No.  I think God blessed him just fine.

Blue skies, George...

Original post here.

01 October, 2012

Profile 72: FINISHED - LGM-25C Titan II missile

It's..."The Titan II."

Having just re-watched the bizarrely hilarious movie, "Raising Arizona," Tex Cobb's character of the Apocalyptic Motorcycle Rider came to mind.

If missiles were people, The Titan II would be him; the biggest, dirtiest, meanest rider of the Cold War.

Ok - think about the Titan II this way; it delivered a 9 megaton nuke that generated a fireball of approximately 3/4 of a mile WIDE.

And, if you need to get your head around that, go outside your front door, imagine 3 blocks east, west, north, south and know that the fireball would be a little bigger than that.  We're talking metal-melting heat alone. (The radiation and blast effects are mere icing on the cake, but they reach-out an additional 10 miles).

Make you nervous?

Forget about it. The Titan II's days are gone.  The 308th Strategic Missile Wing (SMW) at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas gave the Titan II its last salute on August 18, 1987.  But while it lasted, the Titan II reigned as Dark Lord.

Here are some interesting talking points about the Titan II:

• The Titan II's propellant - a cocktail of dinitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine - ignited by itself when mixed.  No need for a fuse, a spark or a match.   This process is called "hypergolic."

• Once the "keys were turned" and the launch sequence started, the Titan II took another 55-ish seconds to launch.

• From key-turn to impact, a Titan II completed its mission in just over 30 minutes.

• The 9-megaton warhead in the Titan II was the largest carried by an American ICBM.

• The Titan II was likely the most deadly ICBM never used - at least 55 people died in accidents centered around the missile's complicated fuel delivery system.  One accident on Sept. 20, 1980 resulted in the nuke warhead being blown clear out of the silo!

• The Titan II wasn't completely warlike.  It was also used to launch the Gemini spaceflights (with a different payload, of course).

The bullet points are interesting trivia, but focusing on them misses the point that these missiles were wholly inert without human Genesis and management.  And for me, the human-side of these missiles reigns as paramount.

This past week, I had coffee with a Missileer.*  I shared my observation that one word was mentioned/written/spoken more often than I'd noticed in service people of other eras and other branches of military service.  The word?  "Professionalism."

"We had it drilled into us," another wrote.  And another made it clear that the mass of responsibility was worn as part of the uniform.  And yet another Missileer has stated that he knows many now-obsolete national secrets but he will hold onto them out of sheer respect to the profession.

Though the nuances of sentiment may differ, they all seem to agree on that word, professionalism.

And it's a mysterious word, too.  In discussion, the things that exactly define what professionalism means become deeply personal and hard to qualify.  Unfortunately, I'm no help.   But I did manage to write this quote from a Crew Commander that I think helps sum-up how Missileers valued their work:

"I was surrounded by people that did not want to fail."  

Have a look at the graphic I did showing Titan II's guarding the Arkansas state capitol building.  Maybe you picked up on the macabre irony of how our government is founded on the principle of "checks and balances."

It was an accident - my original intent was simply to provide an entertaining way to show the size of the beast against a relatively common landmark - this one paying homage to the fact that Titan II's made their home in Arkansas.

But looking on it, I wonder if the Arkansas state government - heck, our federal system, too! - is run by people who "do not want to fail."

I wonder...

Of course, having one's finger on the key to nuclear armageddon does raise the stakes a bit beyond politics as usual.

Hmmm.  Maybe our politicians should spend some time as Missileers...?

Next up:  The Titan I.

*Missileers are also tending to be more reluctant than any other vets to go on-record.

NOTE:  It's finished, but not.  The Missileer that sponsored this one has graciously pointed out a number of errors and given me the blessing to take a few days off to get my head re-centered.  From this tiny illustration, you probably won't know the difference.  But this Titan II will hang on Missleer walls and I want to make sure it's as good as I can make it.

19 September, 2012

Profile 71: FINISHED - LGM-30F Minuteman II missile

The missile above is the LGM-30F, "Minuteman II" ICBM.

And it is...amazing. No. Not just amazing. It's OMG!

What?  Not getting the vibe? Hearing crickets chirp in the background?

I get it.  No one cares.

But have another look. Please?  Have another peek at the poor Minuteman II ICBM.  Imagine the big guy, setting in the cold silo, waiting in the black for his tragic, suicidal run to Russia...

Still don't care? I get that, too.  Hell, I'll be blunt - until recently, the only missiles I thought about at all where the $15 ones that my kids launched and subsequently lost.

But since I did this missile's younger brother, the sleeker, slightly-taller LGM-30G "Minuteman III," I've come to see the ICBM as an amazingly ironic device - able to keep peace via a deafening roar.

Here.  Recognize what we're dealing with...

     Fact:  The LGM-30F had a range of 7,000 miles.
               That's the distance between Los Angeles and Hong Kong.
    Fact:  The LGM-30F flew at 15,000 miles per hour.
              That's Los Angeles to New York in less than 15 minutes.
    Fact:  The LGM-30F hit supersonic speed BEFORE it cleared the silo!
               That's 0-750mph in about 80 feet.

     Fact:   At it's maximum, 450 LGM-30Fs were "on alert."
                And those are just Minuteman IIs.  There were others, too.

     And  - Fact:  The LGM-30F was accurate on an Olympic level.
                Check the map below.

Ok.  Have another look.   This time, unpack all the facts above and replace them with the one supreme piece of knowledge...

         Fact:  The LGM-30F was designed, built, maintained and operated
                   by people.  And not "ordinary" people.  These people don't
                   can't make mistakes.

Stick with me - I've got at least 5 more missiles to do.  We're going to learn more about the missiles themselves but most importantly, we're going to learn about "those people" in charge with the care and feeding of these ironic birds: The Missileers.

Next up - the GIGANTIC Titan II!

16 September, 2012

PROFILES 71-77: BEGINNING - The Missileer Project

To regular readers - I have a little explaining to do.

You've noticed that this isn't an "airplane." It's a missile. And not the kind that people launch at Cub Scout meetings - this is the kind that turns modern man back into a caveman. At least that's what some people think. No one knows actually because they've never been used.*

This is - in the common vernacular - "A nuke."

Gawd-forbid, right?

Anyway - formally, their names are Atlas, Titan, Minuteman, Peacekeeper, Trident...and I'm going to draw them as part of a "crowd-funded" project that I'm calling, "The Missileers - the Warriors that Didn't."

There will be at least 7, maybe 9 depending upon and I'll be posting their progress here; sharing stories of the Missileers, their Missiles and documenting this incredible aspect of human history.

Hopefully, I'll be done in 6-9 weeks. In the meantime, I hope this is as interesting to you as it is to me! And - if you want a Nuke to hang on your wall, click on the RocketHub logo at the top left of this blog and show your support. Who knows? The more people that put "The End of the World As We Know It" on the wall, more ridiculous the idea will become.

In the meantime, I'm half-way into the Minuteman II (above), finished with the Minuteman III (below) and eyeing the Titan II next.

3...2...1.... DUCK AND COVER!


28 August, 2012

Profile 70: BEGINNING - B-52G of the 77th BS (sort of)

It's begun, (gulp)...

If you've never seen one take off and fly, it's an awesome sight.

Gangly, huge and wickedly lined, the thing smokes its way across the sky;  a defiant, angry pterodactyl soaring for a fight.  Last week, such an experience happened to me and I caught myself holding my breath as if not to attract her awful attention.  I would have been tempted to look away had it not been so awesome

There is no doubt; the B-52 is a war bird of the darkest order.

And the one I'll be doing is one of a dark time, too - Cambodia, 1973.

This project will be delicate as it exposes the difficulty of learning history through sound-bites and movies alone. Controversy abounds, duty prevails and somehow, the most unimaginable evil of the 20th Century will still rise out of a land that felt the whole of the B-52's fury.

This is war.


Photo:  U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Horstman

28 July, 2012

Profile 68: FINAL - F-4E Phantom as flown by the 334th TFS


I'm surprised, too as I never really wanted to jump into the Vietnam era on account of this particular airplane;  the F-4 was too complex, too big to really look good on paper and too ubiquitous - by avoiding the era, I'd avoid the problem!

But, I was certainly wrong.  Instead, the Fighting Eagle's Phantom is truly Sierra Hotel, even if I spent almost as much time figuring out the ECM pod as I did the rest of the airplane!

Anyway, 'you wanna' hear a war story?  It's a quick one...


A little boy comes home to his mom after a day of school.  Mom's waiting and notices - as moms do - that something's not quite right with her son.  Puffy eyes, a furrowed brow - all the signs of a kid who's had a terrible day.  So, she asks and the tears begin.

You can imagine the scene - mom drops to her knee, takes her kid into her arms and asks, "What's wrong, honey?"

"Dad's at war!"  The boy exclaims.  "In Vietnam!"

The mom consoles her son with a hug.  "Yes.  Yes he is.  But he'll be ok...."

"But he's dropping bombs on kids like me!  My teacher told me!"



I really wrestled with this post as two things are weighing in the balance.  The first is the legacy of the 334th Tactical Fighter Squadron.  The second is the legacy of the era.

Let me explain.

The story above comes from the wife of Colonel Crawford Shockley.  He's the pilot mentioned in the artwork.  She's the mom who had to love the venom out of the school teacher's bite.  Not just for her boy, but for her husband as well.  It's a sad story; I've told it to a number of people over the past couple days including a High School teacher and the reaction has been a universal sneer of disgust at the teacher.

"How could she do that to a little kid!"

This moment became all-the-more important when I asked "Shock" if I could have a look at his Silver Star certificate.  He replied "yes" but also used the word, "reluctantly."

Over the years, I've picked up on the natural humility of highly noted warriors.  I "get" the idea that they're sensitive to misrepresentation, especially the embarrassment of misapplied heroics.  And, true to form, Shock let me know that his deed was not heroic but merely following through on what he believed to be the right course of action.*

However, I felt the need to poke a little more and got the most unexpected statement.  "Well, we weren't exactly welcomed home, you know."

Ah yes.  "Vietnam."  It's not just about the airplane but the era.

Welcome to 1972.

That was 40 years ago.

Thank gawd times have changed.


Think about this.  Regardless of our beliefs, I think all of humanity can agree that "Ignorance" has killed and harmed more people than any other force.  But Ignorance also has an antidote that is shockingly easy to apply - Knowledge.

I think back on those times and wonder how on earth such a prejudice could be applied to people who by obligation (draft or enlistment) answered a civic expectation?!

Of course you agree - hindsight is 20:20.  But do you care on betting that such a wave of silliness won't  taint the waters again?  Ha.

Would you mind having another look at my F-4?  Only this time, don't just stop at the glance.  And don't just settle on the unsettling demonstration photo.   Do your brain a favor and check out a few books on the start of the Vietnam situation.  I suggest this one (click here).

Knowledge is expensive - it requires time and energy but it's a fine bulwark against the forces of group-think and ignorant emotion.

Originally, I planned this post as an honorarium to Col. Shockley for being awarded the Silver Star.  The story is rich in personal risk, teamwork (salute to WSO "Poobah") and individual accountability - these are the virtues that create the wealth and security that (most of us) desire.

Instead, I dedicate it to Lilly Shockley - mother of boys, wife of a fighter pilot and unfortunately, the Front Line in a culture war.  Lilly, I am sooo sorry you had to bear that awful moment.

So, let's leave Lilly on a better note - the photo below is Shock's homecoming. It truly is good to be home, isn't it?

There's a silver lining to this story in that we live in a nation where dip-stick teachers can spout their swill ad lib.  Think about this - what if you - you - were so afraid of your government that you didn't dare breathe otherwise?

In that spirit, I look at the Fighting Eagles of the 334th and consider this F-4E Phantom to be among my proudest moments.

P.S.  - Crawford Shockley's Silver Star cert is below.  I hope you read it.  It's the military recognition of a Dad looking out for "his other boys."

P.S.S. - To that teacher of 1972 - wherever you are, I hope you went back to school.  To learn.

*Shock did get his WSO's (the guy in the back seat) blessing before committing to sticking around the hot zone for the downed airmen.  In every conversation I've had with Shock, he's mentioned Larry "Poobah" Henry and remains grateful for his trust and excellent skill.   

24 July, 2012

Profile 68: UPDATE - F-4E Phantom as flown by the 334th TFS

Now it's finally starting to look like something!   And we're so close to finishing that the next post will be the final.

In the meantime, there's something I'd like you to notice. It's the "Fighting Eagle" emblem on the air intake cover just below the WSO's seat.

It's pretty cool that the logo is even there at all as it was actually designed in 1943.   See, the 334th's unit lineage traces back to the 4th Fighter Group of WW2 and one of Walt Disney's artists created the emblem as part of the studio's "war effort."  That's not so remarkable - Disney did a fair number of logos/mascots for military units fighting overseas.  What IS remarkable is the fact that it persisted for so long.  Well, at least in a fashion.

Below are images of the original sketch and the period-correct versions. I mean no offense to the guy(s) who painted the later renderings but it's pretty clear something got lost in translation.  One of the 334th guys joked about their version as, "The Puking Pigeon."

Yeah, I laughed too.

I'm not here to criticize a guy's copying skills.  Instead, this is a great opportunity to see how stuff can change over time.  Kind of like how history gets reported, interpreted and passed on.

There's a whole generation of people who's sole experience with the Vietnam War is through other people's interpretations.  Of course, this is going to happen as people don't live forever.  Last year, four WW2 fighter pilots I know took their "final flight," leaving their memories behind in the scattered minds of those who knew them.  The originals are simply gone.

I know a guy who lost his leg "over there" and I asked him how realistic the popular movies on Vietnam really were. He got a big kick out of my question - "You're going to learn about what I went through from a movie?!"

The more I learn about Vietnam, the more I realize that the broad strokes painted for me by others are no more accurate than looking at a single still-frame image from a film.  My buddy is right.  For most, however, that's all they'll get - an entertaining moment about a conflict that spanned nearly 30 years!  

You've probably figured out that I think History needs to be a greater portion of our school's curriculum than it is now.

Anyway... back to the Eagle.

So far, the hand-off of history from Disney to me has taken 70 years.  Now's a good time to have another look at the pencil sketch - can you believe how far it's come?!   And now that we're embedded into the internet cosmos, the Eagle will likely fly another 70 years.  (That'll be the year 2082 in case you're not quick with math.)

For the time being, however, the Vietnam War remains "new" to me - the equipment, the experiences...everything.  I'm especially grateful for experiences like this one as now that I know more, I realize how little I knew then. Though there's an element of The Obvious in that statement, it's important because I don't want my sole history lesson to come from Hollywood.

When I first started this F-4, and knew I had to render the Eagle, I noticed immediately the distance between its WW2 purity and cruder 1972 form - and of course, made all the ironic conclusions that you probably have, too.

But I have to state this. I no longer look at the Eagle and see a logo.  Nor do I see the changes in time and tide.  Instead, I see squadron commander Colonel Crawford Shockley and the people he lovingly calls, "His boys."

Come back for the final post, ok?  It's an image of The Vietnam War you need to read.

Disney image source:  fourthfightergroup.com.  Photographs courtesy Crawford Shockley, Chuck Coffman.

11 July, 2012

Profile 68: UPDATE - F-4E Phantom as flown by the 334th TFS

Here she is, as she was about 2 nights ago but be warned - THERE ARE TWO MAJOR FLAWS in this rendition!  They will be corrected, but since they're going away, I'll leave it to you to find them.


Every airplane I do comes to the table with its own party of people, experiences, history... I never know what to expect other than that each will be unique.  This F-4 is especially so in that it's not just one man weighing in but many.

It's like this - all the other airplanes here are short stories.  But this one is a collection.

When I wrote the prior post about the 334th's mission of "flying chaff," it touched off a chain of reactions among The Fighting Eagles (as they're called) that was remarkable.  Though all were of good cheer, I got the impression that the Chaff missions were loathed.  And if you keep reading, you'll learn why.

Dean Failor, a Weapon System Officer (WSO) on a 334th F-4, just emailed me a recollection of such a Chaff mission. It's remarkable on many levels, especially considering he was essentially riding in a violent roller coaster in the dark.

Hold on...

Chaff Mission

This is a story of a night, three ship chaff mission laying a corridor for B-52s during Linebacker I in 1972.  Three SA-2s were shot at us and all three should have hit us.  The mission had an eerie feeling about it from the very beginning of the briefing.  Problems included target location, aircraft problems, altitude of mission execution, and differing opinions on tactics. 

The target was in the vicinity of Vinh, North Vietnam.  Vinh was a heavily defended transshipment point on the coast about half way between the DMZ and Hanoi to the north.  The main threat was SA-2 surface to air missiles (SAMS).  SAMs were always a threat, but the enemy had been employing tactics such as dummy radars and multiple sites firing at one aircraft.  I figured the chance of outmaneuvering one missile was 90%, two missiles 50% and three 10%.  That is if we saw them.  If you were maneuvering against missiles from one site, they could launch one at you from another site and you might not see it.  As you maneuvered against one missile, your energy or what we called smash would be bled off.  This would make it very hard to maneuver against other missiles.  The idea was that most missiles were defeated by out turning them.  If you were lucky it would stall out and tumble.  I never saw one do this, but that was the theory.  All of the ones I saw miss, seemed to explode above one’s altitude.  I figured our jammers were doing that.
The aircraft assigned to us was one that had a bad jamming pod the night before.  Maintenance couldn’t duplicate the malfunction so we were to fly it again.  It was loaded on our left side, which would be the left side of the formation where we were to fly.  We requested to be put on the right side of the formation away from the threat, but did not get permission.  In addition, it was decided to make a hard, 45 degree bank turn to the east when past the target area to egress quickly over the water.  Discussions included making several 15 degree bank check turns instead of the 45 degree bank turn, the theory was that the jamming would stay more effective and that we could better check below us for missile launches.  In a hard right turn, it was impossible to see below to the left where the threat would be from.  The decision was made to make the faster, 45 degree bank turn.  Better to get out of the threat area as fast as possible.
 Start up, taxi and take-off was uneventful.  As a crew, neither of us said anything extra except what was needed to get aircraft airborne.  This was a bit unusual.  We were good friends and both of us had over 300 missions by this point in time.  I wasn’t even asking to fly the aircraft like I usually did.  After the pre-strike tanker rendezvous and refueling we proceeded to the east to below the DMZ and then turned north on our heading to Vinh.  Cockpit lighting was adjusted and tape put over bright lights that would detract night vision.  The Radar Warning Receiver (RHAW) was turned on and adjusted to compensate for jamming noise from jammer.  The AC concentrated on keeping the three lights and dim strip lights in sight to maintain the pod formation.  I concentrated on threats and navigation.  The wild ride into bad guy country was about to begin.  I figured they had about 4 minutes to kill us.  They knew where we were heading and that we were on the leading edge of our chaff spewing out the back.
We were now at approximately 30,000 feet at 310 IAS (Indicated Airspeed) and about Mach 1.1.    Our chaff dispenser was turned on spewing the chaff out behind us.  As soon as we turned north our warning receivers started to talk to us.  Strobes and noise were the order of the day.  Early warning radars picked us up and then the closer in radars started their steady and chirping sounds and finally the rattlesnake tones of launches.  There was so much noise in the headset I actually turned the volume down so I could hear radio transmissions from wingmen.  I knew that if a missile was launched I would get the Azimuth Sector (AS) light on bright and steady with a loud, piercing tone.  We called this the Awe Shit light.  If that came on, a missile was being aimed at you, or it could also be from a dummy radar site to make you maneuver against a phantom missile and cause you to not fly the required altitude and flight path.  In addition, in maneuvering one might bleed off enough energy and airspeed to make one vulnerable to actual missiles being sent one’s way. 
At 30,000 feet and 310 IAS, the aircraft was on the edge of a stall.  Any abrupt maneuvers could well put us out of control.  The B-52s were behind us, this altitude was good for them. The AS light had been on several times, but no missiles yet. We started our 45 degree bank turn.  I knew this was the most dangerous part of the mission, this was our most vulnerable time.  If they were going to launch, it was now.  I was in the back seat and had a feeling a missile was to be launched, but my Aircraft Commander (AC) wouldn't roll out of the turn. He was trying to stay in pod formation with lead. I could understand his reasoning.  If we strayed out any further, our aircraft would appear as one on outside of formation.  (Remember the possible bad jamming pod on the left?) 
We had just started our turn to the right.  I knew we had to roll out to check below.  Hair stood out on the back of my neck, and a silent voice was telling me to do something or die.  I told the AC to roll out again, but he wouldn't/couldn’t. I had never done this before and never did again, but I grabbed the stick and rolled out.  The first of three missiles was on the way.  I saw it over the left intake at 10 o'clock, made the SAM call to the rest of the flight to roll out and gave the aircraft back to the AC.  He went to negative Gs and went to full afterburner to pick up enough speed to maneuver.  
The first missile was tracking us.  The reddish orange glow of the boost phase that had lit up the world below the undercast was gone and now the missile was a silver-white death dot coming at us at Mach 2 plus.  The silver color was the tracking phase rocket motor. No matter what we did it stayed on the same spot on the canopy.  If it didn’t track us we would ignore it and let it fly close by through our flight.  The AC pushed the nose over and the missile would follow us, if we pulled up it would follow us up.  That meant it was tracking us. We barrel rolled around it and it just missed us and blew up about 300 feet above us. I don't know how it missed. The second missile from the same site was on us now.  Low on airspeed and altitude, I asked the AC what he was going to do and he said “I don't have a F...ing clue.” Gave me a lot of confidence!!??, but I didn't have any ideas either. We were "out of airspeed and ideas" as they say. He unloaded even more and then tried another roll around missile. Must have worked since I saw the missile up close and it too just missed us. Probably the jamming helped, couldn't read our altitude correctly maybe.  It also blew up over and behind us.  One second earlier and the night would not have ended well.  I swear I saw the rivets on the missile as it passed by.
I put my head down in the radar scope to work the radar tilt and gain to pick up the rest of the flight so we could get back into formation. I found them and told pilot to come right and climb, flight was to right of us 45 degrees and high. By this time we were heading basically east. Just as we were getting back in position a third SAM blew up just behind and above flight. It illuminated all three aircraft. It evidently came from another SA-2 site at our six. We never saw it coming.
Luckily, none of us were hit.  Thanks to superb flying by my AC and what I believed was a helping hand from God, we all made it home safely that night.    Praise the Lord and give me some more airspeed and altitude! 

Thank you, Dean.

07 July, 2012

Profile 68: UPDATE - F-4E as flown by the 334th TFS

Ok.  You can look but don't expect to see much.  This thing is a long way from reality.   But, it's moving in the right direction.   The exhaust area was giving me fits a couple nights ago until I remembered seeing heat distress on a sharp photo of an F-100, then mimicked the effect with a light pass of purple.

If you ever see the final piece - even close-up - you won't see the purple. At least that's my hope!  I am working to make sure what we perceive is actually seared metal.  In art, "perception is reality." I have a William S. Phillips piece hanging in my #2 studio that I use for inspiration.  Far away, it looks like a silver B-29.  Up close?  It's a blue B-29.  He's definitely one of the best aviation artists ever and true master of the trickery of color.

This is a good segue to bring up one of the main tasks of the 334th, laying "Chaff."  And for that, we should brush up on the knowledge of Radar.

Radar works by sending radio waves out from a device, waiting for the waves to hit an object and then collecting the returning waves at the source.  It's actually a 19th Century discovery, but it took until the 1930s for the idea to really manifest itself for military purposes.   The Brits used radar rather well to determine where the German bombers were going to attack during the Blitz of 1940-41.  From then on, just about every combatant in WW2 used radar in some fashion or another for the obvious reasons of detection.

But, every good trick demands an even better counter.  One of those counters was a thing called, "Chaff."

Chaff is a device that, when dispersed in the air, mimics the substance of an aircraft.  When the enemy radar detects the Chaff, the signals that come back are essentially gibberish.  The results are critical - a jumbled radar scope can nullify radar-guided weapons like guns or missiles and it can also keep the enemy in-the-dark about the actual target.

For Chaff to work, a number of factors have to be right.  But most importantly, the stuff has to be in the air long enough to mess things up for the radar readers.  So, it has to be light enough to "float."  Put it up too soon and it goes away.  And don't even think about being 'too late' because by then, someone might be dead.

I thought you might like to see what the WW2 variety looked like - see below.  And for extra authenticity, it's held by WW2 fighter pilot, too.

Anyway, this is what Chaff looked like back then - metal impregnated paper strips.  And when TONS of it were dumped into the air, the little pieces looked like big bombers.  Or, at the very least, a massive blob of "unknown."

25 years later over Vietnam,  Chaff was still an important trick.  In fact, it was really important because of the advent of radar-guided missiles called SAMs.  Like the airplanes, radar and the requisite counter-measures had evolved.

The CO of the 334th, Col. Crawford "Shock" Shockley described, "The chaff we had was almost invisible - almost like hair.  You couldn't see it with the eye, but it showed up on (the North Vietnamese) radar.   And our job was to be ahead of the rest and lay it down before the rest of the strike arrived."

Now think about that for a second.  I'll repeat what he said, "...and our job was to be ahead of the rest..."

*click*  It became clear.  The 334th were the first ones in.  Now, being the first on the battlefield can actually be a benefit as the 'element of surprise' is in your favor.  But once that's lost - which is instantaneous - the war is on.

"(The North Vietnamese military) would see this band of chaff (on their radar screens) and then they'd put all their effort at the head of it because now, they knew where we were!"

Don't think for a second that Chaff missions were without high value.  In air-combat, time is divided into quantum slices.   The quick tick of a clock can contain victory, defeat and an outcome that could be returning home safely, in a body bag or POW camp.

The Chaff mission was a hell of a responsibility.

And they're also a brilliant illustration of how situations are dependent upon human performance, i.e. competence.    To those of us fortunate enough to have avoided mortal combat, the analogy can be brought into our work and personal life easily.   But I can't help but thinking that the 334th TFS learned the crucial lesson of "doing one's work well for the sake of others" better than most.

Hmmm.  I think I'll look into that.  Stay tuned.  Especially because the 334th's technical expertise was to be relied upon when they were tasked with using a radical evolution of the iron bomb.

In the meantime, the photo below is all I could find of the modern Chaff.  Just think - inside that little tube is a whole bomber formation.  Or not.

And go ahead and try to find the purple in the F-4.  It's there.  Really.

Note:  The 334th were certainly not the only unit in SE Asia tasked with dispensing Chaff over the battlefield.  However, they are the only one that earned the nickname, "Chaff Masters."

Postscript:  More than a few 334th alumni have, after reading this post, expressed their feelings about the Chaff mission.  If they can be summed up in one statement, it is this:  "I've spent the last 40 years trying to put chaff completely out of my vocabulary and memory."  I think I understand why, too.

04 July, 2012

Profile 68: BEGINNING "xxx" as flown by the 334th TFS

Here it is - my newest project - an F-4E Phantom as flown by the 334th TFS.

This sketch - done with a fantastic ballpoint pen swiped from a Hyatt  -  surprised me with its ease.  Some people call the Phantom "ugly."  But to me, it's beautiful.  Hulking, big and angular, she seems crafted - not by an engineer - but by a sculptor with a wicked vision.  There is no mistaking it for anything other than what it is - a war machine.

The pressure is always on to do well.  But this project brings a new dimension to the work in that it will not represent a specific pilot but an entire squadron. And not just a Squadron but a specific TDY (military jargon for "temporary duty").  In other words, a time and a place and the team itself.

Introducing The Eagles from Ubon, Thailand, 1972.  Their 'temporary duty' is no mere corporate rotation but the assembly for an astonishing aerial campaign called "Operation Linebacker."  Though many fascinating aspects of the story that will come out later, the one you need to know now is - this is what finally put a stop to The Vietnam War.

I'm really amped for this project as I expect to learn much about such a critical time of American history.  So much so that last Sunday, while the sermon was on "Walking in the Spirit" I evidently interpreted it as "Flying in the Phantoms" as indicated by the photo (below) of my sermon notes!

No offense to my pastor but the way I see it - if God didn't value history, His book would have been a whole lot skinnier.

Anyway -  time to imagine blue skies, white clouds, green below...and a red-hot enemy.  We're going North!

Photo:  ©1972 Chuck Coffman, 334th TFS

22 June, 2012

Profile 67: FINAL - "50" F4F-4 Wildcat as flown by Joe Foss, VMF-121

DONE!  I presented it to the Commissioner last Wednesday and...they like it!

At almost 30" long, this Wildcat is impressive on size alone and because of its size, was a real stretch for me.  For my work, it's quite detailed.  At the risk of sounding like the geek I am, I'm rather proud of the paint chips on the tailwheel shroud.

Anyway, presenting a finished piece is an interesting moment.  In this case, we were standing around the conference table, arms behind backs (it always happens, people put their arms behind their backs and lean into the artwork), lots of "hmmm's"  and "huh's" - then one of the guys breaks the silence and says, "You know, Joe Foss is definitely a candidate for The Most Interesting Man In the World*."


Let's roll the facts on the man:

  - Born at a farmstead with no electricity.
  - Father dies; Joe drops out of school to run the family farm
  - Saves $60, learns to fly, becomes Marine Corps aviator
  - Refused combat duty because of his "old age"
  - Learns fighters (F4Fs) on his own
  - Ditches airplane in ocean, swims with sharks until rescued by Missionaries
  - Shoots down 26 Japanese airplanes in aerial combat*
  - Receives Medal of Honor for service between October '42 and January '43
  - Starts his own businesses after the war (some worked, some didn't)
  - Starts the South Dakota Air National Guard
  - Becomes a Brigadier General
  - Wins two terms as Governor of South Dakota
  - Loses a House seat race to George McGovern
  - Turns down $750K for rights to make a movie about him
    (and that's 1950s money, too!)
  - Becomes Commissioner of the American Football League
  - Hosts the TV show, American Sportsman
  - Gets arsenic poisoning and becomes paralyzed
  - Fights his way out of paralysis
  - Becomes a born-again Christian
  - Does PR for KLM Airlines
  - Becomes President of the National Rifle Association
  - Makes the cover of TIME Magazine
  - Has an airport, high school and national foundation named for him...

    ...just "google" the guy.

"Joe Foss" is not just a name.  It's an adjective, noun and verb.

However, he did share his 'formula' for success when I got to sit down with him in 2002.  "I don't think about yesterdays. You want to do something, then you just go and do it."

It's really brilliant advice - devilish though because so few people want to see life so simply, so positively.  To Joe, "success" was not complicated or mysterious.  It was simply the result of continuous forward desire.

Ok. Now's a good time to show you a little artifact of Joe's wartime service - a page from the VMF-121's "War Diary" showing the day's activity for November 7, 1942.

Go ahead and read it - and notice the lack of info such as aircraft number, serial (BuNo) number.  This is somewhat unusual in that aviators tend to keep detailed records on airplanes.  It just goes to show that combat at Guadalcanal was chaotic.

Close your eyes - imagine a searing hot day, gluey humidity and the slap-crunch of leather shoes on coral gravel; the whine of an air raid siren - pilots leap up onto their Wildcats, engines belch to life...

On that November day, Joe experienced his 'Most Interesting' combat mission.  After shooting down 3 Japanese aircraft, his last victory - a two-seat Japanese biplane  - returned the favor; the enemy's rear gunner shot Joe down, too.

Forced to ditch his F4F in the ocean, Joe almost didn't make it out of the cockpit.  With a foot caught under the seat, Joe sank into the deep with the plummeting plane until - at about 30 foot depth - he wrenched himself free and shot to the surface.

Waterlogged, exhausted, Joe was now alone in the heaving sea.  Sharks circled, hours passed, darkness arrived... then, a boat paddled by natives and a Missionary (really, I'm not making this up) approached, hauled him aboard... two days later, he's back in combat!

When I was a little kid - 3 or 4 - my father had this paperback book, "Greatest Fighter Missions" by a man named Edward Sims.   Before the words made any sense, I'd pour over the book's little combat diagrams.  They're really fantastic works of art as well as graphical stories.  Whoever did them was a master!

Anyway, I still have the book, and the diagram of Joe Foss's November 7, 1942 mission has remained in-memory all this time.  Now you can remember it too - see below.  Cool huh?!

And see the little profile drawing of the Wildcat in the lower left hand corner?  I distinctly remember trying to duplicate it, using crayons on the thick grayish paper my mom would give me.  It just occurred to me -  I started drawing Joe's Wildcat forty years ago!

You know, I'm glad I kept at it.

If I've learned anything from Joe Foss it's that circumstances are irrelevant. The man went from dirt-farm to Pacific Island to General to paralytic to...you get the point.  In "the combat of life" success is not about what's happened or even what's going on currently.  All things pass.

Success is about what you do next.

"I don't think about yesterdays. You want to do something, then you just go and do it." 

And that's how you become Most Interesting Man in the World.


POSTSCRIPT:  An old SDANG pilot buddy of Joe's just emailed me.  I thought you'd like to read what he wrote:

John:  Liked your drawing of the F4F...I flew this plane a number of times. A stable plane but a crude cockpit.  Upon takeoff with right hand on the stick and left hand on the throttle, I was forced to put the stick in my left hand and reach down to the floor with my right hand to hand crank up the wheels. When I looked up I had pushed the stick forward with nose headed for the ground. I bet the autos on the highway thought I was buzzing them.  Upon landing I unlatched the catch and let gravity pull down the wheels.  There was an inch of armor plate both behind the seat and under the seat. How Joe  Foss ever shot down 26 Jap planes I'll never know.The Japenese Zero was much more manueverable because they had no armor plating and weighed less.  But Joe was a crack shot, having hunted pheasants in South Dakota,he knew how to lead the target.  After the war I flew P-51 Mustangs with Joe putting on many air shows for local celebrations.  When I reminesce, how lucky can one get?  I got to fly the F4F, the F4U, and the P-51 Mustang .........Semper Fi from an old (92 years) Marine fighter pilot from the carrier Wasp.  

Claude Hone, VMF 216, SDANG

**The truth is, much of the aerial combat in the Pacific Theatre was one-sided.  After 1943, the quality of the Japanese aviator grew progressively poorer by the day.  And of course,  Japanese airplanes were comparatively easier to shoot down on account of prevailing aeronautical design philosophies of the Japanese military. . But Joe, in 1942, fought the best the Japanese had - and they were every bit as good as the American pilots.   F4F vs A6M (Japanese Navy fighter commonly called a Zero) was a match made by Mars himself.  Joe's 26 victories came the hard way. 

Sources:  Artwork, me.  VMF-121 War Diary courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps History Division,  Guadalcanal F4F photo ©unknown, Diagram: Greatest Fighter Missions by Edward M. Sims published by Ballantine Books, New York, 1962.  Please holler if you know other proper attributes.

16 June, 2012

Profile 67 - UPDATE "5?" as flown by Joe Foss, VMF-121

So.  It looks like all I have to do is add the rudder, tweak some shadows and add final markings.  I'm still on the fence of what aircraft number to use - 50?  53?  84?

I remember in 2001 (or 2000?) trying to impress Joe that I knew the number of the plane he flew at Guadalcanal and his sardonic reply, "That's my airplane, huh?"   I had no idea at the time that in reality, Joe scrambled to whatever airplane was in operating condition.  And the paperwork of who flew-what was of little consequence when Japanese bombers were readying to unleash their fury.

Joe never "had an airplane" and he didn't care, either.  I could have put down any number and he'd have been fine with it.  But facts are facts, right?

Anyway,  the question brings up the whole idea of "numbers" in war - especially war against the Japanese in WW2.  The numbers are appalling.   In fact, they're unbelievable (irony intended).

When one thinks of war's "numbers" - the most natural counting is of deaths.  People are weird this way - battles, wars, conflicts gain a perverse appeal with the increase in body counts.   Anyway, here's what I learned about the body count between the Japanese and The United States:

Japan:  2.2 million soldiers dead or approximately 4% of the country's population in 1940

United States:  420,000 soldiers dead or approximately .33% of the country's population in 1940.

Carve up those stats however you'd like.  Personally, I'm fascinated with the indication that a Japanese solider was 12x more likely to die.  But the fact remains:  The Japanese slaughtered their young men in the pursuit of gain.

A few years ago, Morrie Magnuson explained, "War is always about the leaders.  It's not about the soldiers.  Soldiers do what they're told."    To the American way of thinking, a 12:1 death ratio is clear proof of the Japanese leader's insanity.

Today, in 21st Century, there's a reluctance to make disparaging remarks about another nation's culture or belief system.  But the truth is, the leaders that drove Japan into WW2 were nuts.  Of course, there may be those that attempt to explain their behavior by describing "The Bushido Code of the Samurai," but it doesn't change the reality

So.  What does this mean to the drawing above?  I'll get to that.  But have a look at the photograph below.  It's a Japanese flag taken from a dead Japanese soldier discovered by an American Marine pilot circa Spring, 1944.

In case you're not brushed-up on your Japanese, here's what it states.  Kinda.

“Brave man from Manshuu (Manchuria)

Honorable Hourjiro Saito (name) From all the people at the shop!
In recognition of being a part of the battle at the Haruha River with the Manchurian Independent Defense Unit”

In other words, this was just a guy who carried some stuff from his buddies into combat.  In fact, I know so - I have the soldier's wallet, too.  And based on what's in there, I can pretty-much state, the "Jap" was just a poor guy like the rest of us, doing what he was ordered to do and paying the ultimate price.

Ok.  Back to Joe Foss. I'm trying to figure out which number to choose for his airplane and got lost in the rabbit-trail of "numbers" of war.  

Which to choose.  50?  53?  84?  2.2 million?

In the next and final post, we're going to look at a day in the life of Joe Foss and what he went through to defeat the enemy.  He'll narrowly escape death, but take the life of at least 3, maybe 5, with him.  a 1:5 ratio over one day's work.