2022 Spring Friends Journal Sampler

Page 1

And I Was Having Such a Good Day

Search & Rescue Over the Himalayas

It Was a Normal Winter’s Night




The magazine of the Air Force Museum Foundation




Spring 2022, Vol. 45 No. 2

melinda’s musings



Dr. Pamela A. Drew

In the dark, early morning hours, sometimes the traffic light god is working in my favor, sometimes it is not. Turning in the gate to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force™ as I have for over 30 years, my first glance is to confirm the flag is flying, then my day can move forward. There is something magical about the Museum when it is closed. The mornings are the best in my opinion. The cleaning staff will always greet you cheerfully although with their heads down, focused on the job of getting the Museum ready for the day’s visitors. Only a few lights are on, which gives it an exclusive atmosphere. The Museum has an infinite number of sounds and I imagine the creaks and groans are the aircraft stretching and yawning, the clicking noises may be stray crickets, spiders, or mice scurrying away to their hide-a-ways. In reality, I know it is just the heating system. Not many have the opportunity to experience the Museum during its closed hours. It is an amazing experience watching it wake as the staff and volunteers start arriving. The operations team with radios in hand scurry like those mice making sure the alarms are all set, lights are coming on, and everything is ready for visitors. Volunteers arrive, some dressed and ready to go while others carry their sports coats over their arms for later. Coffee is on most minds this early in the morning. Phones will start ringing, meetings will commence. All is right as we put another day in motion. This year will offer so many new opportunities, so many new faces to meet and greet, so much to accomplish. The lights will go back off this evening and all will rest. Come on out spirits and creatures, the Museum is yours tonight. I will see you in the morning!

Melinda Lawrence Air Force Museum Foundation Acting Chief Executive Officer



Lt Gen C.D. Moore II, USAF (Ret) SECRETARY

CMSAF Gerald R. Murray, USAF (Ret) TREASURER

Brig Gen Paul R. Cooper, USAF (Ret) Ms. Angela L. Billings Col James F. Blackman, USAF (Ret) Mr. John G. Brauneis Mr. Roger D. Duke Ms. Anita Emoff Col Frederick D. Gregory Sr., USAF (Ret) Mr. Benjamin T. Guthrie Mr. James L. Jennings Mr. Scott L. Jones Mr. Ki Ho Kang Dr. Thomas J. Lasley II Mr. Scott E. Lundy Gen Lester L. Lyles, USAF (Ret) Maj Gen Ted P. Maxwell, USAF (Ret) Maj Gen Brian C. Newby, USAF (Ret) Gen Gary L. North, USAF (Ret) Mr. Edgar M. Purvis Jr. Maj Gen Frederick F. Roggero, USAF (Ret) CMSgt Darla J. Torres, USAF (Ret) Mr. Randy Tymofichuk


Col Mark N. Brown, USAF (Ret) Mr. James F. Dicke II Ms. Frances A. Duntz Mr. Charles J. Faruki Maj Gen E. Ann Harrell, USAF (Ret) Col William S. Harrell, USAF (Ret) Mr. Jon G. Hazelton Mr. Charles F. Kettering III Mr. Patrick L. McGohan Lt Gen Richard V. Reynolds, USAF (Ret) Col Susan E. Richardson, USAF (Ret) Gen Charles T. (Tony) Robertson, USAF (Ret) Mr. R. Daniel Sadlier Col James B. Schepley, USAF (Ret) Mr. Scott J. Seymour Mr. Philip L. Soucy Mr. Harry W. (Wes) Stowers Jr. Mr. Robert J. Suttman II, CFA

what’s inside 20 IN EVERY ISSUE



Several special stories



27 |






Medal of Honor recipient: Maj Charles J. Loring Jr.

28 |


De Havilland U-6A Beaver

52 |

UPCOMING EVENTS AND EXHIBITS AT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE USAF The Museum celebrates the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force this year with new permanent exhibits, special exhibits, and exciting events; plus Open Aircraft Days and Plane Talks.

8 | AND I WAS HAVING SUCH A GOOD DAY “Donahoe called, ‘Two, check…‘ with no response… finally a chilling, terse reply: ‘Two has an IFE (in flight emergency), orbiting Rockville, wings folded.‘”

18 | WHAT’S IN A NAME “Unlike the Infantr y who were known as ‘Doughboys‘ and the Artillery, named ‘Rednecks‘, the article noted there was no nickname for U.S. Airmen.”

20 | SEARCH & RESCUE OVER THE HIMALAYAS “All along the way fi erce looking warriors would step out of the jungle, guys with bones in their noses, faces painted to fare-theewell, and carr ying spears and blow guns.”

On the Cover: “And I Was Having Such a Good Day” — Oil painting from memory by Gerald Asher of incident in story on page 8. Accessioned to the Air Force Art Collection in 1993. (Asher)


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36 | FRITZ AND I “Our primary job as sentry dog teams in Vietnam was to defend our bases as the first line of defense on the perimeter during the hours of darkness.”

42 | BEAVER TALES “Two of the three struts for each float were reversed, resulting in the floats being eight inches to a foot farther to the rear than they should have been!”

46 | IT WAS A NORMAL WINTER’S NIGHT “It was 8 p.m. on a normal winter’s night in 1968. The temperature was 30 below zero — normal for northern Maine.”

46 Widman

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in the Friends Journal articles and Feedback letters are solely those of the authors in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc., the United States Air Force or any other entity or agency of the U.S. Government. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.


editor’s notes


Melinda Lawrence


Christopher Adkins-Lamb



Gary Beisner


As a reminder, your Spring issue is on a different schedule because we include the annual report with it. The annual report must be approved by the Board of Trustees which meets the first week of May each year. Yes, we could mail the Friends Journal and the annual report separately, but that would double our mailing costs this quarter and being good stewards of your donations is our first priority. So we delay the Friends Journal for 2-3 weeks. We appreciate your understanding. We have several special stories in this issue. The cover story is by noted aviation artist Gerald Asher, who was an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force for four years. His personal story does deal with “aviation art” to some degree but is really about the incident depicted in his painting “And I Was Having Such a Good Day” shown on the cover. A series of events led to a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom taking off with its wing outer panels unlocked and they folded up on takeoff. You can read about the incident and its aftermath beginning on page 8. In late 2019/early 2020, the Museum hosted an exhibit of wood carvings depicting military working dogs. At the opening event I met and spoke with two veteran dog handlers from the Vietnam era — Ed Reeves, an Army Scout Dog handler, and Tom King, an Air Force Sentry Dog handler. Both men appreciated the exhibit and shared stories of their dogs (Prince and Fritz, respectively) and military dogs in general. Tom’s moving story can be found on page 36. This issue also contains the continuation of Krieger Henderson’s service in the China, Burma, India theater during World War II. Following the end of hostilities, Krieger joined Search and Rescue and worked with ground teams to locate crash sites to identify and recover the remains of American airmen. His story begins on page 20. Thank you for supporting the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force™! I hope you enjoy reading the Friends Journal.

Alan Armitage aarmitage@afmuseum.com


Mary Bruggeman


William Horner


Melinda Lawrence


Cheryl Prichard


Sarah Shatzkin


Crystal Van Hoose


David Tillotson III


Alan Armitage


Cheryl Prichard


John King, Art Powell, Robert Pinizzotto

If your Friends Journal is damaged during delivery, you have a question about delivery, or you have a change of address or other information, please contact the FRIENDS OFFICE:

937.258.1225 friends@afmuseum.com The Friends Journal is published quarterly by the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc., a Section 501(c)(3) private, non-profit organization dedicated to the expansion and improvement of the National Museum of the U.S. Air ForceTM and to the preservation of the history of the United States Air Force. The Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc. is not part of the Department of Defense or any of its components and it has no government status. Printed in the USA. USPS Standard A rate postage paid at Dayton, OH. The Friends Journal is mailed on a quarterly basis to donors to the Air Force Museum Foundation.


friends feedback

O YT N A 0 12:0 PM


Several of the stories in the Winter 2022 issue struck a chord with readers! We are gratified that the stories we publish are stirring memories and responses. Your feedback helps me do a better job selecting stories for the Friends Journal, and searching our archives to find stories of interest for the biweekly Airmail emails. If you enjoyed or were moved by a story published in the Friends Journal or in the Airmail email, please let me know at aarmitage@ afmuseum.com. Also, if something you’ve read prompts you to want to tell a story of your own, please consider writing it up and submitting it. I want to help you share the story of your service with interested readers. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions — I am happy to work with writers of all levels to tell their stories.

“FOUR AIRCRAFT AND FOUR GOOD FRIENDS IN FOUR MINUTES” RAP MCBURNEY WROTE: This will fall in the “Stories My Father Told Me” category. The article by Lt Col Robert Boyden in the winter issue brought back memories. My father Capt (later Col) R.Y. McBurney was an ops officer for the 391st Tactical Fighter Squadron based at England Air Force Base, Alexandria, Louisiana, in the early 1950s. Their fighter/bomber aircraft was the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. Of all the airplanes my father flew starting with the Boeing PT-17 Stearman and ending with the North American F-100 Super Sabre, the one he most remembered and disliked was the F-84F. Underpowered, clumsy, all the negative adjectives fit for print. One of his stories included an annual requirement to take off at full gross weight. As ops officer, Pop scheduled the annual flights for a day in February when the air was cold and the wind was straight down Runway 32; length 9,352 feet. He tells the story of rolling over both sets of numbers (14 and 32) and easing the 84F a bit laterally to avoid the pine trees. Some pilots didn’t make it and overran the barrier, others dropped tanks and made it, but fortunately unlike Col Boyden’s story there were no fatalities. However, there was plenty of damage. Fast forward to 1974 after Pop’s retirement and as a past base commander at England he was offered the opportunity to help transition England from militar y to civilian life, becoming England Air Park. To honor his contributions, an aircraft was dedicated to him at England’s Heritage Park. And, you guessed it, the only static display available was... an F-84F. McBurney


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THIS ISSUE’S STAMP The stamp in this issue is a 1992 29-cent first-class stamp featuring a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber shortly after takeoff (note that its wheels haven’t been retracted yet). The caption on the stamp reads “B-25s take off to raid Tokyo April 18, 1942.” It was 80 years ago that Lt Col James “Jimmy” Doolittle led the raid that would later carry his name. Sixteen U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 medium bombers took off from the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet about 650 miles from Japan, bombed selected targets in several Japanese cities, then flew on toward China. The crews all ditched at sea, bailed out, or crash-landed in China (one crew diverted to the Soviet Union). Most of the crews ultimately rejoined friendly forces. Although the raid caused minimal physical damage it had a far larger strategic impact — it forced the Japanese to transfer front-line fighter groups back to Japan for defense, and it boosted morale in the United States. The last surviving member of the raid, Doolittle’s co-pilot Col Richard Cole, passed away in 2019 shortly before the 77th anniversary of the event.

TALK TO US Send your comments to P.O. Box 1903, WPAFB, OH 45433 or email aarmitage@afmuseum.com. For comments or questions directed at the Foundation that don’t pertain to the magazine, please visit the ‘Contact Us’ page at afmuseum.com. facebook.com/ Air.Force.Museum.Foundation @AFMFoundation #airforcemuseumfoundation @airforcemuseumfoundation #airforcemuseumfoundation 5

friends feedback “HUSKIES IN GREENLAND” IN RESPONSE TO OUR COVER STORY, TERRY FAIRFIELD WROTE: During my three years in the U.S. Army, I spent nearly two years in Vietnam. Trained as a photo interpreter and assigned to the 525th Military Intelligence Group, I spent my time there working in a small Air Force-run office at the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) J2 (Intelligence) Targets Division, in Saigon. I never saw a strip of film, but I had a great job maintaining Arc Light B-52 Bomb Damage Assessment files for the Air Force. Our small office was a mix of army, air force and navy personnel. I was an E-5, and my immediate boss was an Air Force major. Our J2 main function was the development of B-52 targets outside South Vietnam and recommending them to Seventh Air Force. This was accomplished through various intel sources such as Forward Air Controller (FAC) reports, photo interpretation reports, MACV Studies and Operation Group (SOG) reports, prisoner of war (POW) interrogation reports, etc.

fabric airplanes, worked as a hanger rat washing and helping around airplanes at our local airfield, and tried my hand at taking flying lessons. Maybe I should have been in the Air Force, but the Vietnam war, the Selective Service, and the draft got me. It always amazed me that I could wander anywhere and not be stopped or questioned. Only once was I asked not to take pictures. I took the attached two photos at Bien Hoa AB sometime during 1971. They show a HH-43 rigged for firefighting. Thanks for another great issue of the Friends Journal.

We worked twelve-hour days, usually with a day off a week. Because I had occasion to travel delivering classified documents, I was issued a packet of blanket travel orders that allowed me to go anywhere in country just by presenting a copy to a transportation carrier such as the Eighth Aerial Port facility at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. The air base was just across the street from MACV. So, once in a while on a day off I would catch a chopper ride from the Tan Son Nhut Station Traffic Office over to Bien Hoa Air Base and go picture taking. Although I was army, I’d always loved airplanes. I’d built plastic model warbirds from World War II, tried to fly gas powered balsa wood/ Fairfield

AND CAPT DAVID DELISIO, USAF (RET) WROTE: As an AF helicopter pilot, the Winter 2022 issue of the Friends Journal is the best issue published! The HH-43 were long retired before I served. I would have liked to fly one.



friends feedback “OVER THE HUMP” COL JON ECKERT, USAF (RET) WROTE: It was with great fascination that I read Krieger Henderson’s article “Over the Hump” and his experiences as a Service Pilot. My Dad, Col Jacob “Jake” Eckert USAF (Ret) was also a Service Pilot, but he was assigned to the ETO (European Theater of Operations). There was a great deal of contrast between the two areas of operation. My Dad was a civilian instructor with his own plane and school in Colorado before WW II. He happened to be in Denver, just after the war started, and there was an Air Corps check pilot there with a Vultee BT-13 Valiant. The pilot was looking for Instructors to sign up with the Air Corps. My Dad thought that he’d like a ride in a BT and the check pilot gave him one. When they landed the check pilot wanted to know if Dad could be at Mather Field near Sacramento, California, in two weeks as a Flight Officer Instructor. They negotiated it to 4 weeks. On arrival at Mather, the checkout was in a Ryan PT-22 Recruit, and then he started instructing. Since he did not have an Instrument Certificate he was sent to the Link (trainer) in his spare time. After a few months there, he was commissioned and sent to Cal-Aero Field (now Chino Airport, California) as a check pilot. He said he had been in a Boeing PT-17 Stearmans and North American AT-6 Texans in every possible attitude there is.

“FLYING THE CADET NURSE” IN RELATION TO THE COLLECTION CONNECTION ITEMS IN “FLYING THE CADET NURSE,” NEVIN STOLTE WROTE: I really enjoyed the little section about K rations in the latest issue of Friends Journal. I have these old magazines from the war years, and I thought maybe you would like to see the note about the can opener that accompanied the rations. Somewhere through the years I had an article or heard in a documentary that it got the nickname “P-38” because that’s how many times that it took to go around the can. Wish I could prove that tidbit.

In February 1943, he was assigned to Burtonwood, England. He was in a group of 57 Service pilots that went to England together. They called themselves the “Heinz 57 Varieties.” They all came from various backgrounds and were all older and more experienced than the freshly minted Air Corps Major that was assigned as their commander. It could be said that they were an inventive group of pilots. They were assigned to the 310th Ferrying Squadron in the 27th Air Transport Group of the Eighth Air Force. They flew everything coming out of Burtonwood and Warton. They delivered all varieties of planes fighters and bombers - to units in England and North Africa, and after D-Day into Europe. After D-Day they had many missions delivering fuel to Patton’s Third Army tanks and hauling out wounded, landing in fields or anywhere available. My Dad’s favorite was to go to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to pick up Douglas A-20 Havocs delivered from the States. After VE (Victory in Europe) Day, there was a mad rush to get all the planes to airfields in Germany to be scrapped. Lots of flying in airspace that was uncontrolled. He spent almost 3 years in England and had too many experiences to relate here. After returning from Europe, Jake got his Service pilot’s rating changed to a regular pilot’s rating and integrated into the regular Air Force when it became a separate service. He flew for many more years up to his retirement. I was fortunate enough to have had many “Dependent” rides with him.


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“…And I Was Having Such a

Good Day” This story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of AAHS Journal and is reprinted here with permission.


technical training school, where I was assigned to a small fleet of North American T-39 Sabreliners in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Most of my time there seemed to be spent cleaning, polishing, or handling bags for a seemingly endless stream of high-ranking officers and other dignitaries; needless to say, I became a bit disillusioned. No doubt prompted by my lack of maturity in understanding that there was more to the Air Force than combat aircraft, certain among my superiors felt I was developing an attitude problem. My orders to Iceland — the third choice on my “dream sheet” — were tantamount to a Death Row inmate receiving a pardon, for me.

The author next to his handiwork: the squadron commander’s F-4E with its short-lived “shark mouth” nose art.

On August 1, 1978, I was almost halfway through my one-year tour with the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS) “Black Knights” at Keflavik Airport, Iceland, and, in spite of the relatively dreadful climate, I was enjoying just about every minute of it. I was an aircraft mechanic working on fighters, ser ving a viable mission as we kept watch on Soviet aerial activity in the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) Gap. It was a far cry from my first assignment fresh from FRIENDS JOURNAL ❙

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My first four months at Keflavik were spent on an alert crew. Two six-man teams split a 48-hour on, 48-hour off schedule; four of the members were generally junior enlisted (Airmen First Class or Senior Airmen) with two more senior enlisted assigned in a supervisory capacity. Flight crews — t wo pilots and t wo Weapons System Officers (WSOs) — rotated every 24 hours. The alert crew’s sole job was to launch and intercept any Soviet aerial activity that ventured into the GIUK gap. Usually it was Tupolev Tu-95 “Bear D” bombers rotating between Murmansk and Cuba. Other times it was Soviet maritime surveillance aircraft — Tu-95 “Bear F” bombers and Ilyushin IL-38 “May” patrol bombers — venturing out to monitor U.S. Navy fleet activities in the North Atlantic. I was in heaven. When I first arrived, the squadron was operating the McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II, many of them having served in combat during the war in Southeast Asia. There were even a few “MiG killers” in the bunch — and one, “666,” that was rumored to have virtually landed itself when the crew ejected on short final after one too many warning lights came on. I never found out if the story was true, but

you know the difference between a fairy tale and a war story, don’t you? The fairy tale begins, “Once upon a time…” and the war story starts out, “Now this is no sh**…” Two months into my tour, we exchanged our tired ‘C’ models for somebody else’s tired ‘E’ models. Transitioning bet ween aircraf t sub-types in what was essentially a combat theater (that ‘Cold War’ thing) tends to tax existing assets insofar as the ability to meet mission requirements. To help alleviate this problem, a flight of four Convair F-106A Delta Darts were deployed cour tesy of the 87th FIS, based at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Michigan. I believe they remained with us about a month and, occasionally teamed with our F-4Es, they made their share of “Bear” intercepts along the way. NOSEART Often during a tour at the alert barn, aircraft would be cycled in and out as maintenance checks came due. Most people knew I had some degree of artistic talent; I was always working on a new pencil sketch in our idle time at the alert facility or building scale models in my off-duty hours. The crew chief of the squadron commander’s F-4E (serial 66-0300), SSgt Gene Hill, showed up one day to take his Phantom back to the flight line and went on about how much he wished I would paint a shark mouth on his jet. “There is NO WAY,” I kept telling him — but he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Finally, I told him, “You get all the materials — tape, paper, and spray paint — and I’ll do it.” Even as the words left my lips, I was regretting them, the wheels of my mind already turning with the ‘what ifs’ that might await me. I didn’t have to wait long for my worst fears to rear their ugly heads. Gene showed up in less than thirty minutes with the supplies, and I started blowing and going 9

Detachment of 87th FIS F-106s deployed to Keflavik during the 57th’s transition to F-4Es, April 1978.


(painting). I have to admit, it was looking pretty good — nothing spectacular, just a rehashing of what I could recall in my mind’s eye from photos of Phantoms similarly painted with the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base during the Vietnam War. Then the door to the alert pod creaked open — and in walked our squadron commander. Lt Col Richard Slowey had just awarded my third stripe as an early promotion (Senior Airman, E-4 “below the zone”) less than a month earlier. My heart was in my throat as, in total silence, he walked around the nose of the bird. If he could have imitated a chameleon, doing that independent eye movement, I think he would have — one eye on me, the other on the artwork. I could just see my new stripe floating away from the sleeve of my uniform. With just a hint of a smirk on his face, his parting words were, “I’ll think about it.” 10

As he left the pod, we all looked at each other. I figured, “In for a penny, in for a pound,” and went back to painting. A couple of minutes later I heard the door creak again. This time it was the bespectacled face of the Air Forces Iceland commander, Col Al Babcock; then he disappeared as well. In for a penny… I finished up the job and pulled all the masking tape off. By this time the word had gotten to the flight crews in their lounge upstairs. Clad in their boots, long underwear and “Chinese pajama” quilted pants (worn beneath their anti-exposure suits), they all took turns having their photo taken with the nose art — either standing beside it singly or in groups, the occasional ham sticking his arm down the gun port as if the bird were eating him. Everyone loved it — if truth be told, even the squadron commander. However, after a long discussion among the governing powers, it was decided the aircraft couldn’t

fly with the sharkmouth. To put it in the terms of political correctness, we didn’t want to appear to be a bunch of bloodthirsty warmongers. Go figure. So, I was told to scrub it off when we were finished with our little photo op. I probably spoke too soon when I said everyone loved it. The senior enlisted members of my own alert crew got a bit wrapped around the axle and, regardless of who told on me, word got back to the Chief of Maintenance, Lt Col Donald Mathis. My tour on the alert crew came to an abrupt end. I was placed in charge of the EOR (End Of Runway) crew, a four-man team with an aircraft mechanic (yours truly) and three weapons specialists. The weapons troops were familiar enough with the aircraft that they could spot something amiss as easily as another mechanic but were also there for any last minute issues regarding aircraft ordnance. In this case it was usually CAP-9s or

AWM-19s. The CAP-9 was an inert AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missile — no warhead or rocket motor, just the heat-seeker head and associated wiring to simulate the actual missile. Same goes for the AWM-19, which simulated the AIM-7F Sparrow radar-homing missile our F-4Es carried on alert. Weapons personnel handled the electronic countermeasures (ECM) pods as well. AUGUST 1, 1978 1Lt Jim Uken left the Life Support shop with the rest of his flight under leaden skies, head bowed by the stiff breeze and the sting of mist on his face. In mid-stride, he realized he’d left a piece of equipment in the shop, and ran back to retrieve it. Heading back for the ramp only a few minutes behind his flight mates, he was surprised to see five canopies already closed on the three Phantoms. “That must have been a hell of a preflight,” he thought to himself as he scrambled up the ladder to fill the back seat of the lead ship. The weather this August morning was not uncommon for Iceland that time of year: drizzling, windy, a temperature hovering in the low 50’s, and hazy with a solid low overcast. A flight of three birds taxied out to greet us; I began by plugging into the intercom box of each Phantom, chatting with the flight crews while my guys did their walk-arounds. The great thing about Keflavik was that it was such a small, tightly-knit community; flight crews and enlisted personnel, particularly the crew chiefs, were almost on a first name basis. I had gotten to know many of the pilots and WSOs while I was on alert — a prospect that’s hard to avoid when one shares the same space for 24 hours at a stretch. When I got to the second ship, serial 66-0304, Capt Greg Harrison was in the front seat; his WSO, Capt Denny Dolphin, was in the “trunk.” I had rotated into Keflavik with Greg the same day, 15 February. He was a Dallas native, so being from Fort Worth, we shared FRIENDS JOURNAL ❙

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some common ground. As my crew did their inspection, Greg remarked that we “must be doing a thorough job.” The unspoken translation was that it seemed to be taking longer than usual. I wasn’t about to tell him that my team had found all three external tank pins — the centerline 600-gallon tank, and the two wingmounted 370s — still installed. They should have been pulled by the crew chief on the line, but I kept my mouth shut; the last thing I wanted to be was a tattle tale. I figured I’d deal with the guilty party directly —and discretely — when I got back to the line, later that day. My crew finished and gave me a “thumbs up,” I wished Greg and Denny a good flight, and unplugged to move to the last ship. Finishing there in short order, we climbed back into the crew cab pickup and watched the flight taxi off. THE INCIDENT I am a self-confessed, bona fide, incurable, airplane nut. To this day, if there’s airplane noise overhead, I am duty-bound to look skyward. It was certainly no different that August morning more than forty years ago. I watched intently from the pickup cab as each Phantom in the flight took to the runway. Lead’s airborne…two will be off any second. Where is he? I can hear the noise — the slope of the terrain blocked our vision of the far end of the runway until the ships had 100 feet or so of air beneath them. But I didn’t see Greg’s bird yet. Finally, I saw him — and it wasn’t pretty. My first thought was, “What the hell is he doing?” 304 finally came into view, much farther down the runway than usual, and the ‘deck angle’ was horrendous. The nose appeared to be pointing at least 45 degrees skyward, but his flight path was virtually straight ahead, with a very shallow increase in altitude. It seemed like an eternity as he turned on crosswind leg, still barely climbing and, from the noise we could hear, still in full afterburner; then on the downwind leg I caught the first glimpse of 304’s planform

against the overcast. My heart went into my throat. The wingspan of the Phantom overhead looked short… much too short. The three-ship flight was going out to practice radar intercepts for the upcoming William Tell competition: a ‘target’ with two birds hunting him. The low overcast dictated single-ship departures in twenty second radar trail. Uken remarked to his pilot, Capt Bill Donahoe, leading the flight, that it seemed to be taking longer than normal for the other ships to join up. Donahoe called, “Two, check…” with no response. Repeating the call a couple more times finally netted a chilling, terse reply: “Two has an IFE (in flight emergency), orbiting Rockville, wings folded.” The next 45 minutes remains an agonizing blur of anxiety. My first reaction had been to grill my crew, specifically the ones who’d inspected at the wings, which did none of us any good. It was a feeble attempt on my part to “close the gate after the horse had run off.” The third ship of the flight, crewed by Lts Jim Payne and Steve

Detail from a photo taken from the alert shelters by 57th FIS crew chief SSGT Fred Gibson as #304 approached the threshold; the SOF’s vehicle is seen in the foreground.



A long final approach for F-4E #304, at the end of an unforgettable 45-minute ride.

A graphic view of the foreshortened wingspan on F-4E #304 during its 1 August 1978 adventure.

Photo taken by 1LT Jim Uken of #304 during the flight. Uken spent most of his career as a backseater in “Wild Weasel” units, his year-long tour in Keflavik being the only exception.





Capps, abor ted the sor tie and taxied back to the ramp. As the lead aircraft disappeared into the overcast, Greg Harrison had waited patiently to push the throttles forward. The takeoff roll started normally, until he reached rotation speed. As he pulled the stick back, the nose came up; as he neutralized the input, the nose kept rising, and he pushed forward — all the way to the stop. The first thought was that the aircraft had suffered a catastrophe with both primary hydraulic systems, but Greg glanced at the pressure gauges; he told his backseater, “It’s not a dual PCU failure.” As both pilot and WSO strained on the sticks to hold the nose down, Dolphin called off the airspeed: “One-sixty… oneforty… one-twenty… we’re pegged at one-twenty!” As Harrison and Dolphin clawed for altitude, they jettisoned the aircraft’s three ‘bags’ (external fuel tanks) once they were clear of the base. With the extra weight gone, the center of lift shifted sufficiently to give Greg more nose authority, and he was able to relax some of the forward pressure on the stick. Following the adage that “speed is life,” they eventually indicated around 50 0 knot s. Capt Bill Donahoe, flying F-4E 66-328 with 1Lt Jim Uken, pulled alongside at a safe distance for moral support. Uken had his Kodak Instamatic camera in his pocket — a common practice among the squadron’s backseaters — but only had a handful of exposures left on the FRIENDS JOURNAL ❙

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roll. As Donahoe maneuvered around 304, Uken judiciously photographed the crippled bird with his remaining film. Back on the ground, the pace was no less frantic. The Supervisor of Flying (SOF) was relatively new to the squadron; while this was not his first flying assignment, it was his first in the F-4, the aircraft being a recent addition to the Aerospace Defense Command. Sitting in his office poring over the flight manual, scouring the Emergency Procedures for any sign of an ‘Uncommanded Wing Fold’ checklist, he inadvertently laid the book on his desktop pedal microphone — blocking any incoming transmissions. The airborne flight crews fumed as they listened to the SOF mutter to his unseen companion, “I can’t find anything about wings folded…” Exasperated, Donahoe switched to a neighboring frequency, and had them contact the SOF via telephone and let him know that he had a hot mic. The chain of events was highlighted by what may have been the first “conference hotel call” in history. The term would later become popular with General Dynamics’ F-16 program; the advent of ‘fly by wire’ technology had pilots encountering anomalies absent in earlier, more conventional aircraft. As a result, the company established a ‘hot line’ with operational units, to deal with problems directly as they were encountered in flight.

With a six-hour difference in time zones, the only people close to the phones at the McDonnell Douglas factory in St. Louis were the security guard and building cleaners. The switchboard finally managed to reach the company’s chief test pilot at home, in bed. Fascinated with the scenario that was unfolding over Keflavik, he could recall only two other instances of Phantoms flying with wings folded. Both, according to him, were Navy birds — launched at night from carriers. The first went over the side and the crew was never recovered; the second managed to stay airborne long enough to circle back and eject alongside the carrier. “Let us know what you find out,” were essentially his parting words. Left to sort things for themselves, the crews agreed that the best solution was to accomplish a controllability check. The first step was to eliminate one factor from the equation: the leading edge slats. While there was no problem with them over the inboard half of the wing, the deployed slats on the outer panels — which were folded past the standard ninety-degree position — were a big question mark. Besides not knowing how adversely they might be affecting li f t, t h e ex p o s e d hyd r a uli c plumbing posed another question: did the panel’s ‘over-fold’ state put additional stress on those fixtures? With visions of a possible rupture to the hydraulic system, the crews agreed to lock the slats in the closed position. Climbing to 12,000 feet, Harrison slowed his crippled bird to find the edge of the envelope. He found that it became pitch sensitive between 200-205 knots CAS (calibrated airspeed). Donahoe and Uken took up a position on Harrison’s right wing as the pair approached the runway at 230 knots; 304 touched down at around 210 knots and engaged the approach-end arrestment barrier, as Donahoe pushed the throttles up and went around. While the barrier was only rated to 180 knots, everyone 13

The author with his assigned aircraft, F-4E 66-0330, December 1978; his parka was removed long enough for the photo!

was in agreement that it was a chance worth taking. The barrier worked as advertised — and the squadron began to breathe again. AFTERMATH By the time Greg and Denny had successfully completed their adventure, my EOR crew and I had been relieved from duty. I seem to recall that the remainder of the flying schedule was canceled for the day. We weren’t interrogated at any great length; it was obvious that there had been more than one weak link in the chain of events that morning. Still, as the final segment of the whole equation, I felt most responsible. However irrational my thoughts were, I was close to tears with the idea that I had come close to killing two people. Sitting in the tiny flightline mess hall, my friends attempted to console me — mostly, to no avail. A short time later, Harrison and Dolphin walked in with the SOF. I saw them out of the corner of my eye, but couldn’t bring myself to look at them directly. Finally, I raised my head; as my gaze met Greg’s eyes, he grinned from ear-to-ear and practically shouted, “How’d you like the airshow?” With that, my tension melted; I went over and apologized to him and the words started flying between us over the episode. Doing his best to control the situation, the SOF jumped up and interrupted our conversation, explaining he had to obtain separate statements from us before Greg and I spoke any further. It didn’t matter; the weight had been lifted a bit from my shoulders, and I breathed a little easier. The best thing about the incident was that there were no casualties. Close behind was the fact that the aircraft itself was undamaged. Close inspection revealed that the wing fold locking lugs were completely retracted; the lock indication pins, approximately 14

1-½” long, were completely extended above the upper wing surface. As rotation speed had been reached, and Harrison had raised the Phantom’s nose, the wing panels gently lifted to their folded position and stayed there. Once the aircraft was safely back on the ground and inspected, the wings were unfolded and locked — and the aircraft flew a regular schedule within the next couple days. As the investigation progressed, it was obvious the chain of events was a long, meandering one. Ship #304, like all of our F-4Es, had been transferred from previous assignments in Tactical Air Command, all sporting their Southeast Asia camouflage of the period. Aerospace Defense Command, to which our unit was assigned, had no camouflaged aircraf t. All ADC interceptors, namely McDonnell F-101 Voodoos and F-106 Delta Dar t s, were painted glossy Aircraft Gray (for the scale modelers, FS16473). The 57th FIS had operated for a number of years under an ADCauthorized “camouflage waiver.” Our previously assigned F-4Cs had retained their SEA camouflage, although most had received a glossy clear coat along with the squadron’s trademark checkerboard pattern to the entire vertical fin, first appearing at the 1976 William Tell air-to-air weapons competition at Tyndall AFB, Florida. By 1978, two of those aircraft had been through depotlevel maintenance activities in Spain, during which the camouflage waiver had expired. Subsequently, F-4C serials 63-7589 and 7618 both returned to Keflavik with a shiny coat of Aircraft Gray. When the F-4Es arrived at the beginning of April, the decision was made to repaint the aircraft on site, both to save money and expedite the process. For textbook painting


applications the Icelandic climate lef t something to be desired, to mention nothing of a lack of proper painting facilities. In a depot maintenance environment, the existing paint would be stripped to bare metal first. Here in Keflavik the aircraft would be cleaned, receive a per func tor y ‘prep’ sanding of the camouflage paint, and repainted Aircraft Gray — ambient temperature and humidity notwithstanding. Things went relatively well until ship #304 rolled into the shop. I believe that most people, given the oppor tunity, prefer to find the easiest way to accomplish any given task; it was no different with the Corrosion Control Shop. Working overhead as an aircraft painter, particularly when applying markings and servicing stencils, can be a pain. To ease the task of painting the national insignia and ‘USAF’ markings on the underside of the wings, the mechanics would unlock the outer wing panels and fold them to the vertical position. Once the painting was completed, the wings were unfolded to finish the upper surfaces — but apparently not locked in place. In the process, the lock indication pins (normally, bright red) were painted gray with the rest of the airframe. The task of repainting the pins red was never accomplished,

One of a few camouflaged F-4Es which received an interim “checkerboard” treatment until the aircraft was repainted in ADC gray, seen on an alert pad in June 1978.

and the aircraft returned to the flightline — unfortunately, with no documentation in the log book that the wings had been unlocked in the first place. The party responsible for unlocking the wings — and failing to make any logbook entry — is lost to history. The assigned crew chief the morning of August 1 was actually an aircraf t electrician, the result of a great press at the time to cross-train personnel into similar career fields in an effort to increase manpower utilization. For example, I was assigned to the Engine Shop to cross-train as a jet engine maintenance specialist. At any rate, the ‘man at the helm’ that morning wasn’t the regular crew chief, and he failed to notice the protruding wing panel unlock pins during his preflight. The flight crew missed them on their walk-around inspection, and my EOR crew — the last link in the chain — failed to catch them as well. Through the course of the entire incident I was thankful that my EOR crew and I had, at least, pulled the external tank safety pins. Had Harrison not been able to jettison that weight shortly after takeoff, the outcome could have been much different. A minor tug-of-war ensued about whether to award Harrison and Dolphin the Distinguished Flying Cross, or press FRIENDS JOURNAL ❙

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charges for negligence. After some debate, it was decided it was a “wash.” There was plenty of blame to go around. LESSONS LEARNED A few months later, on the flight line, the incident haunted me once more. Assisting another crew chief on a launch, I had just pulled the chocks and the Phantom started forward — when I realized the wing tank pins were still in. In retrospect, my common sense went completely out the window; overwhelmed with visions of another potential disaster, I scrambled back under the jet — while it was rolling — and yanked the pins. By the grace of God I had managed to keep my footing on the icy ramp. The marshalling crew chief had understood what I’d done, and I figured we were none the worse for wear — until one of the NCOs from Quality Control introduced himself to me, having witnessed the entire spectacle, and wrote me up for the safety violation. Live and learn. The moral of the wing-fold story was a simple one, which has played repeatedly in the 100+ year history of the aircraft maintenance field: “Document your work.” It had been beaten into our heads from the first day we entered the aircraf t maintenance technical


school following basic training, but it took my personal involvement in this incident before I think I really took it to heart. Over my years as an airline maintenance technician the message remained clear for me. One scare was enough, thank you very much.

Gerald Asher is a pilot, mechanic, and self-taught aviation artist whose work has appeared in books, magazines, calendars, and model box art for more than 30 years. He served as a jet aircraft maintenance specialist (1975-79) with assignments in Texas, Colorado, and Iceland. As an FAA licensed technician, he has worked over 40 years in the airline industry. A contributing artist to the USAF Art Collection since 1981, his works hang in the Pentagon and other military installations around the world. As a member of the Commemorative Air Force since 1975, he spends much of his spare time involved in the restoration of military aircraft - with the unflagging support of his wife, Meg. The author gratefully acknowledges Col Jim Uken, USAF (Ret), as well as former crew chief (and good friend) Frederick J. Gibson for their assistance in this project.This article is dedicated to the memory of the late Dennis Dolphin, who passed away in 2012. 15