The Finest Crews in the Force

Sept. 1, 1989

There is no more important measure of an air force than the caliber of its people who stand ready to fly and fight. It follows, then, that the aircrews and missile crews who do it best are special in­deed.

At its National Convention this month, AFA will present five awards named for five general offi­cers who made their marks in Air Force history. The awards go to the year’s top crews from the US Air Force: the Curtis E. LeMay Award to the top strategic aircrew; the Thomas S. Power Award to the best strategic combat missile crew; the William H. Tunner Award to the best aircrew in Military Airlift Com­mand; the Jerome F. O’Malley Award to the best reconnaissance crew; and the Claire Lee Chennault Award to the outstanding aerial war­fare tactician.

The O’Malley Award

The award goes to Maj. John J. Smith, a U-2ITR-1 flight command­er assigned to the 99th Strategic Re­connaissance Squadron of the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, Calif.

Smith is being honored for his “superior airmanship, exceptional aircraft systems knowledge, and outstanding judgment.” In 1988, he flew twenty operational sorties over “extremely sensitive geopolitical areas supporting national recon­naissance objectives.”

Smith’s airmanship and decision-making abilities were clearly dem­onstrated on one mission while de­ployed overseas. Near the comple­tion of a lengthy flight high above an overcast while the autopilot was en­gaged, the aircraft pitched up sud­denly and the engine flamed out. Smith went through the restart pro­cedure and was finally successful in getting a light just prior to entering a solid overcast. Gen. John T. Chain, CINCSAC, noted in forwarding the nomination that Smith “with mini­mum navigational aids was able to locate the takeoff base and accom­plish flameout-landing procedures in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, thus saving a valuable strategic reconnaissance asset.”

Smith, forty-one, was involved in another emergency episode during the year, this time as a ground super­visor of a training sortie. When a pilot trainee was descending from high altitude, the aircraft landing gear extension system failed. Smith, in continuous communica­tion with the pilot, analyzed the gear emergency procedures to cor­rect the malfunction, but nothing worked. Undaunted, Smith then briefed the pilot on the procedures to be followed for an intentional, tail-gear-only landing. The result: The pilot made a “picture-perfect landing with minimal damage to the aircraft,” according to the award recommendation from SAC.

An AFROTC graduate of Central Washington University in 1970, Smith earned a degree in business administration. He was assigned to Air Training Command as an in­structor in the T-37 program and to Military Airlift Command as a C-130 aircraft commander before being assigned to SAC in 1986.

The LeMay Award

The outstanding strategic aircrew award, in the name of General Cur­tis E. LeMay, goes to Crew S-01 of the 441st Bombardment Squadron, 320th Bombardment Wing, Fif­teenth Air Force, stationed at Math­er AFB, Calif. The B-52 crew con­sists of Maj. Cameron K. Green, aircraft commander; 1st Lts. James O. Preaskorn and Allan K. Click, pilots; Maj. David E. Snodgrass, ra­dar navigator; 1st Lt. Richard T. Gindhart, navigator; Capt. James M. Tinnesz, electronic warfare of­ficer; and TSgt. Noah L. Elliott, Jr., defensive aerial gunner.

Crew S-01 started 1988 by win­ning the Best Synchronous and Electro-optical Visual System (EVS) Bomb Award at the Fifteenth Air Force shootout. In the ensuing months, the crew was picked to lead many higher headquarters mis­sions, including a six-ship, live bombing exercise. During a Con­ventional Operational Readiness In­spection, it achieved the best dam­age expectancy score and an “out­standing” rating on testing. It was selected as the Fifteenth Air Force Bomber Crew of the Year.

Because of its demonstrated ex­pertise, this crew was selected to develop a new EVS-aided bombing procedure, which won the Fifteenth Air Force Shootout Award by bet­tering the closest competitor’s bombing average by forty-four feet. More important, Crew S-01 intro­duced an effective means of deliver­ing a weapon under severely de­graded equipment conditions. The crew also demonstrated the first use of night-vision goggles during an EVS depressed-angle bomb run.

Major Green, using a standard Air Force computer, developed the Automatic Standardization/Evalua­tion Data Base Model Program, which has reduced the processing of forms and administrative support requirements. He also co-wrote a contingency guide, which has been flight-tested “with great success and borrowed by other wings,” ac­cording to the nomination state­ment.

Lieutenant Preaskorn is active in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters pro­gram. Lieutenant Click, an Awards and Decorations Officer, has never had a submission rejected for cor­rection. Major Snodgrass directs the Mather honor guard. Lieutenant Gindhart was selected to flight-test a training route and, by so doing, opened up a new live bombing range to other SAC units. He has been selected for pilot training.

Captain Tinnesz, an expert in mo­bility planning, helped rewrite the squadron mobility plan. Technical Sergeant Elliott was chief flight evaluator of the ASG-33 Fire Con­trol System. His observations “gave the program managers the data they needed to make an objective and sound decision.”

The Power Award

The winners of the Thomas S. Power Strategic Missile Crew Award are Capt. Dennis R. Benson and 1st Lt. Julia A. Gibbons, who make up Crew S-170 of the 351st Strategic Missile Wing at Whiteman AFB, Mo.

Benson, an Air Force Academy graduate, majored in mathematical sciences and received a master’s de­gree in business administration from the University of Missouri. He has been selected to attend the cur­rent session of the Air Force Insti­tute of Technology to study for a master of science degree in opera­tions research. The twenty-seven-­year-old missileer from Danbury, Conn., became the only dual-qualified missile combat crew com­mander and wing command post emergency action controller in 1987. In June 1988, he became the senior flight commander of the 510th Strategic Missile Squadron.

Off duty, Captain Benson served as an Air Force Academy Liaison Officer, visited local high schools and junior colleges, conducted in­terviews with prospective Academy cadets, and counseled students on Air Force career opportunities. He also assisted in the construction and repair of facilities at a local youth summer camp.

Lieutenant Gibbons, born at Kunsan AB, Korea, in 1963, is an AFROTC graduate of Birmingham-Southern College, Ala., where she earned a bachelor of science degree in biology. She received national attention in 1986, when she was se­lected to be the deputy missile com­bat crew commander of the first male-female Minuteman crew in SAC’s history.

Gibbons has shown expertise in her handling of significant safety-related events and intricate squad­ron weapon anomalies. She earned the “highly qualified” rating on her upgrade check to missile combat crew commander in 1988. While preparing for the 1989 missile com­petition, she compiled a personal study guide detailing many aspects of missile crew procedures. This guide will be used for future missile competition training.

Lieutenant Gibbons’s off-duty ac­tivities include service as a leader for a local Cub Scout den and as a volunteer for Project Literacy, an organization dedicated to eliminat­ing illiteracy in the US. She also helped paint and repair a children’s summer camp facility.

Benson and Gibbons not only scored highest in a SAC IG inspec­tion, but also made the DCO Honor Roll for excellence in emergency war order and Minuteman code-handler testing and outstanding performances in standardized evalua­tion. They were noted for “their un­paralleled ability to handle complex critical situations,” which “puts them in the forefront of SAC’s war­riors during this Year of the SAC Alert Force.”

The duo also co-wrote their squadron’s Flight Commander/ Flight Commander Deputy Guide, a comprehensive package that serves as a foundation for training flight commander crews.

The Chennault Award

“A self-starting, hard-charging Fighter Weapons School Instructor Pilot, [who] is at the forefront of tactics development and instruc­tion,” states the nomination of Maj. Michael L. Straight, chief of F-IS academics at the USAF Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nev., for the Lt. Gen. Claire Lee Chennault Award.

Major Straight’s title may imply that he is a ground school instructor who does little flying. After all, his main duty is as primary academic instructor for six generic USAF fighter weapons courses. He has up­dated the F-15 system syllabus and enhanced the course with updates on the latest Soviet aircraft and mis­sile systems. He has written four articles that are now considered classics in the field of fighter tactics. He has become an expert in the field of infrared missile design and em­ployment. As his nomination states: “His efforts not only enhanced F- 15 and F-16 offensive employment with the AIM-9M, but increased the combat employment of this missile system from the A-10, F-4, and the F-111 aircraft as well.”

But Straight is far from being ground-bound. His flying expertise has identified such critical areas as the optimum acceleration, turn per­formance, and maneuvering tech­niques for the F-15 in combat con­figurations. In addition, he was responsible for the complete re­structuring and improvement of the basic fighter-maneuvering phase of flight instruction. Following a series of F-15 low-altitude incidents, Straight identified areas in the school syllabus that could be im­proved. TAC headquarters subse­quently incorporated his sugges­tions into its initial qualification manuals and continuation training.

The Tunner Award

On August 28, 1988, during an air show at Ramstein AB, West Ger­many, three members of Italy’s air demonstration team collided in mid­air. One aircraft crashed into the crowd of 300,000 spectators, caus­ing many deaths and injuries. SPAR 71, a UH-1N helicopter assigned to the 58th Military Airlift Squadron of the 608th Military Airlift Group, standing by for VIP security sup­port, quickly became airborne. It was crewed that day by Capt. The­odore E. Hartenstein, pilot; 1st Lt. Daniel P. Hickey, copilot; SSgt. Gregory B. West, flight engineer; and A1C Jeffrey T. Franco, flight engineer.

Hartenstein reached the tragic scene within four minutes, flying through smoking debris. Harten­stein hovered over the burning air­craft and used the helicopter’s downwash to suppress the flames. He landed the aircraft, and the crew began to evacuate the worst casual­ties. Sergeant West and Airman Franco fought their way into the fire to get their first patient, an Italian captain, the team’s official photog­rapher, who suffered burns and a broken leg.

Hartenstein made two flights to Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center before other medically equipped helicopters arrived to as­sist. DUSTOFF 64, the Army medi­cal helicopter assigned to the show, never got airborne because its crew members were also casualties of the crash.

With DUSTOFF 64 lost, SPAR 71 and its counterpart, SPAR 78, be­came the primary rescue helicop­ters. SPAR 78 did not get airborne immediately, because TSgt. Clinton Douty had run to DUSTOFF 64 to help someone escape the burning helicopter and to fight the fire. When the fire trucks arrived, he ran to his chopper; SPAR 78 landed be­side SPAR 71 just as it lifted off for its first run to Landstuhl.

Within the first ninety minutes of the crash, SPAR 71 made seven sor­ties and 78 three; the two helicopter teams were credited with saving a total of fifteen lives. Before the op­eration was complete, two more 58th MAS helicopters rushed to the scene to support the medical teams. According to the narrative accom­panying the MAC selection board’s nomination: “Without the immedi­ate response of the 58th MAS per­sonnel on the scene, more lives would have been lost.”

C. V. Glines is a regular contributor to AIR FORCE Magazine. See also his articles “Guard and Reserve All-Stars” and “Flying Blind” in this issue.