April 1, 2006

Behind the Numbers

The editorial in the February 2006 issue [“What It Means To Be No. 1,” p. 2] quotes Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as saying the US is No. 1 in military spending and the next 15 nations combined do not spend as much as the US. I would suspect if those other countries, especially China, paid their troops as well as we do and supported a large military retiree population, the numbers would look a lot different. We can bet Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will use those numbers to justify further cuts in our military spending. As it is, 40,000 troops will be cut from the Air Force over the next six years. There is a limit to “Doing More With Less.”

Col. Don Hengesh,

Michigan ANG (Ret.)

Petoskey, Mich.

No Escape

I am responding to your recent “Aerospace World” item about TSgt. Patrick Shannon (“Airman MIA From Vietnam War Identified,” February issue, p. 22.) You wrote, “The others had attempted to escape down the mountain.” No one tried to climb down the side of that cliff. Most of those killed were killed as they came running out of the radar van where they were on duty running a mission. The other crew was off duty and, since the bunker had been blown up earlier in the evening, they sought refuge in a trench in the cliff on the side away from the direction of the incoming fire. The trench was reachable by a short piece of cargo net which was used as a ladder. They could have not gone any farther. It is time this myth is put to rest.

Lt. Col. Gerald Clayton,

USAF (Ret.)

Parrish, Fla.

*Colonel Clayton, who commanded the unit at Lima Site 85, is 100 percent correct; we goofed. The error stemmed from a misreading of an unclear Pentagon news release regarding the identification of Shannon’s body. We regret the mistake.—the editors

Bleeding Blue

I was both amazed and pleased to read in the February issue (see “Washington Watch: Bleeding Blue,” p. 16) Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne’s comments about supportability of F-35 aircraft. He mentions the removal and replacement of aircraft components that will be repaired at the manufacturer. That indicates that the military, or at least the Air Force, is moving away from the mandatory air logistics center repairs.

As a former logistics group commander, all I can say is, “It’s about time.” When the Air Force decentralized operating budgets to base level in the mid-80s, it made the repair costs of aircraft components obvious to all aircraft maintainers. In the support of the F100 Pratt & Whitney engine found in both F-15 and F-16 aircraft, we found the fuel control to be a high failure item, and its mean time between failure was about 90 days with a replacement cost of approximately $85,000. This negatively affected our daily spend rate, and as a taxpayer, too, I felt it my responsibility to do something about it. Through channels, I was able to ship one fuel control directly back to the manufacturer for repair. They did it, at a cost of less than $8,000, with a one-year warranty. To my knowledge, the Air Force never came up with a legal avenue to pay the bill, and that fuel control is probably on a pedestal somewhere in the manufacturer’s trophy case.

My point is, things do improve over time, and I am glad to see we are spending our military budgets wisely and are not so reliant on the depot-level repair facilities.

Lt. Col. Richard P. Norton,

USAF/Oregon ANG (Ret.)

Eugene, Oregon

Warts and All: Too Risky

The usual thoroughness of your articles was highlighted in the article “Flight-Test Worries,” February, [p. 56]. In fact, the article may have been too thorough.

Describing our inability to properly test weapon systems may be helpful to our enemies, who may decide to wait us out in hopes that our weapons will have problems due to lack of testing that will not be known until put to use and, therefore, too late to fix. The enemy will wait us out as the first use becomes our test.

The nature of a free society and the need to inform your readers, and other interested critical technical and supportive industries, makes exposing our warts a risk to our defense objectives.

Capt. John K. Clark,

USAF (Ret.)

West Palm Beach, Fla.

Courage at Thai Nguyen

Regarding John Correll’s otherwise excellent article “The Calculated Courage of Capt. Merlyn Dethlefsen”: I received the February magazine in the mail yesterday and feel that I must comment on the erroneous perception of the Wild Weasel mission and a slight to another very brave man.

I’m still spitting mad at the coverage that was not given to (then Captain) Mike Gilroy, who manned the back seat of Dethlefsen’s plane and, despite massive anti-aircraft fire, isolated and located two well-camouflaged SAM sites and guided the attacks.

Merle was incredibly brave that day, but so was Mike, and it was BOTH men’s decision to attack.

At the core of every Wild Weasel aircraft, from the original F-100F to today’s F-16CFs, the aircraft, equipment, aircrew, and mission were and are designed to locate and destroy surface-to-air missile threats to the strike force. Without Mike’s calm, precise directions that day, there would have been no site kills or medals.

Merle and Mike were a formidable team that day, and both men displayed uncommon courage, yet your article reads as if Merle could have done the job alone. That was not the case.

Tom Wilson

Coldspring, Tex.

As a FAC in Vietnam in the early years, ’65 to ’66, and with a classmate who was a Weasel pilot, I have always been interested in [Weasel] stories. The June 2005 and February articles about the two Medal of Honor [recipients] Maj. Leo Thorsness and Capt. Merlyn Dethlefsen, described the stuff of legends. All of those crews certainly earned not only their awards but the eternal thanks of all Americans, most of whom cannot imagine the difficulty and danger of what they did. I can—but only enough, in my FAC role, to know what it’s like to be fired at by ground forces.

Col. John F. Huppertz,

USAF (Ret.)

Snellville, Ga.

A tip of the hat to John T. Correll for yet another outstanding article related to the war in Southeast Asia. The sidebar on the now-famous “Pardo’s Push” event (p. 70) was a welcome addition to the article. I would like to expand the latter story by recognizing the two HH-3 Jolly Green crews that rescued the F-4 crewmen, bringing a happy ending to their otherwise harrowing mission. Jolly Green 52, crewed by mission commander Capt. John A. Firse, with copilot Lt. Billy N. Privette, flight engineer SSgt. Roger Ely, and pararescueman TSgt. Charley D. Smith, picked up the crew of Cheetah 04—Captain Aman and Lieutenant Houghton. Jolly Green 09, piloted by Maj. Glen P. York, with copilot Capt. Harold W. Bradley, flight engineer SSgt. Jerry R. Johnston, and pararescueman A1C Michael P. Benno, picked up the crew of Cheetah 02—Captain Pardo and Lieutenant Wayne. There were also four A-1E Sandy aircraft involved in the rescue.

The sidebar mentions that Captain Pardo was in “some trouble” after the incident. Questions began even before the rescue helos landed, as illustrated by the following quote from Captain Firse’s after action report: “As soon as the rescue was effected, we were asked repeatedly, the reason for the pilot’s flameouts. Since the egress from the pickup area is often as critical as the entry, we would recommend that this type of question be delayed until the survivors can be debriefed.”

Interestingly, both of the HH-3 aircraft commanders received the Air Force Cross for other heroic actions later that year. Captain Firse was decorated for his role in saving two USAF A-1 pilots in North Vietnam on June 11, 1967, and Major York for his role in saving a Navy A-4 pilot on July 18, 1967. I hope Air Force Magazine will continue publishing positive and historically important stories from the Southeast Asia War just as fast as Mr. Correll and others can write them!

Col. Ron Thurlow,

USAF (Ret.)

Beavercreek, Ohio

Ground Observers, From Minneapolis to Miami

I was very impressed with the Ground Observer Corps story that Mr. Callander wrote. It brought back many fond memories [“The Ground Observer Corps,” February, p. 80].

However I am not sure that he was aware of the training programs that were given to make the spotting of aircraft essential in protecting our country.

[Coming to] Civil Air Patrol from active duty, I was assigned to the operations section with the responsibilities of working with the GOC in assisting in their training. The main thing was to give the GOC spotters an opportunity to sight and register aircraft sighted over their post, especially in the remote areas of the state. The patrol would fly over the GOC spotter posts at various altitudes, directions, etc.

The GOC skywatchers would then forward the information to the filter center located in Minneapolis.

After the exercise was completed, I would critique their efforts and work out any problems and then proceed to correct the problem. Each time an exercise was completed, it showed the improvements that the GOC spotters had accomplished. By working together for the common cause, a great camaraderie [developed] between each volunteer; [they] showed much gratitude toward each other.

I was thankful that I had the unique opportunity to be part of a great effort toward protecting our northern frontier from attack by a foreign country.

Lt. Col. Thomas J. O’Connor,

CAP Farmington, Minn.

Just received my February issue of Air Force [Magazine] and read the story on ground observers, so I went to one of my “History Drawers” and found my old ID cards and arm band—we also had to have a Civil Defense ID card.

I was 14 to 15 at the time and attended Ponce de Leon High School in Coral Gables, Fla. After school and on weekends, I would ride my bike to the Biltmore Hotel in the Gables and go up the elevator to the top floor and then climb stairs to the tower where a wooden room was constructed around the columns. We were about the highest point in the Miami area.

We were in line with the north-south runway at the airport, and sometimes we had a hotshot fly by lower than our tower; it was an interesting experience. Our call sign, according to my ID card was Todd 35 and later changed to Uncle Peter 611.

We even had a set of “wings”; however I gave mine to a girl I liked and never got them back. A couple of years later, I joined the AAF.

Roy P. Gibbens

Meridian, Miss.

“The Ground Observer Corps” states that the US and USSR had ICBMs capable of delivering atomic warheads to their adversaries’ homelands by the time NORAD was established in September 1957. I believe that capability was achieved a bit later. The first US ICBM, Atlas D, became operational in October 1959. The first Soviet ICBM, SS-6 Sapwood, became operational in January 1960.

Steven P. McNicoll

De Pere, Wis.

Airpower Classics

Now that’s a great closer for the February issue: a classic aircraft featured from history, the B-17 [“Airpower Classics: B-17 Flying Fortress,” p. 96]. This is a great addition to the magazine, one that I hope to see more often on the back page in coming issues. Take your time, don’t skip over any of the prop aircraft, and work up to the jet age by about 2009. Thanks again.

Mark Petnuch

Richton Park, Ill.

“Airpower Classics” will become a classic in itself. What a brilliant idea. Many thanks.

Maj. Vern Pall,

USAF (Ret.)

Tucson, Ariz

Do you have a comment about a current article in the magazine? Write to “Letters,” Air Force Magazine, 1501 Lee Highway, Arlington, VA 22209-1198. (E-mail: letters@afa.org.) Letters should be concise and timely. We cannot acknowledge receipt of letters. We reserve the right to condense letters. Letters without name and city/base and state are not acceptable. Photographs can­­not be used or returned.—the editors