Nov. 1, 2006

Cold Feet Not Allowed

John Tirpak’s excellent article on the F-35 (“Struggling for Altitude,” September, p. 38) cited the nervousness of government officials over the program’s size, scope, and cost as its biggest threat. To that I would add the vultures who circle over every big program ready to swoop down and pick the carcass they so joyfully seek to destroy.

From personal experience, I recognize this scenario. The vultures are those who measure costs but ignore value. They have eagerly awaited the day when the hand-wringing over the production decision looms heavy in Pentagon and Congressional suites. That day is here and the vultures are circling. I hope that the services, OSD, and the Congress have the tenacity and courage to resist their misguided arguments and shallow alternative proposals.

The F-35 is a program that promises a long-term return on investment like its predecessor, the F-16, but only if Washington makes a timely production decision and stays the course year after year.

Cold feet not allowed.

Gen. John Michael Loh,

USAF (Ret.)

Williamsburg, Va.

The Air War Over Hezbollah

Good article [“Editorial: The Air War Over Hezbollah,” September, p. 2]. Of course, the critics of airpower will use the war to show that airpower is not where we should put our money. After all, we did not get a complete “airpower win” as in Bosnia. As you correctly point out, airpower did a powerful job and is part of a team effort.

However, I think we should pay very close attention to one observation you made: “Plainly the IAF’s air campaign did not defeat the Hezbollah missile threat.”

The perception was that for the first time, an Arab force was able to hit Israel and that the mighty Israeli Air Force couldn’t stop them. While the actual damage to Israel may not have been so great, the fact that Hezbollah could hit Israeli cities close to the border with Katyushas and Haifa with Fajr-3s was dramatic. In the 1991 war, Saddam fired plenty of Scud missiles at Israel, but, for the most part, they were intercepted by our Patriot batteries. Even though some damage resulted from the ensuing Scud debris, the perception was that Saddam could not hit Israel with impunity. With the Hezbollah missile attack, nothing was knocked down except one slow cruise missile. Consequently, the perception of the world, especially the Arab world, was very different.

William Thayer

San Diego

What About the X-15

After reading Mr. Boyne’s “Air Force Astronauts” [October, p. 72], I was astonished to see no mention of the X-15 program or its five USAF pilots. While the X-15 flew only two of its 199 flights above the international definition of space (100 km), the program exceeded the United States’ space definition of 50 miles on numerous occasions, thereby resulting in five Air Force pilots earning astronaut wings. In addition to being amongst the few men who’ve earned astronaut wings without the use of a conventional spacecraft, these five Air Force officers distinguished themselves through the X-15 program and beyond. Col. Pete Knight set an unbroken world speed record in the X-15 by reaching 4,520 mph (Mach 6.7) in 1967. After retiring from the Air Force in 1982, he served in the California state senate for eight years. Following his 16 X-15 flights, Col. Joe Engle flew two missions aboard the space shuttle, including STS-2. Maj. Gens. Robert White and Robert Rushworth—my maternal grandfather—both held command positions out at Edwards AFB, Calif., following their involvement in the X-15 program and subsequent combat tours in Vietnam. Finally, Maj. Mike Adams holds the unfortunate distinction of being the only X-15 fatality after the aircraft he was piloting entered a hypersonic spin on 15 Nov 1967. Since Maj. Adams’ ill-fated flight exceeded the 50-mile threshold, he was awarded astronaut wings posthumously. While Mr. Boyne may have left the X-15 program out of his article over a technicality, I feel these five Air Force astronauts deserve an honorable mention for their astonishing achievements.

2nd Lt. Timothy Cox

Vance AFB, Okla.

Sabres and Hot Rocks

Just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed the September issue and the F-86 article in particular [“Sabres and Aces,” p. 78].

While I may have missed the picture, I did not see anything showing Maj. George Davis, who was one of the top aces and was lost on a mission over the Yalu. I knew George quite well when we served in the Pursuit Flight in the 6th Ferrying Group at Long Beach, Calif., in late 1945 and early 1946.

In early 1946, we had the opportunity to get checked out in the P-80, which was just beginning to come out from the Lockheed plant in Burbank. About 15 or 20 of us still young fighter pilots went to Muroc to fly the P-80. I think we got about four hours [in it] and then delivered a bird to Norton AFB [Calif.] where they put on the external fuel tanks. Later we were tasked to ferry aircraft to Williams Air Force Base in Arizona and even to the East Coast. During the summer, we were all transferred to the First Fighter Group at March Field [Calif.], which had just been equipped with the P-80. George was assigned to the 71st Squadron and I went to the 27th. I think [George] Ruddell was in the 94th—quite a bunch of seasoned, but young, pilots with combat experience. I guess we all considered ourselves to be hot rocks and we tore up the skies in California and really got into the jet age. It was quite an experience.

I left March in late 1948 and went to the 36th Fighter Group in Germany, that had just transferred from Panama with P-80s and later into F-84Es. I think I had about 600 hours in the P-80 by that time. Manny Fernandez was assigned to the group at that time, but I did not know him well. We all wanted to take the squadrons and go to Korea, but they said no. I do not know when George went to Korea or if he stayed with the First Group when they got equipped with the F-86. I do not know where Digger Ruddell went after March. Anyway, it was nice to see the article, as it brought back many memories of old friends. Keep up the good work.

Frank Mertely

Scottsdale, Ariz.

USAF’s Finest

I have never been prouder of a group of airmen than I am of this year’s selection of Outstanding Airmen [September, p. 96]. Any one of them could have been selected as The Outstanding Airman of the Air Force. We like to think such dedication, professionalism, and self-sacrifice is standard for Air Force personnel, but I know … these are very special people. Each has already contributed more to our Air Force and to our country than most of us give in a lifetime. They deserve all the recognition we can give them—and more!

We are so fortunate to have young men and women like these serving in our Air Force. Where do we find such people? Throughout our society, I suspect. Our country is going to be OK so long as we keep producing young people like these.

Lt. Col. Donald L. Gilleland,

USAF (Ret.)

Melbourne, Fla.

More on That Blue Suit

I apologize for being somewhat late on this issue, but as a former member of the Air Force I just had to share an experience I had in reference to our uniform and its impression on non-military types [“Whatever Happened to the Plain Blue Suit?” July, p. 84].

In 1976 while serving as a staff sergeant in SAC, I had occasion to travel back to New Jersey for a legal matter. Not having an expanded budget and also being quite proud of my “blues,” I wore them to court. Neatly pressed, ribbons in the right place, and my shoes highly shined, I was the epitome of 35-10. Imagine my chagrin when I was called to the witness stand and in front of the jury, spectators, and legal counsel, I was asked by the judge whether I was in the service! When I responded I was a member of the United States Air Force, he looked at me for awhile and then asked: “Whatever happened to that sharp uniform the Air Force wore in World War II, I think they called it Pinks and Greens?”

Besides being somewhat put back, I also realized that never in our existence as a separate service had the uniforms we wore found the right combination that caught the attention and admiration of those who saw it like the old “Pinks and Greens.” It appears that this battle is still being fought.

Maybe it’s time we realized that as a service, we are no longer the youngster on the block looking for an identity. Maybe it’s time for tradition and heritage to be the guiding principle in how we dress!

Keith Stanton

Macomb, Mich.

I enlisted in USAF in June 1963. No draft notice drove me to the recruiter’s office; I was a financially broken and very tired college student, and the offer of the GI Bill was my incentive. I had no interest in being a “warrior.” I wanted an education. The USAF uniform was never an issue for me. If I’d wanted to look like a soldier, a sailor, or a marine, I’d have joined one of those service branches. The standing comment was that USAF people looked like “bus drivers.” I knew who I was, and I was not a bus driver. I spent 10 years in EW maintenance, two years in flight medicine, two years in the USAF PA school, and a little more than 10 years as an active duty PA. I retired in February 1989, and I continue my work as a USAF-trained civilian PA. I have no regrets about the various uniform styles I wore. I am, privately, very proud of my service. I am immensely grateful for the opportunities I enjoyed in my USAF service.

I have never felt that the USAF uniforms I wore were not worthy of me, but there were a few times when I didn’t feel quite worthy of the uniform.

Capt. E.A. Novak,

USAFR (Ret.)

Akeley, Minn.

No Comment

I hope I am just one of many expressing disappointment in your September handling of the responses to Worden’s desecration of SAC article [“A Changing of the Guard,” p. 60] in the July issue of Air Force Magazine [“Letters: A Loggie as Chief?” September, p. 4].

Certainly Worden is entitled to his view, and I don’t criticize its publication. Nevertheless, I would have expected some deliberate push back and editorial note from our premier Air Force Magazine in praise of perhaps the finest military command in our nation’s history, and whose contribution to a peaceful conclusion to the Cold War is without equal.

I am immensely proud of having served 10 of my 35 years [of] USAF service in SAC.

Lt. Gen. Lincoln D. Faurer,

USAF (Ret.)

McLean, Va.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

It is most unfortunate that you continue to include Operation Iraqi Freedom under the heading “The War on Terrorism” [“Aerospace World: The War on Terrorism,” September, p. 24]. This after everyone involved accepts what many people knew from the start: that Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with al Qaeda or global terrorism. Even the word “freedom” in the title of this operation is a cynical insult to the thousands of innocent Iraqis killed by our bombs and the dozens who now die every day because of our incompetent Administration’s inability adequately to manage the occupation.

Howard F. Sosbee

Scotts Valley, Calif.

No Attack on Airpower

There was a comment by Army Col. H.R. McMaster, published in the September “Verbatim” section [p. 36]. The comment was about the shortcomings of our Air Force.

The Air Force Association framed the comment with the editorialized [heading] of “Antiairpower Artillery.”

Having read the colonel’s book, I have a great respect for his objectivity and desire for truth, rather than promoting his agenda. I did not see Colonel McMaster attacking airpower but rather the approach the Air Force has to it. I have not seen the entire text of Colonel McMaster’s interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette, but the comment tells volumes of how we are perceived.

I assert the criticism that the Air Force is getting has been earned. The role of supporting bureaucracies is growing all of the time, and our ability to fight the enemy we already have is being compromised by preparing for an enemy we wish we had.

Starting in the early ’90s, we adopted this TQM silliness to “improve processes.” What this has resulted in is a force that is so busy trying to adapt to endless changes that it is losing its core competencies. The old SAC and even the TAC guys knew that iron in the air is the way the Air Force wins.

Airpower began with a wrench, brains, and determination. Now it seems the Air Force is more concerned with documentation, covering one’s six, and going “highest tech” without restraint.

We are at war with an enemy that has no airpower, and we neglect programs that support our brothers fighting him on the ground so that we can develop a new air-to-air jet. It seems to me we are preparing for the Super Bowl while the World Series is still in doubt.

The validity of Colonel McMaster’s comments can be seen in the future of our forces. There is no credible theater airlift plan. Theater airlift platforms are aging. Our tanker fleet approaches 50 years of age.

Our heavy bomber is looking at an 80-year service life. CSAR and Special Ops C-130s are at 40-plus years of service. We are wearing out our C-17s faster than we had planned and shutting down the production lines. No new Gunship platforms are on the table.

These neglected missions are capabilities that the Navy cannot bring to the fight off of an aircraft carrier. They DEFINE the Air Force: Power, agility, reach, and sustainment. Yet we give the essential missions of airlift, heavy bombardment, and power projection lip service and no attention.

The Air Force plan is nothing but new fighters that will need forward bases to operate from. Are we going to be able to offer more than the Navy in 20 years? If we continue on this path, the answer is “no.”

Instead of rushing to impugn the colonel’s observations, the Air Force Association should look at our force with the warts and all. We have problems that are in need of immediate attention. If we insist that we are right, without some kind of introspection, we might find ourselves so “right” that we become irrelevant.

Rudy Nartker

Mountain View, Calif.

Airpower Classics

Having served during the heyday of “Puff,” I enjoyed Walter Boyne’s “Airpower Classics” on the AC-47D Gunship [September, p. 136]. However, I do have to wonder about the claim that a “three-second burst … would put a round into every square foot of a target area the size of a football field.” At 6,000 rounds per minute per gun, a three-second burst should have about 900 rounds in it. Nine hundred square feet is more like a tennis court than a football field.

Pesky math aside, the AC-47 and its offspring personify the saying “ ’tis more blessed to give than to receive.”

Richard Henry

Ruckersville, Va.

Hell’s Angels

In reference to the article “The Making of an Iconic Bomber” by Frederick A. Johnsen in the October issue [p. 78], I want to correct an error that has been nurtured far too long and needs to be corrected whenever it appears.

The B-17 Memphis Belle was not the first B-17 to complete 25 missions over Europe. In fact, it was the Hell’s Angels aircraft of the 303rd Bomb Group which completed 25 missions six days earlier, on May 13, 1943.

The Memphis Belle was the aircraft, along with her crew, that returned to the States, highly honored and publicized. It gave birth to the misconception and perpetrated the misinformation. The Memphis Belle went on to be featured in a 1944 color documentary film, which toured the United States with the crew of the Belle, for purposes of national morale, as was written by Mr. Johnsen in the article.

Over the many years, the legend has grown, giving the Memphis Belle from the 91st Bomb Group credit for being the first B-17 to complete 25 missions over Europe.

Edward C. Gates, president of the 91st Bomb Group Memorial Association, of which the Belle was a part, has asked for the assurance in a message to the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, “that history be set straight and to credit the 303rd’s Hell’s Angels as the first Eighth Air Force B-17 to complete 25 combat missions, not the 91st’s Memphis Belle.

As president of the 303rd Bomb Group (H) Association, Inc., I have acknowledged Edward C. Gates’ request that history be correctly presented. Mr. Gates has written, “If the aircraft Memphis Belle is restored for public viewing, we would like to assure that the history is correctly represented. The 91st has ample reasons to be proud of its history and we do not wish to claim things that are incorrect. … The honor of being the first appears to belong to a B-17 (Hell’s Angels) of the 303rd Bomb Group.”

Although history should show that the Hell’s Angels aircraft of the 303rd Bomb Group was the first B-17 of the Eighth Air Force to complete 25 combat missions, I am sure it will be very difficult for the public to think it was not the Memphis Bell after all the publicity it has received. However, now that the record has been set straight, it is only fair that the facts be accurate whenever they are put forth for public consumption in books and articles.

Col. William H. Cox,

USAF (Ret.)

Vacaville, Calif.

* We would be happy to correct an error if there was one, but there was not. The article actually said that Memphis Belle was “one of the first B-17s to complete 25 missions over Europe,” which it indisputably was. We are aware that many publications claim that Memphis Belle was the first to make 25 missions. We, however, are not one of them.—THE EDITORS

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