Jan. 1, 2008
That Nuclear Safety Stand-down

Regarding the foul-up at Minot [“Washington Watch: Nuclear Safety Stand-Down,” November, p. 13]: Could it have happened in Strategic Air Command? Nuke safety and procedures were part of everything we did. One thing you were on constant guard against was a lackadaisical attitude. I was a crew commander in Minuteman and Titan and I know. It was said that we couldn’t blow our nose without a checklist. OK.

Is this what we get when we let Air Combat Command and the fighter pilot mentalities take over strategic matters? Had warheads been downloaded the birds could ship via our friends in the mobility business or commercially [by] road or rail.

We ground pounders—and underground-in-the-silo pounders—had a thing. “Fighter pilots do it better.” Be more specific. Do what better? Better than what? A dog, perhaps

[Regarding “Airpower Classics: P-39 Airacobra,” November 2007, p. 104] that last page is a great reprise on warbirds! I sent copies of the [“Airpower Classics” on the] Corsair and Bearcat to my naval aviator uncle.

Dan Breidenbach

Evansville, Ind.

The article “Nuclear Safety Stand-Down” in the November issue of Air Force Magazine regarding a B-52 loaded with nuclear warheads flying from Minot AFB, N.D., to Barksdale AFB, La., reminded me of a classified project called Operation Birdcage. A wire birdcage image was intended to be analogous to a nuclear reaction diagram. The project included trucking a nuclear bomb/s from Oakridge, Tenn., to Ft. Campbell, Ky., where it was to be picked up by the Air Force. I was a C-46 flight engineer with the 434th Troop Carrier Wing in 1952 on TDY to Campbell to drop the 11th Airborne. Our regular job was flying jump school at Ft. Benning’s Lawson AFB. The airborne planners had made drastic changes in tactical operations after a joint Air Force-Airborne operation called Operation Longhorn that was anything but successful.

Based at Mathis Field in San Angelo, Tex., we dropped troops in the last big formation. Approximately 200 C-46s dodged sandstorms in a wind that had airborne field-grade officers requesting that planners abort the mission. The results put a lot of troopers in local hospitals. As a result of this foul-up and the advent of tactical nuclear weapons, the new “Vertical Envelopment” concept was small formations with precision time and track over the IP and DZ, later to be optimized by [Tactical Air Command] wings, flying C-119s and named Computed Air Release Point or “CARP” missions.

Back at Ft. Campbell, Operation Birdcage caused all flight operations to stand down and the ramp to be clear of all unauthorized personnel during the night. From transient barracks near the line, we heard the unmistakable rumble of B-29 R3350 engines as they touched down, accompanied by the sounds of P-51 Merlins. Morning light revealed a B-29 painted flat black parked in front of the hangar, and next to it three P-51s also painted flat black. The bomb was loaded from the hangar into the B-29 bomb racks, with airborne providing security. After sundown, the B-29, escorted by the fighters, took to the total dark sky westbound without incident. My thoughts about the B-52 mission are to advise the Air Force to cut these guys a little slack. I believe the B-52 incident does not warrant a career-threatening disciplinary action.

Donald B. Mills

Evansville, Ind.

When Bombers Will Be Decisive

Ms. Grant writes an excellent article [“When Bombers Will Be Decisive,” November, p. 42]. My hat’s off to her. In her … “In Defense of Fighters” days [July 2002, p. 40], I was highly critical, and suggested to her that range and payload do matter. Now, she mentions these requirements as an important part of USAF force structure. That is encouraging. However, I would like to point out a few things I think she missed.

First, Ms. Grant glosses over most of Air Force Cold War history. She neglects to mention that after World War II, the primary argument for a separate Air Force was its contribution to victory in that conflict through strategic bombardment, and that the primary adversaries of the time were the USSR and Red China. The only combat force the USAF had to deter or attack these vast countries was Strategic Air Command (SAC) and its bomber force (later partnered with tankers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine launched ballistic missiles). The tactical air forces and their small airplanes existed solely to support the US Army—as they did in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. No one could seriously suggest that the F-15 or its predecessors ever held Moscow at risk or even contributed to deterrence of nuclear war. In fact, at one point in the late ’50s or early ’60s, it was suggested to the Air Force Chief of Staff that he give the tactical air forces back to the Army. (Gen. Curtis LeMay did not think it a good idea.) Second, I hope Ms. Grant does not confuse the requirements of range and payload, which equals the ability to reach the target with the right weapons mix, with elements of survivability, which equals the ability to stay alive while reaching the target—and to live to fly another sortie. They are not the same. However, Ms. Grant seems to imply that speed was consciously traded away in the design of strategic bombers, and for that reason aircrews died. On the contrary, increased altitude and speed were primary survivability factors sought by every bomber design. Those World War II aircrews mentioned in Ms. Grant’s article did not die because of some conscious desire to build slow aircraft—they died flying the best high-flying, long-range aircraft we could make at the time that could reach the target with the right weapons. Yes, they were slow compared to fighters of that era, but that was why the bombers had active and passive defenses to enhance their survivability. A combination of tactics, chaff, ECM, fighter support, and 10 or more .50-cal machine guns won that bomber offensive over Germany—not just the introduction of the P-51, as many want us to think. I believe the record shows that Eighth Air Force bombers shot down as many enemy fighters as did the Eighth Air Force fighters.

Finally, after years in the wilderness, the idea that the primary combat mission of the USAF is to “find, watch, and destroy anything on the surface of the Earth” has been spoken again. In the end, it doesn’t matter if the job is done by big airplanes, small airplanes, UAVs, missiles, or spacecraft—but if you cannot even reach the enemy’s homeland, there won’t be any bombs on target.

Lt. Col. Tim Trusk,

USAF (Ret.)

Kansas City, Mo.

Not the C-295

Thank you for another great edition of Air Force Magazine; however, I would like to note the November 2007 issue incorrectly identified an aircraft model in the EADS North America booth at the Air Force Association Technology Exposition as a C-295 light cargo aircraft [p. 76]. In fact, the aircraft on display was the A400M, known as “The Loadmaster.” The A400M is a modern, multirole airlifter which is designed to replace the aging fleets of tactical aircraft in service with air forces around the world.

Col. Dennis M. Kaan,

USAF (Ret.)

Arlington, Va.

On the Money

The Air Force Association’s 2008 Statement of Policy published in the November issue of Air Force Magazine is one of the best written and thought-out defense documents I have read in years [Air Force Airpower: The Indispensable Instrument, p. 80]. In the past, I have criticized some editorials and articles in various organizations’ publications, including yours, because I perceived them to be attacks on the other services. The Air Force Association’s 2008 Statement of Policy is right on the money in every regard, including mission, doctrine, families, etc. It has clearly identified the Air Force’s total requirements that need to be filled in order to be a credible deterrent, a military power that is “balanced and precise,” and one that can fulfill its responsibilities to our nation.

I hope the Air Force uses it as a document that can be used when testifying before Congress, when preparing the Air Force budget (ask for what you need, not what you think you’ll get), and developing Air Force doctrine.

In addition, I also suggest that the organizations representing the other services would follow its model and remain positive, refrain from bashing other services, and ask for what they need in a clear and precise manner.

One last attaboy: It’s nice to see someone taking a firm lead in asking for what we need to spend as a percent of the Gross Domestic Product. If we don’t start pushing for six percent now, I predict a return to less than three percent of the GDP being spent on defense when things wind down in Iraq.

Richard H. Loney

Fort Wayne, Ind.

Vanished Arts and Enlisted Pilots

Having been an aviation student (Class 42-E, Ellington Field, Tex.) during World War II, I was pleased to see that Bruce Callander mentioned the enlisted pilots in his article titled, “Vanished Arts” in the October 2007 issue of Air Force Magazine [p. 76].

In previous issues, the exploits of enlisted pilots have been “catch as catch can,” but their accomplishments have never really been defined for the benefit of your reading audience and/or preserved for their rightful place in the history of the United States Air Corps/Air Force.

Therefore allow me to quote to you some of the salient points about their accomplishments as presented by Lee Arbon in his book titled, They Also Flew, published by the Smithsonian Institution Press in 1992.

On Aug. 1, 1941, War Department Regulation 615-150 created the “Aviation Student Training” program whereby a select number of high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 22 years, and with grades acceptable to an accredited institution, could apply for pilot training.

As the nation geared up for war in Europe and in the Pacific, the production of aircraft soon exceeded the number of pilots to fly them. Army Regulation 95-60 provided for the granting of aeronautical ratings to former staff sergeants.

Under Public Law 99, enacted on June 3, 1941, 2,574 enlisted men were trained as pilots and upon graduation from advanced flying schools in 1942, were warranted as staff sergeant pilots.

Staff sergeant pilots were widely dispersed in war zones around the world, primarily in Europe and in the Pacific. Some became aces. One became a pilot for Field Marshal Montgomery, another for General Eisenhower, 760 retired as field grade officers (major through colonel), and 11 became generals.

The sergeant pilot program ended in November 1942, a year-and-a-half from its beginning. From the outset, the program was controversial and not without minor complications, but in the end it was overwhelmingly considered to be one of the best investments Uncle Sam ever made.

Reportedly, there are fewer than 400 of the original 2,574 Staff Sergeant Pilots still alive today. It would be a tragic loss to the nation if the exploits of their heroic service were not chronicled for the benefit of succeeding generations of Americans interested in military aviation history.

Maj. Gilbert W. Zieman,


Green Bay, Wis.

Reader to Reader

Regarding “Letters: Chopper Requirements 101,” November, p. 7: As a retired Air Force senior NCO with more than 18 years of Air Force helicopter rescue experience, 10 years in combat rescue, I must take exception to Lt. Col. Charles Jarnot’s (USA) comments in support of the HH-47 as the new Air Force rescue helicopter. I’m sure that Colonel Jarnot’s comments are based on his partiality for the CH-47 and his experience in Army aviation. However, he does not have the experience in Air Force combat SAR operations to determine what helicopter is best suited for Air Force combat rescue.

First off, the CH-47 is not a medium lift helicopter. It entered the service inventory as a heavy lift helicopter in the ’60s. To now designate it as a medium lift helicopter to meet CSAR-X requirements is being disingenuous. Using the same standard, we could call the HH-53 and the CH-53E medium lift helicopters and consider these aircraft in the CSAR-X competition as well. If that’s the case, the Air Force would be better off getting an updated version of the HH-53 since they already have experienced aircrew, maintainers, training, and support equipment available.

Although the Air Force rescued Army Special Forces in Southeast Asia on numerous occasions, the “primary mission” of Air Force combat rescue is to recover aircrew members downed behind enemy lines, not Army ground units that are in need of extraction. The CH-47 may well be a proven combat helicopter for Army missions, but it is not a proven helicopter for Air Force combat SAR missions.

The HH-47 has several shortcomings for combat SAR missions.

Rapid weight reduction: HH-47’s inability to jettison fuel quickly in the event of an engine failure under marginal power conditions could prove to be catastrophic. Numerous times on combat rescue missions in SEA, auxiliary fuel tanks had to be instantly jettisoned in a hover after experiencing engine failure or loss of power. By jettisoning both aux fuel tanks, the HH-53 had the ability to immediately shed up to 6,000 pounds in mere seconds, allowing it to maintain a hover. How quickly can that much weight be shed from the HH-47

Drive shaft integrity: main rotor versus tail rotor loss of drive shaft. Major battle damage to the drive shaft on the HH-47 could be catastrophic due to loss of drive to the forward rotor. Again in SEA, HH-53s came back with badly shot up tail rotor drive shafts. I saw one section of a tail rotor drive shaft with a four-inch hole in it. If the forward drive shaft on the CH-47 received similar damage would it hold together under the torque load conditions required to drive the forward gearbox? Loss of tail rotor drive on a single rotor helicopter will not bring the aircraft down unless it is in a hover. However, loss of forward rotor drive, either in a hover or forward flight, will bring a tandem rotor helicopter down.

Maneuverability: I have yet to see a tandem rotor helicopter with the ability to loop or roll. That’s not to say that combat rescue helicopters are required to roll and loop. However, that kind of rotor control speaks volumes for helicopters that have that degree of maneuverability, especially under combat rescue conditions.

Sikorsky helicopters has been the forerunner in the design, manufacture, and production of Air Force combat SAR helicopters, from the R-4 of World War II, the H-5 and H-19 of the Korean War, to the HH-3 and HH-53 of Vietnam. Many HH-3s and HH-53s in SEA returned after taking multiple hits from 30-cal. small arms, 14 mm and 23 mm anti-aircraft weapons. One HH-53 returned after taking a direct hit from a 37 mm AAA in the belly, blowing a gaping hole up through the midcabin floor. Sikorsky helicopters have long been combat proven in the recovery of aircrew members downed behind enemy lines. Why trade a winner for something that has not been proven in Air Force combat SAR operations

SMSgt. Stan Nelson,

USAF (Ret.)

Matthews, N.C.

In the “Letters” section of the November Air Force Magazine [p. 6], retired Brig. Gen. Edwin F. Wenglar states that General Patton lost a bet to British General Montgomery and was forced to provide him with a C-47 and a personal pilot. In Ike, An American Hero, Michael Korda says that Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, chief of staff, lost a bet to Montgomery and had to provide him with a B-17 with an American crew as “his personal property until the war ended.” How many airplanes did we lose to Montgomery during World War II?

Lt. Col. William P. Wideman,

USAF (Ret.)

Evergreen, Colo.

I read the article by Major General Lewis, USAF (Ret.), as published in your July 2007 issue, with some surprise. As an operational test pilot in the Army Air Corps for two-and-one-half years preceding Pearl Harbor and the first year and a half thereafter, I participated in the testing of all combat aircraft and their armaments that were produced for the Army Air Corps. We also evaluated the RAF Spitfire and Landcaster bomber. After Wright Field received the first two aircraft off the production line of a new type of aircraft, we received the next three and often more later.

I don’t recall any configuration of the B-25 as a strafing aircraft with the exception of the 75 MM cannon that we tested as an antishipping weapon. I was the first pilot to fire this weapon while airborne and flew many missions at minimum altitude both day and night against ship silhouettes in the bays near Eglin Field as it was then known. The B-25 did, of course, have its defensive machine gun turrets. The 75 MM version was not utilized in B-25 units operating out of England and I didn’t know that it was used in the Pacific although I know that early on there was a plan to equip a B-24 unit for this mission in the Pacific as I was offered command of it. Being a fighter pilot, I declined in favor of a fighter command in Europe.

We did test all fighter aircraft ( P-36s, P-37s, P-38s, P-39s, P-40s, P-47s, and P-51s) in all roles with emphasis on air-to-air combat, strafing, dive bombing, skip bombing and day and night aerial gunnery. The P-38s, P-47s and P-51s all excelled in these roles with the P-38, in my estimation, being the best gun platform as its four 50-caliber machine guns and its 20 MM cannon were all mounted in the nose and provided a concentrated field of fire at all possible ranges, as compared to the single engine aircraft whose wing mounted guns had to be “bore-sighted” at a given range. At the given range the fire was very concentrated, but short or long of that range, the lethality of fire was greatly diminished.

A little later as Deputy Commander and then Commander of a P-38 Group assigned to the 9th Tactical Command of the Ninth Air Force, I flew 69 combat missions in the European theatre and I think about 90 percent of them were flown on the deck either dive bombing, ship bombing, strafing or dropping napalm. Before D-Day we spent our time attacking airfields, railway marshalling yards, surface traffic, flack towers, etc. The P-38 was an excellent aircraft for this role, but as the author of the referenced article indicated, loss rates were high as literally thousands of guns of all calibers were firing at us on practically every mission, and it was like trying to fly through a rain storm without getting wet. My aircraft was hit on approximately half of my missions with a few shots and on occasion by 50-plus hits. I remember returning to base five missions in a row with one engine shot out. Many of my pilots were less fortunate and I also lost several squadron commanders. However, in the Army’s breakouts and march to final victory, we and others of the Ninth Air Force were there to knock out hard points that were delaying Patton’s forces and those of the 1st and 9th Armies.

In summary, I probably have 200 or more hours in the B-25 and while it was a reasonably good, light bomber for its era, it did not have the agility to survive as a strafing aircraft in Europe during WWII. Much of the air war in Europe was conducted at treetop level with thousands of strafing missions, all flown by fighters, primarily of the Ninth Air Force although fighters of the Eighth Air Force occasionally dropped down to strafe on their way home from escort missions if they had sufficient remaining fuel.

Gen. Seth J. McKee,

USAF (Ret.)

Phoenix, AZ

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