Get On With It
“The False Death of Airpower” strikes a blow for sanity in the continuing national saga of what to do with airpower, indeed with the US Air Force [“Editorial,” August, p. 4].
An underappreciated component of airpower is the significantly increasing overlap between weapons/weapons targeting, intelligence, data link, command and control (C2), and the common operational picture (COP). Only USAF can bring this together at the operational level of war.
Many who write to your magazine decry the aging of Air Force aircraft and write about the critical need to recapitalize. No argument here. What is missing in open dialogue is the profound impact of command and control on USAF capability. Current and emerging US systems dramatically enhance Air Force and sister service capability far beyond that of our adversaries. A shopworn refrain is that our satellites are vulnerable; therefore the systems supported by satellites are at risk, which is partly true. Local tactical data link and tactical data system networks that do not rely on satellites negate that argument. It certainly is not your grandfather’s B-52.
The Air Force is the ultimate joint force because it enables all other forms of tactical and operational missions to proceed. Back off, critics, our Air Force is the ultimate joint provider and will remain so. Let’s get on with putting Air Force warheads on adversary foreheads.
Lt. Col. Tom Brannon,
Cold War Scrapbook
When I opened my newest copy of Air Force Magazine (August) to the “Cold War Scrapbook,” I got truly excited [p.66]. We don’t see much about the Cold War defense efforts these days. But I ended up very disappointed when I found that there was not one photo or even a word about the hundreds of aircraft control & warning and SAGE radar stations in North America that provided early warning and intercept control against attacking manned bombers. Indeed, on p. 72, there is a photo of a pair of F-102s with the caption “to replace F-89s in providing air defense and early warning.” Interceptors did not provide “early warning.” Defense, yes, but the “early warning” was provided by long-range radars and troops on the ground or in AEW&C constellation aircraft who directed the interceptors to their targets.
“Cold War Scrapbook” featured photos submitted by readers. AC&W photos appeared in the print and Web version.—The Editors
Thank you so much for “Cold War Scrapbook.” It brought back my youth again. What a thrill!
I was stationed at Plattsburgh Air Force Base (SAC) in Plattsburgh, N.Y., back in the ’50s. While I was in, Elvis Presley joined the Army. I thought that was me next to a B-47 with a red 1956 Volkswagen. I had the same car and color. But mine had fog lights. Also, the picture of cadets at Plattsburgh Air Force Base in 1967 was nice.
Let’s Not Divorce
Thank you for the informative status report on the F-35 fighter in the August issue of Air Force Magazine, and more broadly for your role as a voice of sanity in a debate that sometimes seems to be divorced from reality [“Make or Break Time For the F-35,” p. 22]. It must say something about the conditions of our republic that so much nonsense gets uttered (and believed) about the cost and condition of the only program left that can assure America’s global air dominance to midcentury.
Much of the information that reaches the political system and public about the F-35 is misleading, such as the astronomical unit costs attributed to the program and the supposed trillion-dollar bill for sustainment. The fact that each Air Force variant is likely to cost roughly what the latest version of an F-16 does, and that the bill for sustaining legacy fighters over a similar period would be several times higher, never seems to register with policymakers.
What’s most distressing about the present public discussion is that many participants seem to have no idea what the stakes are—what it would mean for our security and our influence if America lost the edge it has enjoyed in airpower for generations. Your articles on the subject never lose sight of that overriding concern, and thus they are a public service for an audience that might otherwise miss the big picture. Thank you.
Did We Really Lose Nukes
“Accidents happened outside the US, too. One of the most mysterious was the disappearance of a B-47 over the Mediterranean in March 1956. The bomber penetrated a cloud deck to hit a refueling point at 14,000 feet and was never seen again. No trace was ever found of the airplane or its crew. Two nuclear capsules vanished” [“The Perils of Chrome Dome, August, p. 54].
I just find this hard to accept. How can we leave nuclear weapons missing? In 1956, we certainly had the technical capability for accident black boxes. I did accident investigations on DC-8s in the mid-1960s, so I know we had survivable accident black boxes then. They had a rudimentary amount of data and a beacon and were survivable. I just find it hard to believe that they didn’t have them in 1956 or that they weren’t used.
Accidents happen and will always happen. This is all the more reason for having an accident black box and beacon for finding a lost nuke. As the article shows, 1956 wasn’t the first accident involving nukes.
We know how to make black boxes and beacons. The recent example of the black box picked up from the downed French plane off Brazil is an example. The box survived. The beacon worked. I am sure that this type of technology has vastly improved since 1956, but surely we had something available then. We should have had a black box on every plane and also on every bomb.
Enjoyed the article about the Chrome Dome missions. I flew a number of them in my Air Force career, which spanned some 32 years, all of which was in SAC. I eventually had 5,800 hours in B-52s as a tail gunner and flew on all models except the E.
I was interested in the Chrome Dome incidents you mentioned, especially the crash of the B-52D on its way back to Turner AFB, Ga. The tail gunner Melvin Wooten was a friend. He was flying in the EWO ejection seat instead of in the tail, and on ejection it was believed he lost his helmet and received injuries to his ankle on landing. He died in a creek, where his body was found. Our wing vice commander was on the accident board, and I asked him why Wooten was found in the creek, a short distance away from a farmhouse, which he was crawling away from. Members of the board had the same concern so they went out to the area at night and found that there was a light in the direction he was crawling, and the farmhouse was in darkness.
Additionally, the accident near Thule Air Base was one that could have been prevented. A few months earlier, I was on a Chrome Dome mission that had similar circumstances. I was evaluating another gunner on a B-52G and during the flight I went down to the lower deck to use the relief can, which was next to the instructor navigator’s position. This was where the extra equipment was stored for the flight. When I got to the lower deck, I immediately felt an excessive amount of heat and started to pull A-3 bags and MA1 survival kits out of the pile, in doing so I burned my hand on a kit buckle, as it was so hot in the pile. The problem was the spray bar located underneath the instructor navigator’s position. This spray bar had no shut off and was always putting out heat, as the area was cold under normal conditions. I let the crew know about what I had done and there was no further problem. Upon landing I notified my standardization chief and recommended a different storage plan be used.
CMSgt. Ray Shugrue,
It’s About Time
It was very encouraging to read Aaron Church’s article “Expeditionary Centerpiece” [August, p. 40] and learn that the Air Force’s leadership has had the wisdom to establish combat training for all airmen deploying to war zones. It is quite a contrast to what I saw in Vietnam at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in 1968. Until the Tet Offensive revealed our amazing lack of preparedness, we were required to turn in our weapons when we landed, and we had flowers around the squadron building instead of sandbags. Even after our Vietnam experience, despite the threat to our bases in Europe from Soviet spetsnaz, we still failed to provide base personnel with combat training, weapons, or prepared defenses. Later, when I was on the Air Staff and suggested a program such as Combat Airmen Skills Training, I was told by one general that the cost of ammunition alone made such training unaffordable.
Lt. Col. Price T. Bingham,
Lessons Not Learned
Walter Boyne’s article [“Breaking the Dragon’s Jaw,” August, p. 58] discusses the “revolutionary weapons” (LGBs) that finally dropped the Thanh Hoa bridge. The fact of the matter is that USAF had developed an early version of PGMs in the TV guided bombs used at the end of World War II. At the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, a couple of these early models are on display.
That USAF had to reinvent PGMs is telling. In the 1940s and 1950s, this nascent technology was shelved for a variety of reasons, mainly the over-nuclearization of the force. This hamstrung the development of PGMs and other such equipment.
Also, there were the famous RAF earthquake bombs created by Barnes Wallis. These massive bombs were designed to weaken the supporting structures around bridges in the Low Countries and were quite effective. These, too, may have proven useful at Thanh Hoa. This was another technology that was previously known and either forgotten or disregarded, much to the determent of the Air Force.
Imagine if TV guided bombs had continued to be developed. Not only would the Vietnam War have been fought differently, so would the Korean War. One can only speculate.
The real lesson of the “Dragon’s Jaw” is not the number of sorties flown or aircrew lost. The lesson is: What concept is the Air Force ignoring nowadays due to bureaucracy and a reluctance to change
Col. Kevin J. Cole,
Thank you, thank you, thank you, retired Col. Walter J. Boyne and Air Force Magazine for “Breaking the Dragon’s Jaw.” Now I know what happened to Maj. Thomas F. Case in Vietnam.
I met Captain Case shortly after he checked into Ernest Harmon AFB, Newfoundland, for our three-year tour in the Arctic world, flying KC-97 tankers over the polar ice cap, he as airplane commander and I as flight engineer crew member. He checked my record and found I had more flying time in KC-97s than he had total time. That was no problem. We worked together—and lived through it.
Virtually all landings at Harmon were GCA or ILs. As engineer, I powered the vertical glide path and he steered the horizontal maneuvers.
After our three-year tour was up, I opted to retire with 20 years, and Captain Case was scheduled for Vietnam. He begged me to go to Nam with him, but I declined, saying three wars were enough—WWII, Korea (B-29), and Cold War in the Arctic, refueling B-52s picketing the USSR border in 24/7 “Chrome Dome” operations.
I knew he was destined to fly C-130s, but other than that, aside from knowing he was killed in Nam, I had no idea concerning his death—til now.
And I, ironically, wound up overhauling C-130s at the then-Fairchild-Hiller depot at St. Petersburg Airport (Fla.). Thank you.
Loren T. Longman
I read with more than passing interest Walter Boyne’s excellent article about the unconventional attack on the Thanh Hoa Bridge, as I took part in it as navigator of the EB-66 that lent electronic countermeasures support for the strike.
When selected for this mission, which was so highly classified that only the commander and operations officer briefed, I was thrilled—finally, some imagination was actually creeping into the conduct of the air war! We took off from Takhli in the dead of night, climbing across Thailand and the Laos panhandle to coast out over the Gulf of Tonkin and take up our station just off the coast by Thanh Hoa, keeping our orbit just kissing the outlines of the surface-to-air missile (SAM) ring—B-66s had been shot down by SAMs.
The entire mission was of course done in total radio silence. At the time for the C-130 to drop its weapons—that crew must have had king-size male characteristics—the entire area around the target erupted in AAA gunfire of varying calibers. I was flying with a newly arrived pilot, and asked him to estimate the number of gun flashes he saw. He guessed about 80, and I thought that was about right. The whole area was lit up with the twinkling sparkles of gunfire, and I hoped that the C-130 was able to make it out of there.
When we landed at Takhli near dawn, we learned to our relief that everyone returned home safely, to include the two F-4s—Neon Flight, as I recall—that had made a diversionary attack on a barracks nearby. We went to sleep as our colleagues were getting up for the day.
A few hours later, I was awakened by someone shaking my foot. An officer told me to get up, get something to eat, and get to the squadron. He would not say why. When we arrived, we were told that we were going to repeat the Thanh Hoa mission, lock, stock, and barrel—same tactics, same ingress, same times, same diversionary attacks by two F-4s. I did not believe it, and genuinely thought that there was a mistake being made here. I reminded the squadron commander that we had done this same mission last night, and there had to be a mistake somewhere. Though I was a young captain, I flatly refused to fly this mission unless someone called Blue Chip (7th Air Force command post at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon) to personally verify that this was no error. This was duly done, in my presence, and I remember being stunned at what I considered the scandalous stupidity behind this decision. As I gathered the charts to begin planning the flight, I told my superiors that there would be a massacre tonight, and there was. The C-130—whose crew I was told had not volunteered for this mission—vanished off the face of the earth, and one of the F-4s was also shot down and its crew killed, and still the bridge stood unharmed. I still wonder what brain decided to send a C-130 into such terrible defenses manned by determined, motivated, capable, and now thoroughly alerted enemy who was not ignorant and who would be ready and waiting.
There is a sidebar to this account, and it might bear on what happened. This was my second tour in this war, a “back-to-back” consecutive tour. Prior to the B-66 assignment, I had run the controller team at Brigham Control in Udorn, the only rated officer heading the team of about 10 first and second lieutenants. When the EB-66s arrived in Southeast Asia, they came under our control, and many of their crews recognized my voice over the radio—I had gone to navigator training with several of them—and they invited me to visit them in Takhli, which I did. I then started flying missions with them on my R&R breaks, sitting in the vacant gunner seat, and was actually checked out locally while still assigned to Brigham Control. I occasionally scrambled the F-102s on alert at Don Muang Airfield, Bangkok, that were often looking for useful work. Here are the results of these impromptu exercises. The EB-66s could not jam our search radar; not even a hint of interference ever occurred. Since radar is radar and PRFs (pulse recurrence frequencies) are PRFs no matter who owns the radars, when I was later flying the EB-66, I assumed that we could not jam the North Vietnamese search radars, either. The 66s could jam our Brigham height finders, and I am pretty sure that we could jam the enemy Fire Can and Fire Wheel gun laying radars. I was not sure about our effectiveness against the Fan Song radar of the SAMs, but I had my doubts.
The point here is that the enemy could probably see us coming in and going out, and since the C-130’s ingress was from the water, it had no ground clutter in which it could hide. It had apparently never occurred to anyone to actually try jamming our own systems to see how effective our ECM was, and these tests were done unofficially by me sitting at a scope in Brigham Control.
I can well understand how we limped out of Vietnam, given what I saw in three tours there (I returned later in F-111s).
Peter M. Dunn
Here’s the Beef
With all due respect, General Yeager, most people in the world are like you and have not seen a UFO, and many of those who did report such sightings were in dreamland somewhere [“Letters: Where’s the Beef?” September, p. 6].
However, there are also those, including professional military and security personnel, who have actually experienced the real thing and have shown substantial evidence to verify what they saw. There is also proof that many governmental agencies throughout the world have denied, hidden, and even destroyed UFO scientific data for reasons unknown.
My wife and I actually saw UFOs over Connecticut in the 1960s and 1990s which stirred up our great interest in this subject. Also a few of the reports that I investigated as a Project Blue Book officer back in the early 60s were very believable. Just keep your eyes open, General; you might see one yet.
Maj. Tony Zilinsky,
I read in the September “Letters” section about the Air Force and the UFOs. I was one of the first USAAF jet aircraft mechanics. It was in the mid-1940s at Muroc Air Force Base. I was a crew member on the XP-84, YP-84, and crew chief on a P-84B. Our assigned pilots were Maj. Jowell C. Wise, who later became Wright-Patterson Air Force Base commander, and Captains Rusty Roth, James Fitzgerald, Bob Hoover, and Charles Yeager (the last three were backup pilots on the XS-1). On Oct. 14, 1947, I witnessed the XS-1 break the speed of sound.
In July of 1947, the story was a UFO crashed at Roswell, N.M. This caused the people in California to see UFOs. Thus, [UFOs became] a very popular subject and a demand came from the US Air Force to do something. During this time I worked with three other flight test mechanics. We were familiar with all types of strange aircraft. We were placed on standby and when a UFO call came in, we would get into a C-47 with cameras to get a picture of any UFOs. These missions seemed to occur at night after we worked all day. One time we chased an object all night and had to land at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento for fuel.
We later found we were chasing an Air National Guard P-51 with a drunken pilot onboard.
We did get to visit Roswell and were told it was a weather balloon. With all the things we did at Muroc and the strange things we [had] seen, we were told, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen.” So all my life, I never told anyone about Roswell till now. We never got a picture of a UFO.
In 1961, I was offered a job as an air traffic controller specialist in Wright-Patterson base operations. There I got involved with Blue Book. We had parts and pictures of what were supposed to be UFOs on display in base operations since we were open 24 hours a day. We took many of the UFO calls. I ended my time with USAF on the 28th of October, 1987, as chief of base operations at Wright-Patterson. I was part of the UFO story from the start to the finish.
I can say there are no UFOs.
Donald K. Rizer
Author Rebecca Grant has expertly included hints of solutions to the Air Force’s budget and missions challenges within her article, “Not Just Another Post-Cold War Budget Drill” (September 2011, p. 84). Underlying the entire article are quotes from various defense officials of the necessity to realign force structure and missions, and therein lies the solutions.
The problem not addressed in the article is how to do that. One suggestion to meet budgetary and mission requirements while still meeting reduced budget goals is a two-step process. First, a realistic threat analysis covering the next 50 years should be prepared. Planning to fight a war with a major nation such as China or Russia, the only two with the resources to challenge the American military, may excite K Street defense industry advocates, but is not supported by reality. It is still a dangerous world, but not one that will be safer by buying an overabundance of expensive hardware to fight the wrong war.
Secondly, restructure DOD to meet the real threats. The basic organization and missions have changed little since the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols bill that created unified commands, the actual fighting arms of the military services. Extending that unified concept to the noncombat elements of the services will save billions of dollars and measurably increase the military capabilities by trimming the proverbial “fat” while preserving the “muscle.” Some steps have been taken in that direction, such as a few joint bases, but only a major reorganization will accomplish budgetary and mission goals.
Lt. Col. C. W. “Bill” Getz,
I’m Not Telling Him, You Tell Him
Senior Master Sergeant Pfenning’s comment about Lieutenant General LeMay pictured with his hands in his pockets causes me to reply [“Letters: Coming In From the Cold War,” September, p. 12].
I was a three-stripe A1C then-staff sergeant stationed at the Air Force Academy from 1961 to 1966, as a VIP driver at the “motor pool.” I had occasions to drive then-Air Force Chief of Staff LeMay, his wife, and his daughter, who lived in base housing at the academy as she was married to an officer. Once, on landing his plane at Peterson Air Force Base, as always, he descended the ramp stairs with his cigar in mouth. Flight lines were always no smoking areas, but no one was going to tell LeMay he couldn’t smoke, much less—even though he had only three stars in the photo—that he couldn’t put his hand in his pocket.
CMSgt. Lou Georgieff,
But If LeMay Can Do It …
Perhaps Col. Mark Camerer’s hands were cold as he walked with the President [“Air Force World,” September, p. 20]. I, too, remember being told to never put our hands in our pockets when wearing the uniform. But if General LeMay could do it, I guess the colonel could follow his example.
Lt. Col. Richard J. Klingelsmith,
There is a picture … that shows a full colonel walking alongside the President of the United States with his hands in his pockets! While I realize I served some years ago (early ‘80s) and many things have changed, tell me that members of the military are still not permitted to walk around with their hands in their pockets while in uniform. To see someone of this rank and experience walking alongside his boss’s boss’s boss shows a lack of respect for the authority of the Commander in Chief and a total disregard for the rules of proper military bearing.
Faux Pas Deux
I’m certain this isn’t the only notice you’ve gotten on this subject, but on p. 20 of the September issue, Col. Mark Camerer is on the President’s right as they are walking. This is a faux pas a senior officer should know better than to commit, particularly with the Commander in Chief.
Col. William L. George,
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Snippy or Snappy
I certainly hope you won’t cave in to the criticism leveled at you by retired Lieutenant Colonel Mathis and retired Colonel Kinsella in their “Letters” comments [“No, Please, Continue,” September, p. 12]. Their feelings were apparently hurt by the ‘Please Shut Up’ heading you chose for your recent “Verbatim” blurb concerning some ridiculous quote by former President Carter.
While Colonels Mathis and Kinsella have every right to complain about your choice of words, you have every right to use words that you deem appropriate in your “Verbatim” column. If the good colonels are offended by your swipe at possibly the worst President in America’s history, they are free to unsubscribe and look elsewhere for news about the Air Force (Perhaps the liberal Air Force Times newspaper would keep them happy).
Please hang on to that snappy “Please Shut Up” heading. I’m sure you’ll be able to again use it as a “Verbatim” heading for some equally idiotic quote.
MSgt. James B. Walker,
Historians Not Dueling
Colonel Boyne is to be congratulated for surfacing that aspect of World War I [“The Influence of Airpower on the Marne,” July, p. 68]. I was unable to find any other mention of the influence of the airplane so early in that conflict .
A gap between the German 1st and 2nd Armies was spotted by Allied aerial reconnaissance that led to a reversal of the plans of Germany to conquer France in the first five weeks of the war. However, in trying to understand the development of that gap, I had to do some additional research to fill in the gaps (no joke intended) in the printed article.
When the German 1st Army turned from west to southeast to encircle the retreating French Army east of Paris, General von Gluck exposed his right flank. The French decided to take advantage of this opportunity and reversed their retreat to attack the German right flank. Von Gluck, recognizing this threat to his flank, turned from east to west to meet the French head on.
This opened a gap between himself and General von Buelow’s German 2nd Army which had prior been alongside the left of von Gluck on their southeast course. It was a westerly turn of the German 1st Army that created the gap. British and French planes immediately spotted the gap that resulted in a French reaction that squashed Germany’s ambition for a quick conquest. The rest is history.
Delray Beach, Fla.