Archive for January, 2019

FAMOUS FIGHTER PILOTS I HAVE KNOWN

January 25, 2019

All of them blessed and enriched my life.  The first one also saved it.

Bob Hoover

Bob Hoover (1922-2016), “one of the greatest pilots ever to have lived,” was the chief bob hoovertest pilot at North American Aviation during the development of the F-100. As the first aircraft to fly faster than the speed of sound, it had some new “widow-maker” characteristics that Hoover sorted out. One was its inability to come out of a spin. Most planes spin if you sufficiently mishandle them, but there is a remedy for recovery, but not the F-100, as Hoover concluded after several really wild test hops. So he discovered a way to recognize the onset of a spin and the antidote to stop it before it developed further. He came to our F-100 class at Cannon AFB, NM, in 1968 and taught us that procedure, then we adjourned to the bar and heard flying stories that, coming from any other living soul we would have called fairy tales. (I’ve cleaned up the language a bit.) He was a plane whisperer—he could make any plane do supernatural things, as millions of people worldwide witnessed when he flew his yellow P-51 and Shrike Commander at airshows. I got to reconnect with Bob at Oshkosh, the nation’s largest airshow, in 2000, when we shared the speakers stage (think of me like the aspiring nobody that opens for a Willie Nelson show) and thank him again for teaching me the Hoover solution, and bear witness to the fact that it works wonderfully. I never lost a beat in the battle. Not incidentally, I also relearned that no matter how intense the fight one must always fly the airplane… And I thanked him on behalf of my children, who but for him would never have been born. A “pilot’s pilot.” 

Mark Berent

This week’s tactics confab (coffee and war stories) was with Mark Berent, age 87 and cimg6048he still doesn’t drool in his coffee. In fact I’d bet he could still do a Cuban eight in his F-4E or F-100 and not spill a drop. Mark had a Vietnam tour in F-100’s, then went back to the war a few years later in an F-4E, the most advanced fighter then in the inventory.  He commanded the Wolf FAC Squadron, the follow-on to the Misty FAC’s with a much improved loss rate from enemy AAA fire. “Papa Wolf” was his call sign.  Then he retired and wrote 5 New York Times bestselling novels about that air war. Other than that and running the Marine Corps Marathon the first time when most of us are reaching for the rocking chair, his life has been unremarkable…  Mark’s been a great friend, benefactor and inspiration to me for many years! Get his first bestseller in ebook free at Amazon: Rolling Thunder

Robert L. Scott

Bob Scott (1908-2006) was a double Ace (13 kills) in WW II flying a (single seat) P-40 cimg5729with the Flying Tigers in China.  He would have been a triple ace but for solid cloud layers below that kept anyone from actually seeing a few other falling out-of-control-on-fire Japanese planes hit the ground, a requirement for a counter. He retired a Brigadier General and spent most of his retirement as a highly successful fundraiser for the Georgia Museum of Aviation, now the second largest AF museum in the country.  I got invited to speak at a fundraiser there honoring Bob Scott, then a gregarious 90 years old, and we became friends.  He wrote a best-seller, God is My Co-Pilot, which was made into a very popular movie in 1945. The above  picture with a signed copy of his book in my hand and mine in his, was taken in front of his P-40 at the museum, not far from where an F-100 that I flew in combat resides. I have good cause to believe that Bob Scott is dancing the wild blue with his Maker now, and, notwithstanding the title of his book, he now knows God was his Pilot-In-Command.

Bud Day

I met Medal of Honor winner Bud Day (1925-2013), “the most highly decorated bud day_1987military officer since General Douglas MacArthur,” when I got invited to speak at a Misty FAC reunion in Colorado Springs in ‘98. He was the commander of the unit, flying F-100’s, when he was shot down and captured.  Bud spent 5 years and 7 months in the infamous Hanoi Hilton as a POW, where he escaped captivity and nearly made it back to friendly forces—they were in sight when the enemy recaptured him and made his life even more of a hell-on-earth, but gained him the MOH.  He returned home and finished out his AF career, then retired and went to law school, became a lawyer and spent the rest of his life fighting for military veterans’ benefits promised but never paid to vets by our government, of which all vets owe him a huge debt. In my speech to the Misty FAC’s, among whom were two Air Force generals, Don Shepperd and AF Chief of Staff Ronald Fogleman, I said I was honored to be invited to the greatest concentration of heroes ever assembled in one room since Bud Day dined alone in his cell at the Hanoi Hilton. The whole room applauded. Bud was the first one up to the podium when I was through, extending his humble hand and saying, “God bless your heart!” Would that mine were as big and brave as his.  

    What a blessing it has been to have lived and flown in an era with such fighter pilot icons, three of them in the same supersonic angel as I, and to have our contrails cross and become friends. Thank you, Lord.

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SO STARK THE MIND SPINS

January 19, 2019

Foz and I had our monthly tactics confab (coffee and war stories) yesterday. Exactly half-a-century ago and half-a-world away, on the shore of the south China Sea, we were hot stuff fighter jocks living our dreams—the best the US military aviation training program could turn out.  Badass, as the current cool talkers like to say SOT-for-homepage-Xmas-11.jpgwithout knowledge! I flew on his wing and literally trusted him with my life through some of the darkest nights and double dog doo weather we’ve seen before or since. Our joint ventures saved many American mothers’ sons from violent death while visiting same upon the enemy. Not least, we survived to tell about it. I was flying his wing and took this picture of him—Bob Fosnot—leading us home at dawn from one tough scramble off the alert pad. He may not fit your fighter pilot image now, but that night he was lean and mean and hirsute, the conditions were nightmarish, and we were kickin’ butt—100 or so grateful Special Forces grunts survived to celebrate that same spectacular sunup.

The contrast between life then and now is so stark the mind spins. Today we’re just two doddering old toads drooling in our coffee cups, laughing ourselves silly, and struggling to understand a world we don’t recognize. But we’re still here on the preferred side of the grass and loving it, and grateful to God for every minute of our uncommon lives and loves, and living proof that Grace is truly Amazing.

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*Son of Thunder is a novel based on my experience in the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa AB, Republic of Vietnam from June 1968 to May 1969. It is historical fiction, and as such the places and names and world events are non-fiction and the plot is fiction. Most of the flying experiences were mine with varying degrees of embellishment, and some were made up of whole cloth.

I came across a blurb from a blog I wrote a few years ago that still seems to be a pretty good thumbnail of the American fighter pilot culture in combat in the mid-20th century.  “At Dusty’s Pub, the junior officers’ hangout on the beach of the South China Sea, where humility was an unknown attribute, we never credited our killed-by-air and busted enemy asset tallies to anything other than superior skill and cunning, and in a single-seat jet no one else would know what panic and pandemonium may have taken place in that mini-mobile office in the heat of battle. Now, well into codgerhood, Foz and I readily agreed it was by God’s grace alone that we survived not only the best the enemy could throw at us, but also our own adrenaline addiction.  Nothing fed that addiction like laying napalm down at 50 feet above the ground and 400 knots, walking 20-millimeter exploding bullets through an enemy force coming through the concertina wire of a friendly base camp, or jinking in the crosshairs of enemy AAA. Gen. Robert E. Lee was a kindred spirit in this regard: ‘It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.’”

As I mentioned earlier, the contrast between life then and now is so stark the mind spins.


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