The Vietnam Veterans Memorial – The Wall – has panels that list the KIA (Killed In Action) casualties in chronological order of their loss. Panel W1, the last panel, encompasses the date July 30, 1972. My name is not on that panel, because my military Brothers, J.D. Allen and the crew of Purple 28, saved my life.
Forty-eight years ago today, I was Number Four in Walnut Flight, four F-4s on a strike deep into enemy territory north of Hanoi. The flight was being led by a new flight lead, Sid Fulgham, on his first mission over Hanoi, and J.D. was the deputy flight lead, Walnut Three. Enroute to the target, we faced heavy reactions. SAMs (surface-to-air missiles), AAA (anti-aircraft artillery) and MiG calls (enemy aircraft). As we egressed the target area over the Gulf of Tonkin, Sid called for a fuel check, and that was when we all realized that my fuel was significantly below the other airplanes in the flight. In fact, I wouldn’t have enough fuel to make it to the post-strike refueling point.
Sid was out of ideas, and that’s when J.D. went into action. With Lead’s concurrence, he took command of the flight, sent us over to the emergency GUARD frequency, and made contact with the refueling tankers. One of them, Purple 28, volunteered to fly up into enemy territory to meet us. That crew put their airplane, their lives, and their careers on the line to save me.
Back in 1972, navigation was not the GPS precision it is today. The INS (inertial navigation system) position on the F-4 could be off by as much as 10 miles for every hour of operation. The only way to roughly determine our position was radial/DME from a TACAN located on a Navy ship, far away. J.D. asked the tanker for his position from the TACAN, then gave the tanker a heading to meet up with us. Picking the tanker up on radar, J.D. told him when to begin his turn to a heading to match ours, and told him to start a descent. In the meantime, he directed me to start a half-nozzle descent.
My WSO and I were running through the Preparation For Ejection checklist, and I was periodically reporting my fuel state. The last reading I recall seeing was 0 on the tape and 0030 on the counter. About two minutes fuel. With fuel gauge tolerance, perhaps a bit more, perhaps less.
Up until this time I had simply been flying the headings, speeds and altitudes J.D. had assigned. I was pretty much operating on mental autopilot. The next thing I knew, I looked up and saw the refueling boom of the tanker directly above me, ready to plug in. I opened up my refueling door and immediately heard the rush of JP-4 entering my aircraft. And I knew I wouldn’t need to step over the side on this mission.
I think of J.D., the tanker crew, and Sid and silently thank them every time I hold my wife, my kids, my grandkids. If they hadn’t stepped up to the plate when they did, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have made it home. When you pull the ejection handle over shark-infested enemy-controlled water, there are a thousand things that can happen to prevent a happy outcome.
So on this anniversary, July 30th, I want to once again thank my Brothers, the brave tanker crew, J.D. Allen, and Sid Fulgham.
Skip grew up in a house that had an “airplane room”, replete with models and pictures. His father was a pilot, and was a part-owner in a Beech Sundowner airplane. On his 10th birthday, Skip got to fly in the seat and control an airplane for the first time.
Skip was recruited to the United States Air Force Academy to play soccer, and majored in physics, attending while his high school friend Robert “Cujo” Teschner was also a cadet. When he was cut from the soccer team, his grades dramatically improved, which enabled him to receive one of the limited slots for pilot training. As a cadet, he broke his arm during a parachute failure while skydiving.
Skip attended pilot training at Reese Air Force Base, and was ranked high enough to select a fighter, and received an F-15C. He attended fighter fundamentals training in San Antonio, and was then assigned to the 54th Fighter Squadron in Anchorage, Alaska. His squadron was the first to utilize night vision goggles (NVGs) in dogfights at night.
After his Alaska tour, Skip was assigned to be a T-37 IP at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. After Laughlin, he was assigned to Lakenheath Air Base, England.
Skip eventually became the commander of an F-15 squadron in Lakenheath. In that capacity, he led his squadron throughout Europe in exercises.
After retiring from the Air Force, Skip became a CFI for five years, and was later hired by a legacy airline, and currently instructs on the B737.
“It was very cold up there and the missions were tiring because they were quite long. They lasted anywhere from five to six-and-a-half hours, and when we got back to the base all we could think of doing was hitting the sack and getting some rest and being prepared for the next day’s mission,” the retired lieutenant colonel said.
Being shot down and captured was not an option. The black Tuskegee Airmen were showing the world bigotry didn’t belong — except down below.
On April 1, 1945, hate showed its face once again.
“There were seven of us and we were going after targets of opportunity in Austria,” he said of the day his squad got into a dogfight with German fighter pilots.
“Three of us got shot down. One was able to make it back to friendly territory before he crash-landed, one was killed outright when he was shot down and the third one, his plane was damaged so badly that he had to bail out,” said Stewart.
That pilot was captured and lynched three days later by an angry mob.
“The crowd, after being agitated by the SS troops, they broke into the jail and took this downed pilot out and they beat him badly first and then hung him from a lamppost. His name was Walter Manning,” Stewart said. “He was a very dynamic person. He was, I remember, a great swimmer. Lord knows what he would have done had he been able to survive the war.”
Stewart — one of the Heroes of a Generation the Herald is chronicling — almost faced the same fate that day over Austria.
“I realized (as tracer bullets whizzed by him) somebody was shooting at me. A German fighter plane was on my tail and I thought sure that I had had it,” Stewart said.
He dove for the ground, pulling up at the last second as the German fighter on his tail crashed nose-first in a ball of flames.
“Somebody was with me. I guess it was God as my co-pilot there because that guy should have had me,” he added. “I was about to give up the ghost.”
Stewart lives in Michigan now but once trained in Massachusetts at Westover Air Force base in Chicopee and flew with fellow pilots from all over New England. He has a book coming out next week about his days as a Tuskegee Airman. It’s called “Soaring to Glory.”
It’s a fascinating tale of a teenage boy in a segregated America defying the odds and proving himself 30,000 feet above the Earth as the world was at war.
“I subdued those feelings that I might have had about racial prejudice and committed to the mission,” he said of escorting bombers. “There were 10 lives on board each of those bombers that we were protecting. So anytime we intercepted an enemy fighter and stopped them from shooting the bomber down, we potentially saved 10 lives, and that was 10 American lives, fellow Americans and I was not thinking about some of the segregation that was going on at the time back in the states.”
As the story goes, the men on those bombers quickly came to love seeing the Red Tails pull alongside.
“We were like their guardian angels,” Stewart said.
Those long missions, he added, were exercises in perseverance — a shared trait of all the Tuskegee Airmen.
“It was cold … maybe 50 to 60 degrees below zero. … And you’re trapped in the cockpit and you cannot really move,” Stewart said of his single-seat Mustang. “Sometimes coming back from a mission … I would invert the plane, turn it over on its back then so actually I was hanging by my safety strap.
“That was such a relief, to go ahead and hang from the safe strap. It was like somebody rubbing your back,” he said, remembering like it was yesterday. “I couldn’t stay in that position for too long, it was only for a second and then turn the plane back over upright again.”
Stewart is retired now from his mechanical engineering job with a pipeline company. He was recently invited back to Austria, where the townsfolk of Linz honored the memory of his fellow Tuskegee Airman.
“They wanted to make amends for what had happened, what the civilians had done to Walter Manning, and they were doing a commemoration and setting up a very nice memorial for him,” Stewart said. “It was very inspirational.”
His days as a Tuskegee Airman come back to Stewart in a dream, he said. But he’s most proud that he showed the world that patriotism transcends race.
The book about his life, Soaring To Glory, is available on Amazon.
Nick had his first flight at age 18 in a Stearman, and had repeatedly tried to get into the Air Force Academy, but eventually attended the Military Academy at West Point. He always wanted to go into aviation, and he accepted a position as an aviation officer.
He attended pilot training at Fort Rucker, and received an assignment to fly Blackhawk attack helicopters. He was initially assigned to Hunter Army Airfield, then deployed to Iraq as a maintenance officer and downed aircraft recovery officer. He supervised or performed eight recoveries of crashed aircraft, usually recovering human remains and injured crew members.
He then flew counter-narcotics missions in South America, intercepting boats and aircraft. Most of these missions were conducted at night, using night vision goggles (NVGs). In addition, he performed humanitarian missions.
After nine years, Nick left the Army when he did not received his desired assignment as an instructor at West Point, and transferred to the Air Force. He immediately attended Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT), and was assigned to fly the KC-135.
Nick has owned a 1948 Navion for eight years. His wife is also a pilot, flying the C-130 in the California Air National Guard. Nick became involved in warbird flying and is currently in training in the Boeing KC-135.
Now more than ever, preparation is key.
Conditions changing day by day. Reminds me of how we improvised securing the cockpit post 9/11.
If you are in the high-risk group (over 65, asthma, heart disease, other underlying disease) don’t fly.
Research your destination.
Don’t fly if you have a cold.
TSA bins probably filthy
You may be sitting next to a total stranger – not all airlines block middle seats.
no shorts or flip-flops!
I recommend long pants for women as well as men, and no high-heel shoes for women
I will discuss evacuation shortly
Face mask – actually TWO face masks (in case head band breaks) carbon filter n95
aerotoxic syndrome – only B787 does not use bleed air from pneumatic system
Take your temperature before leaving home
If it’s above 100 you may not be allowed on the airplane
Put ALL medications into hand-carried bags
fanny pack even better
Wash hands after TSA screening
Bring empty water bottle – fill at filling station, not water fountain
airline cabins have very low humidity
low humidity makes it harder for your body to fight off viruses
some aircraft, such as A350 and B787, have humidification systems.
Don’t drink alcohol
cabin typically at 8000 feet
already party hypoxic
being drunk is a type of hypoxia
easier to get drunk at altitude
Bring up to 12 ounces of sanitizer – possibly screening delay
Bring reading material, computer or kindle – DO NOT touch inflight magazine (if it exists)
Disinfect ALL seat surroundings
seat belt buckle
safety information card
Direct air vent onto yourself
Pay attention to FA safety briefing
Lavatories – disinfect EVERYTHING you touch!
faucet will not give you 20 seconds to wash hands AND water may not be safe! – use hand sanitizer instead
disinfect everything again when you return to seat, including hands
Evac – Keep your shoes on for takeoff and landing
All occupants must be able to evacuate thru half exits in 90 seconds
One FA per 50 pax, more if needed to pass evac test
DO NOT bring bags with you –
loss of life for other pax
open overhead bins pose head risk to passengers
British Airways 2276 Las Vegas
American Airlines 383 Chicago photo Jose Castillo
Emirates 521 Dubai
Aeroflot SU 1492 Moscow
From Flightcast Podcast:
Chris Palmer is the host of the Aviatorcast Podcast, the Angle of Attack show, and isn’t your average flight instructor. Chris is on a mission to make better pilots. Whether it’s in the cockpit, on the ground, or on YouTube, Chris’s passion is to give new pilots the skills they need to fly safely and have fun. Join us as he shares in his love of flying and what bumps in the road he encountered along the way.
From We Are The Mighty:
The final day of work comes upon everyone. Some people take a long lunch with coworkers to hand out gifts and going away mementos. Others choose to quietly go out as they either prepare for retirement or moving on to their next job.
Their emotional last day at a unit isn’t just celebrated like a last day at an office. Pilots stick to a tradition that’s as old as the Air Force itself: the final flight, known widely amongst aircrew members as the ‘fini flight.’
The tradition was initially celebrated to accompany milestones in the career of Airmen of all ranks and positions. To find the first documented fini flight, one would have to reach back in history as far as Vietnam, when an aircrew commemorated the completion of 100 missions.
Since then, the way final flights have been celebrated has changed, but the sentiments have remained.
“Traditions such as this are great examples of esprit de corps throughout the Air Force community,” said Steven Frank, 27th Special Operations Wing historian. “It can also help create strong bonds of camaraderie and teamwork among past, current, and future generations of Airmen.”
Today, these final flights are celebrated not for one Airman’s accomplishments but an entire crew’s across the Air Force. They’re used for all ranks and positions to honor their contributions to the unit.
Once the plane lands, it is acknowledged with a formal water salute, where two firetrucks shoot water over the plane creating an arch with plumes of water collapsing down on the plane as it taxis in.
Upon halting the plane, the pilot exits to an immediate barrage of water as their family, friends, and coworkers douse them with fire hoses. Celebratory champagne follows soon after (or whenever their peers decide they had enough water) and thus gives them time to reflect with friends and loved ones on the time they’ve had together at that unit.
Frank says it’s one of the many examples of military cultural institutions that Airmen are proud to participate in.
“Fini flights are just one example of over a hundred years of Air Force traditions and heritage that honors the sacrifices and victories previous generations of Airmen have made to secure our freedoms,” Frank said. “Every Air Force organization continues to make contributions to the Air Force story and the exploration and awareness of each unit’s past can help encourage a sense of increased pride and respect for every Airman’s career field and organization.”
Whether they’re pilots who’ve tallied thousands of hours in a particular aircraft or crew who man weapons that deliver air power, fini flights are a longstanding tradition that remain one of the most exhilarating ways to recognize the very best amongst the Air Force’s ranks.
Jim Ferrari has been a CFI for over 45 years. He fascination with flying started when he was nine years old, taking his first flight on a B-707 and getting an inflight tour of the cockpit. His father’s employment with NASA gave him the opportunity to see actual mission flight plans and activities.
Jim wanted to fly in the military, but bad eyes kept him out, so he worked throughout high school to earn money for flying lessons. He received his Private Pilot certificate while still in high school, and earned the rest of his certificates (CFI. Inst, MEI) in college.
After graduation he got a job flying in night single-pilot operations in the Beech-18, then moved up to twin Otters and Shorts 330 at Metro Airlines. Finally, he was hired by United Airlines.
In 1985, when he was hired, he became a member of the famous “Class of 570”, where the class was hired to be strike-breakers, but they refused to cross the picket line and were subsequently fired. They were finally re-hired after almost a year of unemployment. When he finally came back to United, he became a Flight Engineer on the DC-10. It took five years for the Class of 570 to obtain restored seniority.
Jim eventually became a B737-300 instructor at the United Airlines Flight Training Center, then worked his way up (through B767, Airbus, and B777) to B787 Captain.
Jim recently retired, and plans to continue as a CFI.
It takes a special type of person to be an aviation spouse. The pilot will only be working when he/she is away from home. It seems most household emergencies occur during this time. Unlike normal office jobs, pilots frequently commute to their places of work, putting them away from home for even longer periods.
And, unlike most office jobs, pilots (especially military pilots) relocate a lot. Every relocation means spouses must deal with everything that follows: finding new doctors, new schools for children, new job for the spouse.
So let’s take a few minutes to honor aviation spouses this holiday period.
My military Permanent Change of Station (PCS) and civilian moves:
The above list does not include Temporary Duty (TDY assignments, some lasting for several months.