Erin Miller is the granddaughter of WASP WWII pilot Elaine Danforth Harmon. Erin has a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law, a Master's in international studies from the University of Leeds (UK), and a B.A. in history from the University of California, San Diego. She is a licensed attorney in Maryland, where she lives with her two Shiba Inus.
Erin has become an ambassador for the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II by sharing her own story of honoring her grandmother who wanted to ensure future generations learn about the history of these trailblazing pilots.
She documented her fight for WASP recognition in Final Flight Final Fight.
Shreenand Sadhale was working in India when, at age 26, he came across a Singapore Airlines advertisement for their cadet program. Singapore Airlines wold pay for the pilot training and pay the cadets a salary, and there would be a seven year commitment. Shreenand jumped at the chance. He requested the cargo route because he wanted to fly the Boeing 747, and Singapore was already phasing out the B747 in passenger operations.
He attended training in both Singapore and in Perth, Australia. His training included flights in the Lear 45. When he started flying at Singapore Airlines, he was assigned to the Boeing 777, and was flying in the right seat on passenger flights with a total of 275 hours!
He started with Singapore in 2007, and in 2012 Singapore started a low-cost operation, called Scoot. Shreenand volunteered to transition to Scoot, and was removed from the Singapore seniority list. In the process he became a Captain on the B787 and flew all over the world. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, Scoot went out of business.
Shreenand also owns a Stearman aircraft in the United States.
Col. (Ret.) Vic Vizcarra, a 24 year Air Force veteran, was commissioned through the ROTC program upon graduation from Loyola University of Los Angeles in 1960. A high ranking in his pilot training class allowed him to choose the F-100 from the list of available assignments. After completing F-100 training, he was assigned to the 31st TFW, 309th TFS at Homestead AFB, FL where he flew the "Hun" for 16 months. In 1963, he transitioned to the F-105 and served in Japan from where he participated in three deployments to Southeast Asia and flew 59 combat missions in the F-105D. During his third deployment, he was forced to eject from his disabled F-105D over North Vietnam and spent two hours on the ground evading capture before being rescued by a U.S. Navy helicopter. He later returned to fly 120 combat missions in the F-100D/F with the 35th TFW, 352nd TFS, at Phan Rang AB, Republic of Vietnam. In addition to the F-100 and F-105, Col. Vizcarra flew the F-5E and F-4E in follow-on assignments. Promoted to Colonel in 1981, he served as the 35th TFW Deputy Commander of Maintenance in his final assignment. Hun Pilot is the author's second publication and is a companion to his first book, Thud Pilot.
Speed & Angels Productions makes films that honor those who served. Award-winning filmmaker, Mark Vizcarra founded the production company to bring a fresh and unique perspective in producing entertaining content. His thousands of hours of flying the world’s most sophisticated fighters and landing aboard nine different aircraft carriers while serving in the United States Navy brings a level authenticity to a niche piece of commercially viable storytelling. Speed & Angels Productions’ slate of untold stories delivers spectacular aerial cinematography and dramatic story arcs that tap into a market yearning for aviation and historical content.
Captain Michael A. Vizcarra, first commissioned by the Navy in 1984, assumed command of MU’s Reserve Officers Training Corp Unit in August. Prior to being assigned to the post, he served as Commander of Fleet Activities in Okinawa, Japan.
“I am a Florida state resident but we’ve actually lived in Japan three times,” he said of his family’s many moves. “We wanted a small college town and we wanted a place where we could experience all four seasons. Not ever having lived anywhere in the Midwest, my wife Sherri looked online for information about Columbia, and everything she read about it, she really liked.
“Our kids are in high school, and I had a chance to look at the schools when I was here,” he said, adding that he liked what he saw. “Every person I talked to about Columbia said they came here, not necessarily intending to stay, but that it’s a great place and the people are great too. We haven’t looked back.”
Vizcarra became a Naval Flight Officer in 1986 and in his steady climb through the Navy’s ranks, he has accumulated over 3,600 flight hours piloting F-14s and F-18s with nearly 1,000 carrier take-offs and landings. “I’m glad I did it,” he said, “but I’m definitely glad to be spending time with my family now. I miss flying a little bit, but this way I can teach my kids to drive. I’m a family guy.”
He wholeheartedly believes that throughout his 30-year connection to the Navy he has been presented with great opportunities and that his experiences have led him to this job, serving as a mentor for young men and women starting down the same path.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert “Buzz” Patterson, United States Air Force (Retired), is a military combat pilot, distinguished White House military aide, bestselling author, leadership consultant, popular public speaker and former commercial airline pilot. Among Patterson’s literary efforts include two New York Times best sellers, Dereliction of Duty and Reckless Disregard.
His most recent books include War Crimes and Conduct Unbecoming.
Patterson was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Virginia Tech and a master's degree in business administration from Webster University.
Patterson served 20 years as a pilot on active duty in the United States Air Force and saw tours of duty world-wide including combat operations in Bosnia, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Rwanda, and Haiti.. From 1996 to 1998, Colonel Patterson was the Senior Military Aide to President Bill Clinton. During that time he was responsible for the President's Emergency Satchel. He retired in 2001 to pursue a career as a writer, conservative political commentator and commercial airline pilot.
He retired from Delta Airlines and is currently a candidate for Congress, running in the California 07 District. His website is Buzz4Congress.com.
As one of only a handful of women who have earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Melissa “SHOCK” May, a career Air Force F-16 pilot, was also in the first wave of women to fly fighter aircraft straight from Undergraduate Pilot Training. Her Air Force career got its start because her outstanding abilities as a competitive swimmer. Melissa was recruited to swim on the US Air Force Academy (USAFA) Intercollegiate team, which ultimately culminated in her induction into the USAFA Athletic Hall of Fame. Until her junior year at USAFA, the Combat Exclusion Law was in effect and women were not allowed to fly Air Force fighter aircraft, so the plan of becoming a fighter pilot was not even on the table.
Upon graduation, she went on to pilot training in Del Rio, TX and she learned then that a fighter was a possibility, but she would have to finish high enough among her peers to earn one. Melissa graduated first in her class and earned the Distinguished Graduate Award, the Flying Training award and the Air Education and Training Commander’s Award. After pilot training she went on to fly the F-16 and her assignments included bases in Korea, Japan, Italy, and two assignments as an Instructor Pilot at the F-16 schoolhouse in Arizona. She also returned to the US Air Force Academy as a Commander of a Cadet Squadron.
Melissa earned her combat time in Iraq in Operations Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom, and in Libya in Operations Unified Protector and Odyssey Dawn. Her Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded during a night mission over Baghdad where her flight of 4 was under heavy fire from anti-aircraft artillery and guided missiles. The weather was extremely poor and her flight was tasked to bomb missile sites that were actively targeting them. At her side that night was one of the youngest wingman in the squadron.
SHOCK was also a founding member of the Chick Fighter Pilot Association, a group she and a few fellow F-16 pilots started when they realized the importance of female friendship and mentorship in a male-dominated career.
SHOCK served in the Air Force for 20 years and upon retirement, she joined a major airline where she now flies Boeing 737’s based out of Denver. Her husband of 21 years, also a retired Air Force F-16 pilot, flies at a major airline as well. They have two children and they are striving for a balance of work and maximum family time. If she’s not flying the friendly skies and bouncing around a new city or country, you can find her on the golf course, a hiking trail, mountain biking, or snowboarding in the winter.
National POW/MIA Recognition Day was established in 1979 through a proclamation signed by President Jimmy Carter. Since then, each subsequent president has issued an annual proclamation commemorating the third Friday in September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
A national-level ceremony is held on every National POW/MIA Recognition Day. Traditionally held at the Pentagon, it features members from each branch of military service and participation from high-ranking officials.
In addition to the national-level ceremony, observances of National POW/MIA Recognition Day are held across the country on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, schools and veterans' facilities.
No matter where they are held, these National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremonies share the common purpose of honoring those who were held captive and returned, as well as those who remain missing.
Since 1999, the POW/MIA Accounting community has created a poster commemorating National POW/MIA Recognition Day. The 2020 edition of the poster, continues to honor this tradition.
Staff Sergeant Jon Cavaiani received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam War. After his platoon came under intense attack and organized his unit’s defense. During evacuation by helicopter, Cavaiani voluntarily stayed on the ground to direct the large evacuation effort. In the morning, there was another enemy attack where he ordered and helped provide cover for the remaining small group of men to escape. He was then captured and spent the next two years as a prisoner of war until his release in 1973 during Operation Homecoming. He remained in the Army until 1990, completing over 5,000 jumps from all over the world.
Colonel Donald Cook posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. He was wounded and captured by the enemy in December 1964. He was held as a prisoner of war where he assumed the role as the senior prisoner, even though he wasn’t. He volunteered to give other men his medicine and unselfishly put the overall health and wellbeing of his other prisoners above his health. He died from malaria three years later.
George “Bud” Day received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. He was a prisoner of war, not once but twice. He was forced to eject from his aircraft where he was immediately captured, interrogated and tortured. Day eventually escaped into the jungle, surviving on berries and frogs. After swimming across a river, he wandered aimlessly for days, lost. He was ambushed, recaptured and suffered from gunshot wounds. Day was placed back in his original prisoner of war camp and several near Hanoi, where he was beaten, starved and tortured. He shared a cell with future senator and presidential candidate John McCain. After five years and seven months as a North Vietnamese prisoner of war, he was released on March 14, 1973. He is the only person to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Air Force Cross.
Sergeant William Port posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. He rescued a wounded soldier and then used his body to smother the blast of an enemy grenade, protecting his fellow soldiers. After surviving the blast, he was captured by the enemy. Ten months later he died while a prisoner of war.
Captain Lance Sijan posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. Sijan was forced to eject from his aircraft and evaded capture by enemy soldiers for more than six weeks. Seriously injured, suffering from shock and severe weight loss, Sijan was captured by enemy soldiers. He was able to overpower one of his guards and crawl into the jungle, however, he was recaptured after a few hours. He was then transferred to another prisoner of war camp where he was held in solitary confinement, tortured and interrogated. He never complained to any fellow prisoners or divulged any information to his captors. He died as a prisoner of war at ‘Hanoi Hilton’.
Commander James Stockdale received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. His plane was struck by enemy fire, forcing him to eject over North Vietnam where he was captured as a prisoner and beaten. He was held at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ for the next seven and a half years and was one of the main organizers for prisoner resistance and was known as one of the eleven members of the ‘Alcatraz Gang’ and placed in solitary confinement. Stockdale’s wife, Sybil, formed The League of American Families of POWs and MIAs, where she personally made demands known to acknowledge the mistreatment of POWs at the Paris Peace Talks.
Lieutenant Colonel Leo Thorsness received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam. While on a suppression mission, Thorsness engaged in a heroic air mission involving destroying multiple enemy cluster bombs and engaging the enemy in a turning dogfight. Eleven days after his Medal of Honor actions, he was on his 93rd mission and was forced to eject from his aircraft. He was captured as a prisoner of war and spent over six years as a prisoner, spending time in solitary confinement and enduring severe torture. He was released during Operation Homecoming.
Captain Humbert Roque “Rocky” Versace received the Medal of Honor for his actions while a prisoner of war in Vietnam. With less than two weeks left of his volunteered tour extension, Versace’s unit was ambushed, he was wounded and captured in the process. The enemy separated Versace from the other prisoners and the last time they heard his voice, he was loudly singing ‘God Bless America’. He was later executed, and his remains have never been found.
Brig. Gen. Chad T. Manske is the 30th Commandant of the National War College, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C. The mission of the National War College is to prepare future leaders of the armed forces, Department of State, foreign military officers and other civilian agencies for high-level policy command and staff responsibilities by conducting a senior-level course of study with emphasis on the formulation and implementation of national security strategy and policy. As the commandant, Brig. Gen. Manske is responsible for formulating academic policies, supervising curriculum planning, preparation and ensuring excellence in classroom teaching.
Prior to assuming his current position, Brig. Gen. Manske was the Deputy Commander, Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Region and Deputy Combined/Joint Force Air Component Commander for 1 Canadian Air Division, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Brig. Gen. Manske was commissioned in 1989 following his graduation from Michigan State University and has commanded at the squadron, group and wing levels. Additionally, he has deployed in support of ongoing operations in Central and Southwest Asia as an Air Expeditionary Group Commander, the Deputy Director and Director of the U.S. Central Command’s Deployment and Distribution Operations Center and as an Air Expeditionary Wing Commander for operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector.
Over the past few months, the airline industry has gone from pilot and mechanic shortages to extreme overstaffing. This turnaround was sharp and dramatic. Pilots, flight attendants and A&Ps are facing a harsh, undeserved reality. Their colleagues, or even themselves, may be furloughed.
A furlough can be an emotional rollercoaster. When being furloughed, it might feel as if your world were collapsing. Besides the loss of stability, structure, lifestyle, and colleagues, the sense of social utility and identity can be strongly affected. When dealing with grief, feelings of anger, sadness and frustration are common. Everyone experiences loss in their own way.
Grief is a term often linked to the loss of a loved one, but it is equally applicable to losing a job. The different stages of grief in the Kubler-Ross grief cycle can also be experienced when it comes to important life changes, such as a furlough. Understanding and applying the stages of grief on oneself, colleague, or spouse can help process the emotions that come with a furlough.
The following are the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief:
Stage 1: Denial
During the first phase, denial, it is difficult for one to face the dismissal. Denial can be the conscious or unconscious refusal to face reality. It is a natural form of self-protection. It helps determine at what rate the grief is allowed. This phase usually manifests itself through avoidance, confusion, shock, and fear.
Stage 2: Anger
When the truth is faced, anger occurs. In this phase, these angry feelings may be projected onto the boss or company who have failed them. It is also possible that the blame is passed onto colleagues. Anger helps in the grieving process since the feelings of guilt and grief are suppressed by focusing on the anger that comes with blame. Feelings of anxiety, frustration, irritation, and thoughts of revenge can occur during this phase.
Stage 3: Bargaining
At this stage, attempts are made to negotiate. One can try to deal with the loss of work by setting goals or making promises. For example, bargaining can be done by applying for myriad jobs or setting extremely high personal goals. During this phase, it might be difficult to find meaning, and it is particularly important to reach out to others for support.
Stage 4: Depression
When reality sets in, some may go into depression or show symptoms of stress. When one begins to accept reality, feelings of sadness, regret, fear, and insecurity emerge. Losses from the past resurface and one may need to express their sadness repeatedly. Underneath the sadness, feelings of anger remain. Suppressed anger is often a crucial cause of depression. Other feelings that might occur during this phase are helplessness, overwhelmedness and hostility.
Stage 5: Acceptance
Having had enough time to process the loss and go through the mentioned stages, it is possible to start accepting reality. It is time to let go. Letting go is not the same as forgetting. It is giving the loss a place in life and moving on. Only after acceptance can come a new perspective, actively moving forward, exploring options, and making new plans.
Dr. Eileen A. Bjorkman, a member of the Senior Executive Service, is Executive Director, Air Force Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, California. She serves as principal deputy to the AFTC Commander on all matters under the cognizance of the Commander. She has extensive authority for broad management, policy development, decision-making and effective program execution of the AFTC’s developmental test and evaluation mission. Her role as an Executive Director involves long and short-range planning, policy development, the determination of program and center goals, including those involving scientific and technical matters, and the overall management of the AFTC enterprise.
Dr. Bjorkman was commissioned through Officer Training School in 1980 and served nearly 30 years in the Air Force, retiring as a colonel. During her military career, she served as a Flight Test Engineer, Instructor and Test Squadron Commander. She was a Senior Non-rated Aircrew Member and flew more than 700 hours as a Flight Test Engineer in more than 25 different aircraft, primarily the F-4 Phantom II, F-16 Fighting Falcon, C-130 Hercules and C-141 Starlifter. She also held multiple staff and director positions involving modeling, simulation, analysis and joint testing, retiring from active duty as the Chief of the Modeling and Simulation Policy Division, Warfighter Systems Integration and Deployment. Dr. Bjorkman was appointed as a Senior Leader Executive in January 2010, and entered the Senior Executive Service in 2015.
Shannon Huffman Polson writes about courage and grit in her nonfiction and fiction. Her first book, the memoir North of Hope,
was released spring 2013 by Zondervan/Harper Collins. She released a short book of essays, The Way the Wild gets Inside, in December 2015. Her essays and articles have won recognition including honorable mention in the 2015 VanderMey Nonfiction Prize, and appear in River Teeth Journal, Ruminate Journal, Huffington Post, High Country News, Seattle and Alaska Magazines, as well as other literary magazines and periodicals. Her work is anthologized in “The Road Ahead,” “More Than 85 Broads” and “Be There Now: Travel Stories From Around the World.”
Polson’s business writing has appeared in Huffington Post and Forbes, and in 2016 she published three books profiling outstanding military women with a focus on leadership and grit (available on Kindle). Those profiles and others are available at Medium.com/@aborderlife, where Polson is a Top Leadership Writer.
After a childhood in Alaska, Polson studied English Literature and art history at Duke University. At graduation she was commissioned as a 2LT in Army Aviation and became one of the first women to fly Apache helicopters, serving on three continents and leading two flight platoons and a line company. In the midst of school and flying came skydiving, scuba diving, big-mountain climbing and long-course triathlons. To turn all that into something practical, she earned her MBA at the Tuck School at Dartmouth, and worked with some excellent people in the corporate jungle for a few years in the medical devices industry and technology. She then started an MDiv (part-time), and decided not to pursue it, returning to her love of words with an MFA.
Polson describes her writing as a way of wrestling with life by way of words to find its beauty and possibility. Current published and pending work is in non-fiction and some fiction, both journalistic and creative, but one day soon she hopes to start sharing work in poetry as well.
Polson is a leadership speaker, focusing on leadership and grit based on her years wearing the uniform and speaks to thousands of people in audiences around the country every year. She leads the board of the Friends of the Winthrop Public Library, working to cultivate community through a shared love of literacy and learning. She and her husband are co-founders of Methow Episcopal. Occasionally she procrastinates by reading, painting, classical choral performance, playing piano or heading out in the mountains with the greatest adventure of her life, her husband Peter and two young boys.
In 2009 Polson was awarded the Trailblazer Woman of Valor award by Senator Maria Cantwell.
Her websites are www.thegritinstitute.com and www.shannonpolson.com.
Brig. Gen. Novotny was commissioned in 1992 upon graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy and earned his wings at Laughlin AFB, Texas. He completed six operational F-15 assignments with extensive test and combat experience, in addition to serving as an action officer at a major command, a fighter squadron commander, and a test and evaluation group commander. He was a Distinguished Graduate from Undergraduate Pilot Training, the U.S. Air Force Weapons School and the Naval Command & Staff College. He has also attended the School of Advanced Air & Space Studies and the National War College.
Brig. Gen. Novotny is a command pilot with more than 2,800 flight hours in 12 different aircraft, primarily in the F-15C/D/E and more than 540 combat hours. Prior to his current assignment, he served as the Deputy Director, Plans, Programs, Requirements, Headquarters Air Combat Command, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
When I was a Standards Captain on the B727 at United, the current Fleet Captain – they guy I worked for – was leaving the Training Center and returning to line flying, and his job was going to be open. I applied for the position of B727 Fleet Captain, and had an interview with the head of the narrow-body fleets (the Fleet Captain’s boss) and a lady from the Personnel department. I was wearing my best interview suit, cufflinks and all, and I felt like a had a great interview.
But I didn’t get the job. Someone else got it, and I ended up back as a Standards Captain, working for the person who got the job. So I obviously hadn’t done well enough in the interview.
THEN, new Assistant Fleet Captain positions (2) were added. I interviewed for one of these positions. I didn’t get it.
About six months before my scheduled retirement from United, I was on a layover at Narita, Japan. I met some American pilots who worked for a major Japanese auto company, flying their Gulfstream V. They told me about working for this company, flying out of California. I applied and was interviewed. I didn’t get the job.
Several years ago I had lunch with a retired United pilot who was now working for a major aerospace company in Denver. He said they were looking for some people with my qualifications. I sent him my resume, and was never called for an interview.
Two years ago I applied for a management position with United, in a non-flying role. I was a finalist, and they wanted me to submit a video in which I answered several interview questions. I didn’t get the job.
Finally, I applied for various positions at the Air Force Academy, seven times in total. My resume demonstrated that I am HIGHLY qualified for each of the positions. I was never even interviewed.
So, failure and being turned down is something everyone will at one time or another experience.
Alan Worthy was a midshipman at George Washington University, and at the time had no interest in aviation. A friend talked him into going to an aviation physical, and was an opportunity for him to be excused from Physics class, so he went. And that started his journey into aviation.
While in flight school, he fell in love with flying. After training in Pensacola, he attended H-46 helicopter training, his first choice. The primary mission for the H-46 was logistics service for the fleet.
Among his numerous deployments, he was Officer In Charge (OIC) of a naval unit in Iraq.
He had four back-to-back cockpit tours, then became the Aide-de-Camp to the Chief of Naval Operations.
Alan had numerous staff tours, including being in Ukraine during the time of the Russian invasion of Crimea.
He currently Director, Aviation Safety at Commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific. He has two Master's Degrees: Military Studies and Global Leadership.
If you are in the job market (and you definitely will some day be in the job market!) you will discover that sending out resumes and using the "shotgun approach" will probably not work very well.
Virtually every job I've ever had, other than the Air Force, was obtained through networking:
Networking with Bill Arnott got me my interview with Clay Lacy Aviation
Networking with Bill Arnott got me my interview with United
Networking with Gordie Cohen got me my interview with Lockheed
I got my job teaching at Metro by walking in to the Aviation Department and chatting with the Department Head. No networking. But I got my job (at the same time) teaching for Embry-Riddle through networking with Jim Savard, who had used my B727 training videos and recommended me.
I got my job interview at FlightSafety International by networking with my friend Harv LaFollett.
I suspect someone recommended me for my job at Jet Airways.
I got my job interview as an IOSA auditor with ARGUS Pros through networking with former Denver Chief Pilot Joe Swenson.
I got my interview at Boeing through a former Jet Airways pilot who hand-carried in my resume.
I got my telephone interview at Omni Air International through the recommendation of another Boeing instructor.
I got my interview with United (this time) through networking with former RFT guest Nick Hinch, who works at United.
Custodio earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Puerto Rico and worked for various industries before landing a job in the accounting department of Prinair (Puerto Rico International Airlines). There she met Edwin Custodio, with whom she would eventually have two children. She later worked for the US Department of Defense (DoD) in Panama. With the support of her husband, she presented herself before Headquarters, Air Force Military Personnel Center (AFMPC) to apply for the United States Air Force Officer Training School. Upon admission, Custodio was accepted as a pilot candidate to become a United States Air Force pilot.
She entered the Flight Screening Pilot Officer Training School in January 1980. After successful completion of Flight Screening she entered Officer Training School and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. She qualified for Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas and graduated the following year, thus becoming the first Latina to complete the U.S. Air Force military pilot training.
Her first military assignment was that of instructor pilot at Laughlin AFB. She was the first female to become a Northrop T-38 Talon (T-38) UPT flight instructor at that base. The T-38 Talon is the Air Force’s two-seat, supersonic jet trainer. On one occasion a bird struck the engine of her plane in bad weather while she was in flight. She was able to overcome the emergency and safely land her plane. Because of this she was recognized by the Air Force, and awarded the HQ AETC Aviation Safety Award for superior airmanship.
Custodio was later assigned to Randolph Air Force Base where she was also the first female T-38 Instructor Pilot. During her career she also served as Pilot Instructor Training; T-41 Flight Screening – Operations Officer and Check Pilot.
Custodio retired from the Air Force with the rank of lieutenant colonel in October 2003, after serving in the military for 23 years and 10 months. Her last assignment as an Air Force Reserve officer was that of accountability and readiness the Directorate of Personnel, HQ USAF.
In June 1988, while she was serving in the US Air Force Reserve, she was hired by American Airlines as a commercial pilot. Custodio became one of the first Latina commercial airline captains. During her years with American, she flew various types of aircraft. She piloted the Boeing 727, Fokker 100, Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 to various countries in Europe, the Caribbean, Central America and South America. She also flew to Mexico, Canada and to various cities in the United States. Custodio retired from American Airlines in February 2008, with over 11,000 flight hours.
Custodio retired from the military after 24 years of service and lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband. There she founded “Dragonfly Productions LLC,” a production company that creates personal film documentaries. In 1992, she founded the Ballet Folklorico Borikèn, the Puerto Rican folk ballet.
Custodio is a Trustee of the Order of Daedalians Foundation, a Board Member and Treasurer for the Women in Aviation Alamo City Chapter and Board Member for the Dee Howard Foundation. Custodio also serves as vice president of the Hispanic Association of Aviation and Aerospace Professionals (HAAAP). These organizations inspire young students in the San Antonio and surrounding areas to seek civilian and military aviation careers. They hosts students to tour various airplanes and control towers and also speak to students in all grades to present career opportunities in aviation and aerospace.
From Associated Press , August 14, 1986:
ATLANTA (AP) _ Relatives of an American who was freed from a Vietnamese prison after an attempt to smuggle out two Vietnamese women said Thursday they feared he had been killed by China Sea pirates.
Robert Schwab Jr. of Atlanta said his son called Thursday from Bangkok, Thailand, after a 16-month disappearance.
Robert Schwab III, 43, was taken to Thailand after being released by Vietnamese officials, said White House spokesman Larry Speakes.
″It seemed like a dream. I had been so convinced I would never see him again,″ the elder Schwab said at his home in an affluent Atlanta neighborhood.
″We had a rather brief conversation,″ he said as his eyes filled with tears. ″He said ‘How are you?’ and I said ‘Great, but how are you?’ He said he was going to be perfectly OK.″
Another White House spokesman, Dan Howard, said Schwab left Vietnam without the two women. It was not known when he would return to the U.S.
The younger Schwab, called Robbie, also is the son of Mrs. Robert Davis of Atlanta.
The elder Schwab said Richard Childress, director of Asian affairs for the National Security Council, had telephoned Wednesday with the news that his son had been released.
Schwab and his sister, Nan Pendergrast, said he had sailed for Vietnam in an 18-foot boat from the Philippines on April 19, 1985, in an attempt to smuggle out a Vietnamese woman named Mai and another family member.
Investigators discovered that Schwab had left for Vietnam by himself, and the trail disappeared in the China Sea.
″It’s a 1,000-mile journey across the China Sea to Vietnam, and he’s a lousy sailor,″ Mrs. Pendergrast said. ″We checked and found there were no typhoons in that period, but the China Sea is full of pirates. We thought a lone man on a sailboat might be easy prey.″
Schwab became friends with the women’s family while living in the Southeast Asian nation during the Vietnam War and later working for the U.S. Embassy. There was no romantic involvement between the two, Schwab’s father said.
However, the younger Schwab’s friends identified the women he sought as his fiancee and a child he believe was his. The friends also identified the woman as Trai.
″He had been one of the last Americans to be airlifted from the embassy when Saigon fell,″ Schwab said of his son. ″He had thought about taking the girl out then, but decided she should stay with her family. I think it had bothered him ever since, especially when refugees told him they knew the girl was very unhappy.″
The elder Schwab said his son had no contact with the Vietnamese family during his incarceration, and that Vietnamese police had questioned the girl about Schwab.
″I’m sure they thought he was a spy,″ the elder Schwab said. ″As to why he did such an outlandish thing, he hoped that such an open attempt to come to Vietnam, with the assumption he would be taken into custody, would lead the Vietnamese government to make a grand gesture.″
Ms. Pendergrast said her nephew had written her shortly before he disappeared and told her he was going hiking in the mountains and probably would be out of touch for several months.
But family members began to worry after three months passed with no word.
Schwab said he contacted friends at nearby Fort McPherson, who asked the commander of Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines to search for Schwab. Navy intelligence officers joined the search, along with a private investigator hired by Schwab’s mother, he said.
Lt Col (ret.) Wendy Emminger is an Arizona native who is a 2003 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology. She was a 4-year member of the USAFA Women’s Soccer team, team captain, MVP and 4-time member of the Mountain West Conference All-Academic team. She was even on the ballot for Academic All-American. She had the opportunity to continue her soccer career after the Academy by being a 6-time member of the All Armed Forces Women’s soccer team and even got to fly her team to the Military World Games in Brazil.
Wendy attended Pilot training in Columbus, MS and received her first choice to fly the KC-10 at Travis AFB, CA. She attained the highest academic average in her class, missing only 2 out of 517 questions, earning her the Academic Achievement Award. She was also awarded the prestigious Air Force Association Award.
During her time in the KC-10 she was an Instructor, Evaluator, Formal Training Unit (FTU) Instructor and Functional Check Flight (FCF) Pilot. She was Distinguished Graduate of both her Aircraft Commander and Instructor Pilot upgrade as well as Squadron Officer School. She was named Group and Squadron Instructor Pilot of the year, Squadron Aircrew of the Year and commanded the Operation’s Group Team of the Year. She deployed 7 times in support of Operation Iraqi and Enduring Freedom flying over 170 combat missions and was named as the Expeditionary Operations Group Team of the Month three times.
She was then selected for a special assignment to E-3A NATO AWACS Component in Geilenkirchen, Germany where she served as the Executive Officer to the Component Commander, a 2-star General, and led a multinational staff responsible for administration of an International Headquarter of 1900+ military and civilian personnel from 16 nations. It was in Geilenkirchen that she was selected as Field Grade Officer of the year and also found out about her selection to attend the German Joint Staff College in Hamburg, Germany as well as her early promotion to Lt Col (2 BPZ), putting her among the top 1% of her peers.
After attending a year of language training in Monterey, CA, Wendy moved to Hamburg to represent the US Air Force to 89 elite officers from 15 NATO/EU states. During her first year at the Academy she found out she was selected for Command of the KC-46 Formal Training Unit in Altus, OK. Unfortunately, she was never able to take command because she was blindsided by a case of severe depression that ultimately led to her being medically retired from the military.
Wendy is currently studying to become a Parayoga Instructor and will be attending the prestigious Thunderbird University in Arizona to attain an Executive Master in Global Management this summer with the hopes of opening the Emminger Leadership and Wellness Institute in the future. Her goal is host corporate retreats and fuse the lessons of leadership and resiliency she’s learned through 30 years of participating in team sports, operating as a military aviator as well as suffering through a severe mental illness with the principles of Yoga to improve corporate culture, create sustainable, diverse teams and build more empathetic and resilient leaders.
WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Friday issued an emergency airworthiness directive for 2,000 U.S.-registered Boeing 737 NG and Classic aircraft that have been in storage, warning they could have corrosion that could lead to a dual-engine failure.
The directive covers planes not operated for seven or more consecutive days. The FAA issued the directive after inspectors found compromised air check valves when bringing aircraft out of storage.
Craig Barton may have the most difficult parking valet job in history.
As airlines around the world have grounded substantial numbers of their planes after the coronavirus pandemic decimated travel, the head of technical operations for American Airlines has spent the past two months trying to figure out where to park hundreds of planes. We’re talking aircraft like the $375 million Boeing 777-300ER, a wide-body that’s 242 feet long, with a wingspan of 212 feet.
“It’s not the same as just putting your car in your garage and walking away for a month,” Barton said. “There’s not one place in the world where we could stick a few hundred airplanes.”
Since January, as COVID-19 has spread across the globe and governments have ordered stay-at-home lockdowns, people have stopped flying and bookings have vanished. By the second week in May, the Federal Aviation Administration was reporting that the number of commercial flights operating in the US, both domestic and international, had dropped 71% from the same period last year. Airlines, many of which had been on years-long aircraft buying sprees, suddenly found themselves with more planes than they needed. That left them with only one option: Keep the extra planes grounded until demand for air travel returns.
According to Cirium, a data and analytics firm that focuses on the travel industry, about 17,000 jets are now parked worldwide, representing about two-thirds of all commercial airliners.
It’s not just a terrible financial prospect for an airline — an airplane not carrying paying passengers is a depreciating asset — it’s also billions of dollars of highly sophisticated aircraft, all needing parking spots. And it’s about more than just finding a place to wait out the pandemic, says Barton, who’s responsible for overseeing American’s fleet of 950 planes. Every airliner also needs constant attention so it’s ready to return to the sky. “We have almost daily tasks that we have to do on each one,” he said.
LOOKING FOR A PARKING SPACE
What does a parking lot of planes look like? I went out to Oakland International Airport, across the bay from San Francisco, to see for myself.
Out in the distant reaches of the airport, far from the terminals where they might receive fresh loads of passengers, about a dozen Alaska Airlines Boeing 737s sat silently in the spot where they’ve been parked since March. Lit by a setting sun that gave their shiny white fuselages a warm glow, the planes rested close together near a disused hangar, the Eskimo face on every tail smiling over a chain-link fence into an empty employee car park. Further out, near the bay’s shore, a dozen more 737s in the bright blue, red and yellow livery of Southwest Airlines also shimmered in the fading light.
It was clear none of these airliners were going to be taking off anytime soon. The wheels on the landing gear were secured with bright yellow chocks, and the engine intakes were covered by what looked like plastic wrap. Overhead, where normally a plane would be taking off every few minutes, the sky was eerily quiet. If the fur-hooded man whose face is the logo for the 88-year-old Alaska really knew what was going on, his broad smile surely would’ve faded.
The scene at Oakland is just a small slice of the new reality being played out around the world because of COVID-19. At major hubs like Dallas-Fort Worth and Hong Kong and at sprawling airports in the deserts of the southwest specifically designed for storing aircraft, commercial planes crowd aprons and taxiways, sometimes even spilling onto runways that’ve been closed to fit them. In some places, they’re lined in neat rows. In others, they’re packed in formations so tight they look like they’d need an army to untangle.
American, the largest airline in the world, is parking aircraft not just at its DFW home base, but also at airports in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Pittsburgh, where it operates large maintenance bases, and at facilities in Mobile, Alabama; San Antonio; and Greensboro, North Carolina. Other airlines are also parking their planes in multiple locations, but with carriers everywhere the goal is to use whatever space is available. Teruel, Spain, is a popular choice for many European airlines, and faced with little room in the city-state of Singapore, the country’s flagship carrier has flown its giant Airbus A380s to remote Alice Springs, Australia.
The engine inlets of the parked aircraft are covered to, among other things, prevent birds from nesting inside.Kent German/CNET
Though American had monitored possible effects from the coronavirus since the first reports of the pathogen began to surface, the plane-parking efforts didn’t begin in earnest until the second week of March.
“It became clear that our flying operation was going to be much smaller than the number of aircraft that we have,” Barton told me in a Zoom interview from American’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. “Everything has been changing so dynamically, even within a week.”
Using its network operations team, American reduced its schedule from more than 3,300 flights per day at the end of February to less than 1,000 by May. The airline has now parked 460 aircraft, which represents almost half its fleet. And for some of the planes still in service, they might be “lazy flying,” which means they make one or two trips a day, instead of a normal schedule of four or five.
This level of storing airplanes is unprecedented, said Barton, who recalls when American had to park some aircraft after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks (when US airspace was closed for two days) and during the subsequent air travel slowdown. But the airline’s effort over the last year to park its fleet of 24 Boeing 737 Max aircraft, which are still grounded worldwide following two crashes that killed 346 people, gave it a place to start.
“We had some experience over the past year in what it takes to keep aircraft down for extended periods of time,” he said. “And that’s honestly helped us.”
READY TO FLY
Most of American’s parked aircraft are in an “active parked state,” which means the airline can call them back into service at any time. Barton explains: “We know we’re not gonna fly for a few days, but we still have to look after it.”
These are typically newer aircraft, like American’s Boeing 777s and 737s and its Airbus A319s, A320s and A321s (American is the largest operator of the narrow-body A321, which costs about $118 million). No matter how long an active parked state lasts, from a few days to several months, the process starts when a flight crew ferries the aircraft to its parking location. For two to three days after it arrives, mechanics walk around it to check the interior, pull off any catering, drain the water and seal up the engines, pitot tubes (small tubes near an aircraft’s nose that measure airspeed) and any other access points to prevent animals and anything else from getting inside.
After that prep work is completed, the plane enters a short-term storage program where maintenance workers must perform set tasks every 10 days. The list includes running the engines (with the coverings off, of course), rotating the tires, running the Auxiliary Power Unit (these power an aircraft’s electrical system when the engines aren’t running), turning on the air conditioner, running the flaps systems to exercise the hydraulics, and either keeping the batteries charged or unhooking them completely. (Extra care is necessary on a Boeing 787 to keep its batteries from draining — an expensive repair.)
And during this time, the plane’s existing maintenance calendar doesn’t stop, even when it’s sitting on the ground. Much like a tune-up for your car, these routine checks keep an airplane in service for decades.
Every 30 days, an aircraft gets a little more care, but the schedule mostly repeats on the 10-day cycle. It’s a lot of work, but Barton said the goal is to protect American’s multimillion-dollar investment by making sure the aircraft still function. “Touching an aircraft every 10 days — you have to put about eight hours of work into it every 10 days,” he said. “So it’s more or less a person a day per airplane we park to try to manage the storage program.”
Reactivating a plane for service, which takes about three days, basically reverses the storage intake process. Mechanics take off the coverings; restore and purify the water systems; check the fuel tanks and lines to clear any algae; and finish any maintenance checks still on the aircraft’s calendar.
“If you’ve stored it properly, you’ve validated throughout the whole process that the aircraft systems still work,” Barton said. “So it’s not like you’re going out and hoping that the airplane will start back up.”
If they expect that an airplane will be parked for a year or so, airlines prefer to store it in a desert location where drier air results in less corrosion. Barton says keeping an aircraft’s cabin free of humidity is key. “[That way] it won’t start to smell. That’s what we worry about the most.”
Long-term storage locations in the US include Pinal Airpark in Marana, Arizona; Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California; and Roswell International Air Center in New Mexico. These are also aviation “boneyards,” where airplanes long out of service waste away under the hot sun. All have arid climates and plenty of room to fit hundreds of aircraft (Roswell is more than 4,000 acres), from Boeing 747s to small regional jets.
Mark Bleth, the manager and deputy director in Roswell, said demand for space from airlines ramped up quickly in March. “We could see it was inevitable planes would be coming here, ” he said. “We didn’t know the scale of it, no one did.”
By the first week of May, Roswell had taken about 300 aircraft, on top of 160 that were already there. The airport has room for about 300 more, but if new planes continue to arrive at their current pace of about five per day, Roswell will run out of room by the end of June.
And at Pittsburgh, a long line of Embrarer regional jets look like they’re waiting for takeoff.American Airlines
The daily parking fee — between $10 and $14, depending on the aircraft’s size — is cheaper than parking in downtown San Francisco. Much higher costs come from the necessary maintenance, which involves onsite MROs, or maintenance, repair and overhaul providers. Bleth estimates it takes about 200 hours to get an aircraft into long-term storage, plus the time needed to handle any regular checks after that. The tasks here are similar to those for a plane in active storage but include installing window coverings to protect cockpits and passenger cabins from the sun and paying extra attention to the engines so they don’t corrode.
I talked to Bleth via Zoom as he stood on the edge of a taxiway under a bright blue sky. Behind him, a line of United Airlines Boeing 757s stretched far into the distance. It looks like the airport could span all the way to Texas, but Bleth said they still had to close a runway temporarily to store new arrivals and move aircraft already there to remote areas. “There was quite a bit of restructuring just to start intaking the planes,” he said. “Now we’re reshuffling again to optimize everything they have.”
Most of the planes arriving at facilities like Roswell are those that airlines don’t plan to use again. For American, that includes its Boeing 767s and 757s and the Embraer E190s and Airbus A330s it inherited from its 2014 acquisition of USAirways. Those aircraft were already on the books to be retired over the next couple of years, but the travel slowdown accelerated that schedule. (Roswell is also storing American’s 737 Max fleet until the planes can be recertified by the FAA to carry passengers again).
Aircraft set for retirement face a variety of futures. They can be sold to other airlines, converted to freighters, an especially busy market right now, Bleth said. Or they may be scrapped completely for parts. American’s McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, which retired to Roswell last year, will most likely meet the latter fate. But with air travel nowhere close to rebounding, Bleth expects a full house in New Mexico for a long time. “We’re thinking this inventory will be here for a while, whether it’s resold or it’s still part of the airline.”
BACK TO THE SKIES
Barton doesn’t know when air travel might return to “normal” — the TSA is screening about 95% fewer passengers in May than the same month last year — though he hopes July could show some improvement. When and if that point comes, American, like most other airlines, will have a leaner fleet, but the goal is to keep all parked aircraft feeling as if they’ve never stopped flying. As he put it, “the whole process is designed around ensuring that when the aircraft comes back into the operation it’s as safe and reliable as it was when it entered into that storage program.”
Barton said American is putting together what it believes to be the safest way to run an operation in the postcoronavirus world. Like all major US airlines, it’s reducing onboard service, regularly “fogging” cabins with disinfectant between flights, limiting the number of seats sold and requiring the cabin crew and passengers to wear masks.
Like all other airlines, its aircraft also use High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters that completely change the cabin air every two minutes while filtering out 99% of viruses and bacteria.
The biggest question, of course, isn’t just when passengers will feel safe traveling again. Rather, with large-scale events like conferences, festivals and sport tournaments canceled for the rest of the year, will there be anything to travel for? Ryan Ewing, an aviation journalist and founder of AirlineGeeks.com, said the industry’s return will depend on when those business and leisure opportunities open up again.
“It’s very bizarre and it’s very bleak for the outlook in the long term,” he said. “But it’s hard to predict this kinda stuff, because you never know when people might want to fly again. … People may be so tired of being in their houses, that they’ll wanna get out and travel.”
Mathieu started out as a fighter pilot in the French Air Force. He started flying General Aviation airplanes and was accepted into the French Air Force at age 18.
During his flight training, he was selected into the fighter pilot track. He trained in the Alpha Jet, and then was initially assigned to fly the Mirage 2000. He flew only air-to-air missions, flying between 12-24 flights per month.
As an under-contract officer, Mathieu concentrated on flying, not having administrative duties. There was no expectation to serve in headquarters assignments.
In his 14 years of active duty, Mathieu flew fighters for 8 years, spending most of his time as an Instructor Pilot (IP).
While in the Air Force, he bought a powered ultralight aircraft, taking his first flight solo.
After leaving the Air Force, Mathieu earned his civilian pilot ratings and pursued an airline career. He was hired by a major airline after a demanding interview and simulator check. He is based in Hong Kong, and now flies the Airbus A-330 in international service.
Mathieu flies with pilots from a variety of countries and backgrounds, and all operations are conducted in Aviation English. He is currently at the bottom of his company’s seniority list, but he maintains a positive outlook about the airline career.
He hosts the 9G podcast, and we hope all of the Ready For Takeoff Podcast listeners will tune in, especially this episode!
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.