When the USA declared war, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I was 20 years old and working in the accounting department at the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry-dock Co, in Kearny, N.J.
          I was tempted to join a service immediately. as my two younger brothers had done, but my Mother would be alone with no support [I was earning $55 a month and giving it all home]. She asked me to stay home until I was 21. On 13 April 1942,I signed up with the Army Air Corps for flight training. I passed all the exams and physical but had to wait until October for an opening in Cadets, On the day that I left home, the Army paraded us down Broad St. in Newark, N.J.


          My first assignment was to Nashville, Tenn. for pre-flight training. I was appointed a Cadet Lt., mainly because I had a commanding voice. Thirty days later I was sent to Americus Georgia for Primary Flying School. My instructor was Mr. Paul Lohr, and we correspond to this day. Note, This is the same dirt field from which Charles Lindbergh also soloed. After 5 or 6 hours of dual instruction, I SOLOED in a Stearman PT 17, open cockpit biplane. Now, I was a pilot or so I thought, but it would be a long road until I received my wings and commission as a Second Lt,  in the Army Air Corps.
        Thinking of myself as a HOT PILOT, I would climb the airplane to around 3000 feet, roll over on my back and glide down, inverted, to a lower altitude. Of course the engine would quit because there was no such thing as fuel injection. At 1000 feet I would roll the plane again and dive it to get the propeller rotating fast enough for the engine to start. Great fun.
         I completed 60 flying hours and was sent to Courtland Field in Courtland Al. [Basic flying school] where I flew the BT13, a much larger and more powerful airplane, I had no trouble mastering this plane and flew about 60 hours in it. One of our missions was to shoot HURDLES with the plane. This entailed flying just above the stall and landing as close as possible past a string that was stretched about 15 feet high between two poles. It was a controlled crash every time that you tried it. The rivets in the integral fuel tanks would get  sprung and the tanks start to leak. We soon stopped that. This was similar to how we landed the U2 but we stalled the U2 very close to the ground, not 15 feet in the air.
          After Basic flying school, I was sent to  Craig field at Selma Ala. for advanced flying school. Here we flew the AT6, again a much more powerful airplane.
         I also flew the P40E, a REAL fighter plane. There is a story here too. I studied the tech orders for the P40F, a light airplane but when I got to the plane, it was a P40E. Much heavier and different controls. OK  I'm going to go. I took off and was amazed at the torque generated by the Engine that tried to pull the aircraft to the right. Full left rudder was needed to control it. I successfully got it airborne. Now is the time to pull the gear up.
         I lifted the gear handle and nothing happened. Well, OK, push the hydraulic power button. There isn't one. Here I am at 100 feet in a strange heavy plane and can't pull the gear up. I had a tech order in my flying suit pocket. I got it out, thumbed through it till I got to the page that told about retracting the gear. Remember, I'm still at 100 feet and sweating!!! The order said to gently pull the little trigger on the stick and that would activate the gear. I did and up it came. Things like this always happen to 'HOT PILOTS'
         I graduated on 28 July 1943 as a SECOND LIEUTENANT with Silver wings. Now, with a total of about 160 flying hours, I was ready for Fighter operational school and I was sent to Page Field at Ft. Meyers Florida to check out in the P47 Thunderbolt. [Note. As of 2003, I have amassed over 7000 flying hours in many types of aircraft, almost all in Single Engine planes.]
        When I arrived at Page Field, they did not have any aircraft. A few days later our first new P47 arrived. After it landed, a very petite young lady got out of the cockpit holding wooden chocks that she needed so that her feet would reach the rudder pedals. That knocked some of the hot pilot ego out of us.
        I flew about 50 hours in the P47D learning fighter tactics, formation flying, instruments and became very proficient in the airplane and was ready to go overseas and into combat. Fate decreed something different.
P47 Thunderbolt
P47 Thunderbolt

        One of our training missions was to climb to 35,000 feet, do a quarter roll and dive towards the earth, to learn how fast this heavy fighter accelerated. Being a Hot Shot Pilot, I climbed to 35000 feet, turned it on it's back and did a split ess. Boy, did I build up airspeed in a hurry. As I plummeted towards the earth the stick, which I was pulling back on with all my strength, became frozen, then as I got  lower, it became sloppy and loose. Scared me.!! Still pulling hard, and getting lower, the stick again froze and a short time later it responded to my efforts and I was able to level off at about 3000 feet. Of course, I had cut the power back after I realized that I was building up engine revolutions past the red line.
        I went back to the base and landed, pretty well shook up. A few days later Mr. Cartevelli, the design engineer from Republic Aviation was at our Squadron. I related my experience to him and he explained what had happened. Making the split ess maneuver, I had exceeded the COMPRESSIBILITY limits of the air craft. The airflow over the tail was burbling and that is when I lost control. As I entered the denser lower altitude, the aircraft slowed down and backed out of compressibility so that I could pull it out of the dive, 'WOW' , and I was only  a low time Second Lieutenant.


        After graduation, I took some leave and went to Newark, N.J. to visit my Mother and to see my  girlfriend Millie Giles. We dated a few times but made no firm commitment. At the time Millie was working for the Prudential Insurance Co. in Newark.  One day I borrowed a brand new light blue convertible Mercury from my good friend Robby Robertson. The mounted policeman let me park directly at the front entrance to the Prudential building, where over 10,000 gals had to exit. Of course I had my suntan uniform on, Gold Bars and Silver wings. I'll wager  that at least 9000 of the young ladies would have liked to climb in with me, but I waited for Millie.
The church in Ft Meyers, FL where we were married Sept 1943
The church in Ft Meyers, FL where we were married Sept 1943

        As Millie puts it, I called her in late august and said 'Come on down to Florida and get married now or forget it'. She quit her job on Monday {after 5 years working there } and headed for Florida. She was able to get a room at the Royal Palm Hotel in Ft. Meyers Fla. The pilots were restricted to the base so she had to come out to see me. We sat on a bench on the flight line [there was no officers club] and fed the mosquitoes.
          We were married on Labor day, 6 Sept. 1943. It was a little embarrassing for Millie to tell the  clerk that she now wanted a double room.
        Getting married wasn't that easy. First We had to get a license, blood tests etc., and then find a preacher. When we did locate a preacher, we were told that he was out hunting and they didn't know when he would return. Another couple, that also wanted to be married, had been waiting three days for his return. A friend helped me buy a ring and Millie and I waited a couple more days for the preacher. He finally did return and we were married.

State of Florida, Lee County
Marriage License No. 39452
To any minister of the gospel, or any officer legally authorized to solemnize the rite of matrimony:
Whereas, application having been made to the County Judge of Lee County, of the State of Florida, for a license for marriage, and it appearing to the satisfaction of said Couty Judge that no legal impediments exist to the marriage now sought to be solemnized,
These are Therefore, To authorize you to unite in the
Holy Estate of matrimony
John Henry Meierdierck and Mildred Marie Giles
and that you make return of the same, duly certified under your hand, to the County Judge
Witness, my name as County Judge, and the seal of said court, at the Courthouse in
Fort Meyers, this 5th day of September, A.D. 1943
Charles Ward, County Judge
I Certify, that the within named John Henry Meierdierck and Mildred Marie Giles were by me,
the undersigned, duly united in the Holy Estate of Matrimony, by the authority of the within
License, Done this 6th day of September, A.D. 1943, at Ft. Meyers, Florida.
Witness Mrs. H.V. Grosshuesch    W.A. Myres
Witness Wade B. Lewis, Jr.    Ft. Meyers, Florida
Returned this 8th day of September, A.D. 1943 and recorded in Marriage Book 6, page 181,
Charles Ward, County Judge.


          After finishing fighter school, I was sent to Tallahassee, Fl, to await shipment overseas. Things were very quiet so on Saturday, I visited my Primary Instructor, Paul Lohr, at Americus GA. Upon my return on Sunday I was told that two groups of my class had been shipped out and I was the only one remaining. Such is fate. I stayed around the base for a couple weeks and then was asked if I wanted to go to 'ground air support.' I took it and headed to Charlotte North Carolina. When we arrived there, the unit had moved to Camp Campbell Ky, so off on another bus ride.


          I was assigned to the 22nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in the 74th Tac. Rcn, Gp. Major Vincent Graves was the squadron commander and Col. Robert Monsted the Group Commander. [Col Monsted and I correspond regularly and we stopped in New Orleans to visit him this summer]. We were his guests at the New Orleans Country club for Dinner. I also gave a talk on our Monument and the U2 to a group of men rebuilding an A-5 plane.
          Our assigned aircraft were P40s. P39s L5s A24s and C45s. I got to fly all of them. We gave Air Support to the Army at various maneuvers and exercises. One of my assignments was to fly cover for the Army Navy football game at Philadelphia.
        I took the opportunity to go up to Newark to see my Mother. Returning to  the Navy base where we had left our two P-40s, I flew the first mission. The objective was to be sure that no small planes would fly near the game and endanger the crowd.   
        After the game I was in the mens room at the operations office of the Navy base, shaving and cleaning up, when a man in civilian clothes came in to take a leak  I asked him how the game was?. He said 'great'. I asked him if there were any planes bothering the crowd? He said only a couple Army P 40s that were buzzing the stadium.  I explained to him that we were there to protect him from the possibility of a small plane crashing into the stadium.  He left. I put my flying suit on and went into operations and saw him climbing into a beautiful Grumman plane.  I asked who he was and was told that he was the Under Secretary of the Navy..


         Our Squadron was chosen to go to the European Theater but first we went to Meridian Miss. to check out in our new aircraft, the P51 Mustang. Several Sergeants escorted the wives to Miss. as we had to fly. Upon completion of our training, Mildred with our first child, headed for my mothers house  in Newark and I headed for France.
        Our troop train stopped at Ft. Dix N.J. for a few days and I got to go home. On the way back to Ft.Dix, I filled the car with gas for Millie, The gas station had a leaky tank and I got a tank full of water. Here we are stranded on the highway and I'm late for my trip overseas. I was able to find a cab to take me to camp but had to do a lot of fast talking to get my name back on the shipping list.
        There was one harrowing experience on the trip over to Europe when the ship ahead of us in the convoy was torpedoed and we barely missed hitting it. Troop ships are no fun with thousands of men in the hold and most of them sick, As an officer, I had to check on them now and then but I just couldn't force myself to enter that area.
        We landed in France and rode in 40 and 8s to our first stop at Nancy. We were there for three or four days waiting to get our base at Hagenau ready.  One evening we went to a GI theater where there were a lot of Army combat ground troops just back from the front, I had a bottle of bourbon in my jacket and during the show it slipped out, rolled down my leg and softly broke on the floor.  There was a near riot when the odor permeated the theater since those troops hadn't had any booze in a long time.
          Our base at Hagenau was out in an open field with no buildings. We slept in tents and ate from our mess kits. There were 4 or 5 gals from the local town that worked in our mess hall. One evening as I had just finished my meal and was standing by the stove to keep warm. I guess I got too close and my pants began to smolder, The gals noticed and in German said 'heisen hosen' meaning: 'Hot Pants' and from then on I was 'Hot Pants Hank'  to the gals.
        The Squadron mission was Tactical Reconnaissance support of the Army and on our combat missions, we would fly over Germany, wherever the Army needed to know what was on the ground. We would go in two ship elements [F6D aircraft which were P51D planes with 6 -50 caliber guns and a small oblique camera in the tail] The leader would watch the ground and the wing man would watch the air for enemy planes. I flew 13 missions before the war was over. The day before the armistice, I flew over Munich and saw a JU 52 take off. I was tempted to go down after it but that would have sheer folly since we knew that the war would be over the next day and that all their anti-aircraft guns were around the base. I stayed at altitude and brought my mission info home. Besides, as Reconnaissance aircraft, we were under orders not to fire our guns unless attacked. On most missions we were able to find a good reason to use up our ammunition.
         During one of my missions deep into Germany, I spotted a contrail at a very high altitude and turned to intercept it. I headed toward the ME 262 and of course, at its great rate of speed, it passed over my head and headed back to its home. I then realized that there was no way that I could intercept it by flying straight at it. This was my first look at a jet and I learned from the experience. I never did see another but then, the war was over in a few weeks.
        On a test hop over the base with my wingman, I saw a strange P51 coming in from the North. I decided to investigate, and my wingman left me. I thought that it was friendly although the Germans had captured some of our aircraft. We both dropped our wing tanks and circled each other. We both decided that the other was friendly and no shots were fired. Later we received a wire from higher headquarters asking us not to intercept their couriers.
        As I pitched in the pattern to land, I hit the trigger and only three of my six guns fired. After landing and chewing my wingman out for leaving me, I had a chat with my armorer. He checked the guns and then asked me if I had my 'gun heaters on'  OOPS. That night I had my armorer in my tent and we got plastered on my booze.


        After about 25 hours in the F-80. I was sent to March Field in California from my home base at Langley AFB, to pick up an F-80 that had bellied in by one of our officers. This was great because I could get a few more hours in the aircraft. I filed a flight plan towards the East. I think that I landed at Tinker Field in Oklahoma because that was one of the few fields that had jet fuel available. A beautiful clear day and I arrived with plenty of fuel. Remember that fuel performance and cruise control were in its infancy. I refueled the airplane and then took off for Langley AFB in Virginia. Again with plenty of fuel, I decided to let down through the clouds about 20 minutes early and broke out right over the field.
        I was making wonderful time and having no problems. After I landed, the Wing Commander talked to me and said that they had been trying to contact me to get official timing  because the winds were very high. I didn't know about the jet stream and neither did many other people but the weather office at Langley A F B was  part of a group that was studying this phenomena and knew that they were very high that day. I ended up holding the transcontinental record of 4 hours and about ten minutes but  it wasn't official.
        The wing Commander even called Millie and told her what was happening  but I never got the glory for it. This all occurred about 1945


        The interesting problems of my and Millies efforts to get to Panama are covered in another section so good luck in locating it.
        Upon arrival, I reported to the base commander at France AFB in the Canal Zone and he asked if I was current in the C-47. I said 'no' and then he asked. 'Do you like to take trips'? Of course I answered 'Yes' He said 'get checked out'. That afternoon and evening I shot over 50 landings and I was current. The crew chief didn't like me wearing out a set of tires. From that day on until I retired in 1964, I was an Instructor Pilot in the C-47, or as it is tenderly called 'The Goony Bird' I think that I have about 1300 hours in that aircraft and I enjoyed every minute.
        There were no other planes to fly in Panama. but they were expecting Jets very soon.
           One day a reporter interviewed me for the local paper. I can quote the headlines "Although Jets will be something new to Panama. It's an old story to First Lt. John H. Meierdierck who has 44 hours of Jet time". In all of Panama, I was the only person that had any Jet experience. The following newspaper article, printed in Panama in 1948, describes a typical training mission of the 4th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron:


          First Lieutenant John H. Meierdierck, one of the jet recon pilots, was assigned to the important mission. Thiw was what he did before taking off. He reported at 6:30 a. m. to the intelligence Officer, 1st Lieutenant Robert A. Strait, from whom he received his instruction.
          He check his maps. He checked his equipment for the flight. A "Mae West" life jacket backpack parachute, one-man life raft packed with jungle and water survival equipment, crash helmet, oxygen mask, a 45 cal. pistol secure in its holster, goggles and a pair of gloves, were his equipment.
          Next he checked the ship. Getting into his flying equipment posed a problem. The Lieutenant felt like "Grandma getting into her Sunday bustle." Heavily laden, he climbed up the ladder assisted by his crew chief. The morning sun breath down hotly as though it was torrid enough to start the plane without using the starter.
          Sweat couldn't roll off his brow because he was covered from head to toe. His head, shrouded with crash helmet, goggles and oxygen mask, reminded an onlooker of a "Man form Mars."
          It was 7:50 a. m. and he could hardly wait to get into the "blue" to start the refrigeration system and cool off. However, he knew he'd be wishing he was back on the ground in twenty minutes as temperatures at 40,000 feet are about five degrees below zero in the Caribbean.
          He checked in with the Control Tower on the radio and received take-off instructions. Twenty-five minutes after take-off, the plane was over the target. Even though this was a training mission -- he carefully scanned the skies for enemy aircraft. It reminded Lt. Meierdierck of the time he flew a FP-51 on a Recon mission over Munich in March of 1945 and was attacked by a flight of ME-109's. Ever since he has been careful to always make certain that his was the only airplane over the target area.
          This is the most dangerous part of the mission, as a pilot must fly straight and level for one minute on a photo run. The the run was completed, he turned off the cameras, peeled-off and hit 600 miles per hour getting out of the area. He simulates evasive tactics to elude "enemy" fighters.
          Back at the field, he was met by Photo Technicians who swarmed over the plane removing the cameras so they could process the film. The pilot in the meantime reported to the Intelligence Officer for interrogation. One hour later the films were processed and at the Intelligence Office. This was a typical "close-in" mission, which took less than one hour to perform. A normal long-range mission usually takes about 2 1/2 hours.

        Since we didn't have any primary aircraft to fly, we were all assigned to ground jobs as additional duty. I was made commissary officer, for not only Howard AFB but also all of Central and South America. The first thing that I noticed was that the squadron mess sergeants had been given forced issues of many items that they couldn't use. [In those days, each squadron had its own mess hall.] I made many great friends with the mess sergeants when I told them to gather up all the items that they could not use and bring them to the commissary. They did and we added up their value and now they could go through the commissary and buy anything that they wanted with their credit, things like coffee, sugar, catsup, etc.
        We finally received our aircraft, Lockheed RF-80s. The photo version of the P-80. We mapped all of Panama. I planned a non-stop flight to the USA but never did get approval to go.
        As I was taking off one day in a RF 80 I noticed something on the runway. I said to  myself , "What is a black cat doing on the runway?' Halfway down my takeoff roll I  realized that the cat was about 5ooo feet down the runway and wasn't a 'Pussycat' It was a black Panther that had come out of the jungle. They are not native to Panama but a few years earlier some cats had escaped from a circus and this was probably one of them.
        I made many flights to South America, St. Thomas, and the USA in the C-47. We flew all over S.A. to deliver mail, food and supplies to our missions. It was great sport and I got to see all of the countries. On the trip to the USA ,I was flying in smooth clouds, I think over Michigan, on auto pilot when I ran into a hidden thunderstorm. The plane was flying at 160 MPH hit an updraft and suddenly we went to 180 MPH and gained 3000 feet. That was worse than a fast elevator and It got my attention. The autopilot broke and we never did get it repaired.   
        On a trip to Lima Peru, I purchased a complete set of Sterling Silver flatware [.995 Silver] plus some serving dishes etc. I also brought home some beautiful ceramic mugs and several cases of good wine. On that trip we rented the Honeymoon suite for the crew in one of the major hotels. The Peruvian coins were almost worthless and some of our guys were throwing them off our balcony [about ten stories high] onto a construction site next door. There was a knock on the door and the construction boss asked us to quit because the workers were trying to find the coins and  construction had halted.


        I guess that I am still well known for my ' Booze' runs to St, Thomas. This was the period right after the war and tourism was at a standstill. On my first flight to buy some whiskey, I met Mr. A. H. Riese. He owned all the liquor stores and distilleries on the islands.  We became very good friends since the divorcee business was nil and I would fly in every few weeks with a pocket full of money to buy Spirits for the clubs and people at my home base.
        Each time that I flew into St Thomas after that, Mr. Reise would be notified by the tower of my arrival time and three cars would be there upon my landing. One for me, one for any passengers and one for the crew. I would be driven to his liquor store, a rum drink would be handed to me and the workers would start putting cases of liquor on a pile with 'HANK' on them,  After another drink I would give Mr. Reise my list and his people would stack them up, load them on a truck and take them out to the plane. If I would mention that I was out of liquors, a case would appear with 'HANK' on it, the same with cases of wines.
        One of the memories that sticks in my mind is the back room or storage room at Mr. Reises store. He had cardboard cases of all kinds of liquor stacked about fifteen cases high. I guess that the damp humidity got to them and they all collapsed into a pyramid of bottles about ten feet high. Wish that I had a photo of that pile.
        Back at Howard AFB my quarters were stacked with many cases of all kinds of booze. At times we used them for seats. Whoever had a promotion or party on the base would contact me and they could have all the booze that they needed, for FREE.
        Our quarters at Howard AFB were directly opposite the small officers club, which was the one that was used every day. As the 'Drinkers' would leave the club late at night, the first thing that they would see was my quarters and my front bedroom window, {no windows, just screens} and of course they would say 'Hey, Lets wake up Hank and Millie'. I really didn't need that kind of popularity.


        Many years after that I again flew to St, Thomas with my wing commander [Col Gerald W. Johnson - later Lt. Gen.] as my co-pilot. We stayed at the same motel that I always had stayed at. Upon checking in the clerk said 'I guess that you are going to the party at Blue Beards Castle'?. I of course said 'Yes'. He told me where it was so Jerry and I went over there. We found an entrance at the base of the castle and wandered up to the patio where it looked like there was going to be a party. In fact I took over as bartender for the few people that were already there.
        More and more people arrived until it was quite crowded. We met lots of nice people but the hostess wasn't there yet. But now, here she comes making a grand entrance. I walked over and introduced myself and Col. Johnson. [note; she owned the hotel]
        I acted as if I had known her through the years. Later she asked Jerry several times 'What did he say his name was'? Well, we had a grand time, ate lots of good food and consumed too much whiskey.  We had to leave to fly back to Ramey AFB in Puerto Rico so we thanked the hostess [Her last words were 'What did he say his name was'? and we snuck out the way that we had gotten in.
        Of course it was dark and late but the crew and passengers were waiting for us at the plane. We had one little problem. A flight of Marine fighters had landed there and had the taxi way completely blocked.  I said 'I can solve this' and got out of the plane.
        Since the Marine planes were parked so that their tails were on a slight decline, I merely climbed into each plane, released the parking brakes and let them roll back into the jungle. We started our engines and taxied onto the runway.
        Then a vehicle with flashing red lights came in front of the plane. I told the Sergeant to go out and see what they wanted? He returned with a Marine corporal who said 'Sir, the tower said that you don't have a clearance so you can't take off' I told the corporal, 'Young man, you tell the tower that I am a Command Pilot with my own clearing authority and if you don't want a ride to Puerto Rico, you had better get off this airplane' He said
        'Yes Sir,' and jumped out the rear end and we took off  and went to Ramey AFB in Puerto Rico.  We landed safely and went to our quarters for a night of rest and to sober up.
        The next morning I was in Base Operations getting ready to fly back to Turner AFB in Georgia.  A man in civilian clothes, who seemed very agitated, was asking around for a guy named Meierdierck. I said 'Sir, what can I do for you.' He said 'I'm col. ???? the Director of Operations. Did you fly in here late last night through the air defense zone, without a clearance?' I said 'Sir, I prefer not to comment until I discuss this with my Wing Commander, Col. Gerald W. Johnson.'
         Luckily he was a good friend of Gerry's and Gerry had spent the night at his quarters. We headed home with a load of booze. For several weeks there were many wires from SAC to our base but we had it covered up and nothing really came of it.


         One more incident, involving Gerry Johnson, occurred at Manston RAF station in England. Our Wing commander at this time was Col. Cy Wilson and Gerry was his deputy. One afternoon Col. Wilson saw me in the Officers club and said, 'are you coming with us?' I had no idea of what he was talking about. 'Get some clothes and get down to the flight line we're leaving right away'. I ran to comply. He had three F-84s ready to go. He said 'Did you file a clearance' I said 'No, I didn't have time.' 'OK Lets go'. We three taxied out and asked for take off clearance. The tower said 'Sorry Sir, but you don't have a clearance to go cross country'  Col. Cy said 'OK Three F-84s taking off to fly local', 'Cleared for takeoff' said the tower. Ten seconds later Col. Cy. called the tower and said 'Tower change of clearance, three F-84s going Cross Country. 'We went to Lakenheath RAF Station and spent the night.
         The next morning when we were going to leave, the starter on Cy's plane didn't work. Bright idea! We'll spin the engine with the exhaust from another F-84. So we dug a hole  and put his nose wheel in it so the nose inlet would be even with the tailpipe of Gerry's  plane. Gerry started the engine. I was outside directing this very unorthodox experiment. The faster that Gerry revved his engine, the more black smoke came out of Cys tailpipe. We blew some of the antennae off the plane but we did get it started and off we went to Manston, RAF Station.
        I was up in a T-33 one morning alone on a test hop. Suddenly, I noticed that only one tip tank was feeding and the other was very heavy. I decided to fly at low level around the base and burn some fuel to lighten the plane and try to get the tip to feed. Then the engine quit and I was too far out to make the runway.
        I spotted a farmers field with just a little stubble and decided to land there. I dropped the tip tanks since one was still very heavy and headed for the field. Touch down was perfect. Later you could see where the main gear touched in the mud, then a little deeper tracks and when I had to lower the nose, there was a small ditch and it snapped the gear off. Very little damage for an off-runway landing.        
T33 Fuel Problem in the UK
T33 Fuel Problem in the UK

        One of the base officers had a new Lincoln delivered to him at Manston. That first evening he decided to take several of us into the nearby town  for a beer. We had just left the gate and were traveling down a narrow lane when he said 'We just hit 70 mph.' He ran smack into a telephone pole. I was in the front seat and was thrown up against the dashboard.
           When I awakened, all was quiet. I saw some headlights coming, ran toward them, I thought, but hit a barbed wire fence, was reversed and got to the road in time to stop the car. Everybody survived but I had a clavicular separation [collar bone] and that took me off flying status for a few weeks.


            Yes there is actually one more trip with Gerry. We took a C-118 to Bermuda. But I wasn't flying it; We had our usual wild time terrorizing the natives, We also bought many cases of booze. This time we had to face the customs people when we landed in Georgia. To solve the problem I had the crew chief take the soundproofing out of the walls of the plane and we hid the booze in there. Customs never did find it. While in Bermuda, we somehow had gotten separated and they all were in an outdoor cantina. I found out where they were and as I stepped over the low brick wall to enter, lightening hit nearby. I shouted 'It's OK, its only Hank coming in.'


          One more, actually two more. He and I were flying into Lindbergh Field in San Diego at Night. We had picked up about six sailors who wanted a ride to their base. Somewhere along the way we lost an engine.
          We continued on to San Diego and told the tower of our problem. I had never had an engine go out before in a twin engine airplane but I decided how I was going to handle this one. At 10,000 feet over the field I told the crew chief to lower the landing gear. He didn't want to do it  so I grabbed him and said 'Lower the _x#%^#_ gear'. He did it. We started to descend towards the traffic pattern. The approach to Lindbergh Field is over some apartments and a very steep descent is necessary.
        I kept up my correct approach speed and lowered the flaps in small increments and slowed the airspeed as needed while trimming out the asymmetric power from one engine so that  as I came down final approach I had no engine torque to give me a problem. We made a smooth touchdown on the runway and taxied to the off ramp. About that time one of the  Swabbies came to the cockpit and asked if they could leave the airplane. I said 'OK' and stopped on the taxi way. The last that I saw of them was their white dickies on the back of their uniforms flapping in the breeze as they ran down the field.


         This next one is very harrowing and could  have been the demise of about 27 Fighter Pilots.  I was taking 24 Fighter pilots from Turner A F B in Albany Ga. to March Field Calif. We stopped to refuel along the way and it shortly thereafter got dark. It had been a long day and as we passed over Las Vegas, all was going well. I was in the left seat in command and had the plane on auto-pilot at about 8000 feet. I fell asleep. Not really too unusual when you have a co-pilot to keep track of what is happening.
         I awakened after awhile and looked out the front. I could see the Los Angeles basin and the towns east of there very clear. Looked down and there was the Vegas-LA highway, full of traffic as usual. A few moments later I looked ahead and the lights of the L A  basin seemed to be smaller. This kind of perplexed me but having just awakened, I wasn't too alert yet. A minute or too later I again looked ahead and again there seemed to be fewer lights visible???. The problem hit me, I grabbed the yoke and threw the plane into a vertical left turn for 90 degrees. There about 10 miles away, on a collision course with our original heading was Mt. San Gorgonio, a snow covered peak of about 11,000 feet. We were probably three and one half minutes from hitting it.
        When I first arrived at area 51, Millie was still living at Turner AFB in Georgia. On some weekends I would fly back for a visit. Picture this, a long hard week of work, long flight to Albany, partying late on Friday night and again on Saturday and then a long flight West looking into the sun and I was all alone in the plane at high altitude. You guessed it, I would fall asleep at the controls but, the slightest change in noise would awaken me and I would be all over the cockpit to find out where I was and in what attitude the plane was in. Thrilling and a great test of  your reflexes.


F84G at Turner AFB 1950s C118 to Bermuda
F84G at Turner AFB 1950s
C118 to Bermuda
         At Turner AFB in Albany Ga.  where we were stationed for about six years, I did a lot of test flying the F-84 Thunderjet and flew several historic flights across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
F84G at 309th Sq.
F84G at 309th Sq.
        On one of my assigned test F84Gs, I had an ILS [Instrument Landing System] installed. Following this instrument would direct you to stay on the glide path to the end of the landing runway. We installed an automatic coupler to the autopilot so that it would fly the airplane to the touchdown area. The only nearby ILS ground installation was at Atlanta Municipal Airport.
        I would fly to Atlanta Municipal Airport and get a clearance from the tower to shoot approaches to the runway. I was really trying to calibrate the equipment so that I could get a smooth approach. The plane would lock on to the ILS and as I'd approach the runway, the equipment would try to keep it on track and would overcompensate making violent corrections on the glide slope so that as I got closer and lower I would almost be inverted and I would have to disconnect, add full power and zoom down the runway. I'm sure this was quite a thrill to the people on the ground that weren't used to seeing jet fighters let alone one blasting by  inverted at minimum altitude and making a lot of noise.


          During one summer, a friend loaned us an apartment on the beach in N.J. Millie and the children stayed up there for a month. I would fly up on weekends in an F84 Thunder Jet fighter. To let her know when to come to Lakehurst Naval Station to pick me up, I'd go about 20 miles to sea and head for her apartment at full speed at a very low level then pull straight up over the house. This, of course, would make a hell of a lot of noise  and scare the hell out of anybody  that didn't see me coming.  I finally quit doing that for fear of scaring somebody to death or causing an accident.


        In the meantime, back at Turner AFB in Albany Ga. I was busy helping to develop air to air refueling techniques for airplanes. We used T-33 aircraft. At first we had probes sticking out of our tip tanks and the trick was to stick this probe into a cone on the end of a hose hanging from a tanker plane. No easy task since first you had to line the tip up with the hose, 25 feet out on a wing tip, then if you pushed too hard the hose would loop up to the tanker and when it came back it would make the probe bend vertical with the hose attached and there you were. Besides, if you did fill one tank, it was very heavy and the aircraft acted very strange with one very heavy tiptank and you still had to fill the other one. Great fun. Progress and development did come.
        In the F-84 they installed a system that had a receiver in the wing root and the tanker plane had a boom sticking out and down and a man in the tanker could fly the boom and also extend it. The receiving plane now  had to fly in formation with the tanker and the boom operator would stick his probe into the receiver and pump fuel in at a great rate. A fighter could be fully refueled in about 5 minutes. All modern military planes, fighters, bombers, cargo and even helicopters now have this capability.
        We used these systems when we flew our pioneering mass fighter flights across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Some of the non-stop routes that we flew in F-84s were to Morocco via Bermuda and on to England, [code named Cocoa Alpha I and II]  and to England via Iceland and Greenland [code named Longstride] and to Japan across the Pacific but we stopped at Hawaii, Midway, Enewitoc, Guam and then Japan. [code named Fox Peter One ]The only air to air refueling needed over the Pacific was to Hawaii. By the way, the furthermost that you can get from any land, other than straight down, is between the Golden Gate Bridge and Hawaii, a distance of about 1500 miles. I planned and briefed all of these flights, flew them and navigated them from my F-84 cockpit. The following article was published in the Fighters In-Formation, the newspaper for Turner Air Force Base in Albany, Georgia, dated December 50, 1954, page 3. Accompanying the article was a photo of Capt. Meierdierck and Capt. Maggert.


          Effective teamwork, coupled with professional flying ability, served to change a serious emergency into a successful landing and earned two pilots of Hq. Sq. 508th Str. Ftr. Wg. nominations for the USAF "Well Done" Flying Safety Award. Captains John H. Meierdierck and Donald W. Maggert received the nomination after jointly averting a possible major aircraft accident during the 15,000-mile transatlantic and European mission, Coca Alpha II last October.
          Capt. Meierdierck, with his F-84G suffering complete hydraulic power failure and a dead radio compass, was assisted to a successful landing at Bordeaux AB, France, by Capt. Maggert, his element leader.
          To make the situation even rough, visibility was down to less than a mile, with ceiling of only 150 feet at the time of the landing; no CGA radar was available at Bordeaux; the field's inner marker beacon was inoperative; both aircraft were low on fuel.
          Only the Bordeaux outer marker beacon situated 10 nautical miles away from the field was a usable radio aid for letdown and low approach.
          Capt. Meierdierck's difficulties had begun when his hydraulic power went out over Madrid, Spain. He was flying number 24 position in a flight of 24 F-84G's which were on their way from Nouasseur AB, French Morocco, to Bordeaux. The flight was the third leg of a training mission originating and culminating at Sturgate RAF Station, England.
          He flew the aircraft without boosted control surfaces until becoming fatigued from fighting the excessive control forces. He then engaged the automatic pilot and continued on course, remaining in the vicinity of the formation without too much difficulty because of his number 24 position.
          Over Bordeaux and just prior to entering the top of a 20,000-foot overcast during the letdown and low approach.
         He advised his flight leader of the new difficulty and stated he would be unable to descend into the overcast in formation. This was because, lacking a dive break, Capt. Meierdierck would have been unable to maintain proper separation from the rest of the formation hidden in the overcast.
          Flying on relative radio bearings relayed by Capt. Maggert, Capt. Meierdierck's dive-break=up letdown proceeded without incident until the two failed to pass through the overcast at 3,000 feet as they expected to.
          A front had moved in over the field much more rapidly than anticipated and the ceiling was between a ragged two and three hundred feet with one-mile visibility in heavy rain showers.
          The two decided to continue their low approach instead of waiting for the weather to clear, as their fuel was running low. They maintained their inbound track and eventually established contact at 300 feet actual altitude. They continued down to 200 feet and flew beneath the clouds for the remaining 10 miles to the outer Bordeaux radio beacon.
          However, visibility was so poor as to make visual navigation impossible. Highly special effort had to be made by the two to follow an accurate track to the homing beacon. But with Capt. Maggert's continued and frequent assistance by giving relative bearings to Capt. Meierdierck from the wing position, the beacon was sighted only 100 yards left of course.
          The battle was only half won at this point, with another nautical 10 miles to the field remaining and visibility becoming increasingly worse.
          But, a successful outbound track was flown and the two aircraft were sighted in the traffic pattern, dead ahead on course. According to officials, this last feat would actually have to be accomplished by a person before he could completely appreciate the difficulty of maintaining an accurate course on relayed information to find a comparatively unfamiliarly field under low visibility conditions.
          When the field was sighted the ceiling had crept down to 150 feet and visibility was down considerably less than a mile. Using emergency landing gear extension and a manual extension of flaps, Capt Meierdierck landed with approximately enough fuel remaining for one successful go-around, had the first approach failed.

        One  July 1st, while at Turner AFB at Albany GA., we received a message from Strategic  Air Command that the 31st Fighter Wing will deploy to Misawa Air Base in Japan, with aircraft on July the 4th. Colonel Schilling, the Wing Commander and I flew to Omaha NE. to get the particulars on the flight. I was in the front seat, on a beautiful clear day, and we discussed the oncoming deployment at length. About an hour and a half into the flight, I realized that I had not been paying attention to where we were going and I didn't know where we were. I told the Colonel that I had to do a little searching to determine our position. This wasn't too easy but after about ten minutes of searching the airwaves, I was able to identify a station and then determine our approximate position. Well, we made it into Omaha with only 20 gallons of fuel remaining. [Just a few minutes of flying time].
        Can you imagine what General Lemay would have said if we had run out of fuel and had to belly it in someplace. 'Tell me again Colonel, you want to take 65 F-84 airplanes across the Pacific ocean and you can't even find Omaha on a clear day?'
        At  SAC  headquarters we had a meeting and Col. Schilling took one group and I the other and we made instant decisions to questions such as 'Will you drop your belly tanks on any leg?' I said 'yes' and just hours later a planeload of spare tanks was on its way to Hawaii. And during all of this preplanning, we didn't even know the route or refueling areas. The meeting was over and we headed for Turner AFB. Now the real work began since we only had a couple days before takeoff and I didn't even have a map of  the Pacific ocean.
         I made up the master set of maps for the first leg to Travis AFB with a practice mass air refueling enroute. We had never tried to refuel so many planes at one time before this. There were 65 F-84Gs scheduled and the pilots copied my master  map. Our plan was to fly one squadron to Wink radio in Texas, meet the tankers, continue on while the tankers regroup and meet the second squadron about an hour later and so on with the third squadron. Great idea except the tankers couldn't get back together for the second squadron so we had airplanes landing all over Texas for fuel and then going on to Travis AFB Ca.
          This really put us in a bind since we couldn't afford to have 65 airplanes over the Pacific and run out of fuel. Our new plan. Send the tanker squadron out, send one fighter squadron to meet the tankers, have the fighters go on to Hawaii and the tankers return to Travis and do the same thing the next two days. This worked quite well except that Col, Schilling couldn't get any fuel so he had to return to the mainland and Maj. Bob Keen brought the first squadron into Hickam AFB in Hawaii. To aid us in finding the tankers out over the ocean, we installed a radio beacon in the lead tanker and we could home in on them.
          Also Col Dunham, the deputy Wing Commander had a flameout enroute but managed to get it started at about 5000 feet above the water. The start was very HOT and burned up the tailpipe but he made it. I had an especially configured airplane with a true airspeed indicator, auto pilot etc, since I was to do the navigating for the trip to Japan. BUT, Col Dunham had a new engine put in his plane, I tested it the next day and he decided to fly my plane to Japan and I had to fly his. We both made it.
          I was in the first group to land at Eniwetok [where all the Gooney Birds live] and as one of the following flights of four came over the base to pitch out to land, one of the planes pitched down and out of the formation and crashed in the middle of the field. The pilot was Lt Col Elmer DE ROSA. A truly wonderful person and extraordinary pilot. No official cause of the accident was ever made but I have a very good idea of what happened. I can't be positive so I'll drop the subject. Note; This was where my brother George, a Marine private was written up in the Newark Evening News. The headline read 'Newarker never prayed so hard as the night that he killed 43 Japs from his foxhole during the famed Enewitok counter attack. '
          We continued on,  stopping at Hickham, Midway, Eniwitok Guam and on into Tokyo. The commanding General of the Far East met
us and praised our accomplishment and said 'You are slated for combat in Korea,' 'Great, just
what we wanted'.
Map of Fox Peter One Flight - TAFB to Misawa, Japan TAFB to Misawa, Japan
Map of Fox Peter One Flight - TAFB to Misawa, Japan
TAFB to Misawa, Japan
         The next day we flew to our base at Misawa in northern Japan. Overall, a very historic flight. Enroute we carried mail envelopes and had them stamped at each post office. Each pilot got several copies plus some that all the pilots had signed. I still have mine but I will give them to my son Jay for future distribution to my children and grand children.
Fox Peter One Book that I published

          Our base in Japan was at Misawa on northern Honshu Island. We had quite a few amenities there but still it wasn't like being stationed at home. One of the problems was the snowfall in winter. It amounted to over 400 inches and it was a problem to keep the runways clear for takeoffs and landings. Also while flying, there were continuous snow showers that inhibited your making a visual landing. You would wait till you saw a hole and dive through it and hope that the field was clear. Sometimes it wasn't and that is why we called these openings 'Sucker Holes'.
          We had time off now and then to go to Tokyo or to other small towns in the area. In the winter the local town had so much snow packed on the roads that you had to walk down snow steps of 4 to 8 feet to get to the stores entrance on the sidewalk. One of our retreats was at a small town on a lake and was named Osamuchie. They had a small hotel, good food and beautiful scenery and it was good to get away from the base now and then. While at Misawa, I compiled and edited a book called Fox Peter One [ the code name for our flight over the Pacific. I went to Tokyo for a few days and had it printed. It was dedicated to one of our squadron commanders, Lt Col Elmer DA Rosa, who was killed in an aircraft accident on Iwo Jima on the way over. A copy reposes in my library.
        Parties at the club were the way of life. Women were the only thing missing. One of the games that was played was called 7,11,21. It went something like this. You rolled dice from a cup. You counted only the aces. Whoever rolled the 7th ace named a drink [probably one that had several kinds of liquor in it] the one who rolled the 11th ace had to drink the drink before anybody rolled the 21st ace. If you were the roller of the 11th ace twice, that would be it. You had to leave the club with your hands balled into a fist so that nobody would step on your fingers.
        We had a haircut every day at the Base Exchange. They cost only a nickel and the Japanese girl barbers would give you a back and neck massage with each haircut.
        One of our squadrons was stationed on the island of Hokkaido at a place called Chitose. One day about 40 pilots flew up there in our F-84s for a party and it was a good one. About midnight our Wing Commander said 'OK, everybody into your planes, we're going back to Misawa' and we did. Some threw up in their masks but we all made it back safely?? Such was flying in the old days.
        After our arrival at Misawa, one of the pilots composed a song that went something like this; [I don't know the name of the original tune but here  we go.

We're sitting at Turner and hoping to stay at home with our wives for awhile
But the wheels up at Offutt planned all summer long and told us to wipe off that smile
They said go home boys and pack up your bags and do it as fast as you can
Your going to Misawa but that's not so bad, its the best little base in Japan.
{Refrain} It's a lie, it's a lie, its a lie, you know dam well it's a lie, so pardon us please if we don't seem pleased, it's a lie' it's a lie' its a lie.
We flew the Pacific in old Thunderjets from Hickam to Midway and Guam
I'm telling you buddy a guy really sweats while flying that Allison bomb [engine]
The General Met us as we taxied in 'Said men that's a mighty fine show,
your headed for combat he said with a grin and I know your all eager to go'
We went to Misawa that stateside resort and really enjoyed our short stay
with Geishas and Saki and all kinds of sport and it didn't snow one single day
Our three months are up now and we're going home , back to the place we adore
but now that its over why we all agree, we'd like to sign up for three more.
And we didn't stay just three months, one trip lasted nine months plus several three months trips to England. All in all it got pretty tiresome for the families not to have a man at home.


         On some of the long range deployments, I didn't make it without a serious problem. Probably the most harrowing was in a T-33 that I was flying to England. Capt. Virgil I Sansing and I flew two T-33s in formation. We were equipped with extra large wingtip tanks.[450 gallons versus the normal 250 gallons.] The tanks were fitted with a very long bolt that held the added sections tight so there would be no loss of pressurization in the tank which would, of course, result in you not getting fuel to feed from that tank. Somewhere over the North Atlantic ocean, my tip tanks refused to feed.
        I had some fuel in my center tank but that was going down fast. I had to make the decision as to whether to bail out over the icy terrain and get dragged to death by the wind blowing me in my chute as I hit the ground or belly land it on the icy rugged terrain and die in the crash. We headed on down to minimum altitude so I could find a level spot to land or bail out. I jettisoned my canopy so that it would be out of the way when I left the aircraft.
         The antennae for the direction finding radio was in the canopy so now I had no way to find our planned destination base, Bluie West one in Greenland. Sansing stuck with me. My main tank read 20 gallons and the engine was due to quit very soon. All this time I was veering to the left and Sansing would get on my left wing and force me to the right. His direction finder was working and he was trying to get me closer to the base so rescue would be easier. This was in the winter and we had been flying in ice fog that restricted our visibility. As we came out of the clouds at a very low level, I could see how rugged the terrain really was.
        Miracle of miracles, the main tank started to fill from the tips that were now feeding. At the lower altitude the air was much denser and this allowed the tank to repressurize and feed fuel to the main tank. Sansing kept me on the right heading. When I spotted the runway below me, I pitched up for a circle to land and dropped my tiptanks because one was empty and one was full and with the heavy weight on one wing I was sure to cartwheel as I slowed down on the runway.
        Everything looked and felt great until I tried to pull the stick back to flare over the runway. It was frozen tight and I couldn't move it. I just couldn't believe that after all that I had just been through, that I was going to crash on final approach. I pushed the flap lever to the down position and as the flaps came down, this gave me the added lift to raise the nose and I made a perfect landing, came to a stop at the end and all the base was out there to greet me. They had been following my exploit on the radio.
        I kissed the ground and then the crew chief asked if he could have the plane to take it into the hanger to put it back in flying shape. I said that the engine, etc. was OK but that I needed some new wing tanks and canopy. He started the engine and started to taxi. He went about 100 feet and the engine quit due to fuel starvation. The reason for the elevator controls freezing was that I had my luggage in the back seat and when I jettisoned the canopy, the wind force pushed the luggage against the stick and in effect 'freezing' it. CLOSE..!!!


Virgil I. Sansing [my saviour] and I when we flew a Japanese KATE
Virgil I. Sansing [my saviour] and I when we flew a Japanese KATE
         Prior to the central Atlantic crossing, [Cocoa Alpha flights] I had two navigators assigned to me. At that time I was the Program Manager in charge of the USAF program to test celestial navigation for jet fighters. We would pre compute what our sextant shots should be on our route, make good a takeoff time and then when I took a shot of the sun or moon, during daylight hours, I could determine by my numbers whether I was right or left of course or faster or slower than planned.  This system worked great when you had lots of time to plan a flight.
        I had proven the theory by taking off from Turner AFB in a F-84, going under the hood immediately and flying instruments all the way. At a preset time, I took my sextant shots, made a determination as to my position, made a 90 degree right turn and let down. At 5000 feet, I took the hood off and Bergstrom AFB in Texas was right in front of me.

        The final test was on a flight from Albany Ga. to the Azores. Code named COCOA ALFA. [CENTRAL ATLANTIC] I pre-planned the flight for about 60 fighters, sent my two navigators to Bermuda  with our complete itinerary including guaranteed take off times from Georgia and Bermuda. Off we go, from Turner AFB, right on time. When we arrived in Bermuda for a fuel stop and a guaranteed take off time, I expected my two navigators to have all my pre-computations ready to hand to me so I could use Celestial on the very long  over water leg to the Azores. They met my airplane OK and the first thing that they said was 'When are you going to take off?' I almost hit them. There was now no time for the computations so I navigated that leg by time and winds and distance.  Very dangerous for 60 airplanes. Off we flew, on time but with no celestial notes.
        I briefed the group on how long it would take and when we would see our first islands, etc. This was based on flying correct indicated air speeds, at briefed altitudes and forecast winds at altitude [Who knew the wind speed at 35000 feet over the ocean in those days]?. Dauntless and unafraid, we headed East over the water cause 'Hank' said we could make it with plenty of fuel to spare!
        Fighter pilots do a lot of chattering on a long flight of this kind. But as the time for landfall of our first island drew near and nothing but water as far as you could see, things got a little quiet as each wondered if I knew what the hell I was talking about when I briefed them prior to takeoff and would we all be swimming Eastward soon?
        I too was a little apprehensive because to tell the truth, I had no idea where we were. I figured that the wind forecast was way off so I got on the radio and said' This is Hank, That lousy dumb weather man didn't know what he was talking about and we will see some islands in about 15 minutes.  A wild ass guess on my part. That seemed to satisfy them and the chatter started again. But in 15 minutes there were no islands, I waited a couple minutes and said 'I can see them in the distance at about 2 o'clock' {I really couldn't} but they had to be near and luckily in about 6 or 7 more minutes, there they were and we all made it safely into the Azores.


         On one of the North Atlantic flights of 20 F-84s,[Operation Longstride] we had planned to leave Albany Georgia just before dawn, get in formation, refuel over Maine and again over Greenland and Iceland and on into England. Well the refueling locks on my airplane that grip onto the refueling probe from the tanker broke and I couldn't refuel, so I landed in Greenland. Got out of the airplane and told the ground crew to refuel it. Went into Operations and signed a clearance to Iceland. The base said that I couldn't fly the North Atlantic alone. I had my own clearing authority since I was a Command Pilot, signed my clearance, got in my F84 and took off. I cut it short and flew over the ice cap and when my tanks were empty, I dropped them so that I could catch up to the rest of the airplanes. I tried to refuel over Iceland but I couldn't get any fuel so I landed in Keflavik, Iceland.
        Strategic Air Command [SAC} had stationed control teams at all the bases enroute to help in case somebody had to abort, like me. But they were up in the barracks when I landed in Greenland and I had left before they knew that I had been there. They called SAC and said that I was 'On my way'. They also said that when the tower told me that I couldn't take off, I said 'Kiss my ass, I'm going anyway' Now you know that I would never say that to a control tower. General Le May heard about it and uttered his famous statement. 'STOP THAT MAN' Too late, I was on my way to England.
          When the main group of planes landed in England, they were escorted to the Officers club for some food and drinks. A few minutes later I startled everybody by walking in on the party. Even with my stops, I had almost beat them to England. At that time, I was the only pilot to fly the North Atlantic in a single engine jet fighter ALONE. The 31st Fighter Wing ,also stationed at Turner AFB took off with 8 F 84s and flew the central Atlantic route and after a stop in Morocco, they too flew into England. The code name for this deployment was LONGSTRIDE.

         On the return trip we all landed at Goose Bay Labrador and then at Bluie West One to refuel and spend the night. The next morning I checked the weather and briefed all the pilots on our route to Maine and also the runway length needed for the takeoff roll for our very heavily loaded aircraft. {We had four external fuel tanks on each plane} It was a short runway that ended up in a fjord.
        I was in the first flight and we went about 100 feet down the runway to allow the second four to also get on the runway. Part way through our takeoff roll I realized that we were in a lot of trouble because we were not going as fast as we should have been. I decided to give my wingman 50 feet and yank the plane into the air. This worked but it kind of scared us. The next flights had a warmer runway temperature due to our jet exhaust which meant a longer take off roll. At the end of the runway was about two feet of rocks and then a ten foot drop to the water in the fjord. We used a small tug boat to push the icebergs out of our path. To make this short, we all survived, most all planes hit the rocks and bounced into the air and several touched the water with their belly tanks. . WHAT CAUSED ALL THIS? ME ? The weather officer told me that we had a 15 knot wind but didn't say it was a tail wind on the runway. so this meant a 30  knot difference in the planned takeoff roll.
        Also, just as we taxied out, our weather officer jumped up on the wing commanders plane and said -It's zero zero at Dow AFB Me., our destination, but no sweat.' Great news so I began to figure out the course to our alternate base at Mc Guire AFB in N.J. Sure enough, it was clear all the way but fog covered the spot where we were going to land so on we all went to N.J. When we arrived there , the wing commander put all 65 planes in close formation for our penetration through the clouds.  But there was a thunderstorm  in those clouds and we ended up with airplanes all over the sky It is impossible for 65 jet fighters to stay in formation in a thunderstorm. We couldn't even see the plane in front of us that one would follow down. We all lived through that one too and after refueling, went to our home base in Albany, GA..


508th Strategic Fighter Wing Insignia
508th Strategic Fighter Wing Insignia
          I have to tell you about a formation that we flew and called a 'WINGDING'. We flew this formation while I was assigned to the 508th Strategic Fighter Wing and we were deployed to Misawa Air Base in Northern Japan. It is hard to describe and harder to fly but is a great show when seen from the ground, scary too.
          First you get all your airplanes in the air. We usually had about 65 F 84s. Then you put them all in echelon. The only instructions that the pilots receive is 'FOLLOW THE PLANE IN FRONT OF YOU'. So, the leader peels off and dives for the runway and flies the length of it at couple hundred feet. All the planes follow at the same altitude. Then he makes a climbing turn and dives for the runway at 90 degrees to the first level of planes, and passes under them. Next he makes another climbing turn and dives through the loop in the train of planes. Of course, some of them haven't completed the first pass. So you have airplanes crossing the runway at three levels at very high speeds. He will pull up and make another pass or two at the runway so that sometimes you have 65 jets in five levels and all screaming by and missing each other vertically by about 100 feet.  Scares me and I'm basically fearless. Those days are gone forever because no commander in his right mind would attempt something like that today.  He would be fired right then and there.


         Another interesting maneuver that we pulled and this also happened at Misawa AFB in Japan, could probably be called 'Screw the Army Anti-aircraft 5th Cavalry Division.' Our commander, Col. Cy Wilson visited the large Army base in Hokkaido Japan and during a conversation with the Army General, who commanded the 5th Cavalry division, the General stated that, with his anti-aircraft guns, he could shoot down every plane that attacked his troops. We of course said that we would put 65 airplanes over his guns and he couldn't shoot down even one bomb carrying plane. The bet was made, seems they had to provide the food and booze if they couldn't shoot down one plane. So I got the job of devising the tactics.
        Their guns were radar controlled and the secret that we knew was that the guns radar had to 'lock on' the target for 20 seconds before it could fire. So here we come with 65 planes. We had them in flights of three or four and continuously crossing back and forth in the formation so that as soon as a gun locked on one, another plane would cross in front and the gun would pick up that one and break lock on the first target. They had cameras in their gun barrels to record any hits. We flew back and forth over them for about 15 minutes and they never did score a hit, SO, the party was on the Army.


        That same General wanted a jet plane ride to Tokyo and I was chosen to take him there. We had a new T33 and I test hopped it that morning. It was in great shape. They also assigned a new crew chief to this plane, his first. We got the General in the plane but I had trouble talking to him on the intercom. We'll go anyway. As I taxied out, the crew chief didn't give me the hand signals to put the flaps down and to put the speed brake in. But the responsibility is mine since I was the pilot. Even the Mobile Control officer, a good friend of mine, didn't check my plane since he told me later that he did not know that we had a T-33. So I gave it full power and we start to roll. Normally, I can lift it off in a few thousand feet. When I reached that point I raised the nose and pulled up the gear. But she didn't fly, It settled back on the runway. I decided to cut the power and as it slid to a stop, I would walk out on the wing and jump out of a sure fire. Then I realized that I had a fat General in the back seat.
        The tail pipe was dragging and I was on the extended speed brake that was getting shorter by the second. I pushed forward on the stick to get the tail off the runway and hoped that I could get enough speed to get airborne. Luckily, I had ten thousand feet of runway. Hundreds of people were watching this and expected me to crash off the end.  But at the 9000 foot mark, I was able to get it in the air. WHEW!!!. Colonel Schilling scrambled an F84 to take a look at what damage I had and determined that the gear was O K  but the tailpipe was flattened. I flew around for awhile to burn off some fuel and landed back at our base, OK. They had a DC 3 ready and put the General in it and took him to Tokyo.
        Talk about a bad day. I was shipped to the squadron at Chitose and my promotion to Major was pulled. Every day can't be perfect. Every year when the promotions came out, I was the leader of the 'Sick Captains Club.' It took four more years for me to put on my Majors leaves. This in effect denied me future promotions, denial of senior schools and I retired as a Lt. Col. rather than possibly a Colonel or Brigadier General.


        During this period, at Turner AFB in Georgia, Robert S. Johnson, who was a Tech Rep for Republic Aviation and also a 28 victory ace from WW II, came to Turner AFB to make a movie or training film of the F-84. I was the Air Force technical and tactical advisor. Bob was one of our ranking aces and he and I hit it off perfectly. I felt kind of honored to be his friend. Years later we were in South Carolina and went to dinner at his house. Millie and I both agree that we have never been hosted in a more royal manner.


        During one of our trips to England, we were stationed at Manston RAF station on the southern tip of England. One of the officers that was  permanently stationed there had his car sent over. It was a new Lincoln. We all went for a ride in it. I was in the front passenger seat. About one mile down the country road the driver said 'We just made 70 miles per hour'. The next thing that I remember was waking up in the dark, nobody else moved in the car. I got out and ran in the mud to what I thought was another car coming, except that I was running in the wrong direction, ran into a barbed wire fence that spun me 180 degrees and then I was able to get to the road and stop a car. It seems that at 70 MPH he hit a telephone pole head on. The car was ruined and the other passengers finally awakened and were all OK. I had a clavicular [shoulder] separation and couldn't fly for a few months.


        Also in England some friends gave me an Irish Setter that was named Beecher. I kept him in my room at the Officers Mess, where we were billeted. One day I noticed a message on the bulletin board that read 'An American officer is religiously disobeying the rules of the Mess by keeping a Red Setter in his room'.
        Beecher was fun to have and also a large problem. He would go to operations with us and seemed to like the Wing Commander, Col Dunham and always put his paws on the colonels chest, muddy and wet. To confine him I tied him to an aerial target about 60 feet long. Even this did not deter him.
        One day a local farmer came onto the base with a Bobby and was looking for the owner of a red setter. I owned up to being the owner and was told that my dog had gotten into the farmers chicken coop and had killed 60 prize pullets. I went with them to the farm to see the damage. Sure enough, there were 60 chickens that had been scared to death. Luckily, the farmers dog had also been in there so I was only responsible for half of the damage. I paid the farmer and then demanded 'My Chickens'. They gave them to me and I took them to the Officers Mess and sold them to the mess and I think that I made about ten Pounds Sterling.
        Beecher's stories aren't over yet. It came time to rotate back to the USA. I left a few days early and one of my friends put Beecher on a B-17. When it landed in the Azores, it lost an engine and was delayed a week or so. When Beecher did arrive at Turner AFB there was a large crowd to greet him. Signs had been made out of rolls of brown paper which said 'Welcome Beecher' 'Change your pounds for dollars here'  and several others.
        We took Beecher to our home but two days later he disappeared. Hunting season was on and I guess he was stolen for a bird dog to hunt quail, the only problem with that was that Beecher was gun shy and would run away if you fired a shot near him.


         Col. Cy Wilson was my wing commander in the 508th Strategic Fighter Wing. We were scheduled to receive the new swept wing F-84F and one did arrive about 22 Dec. Col Wilson decided to take it to Bergstrom AFB in Texas for Christmas, as his home was close by.
        On Dec. 28, we needed a part for one of our planes and someone had to fly to Mobile Ala. in very bad weather to pick it up. I volunteered since I love to fly in instrument weather. I picked up the part and was filing my instrument clearance when the Sergeant in operations mentioned that there had been an F-84 crash at Pineola Miss. I said 'That's my Wing Commander Cy Wilson' The sergeant said that they did not have any particulars as to what model aircraft it was. How did I know?????. I took off and flew back to Turner AFB and upon landing I was met by Colonel Johnson and several other senior officers. Their first words were 'What happened to Cy?' They thought that I knew all about it.  Very strange.!!!.
          Later we found out that it was Col. Cy. It seems that he was at altitude and started to have engine problems as he was going through some clouds. Since there had been a rash of engine problems in the F-84F, he decided to try to bring the airplane down in one piece so we could find out what was causing the problems.
        Well it was a drizzly rain at lower levels, almost dark and he still stuck with the plane. He saw an open field, the engine was dead by now and he had very limited control of the plane, [The elevator control at this point is by electric and is toggled by a trim switch on the stick. The response is very slow and control is marginal]. The 'book' says to bail out since at that time I don't think there were any successful landings using this system, and he tried to land. Did a great job. We could trace his flight path through a wire fence, across a road and a smooth touchdown in a field, but at the last moment, a wing dug in and the plane cart  wheeled into a tree and a branch came through the canopy and hit his helmet. A highway patrol officer happened to see the crash and got Cy out of the plane but he died from his wounds in a few minutes.
        It wasn't all in vain. We did find the engine and the cause of the accident was compressor blade seizures. What happened was that as he passed through super cooled moisture at altitude, the compressor shroud would shrink. This would slow the compressor and the fuel control would sense this and put more fuel to the burners. This extra fuel made the blades hot and they would expand and scrape the shroud , etc,, etc,. Finally the slowed down compressor would have excess fuel and at a slow rate of speed, would blow up the engine. We found this problem and were able to fix all the other airplanes. I was honored to be one of his pallbearers when he was buried in a very small cemetery in West Point Texas.
        The story doesn't end here. Millie and I were very close friends of Cy and his wife, Charlene. We were transferred to another base, Charlene and the kids left Albany GA. and were not heard of for many years. Many people look to me to tell them the whereabouts of mutual friends. I keep up with many of them. On a trip through Texas I stopped to visit and old acquaintance, Capt. Tom Hunter. While having a drink on a rainy afternoon, he mentioned that Cy Wilson was buried nearby. I immediately said lets go find it. He didn't want to go in the rain and really did not know where the cemetery was. I persisted and we headed out. We stopped at a small country store and asked the lady that owned the store the directions to the cemetery. She said 'Go down this dirt road and take the first road that you can to the right, it is back in there.'
        We went down the road and the first road seemed to lead into a farmers house so I told Tom to keep on going. It was getting dark and the weather was miserable. We went through a small swamp and as we came out the other side, there were several old graying buildings  and a car was parked in front of one of them marked 'Post Office'. I told Tom to drive over there because those people might be having a problem. He did and as we pulled next to the vehicle, I was next to their passenger side, an elderly lady rolled the window down. I noticed that there were two women in the car.
        I said 'May we help you in anyway' She replied that they were OK and asked if they could help us? I said that we were looking for a cemetery. She said 'Who are you looking for?'. I said' Col Cy Wilson'. The drivers side door opened and the driver stood up and said 'I'm Mrs. Wilson.'
        After all these years, this was unbelievable to me. They took us to the grave sight and the next day I drove to La Grange Texas where they were living and Charlene and I had a drink or two and dinner. She had been living there for years taking care of her Mother. The Mother had been the postmistress at that old post office and they had driven over to see the building. That was the first time in many years that they had gone to that area. Coincidence ???. Amazing, I still get goose bumps when I tell the story and picture Charlene getting out of the car and saying 'I'm Mrs. Wilson.'


        We had quite a few TDY trips to England and Japan. Each one lasted from 3 to 9 months. We bought our first house in Albany Ga. and it wasn't long after that, that I was selected to go on a secret project for USAF. Probably the best thing that ever happened to me because it changed my whole life and even today it has a great influence on it. I'm talking about the U-2 project.
        In mid 1955 a colonel from Hdq. SAC came to Turner AFB. He was recruiting pilots for a very secret project. He also was looking for a fighter pilot with experimental test time and lots of fighter jet time. He took me and Lt. Setter an aeronautical engineer who worked in my office of Wing Plans. We were told nothing of what we were going to do or any other details.
        I was told to report to March AFB in Riverside, Ca. Upon arrival I met the other personnel who were to make up this group. Col. Wm. R. Yancey was the commander, Col. Herb Shingler was deputy and also Chief of Logistics, Col. Phil O Robertson was the Operations chief, Maj. Jack E Delap was chief of navigation and Major Garvin {a B47 pilot} was one of the experimental test pilots along with Capt. Louis Setter and myself. There were several other officers assigned for various duties and a few airmen.
          We were also told that the project was TOP SECRET and nobody was to know where we were or what we did. PERIOD. At this time Mildred and the kids were still in Albany Ga. I bought a house at 4505 Gay Way in Riverside and a few months later I flew back and drove them to Riverside Ca.
        After meeting all the other personnel and noting what high caliber they  were, each of us later agreed that we wondered how we had been picked for so important a program. We received our briefing of a general nature and those of us that were to be involved with flying were flown to our operating base in the Nevada desert. {Later to become infamous as AREA 51 } The program was one of a high flying reconnaissance aircraft that had not even been tested yet.
        Note: On Nov. 19 th 1990, there was a special on T V that chronicled a release by CIA of the 45 year secret surrounding the crash of a C-54 airplane on Mt. Charleston, close to Las Vegas NV. This was the courier plane from Burbank Ca. to area 51, our then secret base. We heard of the crash and sent all our airplanes on the search mission. I happened to be the one that discovered the crash site, very close to the crest of Mt Charleston. The airplane burned and 14 people were killed. The T V release was in complete error on many items, the most major one was that it was a chartered airplane when in reality it was an Air Force C-54. I know, the same airplane had taken me up to Area 51 about ten days before the crash, and this was our daily courier airplane. Note: This release was the start of the National Cold War Memorial and Monument in Las Vegas of which I was The Honorary Chairman.
U2C with Air Force Markings
U2C with Air Force Markings
List of original U-2 pilots
U2A design flat plan - Area 51
U2A design flat plan - Area 51
Area 51
Area 51
U2C with Air Force Markings
U2C with Air Force Markings

          During this period, the Lockheed Engineers led by Ernie Joiner and his experts [when you consider the job that these brilliant men did in the timeframe they had, EXPERT does not fully explain the results of their expertise and dedication] were at the area and the LAC test pilots were testing the plane. The pilots were Ray Goudy, Bob Seiker, and Bob Schumacher. I'm correct in stating that these three did all the phase testing and Tony Levier only flew two low altitude flights. We three flew the same and sometimes more advanced missions as the LAC pilots. Time was a deciding factor and anything that we could add to the test phase was accepted.
          Of course, we had to experience the flight profile before we could tell a student how to fly, and more important, decide the better way to accomplish the mission.
           There were 2 airplanes at our test site and I think that they had been flown at low level for probably no more the 5 or 6 hours.  Robby, Garvin Setter and I were checked out for low level flying and then went to David Clark company back in New  England to be fitted for partial pressure suits.  This company also made braziers and we were given a few samples to take back home. Hard to explain to the women and harder to determine the size. I think  that we all decided what size we needed.
          [The sizes that we returned with ranged from melons to fried eggs]. Note: I kept my complete partial pressure suit and a few years back I took it to Wright Patterson Air Force Base and donated it to the USAF air museum. They plan to use it when they set up a diorama with their U-2 and 'another' dummy will be wearing my suit. This should occur in Sept.2003.

          The pilots were starting to arrive, six in the first group and we only had a few hours in the plane ourselves. We gave them ground school on the aircraft systems, emergency procedures, flight planning, navigation, etc. etc. flying this airplane.
        Prior to our giving the ground school, we had to devise the procedures that were to be used in the air and in preparation for a flight. This included preparing the route, fuel consumption, checkpoints, pre-breathing for 2 hours and all the myriad details necessary for an overflight of normally denied territory. Remember, this was a new type of aircraft flying in an environment where nobody had flown before. To get these pilots ready to fly the U-2, we had to be very certain that they were excellent pilots, as the U 2 was the first million dollar airplane. To do this we would put them in the back seat of a two place T-33 jet and take them for rides.
            Landing the U-2 was very difficult and it had to be flown within 2 MPH to make a safe landing.    Knowing the exact stalling speed of the T-33, we would have the pilots fly at 2 knots above the stall speed, 2 feet above the surface of the dry lake. We would induce contact with the lake to let them develop the correct recovery procedures.  When we were completely satisfied that they were not only accomplished pilots, but were capable of transitioning to this new airplane, we would then check them out in the U-2.[There were no washouts as all the pilots were well qualified and all did an excellent job].
          At the end of each T-33 flight I would regain control of the airplane, climb to 10,000 feet, put the gear, flaps and speed brakes out and then shut the engine off. On the lake we had several painted cross marks and my aim was to land as close as possible to this mark. After a few practice flights I was able to consistently touch down within 100 feet of the mark.
            We had a souped up Mercury station wagon that we used for mobile control and to chase the plane on takeoff and landing. On landing we would race alongside and to the rear of the plane and call out his altitude   above the ground,' two feet, two feet, one foot, one foot, O.K. ease her on down.' They still use this system today, 48 years after we devised it. {The vehicle that they use today at Beale AFB in Ca. is a souped up Thunderbird, and I and Millie got to ride in this chase car for a few landings. Scared me as the driver hit 120 mph around the taxi way and onto the runway]


A rare photo of some of my U-2 students flying in a Diamond Formation

This photograph, made in Europe in 1957, shows aircraft of the first U-2 detachment to be deployed for operational use in intelligence gathering. On this particular day four aircraft were flown on shakedown flights, with take-off and landing times that resulted in their being airborne at the same time. The pilots, experienced fighter pilots, took this opportunity to exhibit the U-2 to ground personnel in a fighter show formation - the Diamond.
Lead aircraft, Glendon (Glen) Dunaway; right wing, Jacob (Jake) Kratt; left wing, Carl Overstreet; slot, Carmine Vito. This undoubtedly is the first - - and only - - four aircraft formation flown in U-2 airplanes.
Photo taken by Hervey Stockman

          There was a plan to put the Air Force U2 squadron [sometime in the future] at Turner Air Force Base. I went back to advise on the placement of the GCA [ground approach control vans] on the base.
          There I ran into a problem with the Division Commander who wasn't used to taking suggestions from a lowly Captain but I was SAVED by my good friend Col. Gerald Johnson.
          Training and flight testing progressed on schedule and it wasn't too long that our first detachment was deployed to the UK. All was not perfect, as expected with an experimental aircraft that was extending the state of the art in high altitude flying, We lost a few pilots and airplanes.
          To support our efforts we had one C 47, 3 or 4 T-33s, one B-25, a twin Bonanza and two Navions. Robbie and I went to Sacramento Air Depot to pick up the two Navions. He received his right away and left for Riverside Ca. I had to wait awhile for mine and the Chief of the depot, a civilian , told me that the plane that I was picking up was supposed to go to General Le May. He asked who I was and where I got my authority? Of course I couldn't tell him . I just said ' That's the way it is wherever I go'. Signed my own clearance and took off. [Note: In those days the wing and base commander personally had to sign all flight clearances, except the pilots in our unit,]
          There were some developmental and technical problems but I can only discuss these as they relate to the operational use. The first was the way to land this aircraft. You may remember that on the high speed taxi tests, the plane became airborne and they had great difficulty getting it back on the ground. On the first test flight, the pilot tried several times to land it on the nose wheel but luckily was able to stall it and land although the firm application of brakes resulted in a fire at the front tire. This caused no damage to the aircraft.
          An oil film would appear on the windscreen and clouded the forward visibility and increased the landing problem. Mr. Johnson solved the problem but during the interval we used a sanitary napkin on the end of a stick to clean a part of the windscreen so that we could see out to land. FUN.
        Flameouts at altitude proved to be a significant problem since the cockpit would depressurize, the suit would inflate, you couldn't talk on the radio since oxygen was being forced into your faceplate and mouth at a great rate and the aircraft was descending, slowly. Also the neckpiece of the helmet would pop out and you had to hold it in as far as possible with one hand and fly with one hand and all in a very dangerous predicament, to say the least. It didn't take Mr Johnson and the Pratt and Whitney engineers to solve the flameout problem [a bleed valve succeeded to eliminate a lot of the flameouts] and from there on out it was a lot less hazardous to fly at altitude.
        The Russians had satellites by this time and one would periodically fly over our base. To keep our work secure, we hangered the aircraft whenever one was due to overfly us.
          On one of my U-2 flights, I flew up to Alaska to check out the high altitude, high latitude wind patterns. I was able to keep the aircraft exactly on course, despite the high cross winds by using the drift sight [a device that lets you look directly under the plane and see what your course is and determine any drift] I had a C 54 fly along under me in case I encountered any difficulty.
        On another flight I flew way out over the Pacific ocean to also check the wind patterns but this time I developed engine problems and the engine quit. The pressure suit blew up and I descended to 30,000 feet to attempt an air start. It worked and I climbed back up but it blew out again. Down I came. This happened about 15 times until I was able to return to our base. FUN?
          To solve the problem of not being able to communicate when the engine flamed out and your suit 'blew up', I went back to the David Clark Co. and they built a new suit for me that had a chest bladder installed so that when the suit was pressurized, pressure on your chest would allow you to talk. I took this to Wright Patterson AFB where there was an altitude chamber.
        I donned the suit, entered the chamber and they lowered the pressure until I was at a simulated altitude of 120,000 feet and then broke the seal. The suit inflated and I started to shout 'I can talk, I can talk, can you hear me?' They of course could and that solved the inability to communicate during a flameout.
          I don't remember on what flight this happened, it could well have been on the one that I just told you about since I was very concerned at times [It was a long swim back to Calif.] and with the suit blowing up about 15 times, it is very possible that this was the cause of my hyperventilated condition. As I came in for a landing my mobile control officer was Lou Garvin. As you may know by now, his job was to assist the pilot to land by calling out his altitude above the runway as he raced alongside in a souped up Thunderbird. The one thing that you had to be very careful of was to not hit the front gear first as that would make you bounce and porpoise and being near the stall, there was a great possibility of breaking the airplane. Well, in my hyperventilated condition, Lou was calling two feet, two feet. one foot, so I said 'Screw you' [can't think of the actual word that I used] and jammed the front gear onto the lake bed with the nose about a foot off the ground and the tail high in the air. An impossible maneuver but I left the power on and went two or three miles that way before I pulled the power off and let it settle to the runway. When the Docs met me they said that 'I was grounded until they could evaluate my condition' and that set me off again. I gave them all hell but in a little while the effects of too much oxygen wore off and I was back to normal.


        The First U2 to land at an off base location landed at Albuquerque New Mexico. The base commander was notified that it was coming in so as soon as it landed, they put it in a hanger and covered it up with canvas. A few days later, after it was repaired, Lou Setter and I flew down in a T-33 to pick it up. I was to fly it back to Area 51. We started it up in the hanger, I taxied it to the nearest runway, took off with only partial power, so as not to show the capability of the plane, kept it very low to the ground. Off the end of the runway was a deep ravine so I flew down there until I was a long distance from the base and then climbed back to high altitude and made it safely back to Area 51.
        In the early days we had many engine failures and flameout's. This happened to many of us. I think that I made 2 or 3 dead stick landings. One of the Lockheed pilots did just that and was rewarded with a 25,000 dollar bonus. At the end of the program I was rewarded with a Distinguished Flying Cross. Such is life.!!!. When we finished all our training and testing, we checked out a few Air Force pilots and we all went on to overseas assignments. At the time that we left I was 'High Time ' pilot with 121 hours in the U-2.
        After being certified that I actually did fly experimental test flights in the U2 and F84, I was accepted by the SOCIETY OF EXPERIMENTAL TEST PILOTS as an associate member. Truly a great honor.


          Of course, not all flights were perfect I chased several planes that crashed on the desert. One in particular, the engine was still running and fuel was pouring out of the broken wing and the pilot was unconscious. I jumped up on the wing to pull him out. I was afraid to shut the engine off, for fear of causing a spark and starting an explosion, so I dragged him out but the seat pack was attached to him and the wire wrapping was holding me back. I had to go back in the plane and release the seat pack and then continue to drag him across the desert until the fire trucks and ambulance arrived.
          On a night check out for one of our pilots, he crashed into the base of the control tower. I was right behind him and our Doctor was also there in his ambulance. We both drove into the flames to rescue the pilot. The Doc saw him first and hollered to me that he was dead so we left him there for the fire people to pull the body out and we both took our vehicles out of the flames
         Note: I am planning another book on the Early Days Of Area 51, wherein I intend to tell the true story of the happenings during that period. All my facts will be garnered from the people that 'WERE THERE'. I can understand ones memory fading, and mine has too, but some of the claims are downright ridiculous. Should be a fun book to read. Now, if the buzzards will quit circling until I have a chance to complete it, I might reveal an interesting period.


          While stationed in Europe, just after the U-2 program,. General Powers, Commander of Strategic Air Command presented me with the Distinguished Flying Cross for my U2 test experiences. This included my saving several U-2s by making engine out landings on the dry lake. [Note. When a Lockheed pilot did the same thing, he was given a $25,000 bonus.
        Later on I was accepted as an associate member of the SOCIETY OF EXPERIMENTAL TEST PILOTS, a very exclusive flying organization.


                    Around 1965 I was assigned again, to exchange duty at CIA headquarters, as the Operational Officer for the YF-12A and follow on SR-71. During this period at Area 51, I got to know Mr. C.L. Johnson, the designer of the U-2.F104, T-33, etc. etc,. I would commute to the area or LAC Burbank almost on a weekly basis. I attended many meetings with him and the other contractors, Pratt and Whitney, David Clark Co, etc,. There was always friendly banter between the CIA, LAC and the other contractors.

          At one particular meeting at Area 51, LAC was having great trouble getting the YF12A supersonic. They had to dive it to attain that speed. Also Pratt and Whitney, the engine manufacturer, had one engine that would overheat on every test flight.

         Finally the engine problem was discovered, it seems that the rotor and stator blade discs could be installed backwards and this had happened to one of the stator discs thereby  inhibiting the flow of air through the engine. Mr. Johnson had a great time berating the P & W rep [I think it was a Mr. Brown] and chiding him for the engine being put together backwards.
         Mr. Brown took this very calmly and when Mr. Johnson was finished, he stood up, apologized for the error, which could happen and then addressing Mr. Johnson said 'Mr. Johnson Sir, we note that you are having a problem making the YF-12A go supersonic. We respectfully suggest, Sir, that you may solve your problem, if you were to install the wings on  backward'. That ended the meeting.
        Once during a Blackbird Reunion in Sparks Nevada, Mr. and Mrs Johnson wanted to go to Harrahs automobile museum. Mildred and I were also going so we took them in our car. Mrs. Johnson was in a wheelchair then and I got to push her all through the collection.
        Mr. Johnson decided to retire from LAC and they held a retirement party for him at the Sportsmen Restaurant in Burbank. I was invited as the CIA representative. All the wheels in the aviation industry were there. I happened to be standing near the stage when Kelly said, lets have a 20 minute break. As he left the stage he spotted me standing there and came directly to me. We stood there and made small talk for the full 20 minutes. One could see the  'Lackeys' hanging close and trying to speak with Kelly. To no avail. Finally he said that he had to get back on the stage and would see me later. A very proud moment in my life for this was truly a great man. His follow on Vice President, Mr. Ben Rich, [a very distinguished aeronautical engineer in his own right, who developed the Stealth F-117] was also a very good friend of mine. Both of these gentlemen are now gone


        In 1957, Millie and I were transferred to the UK  as were most of the other pilots from the U-2 group. While there I got to fly the C-47 to Europe and not much else. But even flying the Gooney Bird can be fun. Working in the Command Post, I controlled the flying hours. So when a request came in to fly Jane Mansfield and a group of reporters to one of our bases for a football game, I okayed it but put my self down as pilot.
        The trip up was uneventful in good weather and I got to go to the rear of the plane and talk with Jane for awhile.  I guess they all went to a party after the game and the weather turned terrible. Rain, low ceilings and about 1/2 mile visibility. Right after takeoff my copilot went to the rear to meet the people and I was left alone to fly the plane. Not an easy job what with flying in rough instrument conditions and
Orders to fly Jane Mansfield
Orders to fly Jane Mansfield
working the radios, etc. A British female reporter came up front and sat in the copilots seat.  That was O K but then she began interrupting my concentration by grabbing switches. I told her about three times not to touch anything but when she did it again, I grabbed her someplace on her front area, pulled her out of the seat with my right hand and hollered for the crew chief to get her out of there. The destination was about 200 feet visibility and about 300 foot ceiling but I penetrated OK and landed safely.
        Miss Mansfield and her friend, Mickey Haggerty, lived quite close to us in England. I was hosting a small party for members of the old U2 group and invited the two of them for drinks and dinner. They tentively accepted but the day before the planned event, called and declined. It was close though.


        I made several trips to Turkey and other countries in Europe. In all my years the only time that I had to go to my alternate base was on a trip to Germany. The whole area was socked in  solid, below minimums so I returned to England. I guess that the only time in about six or more hours, that I saw the ground, was when I rolled down the runway on takeoff and rolled down the same runway on landing.
        One of my friends was a Lester Robinson. A great maintenance officer but a scared and lousy pilot. I took him on a flight to Israel in a T-33. When we arrived in Israel it was dark and I made an approach to what I thought was my destination but it turned out to be one of their top secret bases [Nuclear Depot?] well, they redirected me to another base and things quieted down. I visited the U S Embassy and they were kind enough to give me a car and driver for a tour of Israel, the Dead Sea, etc,. All in all, a great experience. Even visited the tomb of the ASCUNCION and the spot underground where JESUS had his carpenter shop.

        Our Wing went to Manston RAF station on deployment from Turner AFB with our F-84s so I did get to fly jets in Europe but not in combat.
        On one of our deployments to Japan, Col. Schilling and I flew to a base in Korea and flew a couple missions over North Korea. One day our whole wing loaded up with bombs and headed East but when we got to Korea. the clouds were too thick to penetrate so we all dropped the bombs through the undercast and I have no idea where they landed. I finally did get a ribbon for the Korean war in 2002.


        When our three years in England were about over, everyone expected me to be sent to a bomb wing or headquarters in the states. I had faith in a Fighter assignment and wagered numerous bottles of booze on the outcome. I got a great assignment as Director of Operations for the 414th Fighter group at Oxnard AFB Ca. an Air Defense Base flying F-101B interceptors. Our primary mission was air defense of Southern California. Vicky was quite small at this time and after watching an ad on TV, she announced to all that she would sleep well that night because the National Guard was on ALERT.
        Before I could check out in the F-101 I had to show my flying proficiency in a T-33. One of the Lts. took me for a ride. Just after takeoff he pulled the throttle back and said 'Simulated Flameout'. Remember all the times at area 51 when I used to practice dead stick landings. Well this was old hat for me so I calmly told him that since it was calm and we were only about 500 feet in the air that I would land downwind at the 500 foot mark on the runway. Which I did and took off again. He did it again and this time I told him that since there was no other traffic, I would land at exactly the same spot that I had a couple minutes ago. And I did. Again I gave it the throttle and climbed on out. At 10,000 feet he tried me again. This time I said that I would land in the correct direction and touch down at the 500 foot mark. Right on the nose. He said that that was enough and I taxied to the ramp. He complimented me and I'm sure there was a lot of talk the next few days about the Lt. Col. who knew how to fly, with or without an engine.
        I didn't fly the F-101B too often, maybe 10 hours a month but finally I took a turn at sitting on ALERT. Again they were going to test me and in the middle of the night they scrambled me. I was directed to GATE' which meant full afterburners on and then was directed to a target about 75 miles away. We found the target, SPLASHED IT [which meant that we hit it with our simulated weapon] and returned to base in less than 20 minutes. I was accepted by the younger pilots then since I had passed their test.


         In the nearby town of Ventura Ca. a group of very rich businessmen had formed a club called R and R [ rest and recreation, I think]  They furnished a vacant store with some sparse furniture, had a bar etc,. They would meet every Friday afternoon and invite any officer from any of the USA services or any foreign friendly country to visit with them and have a few drinks and small talk. This of course was free to the military. Being a USAF Lt Col and Director of Operations for the 414th Fighter Interceptor Group, I frequently attended these gatherings. They would ring a bell and their leader would say things such as - Joe, I heard that you shipped 10 carloads of lettuce this week, That will cost you $10,000. Or Jack, I heard that you shipped 8 truckloads of strawberries. That will cost you $5,000 or whatever came into his mind - The money all went to charity.
        One evening when I was in attendance, I noticed a portly gentleman in a suntan uniform with gold braid all the way up his arm and all kinds of ribbons. Trying to make conversation with what I thought was an officer of an allied nation I said - Sir , what country do you represent.' He stared at me for an instant and said, - "I am Rear Admiral Brown, Commander of the U. S. Navy Missile Command at Pt. Mugu Ca." - After stuttering a few words, I excused myself before he could determine who this stupid Air Force officer was.


YF12A, forerunner of SR 71
YF-12 Taking off - YF12 top view
YF12A, forerunner of SR 71
YF-12 Taking off - YF12 top view
          After finishing my tour with interceptors, I was as signed to CIA Hdq, in Va. I was able to fly the T-33 from Andrews AFB and when I visited area 51 as the Weenie from Hdq., I got to fly chase of the SR-71 in a F-101, and instruments in a C-130 that belonged to us. I also complained to my boss, Gen. Jack Ledford that if I was to be Hdq operations boss for the plane, then I have to fly it.
YF12A at Blackbird Park
YF12A at Blackbird Park
        The time available on the aircraft was very critical but I went to a short school at Lockheed, then Ray Haupt, a pilot that I had checked out in the U2 gave me the checkout. This occurred on 5 Dec.1963. We flew the dual YF-12A at low altitude and I shot five landings. That is considered a checkout so I brought my ejection seat spurs' home with me and they are behind my bar right now. During this flight, the whole base contingent came out to see if I really could fly. They were surprised when I made very smooth landings and we all had a few drinks that night.


          I was asked if I would like to return to Area 51 as the Commander of a new airplane project named Aquiline. I of course jumped at the chance so we packed up the household goods and headed West towing a horse trailer with Vickis pony in it. Another real adventure. Maybe I'll make a separate chapter about that trip later on.
          Project Aquiline was a project to develop an RPV [Remotely Piloted Vehicle] The contractor was Mc Donald Douglas. I had an admin staff headed by a CIA professional, Mr. Andy Frisina and three pilots that were to be trained to fly this BIRD, and a Maintenance Officer. A small but knowledgeable group. We were stationed at area 51 and commuted about once a week, depending on the flying schedule.
        The contractor had the responsibility for the development and test and we were to assume command as soon as I declared the vehicle 'Combat Ready' Things didn't start off too good with the Contractor since they didn't want me or my people looking over their shoulder. They tried to keep everything secret from me and they were helped by some of the staff officers from headquarters who would operate behind my back and try to leave me out of the picture.
         Progress was very slow. The vehicle was a six foot long plane that had a small pusher prop and actually looked like an Eagle or Buzzard when it was in the air. It was designed to fly at very low levels along communications lines and intercept their messages. It also had a small television in the nose as an aid to navigation and to photograph targets of opportunity. There were several successful flights and some crashes [reason unknown] and some lousy landings.

Severial views of Project AQUILINE

         This small vehicle was launched from inclined rails and was recovered in a large net strung between two poles. Progress was passable, but then came budget time. The contractor predicts the amount of money needed since I did not have the intimate knowledge of the development expenses. I had 11 million dollars for the following year and I advised Macdonald of this fact and asked for the next years operating budget.
          They came back to me with a 110 million forecast, Ridiculous!!. I returned to HDQ and discussed it with the bosses and they suggested that I give them two weeks to adjust the amount and then to come to DC with the result and have Macdonald Douglas present their budget. I did just that.
         They decided to back into the 110 Million number rather than actually justify the true amounts needed. A grave error. I was forced to interrupt them many times during the presentation to point out errors and outright lies. Upon the completion, I was asked for my comments.
        I explained that we really needed only 11 Million and could not possibly spend the larger amount. I also pointed out their exaggerations, padded costs for items and the brazen lies that they tried to force on the group. My big boss asked me what I thought we ought to do. I stated, in no uncertain terms that since this group tried to charge 110 Million for a 11 Million job, that I couldn't trust them and that 'WE SHOULD CANCEL THE PROGRAM'. He said 'I think that you are correct! Program canceled'. Mc Donald Douglas people were startled, they left and I didn't have a job.
        After my last day at area 51, I had to return to DC. Our C-130 was going back that day too. The pilot was a good friend and he let me fly it. He took it off and as soon as it broke ground, I took over the controls on instruments. I flew it all the way, under the hood, and he took over just at touchdown. My last USAF ride.
        I returned to HDQ for a month or so, there were no programs available and the other offices didn't want another senior person. I wrote a letter to my boss stating that it had been an honor to have been able to serve my Country at the various positions that I had been privileged to occupy and that I would retire. That was it!.
        The fotos shown are of the only model ever made of the 'BIRD'. I have the model at home, on my bar.


         I didn't get to do much flying after I retired from CIA in 1972, except when I was with a company that leased an American Yankee and an American Traveler. I flew them all over the west coast and I also checked out in the Debonair and the Navajo. When I was Vice President for operations for Pacific Northern Airlines, I had a Cessna 172 for my own use. Brought it down from Oregon and took Millie and my brother Victor and his wife Eleanor for a flight to the Grand Canyon, back to Utah to refuel and then over and around Las Vegas at dusk to see all the lights come on.
        There was a lull after I left the airline and didn't fly for a couple years but then I went to Travis AFB in Ca. and my old Air Force friend, Tom Crull [Note: He was on Mobile Control that fateful day over in Japan when I had that hairy takeoff in a T-33 with the Army General] checked me out and I  was current in several planes. The Cessna 150, 172 and the Piper PA28R, Cessna 182. Cherokee 140, and three landings in a J4 Cub.
         After my heart surgery I let my physical lapse and now the only time I pilot a plane is when there is another pilot with me. Today, I get my flying time in a commercial airliner. I think that my total flying time adds up to 5,653 hours. Not too bad for a single engine pilot. I might also note that during this time I also have 4000 logged landings, and I'm still alive.
        Somehow I got involved with some fast talking con men here in Vegas. I didn't do much and didn't get paid but they had two American airplanes, an American Yankee and American Traveler [one that looked and flew like a small P-51] I got to fly these and a Beech Baron quite frequently and they paid for the gas, so it wasn't too bad a deal.


           After my retirement from CIA, I returned to Las Vegas, NV. to be with my family. Being a restless type and looking for gainful employment, I found an ad in the LA Times. They were looking for C-47 pilots for a new airline. I applied and mentioned that I could do a hell of a lot more than fly an airplane. They needed a Vice President for Operations and I was hired.
        At first I envisioned that I was joining a flying airline but I soon found out that all that they had was an idea and very little money. But it was a challenge and there could be very large rewards if we were successful. Off I went to Salem Oregon to start an airline. Millie stayed in Las Vegas and I rented a small apartment and a small store front for my office.
        We were to be the first new airline under new FAA regs that allowed C-47 equipped small airlines to fly passengers. I had a meeting and they told us that we would be certified when we were 100% in compliance, not99 and 44 100% ready. I think that I was the only person there to listen. So we started.
          I hired a sharp young man as Operations Chief, a maintenance chief and 2 pilots and three stewardesses, one secretary and we started to write.
        We bought a set of Maintenance manuals but FAA told me that we would have to write our own from scratch. Not only that, we needed manuals on how we would fly, train the stewardesses, office help, flying safety, routes and on and on. The equivalent to what the major airlines had in manuals and we were going to have only one airplane to start.
Pacific Northern Airlines only airplane
Pacific Northern Airlines only airplane
        We leased a Cessna 172 for me to use and I started planning routes, meeting people in the cities where I hoped to stop, gave talks to civic groups and in general, acted like an executive. My idea was to service Oregon with flights to their major cities, fly mail and film and freight etc. My headquarters was in Salem, the state capital.
        I thought that we were progressing quite well. I had purchased a wide door DC-3 and it was certified, the manuals were coming along when the other two officers and myself held a meeting and they wanted me to move the operation to Portland OR. and to only fly a shuttle type operation between Portland and Seattle WA.
        This was kind of ridiculous since there were numerous jet flights on that route. The other major problem was money. It was very difficult to meet the payroll each month, pay the phone, aircraft lease, etc. etc. We held a vote and the result was two to one so again, I was out of a job.
        They ended up hiring 60 people to be supported by one aircraft. They were also lucky in that an investor showed up with 1 Million dollars to see them through. They were certified several months later and started the shuttle flights. On the first day they had three passengers, on the second day they had one passenger and on the third day went 'Belly Up'. An interesting interlude for me.