10 December 2012

Ashcan 01

On this day in 1971 the Wild Weasel squadron at Korat lost one of their aircraft to North Vietnamese SA-2 missiles.  One man survived.  One did not.  His remains have never been recovered.

I had arrived at Korat only a little over two months before Ashcan 01 was shot down near Mu Gia Pass.  I had completed my theater orientation and had pretty well gotten used to the routine of supporting B-52 strikes against the Ho Chi Minh Trail and trolling for radar signals up and down The Trail.  It was a time of relative quiet in the war in Southeast Asia (it never was just about Vietnam).  Things were about to change, however.

The war I came to know was almost exclusively in the part of Laos known as Steel Tiger.  It was the part of the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail that fed war materiel to the North Vietnamese divisions prowling around southern Laos and South Vietnam.  The 42nd TEWS, to which I was assigned, flew the EB-66E and EB-66C.  Mainly, we provided jamming against the SA-2 SAMs and radar directed anti-aircraft guns the North Vietnamese used to protect their Ho Chi Minh Trail supply line.  Some of those radar directed guns could reach above the altitudes the EB-66s flew at.  Tchépone, also known as Muang Xépôn, was a kind of materiel depot in the middle of nowhere and it was one of those heavily defended spot on The Trail.

The passes leading from North Vietnam into Laos were just as important as any way point in Laos.  Mu Gia, Ban Karai, and Ban Raving passes all were major roadways along the route into South Vietnam and southern Laos.  The passes were defended not just by anti-aircraft guns; SAMs also covered those critical passes.  There were other passes that led from North Vietnam into Laos, Nape and Barthelemy passes, but they were conduits that the North Vietnamese used to conduct another aspect of their war in northern Laos.

As the winter of 1971 approached the North Vietnamese began asserting themselves around the passes.  A few EB-66s supporting strikes around the passes were fired on by SAMs.  There was sufficient warning of missile launches and all aircraft evaded the SAMs by performing "SAM breaks" down and away from the direction of the attacking missile site.  At the same time, the Wild Weasel crews engaged the SAMs because they had to transmit in order to guide their missiles; that made them vulnerable to counter-attack by the missiles the Wild Weasels carried. We flew as a coordinated support package with the F-105G Wild Weasels, also based at Korat.  Our job was to jam SAM and gun radars; the Wild Weasels were there to provide some muscle to the package.  They were armed with one AGM-78 Standard ARM (Anti-Radiation Missile) and two AGM-45 Shrikes.  The Standard ARM was a more sophisticated version of the Shrike.  We were supposed to remain outside the 20 nautical mile "kill ring" that the SA-2s were deemed to have.  The Wild Weasels, however, could and did fly right down the throats of any SAM crews they had to defend against.

What follows is an account of events by Wild Weasel pilot extraordinaire, JD Cutter.  I had known JD when he was a copilot on a KC-135 six or so years earlier.  Somewhere along the line since those early days, he had slipped loose from SAC via a program called Palace Cobra and had gotten a fighter slot.  Our paths crossed again when I got to Korat.  JD had already been there for several months:
 I think Marty Noel was my wingman and we stirred up a hornets' nest at Mu Gia Pass.  After the first BUF (B-52) drop at Ban Raving we made a pass north through Route Pack I and exited NVN north of Mu Gia Pass.  There were nibbles of Fan Song (missile fire control radar) but they didn't stay on the air long.  Eventually I wound up with, as best I can recall, three Fan Songs tracking me sequentially.  They went off the air (stopped transmitting) just as I was about to fire a Shrike.

We exited to the north of Mu Gia for a Cherry or Peach tanker and passed words to Cricket or Hillsboro (Airborne Battlefield Command Control Center, aka, ABCCC) about the nibbles of Fan Song.  After getting a top off from a tanker, we came back to the DMZ and trolled northbound to see if we could get any activity before the BUF drop at Mu Gia.  Nothing.  All was quiet.  The BUFs were dropping in 'Alpha' box (Mu Gia Pass) so our run was in-trail from the west, eastbound,  over the mountains.  I was in the lead, Marty was maybe 5 miles behind me, and the BUFs were offset about 5 miles to the south on a parallel track.  Just past their time on target (TOT) the first Fan Song came up with a SAM in the air almost immediately.  The BUFs went ballistic and went into a SAM break down and to the right (south).  Somewhere in the melee I fired two Shrikes and dodged two SAMs.  There was a low overcast and I saw the SAMs come through the clouds tracking me.  My SAM break was more of a high 'G' turn because of the short range to the site rather than a classic SAM break that let me avoid the SAMs.  I remember the SAMs going by which let me get my head back outside quickly...good thing.

Somewhere in the melee Marty jettisoned everything.  We were now headed west and RTBd (Returned To Base).

As we walked into Ft Apache (wing headquarters at Korat), we met the two crews of Ashcan flight (Ashcan 01:  Maj Bob Belli/Lt Col Scott McIntire and Ashcan 02:  Capt Jimmie Boyd/EWO unknown) who were heading out to their jets.  We stood there in front of the latrine and told them what happened, frequency, PRF, location, and as much other information as we knew.  Their tactics supporting the BUF strike consisted of flying through Mu Gia pass from the north (Belli) and from the south (Boyd).  Belli got zapped by SAMs right off...end of story, except for the SAR (rescue effort).  Belli was extracted the next morning.  Scotty was killed.  Belli had a broken arm and leg, along with numerous other injuries. He reported the SAM had rendered him unconscious, and when he regained consciousness he was in the surface based clouds, and punched out immediately. His chute reportedly never did fully deploy but finished deploying from the bag as he was going through the top of the jungle canopy. He was lying on the ground, badly injured, partly in his parachute harness; the harness had burst open as he fell through the trees. When the PJs got to him he needed assistance to get to and get on the penetrator.
That morning I happened to be working one of the first shifts in my additional duty at what was known as the Frag Shop.  The wing command post, which was just a door and a wall away, rang our hotline to inform us that Ashcan 01 had been shot down and SAR was under way.  Things evolved quickly with reports from the SAR effort around Mu Gia Pass.  Ashcan 02 reported "Winchester" (all ordinance expended) and was going to RTB.  The two EB-66s on station were reporting multiple SAM launches at the rescue force.  They needed additional air refueling support to remain on station so we in the Frag Shop worked out a tanker rotation and passed it along to Blue Chip (7th Air Force Command Center at Ton Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam).  One of the EB-66s landed at NKP (Nakhon Phanom Air Base, Thailand) to refuel and return to the SAR.  The weather wasn't good that day and low clouds and high winds were hampering the rescue effort.  Finally, it was reported that one of the OV-10 Pave Nail FACs had gotten a position on Belli.  Belli was the only downed crewmember they had radio contact with.  Belli reported that he was pretty badly injured and partly out of his parachute harness.  He could not move and would need a PJ to get him out his predicament.  Belli reported hearing noises of what he assumed to be North Vietnamese soldiers.  Finally, late in the afternoon, it was decided to continue the SAR at first light the next morning.  The SAR forces "put the survivor to bed" and "sanitized" the immediate area around him with area denial munitions.

I was back in the Frag Shop the next morning.  Word came in that Belli had been rescued and that McIntire had been spotted hanging in his parachute harness in a tall tree.  The word we had was from the flight surgeon who was on the JollyGreen that pulled Belli out.  After the PJs got Belli into the chopper, they spotted Scotty close by hanging limp in a tree.  The flight surgeon, looking at McIntire through binoculars, said, "In my professional opinion that man is dead."  The Jolly Green left in really bad weather conditions.  Later in the day, two of the Jolly Greens from NKP did a low pass over our runway at Korat and landed.  From what I was told, Belli was on board.  He would eventually be tranferred from Korat to a better equipped hospital.

When they tried to recover the remains the next day or so, Scotty was gone.  From the report I recall reading, the entire tree that McIntire had been hanging in had been cut down.

07 December 2012

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Like the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery, the Memorial to the Battleship Arizona is one of those places you should visit if you can. Many years ago I saw it the first time when I was passing through Hickam AFB on my way to duty in the Western Pacific. Back then the US Navy ran the whole show. There was a pilot boat that could take a small number of visitors out to the Memorial. Even though all of us were active military the sailors who took us out stressed that this was a tomb and a solemn place. Reverence was in order.

Nowadays the shore facility is run by the National Park Service and is a quite elaborate pavilion with memorabilia from the USS Arizona, along with several displays and dioramas depicting the scenes of that day, now sixty-eight years ago. Just before you are taken out to the Memorial, now on a much larger boat than I rode out on the first time I saw it, you are shown a fifteen minute video explanation of the events that lead up to the attack on Pearl Harbor and other military bases on Oahu.  Then you are taken out to the Memorial.

While the National Park Service runs the on-shore part of the Memorial, the US Navy still owns Pearl Harbor, and it is a Navy operated boat that shuttles visitors to and from the Memorial.  They still stress that this is a tomb and a solemn place, but the reverence is not what it once was, especially among the numerous Japanese visitors to the site.  The sailors who run the boat shuttle do what they can to maintain decorum, and the tone among visitors is generally subdued and reverent.

The Memorial spans the USS Arizona at about where the bridge once was.  There are the remains of the 16" gun turrets at or just above the water line on either side of the Memorial.  Looking down into the water on just about any day, you can see globs of bunker oil from the ship still slowly oozing to the surface.  It is feared that some day, when the ship has decayed enough, whatever fuel remains inside the ship will spill into Pearl Harbor. 

At the far end of the Memorial is a shrine, literally, to the men who died on the Arizona.  Their names are carved on white marble slabs that line the far end of the chapel.  A low marble railing separates visitors from the slabs themselves, unlike the Vietnam Memorial where visitors can walk up and touch the slabs.  In the tradition of Hawaii, there are many leis left as a kind of personal offering to those who are entombed there.  If you look carefully at the names on those slabs you can get a glimpse of the scope of the tragedy some families endured that day.  Back then it was Navy custom to allow family members to serve on the same ship simultaneously, so you see a list of brothers, and sometimes, fathers and sons, who went down with the USS Arizona.

There is even a tradition, if you will, that the survivors of the Arizona's death that day can be buried with their ship mates when their days are done.  Their cremated remains are lowered into the hulk.

In recent years another ship that played a large part in the Pacific War now sits at anchor in Pearl Harbor.  It is the USS Missouri.  When you look out from the on shore pavilion it is almost as if the Mighty Mo is standing sentry over the Memorial.  The Missouri is operated as a museum by a private foundation.  Lots of retired US Navy and retired military people from other services volunteer to work there and support the visitor traffic that pass through that ship.  Access to it is from Ford Island, and that is US Navy property.  There still are sensitive things going on around there, so the Navy is sensitive about people shooting pictures of anything and everything in the area.  Still, it's hard to miss something like an attack boat that is headed out to sea.

In 2004 we took our daughter and her family with us on a winter visit to Hawaii.  We made sure that visiting the Arizona Memorial was on the list of things to do.  The two granddaughters were not yet teenagers, but they took in everything about the Memorial.  Looking at the dioramas and models, the youngest granddaughter, especially, had lots of questions.  We went through the pavilion, saw the fifteen minute video, went out to the Memorial, and returned to shore.  As we were walking off the boat youngest granddaughter told me that she didn't like those nasty Japanese.  I told her that all those events took place a long time ago and that things were different now.  Then I took her over to where we could see the Memorial and the Mighty Mo together.  I told her that in another day or so we were going to take a trip out that big gray ship out there and she was going to see where Imperial Japan surrendered, ending World War II.

28 September 2012

Social Security

At least once a week I get an e-mail with claims about the Social Security System.  Almost invariably the claims are so far from reality as to be ludicrous.  But people believe the claims because they don't know any better.  With that thought in mind, here are some pertinent facts about "Social Security."

Social Security is, and always has been, a wealth transfer system.  It takes wealth from the working young and transfers it to old farts like you and me.  There is no investment aspect to Social Security; whatever taxes are taken in from FICA are immediately paid out to all the old farts (and some not so old farts).

The Social Security Trust Fund is an accounting gimmick.  It is a myth.  The Social Security Trust Fund was created to justify increasing the FICA tax rate to, allegedly, fund expected future shortfalls in Social Security funding.  That's a crock.  The federal government did a simple trick:  The Treasury issued a special issue of bonds to the Social Security Administration to account for the extra FICA revenues not used by the Social Security Administration and added the excess tax collected to the general fund.  That, of course, was spent.  That special issue of Treasury bonds is nothing but IOUs.

Contrary to common belief, Social Security is not just the Old Age benefit that is usually referred to.  There are four components to Social Security:  (1) The Old Age Benefit; (2) The Disability Benefit; (3) The Survivors Benefit; (4) Medicare.  The FICA taxes collected go out as payments to all four of those components.  The main problem is that over time the federal government, SPECIFICALLY, THE US CONGRESS, has gotten more and more generous (but then that's what happens when you're spending other peoples' money).  Worse than that, the number of recipients of the Disability Benefit has ballooned as lawyers have gotten into the business of suing on behalf of people who don't really qualify for the benefit.  The simple definition for the Disability Benefit used to be that the disabled person was unable to do ANY USEFUL WORK.  Lawyers and judges have corrupted that and driven the system deeper into insolvency.

The FICA tax rate has not always been 15%; it used to be much lower.  It has crept up over the decades as THE US CONGRESS has gotten more and more generous with other peoples' money.  In addition to that, since Social Security payments are based employment, the employers pony up another 15% payment into FICA.  If you happen to be self employed you get to pay BOTH sides of FICA.

Comments about Social Security payment not being benefits are totally false; the claim is being made by people who knows nothing factual about the Social Security System.  Social Security payments are technically indemnification because they were originally intended to be part of an insurance scheme.  Ever wonder what the acronym FICA stands for?  It stands for Federal Insurance Contributions Act.  Note that second word:  Insurance.  The system was designed from the start to be indemnification for the risk of growing too old to work.  The other components came later to cover the risks of becoming permanently disabled and dying during one's working years.  The justification for Medicare is a lot more murky, but politicians being what they are, in 1965 (when Lyndon Johnson was president and Democrats ruled Congress) the US CONGRESS came up with the justification that most medical care goes to those who are old and not very capable of working.

Note that indemnifications are not supposed to be taxed.  Indemnifications restore one to an economic position before a loss occurred.  Therefore they are not taxed.  Note that you don't pay tax on any insurance payments made to you after you suffer a loss., whether the indemnification is from an auto policy, a homeonwers policy, a life insurance policy, or any other kind of private insurance.  The Old Age Benefit of Social Security used to be that way.  Politicians, Democrats in particular but some Republicans also, decided in the 1980s that the Old Age Benefit should be taxed.  That action may have started the notion that Old Age Benefits are earned income.  They are not.

Finally, the Social Security System, in case you missed it before, is a pay-as-you-go system.  The FICA revenues collected go right back out again as benefit payments of Social Security recipients (except for whatever excess goes to the Treasury general fund).  If this were a private plan, THE US CONGRESS would demand that it be FULLY FUNDED.  The term FULLY FUNDED means that there must be sufficient funds available at all times to be able to pay the present value of all legitimate claims on the system.  Not so the Social Security System.  The justification for the initial setup was that, first, the federal government can use its taxing power to cover any shortfalls, and, second, there were a lot more workers than beneficiaries of the Social Security System.  That is no longer the case.  The UNFUNDED part of Social Security grows larger every day.

Once, during the ten years or so that I taught the subject of Social Security at University of Nebraska, Lincoln, one of the former chief actuaries of the Social Security Administration came on campus and gave an hour long discussion on the Social Security System.  He focused on how it originated and how it was set up.  A lot of actuaries from the insurance companies in/around Lincoln Nebraska were in attendance.  The revelations made in that hour stunned those actuaries.  When they walked out of the hall I heard several actuaries talking among themselves.  They kept saying, "It's pay-as-you-go!"  They were stunned because to them a pay-as-you-go system was not only not acceptable under government rules, it was unthinkable from an actuarial point of view.

That is what THE US CONGRESS has bestowed on us.

12 September 2012

The Burden of Knowing Everything Important

They teach the Keynesian B.S. in college macroeconomics courses, if for no other reason than to make students aware that such a line of reasoning actually exists.  What those economics professors fail to say, much less emphasize, is that Keynesian economics does not work.  Worse than that, people who become politicians get degrees in all kinds of fields, including economics, and come away believing in the Keynesian B.S. because no one told them it doesn't work; all the while professors of history were telling them the legends of how FDR saved the USA, if not the world, by applying Keynesian theory.  Worse than that, the true believers of Keynesian B.S. figured that when they got that message there was no point in pursuing economics any further, so they went off to things like ethnics studies, women's studies, the theory of LGBT, and who knows what other productive line of inquiry.

 Worse than that, the people who went on to careers in economics believe the Keynesian B.S. and try to apply it at every opportunity.  So we have the spectacle of Keynesians like Christina Roemer, placed in positions of some considerable authority, making predictions of how things would turn out with and without a government bailout, aka The Stimulus Plan.  Just to make things easier to read, the chart below, when Christina Roemer originally presented it in a press conference had only the two blue lines.  The DARK BLUE line was a prediction for how the US unemployment would recover with the Obama stimulus plan; the LIGHT BLUE line was a prediction of unemployment would recover without the Obama stimulus plan.  The red dots at the top of the chart are actual unemployment experience -- with the Obama stimulus plan.  Now, you can explain that outcome in one of two ways:  1.  Keynesian economics applied to a real world situation does not work, or 2.  it's Bush's fault.  What does the rational mind conclude?



11 September 2012

11 September 2001

The day started out like any other for me. I got up, had my morning coffee, started my computer, and went about seeing what had happened in the world over night. Just one small problem: I couldn't connect with any of my favorite sites which, eleven years ago, included the MSNBC web site. I tried other sites; no luck. I tried any site; still no luck. I kept reloading the MSNBC site and finally got a message that said something to the effect that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. I ran downstairs, turned on the TV, and went to the local NBC channel. Tom Brokaw was in the midst of informing his audience that both towers of the World Trade Center had been struck by large aircraft; the clip of the second aircraft to strike was being run over and over.

Shock. What the hell was going on? As the morning progressed more news came in. The Pentagon had been struck by a large aircraft; United flight 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania. All aircraft in US airspace were being directed to land; those that had not yet entered US airspace were being diverted to other countries. I heard the term "Air Defense Emergency" being announced. That probably didn't mean much to civilians, but having been in command and control in the Air Force, it meant one thing me: WAR. It was the only time I have ever heard that declared in real life. Again, what the hell was going on? More announcements: President Bush was on Air Force One and had landed at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Another announcement: Air Force One had departed Barksdale; destination unknown. By that time my wife was up and was watching with the same disbelief that I felt. I finally had enough of the constant reiteration of known events; they were filling time until the next new thing was announced. I went outside into our back yard.

I hadn't been there long when I heard a large aircraft approaching Offutt Air Force Base. I looked out to the north, toward the approach path to Offutt. It was Air Force One on final approach; there was an F-16 flying escort. At some point I heard the F-16 execute a missed approach and then come around and land. So the President was at Offutt. I was now ahead of the TV news people; I came inside to tell my wife. Not long after that the talking head (Brokaw, I think) announced that President Bush had landed at Offutt Air Force Base.

After a little thought,it became clear why the President had landed at Offutt: as an alternate military command center, Offutt had all the secure communications needed for a presidential briefing. President Bush must be in the StratCom underground command post getting a briefing on events that had occurred and what plans there were to do something about it.

Editor's Note: Critics of the Bush Administration would later claim that "Bush was cowering in a bunker" when the country needed him, but that was just another cheap shot by a political party whose reputation for things like that dates back to before the Civil War.

I later confirmed that the President did indeed go to the StratCom command post for a briefing from someone, probably all the key cabinet members, and probably at the National Military Command Center near the Pentagon.

When CINCSTRATCOM, Admiral Richard Mies, received word that Air Force One was on its way to Offutt he drove out to the flight line to personally escort President Bush and his retinue to the underground command post.  Admiral Mies realized that trying to take a party that large to the command post through the labyrinth that is the usual route would be both cumbersome and time consuming so he ordered that the fire escape to the command post be opened so that the entire party could be taken directly to the command post from the lawn of the headquarters building.

Someone by the name of Jim Schiefelbein snapped a picture of Air Force One sitting in the NEACP parking area at Offutt, on "hot alert," engines running, hooked up to a ground communications network. I have a copy of that image, along with a short description of the circumstances.

The rest of the day was spent filling more time with announcements as more information came in about United 93, that this was a hijacking by Muslims, who some of the hijacker's were, and a myriad of details I have long since forgotten. It was announced that all flights inside the US had safely landed. Outside that was pretty obvious. Even military flights, except for air defense sorties, were grounded. I recall some talking head in/around the New York City area talking in an outdoor setting when the sound of a jet fighter penetrated his commentary. The young man actually ducked and wondered aloud whether "it was one of ours." Did he actually think that a bunch of hijackers who had committed suicide and murder also had their own air force? My daughter heard the sound of jet fighters flying around the Ann Arbor/Detroit area.  She told me that she had friends who said they felt uncomfortable with the fighter jets flying around.  Being an Air Force brat, her recollection is that of familiarity and comfort since it is not a sight often seen around the Ann Arbor, Michigan area, where she lives.  One of her friends told her that she was worried about the military aircraft.  My daughter told her that they were doing their job keeping us safe and it wasn't something to worry about.  Such is the ignorance of the civilian populace.

We watched along with everyone else as the twin towers collapsed in a huge cloud of dust and debris. After that it seemed like most of the imagery was of the smoking holes where the World Trade Center had stood that morning.

Toward evening we decided to go out and eat; neither one of us felt like cooking. As we drove to a nearby Thai restaurant we were amazed to see cars lined up at all the gas stations waiting to fill up their tanks. What were those people thinking of? Did they think that there would be no gasoline to be had the next day? Did they think were being invaded by screaming Muslim hoards? How far did they think a tank of gas was actually going to get them? Where were they going to go anyway? It was an amazing sight.

For the next three days, if I recall correctly, all flights in US airspace were grounded, except for air defense flights. There were armed fighters flying over New York City and Washington DC, at least. It was unusually quiet in our neighborhood. The training sorties that Offutt Air Force Base flew most days were grounded too. The airlines were busy inspecting their aircraft, trying to assess the potential for other aborted takeovers and making sure their aircraft were safe to fly. I heard that there was at least some evidence that other flights had been targeted.

Not long after 9-11 I received a rather odd e-mail message from someone who appeared to be in Oregon; he had a name that suggested someone from the Middle East. He had seen an on-line article I had written several years before. He wanted to know if I could teach him how to fly. I forwarded that message to the Omaha office of the FBI. The FBI never acknowledged receipt of that message, but some time later I heard on the evening news that a Muslim militant group had been broken up in Oregon.  In retrospect I have little doubt that if a Democrat knew of the fact that I had assumed the worst with that e-mail I would be branded a "racist" or even a "fascist."  Such is the state of the Party of the Democrats now.  It wasn't that way sixty years ago.

12 August 2012

The Rain Forest

The rain forests you see on National Geographic are usually peaceful places with birds singing and monkeys hooting.  The rain forest that you actually walk through is something else.  Nat Geo doesn't mention the stuff that the camera doesn't see or that they would rather just ignore.  There are lots of unsavory things in the rain forests of the world:  you find rats -- big rats; there are leeches too -- not the kind that swim in the lakes of Minnesota but little inchworm-like creatures that creep along the forest floor looking for their next blood meal; their are several species of mosquitoes, including the aggressive tiger mosquito, and being bitten by a mosquito is the first step toward being infected with malaria, among other lovely pathogens.  Malaria is an infection people die from.  Mosquitoes also carry infections like Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever (a.k.a. break-bone fever), the West Nile Virus, and several other pathogens you really don't want to come in contact with.

But, if you fly over rain forests, especially in places where people are shooting at you, you need to know how to get along in a hostile place like a rain forest.  For that reason, The Powers That Be declared that all of us going into combat in Southeast Asia really needed to go through the Jungle Survival course that was taught at Clark Air Base, Philippines.  Since we were going into a war zone, our curriculum needed to include getting around on the rain forest floor, what you could eat, what you should leave alone, and what might eat you.  We also learned more than we wanted to know about all the creatures, too tiny to see, that could make you sick -- or even kill you -- and what steps you might be able to take to protect yourself from them.  We also learned how to obtain and keep that most precious commodity in the rain forest: water.  And, since if we found ourselves running around on the rain forest floor, there was every likelihood that that we got there because someone shot us down and would be coming to gather us up to be added to their collection of POWs in The Zoo in Hanoi.  We were taught all the nifty hiding places there are in the rain forest -- especially places like snake-infested stands of bamboo so thick you have to squeeze into them sideways.  To keep things upbeat, however, there was a fair amount of training in the procedures for being snatched out of the rain forest by a big rescue helicopter; that included actually being snatched out of the rain forest by a big rescue helicopter.  That was some good stuff to know.

So.  One fine September day in 1971, the pilot I had gone through EB-66 training with at Shaw and I arrived at Clark Air Base for our week long course in surviving in the jungle.  We went through several days of classroom training, interspersed with practice sessions in letting ourselves down to the ground from tall trees, how to board the gadget that a rescue helicopter might lower to us, and what to do when the helicopter hauled us up into the helicopter (hang on and don't let go until they pry your hands off the gadget).  We also got to hear some of the rain forest sounds, such as gibbons hooting, and see how high a six-foot long Philippine crocodile can leap in trying capture prey (about the length of its body).  We saw what all kinds of venomous snakes look like, including various species of cobra, bamboo vipers, habus, and some other venomous snakes I can't recall now.  I still wonder if there are any snakes in Southeast Asia that aren't venomous.  Oh, yeah.  Pythons aren't venomous, but they can kill you if you mess with them.

After several days in the classrooms and the training grounds at Clark Air Base, we were ready for our camping trip into the rain forest.  We climbed aboard a HH-3 one morning and were flown out to a base camp at the foot of what they told us was an extinct volcano.  The whole world learned about twenty years later that the volcano was not extinct; it was only dormant.  The volcano has a name:  Pinatubo.  Where we trekked and camped on its flanks a lake now exists.

The helicopter deposited us at a Negrito base camp.  There we teamed up with a Negrito who would be our guide for our sleep over out there in that lush rain forest.  Then we all trekked single file along a trail that lead off into the rain forest.  For the short time we were in the sun the heat and humidity really were oppressive, but as soon as we entered the rain forest the heat dissipated quite a bit.  I was near the end of the column as we snaked through the rain forest; then somebody farther up in the column let out a yelp.  A Philippine cobra decided to slide across the trail just as he put his foot down; the cobra slid right over his boot and disappeared.  Welcome to the jungle.

Survival Rule One is set up some shelter.  We all were provided with a parachute canopy with shroud lines attached.  We were to go out into the forest and construct a para-hammock between two trees.  It took me a while to find two appropriate trees, string the hammock between the trees, tie off the hammock, and arrange a rain shelter and insect barrier over the hammock.  My partner, the pilot, got the job done quicker than I and already had his poncho on when the afternoon rain began to fall.  I was still struggling with the slippery shroud lines but eventually got my shelter set up.  But I was thoroughly soaked; putting on a poncho would have been a waste of time.

After we all got our camp sites set up it was time for a combination nature walk and foraging expedition.  The Negrito led the column and would stop here and there to show us plants that were edible -- and some that we should avoid.  He would take some of the edible plants, such as cassava, and things I can no longer recall.  We would eat those plants and roots with our evening meal.  All the while we were on our afternoon trek, the rain steadily drizzled through the forest canopy.  I didn't dry out much -- but then most of the rest of group were also soaked.  We had ample opportunity to note that the wet volcanic soil was extremely slippery; everyone was pretty well mud caked by the time our trek was over.  I can see why leather boots don't last long in the rain forest.  Back at camp, we got a course in jungle cooking and cuisine courtesy of our Negrito guide.  We found a stand of green bamboo and cut several lengths as thick as my forearm.  These became jungle pressure cookers/steamers.  The Negrito found some dead and dry bamboo and gave us a demonstration of how you can make a fire in a wet rain forest without needing matches.  He literally rubbed two pieces of bamboo together to get a fire going.  There is more detail to it than that, but I still am able to make a fire that way; all I need is a few pieces of dry bamboo and a large knife.

Following the instructions of our Air Force instructor and the Negrito, we put the gatherings from our afternoon foraging, along with some rice, into the green bamboo segments and threw them onto the camp fire.  In short order the green bamboo pressure cookers/steamers were sizzling and sputtering.  A few minutes later we pulled the bamboo cookers out of the fire and emptied their contents onto rain washed banana leaves.  We supplemented that with canned rations the USAF had thoughtfully provided.  It was pretty tasty, especially the cassava.  Our instructor told us to be sure and throw the empty ration tins into the fire and keep the fire going for a while.  Failure to do that would draw rats into the camp site.  Of course that advice was largely ignored.

After eating, we had a few more lessons in signaling using day/night flares, pen gun flares, and rocket flares.  That was entertaining -- especially when the pen gun flares ricocheted off of tree limbs.  The Negrito also gave us a demonstration in how to tap a large tree for its water.  With all the lessons completed for the day it was time to retire to our para-hammocks for the night.  It was pitch black out there in the rain forest, but I recalled about where my hammock was and stumbled along, with the help of a flashlight, until I found it.  I carefully crawled into the hammock, wet boots and all, and pulled the mosquito netting down around me.  There is only one way to lay in a hammock:  on your back.  In a para-hammock, the nylon stretches a lot and your body takes on the shape of a U; it is not the most comfortable way to spend the night.  But it beats sleeping on the jungle floor.

Shortly after I got situated in my hammock, my partner, the pilot, found his hammock several feet away and hopped in.  I could hear him arranging the mosquito netting.  Then there was a loud KA-RASH; that was followed by a long string of expletives.  I knew what had happened:  my partner's hammock had come loose from one of its moorings and dumped him on the ground.  From the string of obscenities coming from him I knew he hadn't been hurt.  Still, trying to suppress a snicker, I asked, "are you okay?"  He was.  Since it was pitch black, he declared that he was not going to try to retie the hammock and that he would be spending the night next to the camp fire.  Off he went toward the dying embers of the camp fire.

When Partner got to the camp fire he discovered three or four others still hanging around the camp fire.  They were too spooked by the blackness to go wandering out into the forest to find their hammocks.  So there were four or five people lying on the ground next to the embers of the former camp fire.  Then they heard the clinking and clanking of the ration cans that didn't make it into the camp fire.  The rats had come into the camp site to feed on whatever they could find.  So.  Four or five jungle survival students, lying there like so many corpses, on the muddy ground, next to an almost dead camp fire, when they all sat up in unison.  "What was that?", someone said.  Someone else said, "I don't know."  My partner, the pilot, said, "It was a rat!"  "How do you know it was a rat?", said a voice in the dark.  Partner said, "Because it had four wet feet and a long wet tail -- and it just ran across my face!"  With that news the rest of the folks around the camp fire lost their fear of the inky blackness of the rain forest.  It became imperative to revive that camp fire.

All the rest of the night I could hear "chop, chop, chop, chop" and see flashlights floating through the darkness as the camp fire folks searched for enough dry bamboo to keep the rats at bay.  At some point in the early morning darkness a loud rolling CRASH came from up slope of us.  It had to be either a big tree toppling or a land slide; I don't know which.  In any case the sound died away rather than get louder.  Finally, the sky started to lighten as morning twilight arrived.  My body had been in a U-shape for several hours by that time and I had to pee.  I briefly considered trying to pee over the edge of my hammock but it looked like that might result in me lying face down in the mud, so I carefully pulled up the mosquito netting and worked my way to a sitting position in the hammock.  Looking over the side of the hammock I could see a nice fat red leech inchworming along forest floor.  That was one leech who had recently had breakfast.

Everyone gathered around the smoldering remains of the camp fire and awaited the instructor and the Negrito.  We ate whatever rations we had left for breakfast.  That turned out to be a mistake for me.  This was the last day in the rain forest and we would be practicing our E&E skills.  We formed a column and hiked to a place where we would practice hiding from the Negritos.  The incentive for the Negritos was a pound of rice for every evading student they found.  They would get five pounds of rice for rescuing a student in distress.  We were each given a loop that had several plain metal dog tags and one red one.  The red one indicated you were in distress; the rest just indicated that a Negrito had earned another pound of rice.

We were given to time to fan out and try to find a good hiding place.  I ended up in a low spot in the ground that was open to the sky.  There were some bamboo clumps around, but I could just feel all the beady reptilian eyes watching me so I didn't try disturbing whatever snakes were lurking in the bamboo.  There were lots of vines covering the ground so I decided to hide in plain sight.  I lifted the vines, which were like a huge green blanket, and crawled under.  I curled up into as small a ball as I could and just lay there on my side.  A hat with mosquito netting over it broke up the features of my face.  And then the Negritos came hooping and hollering after us.  Several ran right through the patch of vines I was hiding under but never saw me.  One almost stepped on my head.  I lay there quietly trying not to move at all.  At some point some kind of insect started boring into my left cheek as I lay there.  I ignored it for as long as I could and then, ever so slowly, I started to ease my left hand to my cheek to get rid of what was chewing on me.  I had barely moved when I heard a small voice:  "I see you."  I froze.  The voice came again:  "I see you."  I stayed still.  This time the elderly Negrito came over to the vines and pulled them back.  He looked down at me and said, one more time:  "I see you."  Busted.  I gave him a dog tag and headed into the common area where we were supposed to go after "capture." 

We were given a debriefing by the instructors and told to go back out and hide again.  I would have, but I was beginning to feel queasy.  Those rations I had for breakfast were coming back to haunt me. I sat there for a while awaiting the inevitable and then proceeded to unload my stomach contents a few times.  Having done that, and not feeling much better, I heard the call to load up.  Training was over and we were going to be trucked back to Clark Air Base.   It was raining again.  We were loaded into the back of an uncovered six-by and off we went.  I had another go at emptying my stomach in the back of that rain soaked truck.

After that, it was get dry.  Get cleaned up.  And catch the next ride for Korat Royal Thai Air Base.

11 August 2012

Hey look. Sharks.

Like every other trainee destined for the EB-66, I had to go through the TAC Sea Survival course before going to RTU at Shaw.  The TAC Sea Survival course was at Homestead AFB, Florida.  That was more fun than work and as a bonus I actually learned a lot of stuff – unlike most of the ATC-run schools I’ve been to.

The highlight of the course is the parasailing that is done in the last two days.  For those unfamiliar with the course, we were given one orientation ride on the parasail to get us used to the sensation.  For me, at least, it was a real attention getter, but a bit like a roller coaster ride, my immediate impulse was to want to do it again.  Nothing like an adrenalin high.  The second parasail ride is with all the survival gear on and ends with the class bobbing around in Biscayne Bay for a while practicing with survival gear.

It was the second day of parasailing and everyone was on deck listening to the instructors give us last minute instructions on what we were supposed to do.  Out of the corner of my right eye I saw a couple of porpoises break the surface of the bay, maybe fifty yards to starboard.  I nudge the guy standing next to me and said, “Hey, look.  Sharks.”  The instructor heard me and spoiled the fun by pointing out the several porpoises that were now frolicking to starboard. 

The rest of the day  went as planned and I ended up getting my one and only ride in an H-21B.

09 August 2012

Chill'n With My Buds

We had signed into the 28th Air Refueling Squadron, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, in June of 1961.  We didn't have school assignments, yet, to the KC-135 upgrade at Castle AFB, California, but we did spend endless days doing replots of celestial navigation legs done by other squadron navigators who were on numbered crews.  It turned out to be pretty good practice.  Finally, in early August, if I recall correctly, John Walker and I drove out the front gate of Ellsworth AFB, bound for the KC-135 upgrade school.  We spent about three months at Castle and were back at Ellsworth sometime in October of 1961.  From there we started doing some serious training on our way to becoming SAC navigators.

By December, we had not yet been assigned to crews, but we had pretty much covered all the flight training, the positive control training, the SAC-specific procedures, and who knows what other things we were supposed to know as a navigator on a SAC KC-135 crew.  Then the squadron chief navigator told Walker and me that we would be doing the local survival course in about a week.  It would be a few days of fun and frolic in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  In winter.  In deep snow.  In a para-teepee – that we had to build ourselves.  Okay.
Walker and I bought some provisions – enough to last for three or four days, as best I recall.  We had on all of our winter flight gear, including winter flying boots, winter flight jacket and gloves, thermal underwear, and some kind of headgear to keep our ears from freezing.  We met with two survival instructors, loaded ourselves and our kits into a blue USAF pickup truck and off we went, in moderately falling snow, to the survival training site in ponderosa pine forests, in the vicinity of Nemo, South Dakota.  Oh.  And by the way, on this particular trip into the Black Hills, there was a tag along:  an airman from the base Public Affairs office was going to record our training.  He was armed with a camera.
At the survival camp site there was a small cabin.  That housed the survival instructors and served as a classroom whenever that need arose.  We did not stop at the cabin.  Instead, we were taken to the opposite end of the clearing in the mighty ponderosa pines and told to unload our kits.  Survival Lesson One:  build a shelter as soon as possible.  The instructors helpfully gave us a couple of axes and explained that we were going out into a stand of "dog hair pine" to cut some poles for the para-teepee we were going to build.  It was easy to cut enough teepee poles; dog hair pine is just overcrowded and stunted ponderosa pine.  We cut and dragged, maybe, a dozen poles to our camp site, and the instructors gave us few quick lessons in para-teepee construction.  As I recall, we had at least two standard size parachute canopies with us, including all the shroud lines.
In fairly short order, we had erected a proper para-teepee.  Next we had to take our trusty axes back out into the forest and cut some pine and spruce bows to serve as mattresses.  Survival Lesson Two:  you don't want to sleep directly on top of snow.  With two of nature's finest mattresses constructed, we stowed our gear inside the para-teepee.  Our gear, by the way, included two down-filled sleeping bags from survival kits.  Each, of course, had two holes in it where the screw that had kept it compressed inside its fiberglass shell had passed when it was manufactured.
Then we went off to do a lot of other things I don't remember anymore but can be generally described as woods lore and living off the land.  I do recall that, in spite of the cold, there was one source of running water available to us, and it didn't even need water purification tablets – at least not that I recall.
At the end of the first day, the instructors and the tag along airman retired to their cabin, heated by a nice warm stove, while Walker and I retired to our para-teepee and worked out how to get a small fire going so we could cook some of our provisions.  It actually worked out pretty well.  In spite of the near-zero temperature outside, the small fire warmed up the para-teepee pretty well. 
Bed time was a learning experience.  Those down sleeping bags had been cold soaking all day at the ambient temperature.  The instructors told us it was best to strip down to our underwear, crawl inside the sleeping bag, and endure the bone-chilling cold until our body heat warmed up the sleeping bag.  There was one half-hearted attempt at doing what the instructors had advocated, then we both crawled into the sleeping bags with enough clothing to prevent contact with the cold interiors of those icy sleeping bags.  We passed the night in reasonable comfort, but that bag never did really warm up down near my feet.
For the next day or so we learned about land navigation, including how to use the compass from the survival kits, using the 7.5 minute quadrangle charts, map reading on the ground (considerably different than when you are looking down on the terrain from an aircraft), and general tips on cross-country hiking.  The next day, which would be our last day of survival training, we would be plotting a course to a specific pickup point and hiking to that point.  The airman with the camera would be going along to record the event.
Walker and I duly plotted our course and got the approval of the instructors for what we wanted to do.  They did suggest another route, but ours looked better than theirs.  In hindsight, since they knew the lay of the land, maybe we should have listened to them.  In any case, off we went to our pickup point.  We were in a small valley and paralleled a ridge that was between us and our pickup point.  Our plan had been to find a specific gap in the ridgeline, climb through the relatively narrow and steep gap, and descend the other side to our destination.  Maps don't depict actual conditions on the ground.
The actual conditions were that we were in a pretty dense ponderosa pine forest and there were patches of dog hair pine scattered all over that ridgeline.  Although our ETA to our gap in the ridgeline turned out to be pretty good, we walked right past it because it was hidden in dog hair pine.  On down the ridgeline we plodded until it became clear that we had missed the gap.  We stopped to orient ourselves.  Off in the direction opposite of where we needed to go I saw a prominent hill; it was depicted on the map and the terrain lines even matched what I was seeing.  Walker wasn't so sure.  I took a compass bearing on the hill and plotted it.  Even though it was a single LOP it pretty well matched up with where I thought we should be.  Walker disagreed.  I turned around toward the direction we needed to go and scanned the terrain:  there was a gap in the ridgeline right about where the terrain lines on the map indicated a gap.  A heated discussion ensued between Walker and me as to where we were, where we should go next, and generally every detail of terrain we were standing on.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see the airman looking back and forth between Walker and me.  Finally, Walker declared that he was going his way and I could go wherever it was I wanted to go.  Okay.
For some reason, the airman decided to follow me.  In any case we started up through the gap in front of us.  It was full of dog hair pine and the going was slow.  As we ascended for longer than I expected that we would, I kept hearing crashing and thrashing off to our right.  As we finally got to the top of the gap, Walker appeared through the dog hair pine. 
Although the descent was not as difficult as the ascent through the gap it was still a challenge.  Finally we got down to the road we knew was there.  Since we had overshot our turn point, we knew to turn right to get to our pickup point.  The pickup point was, maybe, a quarter to a half mile away from us.
The instructors had started to get concerned and were honking the truck horn.  We had missed our ETA by quite a bit because of our extra excursion down the other side of the ridgeline.  After a critique on how we did, we bundled up for our last night in the freezing pine forests.  Next day we got back to Ellsworth and proceeded to try to wash all the grime and soot that had accumulated on us from the past several days.
It was good to be back in something a bit more civilized than where we had just been.

11 May 2012

Cypripedium reginae

Finally.  After, probably, five years of tending to it, the sole surviving hardy lady slipper orchid, the Showy Lady Slipper, has finally bloomed.  These are fairly rare orchids native to North America.  This one lives in one of my gardens and survives temperatures that can get as low as -20 degrees F.

This one came from Vermont Ladyslipper Company.

21 March 2012

The Internet is Watching...

...and it's sometimes amusing at how wrong the profiling is.

My household buys diabetic supplies.  Once a month we buy a bottle of ReliOn Humulin N from Walmart, along with 100 syringes for injecting insulin.  We also buy Bayer Keto-Diastix and litmus strips.  We have been doing that for five years now.  If you were keeping track of our purchases you would believe that there is a diabetic in the house, and you would be right.

But who is nosy enough to track our purchases of diabetic supplies?  Well, we have bought insulin from several sources before we discovered the generic ReliOn brand at Walmart so several different pharmacies in the area have sold us insulin.  Likewise the insulin syringes and the other test equipment.  We even have a blood glucose test meter, which manufacturers will be happy to provide free.  It turns out that the meter is the cheap part of being diabetic,  It is the test strips that cost a lot, and you end up using a lot of test strips -- if you are a human diabetic.  Other than the pharmacies where we buy our supplies, there is the credit card issuer who knows where we make our purchases and, generally, what the purchases are.  There is also the syringe manufacturer.  Even though modern one-use insulin syringes are made to a pretty high standard, there are still manufacturing flaws that aren't caught until it comes time to actually use the syringe.  We have had instances of bent needles; needles that pierced the protective cap; needles with manufacturing residue on them; and needles without a point at the end.  Whenever we find something like that we contact the manufacturer and supply the lot number on the box.  In short order we get  special container to return the defective syringe and a coupon for another free box of syringes.

Aside from the pharmacies, our credit card issuer, the glucose meter manufacturer, and the syringe manufacturer, I am not aware of anyone else who would know about our purchases of diabetic supplies.  But someone does.  I have received unsolicited calls asking me if I check my blood glucose levels regularly.  There have been a few instances of adds for diabetic supplies appearing on the web pages I visit.  This morning I got an e-mail from PJ Media with a blaring advertisement for some cockamamie "new" diabetic spice treatment that is supposed to be superior to conventional treatment.

Ginger the diabetic dog
So.  Someone is watching and trying to attract my attention.  They think I am the diabetic in this household -- and they are spectacularly wrong. 

We have been buying diabetic supplies for the past five years in order to keep our Australian terrier alive.  Now, you don't treat a case of canine diabetes like you do a human case.  In humans you try to regulate the diabetic condition; with a dog you simply try control in a general way the blood glucose level to keep it from going too high or too low.  Getting a blood glucose reading from a dog is not for amateurs; we usually let the veterinarian do that, when necessary.  In fact, I have gotten only one successful blood glucose test from Ginger before I decided that the process was too stressful for the both of us.  Now I collect a urine sample twice a day and check that for glucose; I also check the urine pH value as part of Ginger's daily routine.  We try to keep good care of our diabetic doggie.

I have been aware for a while now that in spite of my efforts to be invisible on the world-wide web, that is not possible.  I do seem to have given the web watchers erroneous indications, however, and the watchers arrive at some amusing conclusions as a result.  I suppose that this post will cause them to update my profile again.

18 March 2012


I met Donald Rumsfeld today.  That is Donald H. Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush.  I shook his hand, introduced myself and asked him a question that has been on my mind for about 40 years.

I met Rummy at the Offutt Air Force Base Exchange; he was there for a two-hour book signing gig promoting his book Known and Unknown:  A Memoir.  The book signing was originally scheduled for last summer, but the death of Betty Ford caused him to postpone his visit to Offutt until today.  The signing was scheduled to last from 1100 to 1300, and I got there at 1100.  There was already a line that stretched out the main exchange door, and down the mall.  Surprisingly there where a substantial number of younger adults there and even a few teenagers.  Some older men were dressed in suits, but maybe that was because they had gone to church earlier in the day.  Some people came prepared with family members or friends holding cameras to record the historic moment.  Some had multiple copies of the Rumsfeld book, probably for themselves as well as the folks back home.  I thought of none of that and was there by myself , book in hand.

It took an hour of standing in a very slow-moving line before I finally got up to the desk where Donald Rumsfeld was signing copies of his book.  He had an assistant standing at the edge of his table; the assistant opened each book to the title page and slid the book in front of Rumsfeld at the appropriate moment.  The base exchange had thoughtfully provided an upholstered office chair so that Rumsfeld could sit comfortably.  Each person shook Rumsfeld's hand and got to exchange a few words with him.  I was standing behind a youngish family of six:  Mom and Dad, plus four kids, two of whom were riding in a double stroller.  The kids were amazingly quiet.  Dad was carrying a bag with three copies of the book in it.

My turn with The Man came next.  Donald Rumsfeld is not a physically large man by any means, but he gives every impression of a high level of mental sharpness and a zest for life.  He leaned forward in his chair and extended his hand.  I shook his hand and told him my name and that I had 25 years of active duty service.  He congratulated me on that.  I told him I had a question for him, if he had a moment; of course, he did.  My question was this:  I recall Linebacker II and the bombing of Hanoi with B-52s in December 1972, and less that a year later we went to DEFCON 3 during the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War.  It has always seemed to me that Henry Kissinger's finger prints are all over those two events.  Am I wrong?  His answer was a finesse.  He reminded me that at that time he was US ambassador to NATO and living in Brussels, Belgium.  He said he didn't know the details of what was going on back in Washington and that going to DEFCON 3 had surprised him too.

So now my copy of Known and Unknown:  A Memoir has been signed by the author himself.  From his book I have learned that he and I share similar opinions about NATO.  I am going to finish reading it, and then I am going to give it to my daughter so that she and her daughters can learn a bit of what really happened in the Cold War and its aftermath.  Who knows.  Maybe someday book collectors will value a signed copy of a memoir by Donald H. Rumsfeld.

11 March 2012

Energy Policy -- Or What Passes For It

Last night, all the people in the USA whose lives are governed by a clock set all their clocks to read one hour later than it actually is (by the Sun, at least) and then went to bed.  This morning they pretended they forgot they had done that last night and got up an hour earlier than they ordinarily would have.  That is what passes for federal energy policy these days.

We are now in the Daylight Saving Time mode and will be until next November 4th.  This is part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was signed into law by George W. Bush.  Now, there are many provisions to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, but mandating the switch to Daylight Saving Time at the times now called for in the law, and calling it an energy conservation measure, is willful ignorance.  It seems to assume that the citizenry of the USA is stupid.

I hear people say every summer that they are glad to have an extra hour of daylight.  Clearly, they are not thinking -- or they are not thinking clearly.  I used to volunteer as a docent at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska.  During the summer months we volunteers gave tours of the zoo grounds.  There is a large sundial there and it is on the tour route.  When we passed the sundial I would ask everyone on the tour to look at their watches and check what the sundial indicated.  It is a pretty accurate sundial, so it invariably showed the time to be an hour earlier than what everybody's watches indicated.  I would ask the tour group why there was an hour difference between their watches and the sundial.  Most could not even hazard a guess.

Daylight Saving Time is an illusion; it only works in the part of the year when there are more hours of daylight over the course of a day than there are hours of darkness.  That part of the year begins, more or less, at the Vernal Equinox and ends at the Autumnal Equinox.  From the first day of Autumn to the first day of Spring, there are more hours of darkness over the course of a day than there are hours of daylight, so Daylight Saving Time is pointless.  Daylight Saving Time appears to work because people -- at least those who live by the clock, and that is most people -- get up an hour earlier than they did the morning before DST went into effect.  It does not even appear to work now because we are still in Winter and there are more hours of darkness that daylight over the course of a day.  People who live by the clock should have noticed that their bedrooms were darker this morning when they got up than they were yesterday morning, but I doubt that anyone did.

The traditional rules for implementing Daylight Saving Time were to start on the first Sunday in April and end on the first Sunday in October.  There is a good reason why that was so:  there are more hours of daylight than darkness in that part of the year.

I would like to ask the true believers in Daylight Saving Time where that extra hour of daylight is right now and next Halloween.  The fact is, it isn't there.  I will also ask the members of the US Congress why they believe that implementing Daylight Saving Time at all saves energy.  I don't expect any rational answers there either.

28 February 2012


During the Cold War, both NATO and Warsaw Pact forces conducted a lot of intelligence gathering against the other.  Some of the efforts were spy missions in the traditional sense, in other words, what is called Human Intelligence (HUMINT), or more commonly, espionage.  Other efforts were intended to gather as much information as possible about the adversary's military capabilities.  Those efforts were called Communications Intelligence (COMINT), or more generally, Signals Intelligence (SIGINT).  Electronics Intelligence (ELINT) is a subset of SIGINT, as is COMINT.

I was involved in supporting US ELINT efforts in the early 1960s.  In those days a primary ELINT collector used by Strategic Air Command was the RB-47
Air Refueling
The crews that flew the RB-47 mainly flew along the periphery of Communist Bloc countries looking for signals that indicated the types of radars being employed, where the radars were located, improvements to existing equipment, and the introduction of new equipment.  The tanker crew I was on supported a reconnaissance project operating out of Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, in the summer of 1964.  We flew every few days; that is, whenever the RB-47 crew had something they needed to check up on. 

Some sorties were easy.  We'd refuel the RB-47 over Alaska and set up a holding orbit in the vicinity of Nome, Alaska, and wait for radio calls from the RB-47.  If necessary, we would echo whatever the transmissions the RB-47 crew made.  Other sorties were much longer and ranged out in several directions.  There was a sortie that took us out over the Aleutian Chain, clear out to Shemya and beyond.  Several took us out past Point Barrow and over the Arctic Ocean.  The farthest ranging sortie had us refueling the RB-47 somewhere north of  the Severnaya Zemlya island group.  Another took us over to an air refueling point north of the New Siberia Islands.

View from a KC-135 cockpit
The RB-47 came loaded for Bear, so to speak.  There was a crew of six:  pilot, copilot, navigator, and three electronic warfare officers (EWOs).  For takeoff and landing the EWOs sat in slings in a walkway below the pilots.  After the bird was safely airborne and climbing, the EWOs crawled back through a tunnel to what had been the bomb bay in a more conventional B-47.  It was cramped quarters back there -- and noisy too, from what I've been told.  They sat under the center wing fuel tanks, and their ejection seats when downward through a Fiberglas and honeycomb steel panel that covered the bottom of the belly bulge that was the EWO main office.  Hanging from the right side of the fuselage, at least in the RB-47H, was a pod the crew called "the finder."  It apparently had some kind of electronic sensors that detected and recorded signals without the need for EWO intervention.  In the tail was a pair of 20 mm cannon mounted in a radar directed turret.  The copilot operated the turret if it became necessary to defend the aircraft.  There were several episodes over the years where it became necessary to defend the aircraft.

Standard tactics for departure and enroute cruise had the RB-47 taking off first, followed by the supporting KC-135.  That made sense.  If the RB-47 aborted the takeoff there was no reason for the KC-135 being airborne.  The KC-135 would follow the RB-47 out the departure route and, usually, overtake the recon bird shortly after level off.  Once the flight was about ten miles off the Alaskan coast, the RB-47 crew would conduct a test fire of the tail guns.  That process was done in radio silence; nearly all the mission was done in radio silence except for some course corrections and whatever position checks the RB-47 reported after it entered the "sensitive area."  In any case, test firing the guns required the KC-135 to leave the trail position and fly off the right wing of the RB-47.  Once the guns were seen to have fired, the KC-135 would drop back to trail position and follow the RB-47 on its outbound route.  Being in trail was kind of spooky because those radar directed guns were always pointed right at us.  When it came time to do air refueling, the guns would follow us as the RB-47 dropped back to get behind the tanker.  They would stop tracking us only after the RB-47 had passed our wingtip.  There might be just one air refueling or two, based on how far out we flew to the point where we parted company with the RB-47.

After we parted company with the RB-47 we usually just made a bee-line for Eielson AFB.  Enroute back we listened for the RB-47 making reports via HF radio to ground stations in Alaska and elsewhere.  If we did not hear the ground stations acknowledge the transmissions we would echo the recon crew report and wait for a ground station reply.  Other times, when the path out to drop off point was rather close in to Alaska we would be required to establish an orbit and hold between two points for some time until the RB-47 had made the required reports.  Shuttling between Nome and Kotzebue on the western coast of Alaska was fairly common. 

Just as an aside, Sarah Palin is right:  You can see Russia from your backdoor.  Oh, wait.   That was Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live.

Of course, we were not entirely alone out there over the Arctic pack ice.  The DEW Line radars were watching our progress for as far out as they could.  I recall checking in with Point Barrow one day when we were still about 300 nautical miles from the coastline.  Point Barrow called radar contact even before I turned on the IFF.  Of course, they knew our flight plan -- and we were cruising at 39,000 feet. 

Soviet Yak-25
The recon crew told us that the Soviets were watching too.  In fact, they would run intercepts on the RB-47s regularly.  As a matter of practice, the RB-47s always flew in international airspace, but the Soviets wanted to keep an eye on who and what was trolling their border regions.  The copilot on the RB-47 crew kept a black ring binder that was labeled "The Bad Guys."  It contained a sheaf of 8x10 glossy black and white images of the Soviet interceptors that had come up to eyeball the RB-47.  The one image that sticks in my mind is that of a Yak-25 flying on the right wing of the RB-47; the Yak-25 GIB (Guy in Back) was holding up a large camera, taking a picture of the RB-47 just at the copilot was taking a picture of the Yak-25.  We were told that intelligence analysts on both sides studied those images for changes in configuration and equipment so as to keep track of whatever changes were being fielded.

Since both sides always brought guns to a potential gunfight, there was a certain etiquette that was observed when an intercept took place.  If the Soviet interceptor did not switch his intercept radar to the attack mode, the RB-47 copilot kept the tail guns pointed away from the Soviet interceptor.  The better to avoid misunderstandings in what had to be a rather tense situation.  Yet attacks did occur, not only against the RB-47s, but also other reconnaissance aircraft.  The last known attack against an RB-47 came from North Korean MiG-17s in April 1965.  The RB-47 took hits from the MiGs but survived and landed at Yokota Air Base, Japan.  You can read a summary of attacks against RB-47s here.

The RB-47 program was slowly phased out with the introduction of the RC-135 series of aircraft.  The last time I recall seeing an RB-47 was the summer of 1966.  We deployed to Southeast Asia, mainly supporting the B-52 Arclight mission  and the various fighter missions against North Vietnam.  I saw an RB-47 parked on the ramp at Clark Air Base, Philippines on one of our stops there.  Later, we were holding in an air refueling orbit near Danang, when Panama Control, the GCI (Ground Control Intercept) site at Danang started calling an aircraft on UHF Guard channel.  They obviously deemed the aircraft as an unknown because with every radio challenge they included its TACAN range and bearing from Danang.  I started plotting the ranges and bearings; the positions were a nice neat line tracking westward, about 10 nautical miles off the southern coast of China's Hainan Island.  After several radio challenges by Panama Control, the RB-47 broke radio silence and told Panama to shut up and that they were supposed to be where they were.

By 1966 most of the RB-47s were retired as the RC-135s took over more and more of the SAC reconnaissance load.  The 82nd SRS was located at Kadena Air Base, Japan; another squadron flew out of Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.  There were RC-135s at Shemya Air Force Base, Alaska too.  There were RC-135s flying out of the United Kingdom, Greece, and probably places I never heard of.  I recall seeing a couple of RC-135s landing at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, the same day a group of French Mirage-4 bombers and their supporting KC-135FRs departed Hickam on their way to French nuclear tests in French Polynesia.

The RC-135 continues to fly today in always newer configurations and out of more places I probably never heard of.  In fact, the RAF is now in the process of acquiring and operating RC-135s.

The testing continues unabated.  For their part, after a twenty year pause the Russians are again flying their Bear reconnaissance aircraft along US borders, at least.