A good friend of mine died recently, Lt. Gen. Carl Peterson, USAF (Ret.). “General Pete” started his career as a 20-year-old B-17 pilot in World War 2. He got to England in October 1944, after the most deadly phase of the bombing campaign, so he was required to fly 35 missions to earn redeployment. (Earlier in the war, crews only had to fly 25 missions per deployment – with a 5% attrition rate, a crew was on borrowed time after 20 missions.)
General Pete lost two airplanes and 18 engines, but thankfully no crewmen on his 35 missions. At first he said very little about the missions, but as our friendship grew he talked about the risks and a few specific incidents.
Most impressive was the vast scale of the raids, hundreds or even thousands of bombers launched over strategic targets in Germany. Because of the marginal weather in England, it was common to lose several B-17′s to mid-air collisions during blind “forming up” and climbing to cruise altitude.
Approaching the target, the Norden bombsight acted as an autopilot, flying straight and level at constant speed. The German anti-aircraft defenders had years to dial in these automated flight paths, which could only vary slightly in altitude and track. General Pete and his fellow pilots were just spectators during these bomb runs, and survival was greatly determined by luck and position in the formation (the defenders often aimed for flight leaders or, if known, high ranking pilots). During the bomb runs, planes would be fine one second and gone or heavily damaged in another.
Once the bombs were away, undamaged bombers escorted stricken planes if possible, and counted parachutes if the crews of damaged planes had to bail out. General Pete managed to land his two mortally damaged planes in Belgium, which was in friendly hands by late 1944.
He watched helplessly as other planes ditched in the English Channel, unable to fly all the way back to England after bypassing airfields on the Continent. Most B-17 crews survived ditching, but the high-winged B-24 was notorious for disintegrating with heavy casualties.
The weather often was again a factor in returning to England, and many bombers groped their way to any airfield that became visible, to be rejoined with their squadrons another day.
The 8th Air Force bombing campaign was just one of many vast efforts in World War 2. Between 1940 and 1945, U.S. industry produced 32,000 B-17′s and B-24′s, a rate of 20 per day. The entire world-wide war, from Pearl Harbor to the unconditional German and Japanese surrenders, was over for the U.S. in 45 months!
General Pete returned to civilian life for a few years, but rejoined the Air Force during the Korean War. He became an attack pilot (Skyraiders in Viet Nam) and later an all-weather fighter pilot for the Air Defense Command (F-94, F-89, F-101, F-102, F-106). He commanded the Air Defense Weapons Center at Tyndall AFB, FL and retired from a field-grade liason deployment with NATO in Norway.
How young is the USA?
Consider this: I was born in 1938, 75 years ago. 75 years before that, the Civil War was raging in 1863. Back another 75 years, 1788 - the year before the Constitution was adopted.
As a retiree advancing in age, I sometimes remember things that didn't happen (just wait til you get here!) or don't remember important details.
I just watched four episodes of NASA documentaries on the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo manned flights, and the tempo of those missions, many I didn't recall, was breathtaking. They launched a big mission every three months or so, one time launched two within 14 days including a repair of the launch pad after a post-ignition abort.
Introduced major new tasks and equipment (space walks, moon landings, moon rover cars, Saturn 5 rockets, etc.) with minimal rehearsal. Flew eight Moon missions between 1969 and 1972 and cancelled three final Moon missions after acquiring the hardware and training the crews!
They did lose three astronauts to a training fire, but recovered three unharmed from behind the Moon on Apollo 13, after an inflight explosion and some heroic improvisation (The movie Apollo 13 is almost a documentary.).
Available on Netflix.
41 minutes in a Delta DC-9 brings back memories – I arrived at Delta on December 20, 1965, the same month as the first DC-9 delivery.
As it evolved, I became a powerplant engineer for the DC-9, so learned a lot more about the little airplane over the next few years. A real workhorse as they say, and pretty much bulletproof. My fun assignment, though, was the CJ805 that powered the Convair 880 – still the speed record holder for airliners.
The CJ was a civilianized (non-afterburning) GE J79 engine which, with afterburner, powered the F-4 Phantom used by all three air services (USN, USAF, USMC).
Lord knows the CJ burned enough jet fuel without a burner – Delta wasn’t set up for mid-air refueling that was required to feed the burner. And jet fuel was expensive – between 10 and 12 cents a gallon! If you had told me you could operate Delta profitably on $3.75 a gallon fuel, I’d never have believed it. Of course, many things that seemed impossible in 1965 are realities today. But that will be a post for another day.
Lots of speculation about the cause of the crash landing at SFO. Consensus seems to build among Boeing pilots on the net that 777, configured for landing, quickly goes from "high and fast" to "low and slow" unless close attention is given to throttles to maintain speed. The Asiana pilots, for reasons not yet known, did not take over throttles manually when auto-throttles were inactivated. Apparently, heavy airplane pilots get very little "stick and rudder" hand-flying training or experience in the modern airline environment.
The Battle of Midway (June 4, 1942) is recognized as a pivotal victory for American forces in the Pacific theater of WWII. The battle is especially meaningful for the Hodges family as we had two (and still have one, Rev. Gene Hodges, age 92!) survivors of the carrier Yorktown (CV-5). This is the memorial to Midway recently commissioned at Annapolis.
My cousin Doyle retired in a ceremony at Bancroft Hall, with many friends, family, and shipmates in attendance. It was about duty, honor, intellect, respect, and even love. Doyle had a great career track since graduating from the Academy in 1992, including two commands at sea and most recently as head of the Navigation and Seamanship department at Annapolis.
Doyle came to love the academic life, and so has retired to attend Princeton. He will seek the credentials to further his research and perhaps return to the Naval Academy faculty as a civilian with a unique perspective on being a modern naval officer.
Doyle already loved Emily, and now both loves can grow and prosper. Fair winds, Doyle and Emily!