Friday, August 27, 2010

Strange How Things Work Out

All things come to he who waits

In Japan, my assignment was to the 6485 Operations Squadron under the 315th Air Division. The squadron consisted of 2 C-47s, used for training Royal Thai Air Force personnel, 2 C54s (DC-4s) used primarily for Aeromedical Evacuation flights and some special operations, and 2 newly acquired C-118's (DC-6s). I had assumed the reason I was assigned to the squadron was for my experience in the C-118s. I had 3500+ hours in the plane and had been an instructor in the aircraft,and flight simulator I thought I could provide valuable experience for them. However, my new Commander had other ideas. He wanted all the other pilots to fly them first, so they could possibly get better jobs when they rotated back to the States. At the time I arrived, the two pilots and one instructor pilot had less than 100 hours combined in the plane. Instead I was assigned to the C-54s and would have to start at the bottom and go through the check-out program. I was quite disappointed.
The C-54 was quite similar to the 118, having four engines and being made by Douglas, but was smaller, slower, and unpressurized. Our weekly scheduled air evac missions in the 54 included a north run, a south run, and one to Korea. Going north we stopped at Misawa, a large Army post and Wakkani on the northern tip of Hokaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese chain. Wakanai was principally a military listening post keeping eyes and ears out for the Russians just a few miles across the water. The runway was pretty short and located parallel to the coastline which meant there was almost always a crosswind for landing. There were only a few hundred people stationed there, but dependents were allowed so sometimes we had to make emergency maternity runs. The base commander was also their tower operator and mailman. He was always glad to see us because we were his only link with the outside world. We couldn't always get in there due to the weather, but we generally gave it a try.
The only mission for the 118s was a weekly, or biweekly run to Clark AFB in the Philippines via stops in Taiwan. These were normally three day trips.
The C-47s mainly flew locally, training Thais, but once a week they would deliver mail to a small special services hunting camp on Chejudo island, a large volcanic island south of Korea. I was fortunate enough to get to go to the hunting camp for a 3 day pheasant hunt. The island was covered with them.
In the C-54, I was fortunate to be able to fly in a couple of flight to Hong Kong. It was an exciting place to go. Our flights there were to deliver Red Cross packages to prisoners behind the bamboo curtain and had to conform to a lot of protocol for the Chinese. The packages was delivered by a single individual walking halfway across a bridge. (Sound like James Bond). There were also some Bangkok trips that were interesting too. Those flights were to rotate some of the Royal Thai Air Force crew members every 6 months.
I had one trip with our 315th Air Division Commander, Brigadier General Benjamin Ellis. He was a prince of a guy and even though I was only a Captain, I felt very comfortable being with him. He eventually got his fourth star and was Joint Chiefs Commander. We flew to inspect places he had personnel, throughout Vietnam and Thailand. Since he was qualified as a copilot in the C-54, we would alternate making the landings. One night while we were talking he suggested that I come to the Division Headquarters to work part time when I wasn't flying. On our way back to Japan, we inadvertently flew through a Typhoon. (Weather surveillance and forecasting wasn't very good back then). It was pretty scary and the general would occasionally poke his head in the cockpit and ask if everything was all right. My concern was that the plane was filling up with water, since it was unpressurized. However everything settled down and I just added an additional 10 knots to our approach and landing speeds, just in case, to make up for the weight of onboard water.
Eventually, I did take the general up on the offer to work part time in the headquarters, but he got promoted and left. The new commander was pretty coarse, and I didn't care much for him, but I did really like the Director of Operations, and I eventually became sort of his fair-haired boy. He started sending me to Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon, every third month, to work as an Operations Officer at C-130 Operations (managing cargo distribution throughout the country). He also sent me back to Hawaii twice, to brief Admiral Sharpe, the four-star commander of the pacific forces. Now that was excitement.
My second trip, was to get 2 more C-118's, for my old squadron, so they could fly the med evac flights out of Vietnam, instead of using up the C-130 resources. This was so successful, that the new 118s were back in Japan before I was.
Now this posed an interesting problem. Aircrews could not fly into Vietnam unless they were route qualified, according to 7th Air Force. My old squadron had nobody qualified to fly these planes into Vietnam. Enter Stage Left—Moi. I finally got to climb back into a C-118. I flew a C-54 over to Korea, to meet a C-118 crew. I jumped into the 118, made 3 landings, and was re-qualified, I then flew the first scheduled aeromedical evacuation flight to Danang, Na Trang and Saigon. Vietnam. Poetic justice. I finally got to fly the plane I was sent to Japan to fly.

No comments:

Post a Comment