Monday, October 22, 2012

Cuban Missle Crisis

Its been 50 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis and on this anniversary its brought back memories. At that time, I was Assistant Professor of Physiology at the Air Force Academy.

During those years, all cadets would graduate as navigators. The flying was done out of Lowry AFB in Denver. Pilots assigned to Lowry would fly the cadet navigation missions with Academy staff members flying as co-pilot to get in their monthly required four hours of flying time. After a few months, the Lowry operations designated me as a "passenger carrying pilot" (PCP) in the Convair T-29.

Of the several hundred pilots assigned from the Academy to fly at Lowry, only two of us were PCPs (a.k.a. aircraft commanders). We were in constant demand to help out the pilots at Lowry. It wasn't much of a burden and we could always decline, but the missions were normally for four hours at night and so they didn't interfere too much. We would normally go out in a flight of four or five, fly a predetermined course for the navigators, then after the destination fix, we would have a "rat race" to see who could get on the ground first. I used to win a lot of the races when we came in from the west over the Rockies, at 17,000 feet. Lowry wasn't very far from the base of the mountains, so the trick was to lose a lot of altitude quickly. Normal descents are usually at 500-1000 feet/minute, or rapid descent at 1500 ft./min. I found I could turn the plane up on one wing, power off stall, and descent in a tight spiral and lose altitude at 5-6000 ft./min., then roll the wings level and start flying again, at traffic pattern altitiude. Worked for me!
During the Cuban missile crisis in the Kennedy years, we had a cadet cross- country navigation mission. It was scheduled to coincide with and AFA-Miami football game, so there would be a small cheering section for the cadets. We terminated the navigation portion of our mission at 17,000 feet over Labelle omni station, near Fort Myers, and the race was on to Miami International. I left cruising power on and pushed the nose over and let the plane accelerate to the red-line (maximum airspeed). We went zipping past the other planes and didn' t level out until 500 feet above the Everglades. It looked like we had won, but at the last minute a T-29 went under us and popped up right in front of us and beat us in. I always wonder if maybe the other plane had picked up sawgrass in their air scoops. On the way home, after the Cuban crisis had been resolved, we were passing, one by one, over a radio reporting station and the operator said, "You Air Force guys did a nice job." He apparently thought we were combat planes.  We didn't correct him, and just said "Thanks", but we were proud of all those that averted that crisis.

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