Archive for September, 2020

Navel Air Routine Patrol

Posted on 09/24/2020. Filed under: Alfred Wellnitz Books, Auf wiedersehen Prussia 1871, For the Cause; Risks & Rewards, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Cold War Story Nr. 2; Excerpted From Cold War Stories

Picture by R.A. Scholefield


This short story, “US Naval Air: Routine Patrol,” although fictional, is a rendition of a number of interesting experiences actually encountered by flight crews during Electronic Reconnaissance patrol flights along the Asian coast from Vladivostok to Saigon during a two-year period between 1951 and 1953. The author flew as a crewman on the P4M-1Q planes utilized for this mission. He completed ninety-five patrols. Patrol flights originated from the Sangley Point Naval Air Station in the Philippines, the Naha Naval Air Station and Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, and the Atsugi and Iwakuni Naval Air Stations in Japan. The original members of the flight crews who volunteered for the special mission did not know what the mission would be except that it would be overseas, and they were obligated to two years of service. Once accepted, they were cleared for access to top secret information and were not allowed to divulge information about this activity until fifty years later. This story has been published in a book of short stores and is protected by copyright laws.

US Naval Air: Routine Patrol

Sangley Point Naval Air Station

The crew scheduled to take off from Sangley Point Naval Air Station at 2200 that night each packed a bag; they would end the patrol at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa. They would then fly an out-and-back patrol from Kadena along the China coast north of Shanghai and back along the west coast of Korea before returning to Sangley Point on a third patrol.

The enlisted flight crew made their way on foot through the dark night to the flight line less than half a mile from their Quonset hut. Wellman, first radio, and MacBee, second radio, walked together. They had become good friends and spent many of their liberty hours together during the year the crews trained and prepared for this overseas assignment. They attended classes on the new equipment they would be using and maintaining after they picked up a still new-smelling P4M-1Q aircraft, retrofitted for the Electronic Reconnaissance mission, at the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft factory located in Baltimore, Maryland.

The aircraft used for the airborne Electronic Reconnaissance mission was designated as a P4M-1Q. The “1Q” indicated that the plane had been configured for Electronic Reconnaissance operations. The P4M featured a compromise design in which two conventional reciprocating engines provided the long-range capability needed in a patrol aircraft. Its two jet engines could deliver speed if the plane was attacked, plus provide backup power during takeoff and landings or in an emergency. The conventional engines, two P&W 4360s, were the most powerful reciprocating engines ever put into use by the United States armed forces. The jets were J33 turbo jets. The plane had been designed to fight if necessary, with gun turrets placed topside, fore, and aft. Nine officers and enlisted men made up a normal P4M crew, but the personnel on board grew to fourteen for reconnaissance missions.

A total of eight P4M-1Q planes were initially assigned to the program. Four planes would be sent to North Africa to patrol areas in Europe and four sent to Sangley Point in the Philippines to patrol areas in the Far East. The four planes assigned to the Philippines were flown from the Martin factory in Baltimore to Miramar Naval Air Station near San Diego, California, where the crews and ground personnel spent several months getting acquainted with using and maintaining the new planes and equipment.

Finally, the four-plane contingent was ready to deploy, taking a roundabout northern route to Sangley Point Naval Air Station in the Philippines. The route included stops at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station near Seattle, where the crews spent several days practicing ground control approach (GCA) landings. The four planes then hopped to Kodiak Naval Air Station in Alaska, followed by another stop at Shemya Air Force Base at the end of the Aleutian Chain. The final stop along the way was made at Atsugi Navy Air Station in Japan, where the flight crews were briefed on the P4M-1Q mission. They were also given a scary briefing by a survival expert on what to expect and do if caught behind enemy lines. Wellman—and probably most of the crewmen—thought, Interesting, but this won’t be happening to me.

MacBee, the older of the two, served in the navy reserves and was called back into active duty when the Korean War started in 1950. Wellman’s enlistment would have ended in 1950 if the Korean War hadn’t come along. He was given the choice of having his current enlistment extended or reenlisting. If he reenlisted, he would be paid a two-hundred-dollar bonus. Wellman considered that a no-brainer and reenlisted. He bought a 12-gauge Remington semi-automatic shotgun with the bonus and used it to hunt quail in California.

When they reached the three aircraft parked on the hardstand that night, Wellman and MacBee greeted the special project member who had drawn guard duty. There were four planes in the special project contingent, but one had flown a patrol to Japan and would be gone for a week, temporarily flying patrols from that location.

The man on guard duty worked as an aviation mechanic during the day. “Glad to see you guys,” he said. “Not much going on otherwise.” The guard carried a sidearm and a sawed-off 12-gauge Winchester pump shotgun. The guard was notorious because he had carried his shotgun into the enlisted club to buy a drink on New Year’s Eve.

The squadron posted its own guards, the idea being to keep anyone not in the special project from knowing what the special project was about. Good luck with that. People around the base started calling the special project team the “fifty-footers.” If you got within fifty feet of the aircraft, they’d shoot you.

Wellman noticed the new bureau six-digit number painted on their plane’s tail, big numbers that could be seen from another aircraft or even from the ground when flying low. Every month a new fictitious number would be painted on the tail. Wellman figured this was supposed to confuse the people they were spying on, and maybe it did, but he didn’t understand how it kept the Chinese or Russians from figuring out what they were really doing.

The crewmen heading out on patrol stopped at a Quonset hut office, where a yeoman was distributing survival gear. They each received a 38-caliber revolver and a bag of survival goodies.

MacBee mumbled something about having to carry the heavy revolver. “I couldn’t hit the side of a barn with it if my life depended on it.”

Johnson, the ordnance man on their crew, explained, “That’s to shoot yourself if all else fails.”

“Oh,” MacBee replied. “You must have a different instruction book than I have.”

Johnson was enjoying bringing MacBee up to date. “You must have an outdated revision. Better get the latest version or you could get in trouble for not following the rules, particularly about shooting yourself.”

Johnson was a lifer, a World War II vet not looking for another job. Reliable, balding, of average height, with a sparse frame, he knew his job.

Wellman checked out the contents of his survival bag before signing it out. Some of the items in the bag made more sense than the revolver, including a small piece of gold bullion. Always welcome everywhere. Probably the most valuable item in the package would be the waterproof parchment carrying the message in several different languages that it would pay the holder ten thousand American dollars if the holder delivered the parchment along with a live American airman. Other miscellaneous items included a tube of morphine, pocketknife, compass, and mirror.

The yeoman handed Johnson a small mailbag. “Some mail for the Okinawa contingent,” he said. Patrol flights terminating at Okinawa normally carried any mail addressed to members of a temporarily assigned Okinawa special project contingent. Johnson accepted the bag. “The only reason those malcontents would want to see us,” he replied.

The crew then went out to the flight line to prepare the plane for the night’s mission. Their plane sat first in the line-up of the three on the hardstand.


Author photograph

Sharman, the plane captain, and a member of the ground crew hooked up the auxiliary power unit, and the onboard equipment came alive. Sharman had a stocky build and seldom smiled. He knew his business and had the respect of the rest of the crew. Like most plane captains, his skill rating included aviation mechanic. He knew the plane’s physical condition better than anyone, including the pilots. He, like Johnson, was a lifer, and the two of them hung out together.

Two crew members, Scarma, mechanic, and Bailey, radar man, pulled the props through a cycle. Scarma and Bailey were the youngest crew members. Bailey, blond crew cut, with eyes that always looked surprised, was a technical whiz who had two years of college and couldn’t wait to get out of the service so he could finish school. Scarma was the opposite, probably a lifer, competent, down to earth.

A jeep pulled up, and Wellman helped Johnson unload boxes of rations for the flight.

“Hey, what’re we going to eat tonight?” Sharman asked Johnson.

Johnson, in addition to his usual duties of maintaining the plane’s ordnance, had taken on the role of chef. “You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you open the box,” he replied.

In earlier days, Johnson had been a little more daring in the culinary department, often preparing hot meals in a small galley stove at the rear of the plane. That changed when the plane experienced some negative Gs while a pot of peas was heating up on the stove. Suddenly there were peas all over the back of the plane. Since then, box lunches from the enlisted mess or K-rations had become the norm.

Sharman wanted to know if they had packed any more coffee. “We ran out up front during the last flight.”

Johnson replied that he had a full two-pound can in back to share.

Wellman drank the coffee perked at ten thousand feet during patrols despite it being only lukewarm. He liked it hot, but coffee in any form helped keep him awake, and he would need it tonight because he hadn’t gotten much sleep earlier that evening.

Night patrols were pretty much the rule lately; keeping alert could be a challenge. The boredom factor didn’t help the situation. Most patrol flights were over ten hours long and not very exciting. Military experience has been described as “years of boredom interrupted by moments of excitement.” That seemed an apt description of these patrols to Wellman.

The crew officers—pilot, co-pilot, and navigator—arrived and started going through the aircraft checkout procedures.

Lieutenant Kelly, the navigator on this flight, dropped a chronometer on the radio desk. Wellman got a time check and set the chronometer to Greenwich Mean Time. He then tuned the transmitter and checked his receivers.

The preflight chores were nearly finished when Lieutenant Peterson and four enlisted Electronic Reconnaissance spooks emerged from the darkness. They didn’t participate in the preflight checkout. They picked up their survival kits and were ready to go. The ER people didn’t have anything to do with flying the airplane. They were the payload. They all rode in the back section of the plane that was jammed full of electronic surveillance equipment. The enlisted ER people were mostly electronic technicians with special surveillance training. They bunked with the rest of the squadron’s enlisted personnel but seemed a little distant. Like they knew something you didn’t know, and they weren’t going to tell you what that was.

One of the last things each crew member did was don an inflatable life jacket and strap on his front-carry parachute harness. The chutes were hung in various places about the plane and could be hooked onto the harness with two buckles.

The plane crew had finished their preflight chores and were on board and ready to go at 2130. It was dark and clear, no moon, although storms were expected along the China coast where they would be flying that night. The two reciprocating engines were started, the auxiliary power unit unhooked. A tow tractor pushed the plane back onto a taxiway where it could move under its own power. Lieutenant Colby sat in the right-hand seat of the cockpit as it taxied to the end of the runway and went through the pre-takeoff check list. Until recently, he had been the commander of this plane. He had piloted it since the navy accepted delivery from the factory two years earlier. It had been his plane, his crew. Tonight, he would be flying co-pilot.

Lieutenant Colby’s ambition wasn’t to be a hotshot navy pilot. He had no desire to be catapulted off a carrier or to land on a moving, pitching deck. His appearance reflected his modest demeanor. He was a little overweight, not the sharpest-looking officer around, but an excellent pilot and plane crew commander.

Lieutenant Colby gravitated toward patrol aircraft out of flight school. He liked the planes’ multiple engines, slow and steady. As an ensign, he spent time in a PBM seaplane squadron before moving on to the navy’s latest land-based patrol plane, the P2V. He had qualified as a P2V commander and soon was promoted to lieutenant junior grade.

Not long after becoming a plane commander, Colby became aware that a US Navy “special project” was looking for volunteers. There weren’t many details available, but it would be an overseas assignment requiring a two-year commitment, and applicants would have to qualify for high-level security clearance. The navy also favored volunteers who weren’t married. Lieutenant Colby fit all the requirements and volunteered.

Lieutenant Colby and the other volunteers soon learned what the special project mission was. They would be part of an effort to assemble and deploy the navy’s first dedicated airborne Electronic Reconnaissance capability. Two contingents were to be formed, with four planes each. One contingent would be stationed in North Africa and the other in the Philippines. Lieutenant Colby ended up in the Philippine four-plane contingent, which had the task of locating, monitoring, and categorizing electronic emissions along the Asian coastline from Saigon to Vladivostok.

It had turned out to be a good career move for the lieutenant. At a relatively young age, he was in command of an aircraft, the largest and most capable plane he had ever flown and was part of a mission that had a high priority in the post-World War II US Navy.

The crew had been pulled together two years earlier from various parts of the navy. They had become a cohesive unit that included a real hotshot co-pilot, who greased the plane in for landings so smooth they made Lieutenant Colby envious, and a smooth-faced ensign navigator who couldn’t fly a plane for beans but got them to and from where they were going without getting lost.

The enlisted crew members were competent and reliable, and the group had remained pretty much intact while Lieutenant Colby was plane commander. However, changes were taking place, the inevitable result of the navy’s rotation system, as well as personnel being released from service after fulfilling their obligations. Certain changes in the plane’s officer complement had been devastating to Lieutenant Colby. His super-capable co-pilot left to return to civilian life as an airline pilot, and his baby-faced ensign navigator had also left the navy to pursue an advanced degree at Berkeley. At about the same time, the commanding officer of the special project was promoted from lieutenant to lieutenant commander and reassigned. He had been key in putting together the four planes, crews, and support personnel for the Philippine-based special project contingent. He had been a flying commanding officer and was probably the best pilot in the special project. His replacement, Lieutenant Commander Higgins, had a patrol plane background, but he had been flying a desk during his most recent assignments. Higgins needed some operational experience to advance his career, and the way the special project was set up also required him to be a plane commander. But for reasons that became obvious, Commander Higgins needed an experienced and able co-pilot. This was how Lieutenant Colby found himself in the right-hand seat of the cockpit he had been commanding for the past two years.

The pilots completed the pre-takeoff procedure, started the jets, lined up on the runway, and set the brakes. The two prop engines and jets were turned up to take-off power. When the brakes were released, the plane jumped forward and, even though fully loaded, lifted off quickly. It began climbing at a steep angle. The plane could out-climb and fly faster than most prop-driven fighters.

When the plane cleared Philippine air control boundaries, it went silent. No emissions would emanate except hourly encrypted Morse code position reports. Occasionally a nervous navigator might ask for a radar position check, but only as a last resort. The plane’s mission was to receive and evaluate signals, not to emit them.

All crewmen actively involved in the plane’s operation were tied into the plane’s intercom system. Pilot radio voice communications could also be monitored on the intercom. At times the intercom was active with back-and-forth chatter, but in the middle of a night patrol it was most often quiet.

Shortly before the flight entered the on-station portion of the patrol, the navigator handed Wellman the first encrypted hourly position report to be sent to the navy patrol aircraft network in Morse code. Once the on-station point was reached, the external running lights were turned off and the gun turrets manned. The two radiomen and radar rotated in two-hour shifts to man the bow turret. The mechanic Scarma and the plane captain took turns in the top turret. Johnson, the ordnance man, handled the tail turret by himself.

The baby-faced, neat-as-a-pin navigator had been replaced by Lieutenant Junior Grade Kelly. Lieutenant Kelly had a slightly bulging midriff, and his clothes often looked as if they’d been slept in. The navigator’s workspace, one of the roomier spaces in the plane, began to accumulate maps, scraps of paper, navigation instruments, coffee cups, and food droppings soon after Kelly settled in. However, so far, he’d always managed to find the way to where they were going and get them back again.

As the plane approached the China coast, the weather began deteriorating. Towering cumulus thunderheads outlined by flashing lightning filled the horizon. The air seemed to be filled with electricity; the plane became enveloped in Saint Elmo’s fire, a spectacular phenomenon but not dangerous. Before Wellman ever witnessed Saint Elmo’s fire, he had read about it occurring on sailing ships, when the rigging might be enveloped in the spectacle. However, Wellman had never seen a display of Saint Elmo’s fire such as he was seeing now, and from the chatter on the intercom, it seemed that neither had anyone else. The electrically charged blue-tinted Saint Elmo’s fire streamed off the wings. The plane’s propellers looked like blue pinwheels. The navigator reported that the long-range LORAN navigation system had gone goofy, most likely due to the same phenomenon that was causing the Saint Elmo’s fire.

A dark night, the darker the better, had become the favorite operational wish for the ER mission. This had not always been the case. When special project operations first started in 1951, flying the coastline from Shanghai south had been like a Sunday afternoon drive. Patrols flew around and inside the coastal islands on sunny afternoons. More care had to be taken around the Korean Peninsula and Vladivostok, but south of Shanghai had been a free-fly zone. That changed over time as more assets, in the form of MiG jets and radar detection systems, started appearing, particularly around Shanghai. Recently, all flights in the Shanghai area were scheduled for nighttime hours, as was this one.

North of Hong Kong, the patrol plane approached land and turned north to follow the coast in a driving rainstorm. The flight conditions were ideal for a plane that wanted to be inconspicuous, but a little tricky for the navigator. The plane’s projected track ran twenty miles offshore. Making that turn using dead reckoning in a turbulent rainstorm required a lot of faith in dumb luck. A quick shot with the radar could have verified where they were located relative to the coast. But it could also announce their presence to the Chinese and pinpoint their location. Turning on the radar would indicate to the crew that the navigator didn’t have a good handle on their location, which would have been accurate, but he would rather not admit it. Being a new kid on the block, Lieutenant Kelly didn’t want to appear incompetent. For all those reasons, he did not ask for radar. He used dead reckoning plus a poor LORAN fix and hoped his guesses about wind speed and other variables were correct.

Kelly caught a break when they broke out of the storm and could see the surface about half an hour after making the turn. Bobbing lights indicated junks. There were other lights, too—not many, but enough to define the coastline’s outer islands. The outer islands were close, too close; they were almost on top of them. Lieutenant Kelly made a correction to shift their track out to twenty miles, the intended distance offshore. That established the hourly position report that was transmitted back to naval operations in a coded message.

The break in the turbulent weather lasted a short time. Commander Higgins soon announced over the intercom that they were approaching another batch of storms. Sharman was in the process of handing Bailey, the radar man, coffee in a paper cup when the next turbulence hit, and he spilled half the cup on some papers on Bailey’s desk. Bailey gave Sharman more than his normal surprised look, but since Sharman had his earphones on, which, combined with the plane’s noise, made normal conversation difficult, he let it go at that. Bailey slurped down the remaining coffee and went forward to relieve MacBee, who was manning the bow turret.

The crew continued to be jostled for another hour as the plane plowed through storm after storm. They had flown halfway through the Formosa Strait before the storms abated. They found clear sky above and low clouds below. Lieutenant Kelly continued the struggle to pinpoint their location. He had managed to get a couple of low-quality LORAN fixes from transmitters located in Taiwan but questioned their reliability. He decided to do a celestial fix, not a common practice in the flying navy and not his strong suit in any case, but it could be a way to authenticate his LORAN fixes. Unfortunately, the celestial fixes didn’t match the LORAN fixes. Lieutenant Kelly had to make a choice between two bad options and went with the LORAN fixes, based primarily on his lack of confidence in his celestial skills. Although different, both fixes shared one thing in common: they were running half an hour behind their expected schedule, which made the predawn schedule to clear the Shanghai area a little iffy.

Relieved that they had gotten through the turbulent weather, everyone fell into the rhythms of a routine patrol. Scarma, the flight mechanic, distributed box lunches and then relieved Sharman in the top turret. Sharman made yet another pot of coffee. Wellman swapped with Bailey in the bow turret, and MacBee took over the radio chores. The plane was controlled by auto pilot while the pilot and co-pilot worked on their box lunches and sipped on cups of the freshly made coffee. The navigator, still not happy with the plane’s track, continued to fuss over his maps.

Low clouds persisted as the flight approached the Shanghai area. They would break away from the coast and head for Okinawa soon after passing Shanghai, but not before they cut through the edge of the waters designated as part of the Korean War zone. Flying over water in a war zone allowed each crew member to earn a chit that added to the twenty-five needed to earn an air medal for such activities. Medals were important to career officers.

It had been a quiet night for Lieutenant Peterson, who oversaw the electronic eavesdropping activities in the back of the plane. Normally the patrol wouldn’t expect a lot of traffic in the ground they had covered, but things began picking up considerably as they approached Shanghai. The four technicians had been staring at mostly blank screens, kept alert in part by the rough weather they had been flying through. Now the screens were lighting up, as expected, and the barrage of electronic data had their full attention. In fact, the activity had picked up dramatically, and Lieutenant Peterson began to question what they were seeing. Something seemed strange. Lieutenant Peterson observed that a lot of the transmissions were coming from the east, which would be in the ocean. That wasn’t impossible. They had learned early on that among the clutter of junks that filled the sea along the China coast, some that at first looked like one of the many were upon closer inspection bristling with antennas and emitting like mad. But what Lieutenant Peterson was seeing now seemed too persistent and too widespread to be attributed entirely to junk noise.

Lieutenant Peterson got on the intercom. “Navigator, this is ER. We seem to be getting some unusual activity, and it doesn’t correlate with our position very well. Can you verify our position?”

Lieutenant Kelly saw this as an opportunity to get a radar fix and queried the pilot. “Commander Higgins, this is the navigator. Permission to turn on radar for quick verification of our position.”

Higgins replied, “Can’t you verify the position without radar?”

Lieutenant Kelly felt a need for further help from ER.

“ER, how important is your need for an accurate position right now?”

“This is ER. If you could see what we are seeing, you would want to know exactly where you are.”

Some people would describe Commander Higgins as a nervous Nelly. The tone of Lieutenant Peterson’s voice convinced him that turning on the radar would be a good idea.

Bailey fired up the radar. What Lieutenant Kelly observed took his breath away. The radar was set to read the surface below them for a range of fifty miles; Lieutenant Kelly could see nothing but land beneath the plane. They were at least fifty miles off track, somewhere northwest of Shanghai.

Lieutenant Kelly reported in an excited voice, “Pilot, we are off course and over land somewhere northwest of Shanghai!”

Commander Higgins had been tensing, but he wasn’t ready for what he heard. He instinctively pulled back on the yoke, like he wanted to gain some altitude fast. The plane grabbed for altitude but with the low power settings flopped into a shallow stall. The engines surged as the propellers sought more resistance.

Plane captain Sharman and second radio MacBee, who had been listening to the conversation, looked at each other and rolled their eyes. Sharman leaned over and poked MacBee. “Bet we are waking up a bunch of villagers down there.”

MacBee laughed. “Hope that’s all we are waking up.”

Commander Higgins came back on the intercom. “Navigator, give us a heading to get out of here, fast!” The navigator had apparently been thinking the same thing and immediately came back with a new heading. The plane banked sharply and headed toward the ocean and safety.

Another problem had become apparent. The flight was running behind schedule, and a hint of light toward the east announced the dawn of a new day.

Johnson, sitting in the tail turret listening to the intercom conversations, assessed the situation as he ate some chocolate he had saved from his box lunch. He checked to see that his twin twenty-millimeter cannons were ready if needed.

During the previous month one of the contingent’s four planes had been jumped while flying a ligament track near Shanghai, off the coast. Two MiGs had made a firing pass. The pilot put the plane into a power-off diving turn. The MiGs made two more firing passes, but the turning plane made a difficult target, and the MiG pilots were likely inexperienced. The plane did not suffer any damage. The tail gunner used up most of his twenty-millimeter stores, also with no apparent effect. That attack had occurred in the morning, near daybreak.

Johnson considered the circumstances. The Chinese didn’t have night fighter capabilities, but it had become light enough to launch daylight-capable fighter planes. Obviously, there were MiGs in the area; obviously radar had been tracking their lost flight. The chances of something bad happening were high. He began scanning the sky intently as visibility increased in the morning light. He told himself not to worry too much. If MiGs were around, they would make their presence known with guns blazing. Johnson’s thoughts were interrupted by something moving high almost directly behind the him. He shouted into the intercom, “Tail to crew, I have something twelve o’clock high! They are closing. Two MiGs!”

Points of light erupted from the lead plane. Johnson pointed his sight at the flashes and fired a long burst from his twin twenty-millimeter cannons. The MiGs swept by. None of the other turrets got a fix on them.

Commander Higgins seemed frozen in place. He had been getting acquainted with the P4M flight procedures, including the unique circumstances associated with the mission. Higgins had flown several orientation flights, but this was his first experience as pilot and commanding officer during an operational patrol flight.

Before Lieutenant Colby requested permission to take control of the aircraft; he had already begun to act. He put the plane into a shallow dive and cranked up the jets. Under normal circumstances the procedure would be to drop down low over the water, but because the plane wasn’t over water, Lieutenant Colby chose to dive into the cloud cover below them.

Radio always had an encoded attack message in a folder ready to send, and Lieutenant Colby ordered it sent. This would be followed by a position report supplied by the navigator. In this case, their position was slightly fudged to put them over water since they would be over water in a few minutes.

The cloud cover started breaking up about the time they reached the Yellow Sea. Lieutenant Colby took the plane down to three hundred feet above the surface to continue evasive action. The attackers hadn’t returned after the first pass, probably discouraged when the P4M dove into the clouds.

After half an hour with the jets and military power on, the plane was taken back to its normal altitude and normal flight settings. It proceeded toward the Okinawa destination. They didn’t have a choice—they couldn’t continue burning fuel at the current rate and make it to Okinawa.

Apparently, the attack hadn’t damaged the plane. Everything seemed to be working normally.

The plane’s conventional prop engines had been operating faithfully all night, and the stress of being under full military power hadn’t seemed to faze them. These engines were the most powerful and complex conventional engines the United States armed forces had ever put into service. Four banks of seven cylinders were ganged together to make a very powerful aircraft power plant that was also prone to reliability problems. A common problem with the engine involved the back-row cylinders fouling up. Once one of the cylinders stopped functioning it could become contagious and spread. These symptoms began to appear in the port engine. Power started to drop, and it became progressively worse. The crew members had experienced this kind of problem several times and so weren’t particularly concerned. Lieutenant Colby consulted with Sharman, and they agreed the engine had to be shut down and the prop feathered. The crew made the necessary adjustments. The port jet was put into service to help the starboard engine carry the load.

The weather system they had been flying through all night now dominated Okinawa. As they approached the Okinawa air traffic control boundaries, the starboard engine blew. It wasn’t the fouling problem experienced by the port engine. It was unexpected and unexplainable sudden failure. There hadn’t been a decision to shut it down; it had shut down with no permission from anyone. The condition of the aircraft became perilous as it started losing altitude. Colby still had control of the plane, and Commander Higgins gave no hint that he would be resuming command. For all intents and purposes, Commander Higgins had become a passenger sitting in the pilot’s seat. This was no longer an in-training patrol for Higgins.

The plane stabilized after the starboard jet came online. The crew’s faces reflected the change from easygoing camaraderie to serious concern about the plane’s survival. Wellman confirmed the location of his parachute, although bailing out over the ocean during a storm didn’t seem like a good idea. Ditching a plane in a body of water was a perilous undertaking in any case; ditching in an agitated ocean offered a nearly zero chance of success. Better that Lieutenant Colby land this thing on terra firma.

Once the plane had lost both conventional engines, it had no generators. It now depended on batteries for electrical power. Fuel was another major concern. They were nearing the end of the flight. Most of their fuel would normally have been consumed by this time. However, they had used the jets over China, and they were burning even more fuel now by using the jets. The navigator calculated that the fuel remaining left no margin for circling or staying in the air above the airport. They had to go straight in.

The crew turned off everything electrical not needed to fly the plane or communicate. They used Morse code to inform Okinawa air traffic control of their predicament. They were cleared for a straight-in approach to a Kadena airport runway. Weather conditions were described as deteriorating, and they would be using a ground control approach (GCA) for the landing. That meant that a person on the ground would talk the plane in for the landing. As they approached the Kadena airport, very high frequency (VHF) communications were established with the control tower and GCA.

They lined up for the approach and moved into the glide path. Because of the driving rain and heavy wind squalls, visibility varied from insignificant to zero. The crew could hear the GCA voice directions on the intercom. The voice started off calm and reassuring, but as they descended, the corrections—were they right or left, above or below the glide path? —came faster and more urgently. The plane bobbed like a cork on an agitated pond. The GCA controller talked fast and sounded frantic when he shouted that they were 350 feet below the glide path and ordered them to pull up and go around. The crew listened to all of this on the intercom. There was a lot of puckering. They knew their fate depended on the skill of Lieutenant Colby. Lieutenant Colby ignored the GCA voice and somehow brought the plane back to the glide path before he smacked the plane down hard on the runway. Lieutenant Colby’s usual landings weren’t noted for their smoothness, so the landing could be classified as near normal.

When the plane rolled to a stop, the jet engines idled for a few minutes before the starboard engine stopped running, followed shortly by the port jet. They had burned the last fuel on board the aircraft and were blocking the main Kadena runway.

The storm continued to rage with heavy wind, rain, and flashing lighting. Emergency vehicles and fire trucks filled the runway, but there were no tow tractors among them. Lieutenant Colby informed the control tower that the plane had no power and couldn’t taxi; it wouldn’t be moving off the runway until a tow tractor showed up.

After the rough but safe landing on Mother Earth, the crew’s anxiety dissipated. Abundant smiles and back slapping were occurring. They didn’t mind one bit that they were temporarily stranded on Kadena’s main runway in a rainstorm. Bailey, the radar man, asked Sharman what had happened to make the starboard engine quit the way it did. Sharman shrugged. “I hope everyone brought extra clothes, because if we have to change an engine, we’ll be here for a while.”

Finally, a tow tractor appeared. The driver and his helper, clothed in heavy rain gear, attached the tow bar and pulled the plane and crew to the parking spot where the local special project contingent waited in the pouring rain to greet them. Sharman dropped out of the plane, ducked under a wing to avoid the rain as much as possible, and supervised the chucking and tying-down process.

The contingent petty officer in charge approached him. He wore a poncho, and his face peeked out from under the hood. He asked the question that most concerned the men at the Okinawa outpost: “Hey, did you guys bring any mail?”

“You bet,” Sharman replied. “We have your mail.”

A year later Wellman, now a civilian making use of the GI Bill, checked his mail and found a letter from the US Navy.

It seemed that the navy had reviewed the events of the flight that got lost, was attacked by MiGs, and landed in a rainstorm with two engines out. The crew members had been awarded letters of commendation for meritorious achievement during aerial flight. In addition, Commander Higgins had been awarded a cluster to add to his air medal.

The way Wellman remembered it; their meritorious achievement involved surviving their own ineptitude. Somebody was sure gilding the lily, but he had to admit it had been one patrol that turned out to be less routine than most.

Photos shown on this page were taken by the author.

There was time for a little socializing

Wake me up when we get there

The P4M-1Q, A Cold War Warrior

The P4M Mercator was a rare bird. There were two prototypes and nineteen production models. One of the production models, BuNo 121452, was lost in an accident in Chesapeake Bay on March 8, 1951. The other eighteen production models were converted to the P4M-1Q configuration to be used for the Electronic Reconnaissance mission.

From the 1950s through the 1970s when the Korean and Vietnam wars took place, the Cold War was at its peak. The peripheries of the communist nations were continually patrolled by United States Navy and Air Force aircraft. Sometimes these flights were intercepted, resulting in the deaths of two hundred navy and air force airmen in hostile actions. The public knew very little of this activity. As far as the United States government was concerned, it wasn’t happening, so it couldn’t protest if one of the reconnaissance aircraft that officially didn’t exist was attacked or shot down.

The website Intrusions, overflight, shoot downs and defections during the Cold War ( attempts to list all the documented intercepts. The author of “US Naval Air: Routine Patrol” has found the website’s list of intercepted intrusions and shoot downs voluminous but not complete. However, the site includes many pages and likely has listed most significant incidents. During 1952 and 1953, the period in which “US Naval Air: Routine Patrol” took place, there were thirty-two incidents of reported intercepts of aircraft flown by the United States and its allies near or within the borders of communist nations. Not many of these activities made the news; they were treated as top secret by the United States.

These numbers need to be put into perspective. During a two-year period starting in 1951 and ending in 1953, the author of “US Naval Air: Routine Patrol” flew on ninety-five patrols lasting approximately ten hours each. That is approximately fifty patrols a year. The four-plane contingent the author was associated with operated at about the same level and flew around two hundred patrols a year. That four-plane contingent was only a small portion of the overall reconnaissance activities occurring around the periphery of the communist nations at the time. In other words, the Electronic Reconnaissance experience was more boring than exciting. The most excitement occurred because of the weather or mechanical problems.

The author was aware of two intercepts involving the four-plane contingent while he was associated with it. One of the incidents has been listed in the Intrusions, overflight, shootdowns and defections website; the other one was not.

The one mentioned occurred April 23, 1953. US Navy plane BuNo 124369 was attacked by two MiG-15 Fagots while flying off the Chinese coast near Shanghai. The MiGs made several firing runs, and the crew of the P4M returned fire. The P4M was not hit, and as far as the crew could tell their return fire did not damage the MiGs.

A second incident is based on the excited talk of enlisted crew members who said they had been attacked by MiGs off Shanghai. The incident can’t be found in any literature the author has seen, nor did the author see or hear anything confirming the attack at the time it occurred. The only source of information the author had at the time was the word of enlisted crew members.

These two incidents occurred within a month or two of each other. What were other P4M crew’s reactions to this aggressive activity by the Chinese? The author can only speak for himself. One odd reaction, as he remembers it, was jealousy or envy of the crews that had experienced the attacks. “Why can’t our crew have a little excitement once in a while?” Of course, the ideal scenario would have MiGs making multiple passes and never hitting a thing. The reality was that a lone patrol plane attacked by MiGs far from any assistance would have the odds stacked against it.

The author did have an opportunity to send an “under attack” message while on a patrol along the west coast of Korea. It was a dark night, and the ether was filled with a barrage of electronic activity. Things can get spooky under those kinds of conditions. The officer overseeing the Electronic Reconnaissance surveillance in the back of the plane suddenly excitedly reported that fire control radar had locked onto the plane. The pilot ordered the author to send the “under attack” message by Morse code and diverted the plane from its planned route. Nothing came of the incident except a debriefing when we returned to Atsugi Naval Air Station in Japan. The crew wasn’t spouting off to anyone about how they had been attacked by a mysterious enemy on a dark night.

The author left the Sangley Point P4M contingent at the end of 1953, by which time it had been given the VQ1 squadron designation. In June 1955, VQ1 moved its operation to Iwakuni, Japan. While flying out of Iwakuni and Atsugi, VQ1 P4M-1Q aircraft were involved in two deadly intercept incidents. The first occurred August 22, 1956, when BuNo 124362 was attacked off Shanghai by Chinese MiG fighters. A Morse code message that they were under attack by enemy aircraft was received from the plane. That was the last message received from the plane. The crew of sixteen, four officers and twelve enlisted men, were lost. Search and rescue efforts recovered one body, and three more bodies were recovered later. The author saw a list of the crew members lost and knew one of the ER specialists who rode in the back of the plane. He had been part of the original P4M-1Q crews operating out of Sangley Point.

BuNo 124362 had also been involved in an attack a year earlier, as described by Jim Edison, the pilot. “I was the pilot of 124362 in the spring of 1955 when we were attacked about ten miles off Tsing Tau by two MiGs. It was a dark, clear night, and we were close enough to the airport to observe them take off and come straight at us. We did a power-off tight spiral to 300 feet while they fired 30 mm shells over the cockpit. Our tail gunner fired several hundred rounds in return. We kept turning under the MiGs and they appeared to lose track of us, and we departed at max speed, which was 385 knots. At the time, the Chinese were training in the MiGs, so that might explain their inability to press the attack. My aircraft, 124362, was later downed by the Chinese in 1956. I left the squadron a few months before that happened, and most of those lost were my crew. At that time, during those types of missions, we flew ten miles off the coast.”

Another incident occurred on June 16, 1959, when two North Korean MiG-17 Frescos attacked P4M-1Q BuNo 122209, patrolling at seven thousand feet thirty miles off the east coast of North Korea. Pilot of the P4M-1Q was Commander Don Mayer, and Lieutenant Commander Vincent Anania was co-pilot. The tail gunner, PO2/c Corder, manned the pair of twenty-millimeter cannons. The MiG-17s closed rapidly and showed astonishingly good aim on their first pass. PO2/c Corder never had a chance to defend the plane; the first attack scored extensive hits across the Mercator’s fuselage and wing. PO2/c Corder was hit badly, injured by over forty pieces of shrapnel that left him incapacitated. The P4M-1Q Mercator dropped down to just above the ocean. The MiGs came around, making more firing passes on the crippled plane. The engines on the starboard side were both disabled, and the rudder was badly damaged. The two port engines running at maximum power caused an asymmetric thrust, and the plane began to roll over. The mechanical controls were ill-suited to counteract the imbalance, and it took all the strength of the pilots keep the plane level. The MiGs made three firing passes before pulling up and turning back toward North Korea. The MiGs only had enough fuel capacity for short flights and likely broke off the attack in order to be able to return to their base.

The P4M-1Q had two engines out, a badly damaged rudder, and a fuselage and wing peppered with cannon rounds, but was still flying. It headed for the nearest friendly air facility in Japan, the Miho Air Force maintenance base. The plane made a successful landing at Miho. The wounded tail gunner survived. The P4M-1Q BuNo 122209 was determined to be unrepairable and was scrapped.

At the about the same time that the P4M-1Q contingent deployed to Sangley Point, another contingent of four P4M-1Q planes and their crews were deployed to NAS Port Lyautey, French Morocco. They patrolled European, Russian, and Iron Curtain borders to monitor electronic emissions.

As with the Far East contingent, there were likely many interesting unreported incidents during patrols of the Russian borders and countries under their control. However, none of the P4Ms were lost to adversarial actions. Two P4Ms were lost to other causes during the period they performed electronic monitoring in the European theater, one due to mechanical problems and the other to an accident.

On February 6, 1952, P4M-1Q BuNo 124371, staging out of Nicosia, Cyprus, was flying a track that took it to the Black Sea and along the coast of Ukraine. While over the Black Sea, the crew experienced a reciprocating engine failure and aborted the patrol. A jet was utilized to compensate for the lost engine as the plane headed back to Cyprus. Mountains over eight thousand feet high lay ahead. The jet couldn’t provide enough power to top the mountains, and the plane had to fly between the mountains on its return trip. The jet had also consumed more fuel than would normally be used. As they approached Cyprus, they ran out of fuel and made a dead-stick landing in high-sea conditions east of Cyprus. Fourteen of the fifteen men on board managed to launch a raft and get free of the plane. After the raft was launched, the aircraft commander returned to the plane for some reason and was lost. The other crew members were rescued by the British HMS Chevron after floating for several hours in the heavy sea that made it difficult to locate them.

On January 6, 1958, a VQ-2 P4M-1Q was being flown from Port Lyautey, Morocco, to Norfolk, Virginia, for the complete checkup required after accumulating a certain number of hours. Nearing its destination, the P4M crashed at Ocean View, Virginia. Four crewmen were killed and two survived. Three civilians were injured. The cause of the accident was never determined.

The P4M-1Q planes were withdrawn from service in 1960. Though their service life was short, they had contributed much to the nation in the early days of the Cold War. A total of eighteen P4Ms had been converted to the 1Q version for use in electronic surveillance warfare. Four of the P4M-1Q planes were lost, two after being attacked, one to mechanical problems, and the fourth to an accident.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

From Here and Back

Posted on 09/02/2020. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

Cold War Story Nr. 1; Excerpted From Cold War Stories

 This story has been published and is protected by copyright.

During the Cold War period (1947 through 1991), many of the resources of the United States were devoted to Cold War activities. It wasn’t a war in the normal sense. “The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union with its satellite states (the Eastern Bloc), and the United States with its allies (the Western Bloc) after World War II.” Excerpted from Wikipedia “Cold War.”

“The United States adopted a foreign policy of containment of Soviet expansionism threatening strategically vital regions during the Cold War. The Cold War ended between the Revolutions of the Eastern Bloc nations in 1989 and the 1991 collapse of the USSR which ended communism in Eastern Europe. The term
“cold” is used because there was no large scale fighting directly between the United States and USSR but they each supported major regional conflicts.” Excerpted in part from Wikipedia “Cold War.”

People who were involved in aspects of the Cold War may not have associated what they were doing with being part of the Cold War. That was true in my case. Only later in life, after the Cold War was over, did it occur to me that I had spent most of my working years involved in Cold War activities. I spent seven years in the US Navy starting in 1947, at the beginning of the Cold War, took a four-year break to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, then worked on government defense contracts for thirty-three years before retiring from engineering work at the time the Cold War was ending.

Excerpted from Cold War Stories

From Here and Back

This story is about the Cold War and a reluctant B-47 crew who went through what they believed was a routine training flight that turned into a mission they had trained for but never expected to execute. The B-47 bomber was a plane that played a major role during the Cold War in the 1950s and early 1960s in United States’ efforts to deter Russian aggression. The B-47 plays an important role in this story, but the detailed description of its functions and operations are not to be considered factual.

From Here and Back

I’m the only son, the only child, of Isadore and Janice Ilson. I heard my pa wanted to give me a decent Swedish name like Gottfried, but my ma insisted on naming me Erick. I’m glad she prevailed.

I would crank up the homemade tractor that my pa had cobbled together and use its power to drive a feed grinder that ground a mixture of corn and oats to feed to our chickens and pigs. I started calling the homemade tractor the Ilson. The name stuck. The Ilson featured a flat-head sixty-horsepower V8 Ford motor and a car chassis with a modified transmission geared down for better traction and slower forward speed. The two back wheels were seventy-two inches apart and straddled two rows of corn spaced thirty-six inches apart. It had a single front wheel. The body of the Ilson was jacked up so a cultivator Pa had designed that fit between the front wheel and the back wheels could be used to cultivate hip-high corn.

However, today I was using the Ilson to grind grain. In order to transfer power to the grinder, a belt pulley was attached to the left rear wheel. I drove the Ilson to a well-marked spot, rolled out a belt from the granary, and attached one end of the belt to the grinder pulley. I then loosened a sort of a kickstand attached to the axle near the left wheel. I started moving the Ilson forward. The left wheel lifted off the ground, supported by the kickstand. The belt tightened, and the Ilson’s left hind wheel turned freely. All the Ilson’s power was transferred to the spinning wheel, turning the grinder. Grain began pouring out of two spouts from two overhead grain bins, feeding corn and oats into the grinder. After the grain mixture reached a certain level in the grinder, a prod sensor shut the spouts down until the grain fell to a certain level in the grinder, and then grain would flow again.

The processed grain fell from the bottom of the grinder onto a conveyer belt that carried it into the box of another machine Pa had cobbled together, our yard tractor. I called it the Runabout. It was also three-wheeled; the front half of a motorcycle my dad rescued from a junk yard and welded it to the back half of a car chassis. He used an extended drive chain and clever gear box to transfer power to the rear wheels.

I always considered my pa Isadore something between a tinkerer and a misplaced genius. He had immigrated here from Sweden in his teens. He was not the oldest son, so there would be no place for him on the ancestral Ilson farm, and he saw the United States as an opportunity to better his prospects. He worked as a farm hand in eastern South Dakota near Milbank and ended up marrying the farmer’s daughter, Janice, my ma. They inherited the farm when they were young.

Isadore learned to read and write in Swedish and had a propensity for numbers. He picked up English quickly. He was a tinkerer, always taking things apart and finding new uses for them; eager to learn about all the new mechanical things he was seeing, either in person or in pictures. I understood he was not a particularly good farmer. He would be busy on some project, taking something apart and making it into something different, and lose track of what needed to be done on the farm.

When farmers started converting to combine use after World War II, Pa found a farmer who was moving up to a large self-propelled combine and was anxious to have someone take his small combine off his hands. It needed some work. Pa acquired it in return for fixing some problems with the farmer’s tractor.

To drive its operations, the combine needed a tractor with a power take-off. But the Ilson didn’t have a power take-off—or the power to use it if it had. That didn’t deter Pa. He had picked up a Volkswagen air-cooled motor somewhere. He planned to use it to power the combine, mounting the motor on the combine and using the Ilson to pull the combine through the fields.
A problem with Pa’s plan was that both his oats and wheat were ready to harvest when he started the project. Pa had me to swath the grain crops while he toiled over integrating the motor and the combine. The swathed grain lay in the fields for a long time. It rained. By the time he got the combine and motor working, most of the grain had spoiled. I didn’t say anything about it—neither did Ma. We both knew Pa’s urge to tinker was incurable.

I was amazed by some of the things Pa came up with—not that they worked well or worked better than anything already out there but rather that they worked at all. Though I do have to admit that he had more successes than outright failures.

I went to the Milbank high school. At the time, most farm kids didn’t go to high school. Not that those parents were against education. It was expensive. There was no busing for farm kids. Farmers were recovering from the Great Depression and an historic drought. During World War II they were making money, finally, but they had a lot of catching up to do. However, both Pa and Ma were big fans of education. You wouldn’t think Pa would think like that since he had only spent four years inside a schoolroom, but I think he was even more set on me going to high school than Ma was.

I used the Runabout to commute. Licensing wasn’t a big issue in South Dakota at the time, and the Runabout had no trouble keeping up with traffic. In addition, Pa fashioned a cab for the rider and made it cozy in the winter. Another benefit was that I would deliver the ten-gallon milk cans to the small cheese factory in Milbank before classes started. Pa hated the cows, but they provided the steady income our family needed.

I did okay in high school, especially math. My math teacher, Miss Schwandt, said I should continue my education, go to college. Ma and Pa appreciated my grades but didn’t mention college—for a good reason. Our family didn’t have the means to send me to college. Farmers had done well during the war and since, but Pa really wasn’t a farmer; he was a tinkerer. In the best of times, we just got by.

Miss Schwandt wasn’t ready to concede. She came up with an idea. “At Brookings they have ROTC. If you qualify you could have most of your expenses paid. I can get the forms you need.”

By Brookings, she meant the town where South Dakota State College was, sixty miles south of Milbank. It was a popular college for students from the Milbank area. I knew they had an engineering major, which was what I would want, so the idea appealed to me. I thought it was nice of Miss Schwandt to want to help me, and I told her so. I said that I would appreciate her obtaining the forms.

When I got the forms, I discovered there were both army and air force ROTCs at Brookings. I talked to my folks about the idea. Ma was in favor of it right away. Pa seemed a little hesitant. I suppose he was hoping I would help on the farm after high school. If I was around to do the farming work, he would have more time to tinker. I had thought about that. What was my long-term goal? Did I have one? I pretty much understood that I could partner with Pa. If I really wanted to be a farmer that might not be a bad idea. I would pretty much have a free hand to do what I wanted with farming if Pa was left to his tinkering. Did I want to be a farmer? That was a question I hadn’t figured out the answer to.

Pa listened without comment when I told them about the ROTC option. “It’s not a sure thing,” I explained. “Not everyone who applies is accepted, and there is a physical.” Ma was sure I would be accepted and left no doubt that she thought I should go for it. Finally, Pa opened with a little cough. “Erick,” he said, “if I had da chance you got, I vould yomp all over it. Can’t get too much education. Dat much I know.”

Which would be the best to apply for, army or air force? In the army, they mostly shot people. In the air force, they flew airplanes. The idea of flying airplanes seemed to fit in with studying engineering better than shooting people. I filled out the application for the air force ROTC.

I received the acceptance before it was time to register for the fall quarter at South Dakota State. The physical was administered by our regular family doctor and was kind of a joke. The doctor said the main thing was to see if you were too fat. “Your real physical will happen when you go on active duty.”

I decided I would work for a degree in mechanical engineering, somewhat related to what Pa did when he tinkered, which I could relate to because Pa had me help sometimes, especially when he needed to move heavy things like car motors from one place to another.

I found myself studying harder than I had ever studied before. I received As in my math courses, but I had to work hard to get them. Fortunately, the extra classes I had to take for ROTC were easy, and the physical training and activity involved were good; otherwise I would likely have been going downhill in those categories. In the summer we took two weeks of training at an air force facility to become familiar with some of the things the air force was doing. Upon graduating in June 1961, I was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force. My orders directed me to report to Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska.
At Offutt I underwent a genuine physical checkup. I guess the physical determined what kinds of things you would be able to do in the air force. If I got into something involving engineering, I would be happy.

After the physical and a bunch of written tests, I was interviewed and then informed of what I was qualified to do. Physically, I was qualified to take pilot training; I was encouraged to go in that direction. I also learned that pilot training was like signing up for a career. Most other skill paths required only two years of active duty and two years in the reserves. Pilot training could require more than two years, so you were obligated to serve more active time. I told the interviewer I wasn’t interested in being a pilot or having a career in the air force. I would prefer to do engineering work with a contractor or in a lab, something like that.

The interviewer seemed surprised. He said most people he interviewed would give their left arm to be a pilot. He went on; they were looking for more than pilots to be airmen. The active-duty requirements for most nonpilot airmen required only two years of active duty.

“We are looking for men like yourself to man large numbers of SAC aircraft coming off the line,” the interviewer said.

He almost made it sound like it would be my patriotic duty to do this. The interviewer described a position as a navigator/bombardier on a B-47 and encouraged me to consider it. “As a navigator/bombardier on a B-47, you would only have a two-year active-duty obligation, and you would also receive flight pay.”

The interviewer showed me pictures of the B-47. In one picture the plane was sitting in a flight line, and in another it was in flight. I’d heard about the B-47 but knew little about the plane. The idea that I would be riding in one of them sharpened my interest. I studied the pictures. In the air, it was a beautiful-looking flying machine, a big fighter plane with six jet engines. In another way, it appeared ominous to me, like something evil. However, I was a farm boy, always wanting to please, so I relented and agreed to take the training to be the navigator on a B-47.

Soon, it seemed I was in a world of quick time. I was ordered to report to the Mather Air Force Base, near Sacramento, California. Six months later I was deemed able to perform the duties of a B-47 navigator/bombardier and ordered back to Offutt Field. I was assigned to a wing stationed there.

After completing navigation training, I saw my first real-life B-47 at Offutt. It was more imposing than in the photos. It looked unlike anything I had ever seen before, with swept-back wings that drooped when the jet was parked and flexed up seventeen feet at the wing tips when airborne. It was a fearsome-looking, delicate flying machine designed to fly higher and faster than anything that would oppose it in the air, high enough to be safe from ground-based weapons. It was developed to B-47 Design Featured Major Advances in Aircraft Technology

Photo available for use without restrictions.

penetrate Russian airspace and deliver nuclear bombs to selected targets. Those goals, faster and higher than Russian fighters and beyond the range of ground-based weapons, took priority over durability, crew comfort, survivability, and everything else.

There were only three crew members, pilot, co-pilot and navigator—a departure from World War II, when heavy bombers often had nine or more crew members. Part of the reason for a smaller crew was the lack of armament. The B-47 had two fifty-caliber machine guns in the tail, which were operated remotely by the co-pilot. The B-47 depended on flying high and being fast in order to reach targets. Each member of the small crew was responsible for tasks that would have been shared with other crewmen in previous large bomber designs.

The pilot and co-pilot sat under a bubble-type canopy. They had a good view of the surroundings, but the space was cramped, reminiscent of a fighter plane cockpit. My accommodations in the nose cone were more ample, but there were no windows. I had a viewing screen that could monitor the outside world, but that was not the same as an unrestricted view. Not that I needed to look out a window to navigate, but it would have been nice.

One thing that unnerved me at first was that, in case of a bailout, the navigator would be ejected down, not up. This required that the plane be at an altitude of at least five hundred feet before a downward ejection would work. Worse yet, in practice, the downward ejection seemed to have problems at any altitude. After a while I got over worrying about it because I figured I would never have a reason to eject from the plane. That might have been illogical thinking, but it worked.

Each crew was a team and would remain a team of three until some event like retirement from active duty or reassignment brought a change. The crews tended to be young, mostly first and second lieutenants. The pilot on our plane was First Lieutenant Richard Douglas. He loved flying and the air force and planned to make a career out of it. He was young, not much older than I was, and this was his first aircraft. He thought he was the luckiest man alive to get to fly the B-47. Second Lieutenant Bill VanVeen was the co-pilot, waiting to complete his air force active duty commitment so he could fly commercial, although the B-47 was not an ideal aircraft for commercial training because it was so different. I hoped his plans would work for him.

When I reported for duty, a second lieutenant navigator/bombardier, in the spring of 1961, the Strategic Air Force was on a high alert. Planes were loaded and ready to take off on a mission to attack Russia.

Every third week, the crews in the section I was assigned to, spent the week in a building near where our plane sat on a hardstand. Three crews shared the building, which had everything needed to accommodate nine crew members for the week. A contractor supplied people to cook meals, wash clothes, make beds, and clean. The crew members underwent training and information sessions. We’d fly one long mission during the week. Otherwise we could do pretty much what we wanted except leave the building or immediate area. I started reading. I read more books than ever before. There was an exercise room, plus a hobby room with woodworking, ceramics, painting, and metalworking where I messed around.

During the week, our section of three planes would fly a mission. Soon after being alerted to take off, the crews sprinted to their planes, which were being run up by ground crew members. Our three-man crew hardly had time to settle into our positions before we joined a line of nine planes moving toward the runway, fully loaded with fuel and nuclear weapons. There was no hesitation, no calling the tower for permission to take off. When the first plane in the line reached the takeoff point on the runway, it immediately started its takeoff run and, with the assistance of JATO (jet assisted take-off) rockets, was soon airborne. The following eight B-47s lined up and took off at sixteen-second intervals after the first plane. My plane was in the middle of the pack. That meant we took off in the wake of the plane ahead of us and had to deal with a lot of turbulence.

The missions normally included refueling over Alaska or north of Greenland. We were to consider every mission a for-real mission to bomb some Russian target. We carried sealed orders onboard to be opened once we crossed a point of no return. If we weren’t recalled and ordered back to base before we reached the point of no return, we knew that we were on a real mission, with orders to bomb a designated target. We never had to open those orders and never expected to open them.

When not on alert, we received extended time off to make up for the one-week confinement in alert quarters, and after that we participated in training exercises and honed our job skills.

Things had changed since the B-47 was introduced to the air force in 1951. Russia had developed a fighter plane and a ground missile that could reach the B-47 when it flew at its service ceiling. So, we were trained to fly low instead of high to limit radar detection and to use a variable track in place of a straight-in approach to the target. When the target area was reached, the plane would regain enough altitude to allow the nuclear weapon to detonate at its intended altitude and for the plane to escape being blown up. The need for a zig-zag approach and terrain-avoidance maneuvers put a strain on the aircraft and on the pilot and navigator. The changes also affected fuel consumption. Flying at a low altitude burned three times as much fuel as flying at the service altitude of thirty-five thousand to forty thousand feet.

In October 1962, we started hearing that Russia was establishing missile launch sites in Cuba. Airmen I associated with didn’t get too excited about this news. We were always hearing about the Russians doing this or that, and this sounded like another one of those Cold War stories that came up and then faded away.
However, this time seemed different. Soon after we heard about the missile launch sites, the whole wing at Offutt went to alert status; everyone was confined to the base until further notice. All the aircraft rated ready to fly were loaded with nuclear weapons. Our three-plane section received orders to be ready to take off at three a.m. on October twenty-second. That was unusual. Normally there would be no warning. The klaxon would go off, and we would race to get to the airplane and take off as fast as we could, like firemen responding to a fire.

Our three-plane section joined six other aircraft and took off as scheduled at three a.m., headed north. Normally we would head for Alaska or Greenland, where we would rendezvous with tankers to refuel. However, this time we were to fly almost straight north over Canadian territory, across the North Pole, and then head south toward Russia before refueling.

Navigating the leg from Offutt to the refueling destination wasn’t much of a challenge. I had LORAN (long range navigation), radio direction finders, a gyro compass, and unlimited use of radar.

The crew was supplied with two C rations each and a thermos of coffee. On this mission, the first C ration was breakfast. I usually didn’t eat the second ration, but if I did it would be during the return to Offutt. There was very little variety in the C rations; if you ate one you knew what to expect.

Refueling was always an exciting part of a mission. No matter how many times we did it, it never became routine. We’d fly a little lower and behind the tanker using the flying boom method. A combination of lights and verbal communication between the tanker boom operator and our pilot put us in position for the flying probe to mate with our plane’s refueling coupling. During the refueling, our plane had to maintain a position that maintained the probe connection. Two planes flying hundreds of miles an hour, connected by a fueling probe, with restricted freedom to maneuver, can cause anxiety. Particularly in the Arctic region, where spending much time considering bailing out was an exercise in futility—the possibility of survival was unlikely. Fortunately, once the connection was made, it didn’t take long to complete the refueling.

Once the refueling was complete on that October 1962 flight, we continued on course to complete the mission. I waited for the recall that always occurred before we reached the point of no return. It bothered me a little that we weren’t very far from Russia when we’d refueled and that we didn’t have much time before a recall would become irrelevant.

Richard, the pilot, was also getting nervous. His voice came over the intercom. “How far to point of no return?”

“Twenty minutes,” I replied.

Bill, the co-pilot, chimed in. “This story isn’t following the script.”

The pilot agreed. “I have no desire to visit Russia this time of the year.”

“Ten minutes to go,” I said.

“We could abort, engine problem,” the co-pilot suggested.

“Everything is purring,” the pilot replied.

“I know, just suggesting,” the co-pilot replied. “Or just hoping.”

“Five minutes,” I said.

At this point I realized that what would never happen was about to happen. School children were being taught what to do when this thing that would never happen, happened. People had become used to the idea that a nuclear war would likely be the end of human existence, but they also knew it would never happen. But as this crew in this B-47 passed through the point of no return, we knew it was about to happen.

“Okay,” I said, “we’ve passed the point of no return. Time to check out our itinerary.” I had a package, and the pilot had an identical package. It identified the target, the route to the target, and the procedure for flying the route to the target before releasing the device. The target was Moscow. We were being directed to end life on earth as we knew it. Strange how my mind focused on how we would accomplish this.

It would be up to our crew to follow the package directions and complete the mission. Everything was in our hands and our B-47, a dot in the sky that could destroy a city. We would be flying low in order to minimize detection by Russian radar. My first task would be to navigate the course to the target—no small task when flying low on a zig-zag course at night with only a gyro compass. We would be running silent. No radar, no radio transmissions, no running lights.

The pilot noted that the forecast was for a clear sky when we reached the Russian coastline.

“I appreciate the help,” I replied. “With a nearly full moon we will be able to navigate visually. There are some low mountains along the coast we will want to avoid”

“Roger that.” The pilot replied.

As forecast, the sky was clear when we reached the Russian coastline, with a forecast for partial clouds two hundred miles in and rain and light drizzle over Moscow. We would reach Moscow at midnight.

We were flying at thirty-five thousand feet but dropped to five hundred feet as we entered the Barents Sea and approached the Russian mainland, where an estuary linked the Barents and White Seas about a hundred miles east of Murmansk. As predicted, there was a nearly full moon, and we could visually navigate the narrow body of water connecting the Barents and White Seas.

“Man!” I exclaimed. “I don’t know how you could navigate through there with instruments!”

The co-pilot agreed. “Some of those hills on either side of that water are taller than five hundred feet by quite a bit.”

The White Sea was a relatively small body of water, but it provided a path through the low mountain range near the coast to the flat terrain along its southern shore. We had been told that snoops continually searched for and identified cracks in Russian border radar coverage; it seemed to work for us. We had easily penetrated Russian territory. Considering the immensity of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), it seemed likely there could be holes in the border security.

We maintained our five-hundred-foot altitude over the flat, dark terrain south of the White Sea. We tracked southwesterly after leaving the White Sea, which pointed us toward Leningrad. We occasionally saw flickering lights but no massed lights like those visible above a village or city. Although it was dark, it was obvious that we were flying over a lightly inhabited forest.

No swarms of MiG fighters rose to intercept us. We seemed to move through Russian air space alone and unnoticed. There had to be other SAC bombers attacking, but everything seemed peaceful and quiet.

We were flying under scattered clouds when we reached the coordinates to change our heading to a southeasterly direction. Those coordinates were based on my best estimates of wind direction and velocity, the accuracy of our gyro compass, and not much else. It would have been nice to have a firm fix on our position before making the turn, but it was not necessary. Finding a bright, shiny target as large as Moscow shouldn’t be difficult.

Our track ran parallel to and about sixty miles to the east of a busy highway that connected Leningrad and Moscow. The terrain remained flat, ideal for low altitude flight. I gave the mission planners a good grade for selecting ideal conditions for a terrain-hugging track.

We saw more scattered lights and the glow of numerous lights from villages and small towns. We flew low, without running lights, so people might think we were a ghost ship in the sky when we flashed by. Still no obvious defensive activity. This seemed easier than it should be.

We encountered light rain and mist, which would make our approach to Moscow more difficult to detect. I alerted the crew to the next course change, which would happen in twenty minutes, at 2245 Greenwich meantime. We would then turn ninety degrees to a heading that would put us south of Moscow in fifteen minutes. After the turn, we made another turn, climbing to thirty thousand feet on a heading that put us over Moscow. As we climbed, the co-pilot and I turned on interlocking switches to arm the nuclear device. When the sequence was successful, a red “ready” light lit up on both my and the co-pilot’s panels. Only two things remained in order to complete the final arming of the nuclear device. First, when the weapon dropped out of the bomb bay, a sensor in the nose cone would determine that the weapon was clear of the aircraft and falling freely. Reaching a specified altitude above the surface was the last step necessary to allow detonation. The nuclear device in the bomb bay was set to detonate at one thousand feet above Moscow.

The cloud cover provided no protection against the intense light and gamma rays that would be emitted when the weapon exploded. I pulled on my eye-protection goggles. All this seemed completely surreal.

We were high above the cloud cover when we reached thirty thousand feet. Moscow could be seen as a pale glow of light through the clouds, a big bullseye—adequate since close is good enough with nuclear devices. We passed over Moscow, then made a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn. I opened the bomb bay doors and released the bomb. It should fall approximately in the middle of Moscow. I didn’t feel the lift normally experienced when an item weighing 7,600 pounds was dropped from a plane.

Neither did the pilot. His voice came over the intercom. “What happened? I didn’t feel a release.”

I looked at my panel. The bomb-bay-door-open light was on. The bomb bay door should have closed after the device was released. “Something is wrong,” I answered. “Looks like the weapon didn’t release.”

I felt a tremendous load lift off my shoulders. We had followed our orders and carried them out successfully—until the moment the bomb didn’t release. Hundreds of thousands of humans were still alive.

If there is a God, I thought, thank you.

“What the hell!” the pilot exclaimed. “We have a hot nuke on board.”

The co-pilot asked, “What’s the plan?”

The plane continued following the heading it had been on for releasing the weapon. That was okay, since that is what was planned—however, not with the weapon still in the bomb bay. We had not experienced the bright light emitted when a weapon detonates nor been buffeted by shock waves, further evidence that something was amiss.

There was a long pause after the co-pilot’s question. I thought, What would my pa do? This was Pa’s kind of problem, and he would have a solution he could implement with the tools he had. From my weapon control panel, I attempted to set the altitude at which the nuclear weapon would activate to a lower altitude, but it didn’t respond.

Flight crews had been briefed on the things we should know about the weapon. One item that stuck in my mind from the briefings was that one of the last activation requirements was for a sensor in the nose cone to sense that the device was free of the aircraft and falling free. I told the pilot to drop us down to five thousand feet and gave him a new heading.

The pilot asked, “Heading to where? What about the locked and loaded nuke in the bomb bay?”

“We’ll have to take care of the problem in our bomb bay on the way to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. We’ll drop down to five thousand feet so we don’t have to keep the cabin pressurized while we work on our problem, but not so low that the weapon could be activated. Anybody have a Swiss Army knife?” I asked.

The co-pilot replied, “Wouldn’t ever leave the house without one. Why?”

“Throw it down here,” I replied. I didn’t know what I would do with the knife, but I wanted to make it seem like I had a plan.

I observed on my nav panel altimeter that the pilot had begun dropping down from thirty thousand feet. I could start trying to break into the bomb bay without worrying about cabin pressure when or if I could do it.

I looked around my space. The bombsight was mounted next to the navigator’s table. I noticed it was on a base consisting of two aluminum bars about a foot long, four inches wide, and half an inch thick. Phillips head screws attached the bombsight to the aluminum bars, and the bars were fastened to the plane deck with more Phillips head screws. The Swiss Army knife had a Phillips head screwdriver in its repertoire, but that seemed like a lot of screws for the fragile Swiss Army knife to handle. The bombsight was raised on a pedestal about a foot and a half high. Without giving it too much thought, I sat down on the plane deck, braced my feet against the navigation table, put my arms around the bombsight, and leaned back. One of the aluminum bars attached to the bombsight pulled loose; the other stayed attached to the plane deck but detached from the bombsight. The screws attached to the deck and to the bombsight had been loosened and could be removed using the Swiss Army knife. Soon I had two heavy pieces of metal to work with.

I used one bar as a wedge and the other as a hammer. I placed the end of the wedge bar next to a row of rivets and began pounding on it with the other bar.

When I started pounding, the pilot shouted, “What in hell are you doing? Are you destroying the aircraft?”

I explained that I was trying to break a hole in the bulkhead to get a look at the weapon, and then I resumed pounding. Finally, a small crack opened in the bulkhead. Working on the small crack with the wedge bar, I opened a hole large enough to push the wedge bar into. I then used the wedge bar as a lever to peel back the aluminum far enough to put my arm through. I was able to see into the bomb bay.

Using flashlight that was attached my life jacket, I observed that the weapon’s tail end hung loose; the front end remained firmly held by its hanger. The hanging tail kept the bomb bay doors from closing.

I described what I saw to the pilot.

“How stable does the situation look?” he asked.

“Hard to tell,” I replied. “If the nuke doesn’t fall free before I can reach it with one of my bars and smash the sensor in the cone, it will be safe.” I was assuming that in the process of smashing the cone, I wouldn’t accidently activate the weapon. I assumed that it required a positive signal to activate, that it would not activate if it received no signal.

I reported, “I can reach the cone with my bar.” A short time later I reported that I had smashed the cone with my bar. “Okay,” I said, “drop down to radar-avoiding altitude, five hundred feet.”

This would be the real test to determine if my assumption about the sensor was valid. We dropped below a thousand feet and we didn’t blow up. In one of my engineering classes, the professor had said that when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. The professor was proved wrong in this case.

We were soon skimming over the Ukraine’s flat terrain with few obstacles, cruising at five hundred feet. It continued to puzzle me why, after we had flown thousands of miles through Russian airspace, there was no response from Soviet defense forces. I mentioned this to the crew.

“Suits me,” the co-pilot answered. “I had considered bombing Russia a suicide mission.”

“It is,” I answered. “Assuming other planes are successful.”

The pilot agreed. “Everything seems so quiet and peaceful—this isn’t the way it’s supposed to go.”

“Peace on earth, good will to all,” the co-pilot replied.

We reached the Black Sea and continued flying at five hundred feet above the water until we reached a point where we felt it was safe to climb to 10,000 feet.

The pilot asked about the fuel situation. Could we reach Incirlik? The co-pilot monitored the fuel and asked me how far it was to Incirlik. I had established a good fix on our position when we reached the Black Sea and gave him a number I had high confidence in.

“Okay,” the co-pilot said. “Hang on while I run the numbers.” After a long pause the co-pilot reported his conclusion. “Based on flying at our current altitude and assuming wind isn’t a factor, we need to refuel before we reach Incirlik.”

“Ok,” The pilot said, “See if you can raise Incirlik about getting a tanker to refule.”

The co-pilot handled the communications. He received no response to his calls on air force frequencies. He tried Turkish airways. Same result.

He called me on the intercom. “Nav, could you look at our radios? We should be able to communicate with somebody. I’m not getting anyone. Something must be wrong.”

I had a reputation as the fix-it guy in our crew. I could usually resolve problems or figure out a way to work around them. Must have inherited some of Pa’s tinkering ways.

The communications equipment rack was in an unpressurized portion of the plane, accessible through a removable access cover that put the plane’s transmitters and receivers within reach. I gained access to the communications equipment and started working on the problem.

I asked the co-pilot to transmit something. There was a power output indicator on the front of the transmitter, and it indicated a strong signal as the co-pilot transmitted. Two receivers provided dual redundancy. One receiver had an obvious problem. It was cold, without power, but the other one had power. A phone jack allowed direct connection to each receiver. I plugged my earphones into the receiver with power. A functional receiver would have background noise; this one did not. Back to the other receiver. I found an obvious problem; a circuit breaker had been tripped. I reset the circuit breaker and heard background noise. So much for dual redundancy. Both receivers had been down for different reasons.

I called up the co-pilot on the intercom. “Okay, you should be able to communicate.”

The co-pilot communicated with the Incirlik Air Force Base and identified our plane. The pilot and I were monitoring the conversation. There seemed to be some confusion at the other end. Then a voice requested our plane’s identification and asked for the origin of the flight. Then it asked for the names of the crewmen.

The co-pilot supplied the information and added that we had a hung nuclear device in the plane.

There was a long pause in the communications and the pilot came on the intercom. “Do you think?”

I replied, “I do. Maybe we were recalled and never received the message.”

“Damn,” the pilot replied.

About this time two F-86 fighter plans appeared on our wing, looking us over.

Incirlik finally came back and requested more information.

The co-pilot described the nuclear device hang-up and said that we couldn’t close the bomb bay because one end of the device hung down, preventing its closing.

There was another long pause before the voice said the plane could not land at Incirlik with a nuclear device hanging out of the bomb bay.

As we approached the northern coast of Turkey, Turkish airways asked for information. Incirlik interceded and got us cleared for an overfly.

The co-pilot informed Incirlik of the other problem that put the hung-up nuclear device in second place. “We are short of fuel and need to be refueled in order to reach Incirlik.”

This was a problem Incirlik could handle, and they got right back. “We have a loaded tanker that will take off shortly to intercept and refuel your plane.”

That settled, they returned to the puzzle of the hung-up nuclear device. The co-pilot assured Incirlik that the weapon was safe.

A long pause followed before Incirlik came back with directions. They instructed us to drop the nuclear weapon off the coast in shallow Mediterranean waters.

The co-pilot sounded exasperated. “We can’t drop it. It is hung up.” The voice said there were two options: drop the weapon near the shore or ditch the plane in the Mediterranean near the shore.

As we were refueling, I realized I hadn’t eaten the second C ration. We had been flying for twenty hours and I wasn’t hungry or tired. We had been surviving on adrenaline for a long time.

It also occurred to me that I was a long way from the farm in South Dakota, in a different world I couldn’t talk about and probably wouldn’t want to talk about. Strange, I thought. Things happen in one’s life which you don’t expect, don’t plan for, are not prepared for, but you go along with whatever it is, like pulling a lever to release a nuclear weapon that would have killed hundreds of thousands of people but for the grace of God, who caused it to hang up. Humans can pull that lever as if it were a normal part of a job. I’m capable of doing that. Why? How?

After we finished refueling, the pilot announced that we would try to shake our hung-up nuke loose when we reached the Mediterranean. If that wasn’t successful, we should ditch the plane, again near the shore. The first alternative seemed preferable.

The pilot said we would do the “pull up, drop bomb” maneuver, something the air force had determined should not be done with the B-47 because of the strain on its fragile wings. In the maneuver, the plane makes a low approach to the target, then pulls up steeply and releases the bomb in the presence of strong gravitational forces that would eject the bomb clear of the aircraft. It might work—if the plane didn’t fall apart.

We made a fast descent to near sea level, picked up a lot of airspeed, and then pulled back sharply. We shot up, pulling a lot of Gs. If that didn’t break the nuke loose, nothing would.

Suddenly the plane began to roll. The pilot screamed into the intercom, “Bail out! We’ve lost a wing!”

I had no choice but to use the unreliable downward ejecting system. I didn’t hesitate, just pulled the lever and found myself thrown from the spinning aircraft. We were above a thousand feet when the plane broke apart, plenty of time for my chute to open before I hit the water. I saw two other chutes floating down. We all hit the water at about the same time. I inflated my life jacket and untangled myself from my chute by the time I was picked up by one of several boats that had been dispatched to the area to respond to whatever happened. While the crew was being picked up, parts of our plane could be seen splashing down a few miles downrange from where we were. Very likely the nuclear device ended up somewhere near where Incirlik wanted it, but I didn’t expect the crew would be receiving any mission-completed citations.

It took about half an hour for the boat to take us to a landing, where an ambulance met us. By then, I was feeling the effects of not sleeping for twenty-four hours, eating only one C ration during that time, and spending more than twenty of those hours flying under stressful conditions. Dry clothes, a meal, and a bed were at the top of my to-do list. It was not to be. We showered and were found to be tired but healthy by the medics. We received clean uniforms, and then we were interviewed by three worried-looking air force officers. Yes, we had flown across the full width of Russia and were only prevented from nuking Moscow by a malfunctioning bomb release. We had followed air force procedures. We were not recalled from the mission, so we’d opened our onboard sealed orders and proceeded to carry out those orders. And yes, we’d determined that neither of the redundant receivers were functioning when we tried to contact Incirlik Air Force Base.

After completing the interview, one of the officers, a colonel, reminded us that we all had top secret clearances and confirmed we were aware that we would not divulge information about our missions to anyone unauthorized to know about them, particularly this mission we had just completed.

It seems that two counter-balancing failures had probably prevented an all-out nuclear war from occurring.

As far as I know, the Russians may never have known about the almost-nuking of Moscow. If they had, they may have suppressed the information, not wanting to admit to the Russian people that a US military aircraft had penetrated Russian airspace and flown undetected across the breadth of the country.

I returned to Pa’s farm after completing my active-duty obligation. We built a state-of-the-art machine shop and started a company called Original Design. We did custom design work, mostly for agricultural machine manufacturers but also for the auto industry. We didn’t do manufacturing but did provide prototypes and proofing and testing of concepts. We trained some South Dakota farm kids to be the skilled mechanical craftsmen who built and tested our prototypes. As we incorporated electrical and electronic features into our designs, we also hired an electrical engineer and a couple of technicians. I introduced Pa to the concept of patents, and we hired a lawyer who spent most of his time researching, filing, and protecting patents we generated.

I never talked to anyone about the missions I flew in the air force, especially not about the time my crew overflew Russia because of a receiver failure and would have dropped a nuclear bomb on Moscow except that another failure caused the bomb to hang up. I look around our neighborhood, which has not changed much during my entire life, and think, Thank God for failures.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...