BERNIE'S AIR STORIES

By Bernard A. Hoyland

[Revised and Rewritten by the Author and Don Gardner 4/6/00]

 

[Get the pot ready, settle down, and read on.]  

My wife Peggy asked me to write down my air stories. The older I get, the lazier I get, not to mention crankier, and it didn’t seem very likely that I would get around to it. Then daughter Karen gave me a book filled with blank pages to write down interesting experiences. I was nabbed. I imagine that by the time my grandchildren reach forty, they won’t remember anything about me except that I had a weird sense of humor and that I was always saying, “Lord, grant me patience . . . but HURRY!” I finally wrote 45 pages of The Life and Times of Bernard A. Hoyland . . . but since I’m both merciful and realistic, I’ve narrowed the pages down considerably by removing references to seven of the eight children and left in the Annette Island family stories because they were unique to the Coast Guard and are gone now forever. I also put in details that my non-aviator grandchildren will need to understand the stories. I hope my aviator friends will not mind too much.

I do not have a superb memory; I think it's honest to call it barely passable. I do have five musty old logbooks that detail flight-by-flight 6,848.6 hours of tedium, terror and high adventure. I also learned first hand that the sworn duty of airplanes in general and weather in particular is to make an aviator look like a double-dyed nitwit. In addition an airplane will bring any latent stupidity in an aviator to the surface, just crying for attention. Some wise person once said that "proper planning prevents pitiful performance", and proper planning certainly helps, but a wary regard for Murphy's law (if a thing can go wrong, it will) is necessary too. Finally, skill, practice and experience don't hurt. Experience does mean seniority, and seniority means that no one will be dumb enough to tell the senior person when that person is being ignorant; in fact, it's hard to tell a peer.

Juniors of course hear it all the time, for the very good reason that we hope that they will not embarrass us by dinging airplanes, since ignorance in a junior pilot is the instructing pilot’s fault. Ignorance is treatable, forgivable and easily changed with a willing student. With the hard heads, however, stupidity is terminal. Safety in aviation is mostly good habits (habitually using the best technique under the circumstances). We later called it “standardization”, with a lot of cooperation from everyone else involved with flying, especially the maintainers.

Flight Training    [1955-1957]

My first flight as pilot was in a T-34 on 15 December 1955. I soloed in a T-34 on 13 February 1956. Before completing Basic Training I also flew gunnery in the SNJ and flew formation and basic instruments in the T-28B. I had my last flight in Basic Training on 15 August 1956 and had logged 176.2 flight hours. I had flown at Saufley, Baron, and Whiting Fields as a pilot who worked hard and made the usual stupid mistakes. In other words, I was about normal.

Peggy and I got government housing at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, and actually got to see a lot of our fellow aviators and their families. I flew multi-engine instruments in the SNB. My first flight was on 1 October 1956, and my last on 14 November 1956. I started flying PBMs the following day. The PBM Martin Mariner was a seaplane veteran of World War II (meaning that it was well worn, had obsolete instruments and avionics, but they built strong airplanes in the old days.) It had gull wings and a twin tail. The two engines were R2800s (radial engine, two rows of nine cylinders each, 2800 cubic inch displacement) that produced 2,000 horsepower at takeoff power. I completed seaplane training on 11 February 1957, got my wings and was transferred to Coast Guard Air Station San Diego, California.

Air Station San Diego    [1957-1959]

Being a search and rescue pilot meant watch standing. I normally had the duty one—in three, meaning that I worked a forty-hour week and stayed on the station every third night, followed by a night off, followed by a standby night at home, followed by the duty. For some reason not easily comprehended, I thought I had a wonderful job—free airplanes and free fuel.

The toughest part about being an aviator for me was the air in the pilots meetings. Everybody smoked but me. The air turned blue, my eyes stung, my sinuses went crazy, and I never thought to try to change the condition. After all, real men smoked, just ask anybody with nicotine stained teeth. Be a complainer? Be a wimp? Are you kidding? Thank goodness times change.

The other problem with Air Station San Diego was that the previous Exchange Officer was a reserve Ensign who made permanent Ensign through various small but important errors (in the eyes of the auditor.) The Commanding Officer was sick and tired of critical audit reports and wanted an Academy trained engineer who would work like a demon to avoid becoming permanent junior officer. I got the short straw. Sigh! I did a cost analysis every month on a mechanical calculator and had to account for any differences between actual sales receipts and predicted sales. That's how I got an ulcer; I was exceedingly motivated. There was a subtle cultural problem too. I began writing situation reports (abbreviated as “sitreps”) that were informative but terse. Clarity came first but brevity was not far behind. I don’t think it ruined my writing style but it sure didn’t do it any good.

I flew as pilot in command (PIC) of my first Coast Guard aircraft on 3 May 1957. It was JRB 6469 (the CG version of the SNB) and not much of a multi-engine aircraft. It was however the only airplane that I was senior enough to fly as the pilot. On all others I was a copilot. I finally got enough flight time to become a first pilot and flew as pilot in command of UF1G[1] 1294 on 8 October 1957. My copilot was Walter Larsen, who was the only one junior enough to be my copilot. He was also my copilot when I flew as pilot in command of P5M 1318 on 29 July 1958 also. On 7 November Jack Tooley (PIC), Bill Claborn and I flew to Socorro Island and made an open sea landing in 1318 to evacuate an injured tuna boat crewman; one remembers one's first open sea landing. Socorro is roughly 900 miles south of San Diego, which was 12.7 hours of flying time. On 18 November 1958 I flew my aircraft commander check in 1294.

Coast Guard Air Detachment, Annette Island, Alaska    [1959-1961]

Alaska is an interesting place. Annette and Ketchikan are in the southeastern part of the panhandle. The first year we were there it rained 160 or 170 inches, take your pick. Peggy recalls that it would have drowned two elephants, one standing on the other. Three airfields were used on a routine basis and dozens of unimproved seadromes with whopping tides, very fast tidal currents—I’ve seen buoys with a "rooster tail"—and lots of rain, fog, high wind. And ice! On the wings, radome, propellers, and floats! We could haul an amazing amount of ice, and, of course, we had wing and tail deicers as well as prop deicers. It was here I came to truly respect the Frost King.

Ice should be quiet, wouldn't you think? You ought to hear it crashing when it comes flying off a prop at 2000 RPM and slams into the fuselage next to the radioman. Radiomen in icing conditions were jumpier than the pilots. The terrain reminded me of Norway: high, rocky with lots of fiords. It was an ungodly place for an aviator.

While it was not boring in the air; it was pretty boring on the ground. Our nineteen months there were just one month too long.

The six of us flew from Seattle-Tacoma Airport to Annette Island in July on a four-engine prop aircraft, probably a DC-6. There was no housing available at Annette at this time (and there wasn’t for six months . . . moved to Annette just before Christmas). We had arranged for an apartment in Ketchikan. After landing at Annette we transferred to an Ellis Airlines Grumman amphibian which made a runway takeoff at Annette and a water landing at Ketchikan. We disembarked at the Ellis float and were met by a very nice older gentleman in a plaid lumber shirt—we shook hands and exchanged first names. He helped us load our luggage in an old Ford station wagon and drove us to our apartment. That weekend we went out for dinner at a restaurant (was it the Narrows?) where we met the nice gentleman again (still in a plaid shirt) who offered to buy us a drink, which was very kind of him. Peggy ordered the cheapest drink she could think of (besides water) and I ordered a beer—we were apparently not good judges of affluence: the gentleman was Mr. Wingren who owned the apartment tower we were living in, Wingren Towers, as well as two supermarkets.

We moved to Annette in December and lived in what had been a World War II warehouse and abandoned by the Army, then converted to a transient bachelor quarters by the Federal Aviation Agency. There was no Coast Guard housing, consequently enterprising Coast Guard Persons converted abandoned buildings to homes. The majority of these were Quonset huts, famous for their curved walls, and were grouped in the “Coast Guard Living Area” that enjoyed the amenity of free movies. Our home was well beyond that area but it was waterfront property.

The first Coast Guard officer who lived there (LCDR Carl Scott) said he hauled a dump truck load of beer cans and bottles from the grounds around the building. The house was 20 feet wide and 100 feet long with the first 20 feet being garage. The outside walls were vertical and had never been painted. Nor had the pitched-but-not-curved corrugated galvanized steel roof. The “lawn” consisted of a few cubic yards of leveled-gravel with two flower boxes that I built to reduce the appearance of an incarnate Tobacco Road. We had a bathtub (the only one on our end of the island), and Peggy would lift the kids up to the window to watch the bath water drain out into the swamp. The commode was on a septic tank; the other drains just found their natural flowage. None of the windows were the same size. Carl had converted the old warehouse/transient quarters/abandoned building into living quarters for his family; he finally “laid the hammer down” well before turning the building into a palace. The kitchen was my biggest problem. We could plug in the toaster, or the coffeepot, or the frying pan, but more than one plug-in blew the circuit breaker. After I rewired the kitchen with a couple of hundred feet of #12 AWG copper wire, ably assisted by a wiring instruction book from Sears, we could then toast, fry, and make coffee with no problem.

The swamp drained through a culvert under the road into Tamgas Harbor. During salmon spawning time in late summer, the schools of salmon would come into the harbor looking for their spawning stream. They would encounter the thin mix of swamp water from my swamp mixed with Tamgas water and circle in front of my house. When I got home I'd catch salmon until they figured out that swamp water was not their home creek.

Outside play was a challenge, between the rain and the fly called a “white sock”. It bit a hole in one’s skin and fed on the blood. I will say that Alan was a hardy Alaskan. I recall him coming in the house one time with blood all over his forehead from white sock bites and no complaints. I should mention that the garage was the outside play area, complete with swings and tricycle. When it stopped raining and the sun came out, we went on picnics. I do believe I have a photograph of every occasion, and not many photographs.

We did a lot of business with Sears Catalog Sales and didn’t always get what we wanted when we wanted it. One Christmas I ordered a rocking chair for Peggy and got an end table. Back it went. That was also the Christmas that the presents for the little ones didn’t show up on time. No problem. We just left the decorations up until the presents arrived and let the persons driving by think we were at least a little goofy (and perhaps a lot).

Here’s my only fishing story. One weekend I was casting at the aircraft ramp by the old Coast Guard living area (the Quonset hut ghetto) when a visiting aviator wandered over and began to chitchat. I hooked what felt like a ten-pound silver salmon, and my visitor got very excited. I took pity on the poor devil and handed him my rod, “Here, you land him”. I got more fun out of watching him fight that fish than I ever would have myself—he really enjoyed it. After he landed it, he wanted to give it to me. I was way too smart to let someone palm a fish off on me that needed to be cleaned, and for that reason I insisted that he take it. As I recall, he iced it and took it home. In any case, the visitor was Ted Rapalus, who was the Operations Officer at my next Air Station, San Francisco. What does one call ”casting bread upon the waters” when it’s a fish?

Childbirth

Peggy went to Ketchikan as the due date for the baby arrived. The doctor didn't know when the baby was due but gave Peggy the barbaric baby inducer of the time—mineral oil. It worked, but not as intended. Finally, the doctor gave up and sent her home. She thanked her hosts Jane and Charlie Clark and returned to Annette. Meanwhile Peggy's mother (Grandma Katherine to the kids) had flown in to help Peggy with the prospective baby because I was awaiting orders to Long Beach, California to serve as a Government witness in a Federal case.

On the evening of 10 April 1960 Peggy started having pains. The Coast Guard in Ketchikan tracked down the doctor in a bar/saloon and hauled him in a pitching and rolling 40' patrol boat for the 13 stormy miles to Metlakatla. There he got a rough ride along our gravel roads to our house. By this time he was fairly sober. Peggy made a pot of coffee; everybody had a cup except her.

The doctor tried hard to train the hospital corpsman so that he would not get any more all-expenses-paid-trips at night in a 40-foot patrol boat. The corpsman was terrified, judging by the way he backed into the bedroom wall and stayed there. The doctor took off his red plaid lumberjack shirt, exposing his white T-shirt, and was now surgically garbed and ready to go to work. Peggy was so quiet that her mother in the next bedroom never woke up. The doctor was apparently completely out of practice on putting a surgical clamp on the stump of the umbilical cord-I did it for him.

Bob Mercier flew the doctor, Peggy and Baby Richard to Ketchikan. The ambulance met them at the seaplane ramp and then headed for the hospital with the sirens blaring. Our Coast Guard friends in Wingren Tower heard the siren, guessed it was Peggy, and kept her company that afternoon. I had accompanied Peggy to the hangar intending to come back to the house later and dispose of the pail of afterbirth. Kate was a very queasy person. Almost anything could upset her stomach. When I got back to the house I found that Kate had put on my rubber boots, waded out in the muskeg and buried the pail's contents. There were pioneering women in the old days.

Speaking of pioneering women, when it was time for Peggy and Baby Richard to come back to Annette, she checked the two of them out of the hospital. With flowers and luggage in hand she took a taxi to the float where Ellis Airlines planes received passengers. There she bought tickets and flew to Annette. On the way to Annette one of the passengers said that Baby Richard was young to be getting his first ride in an airplane. Peggy enjoyed saying that actually it was his second ride.

There are lots of interesting stories I could tell, such as a few trips through Hollis Pass, some landings at Five Fingers Light, and a couple of really rough-air stories, but here are three of my favorites:

On 7 March 1960 I took off from Annette in UF2G 1260 with Dick Laskey as copilot, AL1 Joe Jellison as radioman and a new AD3 fresh out of school, John Reilly. Dick was in the left seat for takeoff. Weather was a precipitation ceiling of 600 feet, visibility varying from two miles to four miles in snow. After takeoff Dick raised the gear and several things happened: the red gear warning light stayed on, the hydraulically-operated windshield wipers quit (bummer!), the nose wheel showed a barber pole on the gear indicator, while the main mounts indicated up. With the nose wheel up, we could land in lots of seadromes and work on the problem at our leisure, therefore we tried to raise the nose gear with the emergency hydraulic system. It didn't work. It now looked like we would be fooling around with this for a while, so I relieved Dick in the pilot's seat (left seat) on the theory that I was the best person to keep us from making a big splash from flying into a hill, tree or mountain.

I set up a racetrack pattern at 400' with the visibility up and down in snow showers, mostly down. The other crewmembers wrestled with the problem and received frequent and lengthy advice from the Commanding Officer and the engineering officer and all their friends and companions on UHF 381.8 MHz. The sun set at 1834. I was not thrilled at the prospect of flying around in the snow in the dark at 400' or less with no windshield wipers. The crew had gotten the main mounts out and locked by hacking holes in the sides of the airplane and pushing them out with an oar from the abandon ship life raft. They were so diligent that it took 500 manhours to repair the hull. One must face the fact that they were very motivated.

The nose wheel was a conundrum we never solved, even though they about wore that oar out. We landed at 1855 with no flaps, and everybody except Dick and me were moved to the rear of the airplane. There was still some light but we also used landing lights to help out. At about 50 knots the nose slowly lowered and we started grinding the nose wheel doors. When we stopped I shut down the engines and electrical systems and said, “Abandon the aircraft!" (I think that's written down someplace.) Dick in a burst of enthusiasm appropriate for a LTJG, popped the overhead hatch, climbed on the seat and was going to drop 12' to the ground to break numerous parts of his anatomy on the hard runway. A wiser head prevailed (my LT head.) I grabbed him by the pants and made him go aft and use the ladder. This was probably the best-supervised accident in the Coast Guard.

We had talked for four hours to the brains of the Air Detachment. Nevertheless my log book entry still reads, "Unable to fully lower nose wheel due faulty selector valve plus failure hydraulic line. Landed main gear extended. Nose gear collapsed on roll out. Incident. Material factor. Maintenance factor. Weather factor. Limited pilot factor." When I walked into my Annette palace (Honest! It was a palace! It just looked like a dump from the outside!), nobody had told Peggy a thing seeing that she was eight months pregnant with Richard, consequently I got to tell her the whole story. By the way, this was the fourth complete hydraulic failure I had enjoyed in the UF and it certainly was the most exciting. I might say that we added lowering the landing gear by emergency hand pump to the aircrewmen’s qualification syllabus.

Dick Laskey had this to say about our adventure on 17 July 1999: “We alternated flying the plane while we were working on getting the gear extended. I’m not certain, but I remember working on the port gear with the crew, then I relieved you and you went aft to help with the starboard gear. I remember yawing the aircraft to help get the gear extended. . . .”

After flying that racetrack pattern for several hours, I was on a first-name basis with every rock, tree, and bush on the earth beneath us, and thought that Dick had the motivation to do so also. My stouthearted crew was somewhat the worse for wear after all the work chopping holes in 1260 and in pushing on the paddle to get the gear locked. I became “concerned” (impatient? no way!), and I do recall adding a little fresh man-power to the program.

Dick continues, “I also exited the aircraft through the overhead, after I was sure by viewing your butt going aft that all had cleared the aircraft. It was a simple slide to the ground. My understanding of Trig and Math was basic. I understood, however, that the distance to the ground was going to be somewhat shorter without the nose gear. In fact I was in the Ops center when Captain Mac (Commander Macwhinney) entered and asked where I had gone”.

Sigh! I grabbed Dick by his belt while he was standing on the copilot’s seat and told him to go aft. However, you already know that I always regarded my unmarried friends as Bachelor-Scum for their delightfully innocent self-centeredness, and for their firm belief that one never should put a personal desire off until tomorrow. . . .

Try as he may, Dick can not deny that he was a bona fide B-S. I do admit that Dick was a very well behaved B-S, except for the time he created scandal in my house by putting hot fudge on his strawberry ice cream, which in feminine circles is regarded as weird. In any case, I’m pleased that he didn’t break anything important.

Dick continues, “. . . and I told him that I had exited through the overhead hatch, slid down the starboard side, inspected the nose gear and came in for a cup of coffee. He started laughing. Also on touch down we had arranged in the air that you would control the aircraft and that I would cut all power and fuel to the engines as soon as we were firmly on the ground. This was done and a routine roll out commenced until the nose touched and we received the sparks and smoke which was minimal. All in all a most interesting afternoon and one which will stay with me forever”.

There is some doubt in my mind that I would let the Archangel Gabriel, let alone a B-S, shut down my engines until I knew that I was going to stay on the runway. What’s this about “sparks and smoke”? Missed it. I couldn’t agree more on the “stay with me forever” part, however.

On 18 November 1960 I took off very early in the morning in UF2G 2125 with Walt Larsen as copilot. Not every one thought that Walt was the quirkiest pilot in the Coast Guard, but I did, and I was not alone. Alaska brings out quirks (I called winter "silly season", which peaked in February and March. For the talented few, of course, silly season was a year-round thing .) Therefore Walt was certainly not the only one in Alaska with quirks, but he was head and shoulders above his peers.

Some hunter at Pelican had inadvertently fired a Magnum revolver (a bear stopper) while it was still in the holster, causing a goodly part of his leg to disappear. We flew at night for two hours in actual instrument conditions on radio ranges with the usual ice on the wings. A radio range looked like an X on a navigational chart. The X formed the range legs. On one side of the leg one could hear an "A" in Morse (dot, dash) or an "N" (dash, dot) on the other.

When on-the-leg (or "on-the-beam") one heard a steady tone. They're all gone now and good riddance. We reached a Coast Guard radio beacon (whose name I have forgotten) at first light, headed out to sea and descended on instruments to 200 feet above the water using radar for clearance from ships and a radio altimeter for water clearance. We headed for the island that had a fjord that led to Pelican. The visibility in the rain and fog was miserable—we slowed up, lowered flaps, ran the engine RPM up to 2300 and entered the fjord leading to Pelican on the right side of the channel, as all aviators in southeast Alaska would. If things turned to worms we would land on the water or make a steep left turn outbound. I was thinking to myself that this was an Air Medal mission for sure when on the opposite side of the channel one of Alaska Coastal's amphibians flashed by that had just dropped off the letters and Sears’ mail order packages at Pelican.

Sigh! We landed on the water at Pelican, a boat brought out our wounded hunter, and we flew him to Juneau, then went home to Annette. All I got was 6.4 hours of flight time, 4.0 hours of actual instruments, one actual ADF (automatic direction finder) approach and one good story.

My logbook doesn't say when this all happened, but we were called to air evacuate an injured lumberjack from one of the floating-log-raft lumber camps. We landed in the water, shut the engines down and waited for our injured man. A rowboat came out with one man rowing and one man riding in the back. The unusual part was that the man rowing got in the airplane and the other man rowed to shore.

I smelled a scam, so I told the corpsman to find out what crookedness was going on before our very eyes. After we got airborne en route a hospital, the corpsman gave his report. It seems that the gentleman was fishing a salmon stream which a big brown bear was also fishing. When the bear popped out of the brush and caught the man fishing on the bear's personal creek, the bear took offense, as bears so often do, and hit the man hard enough in the ribs to knock him into the middle of the creek and to break his ribs, where he went downstream bobbing and breathing from time to time with the bear following on the bank.

Eventually the bear went back to fishing and the man exited the creek. At the lumber camp his ribs were taped within an inch of his life. He had rowed out because the other person was a numbskull who couldn't do anything right. It hurt more to watch the incompetent foul up the rowing than to do it himself. Amen! Case closed. Those old Alaskans were tough!

In May 1999, Peggy found two copies of the Ketchikan Daily News dated November 3, 1959 (not quite 40 years old) while going through her treasures—she had saved them because the front page story was about a Baptist bush pilot missionary who had run out of fuel and safely landed his float plane on the water on the backside of Wrangell Island, well beyond Ketchikan, his flight plan destination. We at the Air Station looked for him for two days. Merrill Wood and I found him and were mentioned in the story. We irreverently called the search, The Case of the Missing Parson.

He wound up missing again, too. This time he tried to squeeze through a pass with a low ceiling in snow, couldn’t continue and tried to make a steep turn back, stalled and crashed into the trees. Only a passenger survived the stall-spin. It took us a while to find the Parson because the plane had hardly disturbed those old spruces of the forest primeval. It also reminds me that during this search, I used some kindly instead of practical judgment (I was as dumb as a stone) and still regret it. The search weather was typically southeast Alaska—crummy; 200-500 foot ceilings, visibility 4-10 miles in very light drizzle. My copilot was a fellow LT and a designated Aircraft Commander who had not yet completed his Alaska Checkout. I was where I belonged, in the left seat (pilot’s seat in fixed wing aircraft.).

Part of the Alaska Checkout was to learn the area and the Alaska Rules of Thumb: 1. The weather is bad a lot of the time, so we flew in bad weather, 2. Go IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) if possible, 3. Getting lost in bad weather is a sad song (dumb-de-dumb-dumb), so everyone who’s VFR (Visual Flight Rules defined as one mile of visibility and clear of clouds) follows shorelines wherever possible, 4. Follow the shoreline to your right. This separates traffic a bit and if the fiord looks new and strange, a steep turn to the left will lead one to more familiar places, 5. Be ready to land. If all else fails, a prompt landing will lead to some leisurely thinking on the water, 6. Try not to hit any deadheads (logs) while landing or taking off, 7. Don’t get lost.

In a fiord, the ceiling normally was smooth, well-defined and often around 400-500 feet. The water was often smooth and protected. The sides of the fjord were usually steep with huge spruces climbing into the clouds. On this day we were in the fjord on the backside of Wrangell Island, where we found a fishing boat and talked to him on the radio. He hadn’t seen the Parson. We found another boat and couldn’t talk to him on the radio so we made one circle to check for deadheads (logs) in the water and landed. I popped my overhead hatch, stood on the seat and talked to the operator—he hadn’t seen the Parson either. I sat down, closed the overhead hatch and noticed that my copilot had unstrapped from his seat and was standing in the passageway anticipating that we would swap seats. I didn’t want to . . . it was the wrong time to do the right thing, but you already know I did . . . hum that old tune, “dumb-de-dumb-dumb”.

To quell my conscience, I took a chart and pointed out our present position, pointed out how the fjord would narrow and described the “S” turn. My peer was attentive and I felt much better as we leveled off at 200 feet with flaps at 15 degrees, props at 2300 RPM, rudder boost on and carburetor mixtures rich. As the channel narrowed, the light seemed to disappear into the trees. The ceiling was getting lower and darker. A couple of puffs of clouds were lower than the rest. The ceiling ahead sloped down to the water. I said, “We’d better land”. No reaction. “Land! Land!” A microsecond of no reaction and I yanked the throttles closed, dropped full flaps and wrestled it on the water.

We taxied through the “S” turn and broke out into good conditions, took off and continued the search. I’m sure that my peer (while chagrined at the time) has forgotten about the whole incident, but I haven’t. Some stupid mistakes are unforgettable.

A last word about the Parson. I would guess that he was a victim of being too nice and too important for his instructor to harass. I doubt that his instructor ever explained the hard facts of being an aviator. He was a victim of kindness. But I learned. The next time I had a copilot at the controls who froze, I merely said, “I have it” and let him wonder what had just happened (it was a LCDR at Annette, too, who was about to fly into the clouds after a VFR takeoff.)

Instructors are made, not born, especially those who hate to hurt the feelings of their peers and seniors. Did you notice how well I remembered this flight? I cheated—I wrote it down in 1964. We of the archival persuasion are strange people.

I learned one other thing about places like Annette that have a small town atmosphere. When one drives, one waves at every vehicle one meets. I think it’s the pleasure of meeting a fellow human being unexpectedly. I always smiled too, which came naturally. Most of the cars had been “ridden hard and put away wet” (aviators can talk horse language.) The cars were indeed a battered lot and spare parts were hard to find. The rain and the mud were hard on vehicles. The only paved surfaces on the island were the runways—all the roads were gravel. We shipped our Rambler to Seattle, then flew there and took a train to the Midwest. One of the weathermen on the island was going to pick up the Rambler and drive it to San Francisco. He picked it up and promptly put it in a parking lot because it shook like a dog when he tried to drive it. I later got a flight up with the Navy, picked up the car and took it into a repair shop to have the wheels balanced. The wheel balance was fine after we took a few pounds of mud off each wheel.

Air Station San Francisco    [1961-1963]

We primarily flew aerial intercepts of aircraft who have an engine shut down coming from offshore, normally Honolulu. The Air Force operated a four-engine transport, the C-124, which flew quite well on three engines and did so frequently enough to ruin a lot of our sleep. One wonders why they couldn't fly at least half their flights in the daylight. One thought is that they flew at night so that they could use star sights and LORAN (Long Range Aid to Navigation) to fix their position. Judging from their lack of success, they might just as well have flown in the daytime. By the time Old Shaky had flown for umpteen hours from Honolulu, their position report was probably in error by 50 miles. Our biggest problem was finding them, which we normally did by homing on their radio transmissions with direction finders. When we did find a C-124, it would outrun a UF2G, even with one engine dead as a mackerel. When we did an intercept with a C-130, we could shut down the two outboard engines and keep up with them. I unfortunately was a junior LT with lots of UF time and therefore the designated instructor of newly assigned aviators fresh from flight training. Only angels, prophets, LCDRs and those LTs transferred in with a C-130 First Pilot designation flew often in the C-130 (sometimes known as the "aluminum overcast"). I did my intercepts in UFs.

In September 1961 we packed everyone into the station wagon and drove off to Pensacola for helicopter training. On 19 December we were home in San Francisco and I flew my first Coast Guard helicopter HO4S 1328.

On 30 March 1963, we received a report of an overturned catamaran in the surf in Tomales Bay north of the Golden Gate 20 miles or so. We scrambled a UF (pilot Jim Brawley) to locate the boat and I piloted HO4S 1255. Jim proceeded at fast cruise, 160 knots or so, while I putsied along at 70, perhaps 80 knots. Jim located them and dropped a drift signal; I spotted the smoke and Jim's airplane orbiting the catamaran while I was still miles away. There were four people sitting between the capsized catamaran's two hulls looking less than happy. I hovered over them while the hoist operator hoisted them in a rescue basket and we then flew them two at a time to the beach where there was a sheriff's car waiting.

Once we got a call regarding a distress message sent on 500 kHz. I don't recall the details anymore, but I do recall launching in the middle of the night in HU-16[2] 1030 with Bill Hall as copilot.

We flew offshore, descended on instruments until we had visual contact with the water in miserable foggy conditions. Number two engine (the starboard) became very noisy and very oily as some internal parts such as a piston separated from its brethren. Since we aviators take a dim view of separated engine parts, and since all that banging, crashing and jolting around is very exhilarating early in the morning down in the fog and crud, we did the right things. We put maximum continuous power on #1 engine (2500 RPM and 45 inches of manifold pressure), shut down #2 engine by pulling the fuel mixture control to idle cutoff and feathered the propeller, and started climbing out to get on top of the fog bank. The nearest and nicest airport was "W0X0F" (indefinite obscuration, zero visibility, zero ceiling), so we flew over the coastal mountains to Paso Robles and landed there in the beautiful weather common to the San Joaquin Valley. We had flown 5.7 hours with 3.0 hours of nighttime. My copilot, LTJG Bill Hall, hadn't been to bed since he thought that ping pong and fooling around were what one did on duty nights. Wrong! Experience (bad) is a very persuasive teacher. Personally, I was glad that I had a few hours of sleep when that engine turned ugly.

Air Station Miami    [1963-1966]

Air Station Miami is the "Busiest Air Sea Rescue Station in the World". The station was small in size but big in achievement when located in Coral Gables at Dinner Key. We used a seadrome in Biscayne Bay for day and night operations. We had six HU-16s with six parking spots with blast fences to keep the populace from being blown away by propeller blast. An HU-16 would water taxi up a long dredged channel with shallow water on either side. Pilings marked the edge of the channel.

When the HU-16 got to the ramp it normally would taxi up the ramp and shut down at the top. The ground crew would wash the salt off with a hose, lubricate the grease fittings on the landing gear hydraulic system, haul the airplane with a tow-bar-and-tractor to its parking place and push it in tail first so that it could taxi out nose first. This was done quickly so that the helipad at the head of the ramp would not be blocked. It always reminded me of a carrier operation. The duty officer had a second story picture window looking out over the ramp and the seadrome, and he controlled operations with radios and a public address system. The hangar would hold one HU-16 being worked on and the helicopters. The station had been augmented for neutrality patrols. We flew with lists of bad-bad guys, good-bad guys and good-good guys. I personally couldn't tell them apart without the lists, except that the guys in the green suits in the green boats, who we rarely saw, were normally the good-good guys. I've often wondered who made the decisions about who was who.

You will only get the funny and the outrageous memories of my flight operations in Miami. Operating six HU-16s and four HH-52s kept us busy. The offshore islands are the path to the Caribbean and to South America that is followed by aircraft, ships and boats. The Gulfstream has current speeds of up to five knots to carry any disabled small vessel a long way northward from the breakdown position. Finally, druggers, dissidents and people escaping from Cuba (or trying to sneak back in) kept us busy. When I left Miami my "HH-52 Summary" in my log book reports, "13 pump deliveries, 8 at night. 15 hoists, 11 at night. One copilot delivery at night". I don't have the faintest idea what the copilot delivery was all about. A wild guess is that some helicopter with one pilot on board was stuck somewhere with night approaching and needed another pilot before flying at night.

The HH-52 had many virtues and one vice—the bellmouth entrance to the single turbine was directly above the windshield and had no foreign object excluder. Anything that came off the windshield would go up into the bellmouth, there to be ingested by the turbine with occasionally spectacular results. Burps, momentary loss of power and occasionally a forced landing were the result. E.P. Ward was over Biscayne Bay one day at 500’ in a heavy rain storm with the windshield wipers working. A wiper tang (about the size of a penny) that held the rubber to the wiper blade came off and entered the turbine, which promptly quit. At Astoria we also discovered that snow could build up on the windshield and finally come off in wads—neither the turbine nor the turbine blades liked it, and neither did I—even the momentary loss of power.

One of my favorite pictures is of the seadrome with six HU-16s: three in the channel, one in the seadrome, one on takeoff run and one airborne, all en route to a search. In the fall of 1965 we abandoned the buildings at Dinner Key and moved to a new Air Station at the old Marine field at Opa Locka, which made life so much simpler.

We flew a lot, and some of it was attention getting. On 24 June 1964 I was flying HU-16 2127 practicing night water landings in the seadrome when an engine caught on fire; at least I judged it was on fire from all the sparks and flames. It did have the decency to be fairly quiet about the whole thing. We shut it down and made a single engine landing in the seadrome and were towed to the ramp.

My most exciting moment in the seadrome was the night I was returning from a long patrol, beat a thunderstorm to the station and landed. We were in the channel when the thunderstorm hit. An HU-16 is an overgrown wind vane while on the water. Whew! I was no longer a pilot, I was half-sailing-ship-skipper fighting the high winds and half-submarine-skipper in the torrential rain. I had a rotten choice: drive a float under with excessive power on one engine turning away from the channel edge or hit one of the poles marking the edge of the water taxi channel. I did not go aground or hit a channel marker pole. I did, however, drive a float so far under that I saw the red wing light blinking under water. Now there was a "yellow sheet" write-up! Under aircraft discrepancies, I could have written, “Drain port wing light of water and while you're about it, drain the wing too." I wonder if I had the nerve. Probably I did. I am likely to be euphoric and a little giddy after returning from a long patrol and semi-winning a hair-raising tussle with a thunderstorm. I subscribe to the theory (right or wrong) that the boss would rather drain a wing of water than pick pilings out of a wing.

On 18 August 1964 I landed 2127 in the open sea at Cay Lobos, picked up the Bahamian light house keeper's wife who was hemorrhaging, made a four bottle jet-assisted take off (JATO) takeoff and flew her to Nassau. The four rocket bottles get the airplane airborne faster and reduced the danger of damaging the aircraft. My copilot, Don Aites, and I were really intrigued by the nautical chart we were using to keep from landing on a shoal. It was based upon a survey by the Ranger back in 1839. Or was it 1847? We of course wound up using a pair of highly skeptical eyeballs. I hope the light keeper didn't mind rowing so far. Don Aites reminded me it was Chief Tokarski, our aviation ordnanceman, who rigged our JATO bottles. It was the Chief’s last day in the Coast Guard and he was no longer on flight orders.

Don asked Captain Sansbury for flight orders for the Chief for this one flight. I’m very glad he did. It’s nice to know that one’s JATO bottles will work when one pushes the ignition button. Thanks again, Don!

On 19 December 1964, we scrambled an HU-16 and an HH-52 in response to a sinking boat distress call from the cabin cruiser Helen. You may not have noticed, but when somebody decides to sink, they pick the most disgusting weather they can find. In fact, I call weather that's totally repellant "Coast Guard Weather". (The only exceptions are those days when the sun is smiling gloriously and a strong wind is piling up the waves to trap unwary boaters). Let me be the first to tell you that people lose heart at night, that is, they get scared in the dark. This gives them the chance to have us do risky things in ugly weather in the dark when we're tired. I always loved quadruple threats. In other words, we were doing once again what we normally do. Pete Peterson went ahead in the HU-16 to home-in on the sinking boat before the boat stopped transmitting, flying at fast cruise (about 160 knots), while Ed Dempsey and I putsied along at 80 knots in the HH-52. After locating the sinking boat by homing-in on the sinker's radio transmissions, Pete then made a night pump drop from 200 feet that was perfect. The parachute on the watertight pump can nearly hit the boat and the trail line did hit it. The pump can was in the sea next to the boat.

Unfortunately, this guy's idea of Coast Guard weather was a little too good. The 30-knot northerly wind with higher gusts had built up quite a wave system blowing against the Gulf Stream. The skipper lost all the skin on one arm trying to get the pump can from the sea into the boat. My setting a pump can on his deck was the only way he could use it. So I set the pump can on his deck. The boat (as usual) did not cooperate a bit; it pretended that it was a cork in a maelstrom, and to add insult to injury, its long whip antennas looked like they were trying to clean the sky of helicopters. I might add that one can work up quite a sweat chasing a boat with a pump can hanging from the hoist cable. The owner later wrote us a letter thanking us, and saying that the shipyard in Fort Lauderdale had replaced 10,000 fasteners in the boat's wooden hull.

On Sunday morning, 3 April 1965, I took off from Dinner Key at first light in HH-52 1384. A passing boat had found a disabled small cabin cruiser and took it in tow. The operator had donned a life jacket and attempted to swim the two miles to shore to get help. The lady and her children had been left behind on the boat.

My crewman was Petty Officer Baugn (I think he was an AD3.) He was sitting in the copilot's seat with a drift signal in his lap. We found the area very easily where the missing person should be just off Miami Beach, and I set up a search pattern. Suddenly Baugn sighted the man in his life jacket. I know it's not nice to say that Baugn was about to do something dreadful in his pants, but I thought he was. I had to tell him twice (loudly!) to drop the drift signal. We landed in the water and picked up a very tired but happy floater (he had given up swimming some time ago), and then flew by the towed boat with the door open so that our newly acquired passenger could give a heart warming wave to the frantically waving persons in the towed boat. When I got home I told Peggy the tender tale. Well, that was not exactly the whole story. It seems that the people in the towed boat were somebody else's wife and kids. Petty Officer Baugn did get his case of beer at the next morning muster for his outstanding sighting, and nothing but kind words. One is allowed to get a case of "buck fever" when one sights one's first survivor.

Early in the morning on 13 November 1965, I got a call at home that the station needed another helicopter because a cruise ship, the Yarmouth Castle, had caught on fire in the channel to Nassau. Lonnie Mixon and I launched in HH-52 1407. We could see the glow of the fire from 45 miles away before we left the Miami shoreline. When we got to Great Isaac Light, we could see the flames soaring 100 feet into the air. We searched for survivors in the water and then started hoisting badly burned survivors from the assisting cruise ship to medevac them to a hospital in Nassau. These people had to lie down in most cases, therefore we never took more than three. We made two trips, flew 8.2 hours in three sorties and were relieved on scene. Fire injuries are dreadful to see; we will not discuss them.

On 8 December 1965, we had a big search using six or so HU-16s. Kirk Miller and I were in HU-16 7243. Dave Irons was in the adjoining search area. We were at about 500 feet, happy as a clam when the starboard engine's propeller ran away. There is something extremely unsettling about a runaway propeller. I think it's the noise best described as an accelerating scream. I hit the feathering button in a heartbeat, and it took me several heartbeats to remember to pull the mixture control to idle cutoff, so I had to push the feathering button again. Meanwhile Dave had shut down an engine for cause. We were supposed to get another aircraft to escort us when we had an engine out, consequently I told Dave that I'd escort him if he'd escort me.

I've often wondered what the Patrick AFB tower thought when two aircraft landed with one engine apiece shut down. Dave says that when the engine quit (with the customary banging and oil everywhere, I should imagine), “We started a descent, even with METO.” (Bernie note: METO is max.-power-except-takeoff, which for the R1820 is 2500 rpm and 45 inches of manifold pressure.) “I can still feel the surge of relief when both drop tanks let go . . . it felt just like gaining translational lift in a helicopter when those tanks fell free. If I had known that my memory was going to fog up, I would have written all that good stuff down when it happened. Today it sounds frightening just to think about it, but not then. Between bad weather flying at Annette, night water landings at Dinner Key, a few close calls picking up refugees when Castro’s ships were trying to abort our success, and some really scary stuff, like engine failures, no wonder I sleep so well, knowing we don’t do that anymore.”

Early in the morning on 31 December 1965, I got a call at home from the station that the cruise sailing vessel Mandalay had run aground six miles south of Fowey Rock Light in high winds and heavy seas, that there were two helos on scene with Dave Irons in one and Billy Murphy in the other, and they needed one more helo to assist in taking off the passengers. I drove rapidly in (okay, speeded in—but only a little), ran up HH-52A 1388 and waited for LT Rick Folker to show up. I was of course musing that he should stop drinking so much, the bachelor scum, or drive faster, or cease whatever it was that was holding him up. Now, mind you, I was very fond of Rick, but as I have mentioned, "Lord, give me patience—but HURRY!" In short, I was fuming. Then a police car pulled up and I feared the worst. Rick was in trouble with the law; not that I was surprised.

Bachelors! Rick jumped out of the patrol car and into the helo. While en route to the Mandalay, he explained. It seems that he had run out of gas in his trusty VW Beetle (he could no longer afford to pay the insurance on his sport cars due to minor peccadilloes) and started running towards the station in his orange flight suit. He was doing his best imitation of a four-minute mile when a patrol car pulled up along side and offered him a ride to the station. It gave Rick quite a turn, because he normally had reason to examine his conscience when the police appear. Surprisingly, I believed his story, especially that part about running out of gas.

Dave and Billy had things well in hand. The Mandalay was hard aground on her keel but was still very lively. There was no way that anyone could have hoisted safely from that sailing vessel covered with rigging. It looked like a big version of a fly swatter, a helicopter swatter actually. Instead, Dave had the vessel's crew stream a rubber raft with four passengers in wet suits out from the vessel using a nylon line to control and to recover the raft. Dave had just picked up his four so I moved into position. The wind was really blowing hard. I could hover using 50% torque with a normal fuel load and three persons on board. I picked up my four persons with no more difficulty than you would expect with 10-foot breakers dashing by. I always used all the lights the helicopter carried, which did make those big breakers look weird. At this point Billy called on 381.8 MHz to say that during his last hoist the breakers had raised and dropped the basket with one person in it and had broken the hoist hook, hence would I mind picking up another four people? I said something like "no sweat" and picked up another four. While we were climbing out, I smelled something that told me we needed barf bags for our passengers—desperately and at once. When I passed this thought to the hoist operator, he said "no sweat" or whatever, and said that before abandoning ship, the survivors had raided the New Year's booze supply and had tucked bottles into their wet suits, which they were now using most enthusiastically to celebrate their deliverance. Those were easily the happiest people I have ever rescued. You should have seen them wave when they ran away from the helicopter. What did those nice Air Force people think?  

Boozing on a federal airplane! I wonder if they thought that the Coast Guard really knows how to treat its survivors and how do I get into that outfit? By the way, I had to keep the collective up a little to load the rotor when I landed at Homestead Air Force Base because that rotor RPM wanted to go sky high. I don't know how much I weighed but I'd guess that counting the bodies, bottles and wet suits, the helo weighed somewhere around 9,100 pounds, which slightly exceeded the normal max gross weight of 8,300 pounds by 800 pounds. So sue me (I told you I'm not nice.) In defense, I will say I could have auto rotated effortlessly with that wind.

Billy Ed Murphy checked his logbook and it did not show the number of hoists he made, but that there were several. Al Dahms was the Pilot-in-Command because he was the senior of the two. However, Billy Ed was the most qualified, therefore Al put him in the right seat, which in a helicopter is the pilot’s seat. He does remember that one of the ladies that he hoisted refused to part with her dog . . . ditto for her bottle of champagne. One must admire this group of survivors for keeping their priorities straight.

Dave Irons says he recalls like it was yesterday that it was his 35th birthday, but the rest of it is a little hazy. He wrote, “Actually, I do recall that . . . swinging mast and no communications. Ended up with (writing on) a chalkboard instructions to the vessel to put three people at a time in a raft and pay it out downwind. Then we made the pickup from that raft. I also recall the relief I felt when you and Billy Ed arrived on scene. I remember thinking that just no way was a single helo and crew going to pick up that many people before the ship sank. After picking up one basket (load) and the individual got aboard the helo, the crewman started to lower the basket for another rescue, it fell free from the cable . . . someone was looking out for us when it held together until the occupant was safely in the helo. I recall the 40 footer arriving on scene and what a spectacular job of maneuvering he performed. Until he arrived, I was certain the helos had performed miracles, then the 40 boat picked up the skipper from the Mandalay and I realized y’all had only performed in a superior manner.”   I thought that the boat coxswain was probably as pleased as we were to get out of there with no more than a few extremely clear memories and a lot of relief.

I have no idea when this occurred but I shamelessly recall it with great pleasure. One afternoon I went out to the flight line for an HU-16 patrol and found that my flight crew not only had a couple of extra persons but they were all Chief Petty Officers. I felt honored because the CPOs were prudent (cubed) when it came to earning their flight pay. Of course I was probably only the best of a bad lot, and they were driven by harsh circumstance, either fly or lose their flight pay.

Coast Guard Air Station Astoria    [1966-1968]

I'd been a LCDR for three years and was about to become a CDR. I was designated Executive Officer of the Air Station and Deputy Group Commander of Group Astoria. In short, after thirteen years I was no longer a watch stander. The station was small with a dozen or so officers. We didn't fly more than 20 or so hours a month per pilot. It was very slow and very comfortable (yawn) except for one thing. Cape Disappointment Lifeboat Station and we were the guardians of the Columbia River Bar. I have seen 50-foot breaking waves on the bar, and you don't have any idea how impressive that is until you've seen one. The air station was a single building with four corners that could hangar four helicopters. The maintenance shops were on the ground floor and the offices and watch stander quarters were on the second floor.

We were located on Clatsop County Airport, out in the boonies. How far in the rural areas? One night our duty officer, Alex Klimshuk, had to use a .45 to finish off a deer that had been hit by a landing DC-3's prop. When Alex (in his role as a standup comic) told me he had fired a .45 the previous night, I played standup comic too, gave him an article 32 warning and asked him to tell me the whole truth and nothing but the truth. One does not get a whole lot of bull droppings from the astonished recipient of an Article 32 UCMJ warning, though convincing Alex that he wasn’t a joker was a full time job.

On the night of 22 October 1966 I got a call to come in because the Motor Vessel Captayannis S was aground on Clatsop Spit and in danger of breaking up. It was Coast Guard weather cubed, blowing hard, raining, and big breakers on the bar. "Hard aground" does not mean that a vessel does not "rock and roll" especially when the seas are big and the wind is blowing spray over the funnel. Bob Houvener and I launched in HH-52A 1417. We picked up four people on each of two flights for a total of eight. The hair on the back of my neck may have stood up a little which does wonderfully focus the mind. I do have one observation. This was a Greek vessel and a Greek crew that as far as I am concerned is a positive. Greek crewmen remind me of that song King of the Road where stogies are "short and not too big around". When you get a Greek in the rescue basket and take a strain on the cable, the helicopter hardly notices. Another night I was the C.O. Jim Maher"s copilot and we picked up some American tanker men. They are not short, they are definitely "big around" and the helicopter leans in the direction of the hoist cable like we had just hooked onto a whale. I'll take Greeks two-to-one to American tanker men.

  Fred Patterson, ADC Stout, and I picked up brand new HH-52 1429 from Sikorsky on Long Island NY. We needed VFR conditions to make our test flight and climb to altitude, which we got late in the afternoon of 13 July 1967. We completed the test flight, accepted the aircraft and flew to Syracuse NY, because the Sikorsky area was going to be below Visual Flight minimums in the morning. We then flew to Milwaukee, WI; Bismarck, ND; and Missoula, MT on successive days at seven hours of flight time per day, which was also the maximum permitted flight time per day for ferry flights. On the 17th of July we got our weather briefing from one of the FAA persons who had been on Annette with us (his name escapes me 42 years later.) We planned to follow a major highway (probably US 12) through the pass at an elevation of five thousand feet and then it was a straight shot to Astoria. We were approaching the top of the pass with the usual low clouds and light turbulence from the mountains, when we heard a tap-tap-tappitty-tap-tap from time to time coming from the transmission area. Chief Stout tried to pin down the source of the noise but couldn’t. I don’t like tap-taps coming from a new helicopter’s transmission up in the mountains (it makes me nervous) and looked around for a place to land. We found a wide open pasture and set down, thereby driving the horses there into spasms—they are not overly bright, but we were noisy.

We opened up the transmission area and found a small chromate paint brush with a bent metal handle perched with the bend balanced on a rib, marvelously arranged to beat out any tattoo you might like in turbulence. We removed the paintbrush and departed, leaving the horses in peace.

We landed at Air Station Astoria after 6.8 hours of flying time for a grand total of 32.2 flight hours (including a test flight) and five days en route. Was that an HH-52 coast-to coast record using headquarters imposed flight time limits? Who knows? At that time, who cared?

After only two years at Astoria Air Station, I got a call from the headquarters detailer who said that Guam needed a wonderful person just like me (in other words, a live body of my pay grade). I was miffed—I had just painted that tall (cubed) house. I did not want to sell a house! I admire the sentiments in the motto, “Don’t complain and don’t explain,” and honor it mostly in the breach. I called Peggy for sympathy. She said that it all sounded wonderful to her and when were we leaving? Some days having an adventure-loving spouse is not as rewarding as other days.

Coast Guard Activities Guam, Coast Guard Section Marianas    [1968-1970]

We thoroughly enjoyed Guam. We definitely had plenty of warm weather. We even got used to being in Commanders Quarters. Our home was built and owned by the Navy, and was all concrete and cement block. Even the flat roof was a concrete slab. We had three bedrooms for nine of us with one bathroom and we didn't complain a bit. We after all had glass in our windows while lesser persons had wood jalousie windows that they sealed with clear plastic sheeting so that they could air condition. We did feel so special. I did do one thing to my house to increase our comfort. I cleaned and bleached all the fungus off the roof because the black fungus absorbed the sun's heat whereas the white bleached concrete did not. My Navy associates found that a bit odd. Commanders (and especially Deputy Section Commanders of Coast Guard Section Marianas) are not supposed to get hot-and-sweaty from working; I guess we're supposed to complain. As you may have guessed, I'd rather do the work than suffer the tortures of waiting and the pains of following up on a Navy civilian organization that cannot be hurried.  

I learned to fly a big, fat airplane known as a C-123. The best thing about it was that the Coast Guard version had wonderful electronics, including a radar. The engines were that old World War II favorite, the R 2800 which my Dad had tested back during the war years and which I had used in the PBM flying boat. It was pretty much downhill after that. When we flew through rain, it leaked so much that passengers had to wear raincoats. It could not handle more than 15 knots of cross wind unless one was an old seaplane driver and the aircraft was light, so that the pilot could retard the downwind throttle and keep the aircraft parallel with the runway heading. It hated turbulence with a passion, at least compared to an HU-16. Finally, it had no autopilot. I was pretty much underwhelmed; but I did got to do some different things; for instance. I made the first night takeoff at Truk since World War II and had one big adventure and one interesting story.

The interesting story comes first. On 12 December 1969, Tom Osborne and I took off in C-123B 4358 for a wash and wax job at Sangley Point Naval Air Station, Philippines. The flight took on the order of 10 hours, and we normally climbed to an altitude where the air was fairly cool, about 10,000 feet. The air there is noticeably thinner but no problem . . . except for smokers. The carbon monoxide in a burning cigarette has the same concentration as at sea level—the oxygen available is lower due to the lower pressure. Carbon monoxide is absorbed preferentially to oxygen by blood at the ratio of 232 to one. In short, while the lower oxygen level is no problem for a red-blooded American boy, it’s tough on people who smoke, especially during a flight of ten hours where a serious smoker will smoke a number of cigarettes.

Tom was handling the radios as we approached Sangley, and he was not doing well; he was also very pale. “Tom, you fly, I’ll handle the radios.” Tom could fly drunk or sober; he just couldn’t talk. As we descended, his color started coming back, and he started to talk better. When we started the landing checklist, I took control of the aircraft and let Tom handle the radios. As we were taxiing after landing, he turned to me and said, “Bernie, I was hypoxic!”. How true! I didn’t even make him buy me a drink for going on an unauthorized high while on duty.

Marianas Section had widespread aids to navigation (ATON) responsibilities for the Trust Territory of the Pacific in addition to U.S. bases in the Philippines and Okinawa, two 180-foot tenders, a buoy depot, and some ATON boats that fit inside the C-123. We had an outage and there was some construction that needed to be done at Truk; we loaded the parts and a boat in the C-123 and were on our way. The airfield was rated daylight VFR only, but we had lots of daylight after we landed. It will come as no surprise to anybody involved in construction, repair, and boat operations (and the real world) that there were delays in the schedule. I know that we weren’t surprised when it was very dark and well after sunset before we got the boat back and loaded. There wasn’t any place to stay overnight and no place to eat. As I recall, we asked the island administrator to park a couple of vehicles on either side of the runway at the far end and took off using landing lights (as old time aviators sometimes say, “It was a piece of cake”). I believe that it was the first night takeoff at Truk since World War II.

Slip Connor and I had flown 4358 to Sangley Point, Philippine Islands for anti-corrosion polishing-and-waxing at the Navy's maintenance facility. The price was a tenth of what it would cost in Guam. On 26 June 1970, we prepared to fly home to Guam, which was about a 10-hour flight. We had about eight shipboard officers who had come along as passengers to buy carvings and to see the sights. Our weather information consisted of a wind forecast and weather profile, which was top-of-the-line for the era (by today's satellite imagery it was pathetic). I wanted to use Yap as an alternate airfield, but the forecasters said we shouldn't because their daily satellite picture relayed from Hawaii showed a big depression there with the usual thunderstorms and all around nastiness.

Takeoff, climb out and the first couple of hours of the flight were normal. We had good fixes using Loran A (now long gone) showing a ground speed that was near our true air speed of 150 knots. At this point we entered clouds, rain and the usual tropical unpleasantness. Our ground speed started dropping, and I kept spinning my little circular slide rule as the lower ground speeds lengthened the flying time to Guam and ate into my fuel reserves. We couldn't get any forecasts by radio that explained our situation. When our ground speed dropped to 90 knots, it was apparent to me that I was going to have a command-at-sea.

For our passengers, life was not good. It was dark and therefore scary, the airplane was bouncing around like an aluminum balloon, and to add insult to injury, the airplane was leaking like a sieve, which to ship persons is ominous. They don't like leakers because leakers are sinkers in their world. I looked over my shoulder and saw them sitting there with raincoats and caps on and not a smile-in-a-mile. All things considered, I was not all that pleased with the situation either. I had drawn Plan B on my chart before we left Sangley, which was to go to Yap. Slip and I had both spun our slide rules until they were in danger of melting with only more bad news. The only explanation for our weather was that the disturbance at Yap had intensified and had headed north.  It was in fact Typhoon Ugly Olga.

It was time for us to head south to Yap. I declared an emergency to Guam Radio, then called Yap Loran Station and told them to hotfoot it to the airstrip and put the flare pots out. A flare pot is a very primitive kerosene lamp and, in the dark ages of aviation, were used to light the edges of runways. They were also used on primitive islands such as Yap. There wasn't any danger we'd miss Yap because the Loran C station chirped at 10 megawatts and we could manually home on the transmitter.

We broke out of the clouds into beautiful night visual flying conditions. It was so clear that we saw the light from the flare pots when we were 20 miles away from an altitude of 8,000 feet. I attribute the fact that the flare pots were laid so neatly, quickly and properly to the Marianas Section Ops Officer Dave Irons who had the flare pots on his inspection and his personal checklist. The boys at the Loran Station had done good work. We made an uneventful landing, which was the first night landing on Yap since World War II (the jungles on Yap are filled with shot-up Japanese planes.)

After we shut down, the passengers got out and, I swear, kissed the ground. It was late but they insisted that if there was a bar on Yap (and there were several) that they would take Slip and me out for a few drinks as their guests. It was an offer we couldn't refuse. Peggy meanwhile hadn't heard a thing, She had been a little surprised that Jan Irons had dropped in to chitchat when dropping in wasn't her style. Jan was just making sure that everything was quiet. Peggy didn't hear anything until we were safely on the ground at Yap. Rear Admiral Bill Schwob once told me that Dave Irons had the best fitness report file that he had ever seen. It was my pleasure to be one of many who contributed to it.

The crew was AE1 J.H. Furqeron, AE3 Larry Bonniwell, AT3 (?) Gary Erlandson, AM1 C.P. Gouveia, and AD3 D.L. Riles. Passengers included LCDR Bill Hewel and LT Larry “X” (See below why his last name was omitted to protect the guilty.)

Our administrative officer was a very likeable Lieutenant and a non-aviator with a great sense of humor (which, unfortunately, may one day yet get him killed). Unknown to me or the Section Commander, he broke the regulation that says there shall be “no spurious messages” and concocted a message, allegedly from Headquarters, assigning Dave Irons to Washington (illegal, immoral and DUMB!). His aim of course was to drive Dave crazy. He did. Dave was at the height of his flying career and was in no mood to push papers every day, all day long, and probably part of the night. He was crushed. Then Larry “X” came into my office, confessed, and sought sanctuary. He said that Dave had gotten used to the idea of Washington’s orders, was starting to plan positively, and that Larry hadn’t figured out a way to tell Dave that wouldn’t result in his very own personal death, and would I or the Section Commander break the news?

I went on to assure him that if Dave DID kill him, that it was because I hadn’t, and that I would personnal regard it as justifiable moronslaughter. I suspect that I developed a pretty good head of steam, mentioning things like “toying with a happy home,” and a “very serious breach of regulation”; and I might have also mentioned “horrifying judgement.” When one is inspired, the words do flow. I told Larry to go to Dave when Dave wasn’t near a firearm, get down on his knees, beg for mercy, and apologize profusely. It worked, though I’m not sure why either Dave or I didn’t cause at least great bodily harm.

Larry’s death probably would have made one of those Darwinian lists of those who improved the species by doing something fatally foolish. I did get even . . . he was a passenger on the flight to Yap, related above, when we flew through Typhoon Ugly Olga.

Air Station Miami    [1970-1972]

As executive officer I did the usual paper work but also did a good deal of flying. My logbook says that in the HH-52A, I recovered some bodies from an offshore crash, delivered some pumps, and in the C-123 hauled a lot of cargo and an Admiral or two. I can hardly recall it. One remembers the times when the hair on the back of one's neck stands on end and these apparently did not meet that demanding criteria. I distinctly recall that from 9 February 1971 to 11 March 1971 I was the senior member of the accident analysis board that investigated the strike damage to HH-52A 1401 at Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina. I still can't believe that I was dumb enough to tell Peggy what that rotten swine from headquarters had told me, "You'll be home in a week!" I was afraid that Peggy was never going to forgive me for that one. It didn't help that Peggy was very pregnant too.

I have one C-123 story: We were taxiing out one morning on a logistics flight to one of the loran stations when I noticed that the duty runway had a flock of seagulls sitting on the departure end. There are those who believe that seagulls when approached by a plane roaring down a runway will dive into a hole like a rabbit. I am of the opinion that seagulls will fly upwards so that they can meet the airplane. I called ground control and offered to taxi down the runway from the departure end to the approach end and flush all the birds with my wondrously noisy reciprocating engines . . . the birds would fly and I would stay on the ground where we would not meet. My generous offer was declined. Shortly I was behind a propjet waiting for takeoff and had a good view of the impending stupidity. The propjet roars down the runway causing terminal uneasiness amongst the seagulls. Contrary to the expectations of some, the seagulls did not dive in holes like rabbits—they flew. There was an unpleasant midair collision between birds and the propjet’s propellers, whereupon the pilot asked permission to land to inspect his airplane. I waited until the airport vehicle cleared the runway of debris. It’s hard to believe that people alleged to be professionals can be so dumb. Another Bernie’s rule: Stupidity outnumbers malice ten to one (and there’s lots of malice.)

Air Station Traverse City Michigan    [1972-1975]

There is nothing in life quite like being the boss, and I was the Commanding Officer and a Captain. In the community I was also a big frog in a small pond. In addition the family was a memorable group: ten of us. The flying was a lot like Alaska from November 1 to May 1 in that we had lots of snow and ice, especially the lake effect snow. We had ice patrols in the winter and pollution patrols all year round. I even got to make one night pump delivery 

The last entry in my logbook is an HH-52 flight on 7 July 1975 to photograph the SUNDEW and to do something or other for the Cherry Festival. I had routinely taken the flights involving demonstrations or hauling senior people for several reasons. First, they were interesting if inconvenient. Second, I could fly as well as any of the other pilots, had more experience with the missions, and knew the senior people and how they thought. Third, if our senior person proposed something that was dangerous, stupid, or merely imprudent, it was much easier for me to say, "I don't think that would be prudent". Finally, if I needed cooperation on the mission, I could get it much easier than any junior pilot. Let me repeat, it's wonderful to be boss.

I had several interesting experiences as a Commanding Officer, a couple you may enjoy reading:

An experienced headquarters aviator with the rank of Commander had come to the Air Station to get some HH-52 training time. We normally assigned a copilot to ride with the senior person to coordinate the details of local area flying rules. On this morning, the Commander looked considerably the worse for wear, so I got within smelling distance. My nose was apparently expecting the worst because it said, "Warning! Reject! Warning! Reject!". You all know how noses can go berserk—I discounted part of it and asked the Commander how he felt.

"Fine, why do you ask?"

I didn't tell him that my nose had panicked, but I wasn't wholly graceful either, because I said (honest!), "You smell like a distillery. I'm going to assign one of my aircraft commanders as pilot in command. You can do training subject to his review." One doesn't often have to tell a peer that he has to shape up or expect consequences.

On the other hand, he was a very experienced drinker. I've told you before that I'm rotten to the core and maybe deeper. My rotten streak said that it seemed only right that he suffer the slings and arrows of a hangover while an experienced pilot watched the helicopter make a fool of him. All was right with my world.  

I got a report from one of the chiefs that one of the pilots was inducing nervous pangs in the enlisted flight crew, and on that account I asked the operations officer (who was too nice a guy for my good) to look into it. He reported that the passed-over-for-promotion LT was indeed a pilot who had written his own flight manual, who loved to fly exceedingly low and had a couple of flight maneuvers that chilled the blood. I invited the miscreant into my office, along with the Ops. Officer, and asked him about these reports. He did a lot of waffling but made no confessions or apologies, which was about what I expected. I told him that his aircraft commander's designation was suspended for a month and that he would only fly as copilot. That after a month I'd review the operation's officer's reports and recommendations. We valued experienced pilots but we demanded full compliance with our flight standards. It was up to him to prove to us that he was trustworthy. If I decided that he wasn't, he'd be a permanent copilot until he was retired after 20 years of service. As I recall, he gave up most of his flying bad habits but continued to talk about his techniques to anybody that would listen.

Most of the junior folk fortunately wouldn't listen. He got his Aircraft Commander designation back, more because I didn't want to see him humiliated than because I trusted him. He did know that nobody junior was going to put up with his nonsense, and that I certainly wasn't.

First Coast Guard District Staff    [1975-1980]

I was Chief, Search and Rescue Branch from 1975-1978 and Chief of Operations from 1978-1980. (I don't have a logbook to back that up.) I pushed papers and tried to improve the lot of the small boat and Cutter people, but it certainly wasn't the same as in aviation. We tried to get the plans and directives in decent, readable, usable shape, and then tried to get people to read them (that’s the hardest part.) We had a lot of successes and a few failures, which is about average. When I was eventually transferred to the Eighth District I thought their Search and Rescue Manual looked very familiar. It seems they had gotten every SAR Manual they could lay their hands on and had copied the First District's version of which I was the principal author. We made one other change.

Our 82-foot patrol boats launched Boston Whalers to conduct boardings on Law Enforcement patrols. The Boston Whaler was heavy and hard to launch and recover in a seaway. In a sea higher than five feet, it was downright dangerous.

We didn't want to use the common inflatables because they didn't handle well in a seaway. We started asking manufacturers and boat dealers, and found one person who had a semi-rigid-hull inflatable that sounded easy to handle and to be a good sea boat. The operations officer bought the idea and it spread to nearly all the cutters on the East Coast.

Eighth Coast Guard District New Orleans    [1980-1983]

I was considerably underwhelmed to go to New Orleans as District Inspector (the area was fine but what does a District Inspector do of consequence?). I soon found that I had no impact unless the district staff people thought they couldn't weasel out of the inspection report. They already had enough to do and some of them didn't want anything that they couldn't hand off to a junior. It wound up being the most interesting job I 'd ever had. I did have an Admiral, Bill Stewart, who read everything I wrote, who had confidence in me, and who told his staff that he did. Life is so much easier when the boss likes what one does.

Sitrep One and Final: Genesis of the Bernie Book

I've been told that there are 800 Coast Guard aviators, all of whom have a Bernie Book. My guess is that very few of them know how the Bernie Books got started. There are probably some old fuds winning bar bets with tricky trivia questions about some Johnny-Appleseed-of-SAR-Procedures booklets. While I have no true objection to a peer cadging drinks, the following should squelch any more unjust exploitation of young studs.

In 1961 I started my third aviation tour flying HU-16s at Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco. I had always had a morbid fear of dying in an avalanche of operational books in an Albatross' cockpit. The glare shield simply wasn't strong enough to carry the contents of two leather bags full of publications. Consequently, I had made a personal SAR booklet to cover the urgent operational problems that might arise, such as how to assist a C-124 during a night ditching. There were many C-130 pilots but only two of us lieutenants who flew instructional and check flights in HU-16s. Lucky Gene Baumann had influence with the scheduler, and I got to fly an aircraft commander check with a superb airman who was just a bit fuzzy on SAR procedures. He got an "extra time" (a gentlemen's down). I complained to the Operations Officer about our obvious system failure. The Commanding Officer had borrowed my booklet for some Rotary Club affair, so my secret booklet was known to operations and to the CO. I won't bore you with the details. We published CGAS San Francisco SAR procedures in June 1963.

I started my fourth aviation tour as a LCDR in 1963 at Coast Guard Air Station Miami at Dinner Key. There wasn't a copilot there who couldn't draft a Sitrep in his sleep. Nevertheless, CAPT Jim Dillian thought we could be better, and we published a CGAS Miami SAR Procedures book. The first time I heard it called a Bernie Book was by LT (later CAPT) Jim Mitts.)

In 1967 we published "CGAS Astoria SAR Procedures". Tours on Guam and back at CGAS Miami at Opalocka followed. The final Bernie Book was published at CGAS Traverse City in 1973.  

After I retired in 1983 I would occasionally get a note or hear a story about Bernie Books. CAPT George Krietmeyer enjoyed the stories, and I suspect him of coaching the CO of Aviation Training Center Mobile. In any case that CO approached me about providing an original Bernie Book for a trivia display on Coast Guard aviation. I'm embarrassed to say that I said no. The very thought of searching for an obscure carton of books in my boiling hot attic robbed me of both graciousness and courage. A couple of years later, on an unusually cold New Orleans winter day, I stumbled (literally) across a box of books in my attic. At the next national gathering of the Ancient Order of Pterodactyls, I trapped a new CO AVTRACEN Mobile and reported that I had a beat up artifact of very questionable worth, whose sole claim to fame was that it was beyond doubt a genuine, original Bernie Book. He was much more gracious and receptive than I had been, which is how in March 1992, Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile dedicated a shadow box containing some Bernie Book memorabilia.

From my Coast Guard service I have observed that flying airplanes teaches one humility . . . normally. Nothing has taught me patience. Peggy (bless her), is still trying to teach me patience while driving to improve my driver skills. The only change is that I somewhere developed an admirable ability to ignore (read: bite my tongue). I can understand why some of our children flinch while riding with her, though I have seen her show restraint under provocation that I truly envy—I’m always putting on the brake while riding shotgun.

For my part, living in Central Florida, I am still amazed when I get close enough to see the driver of a car who appears to be a perfectly normal person, when from afar and judging only from their driving skill, I had supposed them to be nine-armed, three-headed aliens from a very dark region of outer space.

Thanks for taking the time to read this story.  


[1] UF1Gs were factory modified and reclassified as UF2Gs. The first of these modified aircraft went to stations who flew often in icing conditions and who operated frequently on the water. The UF2Gs were less subject to wing drop (stall) during water landings and takeoffs, landing and takeoff speeds were lower, and aircraft performance during single engine flight was improved because the induced drag was less. Controllability of the aircraft was improved with a larger wing and tail surface. In addition, the aircraft limits were increased to permit carrying more fuel during water takeoffs. The cruising speed was higher with the same power setting of the pre-modified versions, all from increasing the wing spread from 80-feet to 96.8-feet and the wing area from 883 to 1035 square feet; hence the nickname “Stretch Wing.” Unrelated to the modification, one UF2G had its aileron flight controls reversed during station maintenance causing it to crash, killing a friend of the author.

[2] UF2Gs are now HU-16Es following Department of Defense nomenclature changes.

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