Sunday, March 8, 2009

Home on the Range (TONOPAH TEST RANGE) III

Well here we go again.

Today I will focus a little on what we did at Nellis as part of the cover story for the Stealth program.

Being at Nellis and having a BIG secret was kind of exciting to say the least. We for obvious reasons felt privileged and at the same time special in relation to others on the base. We weren't any better than the rest but our mission was entirely different and required at times thinking on our feet as it were.

The operations on Nellis were many times multinational and this caused some apprehension on our part many times. A great tradition among Air Force's worldwide is patch trading. Now since we were not very visitor friendly this was a little difficult for us when someone would POP in for a chat and to get one of our patches. As as I mentioned before when someone who we did not recognize came into our building we would instantly do a MEET AND GREET before they got to far into the building. We would approach the person and ask politely if we could help them. This was odd I am sure to them since in most places you could wander for some time before someone would even notice you. On one occasion a British group came for a visit and we went into action. They just wanted to get some patches which we gave them and then they wanted to see our planes and talk shop. Well that was not going to happen. Try getting a fellow airman to kindly leave as soon as possible in a polite manner and they begin to feel unwanted. This was not our purpose but in our building things could change at a minutes notice and someone could be discussing classified or the such. These poor Brit's I am sure thought how rude of the colonists to rush us out.

Another time a Brit who had purchased of all things a Harley had been driving down the flight line road a no no to begin with towing his prized possession on a trailer and drove right into our red line area where the planes were parked. He was stopped by a maintenance crew they called security and he was given a polite lashing I am sure. The Security Police on Nellis were not briefed on our mission and any breach of the RED LINE was handled the same as anywhere else on the flight line. For those who do not know there is a red line painted the entire length of the flight line. As with anything red it means stop, no crossing. This type of infraction happens often at bases worldwide. Some times it is a civilian driver who is lost and wanders into the flight line area by mistake.

Being part of the 4450th was also different in that we had different rules from the regular AF. For instance in the USAF every year everyone has to qualify on a 1 1/2 mile run in a certain time for your age. In our unit we got permission to do long hikes in the mountains nearby instead and that was great. One time we went up a trail that led to the area where the oldest living things on earth live the Bristlecone pine said to be over 5000 years old. These hikes would be a family affair with a picnic afterwords and a great time for us all to get together. Of course there would be more than one of these events since our schedules would not allow for everyone to do it on the same day.

The agencies on base were familiar with us but anytime we dealt with them they knew we were odd sorts since we always got what we wanted no questions asked. We had priority in everything we did. This at times caused some discontent among the MASSES but they never gave us a hard time just the LOOK. I am sure they resented us in some small way but they could do nothing about our special status.

A good example of this special treatment was when we needed some new recruits from a tech school in Denver Colorado, Lowry AFB. Myself and two others a Chief Master Sergent and a Master Sergent flew out to Lowry with the task of finding two people to join the A7's.

Now when we showed up at the school the we went directly to the Commander's office. Since we were SPECIAL he had no notice of our arrival or what we were doing at HIS school. The Chief just handed him a letter that basically said COOPERATE. Now I know that this was unprofessional sounding to just show up with no notice but that is how we operated to preserve as much secrecy as possible. The Commander, after reading the letter, said what do you need and asked us how he could help. I do not know who signed the letter but they had much pull. We were given a room to interview some folks and also given their service records and school records. Each candidate was questioned at length, even as far as asking them if they had any problems with flying. These poor folks were very new in the military and a few asked when they entered the room if they were in trouble since their instructor could not give them any idea what we were doing. We would put them at ease and we even went so far as to put them on a first name basis for the interview so as to relax them further.

When we had found our two people it was time to let them know they were selected and that we would take care of getting their assignments changed. This is where the fun started. We went to the assignment section of the personnel department at the base and the Chief handed the letter that he had shown the Commander of the school to the Chief of the Personnel section. The Chief of this section being a Chief said I cannot change their assignments and gave our Chief the brushoff. Our Chief being the diplomatic type asked to use the phone. He promptly called someone, to this day I have no idea who he called, and handed the phone to the Chief. The Chief simply said yes sir several times and hung up. He then asked our Chief how he could help. Amazing what one phone call can do.

This is my favorite example of how our unit was different from even other A7 units. Our A7's were the only active duty planes of this type. All others were assigned to the National Guard. Since our planes were no different in appearances to those in the Guard we got any and all modification or time compliance orders that they got. The only problem was that ours did not have the cannon installed and some of the armour plating(for weight and balance). These were removed to make the aircraft lighter. There were also systems that we did not use. I will leave it at that. So if we had a new mod or the such that pertained to these areas we could not perform that task.

This lack of systems or non use of systems proved interesting on one occasion for me. As the head of my specialty on the aircraft I was sent TDY (temporary duty) to Wright Patterson AFB, Dayton Ohio for a conference on a digital conversion of the system I was responsible for and several other system it would affect. Since some of this stuff was not used I hoped that nothing would come up that I could not explain away.

The first awkward moment was when all the other Guard folks and I met. The first thing they asked was, so why do you guys fly A7's and what do you do? Our cover was that we were testing advanced avionics (not a lie - F-117). So that's what I told them. I could tell right off that was not good enough for them but they let it be, for now. I was going to be at this conference for 7 days so I just hoped that that was the end of the awkwardness, Not. Everything was going great until someone mentioned some problems with a NON use system on our planes. When I was asked if I had a similar problem which they all had experienced I simply said NO (not a lie). Needless to say they wanted to know why and I told them I could not discuss this any further. Luckily the chief in charge of this conference understood my situation and changed the subject.

One other great thing about that conference is my visit to the Air Force Museum at Wright Paterson AFB in Dayton Ohio. I was like a kid in a candy store. Planes I had only seen pictures of were now inches away. I was overwhelmed. I say all my favorites, the XB-70, X-15, B-58, B-29, (FW-190, ME -109 German WWII) P-51, Spitfire, P-39, P-47, P-40, P-62, B-1, B-36 HUGE the list goes on and on. If you are ever in Dayton this is worth the trip.

One thing that I will mention here is that I had a relative who was a Major General attached to Wright Pat when the Roswell thing went down. This is the base that the supposed Alien bodies were brought to. He was at the time in charge of a Scientific unit at the base. I asked him many years ago if he knew about the rumor. He said he did and that to his knowledge nothing of the sort ever came to that base. Take that for what it is worth. I will say that he had a very high security clearance. One more interesting thing about him is that he also participated in the Nuremberg Trials as a younger officer. He was a West Pointer. Was moved over to the USAAF during WWII and went on to the USAF in 1947. He was a pilot, P-51s. One of my TTR buddies reminds me of him a little, this relative once buzzed his mothers house in NEW YORK CITY. He was a great guy. He has passed now but he was alive well after 9/11. Here is something he said to me after 9/11. Mark its been two days now how come Afghanistan still exists! Every so often he would call and mention the time since 9/11 and ask the same question. He lived to see something happen there but he felt it was way to little to late! He passed at the age of 95 and is buried at Arlington. Sharp as a tack to the end!

Now for one of the characters I worked with. I will not use his real name. Derek was by far the most exciting of the bunch. I remember a trip I took with him in a Government owned vehicle, GOV, up North as we called it. One of only two trips where I got to drive up instead of fly. The trip up was uneventful if you could call a high speed run uneventful. Derek was the driver ALWAYS he insisted and who am I to argue at being a passenger. Its a long drive. Anyway the speedometer was not much use for him. To put it simply the mile markers were going by every thirty seconds! Yes I know it was wrong but we were young and fearless let alone the abuse of a GOV. Needless to say he had an ulterior motive for this. He wanted to make it before dinner, it was surf and turf night. We arrived on time for his dinner of choice and unscathed. This was just a parts run of sorts for the A-7's there and to bring some other items back to Nellis. It was an overnighter of course.

On the return trip Derek wanted to take a Short Cut. Now you must understand there are no shortcuts across CLASSIFIED RANGE. Our security badges allowed us to access only certain parts of the the Test Range. But Derek new better and proceeded to drive where we were NOT SUPPOSED to be. He said it would cut many miles off our trip back. I said maybe not if we get stopped and they check our badges. He was not phased by my words one bit. So here we were about to Trespass on areas of classified Range and he was excited. As we went along suddenly a sign read area such and such badges only. I looked at my badge and it was not there. Here we go. I will not be able to describe where we were or what we saw but I can tell you this, I was keeping an eye on the sky for a very good reason! After what seemed FOREVER a new sign proclaimed we were leaving that area and we were in the clear. Thank you Lord!

Now the fun was not over and now I got to play a little. I am sure you are all aware that Nevada has what is called the EXTRATERRESTIAL Highway. Well we ended up coming out on that road. Now Speed racer had a new game he wanted to play. At the speeds mentioned before. He had brought along many very small steel juice cans, you know the ones you see in the markets with pineapple juice in them they are about 3" high and about 1/1/2" in DIA. perfect for the palm of the hand. He called them juice grenades and we had all flavors, prune, apple, pineapple you name it. Now these were full cans. His idea was to try and hit things with them as he drove. I was the launcher and he would toss a few too. Well I am not very good at hitting things at the speed he was going so I never made contact with any targets. The idea was sound but we had no way of judging when to release. I have to admit it was kind of a rush trying to hit billboards and the such. None of his lobs by him made it either. I bet somewhere out there there are many burst juice cans along the south bound lane of that highway. We did not stop in Rachel NV we blew by like a flying saucer. Made the trip back in record time, for who I do not know but it was fast.

Years later I saw Derek back in Vegas at a Reunion of sorts. He had flown in under his own power. He had a PILOTS license now, a REAL one and had rented an aircraft. He wanted me to go up with him. I declined for obvious reasons.

Well I will stop for now. More later. Thanks for reading Mark

Well I will end here and get more to you later. For now its enough.

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