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Squadron Pilot
30th Military Airlift Squadron
438th Military Airlift Wing

Air Force Commendation Medal

Training   Preparation for War   The Big One


C-141A Taxiing

With UPT behind me and an assignment to the 30th Military Airlift Squadron at McGuire A.F.B., New Jersey, there was but one minor problem - I had not yet even seen the C-141A aircraft which I had been assigned to fly. Off to Tinker A.F.B. in Oklahoma City to train for three months in a C-141, officially known as the "Starlifter". My first view of the aircraft on the flight line was one of awe. This machine is 145 feet long, 160 feet wide, and 40 feet tall. It swallows Army 6x6 trucks, small helicopters, semitrailers, and almost anything else that size or smaller and then closes its doors and flies. The real challenge, though, was learning the aircraft systems. Before the Air Force allows you to operate one of its very expensive machines, you must be a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about it. The next three months was spent learning about all those systems and doing some flying in the machine. Although the White Rocket was fun, there is no feeling on Earth like sitting in the pointy end of a large aircraft like a C-141 and pushing up the throttles for takeoff. Four Pratt & Whitney TF-33-P7s spool up to 20,000+ pounds of thrust each, the beast rolls less than 2000 feet and it's ready to fly, ease back on the yoke and it is in the air. Of course, all of our training was conducted in unloaded aircraft with less than full fuel loads, so the all up weight was in the 200,000 pound area - far less than the 325,000 pound maximum gross weight. I would soon see many 325,000 pound takeoffs in hot, high density altitude conditions.

The Starlifter
Main Gear Vertical Stabilizer Pilot's Panel Center Panel The Sky's the Limit


Having made the drive from Oklahoma City to McGuire AFB in two days, I went directly to my new outfit, the 30th Military Airlift Squadron, 438th Military Airlift Wing, to report for duty. The first order I received from my new squadron commander was to find the barber shop and get a haircut. He obviously was not very impressed with my shiny new wings and gold bars (although, thankfully, it would only be a few more months before the promotion from second "balloon" to first "balloon"). It probably doesn't seem so to those in the lower enlisted ranks, but it sure seemed to me like there was no lower creature on earth than a Second Lieutenant. Although I was technically qualified to fly a C-141 in the capacity of a "second pilot" (2P), I was in actuality qualified to do no more than sit and watch. My first mission was one in which I had no assigned crew position, but I was on the flight orders as "2P unqualified" (nonetheless, I spent most of the trip in the right seat). The trip was a typical six/seven day Southeast Asia mission in which I learned more about the C-141 and its operation than I had in the previous three months. Reading from my log book, the mission was as follows:

Date From To A/C Duration
8 Apr 1969 McGuire AFB, NJ Tinker AFB, OK 40622 3.4 hrs
9 Apr 1969 Tinker AFB, OK Elmendorf AFB, AK 40622 6.2 hrs
10 Apr 1969 Elmendorf AFB, AK Yokota AB, Japan 50263 8.3 hrs
11 Apr 1969 Yokota AB, Japan Ching Chuan Kang AB, Taiwan 40634 3.3 hrs
11 Apr 1969 Ching Chuan Kang AB, Taiwan Yokota AB, Japan 40634 3.0 hrs
12 Apr 1969 Yokota AB, Japan Elmendorf AFB, AK 59405 7.3 hrs
13 Apr 1969 Elmendorf AFB, AK Kelley AFB, TX 60187 6.5 hrs
14 Apr 1969 Kelley AFB, TX Charleston AFB, SC 60187 2.7 hrs
Total flying time 40.7 hrs

Several things are apparent from looking at the log of my first C-141 mission. First, we didn't keep the same airplane. At the end of each of our "crew duty days" ( we worked 16 hours on with 12 hours off ), the aircraft was handed off to a waiting crew to continue to its designated destination and we were placed in the "stage" at that stopover point for our required rest period. Once we became "legal" again, we picked up the next incoming aircraft on "first in - first out" basis. Second, we didn't end up at our home base at the end of the mission. Our last aircraft was scheduled into Charleston, SC even though we were based at McGuire. An "East Coast Shuttle" aircraft flew up and down the east coast bases daily to get the crews back to their home bases for a day or two off before the next mission. Something else which is not immediately obvious is that we had no idea where we would end up. At the start of a mission, we only knew where the first duty day would take us. After that, it was the luck of the draw where we might go. Consequently, a C-141 pilot had to be world-wide qualified and we had to carry a complete world-wide set of navigation charts on all missions. The nav kit was the size of a small steamer trunk, but contained all of the high altitude nav charts, low altitude nav charts, high altitude approach plates, and low altitude approach plates as well as the aviation regulations for all the countries in the known world. With a few exceptions (such as landing on the ice at McMurdo Station in Antarctica) and unlike the case for civilian airline pilots, a Military Airlift Command pilot was qualified to take his aircraft anywhere in the world on instant notice.
This trip was the end of my "non-qualified" status. I could now be assigned as a second pilot on any mission and many followed quickly. The missions varied tremendously and I have provided examples of some interesting ones in the following log book excerpts:

Vietnam MissionMy first mission as the designated Aircraft Commander to a destination I would get to know well
"Double Whammy" to Thailand"Double Whammy" to Thailand
Greenland MissionGreenland
Europe/Middle East MissionEurope/Middle East
Navy Rotation to SpainNavy Rotation to Spain


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Revised: 26 July 1999