• War record of 'Blue' Section

There is a famous photo of 4 spitfires flying side by side, someone has unearthed the blurb on the back that explains who these Heroic Pilots from the Battle of Britain were:

These four pilots cost £10,000 each to train. During that time they wrote off or otherwise damaged £160,000 worth of aeroplane. On operations they wrote off completely 3 Spitfire V’s between them at a total cost of £300,000. Their pay amounted to about another £22,000 during their service. They burned up about £25,000 worth of hi-grade petrol, and fired off at least £30,000 worth of expensive ammunition. They gave their C.O. and their Flight leader a nervous breakdown necessitating expensive medical treatment. Two of them were sent to an equally expensive Air-Crew Punishment Camp which had to be maintained at great expense for the likes of them. They stole at LEAST £10,000 worth of gear from the Royal Air Force during the five or six years that it managed to tolerate them. Between them they were solely responsible for no less than SEVEN illegitimate births, the cost of which devolved on the State which employed them. Between them they caused the break-up of three marriages, resulting in expensive divorce cases. Between them they contracted two cases of venereal disease necessitating expensive and time-wasting medical treatment. One of them wounded one of the others in an air-to air firing exercise. Two baled out over England, losing their aircraft which caused considerable damage when crashing, and both stole their parachutes on landing. One caused the Portsmouth gun barrage to fire off a great deal of expensive ammunition at him by getting lost and straying over the D-Day fleet. One shot up an RAF Rescue Boat under the impression that it was an E-Boat. One shot a hangar at Tangmere full of holes and turned a Flight-Sargeant Fitter’s hair white, by fiddling with his gun button which SHOULD have been set to SAFE. Each of these four required the services of 32 skilled men to keep them in the air, and these 128 men had to be paid, clothed and fed.

“Ah,” but you say. “But what did these heroes accomplish against the hordes of Nazi Germany when, smiling and gay they fearlessly (???) flew against the Hun”.

They shot down, or up, as the case may be, one F.W. 190, 3 gasometers (French), about 60 trains (all French), one church, about 200 lorries, one American Destroyer, at least one American Tank, a field latrine of doubtful nationality, and were only prevented from “having a bash” at the Eiffel Tower by the fear that their aircraft letters would be seen and reported.

In view of this enviable record therefore, we have no hesitation in laying the claim that these four pilots did the greatest service to the Third Reich and should have been awarded the Iron Cross First Class by a grateful Fuhrer and Fatherland.

• One of Those Days

It started out to be just one of those days.

Arrived at the airport for a 0900 'show time' for a 0930 takeoff on a one hour flight (an otherwise 6 hour drive) to Tehachapi in the C-45 to see one of our former Top Dog air combat pilots, now Student Test Pilot*, MAJ Matt Taylor USMC, sir. Also going to meet some of the honchos from Navy Test Pilot School (TPS) with an eye toward getting them to use our birds for handling evaluation flights.

Crew/passenger list: Jessica, a multi-engine instrument instructor as safety/co-pilot, our mechanic Skip and son/assistant Jason recently out of the Army, mechanic helper and passenger-loader Mark, plus Steve and Russell—two of the neatest kids I've ever met. Their grandma knew Pancho Barnes and was a DC-3 stewardess. She makes sure they hang out at the airport, "Where the good people are."

Mission: fly up to a glider strip near Edwards AFB to see Matt who is forced, as part of the TPS curriculum, to fly cool stuff like an Albatross HU-16 seaplane, a Beaver, an Otter and other esoteric flying machines, plus—at Tehachapi—gliders.

Only problem, the weather was dogshit (that's a scientific meteorological term) at 300 and half. So we all trudge up to the cafe for tales of daring-do aloft with American Airlines lineal number #3 pilot who said he landed in Hong Kong with a crosswind so strong that in the flare, before de-crab, the cockpit of the L-1011 was over the grass beside the runway although the main gear was about to touch down on the pavement centerline.

Coffee. Repeated checks of the ATIS by cell phone waiting for something to change. More coffee. No way we're going to launch with homebase and everything west of the mountains weathered in at minimums. If something happens where do you go? If we flew together everyday that'd be one thing. If we were flying a King Air that be another thing. But I'm not IFR current (1920s biplanes don't do IFR) and Jessica'd never been in a taildragger, much less a big 60 year old Twin Beech. Most conservative option: wait for it to clear up. Finally went to 900 and two and a half, and the inland fields cleared off completely so, "mount 'em up, move 'em out!"

Prestart and start go fine, Jessica snapping off checklist items like the pro she is. But we waited endlessly for other aircraft to request and copy clearances while we're solidly ignored. Finally we had a clearance, taxied, did our runups, and launched, into the wild, if not so blue, yonder. Route was radar vectors Oceanside, Victor 23 to Seal Beach just south of LAX, Victor something to Berri intersection near Hollywood thence Palmdale, home of the famous Lockheed plant, flight plan route (that is, direct). Climb and maintain 3000, expect 9000 ten minutes after departure.

On climb out we were IFR for maybe 2 minutes and then into clear blue skies, cotton ball fog below, with visibility more than 100 miles. Meteorological magic for the kids, this being their first experience breaking out on top. Radar vectors for traffic took us about half way out to Catalina Island, peak sticking up through the fog, and then direct Seal Beach. Glad we had to two big reliable Pratt & Whitneys rumbling outside the windows. Don't like swimming in cold water. Soon we're almost 2 miles high looking down at 747s as they approach LAX and I point out the huge HOLLYWOOD sign on the hillside looking tiny way below. With ground speed at 160 knots we were soon over Palmdale looking at the huge Edwards AFB dry lakebed, the Space Shuttle landing strip to the northeast, and Dick Rutan's base at Mojave to the north.

GPS said we were 20 miles out of Tahachapi, so we cancelled IFR but couldn't pick out the gliderport behind the ridge covered with a forest of huge white windmills. Calls on Unicom produced no response from anyone. Forecast and actual winds aloft were light and variable, and we quickly found the field. From an orbit overhead we hawked the windsock which seemed to be indecisive, and decided to land to the west, uphill. On short final a voice comes on the radio and recommends a landing to the east, so we buttonhook around, trying to avoid the mountains to the south and gliders to the north, airspeed high to avoid dangerous low speed steep turn stall crash burn syndrome and come screaming down final, engines at idle, everything hanging out wondering if 5400 feet is going to be long enough when 2300 usually is. But all's well that ends well, with nary a bounce, and we're down, taxiing in with wheels in the dirt on either side of the narrow taxiways. Jessica says something about that was exciting, never flew an approach quite like that before. I though she was being sarcastic, but the twinkle in her eye indicated otherwise.

Matt is waiting and proudly introduces us around as the crew disperses to find a bathroom to drain coffee and to look at airplanes and gliders. At 4200' MSL the sun is hot, the air desert dry, and it reminds me of learning to fly forty years ago in Santa Fe. But here we are out in the boonies. Not the edge of the earth, but you can see it from here, as they say.

Somehow you imagine test pilots decked out in G-suit, helmet under their arm, steely-eyed glint in their eye as they scan the skies. Not these guys. Fraternity brothers in Ray-Bans, jeans and ball caps. But the give-away is T-shirts that say Shuttle Test Team, and F-22 R&D, and Hooters with a picture of a double breasted twin engine rocket. Yup, just hanging out with the boys, your basic hometown Mercury 7 types. Regret not embarrassing myself and asking for a group picture with the two boys. In 10-20 years they'd be able to say, "See, there I am when I was 10 with John Glenn!" Or his 21st century equivalent, anyway.

Trigger and Mad Dog climb in the Beech and oogle the gauges and controls, commenting how much fun it must be to fly. That morning they were flying T-38C supersonic lawn darts doing special-waiver gear down Space Shuttle Approaches from 60,000 feet to the long shuttle landing strip at Edwards. Yeah, must be fun to fly!

Finally corral the honchos to talk a little business, and part way through what's turning into a sho-thing all we gotta do is get the paperwork handled, I realizing I'm sitting in my own big twin-engine beyond-my-wildest-adolescent-dreams 1942 C-45H a few miles from the dry lake bed where Chuck Yeager went supersonic for the first time, talking to the #2 man at the USAF Test Pilot School and the #3 man at the Navy Test Pilot school and it's all about a twice-annual week-long gathering with 3 of our planes at Edwards to fly with tomorrow's heros. Not only that, they'll pay us to do it. Holy Space Ship, Batman!

Nervous about recent weather trends at home and yesterday's change from CAVU to dogshit in 20 minutes. I don't feature having to bingo to Ramona and then rousting out the troops to come get us by car. So we all scramble back aboard, sweltering in the desert sun just like thousands of C-45 crews had done before us, fire up the P&Ws to the applause of a crowd of test pilots who appreciate good music when they hear it, and taxi out.

Chase prairie dogs across the field, bouncing through the dirt with a contrail of dust behind us. Run up over the one small piece of concrete we can find to protect the props from gravel nicks and GO right from the power check. Bend her around for the obligatory low pass salute, Matt jumping up and down in glee, waving like a mad man. Pitch up break and climb away, back to reality.

Flight home is uneventful except for cranky controllers who complain when we're 1.5 miles off the airway (how's a 60 year old airplane supposed to fly with 21st century precision?). Again over LAX watching the constant stream of heavies arriving from London, Tokyo, New Zealand, and Anchorage. Follow the beach south over the Queen Mary eying the encroaching marine layer fog, but happy to hear the Palomar ATIS report 900 and 2. We're vectored around endlessly, eventually within sight of the 200 inch Hale telescope observatory on Palomar Mountain way off to the east. Cleared for the approach. Report DEASY. Oops, we don't know where that is with only one VOR. Jessica is exasperated with herself (or me) for not catching that during our approach briefing. She asks the controller to call it.

At the last minute, everything otherwise under control, Approach asks if we can give her 120 knots to the marker and we agree adding power and fighting to keep the needles center. Jessica in best flight instructor voice orders me to watch my speed and get on that localizer, if you don't turn toward it you're just going to parallel it. Capture the glide slope, needles centered. "Marker Inbound." "Warbird One Eight Cleared to land." Going high, power back. Still high. Full flaps, still one dot high. "Field in sight, take over visually," she says. Grease her on, maybe best landing ever. Adrenalin will do that. Roll off at Alpha Three, cleared to the barn.

Former CEO of Polygram Records, acting now as lowly plane director, waves us into our parking spot. Shut down check list. Switches off. 3.1 hours on the hobbs. Applause from the back. Sure wish Kate could have enjoyed it with us; she's home doing the taxes. Some fun, that.

Arrive home and smell Kate's signature perfume. She looks up from her spread sheets, "You have fun honey?" Start talking about the beauty of a 'bread-and-butter' gig like a week of flying at government expense that would cover fixed costs. "Did you ask them if they could have any kind of planes they wanted what would they want?" We ponder what insurance on a $1.5 million, better than new, TF-51 would cost.

Later, after dinner, we getting ready for bed and the phone rings. It's Matt saying how much fun it was to see us, and how did the talk with the honchos go? Bring him up to date and chat about what he's going to be doing the next few days. Fun stuff he says. They have some of the F-18E/F software in the "baby Hornet" F-18C and they're gonna go do some high alpha stuff which is fully controllable 70 degree angle of attach hi-jinks. Even some tailsides, a definite no-no in the fleet—or practically any jet, actually, that depends on air coming in the front of the engine, not the back. Then some hi-alpha wifferdills in an F-16, which he's never flown.

But talk keeps coming back to the 51. He tells me he sat in one for the first time a few days earlier.

The two Italian guys with him got in trouble flying in a Falco without permission (their pink hairy bodies are valuable assets), but Matt said if they'd thrown him the keys to the P-51 he'd have run the risk of incurring the skipper's wrath. Says his assignment will be flight test at PAX River, the choice job for a new test pilot. Says it's bitter sweet though, 'cause "I won't be out there near you guys."

Hang up stunned. The best of the best, the next Chuck Yeager is disappointed with his assignment 'cause he won't be near us? Head back to the bedroom to tell Kate and she's asleep on the bed in the sexiest outfit I've ever seen. As I tenderly cover her up and apologize for letting plane talk interfere with her obviously attractive plans, she says, "That's okay honey, I just wanted to show you how proud of you I am."

What fun to fly that wonderful airplane. What a joy to share it with such good people. What a privilege, and how grateful I am, for Kate who understands and encourages it.


And now for the rest of the story: seems the honchos thought the low pass was a hot dog move. Don't need our boys flyin' with no hot dog. Actually, I think it was more that I made an ass of myself bragging to guys I wanted to impress about how lucky I was to have a wife like Kate and seven cool old airplanes to fly. Called Matt to see if he'd heard any skuttlebutt. He said no, he was shocked to hear they didn't want to play, and thought the low pass accussation was bogus. Will die still agast that I allowed my ego to screw up such a good thing.

*Matt went on to become one of the F-35 test pilots, and eventually Deputy Air Wing Commander at Eglin AFB where the USAF, Navy, and Marine pilots train to fly the F-35. Here's a picture from his retirement ceremony.

• Memories from 30 Years of Flying the Line

By Capt. Bill Austin
Flying Tigers/FedEx, Retired

  • A large handful of thrust levers, each one connected to 60,000+ pounds of thrust.
  • Rotating at VR and feeling 800,000 plus pounds of airplane come alive as she lifts off.
  • Hearing the nosewheel spin down against the snubber in the well after takeoff. A delightful sound signaling that you were on your way!
  • Punching out the top of a low overcast while climbing 6,000 feet per minute.
  • Cruising mere feet above a billiard-table-flat cloud deck at mach .86, with your chin on the glare shield and your face as close as you can get to the windshield.
  • The majesty and grandeur of towering cumulus. And maneuvering the airplane through canyons between them.
  • Cloud formations that are beautiful beyond description.
  • The delicate threads of St. Elmo’s Fire dancing on the windshield at night.
  • The twinkle of lights on the Japanese fishing fleet far below, and miles from any land, on a night crossing of the North Pacific.
  • Ice fog in Anchorage on a cold winter morning.
  • The patchwork quilt of the great plains from FL 370 on a day when you can see forever.
  • Seeing geologic formations that no ground-pounder will ever see.
  • The chaotic, non-stop babble of radio transmissions at O’Hare or Kennedy during the afternoon rush.
  • The quietness of center frequency at night during a transcontinental flight.
  • Dodging colored splotches of red and yellow light on the radar screen at night.
  • Lightning storms at night over the Midwest.
  • The welcome view of approach lights appearing out of the mist just as you reach minimums.
  • The soft, comforting glow of the instrument panel in a dark cockpit.
  • The dancing curtains of colored light of the aurora on a winter-night Atlantic crossing.
  • The taxiway names at O’Hare… before they were renamed: The Bridge, Lakeshore Drive, Old Scenic, New Scenic, the Bypass, Cargo, Outer, North-South… Anything to drive newcomers and especially foreigners crazy.

  • The majestic panorama of an entire mountain range stretched out beneath you from horizon to horizon.
  • Lenticular clouds over the Sierras.
  • Mono Lake and the steep wall of the Sierra Nevada range when approached from the east.
  • Yosemite Valley from above.
  • Sunsets of every color imaginable.
  • Seventy-thousand-foot-high thunderstorm clouds in the tropics.
  • The deep blue-gray of the sky at FL 430.
  • The Alps in winter.
  • The lights of London at night from FL350.
  • Squall lines that run as far as you can see.
  • Watching the lightning show while crossing the ITCZ at night
  • Exotic lands with exotic food.
  • Old Chinatown in Singapore… before it was torn down, modernized, and sterilized.
  • Long-tail boats speeding along the klongs in Thailand.
  • The quietly turning paddle fans in the lobby of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore.
  • A cold San Miguel in Hong Kong after a long day’s flying.
  • Ocean crossings.
  • The sound of foreign accents on the radio.
  • Luxury hotels.
  • To paraphrase the eloquent aviation writer, Ernie Gann, “The allure of the slit in a China girl's skirt.”
  • The taxiway sentry (with his flag & machine gun) at the old Taipei downtown airport.
  • Sipping Pina Coladas in a luxury hotel bar, while a typhoon rages outside.
  • Chinese Junks bobbing in Aberdeen harbor.
  • Watching the latitude count down to zero on the INS, and seeing it switch from "N" to "S" as you cross the equator.
  • Wake Island at sunrise.
  • Oslo Harbor at dusk.
  • Icebergs in the North Atlantic.
  • Contrails.
  • Pago Harbor, framed by puffy cumulus clouds in the late afternoon.
  • The camaraderie of a good crew.
  • Ferryboat races in Sydney Harbour.
  • Experiencing all the lines from the old Jo Stafford tune…
  • See the pyramids along the Nile.
  • See the sunrise on a tropic isle.
  • See the market place in old Algiers.
  • Send home photographs and souvenirs.
  • Fly the ocean in a silver plane.
  • See the jungle when it’s wet with rain.
  • White picket fences in Auckland.
  • Trade winds.
  • White sandy beaches lined with swaying palms.
  • The endless expanse of white on a polar crossing.
  • The hustle and bustle of Hong Kong Harbor.
  • The bus ride to Stanley...on the upper deck front seat of the double-decker bus.
  • The Star Ferry in Hong Kong.
  • The Peak tram in Hong Kong.
  • The bustle of Nathan Road on a summer day.
  • Bangkok after a tropical rain.
  • The Long Bar at the Raffles.
  • Heavy takeoffs from the reef runway at HNL.
  • Landings in the B-747 when the only way you knew you had touched down was the movement of the spoiler handle.
  • Jimmy’s Kitchen.
  • The deafening sound of tropical raindrops slamming angrily against the windshield, accompanied by the hurried slap, slap, slap of the windshield wipers while landing in a torrential downpour in Manila.
  • Endless ripples of sand dunes across the trackless miles of the Sahara desert.
  • Miller’s Pub in Chicago.
  • German beer. Even in the Bitburg Garden in HKG.
  • The white cliffs of Dover.
  • Oom-pa-pa music at the "Gemaltes Haus" in Frankfurt.
  • Double-decker buses in London.
  • The “Gas Station” in Frankfurt.
  • The Eiffel Tower.
  • Fjords in Norway.
  • The aimless compass, not knowing where to point as you near the top of the world on a polar crossing.
  • Breaking out of the clouds on the IGS approach to runway 13 at Kai Tak, and seeing a windshield full of "checkerboard" and as you approach into Kai Tak in a B-747 with your wingtip skimming the rooftops of Yau Yat Chen as you make the steep turn to final.
  • The old Charlie-Charlie NDB approach into Kai Tak.
  • The Burma Road.
  • Flight bags crammed with charts to exotic places.
  • An empty weight takeoff in a B-747.
  • The rush of a full-speed-brakes descent at barber pole in a B-727.
  • Sliding in over Crystal Springs reservoir for a visual approach and landing on 1R in SFO.
  • The smell of tropical blooms when you step off the plane in Fiji.
  • The quiet of a DC-10 cockpit.
  • Main gear touching down while the 747 cockpit is still 70 feet in the air.
  • The coziness of a B-747 cockpit.
  • Good co-pilots.
  • Good flight engineers.
  • Deadheading in First Class.
  • The Canarsie approach into JFK.
  • Max gross weight takeoffs.
  • Cross-wind landings.
  • The brief, yet tempting, glimpse of runway lights…. after you’ve already committed to the missed approach.
  • The tantalizing glow of the flashing strobe lights just before you break out of the clouds on approach.
  • CAT IIIb autolands in the DC-10 on a foggy day, when you feel the wheels touch before you ever see the ground.
  • “Leak-checking” your eyelids on a long night flight but then.....
  • Sunrises seen from the high flight levels that make the heart soar.
  • And, as one friend so perceptively pointed out, payday

© Bill Austin, March 2, 2006

• Aviation Photo Contest

It's San Diego Air and Space Museum Amateur Photography Contest/Exhibition time again.

This year’s theme is “It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane…” So break out your cameras and start taking pictures.

Entries can be submitted between October 28th and November 4th. They will be on display from November 12th to December 31st.

There are two chances to win and anyone who doesn't make their living taking pictures can enter.

Entry form is here.