Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Flying over the New Mexican Desert, 1973-1975

I got my private pilots license in November of 1973.  There was a Navy program, called the Flight Indoctrination Program, that paid for everything if a reservist wanted to go to the aviation pipeline once they finished college.

About twenty minutes out of Albuquerque there was a small airstrip and fixed base operation called "Seven Bar Flying Service." They had the contract for the FIP guys.

The basic trainer was the Cessna 150. Once you had soloed, you could fly the Tomahawk or the Cessna 172.

One of the guys I flew with there was from Albuquerque. His father had been a Navy pilot, and owned an old Lescombe. It's the only tail dragger I ever flew.

On weekends, a bunch of us would go out to the airfield, sign out the aircraft, and then go out to fly over the mesa as a big gaggle.  It was lots of fun.  The fellow on the left of this picture was a UNM wrestler, got injured, and had to leave the program. The guy on the right eventually went ground, and ended his career as the commanding officer of a Light Armored Assault Vehicle battalion.

New Mexico was a wonderful place to fly.  Almost always good weather,  vast expanses of desert where you could fly way lower than the legal limitations.  I went back out there in 2004, and flew over where the airfield used to be , in a balloon. There was nothing of it left, just row upon row of tract houses.

Flying "civilian" in New Mexico back then was a lot more fun than flying military later on. For one thing, you could do pretty much what you wanted to do while you were up.  We used to flour bomb. Take up little bags of flour.  Find a place out there where two dirt roads crossed. Pull the throttle back, put the flaps down, and play Stuka dive bomber. The guy in the right seat opened the wing window and threw out the flour bag just before you pulled up. The lower you went, the better your chances for a good hit.   Whoever got the closest hit was Hans Ulrich Rudel for the day.  It was great fun.

That's me on the left.  The fellow in the middle flew A7 Corsair II fighter bombers, then P3 Orion patrol planes. Last I heard some years back, he was flying for Fedex.  The fellow on the right is the wrestler who got hurt. I lost track of him, but he was a good man and it was a shame he never made it to active duty.

Everybody likes to have their picture taken by the aircraft.  It's a very ancient aviation tradition.

I distinctly remember the day this was taken.  The guy in the aircraft next to mine was my college roommate for four years.  This day, we went "flat hatting." That's getting up early, taking off as the sun comes up, when the air is smooth, and then just skimming across the mesa a few feet above the deck. I remember this day because he was in the lead, popped up over a little hill, and there were power lines directly ahead of us.  Pilots joke about your rear end biting washers out of the seat when things get interesting fast.  This was one of those events.

Dog fighting with the Lescomb and a Cessna.  They weren't much in the way of aerobatics. Neither plane was designed for that, so it was mostly just chasing each other through the clouds. The Lescombe was more maneuverable, the Cessna was faster. It was fun.

College was a lot of fun.  I never could have gone if the Navy hadn't picked up the tab. It was a great deal.  They paid for tuition, for room and board, and gave us our reserve pay. On summer breaks we went on training and got full pay. It was a tightly structured unit, with a great commanding officer and First Sergeant. They kept us out of trouble most of the time, and if there were fights with the "freaks" who didn't appreciate our presence on campus, the campus police were sympathetic and the First Sergeant could always fix things.  Our First Sergeant was Top Herringer. He died on Okinawa in 1976. He was out running and had a heart attack. What a great man he was, and I doubt there's a one of us from that unit that's still living who doesn't remember him fondly, and with great respect.

I owe a lot to the Navy and Marine Corps.  Not all of my experiences were positive, but overall it was very good to me, and the times can't all be good. You have to take a little of the bad along the way. Even then, you learn something from every experience.


  1. oh Harry - i love learning more about you, your past, your service. it's all so very interesting! did i ever tell you that i flew a Herc C-130 from the Arctic circle to Thule? it was on our 3rd month R&R break in Alert. well, i'll be honest, they let me and another girl come up to the cockpit - we were the only 2 girls on the flight and apparently the pilots always let the girls in. anyway, i sat in the pilot's chair for about an hour of the trip while the plane was on auto-pilot. i spoke the commands to auto-pilot. so, no, i didn't really fly the plane but heck, i came pretty close. and i understand why you liked flying so much!

    i understand your last paragraph only too well. when i was in the cf, it wasn't all roses but i received some top-knotch training that then led to really good paying jobs. when i left the service at 10 and a bit yrs, it wasn't an easy thing to do.

    i really enjoyed all of the pics in this post...and i do hope that someday you will do more posts about what you experienced when you served overseas. only what's unclassified, of course. but i would love to know more about your service.

    lastly, i would like to thank you for it. much love to you and yours always, your friend,

  2. Kymber, I guess vets always remember the good things, you and me among them. It's actually kind of a humorous stereotype, the old veteran rambling on about "the good old days." But you know, every time I go to Walmart, all the old guys are wearing ball caps that say "Viet Nam Veteran" or the name of their ship they served on.

    When my wife and I were getting ready to leave Naples and rotate back home, we wanted to make one more trip to Greece. She was several months pregnant, so it was not easy. We took a MAC flight into Crete, then there was a C130 going to Athens. You know how those are, just big open bays, think red cloth benches along the sides, no heat. Terrible noise. Miriam got air sick. The flight crew made her a bed on one of the seat benches and covered her up with their flight jackets. They were really good to her. After that, I always felt kindly towards the Air Force and I never let people run them down around me, although that was popular around Marine airfields, where the Air Force was considered more of a business than a military force.

    You always remember the good things.

    When I came back from Italy, one box of photo albums got lost and one with some awards, mementos, etc. I finally got the latter box, but never got the one with the photo albums. So I have a chunk of my career just missing photo wish. It's only a fluke I have some of my Lebanon pictures. But I do have a good many pictures, and I need to dig out the boxes and scan the more interesting ones.

    I need to come by your place and see what you two have been up to. I get jealous of your land though, every time I see that view!

  3. LOL well I can't say I got any pilot seats opened up for me or anything. I guess I wasn't pretty enough but the chopper pilots sure liked to give us a look at the ground every chance they could :)

    Despite what came later when a Democritter became Potus I will always remember my ROTC days fondly. Having been prior service enlisted opened a lot of doors and made the entire experience much more fun than if I had went in directly as a student recruit only. If I had it to do over though I would have went after a specialty that had a little, no scratch that, any real world application. Never has been much call for Artillery skills that I have ever seen.

    1. I once had a young man call me to talk about going into the Marine Corps. His dad was trying to talk him into the Air Force. The kid was really smart, had great grades, was a big athlete in high school.

      I told him the Marine Corps was the best experience of my life, good and bad all taken together. I also told him that whatever he did, get an MOS that had some applicability in the real world, because you can get injured and have to get out, and you still have to support yourself. I suggested air traffic control, or telecommunications.

      He was a real gung ho young man, blew off my advice and his fathers, and became a grunt, part of a machine gun team. That was many years ago, and I don't know what happened to him, but I doubt he has any regrets. He did what he joined up to do.

      Even if nobody needs cannon cockers outside, you still have that experience to remember. It elevates you, morally and psychologically, over the fellow that never served. That's a parochial point of view but it's how I feel.

    2. PP - sorry you weren't pretty enough but hey - i didn't make the rules back then and didn't quite understand them. i do know; however, that instructors were allowed to call me a "trench warmer" in a trade that i was killing all of the guys in - strangely enough - telecommunications! and i maintained my marksman status my whole career - something not that many of the males in my trade could do.

      Harry - i can't even imagine your poor wife on a C-130....and pregnant. but i am glad that they were good to her. we didn't even have seats on the 4 that i flew on!

      i think that you are right when you say that we tend to remember the good things vs. the bad - that's what i always try to remember. when i served, we called everyone else "dope-smokin' civilians" - jam hates it when i say that...but sometimes it slips out. and then he tries very hard to explain "kymber, you were in the military. anyone who wasn't in the military doesn't know about the military way." and he's right. so many times since i got out of the military i just wanted to punch someone in the head because THAT IS NOT THE WAY WE DO THINGS IN THE MILITARY! i'm still doing it here...and these people are so laissez-faire and don't understand that meeting up at 7pm means being there at 6:55pm NOT 7:15. i swear they are driving me batty - bahahahah! but in a good way!

      i am sorry that you lost that box - when we were here at the manor only a month we had a storm that flooded the basement and i had years of cards and notes that jam and i had written to each other destroyed, as well as a ton of photos. it sucked. but i would love for you to dig up some the pics that you still have...and tell us the stories behind them. much love Harry, always!

      your friend,

    3. Hmmm trench warmer eh? And you think it was referring to you taking away a job? :)

      Not making any reference to you personally there so don't take offense :)

    4. I never heard "trench warmer" but it sounds like it wouldn't be politically correct today.

      Kymber, I did get all the letters I wrote Miriam from Lebanon back to the states. I think I told you I am sending them to the Marine Corps Museum for their archives when I die. Good primary sources are hard to find,and there isn't much on that particular episode of history available to researchers. Some day, I hope there will be some researchers. You can count the number of books on the Beirut deployment on your fingers right now.

      When I moved up here, I had some problems with controlling my temper and I used to feel really angry at people who had been here all their lives. I don't feel that much anymore, must be that I am getting calmer with age.

    5. PP - i never take offense with you - it's always in good fun! ya, the instructors would tell the guys in our classes not to worry about the girls because all we were good for warming trenches and we'd be pregnant before the year was out and other degrading things. some of it was pretty awful.

      Harry - our military is slowly catching up to being politically correct. you must remember that i joined in 89 and left in 99...so i am sure they are not allowed to say that stuff anymore.

      Harry - you and i think in very similar ways about records, history, research and study! yes, you did tell me that you were sending all of those letters to the museum and that is the best thing that you can do with them. someday people will start looking back at that period and your letters, being first-hand will provide incredible information.

      much love!

    6. politically correct is a bad thing. You are lucky up there it hasn't yet poisoned everything you do.

      The pregnancy rate among female sailors in our Navy is very high, and usually leads to an early discharge after the Navy spends a fortune on training. I don't know the exact numbers well enough to quote them but it's high.

      There isn't much primary source material on Beirut. Three books I know of written by people who were there. One by a distinguished historian with long ties to the Marine Corps. In a great act of coveryourassism after the events, almost everything about the deployment was classified and remains classified. You can't even get copies of the routine message traffic.

      You should post some pictures of you during the service if you have any, Kymber. I know most people don't, other than their obligatory photo at the end of basic training, though.

  4. What fun to read about your flying days - but sad to hear the base is housing now. That happens all over!
    My brother flies a V-tail Bonanza, I think a '64. Last year he took me form Demver t AZ. He' still my 'big' brother, wanting to torment his little sister - when we were out on the desert in AZ he took me down to see some rock formations. I wasn't sure I wanted to see them at eye level just outside the plane's window!

    1. Apologies for missing letters and poor spelling. My iPad doesn't let me go back to change things.

    2. Dreaming, the Bonanza is a classic aircraft. I haven't seen one in a long time. Sounds like a lot of fun, flying over the canyon country. When I moved here to the mountains it took me a while to get used to flying over them. You're always subconsciously looking for a place to set down, if the engine quits. There aren't many here!

      I use a Kindle sometimes, I know how it is. No worries.

  5. Harry, What rank did you have when you got out?? I always respect any vet. I was in Navy JROTC (high school) & Civil Air Patrol (1980's). Never served but not for lack of trying.

    1. Rob, buddy - i have absolutely no authority to do this, and will deny it to my death if ever found out - but i nominate you as a canadian air force member as you have earned it/deserve it but i have to tell you - when i was in the forces we laughed at the air force. i don't remember why. i think it was because of the stupid little blue wallets they had to wear on their heads - bahhahahahahaah! but buddy, i nominate you! you are a canadian air force member. much love buddy! xoxoxo

    2. The thought of the Canadian Air Force reminds me very much of a scene from he Red & Green show where they found a wayward cruise missile in the brush. Not sure what to do, one fellow said "Let's call the Canadian Air Force." Whereupon the other fellow replied "We can't; its after five, he went home."

    3. Rob,
      I was a Captain. If you stay in long enough to make Major, you stay in, no matter what, til retirement. You're past the point of no return.

    4. The Canadians take a lot of flak, but it's good natured. They have a very positive reputation when it comes to the nitty gritty.

    5. Rob,
      if you couldn't qualify it's not your fault. Don't sweat the small stuff. Sometimes you can't control where the river takes you and you just have to ride the current.

    6. NurseDaddy - your joke is one that is well-known in the canadian forces - bahahah! the army and navy always gang up on our air-force! but they are highly-qualified....but they do go home at 5 - bahahhah!

  6. What a great post and great memories! I'm afraid of few things, but flying small planes is one of them. Not fond of high places. Thanks for your kind comments on our situation here. Appreciate them a lot.

    1. Inger, you are doing a good job of sticking it out. I know how hard it is, through past experience. I'm very hopeful all will be well there in time.

      I used to fly, and I went through the Airborne school, but I'm afraid of places like being up on a ladder or a roof. Strange how the mind works.

  7. Hey Harry,


    I read what kymber said about 'dope smokin' civilians' that cant show up on time.

    Down here we call that "Island Time"

    its kinda a year round "Margaritaville' thing. I do my own thing and gave up on trying to hold others to higher standards so I hate to sound negative, but I expect the worst out of people, so I want be disappointed when it happens.

    I grew up in El Paso and I was in Albuqueque about the same time you were Harry. My parents made frequent trips to Santa Fe, Taos and other towns in Northern New Mexico. I was about 7 or 8 years old in 73'. My father was an Archeologist and Anthropologist and was a teaching at UTEP back then. I went on a field trip to Chaco Canyon in a VW Microbus filled with a bunch of hippie students (and my dad was driving the microbus) about that time frame. It was a real mindblower for an 8 year old.
    I remember lots of streaking going on at UTEP back then and a big Mayday march by the Mexican Communist Party in downtown El Paso about that time frame.

    It was in interesting time to be a kid. I wish I could remember more because its all interesting history now (on a side note, I remember the Moon landings and watching Nixon bail out of the White House in '73 too.

    Like I said before on this blog. I feel as if I lived three or four lifetimes worth already. In some ways not having kids or a family has given me some time to observe what is going on around me without being focused on trying to work really hard and raise kids and watch the world (and history) fly by.

    I almost got married a few times. One girlfriend was a jet engine mechanic, another was a lawyer and another had a PH. D in Engineering, so I had my fair share to say the least. No kids, but I have a bad habit of adopting unwanted dogs which are like family.

    1. I've been to Chaco, great place. Went out there with my son and my brother back in 2004 I think it was. Santa Fe is a nice place, I used to go up there to the fair with my cronies when I was in college. New Mexico used to be the Land of Enchantment, for a certainty. I hear now it has lots of problems like not enough water and too many drug cartel types.

      You should just find a woman you are compatible with and shack up, if getting married is uncomfortable for you. I don't see where you need some Shaman holding a rite or some piece of paper from a pasty faced bureaucrat to be married anyway. As far as I am concerned, if you and she decided to take on life together, you're married. Since I married into a Baptist family we got married right off, but it wasn't the smart thing to do since my wife lost her quarters allowance when she married me.

      Lost dogs make good friends. They are grateful for anything you do for them, unlike most people.

  8. Those sound like good times. It is cool that you are good about taking and keeping photos. That is definitely a weak point of mine.

    1. You should take lots of photos because when you are old you will wish you had them. When you do, send them to your folks to keep. You know what PCS moves are like, and what the movers who get government contracts are like. I lost a lot of things I really valued coming back from Italy, though they were of no value to anyone else.

      After Bold Guard Northern Wedding 1977 I lost my camera at night in a tent city and lost some great pictures of the German Army. That really annoyed me. Not for the camera, which was a cheap one, but for the lost film.

  9. Oh - to fly in a hot air balloon - lucky you :) Dunno if I'd have the guts - I'm petrified of airplanes LOL

    Ballooning is not quite the same as flying, but, still, I guess you're up in the air, and that's what counts :)

    1. I was very nervous in the balloon. Unlike an aircraft, if the balloon catches fire you are done. You have a chance in a fixed wing or rotary machine. It was beautiful up there though.

  10. firstly Wow you are tall!

    helicopters are also cool

    isn't New Mexico an area where lots of planes go missing...? there is somewhere (not the Bermuda triangle, this is over land somewhere)

    1. I was tall. I got into the cockpit of a TA-4 Skyhawk fighterbomber at NAS Beeville for a joy ride with a fast mover buddy and could barely stuff myself in the aircraft.

      Anywhere you have flat desert and mountains, like New Mexico, you are going to have aircraft go missing. People fly into canyons, start losing lift, try to turn out, and spin in. An aircraft can be hard to spot in the mountains, especially in small pieces.

      I loved the Bell Jet Ranger. The Huey could be a handful at times.