Paul’s Thing

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June 2016
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Air-Minded Index




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Book Reviews



© 2004-2016 Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

Paul’s Book Reviews

“People tend to think of military science as strategy and weapons—fighting, bombing, advancing. All that I leave to the memoir writers and historians. I’m interested in the parts no one makes movies about—not the killing but the keeping alive.” — Mary Roach, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

gruntGrunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War
Mary Roach

As with other Mary Roach books I’ve read, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. And I know a bit about the subject matter—the military science of keeping soldiers, sailors, and airmen alive, healthy, and at their peak; in my case, aviation medicine and physiology. I flew fighters for the USAF, so I know all about altitude chambers, the infamous Nazi experiments of WWII our present-day cold water survival charts are based on, the improvements we’ve made over the years in ejection technology.

Mary Roach didn’t get into the aviation side of military science with this book but she did explore in detail such topics as military clothing, footwear, rations, armored vehicle technology, diarrhea and dysentery, the unique injury patterns associated with IEDS and other explosions, submarine escape systems, and sleep management—not often appreciated as critical subjects by anyone other than soldiers who have to perform in, and stay healthy in, extreme and dangerous environments. Her trademark humor is very much in evidence, and one simply cannot stop turning pages. In case you can’t tell, I love Mary Roach and will read anything she writes.

gold fame citrusGold Fame Citrus
Claire Vaye Watkins

The best book I ever read about water and the American Southwest was Marc Reisner’s nonfictional Cadillac Desert, which spawned several fictional treatments of waterless desert rat societies, usually set in the not-too-distant future. Paolo Bacigalupi, for example, has written some excellent stories on this theme: the short stories in Pump Six and the novel The Water Knife. So too has Hugh Howey (Dust). I’m partial to these stories, and to thinking about the future of the Southwest, because I live in Tucson, Arizona, right in the heart of it, and was a Mojav in Las Vegas before that.

So I know Claire Watkins’ landscape. I’m part of it and it is part of me. I was delighted to see her mention of Cadillac Desert in the acknowledgements. She not only knows the history of the region and its tenuous water supply, she’s intimate with its geography (I’ll be crushed if I find out she’s not a Mojav herself).

It’s her skill at characterization that elevates this novel to the ranks of serious reads. We think we know Ray and Luz after the introductory chapters. We’re not even close. Later we see Levi’s Armagosa colony and think we know what’s going on, but we’re seeing it through Luz’s eyes. Once we see it through Ray’s eyes, we realize we’ve been hoodwinked. And Ig? Enigmatic to the end.

Some chapters are realistically linear. Some are stream of consciousness. Some verge on poetry. Some, which appear dryly encyclopedic, turn out to illusory (reminding me of Borges, which is high praise indeed). Every page of Gold Fame Citrus pulls. Can it be true Claire Watkins was 30 when she wrote this?

too like the lightningToo Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota #1)
Ada Palmer

I write book reviews and post them to my blog, Daily Kos, and Goodreads. Perhaps because of this, publishers sometimes offer to send me pre-publication books in exchange for reviews. Tor offered me a pre-release copy of Too Like the Lightning and I agreed to read and review it.

Ada Palmer’s concept of a 25th century world is an interesting one, and I expect most readers will find plenty of food for thought here … if they can get past the narrative hurdles she places in their way. I didn’t object to the flowery Age of Enlightenment writing style she gives to her narrator, Mycroft, but I found other aspects annoying and frustrating, and struggled to finish the novel.

Quickly back to the concept, though you can learn just as much about it from the publisher’s blurb: 400-plus years from now, the availability of hypersonic transport that can move individual citizens anywhere they want to go, and get them there in a hour or so, has made nation-states obsolete. People live in multi-racial clusters of of like-minded friends and associates, and these groups, or i-bashos, manage the multifarious aspects of a nearly-utopian, post-monetary global society. Into which various potentially destructive forces are introduced, and thereby you have a story.

Here’s my big problem: the author’s use of neutered and gendered pronouns. In Palmer’s future world the inhabitants have desexualized language by using generic or neutral pronouns (them/their) to refer to one another in formal speech. They still use gendered pronouns (he/she) in informal speech, intimate settings, and their own inner thoughts, but sometimes not even then, and there were characters I couldn’t identify as male or female. The conceit rings false, and moreover is terribly confusing.

The narrator, Mycroft, is inconsistent in their (to use Ada Palmer pronouns) use of pronouns: referring to characters with neutered pronouns but occasionally identifying them as male or female, never identifying other characters’ genders at all, sometimes even using she/her for individuals later identified as male, or he/him for females. Why? I’ll let Mycroft take a stab at that:

Art thou certain, Mycroft, that thou appliest thine own formula correctly? Here thou describest silks and embroidery, curls and ribbons, pleats and skirting, and appliest ‘he’? I know the name Dominic Seneschal, and know too there are breasts beneath that taut waistcoat, that the thigh and pelvis which the coat’s high cut displays are very much a woman’s. …

Innocent reader, I take comfort in your confusion, for it is a sign of healthy days if you are illiterate in the signal-flags of segregation humanity has worked so hard to leave behind. In certain centuries these high, tight boots, these pleats and pony tail might indeed have coded female, but I warned you, reader, that it was the Eigthteenth Century which forced this change upon us, and here it stands before you.

There. Get it? Are you satisfied? Well, I didn’t get it, and I am not satisfied. Unless Ada Palmer’s actual point is that no matter how sophisticated we become we will forever be obsessed with sex and gender, I’m unsure what she’s saying.

Less annoying but still intrusive: the people of 2454, whatever their gender, are multi-lingual. Although Mycroft mercifully records their conversations in English, quotations are bracketed in different ways to indicate which language is being spoken ( “…” “…” «…» ‹…› „…” »…«?…?) Let us be thankful Thomas Pynchon never developed a quotation mark fetish. He’d have been insufferable.

To my mind, Ada Palmer’s linguistic and typographical playfulness got in the way of a good story. I enjoyed the concept but was frustrated in the reading.

guests of the kremlinGuests of the Kremlin
Robert G. Emmens

Robert Emmens’ B-25 ran low on fuel before any of the other Doolittle Raid aircraft, and, after the Raiders bombed Tokyo and headed for China, he and his crew broke off to fly to the nearest “friendly” airfield, which happened to be outside Vladivostok in the USSR. The USSR not being at war with Japan, the five American airmen were interned for a little over a year, eventually managing to escape.

Guests of the Kremlin is an interesting tale about a little-known side chapter to the famous Doolittle Raid, filled with insights into life in the Soviet Union during WWII. I read it in bits and pieces, putting it aside when library books I had on order came in, since those had due dates and this one didn’t.

The introductions by Sacripante and Sloan, added in 2007, are sloppily written and filled with factual errors. That is not the case with Emmens’ memoir itself: written after WWII and originally published in 1949, it is lucid and well-written. I point this out in case you find a copy and are tempted to quit reading before you finish the introductions. Press on, the tale itself is well-told.

Guests of the Kremlin seemed a straightforward account of Emmens’ crews’ internment: the living conditions and domestic arrangements at the four different locations where they were held; how the Russian officers detailed to supervise and feed them behaved, as well as the Russian women who cooked and cleaned for them; their frustrations in trying to contact American embassy personnel; their attempts to learn and speak Russian; their nightly newscast sessions, trying to deduce what was really happening in the war from misleading Moscow Radio broadcasts … all very interesting.

The end of the book, however, made me reassess it in its entirety. In the last few pages, Emmens recounts their escape, with the aid of a smuggler, from a border town in Turkmenistan into Persia, suddenly stopping at the point where they contact the British consulate in the first city they reach. Not a word about how the British got them out of Persia, much of which was under Russian control. But that is not what bothered me. What bothered me was the book’s final paragraph:

This is the Russia we saw. This is the Russia which exists today. That these descriptive lines should ever be used to picture life in these United States is unthinkable. And yet, communism, like a malignant scab on the skin of the world, is spreading north, south, east, and west. FIGHT IT!

Emmens’ memoir was published in 1949, after the USSR had transitioned, in the American public’s mind, from a wartime ally to an existential enemy. The final paragraph is uncharacteristically bombastic, utterly unlike the rest of Emmens’ narrative, an undiluted dose of early Cold War propaganda. I suspect Emmens’ end message was part and parcel of the post-war years.

The memoir’s abrupt ending, and especially the final paragraph, prompted me to think about Emmens’ earlier descriptions of the towns and the people in the different locations where they were kept during their internment. Looking back, Emmens never failed to describe cities, towns, and villages as run down, crumbling, and dismal. Whenever he described Russians, he invariably depicted them as sullen, filthy, starved, clothed in rags, and barefoot. This was in sharp contrast to his descriptions of his keepers, who were decently dressed and reasonably well fed … I should have seen the propagandistic ending coming a mile off.

beacon 23Beacon 23: The Complete Novel (Beacon 23 #1-5)
Hugh Howey
Sorry to say I was disappointed in this one. Like other Hugh Howey “novels,” this is a collection of previously published serial installments.

I really got into Howey’s earlier Sand and Silo story collections. I think the difference was that the worlds Howey set up in Sand and Silo were more detailed and believable, as outlandish as they were.

I never felt the space lighthouse in Beacon 23 was anything more than a metaphor. The lighthouse operator’s interior monologues got old in a hurry. The science fiction felt hastily called in (gravity panels you can turn on or off with a switch; space cargo ships moving at 20 times light speed colliding with asteroids and leaving salvagable wreckage behind … gimme a break).

Overall this is second rate stuff, no comparison to Howey’s earlier work.

Blast from the Past (and I Do Mean Blast)

spySpy (Alexander Hawke #4)
Ted Bell

A dear friend—super-smart, a voracious reader who is a member of Amazon’s book reviewing staff—told me I should read something by Ted Bell. Perhaps I picked the wrong novel. Or maybe she had a different Ted Bell in mind. The Ted Bell who wrote this potboiler is a third-rate Clive Cussler, his hero Alex Hawke even less dimensional than Cussler’s Dirk Pitt. When cars speed away in this novel, they fishtail under acceleration. So too do motorcycles, boats, airplanes: all vehicles must fishtail! The plot relies on a familiar racist right-wing conceit: the “reconquista.” Dirty brown Mexicans are invading our country, hoping to reconquer territory lost in the Mexican-American War. This dire warning (if only someone would listen!) is repeated at least 20 times throughout the novel, almost verbatim, by different characterss. There’s an abundance of military techno-babble as well, all of it firmly in the realm of fantasy. Clearly, Ted Bell is unfamiliar with the realities of warfare, where things don’t ever work as advertised. Nasty stuff. Sloppily written nasty stuff.


Saturday Bag o’ Brexit

IMG_0786 copyQ, our grandson, has been here the past week, bunking in our home office. I barged in this morning to check email and update the blog. While I was at it, we took a selfie.

It’s been a domestic week, watching young people’s stuff on TV (Battlebots, which was too frenetic to endure; Zootopia, clever and cute), hauling Q to and from Desert Museum camp outings, taking care of household business (which yesterday included jump-starting the truck and driving to the corner auto parts store for a new battery … you already know about our more serious car trouble). Before barging into Q’s room just now I replenished the outdoor bird feeders and raked up dog poop in the back yard. Busy busy busy.

Q flies home tomorrow. We’ll miss him. I’m arranging another motorcycle mini-Gypsy tour in November and will see him again when I pass through Las Vegas. Actually I may be overnighting in his room, since I’m planning to meet up with my son Gregory, Q’s dad, who’s coming with me on the motorcycle trip. We’re going to an aviation museum in Chino, then to Lone Pine, then through Death Valley back to Sin City. Donna hasn’t decided whether she’ll come along and stay in Vegas while we’re riding. If she does I’ll trailer the Goldwing from Tucson to Vegas and back home again; if not I’ll saddle up and ride the entire route.

They’re putting solar canopies over visitor parking at the air museum. I don’t think the volunteer parking lot will get them, and that’s a shame. Every outdoor parking lot in the Southwest ought to have solar covers. I wonder what Hillary’s position is. I’d love to see federal solar panel incentive programs for homeowners come back. Neighborhood association be damned, it’s time we all put solar panels on our roofs.

I’ve been on the phone with Barnes & Noble. Q gave me a B&N gift card for fathers’ day and I used it to buy three e-books on my want list. I haven’t used my Nook reader for at least two years, ever since I started using Donna’s Kindle (which weighs less and has a longer-lasting battery). Since I switched to the Kindle I’ve been getting all my e-books from Amazon. Thanks to the gift card, I’m back with B&N and the old Nook, but there’s a problem: the e-books I bought won’t download to the Nook.

B&N says it’s because when I updated my default payment credit card it didn’t take (after using the gift card, I still owed a buck and some change). Which is odd, since on the “my account” screen on our desktop computer at home, the new card shows as the default. After assurances the problem will be fixed and still unable to download the books, B&N is now sending, gratis, a replacement Nook, a newer & better model than the one I have. Huzzah!

Another thing I did this morning was to write a review of the book I finished last night. Looking at the log I see there are six new book reviews in the can. That’ll be my next blog entry, another installment of Paul’s Book Reviews.

I don’t know what to think about Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. Maybe there are some things that shouldn’t be put to a popular vote.

You’ve heard of the Doomsday Clock, where midnight is nuclear war and the hands of the clock move closer to or farther from it depending on the geopolitical situation? I’m picturing a clock where midnight is labeled “Germany starts another world war.” With a strong EU the hands never got closer than 11:45 PM … now it’s 11:55. I’ll wait to see what happens. And not look at our 401K!

I can’t do a damn thing about politics, racism, and ignorance. All I can do is try to make my little corner of the world a kinder place, and disassociate myself from the Thunderdome rabble. When it comes to that lot, I’ll take Einstein’s advice: “Make believe all the time that you are living, so to speak, on Mars among alien creatures and blot out any deeper interest in the actions of those creatures. Make friends with a few animals. Then you will become a cheerful man once more and nothing will be able to trouble you.” A more elegant way of saying to keep your own council and not get caught up in the tumult of mobs and the delusions of conspiracy theorists.


Magic 8 Ball No Use at All (Updated)

magic-answer-ball-extralarge-74501When I blogged about our automotive history a few weeks ago, I thought it’d be years before we had to buy another car. I may have to update that post.

Donna called yesterday afternoon. She had drifted off the road and hit a cactus. After ascertaining that she was fine, my second question was whether she hit a saguaro. Saguaros are endangered and protected; you’re in a heap of trouble if you mow one down. Nope, just a prickly pear. Dime a dozen, those.

Donna said she was going to stop at our mechanic’s shop on the way home because the check engine light had come on momentarily. That was a bit of new information; more new information came to light later. The mechanic put the car, our 2007 Chevy Trailblazer, on the rack and said we’d better call our insurance company. It wasn’t just a cactus, there were also some rocks. Big rocks. Apparently the damage underneath is extensive. He said it wasn’t safe to drive, but Donna drove it home anyway.

The car looks okay if you don’t count the fresh collection of Arizona pinstripes, a missing rear view mirror (more new information!), and tires bristling with cactus spines, but I haven’t crawled underneath. I don’t know the car’s current value, but if the cost to repair it is more than it’s worth, USAA will write if off as totaled. Magic 8 Ball says Outcome Uncertain; the appraiser’s due by in about an hour.*

Polly drove the old Lincoln to Phoenix today for yet another interview with an HR outsourcing company. She just got home and said it looks good, but the man who interviewed her is not the final decision maker. She may need to drive to Phoenix again for more interviews, a scenario we now know well. We were planning to give Polly the Lincoln, but Magic 8 Ball says Not So Fast.

Meanwhile, grandson Quentin is at a Sonora Desert Museum-sponsored summer camp on Mount Lemmon. That’s actually a bit misleading … there’s no permanent campsite, like the ones I went to as a kid. They spent all day Monday with the animals and plants at the Desert Museum and slept that night in one of the museum buildings (it being too hot to camp under the stars as originally planned). Today they’re hiking on the mountain and camping overnight up where it’s cool. When I dropped Quentin off at the pickup point this morning I instructed him to say hi to the bears and mountain lions and not to forget they can smell our fear. I think he has another day and night somewhere else with this moveable camp, but I’m not clear on where. The lad flies back to Las Vegas this weekend, only to leave a day later for a “real” summer camp in California with his Boy Scout troop.

I went back to my regular dentist after dropping Quentin off this morning, and now have a permanent filling in the tooth that got the root canal two weeks ago. I’m getting little electro-metallic twinges, the kind you get when a bit of foil wrap sticks to a candy bar. They tell me that’ll pass soon. It had better.

I’ll close with an unrelated observation: I’ve learned not to talk about Game of Thrones to strangers. Thousand-yard stares, every time. I thought everyone watched GoT!

* The appraiser’s here now. Says a frame cross-member is missing and one of the wishbone struts is bent. Says the frame is a little bent as well, and the oil pan, while not visibly leaking, has fresh oil on the outside and probably a hairline crack. He’s iffy on balance between what the car’s worth and what it’ll cost to fix it: the engine has to be pulled to install a new cross-member, for example, and that’s major money.

For now Magic 8 Ball remains ambivalent … isn’t it always?

Update (6/23/16): The adjuster said the car’s worth fixing, so we got a green light to start work on it. It’s at the repair place now and we have a rental to use while it’s being worked on, covered by USAA (less our $500 deductible, of course). I drove it to the garage this morning and it was barely drivable … I’m surprised Donna didn’t call for a tow truck right after she hit those rocks on Monday.


Air-Minded: My Aviation History

I recently updated older posts about the cars and motorcycles that have been part of my life. I thought I’d written a separate post about the aircraft I’ve flown, but when I went looking, it wasn’t here. I found it eventually … on Facebook. I don’t know why I never included it on my own blog. It’s time to fix that.

As with the car and motorcycle posts, the photos in the first version of my airplane post weren’t very good, so I went looking for better ones. Some of these new photos are my own; a few are generic photos from other sources. Click on any of them to see the full-sized originals on Flickr.

I was 23 years old the first time I flew an airplane. It was 1970, and one of my college professors had invited me to go up in his Piper J3 Cub. We took off from a grass strip south of Sacramento, California, and once airborne he gave me the controls and talked me through some basic maneuvers. I liked it. Flying seemed like something I’d like to do more of some day. Probably not too many medieval lit professors can afford to own an airplane today, but this gentleman did, and I’m forever in his debt.

J3 Cub

Piper J3 Cub (photo:

1782024_10152223438352346_1360471244_nIn the spring of 1973, when I was teaching in Glasgow, Montana, I enlisted in the Air Force. The air war in Vietnam was winding down but the replacement aircrew training pipeline was still running at full capacity and the USAF needed pilots. I took the pilot aptitude test and passed a flight physical, and started OTS (officer training school) that summer at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas.

Part of OTS, at least for the pilot candidates, was a flight screening program. FSP was conducted at Hondo Airfield near San Antonio, and consisted of flying lessons in the military version of the Cessna 172, the T-41 Mescalero. I soloed after ten flights, as did half my classmates. The other half washed out: some for lack of aptitude, some for chronic airsickness. After Hondo, it was back to Lackland to finish OTS. I graduated as a butterbar (second lieutenant) in September 1973.

T-41 Mescalero

Cessna T-41 Mescalero (photographer unknown)

Donna and our son Gregory, who stayed with my parents in Missouri while I was at OTS, joined me at Vance AFB in Enid, Oklahoma for undergraduate pilot training. I was in UPT Class 7503, the third class scheduled to graduate in fiscal year 1975. UPT normally lasted a year, but partway through training our class was suspended, then restarted several weeks later with a different number.

What happened was the shutting down of the Southeast Asia replacement aircrew training pipeline. Vietnam was over and the military suddenly had a huge pilot surplus. During the stand down we were detailed as gophers to different organizations on base. The USAF had two choices: send the trainees home or initiate a RIF (reduction in force) to get rid of pilots it already had. The decision broke our way: the USAF decided on a RIF, and many of our instructor pilots were discharged.

We started flying again, now as members of Class 7504. Each class was allowed to design its own shoulder patch; ours was four aces overlaid with 7503, the 03 crudely crossed out, a scribbled 04 sewn above. Air Training Command almost vetoed that patch but eventually allowed us to wear it. Instead of finishing in September 1974, we graduated in December. We started with 60; 40 of us made it all the way through.

So what did I fly in UPT? Two jet trainers, the Cessna T-37 Tweet and the Northrup T-38 Talon. The Tweet was the primary trainer, the Talon the advanced one. We started in the Tweet, mastering takeoffs and landings, aerobatic maneuvers and recovery from unusual attitudes and spins, flying at night and under the hood, executing non-precision and precision approaches, filing flight plans and navigating cross-country, flying formation.

After six months in the Tweet we moved on to the Talon, polishing our skills in a supersonic trainer designed to fly like the Century-series fighters then in use. We trained in the era of the “universally assignable pilot”: the idea was that by teaching everyone to fly a fighter-like aircraft, any graduate could go on to fly the most demanding aircraft in the USAF inventory (the USAF had only mixed success with that; they do it differently these days).


Cessna T-37 Tweet (photographer unknown)


Northrup T-38 Talon (photographer unknown)

1939966_10152223437122346_1415074041_nOn graduation day in December 1974 we put on our blues and stood on the parade field, then pinned on our wings. Donna pinned me; my father and grandfather were there too. That night we put on our dress uniforms for a formal dinner at the officers’ club, then marched one by one into a back room, where the training wing commander finally revealed to us what we’d be flying for the Air Force.

Traditionally, the top ten percent of graduates got to choose from the list of assignments, and in those days we all wanted fighters. I was number four in my class; due to the post-Vietnam drawdown there were only three fighters available. All three had been claimed by the time my name was called.

994792_10151660216747346_172065665_nMy destiny turned out to be Air Training Command and the Tweet: I’d been picked to be an ATC instructor pilot, assigned to the 8th Flying Training Squadron right there at Vance AFB, where I was to train students to fly the T-37. My tour with the 8th FTS was to last, after two months of pilot instructor training at Randolph AFB in San Antonio, three years.

I admit was disappointed at first, but after PIT at Randolph and the first few months back at Vance AFB, the assignment began to grow on me. Over the course of three years I trained dozens of young men to fly. I got good at it, and before long I was a check pilot, evaluating students who had been trained by other instructors. I stood nervously by the runway supervisory unit while my studs flew their first solo patterns around the airfield, washed a couple of failing studs out, fought for others who stumbled but had potential, took pride in the ones who did well and moved on to the T-38 phase. Donna and I decided to have another child: the instructor pilot life was a stable one, with no temporary tours of duty and only occasional weekends away during the cross-country phase of training. It turned out to be a great first assignment, and it led me to fighters after all.


Solo formation training in the T-37 (one of my studs on the wing)

Just before the end of my time with Air Training Command, an ATC instructor pilot from another training base got a coveted Tactical Air Command F-15 assignment. This was unheard of; the Eagle was still new in those days and only experienced fighter pilots were selected to fly it. But in February 1978 this one guy got in, and then with our group, ATC instructors coming up for reassignment in March 1978, the dam broke: six of us were selected for F-15 training. We knew the Air Force was taking a chance on us and that we’d be under intense scrutiny. We worked hard to do well. We succeeded.

Before we could start flying the F-15, though, we had to go through fighter lead-in training at Holloman AFB in New Mexico. This was a two-month program designed to teach the basics of air-to-air and air-to-ground maneuvering and weapons delivery. As with PIT at Randolph three years earlier, I went to fighter lead-in by myself and lived in bachelor quarters on base. We flew modified T-38 trainers called AT-38s, capable of carrying and dropping small practice bombs. This was a kind of flying unlike anything I’d done before; tons of fun but also dangerous and hard, demanding total concentration.

Up to this point, every USAF aircraft I had flown, including the AT-38, had been a two-seater. We occasionally flew them solo, but almost always a student or another pilot was along for the ride.


AT-38 at Holloman AFB (photo:

996856_10151660214612346_1887872541_nWhen I finished lead-in in July 1978, Donna and the kids and I rented an apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, where I was to go through F-15 training at Luke AFB. My classmates were the other five former ATC instructor pilots mentioned earlier.

Our RTU, or replacement training unit, was the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron (aka the World Famous & Highly Respected Triple Nickel, “largest distributor of MiG parts in Southeast Asia”). F-15 RTU was the hardest training program any of us had gone through, multiples tougher than pilot training. Yes, we had some initial instruction on basic fighter maneuvers from our AT-38 lead-in training, but none of us knew anything about radar or electronic countermeasures or air-to-air missiles; none of us had ever air refueled; none of us had ever pulled 7+ Gs in a dogfight … none of us really knew anything at all. It was like drinking from a firehose for four months. I struggled to keep up; I think we all did.


My F-15 RTU class at Luke AFB in 1978

Our first few flights in the F-15 were in B models, the two-seat version of the F-15A. After our instructors were certain we wouldn’t kill ourselves, we flew single-seaters, our instructors flying alongside in another Eagle. There was a lot of academics and a lot of simulator practice, but also lots of flying. About a month in, we learned where we were to be sent. Three of my former ATC instructor pilot classmates and I were going to the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron Wolfhounds at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, an F-4 Phantom II unit scheduled to convert to the F-15.


555th TFS F-15A at Luke AFB (photographer unknown)

644092_10151234214502346_288312173_nAfter three months at Luke, we four Soesterberg-bound newbies were joined by our future squadron-mates, the experienced F-4 pilots from the 32nd TFS who’d been picked to fly the F-15. Coming from the F-4, they only needed to complete the “short course,” a dozen flights in the F-15. They showed up as a group just as we entered the last month of the “long course.” It was a fantastic stroke of luck to train together and get to know one another before setting off for the Netherlands.

After Luke, we went to Langley AFB in Virginia for a month of top-off training in overwater operations and NATO procedures; there we first flew our own 32nd TFS jets, fresh from the factory in St Louis. When we finished at Langley the experienced pilots flew the new jets over to Europe. The rest of us arrived on commercial flights, settled into the Dutch communities around Soesterberg AB, and got to work.

This is a photo of Steve Spencer and me flying over the famous windmills of Kinderdijk. Spence is lead and I’m on the wing. Bob Williams, the McDonnell-Douglas factory photographer, took the photo from the back seat of an F-15B model flying alongside.


32nd TFS Eagles over Kinderdijk (photo: McDonnell-Douglas)

1016099_10151660204112346_1995651026_nHalfway through the Soesterberg tour I became a two-ship flight lead, then a four-ship flight lead. In 1980 we swapped our slightly-used F-15A models for brand-new F-15Cs, an improved version of the Eagle, and I got to lead a four-ship across the Atlantic to turn our old jets in, then fly new ones back across the pond. Near the end of my tour I qualified as an F-15 instructor pilot; this enabled me to land a follow-on assignment to the 43rd TFS Hornets at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska, another unit about to convert from the F-4 Phantom II to the F-15 Eagle.

At Elmendorf we flew older F-15A models, some of them the same jets I trained on at Luke AFB a few years before. I was the second F-15 pilot to arrive in Alaska, and it was a few months before he and I even had jets we could fly. Eventually, though, we did, and it was a fantastically fun assignment, especially intercepting Soviet aircraft above the Arctic Circle and over the Bering Straits.


Me leading a four-ship of 43rd TFS Eagles from Elmendorf AFB over Denali (photo: McDonnell-Douglas)

1044207_10151660204107346_2083684006_nIn 1985 the USAF sent me to the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia, then on to MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida, where I flew a desk for US Special Operations Command. That tour ended in late 1988, and it was time to return to the cockpit. The USAF wanted to send me to Iceland for a two-year tour flying F-15s, but another F-15 pilot asked to swap a three-year assignment in Japan for my Reykjavik slot and I jumped on it. Japan had always been on my bucket list.

After requalifying in the F-15 at Luke AFB, this time in the short course, I went to Okinawa to fly F-15Cs with the 44th TFS Vampires at Kadena Air Base. Donna stayed in Tampa to sell our house, then joined me in early 1989. While at Kadena I was chief of wing plans, then the training division. I flew training missions from Kadena two to three times a week, interspersed with alert deployments to Osan AB in Korea, deployments to the Philippines (until Mount Pinatubo covered our base there in ashes), and toward the end of my time there a fantastic three-week deployment to RAAF Darwin to fly with the Aussies.

Kadena F-15C

44th TFS F-15C Eagles entering the landing pattern at Kadena AB (photographer unknown)

1044853_10151660230247346_452830573_nIn 1992 we left Japan for Hickam AFB in Honolulu, Hawaii, and a tour as chief of flight safety for Pacific Air Forces. At PACAF, I supervised flight safety programs at our bases in Hawaii, Japan, Korea, and Guam, as well as our training detachments in Australia and Singapore. While there I oversaw the investigations of several major aircraft accidents, something my F-15 accident investigation experience at Soesterberg and Elmendorf had prepared me for. As chief of flight safety, I flew as an observer in all the different aircraft assigned to PACAF, traveling around the Pacific to inspect flight safety programs at our bases.

Upon leaving Hickam in 1995 we went to Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada. My assignment this time was to a non-flying position, supervising contractor activities on the Nellis ranges. I realized my flying days were over, and retired from the USAF in July 1997. All total I have a bit more than 3,000 hours flying time: 1,000 as a T-37 instructor pilot, nearly 2,000 as an F-15 pilot, the rest divided between my student pilot time in the Tweet, the Talon, and the AT-38.

I mentioned flying in a variety of USAF aircraft, but it was observer time and I was not at the controls, so I won’t include those aircraft here. I did get stick time, including landings, in two other fighters, so I will include those. Landings count, right?

The 32nd TFS hosted a Royal Canadian Air Force CF-104 unit for two weeks in 1982 while their runway in northern Germany was being resurfaced. I wrangled an invitation to go flying with their commander in one of their two-seat F-104Ds. He basically gave me the stick after takeoff and let me fly to and from the range. Entering the traffic pattern at Soesterberg an hour later, I was surprised when he didn’t take the controls back. I expected him to do so at any moment, but since he hadn’t I kept flying as if I knew what I was doing. He let me fly it all the way to touchdown, not an easy thing to do from the back seat. After landing he popped the drag chute, which could only be done from the forward cockpit, and took over. I’ll say this about the Zipper: its wings are so small it doesn’t react to turbulence like the big-winged F-15. Trim it up and point it, and it flies through the air like an arrow. What a blast.

CF-104D Starfighter

Canadair CF-104D Starfighter (photo:

Years later, during a PACAF flight safety inspection trip, I flew an F-16 two-seater at Misawa AB in northern Japan. The Viper pilot in the front seat flew us to the range, dropped a few practice bombs, made a couple of strafing runs, then handed me the controls on the way home. Once again I kept waiting for him to take the aircraft back and land it; once again I flew a back seat landing in an unfamiliar aircraft. I thought I’d really like the isometric side-stick control of the F-16, but I didn’t … I missed the big tractor-like center stick of the Eagle. Otherwise, ditto in the blast department.

F-16D Misawa

Misawa AB F-16D (photographer unknown)

I haven’t mentioned civilian flying time. Other than that one hop in a Piper Cub I didn’t fly civil aircraft again until I was a T-37 instructor pilot at Vance AFB. I thought I might as well get some FAA ratings in case I decided to go to the airlines some day, so I got a commercial pilot certificate from a local flight school at Woodring Airport. Later on I became a certified flight instructor, taking my FAA check ride in a retractable gear Cessna 210, a fancy airplane I could never afford to rent on my own. Occasionally old friends from California would come visit us in Enid, and I’d fly section lines down to Oklahoma City to pick them up in a rented Cessna 152, which I could (barely) afford.

The owner of the flight school at Woodring Airport at one point bought a Great Lakes biplane trainer and I was the first person to enroll in his aerobatics course. I thought I knew all about aerobatics as a T-37 instructor, but the USAF didn’t let us fly negative G maneuvers in the Tweet, so a lot of what I learned in the Great Lakes was new to me. When I finished the course I was not just a CFI but an aerobatic CFI, and the flight school hired me as an aerobatic instructor. I made a little extra money on weekends taking civilian pilots up in the Great Lakes to teach them outside loops, hammerheads, and snap rolls. Negative G maneuvering is exhausting. Let me also say landing a taildragger is a hell of a lot different from landing a jet with tricycle gear. Have you ground-looped a taildragger? I have.

Great Lakes

Great Lakes Sport Trainer (photo:


great lakes_1

Me getting ready to take a paying customer up in the Great Lakes

Donna and I loved every assignment and tried to get the most out of them, both professionally and personally. We enjoyed our time in Enid. While at Soesterberg we traveled all over Europe, plus trips to England and Scotland. We fished, skied, hunted, and camped in Alaska. We made Japanese friends in Okinawa and took side trips to Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore. We loved the laid back island life in Honolulu. Even though our days in the USAF were counting down to zero, we settled into Las Vegas, a surprisingly great town to live in, and had every intention of planting permanent roots there—that is until civilian opportunity knocked in Tucson, Arizona.

Above all, though … at least for me … were those wonderful flying assignments and those beautiful airplanes. I’d do it all again, in a heartbeat. Hemingway said it best:

It is appearances, characteristics and performance that make a man love an airplane, and they, told truly, are what put emotion into one. You love a lot of things if you live around them, but there isn’t any woman and there isn’t any horse, nor any before nor any after, that is as lovely as a great airplane, and men who love them are faithful to them even though they leave them for others. A man has only one virginity to lose in fighters, and if it is a lovely plane he loses it to, there his heart will ever be.



Lone Wolves

Was the Orlando killer a terrorist? Was he inspired by ISIS? He was apparently a lot of things, but he was also Muslim, and he did claim to be acting in the name of ISIS, so yes—he was a Muslim terrorist, and it’s foolish to try to deny it.

Earlier this week, Rachel Maddow opened her show with a segment on ISIS-inspired lone wolf killers in the USA and abroad. She showed email and other electronic instructions from ISIS to wannabe terrorists, telling them not to come to Syria but to take the war to the enemy by staying home and committing attacks there. Other communications directed wannabe terrorists to overcome moral scruples and target innocent civilians, the more the better. ISIS additionally told (and continues to tell) overseas recruits to record messages beforehand, claiming allegiance to and crediting ISIS with the acts of terror they’re about to commit.

The segment was detailed, thorough, and utterly convincing, especially since in the dozen or more lone wolf terrorist attacks cited by Maddow, the perpetrators had followed ISIS instructions to a T. She ended her report with a Bill O’Reilly-worthy warning that ISIS recruits are taking advantage of the refugee crisis to infiltrate European countries and even the USA.

By the time the segment ended, I was seriously considering a ban on Muslim immigration and a round-up of young Muslim males already here. But then I remembered all the lone wolves Rachel didn’t talk about. Dylan Roof. Planned Parenthood shooters and bombers. Timothy McVeigh. Those who target Muslims and their mosques. Mass shooters of every stripe, from racists to hard right ideologues to the simply insane. It’s a huge crowd, far outnumbering ISIS- and Al Qaeda-inspired lone wolves.

We can’t even single out Muslim terrorism on the argument that ISIS actively recruits and directs lone wolf terrorists. So does the water-the-tree-of-liberty movement that inspires sovereign citizens and Bundy militia types. So does the Ku Klux Klan. So does the radical pro-life movement. So do underground fundamentalist Christian groups who want to kill gays, lesbians, and transgender people. And if, someday soon, outraged citizens start taking shots at reporters and journalists, we might even be able to accuse Donald Trump of actively recruiting and directing lone wolf terrorists.

The more I think about all this, the more I wonder why Rachel Maddow chose to single out Muslim lone wolf terrorists. It’s distressing to see a television commentator you’ve come to trust embrace sensationalism in such a naked, self-serving way. It’s distressing to see intelligent people succumb to fear … as I did, if only for a moment.

Who, among all the people talking about Orlando on TV, is collected and rational? The president. And Hillary Clinton. Lone wolf killers and terrorists aren’t going anywhere. If anything, there are going to be more and more of them. If we can’t turn off the hate spigot, what can we do? Maybe make it a lot harder for them to get guns? There’s a radical thought for you!

But you know what? If our lawmakers weren’t willing to do anything about the easy availability of assault-style weapons and large ammunition clips after Sandy Hook, when a lone wolf nut shot and killed twenty 6- and 7-year-olds and six of their teachers, they aren’t going to do anything in the wake of Orlando. Or the next Orlando, or the one after that.

When I take my rightful seat on the Iron Throne, there’ll be some changes made, that I can tell you.


Videoblog: Riding Mount Lemmon

Dare I bore you with two short GoPro clips from my Sunday ride to Mount Lemmon? I don’t know about you, but I think it’s great there’s a road just one mile north of our house leading up into the Santa Catalina Mountains, sky islands high above the blazing heat of Tucson, Arizona. Now if only San Diego wasn’t eight hours away!

The road (officially named the General Hitchcock Highway) is 27 miles long, and climbs from the Tucson valley floor at approximately 2,500 feet above sea level to the 9,157 foot summit on Mount Lemmon, one of the peaks making up the Santa Catalinas. The highway was built with prison labor, overseen by the aforementioned general and soldiers under his command. It took them 17 years, from 1933 to 1950, to finish it. The remains of a prison camp are located about halfway up.

The village of Summerhaven, near the top, has a general store, a coffee shop, a restaurant, a campground, a small fire department, and a hundred or so mountain cabins. Just up the hill from Summerhaven is a ski area and an observatory operated by the University of Arizona. There are bears in them thar hills, along with deer, mountain lions, bobcats, ringtailed cats, and wild turkeys (in 2003, we saw bears and mountain lions in our neighborhood at the foot of the mountains, refugees from that year’s big forest fire). If you wondered about my use of the phrase sky islands, that’s the indigenous name for the Santa Catalina Mountains.

I recorded the first clip on the way up, climbing from 3,000 to 5,000 feet. From the foot of the mountain to the vista pullout where I started filming this clip I had been stuck behind a cluster of cars and pickup trucks, led by a timid soul who slowed to a crawl at every hairpin curve. I waited in the pullout until the slowpokes disappeared in the distance, then pulled back onto the road. I had to do this a few times during the ride, but it was worth it. If I never pulled over to wait for traffic to clear, all you’d see would be the backs of cars ahead of me.


The second clip is from my ride back down, descending from 7,000 to 6,000 feet on my favorite section of the highway, out of the pine forest and onto the bare side of the mountain, with cliffs, sheer dropoffs, and fascinating rock formations.


I posted several other clips from Sunday’s ride to Flickr. You can click here to see them.


Saturday Bag o’ Wellness

wellbite-bag-1Such a relief, feeling better. And I do mean better, body and tooth. Whatever last weekend’s illness was, it’s gone. I almost think it had to do with the tooth that went bad at the same time. Is that a thing that happens? I could be convinced.

The root canal Tuesday morning went as expected: an ordeal to be sure, but nothing like the bloody thrashing screaming dental molestations I remember from my youth (no wonder so many people from older generations have horrible teeth … they had bad experiences with dentists as children and could never be persuaded to go back).

One more visit with my regular dentist later this month to finish off the endodontist’s work, and we’re done. For now, though, the pain is gone. I never needed to get into the oxycodone, so that’s good. I felt well enough to work at the museum Wednesday, visit the gym Friday, and go for a bike ride this morning.

In the news Thursday was a report that General Petraeus had shared top secret information with reporters. At the gym Friday morning the wall monitors were set to Fox News. Other gym rats were watching and listening, so I got on the stationary bicycle and tried to lose myself in a Kindle book. After pedaling for a few minutes I overheard the words “top secret” and thought how remarkable it was that Fox News would mention General Petraeus in a negative context. When I glanced up, though, it turned out they were beating the Hillary Clinton email drum, as they do 24/7. I bet they never even mentioned the Petraeus story … it certainly doesn’t align with their narrative. Nor does the story about Bush & Cheney deleting over 2 million “private server” email messages in 2007.

I guess my question is this: was the Petraeus story spin from Hillary’s people, or was Fox attempting to distract from the Petraeus story? At this point I’d believe anything.

Donna was still at her sewing retreat this morning, so she couldn’t come on the bike ride, but three other Trail Trash members rode from Hi Corbett Field to 4th Avenue and back with me. Here we are, posing in front of a mural on 6th Street:


Trail Trash: Paul, Darrell, Lorri, Bruce

I led this morning’s ride. My original plan had been to follow the trail I scouted a couple of weeks ago, rehearsing for next weekend’s bike hash, but it was getting humid in a hurry so I chose a shorter route downtown and back. It’s probably good that I did, because now I have a shorter backup trail in case it’s crazy hot on Sunday the 19th, the day of the bike hash. According to the forecast, it may well be.

Last night parts of Tucson got heavy rain and even hail, a precursor to the coming monsoons. I was out front taking photos in our yard when a few drops fell. Apparently that was our share of the bounty. Polly said it rained like crazy at the Ace Hardware store where she works, just two and a half miles from here, and a friend across town lost a big tree when a microburst hit her neighborhood. Here’s the iPhone photo I took just as a single splat hit the back of my neck and sent me scurrying indoors.

IMG_0695 copy

FYI, I started posting photos to Instagram and Pinterest (the links go to my accounts at each site). Dinosaur that I am, I was initially slow to engage with other posters, but I’m starting to loosen up. I like the idea of sharing stuff on Pinterest.

Cleaning out the blog’s spam comment trap this morning, I found this.

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 11.06.20 AM

I’ve seen similar spam before. This time I actually “gogled” fellatio’s content tool, and now I’m angry. Remember me posting about a Facebook friend’s monetized blog a while back? I wrote about a woman with a blog who posted articles with titles like “Be a Data-Driven Blogger,” “Blog Automation for Shameless Self-Promotion,” and “Posts Not Turning Heads?” People like that tend to call blog posts “content,” and the content almost always seems to have been copied.

I take pride in writing my own stuff. Sometimes my stuff gets repurposed. It happens most often with a primer on hashing I wrote in 1995: it’s been copied I don’t know how many times, sometimes by professional journalists. Sometimes in altered form, sometimes word for word. One thing they never manage to copy, though, is my name. When the original Wikipedia entry for the Hash House Harriers went up in 2003, it was taken verbatim from my primer … without, it need hardly be mentioned, a link to the original or any credit to me.

I would not be surprised to learn some of my Air-Minded articles on aircraft and aviation have been similarly mined for “content.” I mean, you can put a copyright notice on everything you write … and I do … but without a lawyer on staff, what good does that do? To make things worse, now that I’ve foolishly taken a glance at fellatio’s little spam app, I realize there are web applications for content thieves, designed to prevent, through rewording and restructuring, original authors from proving their stuff has been stolen.

God damn it, that’s depressing. I remember how shocked I was when, as a teaching fellow at Cal State Sacramento, a student handed in an obviously-plagiarized essay. Apparently I’m still capable of shock. Steal my writing and pass it off as your own? That, to me, is a shoot-to-kill offense. And I’m not kidding.


The Woodford Automobile Museum: a Pictorial Guide

I wrote this post in 2009, seven years ago. At some point between then and now I maxed out the storage space on my server. To make room for more blog posts I moved photos from the server to a Flickr account. Apparently I forgot to move the photos that went with this post, because when I looked at it a few days ago, they were gone. This morning I looked up replacement photos on the net and updated the post. 

All my little Facebook friends are filling out the “Five Cars I’ve Had” survey. I started to fill it out too, but quit when I realized it didn’t fit my automotive history: Donna and I have owned way more than five cars, and most of them weren’t in the survey’s photo database. The solution? Find my own photos and write my own survey.

I’ll start with family cars, the cars my parents owned: the ones I learned to drive in and cruised around in during my teens.

When I was just 10 or 11, my father started teaching me to drive out in the woods behind base housing at Ramstein AB in Germany. He had a military-surplus Jeep, and that’s what we used. I learned to shift, though I probably wasn’t any good at it. When my own son was old enough to learn to drive, I made sure his first experience was with a standard transmission.

1946 jeep

1946 Willys Jeep

Later, of course, there were pre-marriage cars from my high school and junior college days in Sacramento, California, 1961-1965.

My father bought a one-year-old Mercedes Benz sedan in 1956, when we were stationed in Germany. We shipped it back to the States and it was our family car until 1965. It was the car I really learned to drive in, starting at age 15. I wrecked it twice; my sister Sue (who learned to drive in it too) wrecked it once. It had a flathead four, four on the tree, and non-canceling turn signals you controlled with the horn ring on the steering wheel. Oh, and a Blaupunkt radio. It was big inside, and solid as a brick. Ours was blue but otherwise just like the one in the photo.

1955 mb 180

1955 Mercedes Benz 180

Dad bought a used 1958 Ford in ’62 or ’63, when we were living in Sacramento and I was in high school. It had a monster engine with a four-barrel carb but was otherwise pretty plain Jane. The car in the photo is, I think, Canadian; American Fords had different trim. Ours was red & white.

1958 ford

1958 Ford Fairlane

Dad went off to Pakistan on a remote tour in 1964 when I was a senior in high school, and my mother bought a clapped-out Henry J for me to use. It had the “big engine,” a Kaiser Supersonic Six, but the intake manifold was cracked and it whistled when you gave it gas. My mother made seat covers for it from old bedsheets. It wasn’t quite the same color as the one in the photo, but like that one, it was greenish and puke-like. It lasted about six months.

1951 Henry J

1951 Henry J

When the Henry J went to meet its maker she bought a 1949 Mercury for me to drive. It was pink with brown tuck & roll upholstery. In 1965 I posted a note on the student union bulletin board at American River Junior College, looking for someone to ride to school with me and share gas expenses. That’s how I met Donna, my wife of 50 years. The first day she rode with me I rolled up in the Mercury. She rolled her eyes.

1949 Mercury

1949 Mercury

When Donna and I were first married and living in Germany, we didn’t have a car of our own. We rode the bus to work, but my folks would sometimes let us use their second car, an old VW. Unlike the fancy 1955 model in the photo, their ’55 was a non-export model with no chrome: gray with gray bumpers, something a Mennonite might drive. It had mechanical brakes, a non-syncromesh transmission, and semaphore turn signals. We took it on weekend drives up and down the Rhine River and on our honeymoon to Basel, Switzerland.

1955 vw

1955 Volkswagen

Now it’s time to move on to the cars Donna and I have actually owned, the ones we’ve bought and paid for on our own.

Upon our return to the States in 1967, the first car Donna and I bought with our own money was a used Chevy II. We picked it off a lot in downtown Detroit. Ours was a black two-door with red bench seats, a real stripper: no chrome strip on the side, no radio.

1965 chevy II

1965 Chevy II

We drove the Chevy to California, where we lived for the next several years. In 1968 the Chevy’s engine seized and we bought our first brand-new car, a Volkswagen convertible. Like the one in the photo, ours was a beautiful yellow.

1968 vw convertible

1968 Volkswagen

When I finished work on my master’s degree at Sacramento State in 1972, we sold the convertible, replacing it with a used 1964 VW camper. Donna, our little boy Gregory, and I drove the bus all the way east to Detroit, visiting family and looking for work. We basically lived in the thing for three months, eventually driving it back to Sacramento, then on to Montana, where I’d found a teaching job.

1964 vw camper

1964 Volkswagen camper

We bought our second brand-new car in Montana, a 1972 Toyota Corona Mark II. Ours was blue. It was a really sweet car, built in the days when Toyotas were made with incredible levels of quality.

1972 toyota

1972 Toyota Corona Mark II

Perceiving my new teaching job in Montana to be a dead-ender, I joined the USAF in 1973 and went off to officer candidate school and pilot training. In early 1978, during our first assignment in Oklahoma, we passed the Toyota to my sister Cecelia in Missouri and inherited my grandfather’s Olds Cutlass.

1968 olds

1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass

After Oklahoma the USAF took us to Holland, Alaska, Florida, Japan, Hawaii, and Nevada. During those years we owned several cars, most of them used. The best of all was the Datsun 280Z we bought in 1978 to celebrate my F-15 assignment. I had wanted a Corvette, but Donna found an almost-new Z with only 700 miles on it, and as with all of her decisions, it turned out to be the right one. We drove the Z for almost 16 years and never once got tired of it.

1978 datsun 280z

1978 Datsun 280Z

We shipped the Z to Holland, where, between 1978 and 1982, we also owned two used VW buses. Both were 1972 models: the first was a khaki ex-Dutch military van; its replacement was a white civilian van that had been converted into a camper.

1972 vw van

1972 VW van

Just before leaving Europe for Alaska we bought a new American-spec VW Quantum station wagon and shipped it and the Z off to Anchorage. Unlike the one in the photo, ours was a chocolate brown color. We drove our turd-colored Quantum, along with the Z, through assignments in Alaska and Florida, selling it in 1989 just before moving to Japan.

1982 vw quantum

1983 VW Quantum

Backing up a bit: while we were in Alaska, sometime around 1983, we got our first pickup truck, a 1967 Chevrolet C10. I gave an old hermit a few hundred dollars for it, and expect he spent it on weed. I taught our son Gregory to drive in that truck. It was pretty beat up, not nearly as nice as the one in the photo. We sold it in 1985 when we left Alaska for our next assignment. Gregory stayed behind; I helped him buy a used VW Rabbit just before we left, but since it was never our car I’m not including it here.

1967 chevy pickup

1967 Chevrolet C10

Moving ahead to 1989 and our assignment to Okinawa: our status of forces agreement with the government there prohibits servicemen from shipping cars to Japan. We still had the Z, but since we couldn’t bring it with us we put it in storage at my father’s place in Missouri, reclaiming it a couple of years later. While in Okinawa we drove used Japanese cars. The first was a Nissan Skyline, the second a Toyota Corona, but not the Corona you see in the States. The domestic Japanese Corona was a large car, somewhere between a Cressida and a Crown. I was able to find a photo of a Skyline (ours was white), but regrettably cannot show you what that Japanese Corona looked like.

1984 nissan skyline

1984 Nissan Skyline

In 1992 we left Japan for Honolulu. We had the Z taken out of mothballs and shipped to Honolulu, but when it arrived we found that rust—which had probably been breeding ever since Europe—had begun to eat through the bodywork. The Z became my on-base beater, and we bought a used Lincoln Town Car as our primary ride. Ours was the same color as the one in this photo:

1990 lincoln

1990 Lincoln Town Car

Shortly after arriving in Honolulu in 1982, we bought a red 1987 Nissan pickup truck. It was registered in our names but we rarely drove it: it was really for our daughter Polly. She drove it during her senior year of high school, and for the rest of her time in Hawaii.

1987 nissan pickup

1987 Nissan

In 1994 I sold the Z to an airman at Hickam AFB. Donna and ordered a new Ford F150 from a dealer in Portland, Oregon. We flew there, picked up the truck, drove it south to visit friends in California, and shipped it from Long Beach to Honolulu on a Matson cargo ship for just $600, saving thousands compared to what the truck would have cost at a Hawaiian dealership. The truck in the photo is an XL; ours was an XLT and a bit fancier … plus, ours never had rust. Same color, though. It was a wonderful truck, and we drove it for 14 years.

1994 ford f150

1994 Ford F-150

In 1995 the F150 and the Town Car went with us to our final USAF assignment in Las Vegas. After a few months in Vegas we traded the Town Car in on a new Thunderbird, which, after the newness wore off, turned out to be rather a blah car.


Polly washing the 1995 Thunderbird

I can’t remember exactly when, but at some point in our two years in Las Vegas we leased a new Nissan pickup truck for Polly, who had left a bad marriage in Hawaii and was living with us again. She totaled it a few months later and we were able to buy our way out of the lease.

1996 nissan pickup

1996 Nissan

Since leaving the USAF in 1997 and moving to Tucson, we’ve purchased three more cars, all nearly new when we bought them, all still in the family.

When we gave the T-bird to our daughter in 2003 (she was living on her own in Las Vegas at the time) we bought another Town Car, a one-year-old former rental from Budget. This became Donna’s car, and she drove the snot out of it, running the mileage up to 140,000 … but it’s still going strong, now in the hands of our daughter Polly, who is living with us in Tucson once again. I probably have some photos of it but can’t put my hands on them now, so here’s a photo of someone else’s 2002: ours is more of a pearl white.

2002 lincoln town car

2002 Lincoln Town Car

In 2008, when we decided to replace the Ford F150 with something more economical, we opted for a Chevy Trailblazer. It was my car for several years, but once the Lincoln passed from Donna’s hands to Polly’s, Donna took the Trailblazer: it’s perfect for grocery shopping and her sewing workshops, with tons of room in the back. We plan to keep it for many years.


Our 2007 Chevy Trailblazer with our old utility trailer

The Trailblazer is truck-like and pulls a trailer without too much effort, but last fall I talked Donna into letting me buy another real truck, this time a 2014 GMC Sierra. The one thing we didn’t like about our Ford F150 was that it had a small cab and the only place to put luggage was in the bed, exposed to the weather. This time around we looked for a truck with an extended cab, and with the exception of heated seats, this one has all the bells & whistles. We also bought a new trailer to go with the truck, and it’s a great combination.


Our 2014 GMC, hitched to its new trailer

Until I started this automotive catalog, I hadn’t realized what a couple of consummate consumers Donna and I have been. My God, all those cars … and we keep ours far longer than most people! That’s one thing I noticed. Another thing is all the automotive support we’ve given our daughter Polly, who to my knowledge has yet to buy a car of her own … and she’s 41 now. Grrr.

Tell you what, if the automotive industry ever dries up, it surely won’t be our fault!