Archive for the 'In My Life' Category

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Riding in The Rain to Meet My Son

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

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EF-111A Training Flight, August 1987

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

I recently found an old VHS tape I made way back in ’87 when I was an EF-111A EWO in the 42d Electronic Combat Squadron, RAF Upper Heyford, UK.

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Riding with the Patriot Guard

Friday, April 18th, 2008

pgr logo

People talk about grass roots organizations. I’ve never heard of an organization that rose more from the grass roots than the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) .

When casualties started coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq there were some ‘protesters’ who started invading military funerals, performing highly offensive animal acts intended to disrupt the services.   I have no idea what would motivate people to behave in such an evil manner.  I can’t see into the black hearts of these ‘protesters’, but in the end their motivation doesn’t matter, it is their actions that count.

Whatever the true motivations of the ‘protesters’, people all over the country were appalled. A group of motorcycle riders in Kansas decided that enough was enough. I suspect many of these riders were Viet Nam era vets who remembered the shameful way many of them were treated when they came home.

Rather than waiting for ‘they’ to ‘do something’, these riders took it upon themselves to act. They started attending military funerals, forming a line of individuals holding American flags, blocking the view of the ‘protesters’. These individuals did not confront the ‘protesters’, they just turned their backs to them, acting as a buffer for the friends and family of the fallen military member. Thus was born the Patriot Guard Riders. The PRG idea took root and soon there were PGR groups all over the country, supporting military families not only at funerals but at many other events.

On March 31 Sgt. Dayne D. Dhanoolal, of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division was killed by an explosive device in Iraq.

That’s how I found myself on my little Ninja 250 motorcycle pulling into the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Round Rock, Texas (near Austin) last Friday morning. It was my turn to show that one Texan cared about a fallen solider he would never meet.

The mission would be to ride with a group of Austin area PGR members to Killeen, about 55 miles north. There we would join other PGR groups from around Texas at the ‘staging area’ and proceed first to the Church where the funeral service was to be held, and then to the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery.

I’d received from the Austin area PGR mailing list a detailed email from the Ride Captain explaining where and when to meet for this mission. I noticed immediately that note said ‘KSU (kickstands up) 0925. Not 9:15, not 9:30, but 0925. They used military style time and implied a precision of +/- five minutes. I liked that.

When I was in the Air Force I was never a very ‘military’ military officer, if you know what I mean. But I was a navigator, precision planning was and is important to me. Even 14 years after retiring I sometimes get a little frustrated with my civilian friends and colleagues in the software business when things don’t happen at the advertised time. In the world of small software companies, anyway, a 9:30 meeting or event means that at 9:30 we start thinking about getting ready to have the event. It’s often closer to 9:45 or even 10 before anything productive happens at the ‘9:30′ event. There would never be anything in the small software world scheduled at 9:25.

So the 0925 scheduled KSU time was interesting to me.

I pulled into the parking lot a little before 9. There were several motorcycles there already. I have to admit that I wasn’t thinking high and lofty thoughts about duty, honor, and country at that moment. I was wondering how would I be received? Would I embarrass myself in some way on my bike? Could Baby Ninja keep up?

The PGR says they don’t care about what you drive or ride, but was that really true? The motorcycles I was seeing were all large cruisers, mostly Harley Davidsons and a couple of Gold Wings.  I was on a tiny Ninja 250 sport bike wearing not leather, but a Joe Rocket textile jacket. I was dressed more as a ‘Power Ranger’ rather than a ‘Pirate’. I was curious as to what kind of reception I might receive.

I had not had my helmet off for thirty seconds before I began to receive a warm and friendly welcome. The other riders made it a point to shake hands and introduce themselves. Many of the riders were older guys like me. They really didn’t care about my choice of motorcycle. I started to relax and feel at home. Not all PGR members are veterans, but if my experience is any guide they run their events with military precision.

I told the Ride Captain that this was my first mission, and asked him to tell me if I got out of line in some way. I told I thought my bike could hang in just fine as long as he kept in sight of the speed limit. He said he was sure I’d do fine and gave me a small PGR mission pin. He told me to take a position near the front of the group for the ride to Killeen. This surprised me, I though new guys were supposed to stay at the rear, but he was the Captain.

Just as they said in the email the Captain started to brief us on the mission at 0915. He covered the route, the staggered formation he wanted to ride. He wanted us fairly tight so we’d be less likely to be separated. He introduced the ‘tail gunner’ who would be the last rider in the group. At 0925 I put up my kickstand with the other dozen or so riders. I did have one little scare just as we pulled out, when I came closer to another rider than I’d like and I squeezed the front brake in a slight turn. That’s a good way to drop a bike, but thankfully Baby Ninja didn’t let me (literally) down.

The 55 mile run to Killeen was an interesting experience. The first half was on IH35, and we were doing the 70mph speed limit. Baby Ninja had no problem keeping up. At most all I had to do was drop to fifth gear a few times to give more than enough throttle authority to hold my position.

It’s hard to describe, but as we rode along I found myself becoming centered just the in the moment. Holding position, maintaining situation awareness, operating the machine became my world. I suppose the ride took about an hour, but it seemed to last only minutes. It was an interesting mental experience.

Before I knew we pulled in to a parking lot full of motorcycles, the staging area. I think there were close to a hundred riders. There was one other sport bike, a scooter, and the rest were cruisers or Gold Wings. People were milling around, checking out each other’s bikes, and visiting. After a few minutes we had another briefing, covering the details of the mission. The ride Captain stressed the importance of correct flag etiquette, going in to detail about how the handle the flags and how to behave while we had them.

We would first proceed a few blocks to the church where the service would be held. After the service we would escort the funeral party to the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery for the graveside ceremonies. At both location we would be issued flags on long metal poles and would form flag lines.

I wound up holding a flag, standing at attention near the entrance to the church. I think we stood there for about 45 minutes. PGR members were walking up and down the line offering water and offering to give us a break if we needed one. There was profound silence except for the sound of 80 waving flags.

I found it strange to be in a military style formation again, but also satisfying. My contribution was tiny, but at least I was doing something to show that the community and in particular the Dhanoolal family that someone cared, that Sgt Dhanoolal would not be forgotten.

We were relived from the first flag line, and asked to quietly form our bikes into an escort formation. We all stood at attention by our motorcycles as the funeral party left the church. We had law enforcement escort for the ride to the cemetery. I was again near the front of the formation. We wound up riding line abreast, which surprised me. I don’t recall this being briefed.

At the cemetery a PGR advance party had already set up a number of flags. We formed a semicircular flag line around the funeral party. The senior military officer, a brigadier general, went down our line shaking hands with each PGR member. I guess we were standing for about another 45 minutes, it’s hard for me to say, I was in some kind of meditation state for much of it. We stayed, standing at attention, until the family left.

On the way home I reflected that it had been a long time since I’d stood in a formation. I also reflected on how nice it would be to have highway pegs on my Ninja as my knees were pretty stiff.

I attended another service a few days latter. I plan to ride as many PGR missions as I can. I think these missions are very important on many levels.

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Spark Vark Questions

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

I have a Google alert for the phrase ‘EF-111′, just for old times sake.

Usually they are for either a Seiko watch or brief mention of the airplane in an article about the Navy Growler airplane. The other day I got an alert that originated from an author of an upcoming DVD concerning the F-111 family of aircraft.

He was asking for former F-111 crew members to answer a few questions about the airplane. I sent him a note saying I’d be glad to answer his questions, I try not to be the old retired living-in-the-past geezer, but I’ll talk about my glory days if I think someone is really interested.

Just for the record, here are his questions about the Raven, and my answers:

“What were the EWO’s responsibilities?”

To give you some background, lets talk about what an EWO was. All EWOs started as graduates of what was then called Undergraduate Navigator Training (UNT). Most EWOs followed UNT with attendance at a specialized electronic warfare training course, although some navigators attended this course after an operation tour as a navigator.

EW school for me was six months long, but it got shorter in latter years. After UNT/EWO school our new EWO attends what was then called ‘fighter lead in’ where he (no women in the Raven) flew the AT-38, then replacement training in his end assignment airplane. New EWOs bound for the EF-111 would first attend the basic F-111A school before the EF-111A qualification course. Only a handful of EF-111 EWOs came straight out the training pipeline, most had at least one operational tour in a fighter.

There were a lot of former F-4G EWOs in the EF-111A, I was one of these. We took the conversion course into the F-111A before attending the EF-111A school at Mt Home AFB. Both the F-111A and EF-111A courses were the same for both pilots and navs. Flights and simulators were done as crews in most cases.

The F-111A conversion course was the most difficult training I have ever experienced. Very little of my F-4 experience was really relevant, the two airplanes being so different. The F-111 is far more complex than the F-4.

The EF school was a little easier for me, because from an electronic warfare point of view there was a lot of overlap between the F-4G and EF-111 in terms of required EW knowledge.

The F-4G and EF-111A formed an unbeatable team for destruction of enemy surface to air systems. In the EF-111A EWOs were expected to know everything about airplanes that the pilots knew, but pilots were not expected to know as much about electronic warfare as an EWO. To be fair, many EF-111A pilots studied until they were equal to their EWOs in technical EW knowledge, but this wasn’t required.

The practice in all models of the F-111 was to accomplish highly detailed mission planning for each mission. Mission planning was a primary WSO/EWO responsibility. All F-111 navigators were expected to be able to fly the ‘black line’ exactly, and arrive within a few seconds of the tasked time at each point on the plan, day or night, fair weather or foul, high or low altitude.

Besides the basic navigation planning the EWO had to plan how to employ the ALQ-99E jammer. The EF-111 carried ten jamming transmitters. There were a variety of different transmitters to choose from depending on the Raven’s targets. Most had steerable antennas.

The ALQ-99E jammer was programmed by the EWO, either by a very long and time consuming key entry system using the cockpit keypad (located where the right control stick is on other F-111s) or by a flight planning device which could save the program to a data tape. The EWO could program the system to look for specific threats based on received radar characteristics and position from the Raven, or it could be set to preemptively jam targets, received or not. There was a program for each transmitter.

Should the ALQ-99E computer fail (a rare occurrence) the EWO could manually control the transmitters using a control panel on the right console.

After mission planning the crew stepped to the airplane. The F-111 was designed as a two pilot airplane, much more so than the F-4. In the EF-111A we expected the EWO to conduct an entire preflight inspection of the airplane just as the pilot did.

Once both crewmembers inspected the airplane we would strap into the very comfortable cockpit. The F-4 cockpit was about like that of an 1850 steam locomotive in terms of comfort. The F-111 was like that of a new Lincoln Continental in terms of comfort.

The EF-111 retained the same flight control system and terrain following radar as the F-111A. These systems required complex checklist procedures after engine start. The EWO read the checklists and the pilot performed most of the actual steps. The EWO had to program the ALQ-99E and inertial navigation system, both complex tasks.

In the latter years of the system we received digital INS systems similar to those in the F-16.

“How did the EF-111 defend itself?”

The Raven had self-protection chaff and flares, and it had a fairly primitive self-protection jammer. The F-111 fighters sometimes carried AIM-9 missiles, but the operational Ravens did not. The operational Ravens (as opposed to our test bird) did not have a combining glass.

Our main defense in the F-111 was our great speed, especially speed at low level.Given even a little warning the Raven was very hard for a fighter to catch. The F-111 was the fastest airplane in the USAF inventory after the SR-71, and with 30,000 pounds of fuel we could both fly fast and fly a long time compared to smaller fighters.

For the Raven to operate in an orbit then some degree of local air superiority was required.

“Did it fly into combat with the strike package, or work as a stand-off jammer?”

Yes. Depending on the mission the Raven might orbit in an area jamming radars in the area while multiple attackers passed through the area. If a Raven was dedicated to a low level strike then it could egress at low altitude, pop up to altitude in order to provide jamming support during the most dangerous portions of the attackers ingress, and then withdraw with the last of the attackers.

Thanks to its great range and high speed it was rarely necessary for the strike package to change its plans to accommodate the Raven. The Raven could always be at the right place at the right time. This isn’t always true for our friends in the slower, shorter range EA-6B.

“What equipment did it carry to do the job (what did the ALQ-99 consist of?)?”

The Raven was a modified F-111A. It had a higher power engine (P109 I think), needed because it always flew at max weight. The engines were fitted with 25KVA generators developed for the F-14.

The right stick was removed and replaced with the computer keypad. The radar handle was moved from the right console to the center, enabling the pilot to perform radar navigation when needed.

The radar systems were identical with the F-111A except that the very large analog display tube with a hood was replaced by a smaller digital display unit in the Raven.

The ALQ-99E had three main subsystems, receivers, transmitters, and controls. The receivers and most of the receive antennas were in the ‘football’ on top of the vertical stabilizer. The former weapons bay, covered by the ‘canoe’ fairing, contained the ten interchangeable jamming transmitters. Most of the transmitters had steerable horn antennas, the lower frequency jammer antennas were mounted on the sides of the fuselage.

Near the rear of the fuselage were cooling doors that opened when the master radiate switch was selected.

The ALQ-99E was controlled by an IBM 4pi computer via the keypad, EWO display, and manual control panel in the cockpit. The ALQ-99E was powered by the main aircraft generators. When the ALQ-99E was activated with a combat jamming program there was an immediately noticeable aircraft deceleration due to the sudden generator load. We did lose generators from time to time, we were working them very hard.

“What did you like most about the EF-111?”

Everything. Flying the Raven was a fantastic experience. The airplane just breathed power. It was very, very, very fast. The flight control system was decades ahead of its time, giving a smooth comfortable ride no matter how low and fast you flew.

The crew capsule was extremely comfortable, nothing like the F-4.

As an EWO I was at the center of the action, I was busy every minute of the flight. Every single F-111 flight was an adventure. I never had a boring flight in the F-111. 

Ravens in the boneyard

The Raven was retired in 1998.

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Oshkosh Countdown Begins

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

Voyager Flight Planner Screen Capture A couple of months ago my budget director approved raiding the piggy bank for enough lose change to fly the Cardinal to Air Venture Oshkosh this year.  That’s a real big deal to me.  I’ve been to eight or ten ‘Airventures’, but I’ve always done the sensible thing and drove or flew in via airliner. 

Having never piloted an airplane into the world’s busiest airport I can’t be considered a true Oshkosh Hajji.  This is a really big deal to me.

I should have been planning all this time, but I’ve been distracted by various things, such as new grandkids and earning the money with which to go.

I’ve been real distracted by my need to complete an Instrument Proficiency Check’ in order to regain the privilege to fly under instrument flight rules (IFR). 

I foolishly let my instrument currency lapse early this year.  I won’t make that mistake again.  After several practice flights over the last month, a 2.5 hour ground review, and a two hour IPC in mostly real instrument conditions I am again a qualified instrument pilot.   It was an expensive mistake, but I greatly benefited from a through review conducted by a highly experienced instructor

In any case the grandkid is doing fine, I’m a real pilot again, and work is as under control as it can be in a startup.

So tonight I started spreading charts, studying the NOTAM,  and running  my Voyager flight planner, trying to figure out where the best intermediate stops might be. 

 I was able make hotel reservations in Watertown, WI, which is about as close as you can to Airventure this late in the game. The Holiday Inn in Watertown is on the airport, so I can drop in there, get my room, and continue on to KOSH. I was surprised that it was still possible to reserve a rental car at Oshkosh from Hertz.  I may camp the last night, but I’ve camped before and really don’t care for it that much.  Trying to sleep while  cold and wet isn’t my idea of a good time. 

My original plan was to arrive on Sunday, 7/22, and attend the show Monday through Thursday.  I may slip to the right a day or two though. 

I hate to say it, but I’d kind of like to hang around for the F-22 Raptor demo, which I understand is going to be on Friday.  I’ve never been a big Raptor fan, but they say it is the world’s best airshow airplane.  There is also an aviation podcaster gathering on Friday that would be fun.

I need to figure out what I’m gong to do for tiedown stakes.  The EAA is very emphatic that you need to have good tie downs.  Having seen some decent thunderstorms roll over the show, I want my plane to stay put.  So I need something in the way of good tiedowns.  Do I want to bring a sleeping bag and a pup tent?  Just in case?  If I arrive Monday instead of Sunday will the parking be full?  So many details to think about.

The biggest show in aviation, and this year I’ve got a bit part!!!!

I better order some charts before I turn in.

Watch this space for greater hysteria as the day gets closer. 

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Birthday Zero

Thursday, June 28th, 2007



       Birthday Zero

As promised we had a new addition to our family in the form of this little girl. She’s my daughter Christy’s daughter. Her official name is still undecided Katherine , but I’m calling her either ‘Christy Junior’ or ‘Revenge’.

I was holding this little critter and reflecting that I was standing on the midpoint of a huge span of time. I had the great good fortune of knowing all four of my grandparents. They were all born in the late 1890s.

My grandparents were born into a world lite only by fire. There was no such thing as airplanes or penicillin. Telephones and cars were curiosities one read about in magazines. When my grandparents were kids and wanted to go somewhere, they walked or rode an animal. The first motion picture camera was patented in France, the X-Ray was discovered.

When I was born in 1952 Stalin had one day to live. Polio vaccine was discovered. The first jet powered airliner began scheduled service. Dwight Eisenhower won the Presidential election. The kind of people who today are buying iPhones then were then buying television sets. When I was born my parents sent telegrams, long distance calls being prohibitively expensive. I learned about Christy Jr when her picture appeared in my cell phone.

Christy Junior will almost certainly live to see 2077, and has an excellent chance of partying like it’s 2099. What kind of world will that be? Today’s world is way better than 1895, and I really think that 2077 will be much better than today.

I’m sorry I won’t be there to see it, but I’m very happy that there is a good chance that someone in 2077 may remember me.

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A New Arrival

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

I’m being told that my daughter expects to deliver her daughter sometime tomorrow.

I’ve already observed all the baby deliveries I care to see, so I don’t plan on visiting the hospital until I’m sure the screaming and general hysteria has subsided to a at least a dull roar and the yucky stuff has been cleaned up.

Once I’m assured things have calmed down I do plan on visiting the new arrival so as to begin as soon as possible my campaign to turn the new creature into an exact replica of her mother, especially in the area of respect for parental authority.

I’m told the baby’s official name is to be ‘Addison’, but as far as I’m concerned it will be ‘The Instrument of My Revenge’.

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A 915 Minute Poem

Saturday, March 17th, 2007


All my life I’ve enjoyed hearing the spoken word. Perhaps it goes back to my childhood, when my Dad would tell me stories at bedtime. He made them up himself, and they were good. Early exposure to the novels of Nevil Shute re-enforced by a Grandfather who had left Texas and joined the Coldstream Guards at the start of World War I infected me with Anglophillia at a very early age.

Back in the bad old days of one newspaper, three TV channels, and no talk radio I used to listen to a lot of shortwave radio, then the only source of what we now call ‘talk radio’. When I lived in England in the 80s I always enjoyed Radio 4, located in the basement of the RF spectrum at 200khz, and mostly spoken word.

It was while I was in England I discovered the Aubrey/Maturin series of novels by Patrick O’Brian. These 20 (plus one unfinished) stories follow the careers of Captain Jack Aubrey, a ship commander of the Royal Navy in the early 1800s, and Doctor Stephen Maturin, his particular friend.

I’m not positive, but I think I started reading them because I found myself working with the Royal Navy and wanted to know more about their service. The Royal Navy is worthy of study by any student of the military. It is, after all, the oldest continually operating uniformed military service in the world.

I enjoyed reading the novels, but I did not fully appreciate them until I discovered that the entire series was available for rent as unabridged audio readings from Recorded Books LLC. I wound up listening to the entire cannon over the period of a year. For that year if I were driving, I was listening to POB. And then I listened again. The narrator, Patrick Tull, is know as ‘The Voice’ to O’Brian fans. Each novel includes a huge ensemble cast, always assembled fromt the four cornors of the world, often speaking several different languages.

Warning: There have been a number of recordings of the series by other actors over the years. Only Tull is able to give each and every character an individual voice that makes him or her come alive. I once made the heart-breaking mistake of buying one read by a pretender. Be careful. If you want to listen to O’Brian as it should be, then accept only The Voice.

I own a couple of the stories on home made CDs purchased via Audible.com. Perhaps it is my CD burner, but these copies don’t really hold up well over time. After a year or so I get lots of skipping and static.

The other day I happened to be in Borders, and noted that they are now selling the Recorded Book series on CD. The price has dropped from the average $75 that Recorded Books charges to around $45 for the retail version. They are the identical readings. I think I’m going to wind up buying them all.

Right now I’m listening to The Surgeon’s Mate. It has been long enough since the last time I experienced this story that it is almost new to me again.

I’m enjoying it immensly. It is a 915 minute poem.

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Embracing the Suck of Insomnia

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007



     Insomnia by bcmom.

All my life I’ve suffered from frequent insomnia. It’s far to frequent to handle with chemicals, even were I so inclinded, which I’m not.

It is midnight, I should be asleep right now, but instead I’m watching court TV. It’s making me very glad I’m not a police officer.

I wish I could think of some way to take up arms against this sea of sleeping trouble. For now though, I’m just embracing the suck of insomnia.

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The Story Arc of My Professional Life

Monday, January 15th, 2007



The Story Arc of My Professional Life

Originally uploaded by JimNtexas.

As told with window stickers.