Once a Fighter Pilot, Always a Fighter Pilot
Chapter 1: Defending Vermont
Copyright© 2008 by Daibhidh
Historical Sex Story: Chapter 1: Defending Vermont - The life and times of Buzz Donaldson, from a young man avoiding the draft in the early 1950's to a dedicated fighter pilot serving in war and peace for over thirty years
It was a clear, crisp October morning, just before dawn, when Billy and I taxied our sleek silver Mustangs out toward the northern end of the main Burlington Vermont Municipal Airport's main runway, which also served as the runway for Ethan Allen AFB. The light from the setting full moon glinted off the whirling disc of our bird's yellow-tipped silver props, as we made our way slowly down the taxiway. We held short of the main runway, awaiting the arrival of a civilian commuter airliner, inbound from Boston. It was currently in the landing pattern, to land and clear the runway.
I am 2nd Lt. Ignatius Donaldson, known to my friends and associates as Iggy, and I would be flying lead on this mission, along with my squadron mate, 2nd Lt. William (Billy) Anderson, who was flying as my wingman. Billy was the 'newbie' in the outfit, having arrived fresh out of fighter school only last month. Although we held the same rank, I was the 'old hand' on this flight, as I had been flying with our squadron for nearly a year now and it would be my job to monitor and evaluate his navigational skills. We were both due for a cross-country training flight. The Squadron Security Officer also had some classified documents that needed to be couriered to Griffiss AFB, near Rome N.Y. They were probably some extremely secret material such as the monthly staff duty-officer roster, the current in-commission rate report of our aircraft, or something equally as highly sensitive.
To satisfy our proficiency training requirements, Billy and I would first deliver the courier pouch to Griffiss, then navigate a preplanned flight route back east to Cape Cod, north across the mouth of Boston harbor, up the coast to Portland, Maine, then west to Berlin, New Hampshire, and finally back home to Burlington.
After the twin-engine DC-3 flashed across in front of us, settled to the runway, and turned off to toward the terminal, the tower cleared us to take the active for immediate takeoff. We moved out onto the runway and swung around until we were aligned with the centerline, then set the brakes and ran our engines up for a final magneto check. Billy came on the radio saying everything looked good, so I double-clicked my mic button and released the brakes. As my Mustang accelerated rapidly, the tail wheel lifted but I held the main gear on the ground until we passed the two thousand foot marker, then eased back on the stick and let it arc effortlessly into the crisp predawn air. Checking my mirror, I saw Billy's navigation lights flashing about three hundred yards behind me, and closing up rapidly.
After climbing to ten thousand feet, we pulled our throttles back to cruise setting, adjusted our fuel mixtures, and then settled onto a heading of 230 degrees. I let Billy take the lead.
With nothing more to do at the moment, I let my mind wander back over how I'd come to be here, a twenty-one year old Air Force 2nd Lt. who was only a little over three years out of high school, in command of a pair of high-performance fighter aircraft flying thousands of feet above my native New England.
This particular phase of my life started in 1949 when I was seventeen, the summer after finishing my junior year of high school. The Korean War was raging and most of the boys in last year's graduating class had either been drafted into the army or had enlisted in the Navy or Air Force. Two of those draftees had already returned in flag-draped coffins and another was MIA. I knew that if I didn't do something real soon, I'd also be drafted within the next eighteen months.
I had been working part time for Jim Morrison, the owner/operator of the local airport, which consisted of one small hanger and a single grass strip. There was a small mountain off one end of the strip and a drive-in movie screen about two thousand feet off the other, just to make life challenging. He was the one who came up with the plan for keeping me out of the army.
His son was an Air Force Captain, flying RC-121 Constellations out of Cape Cod. He told Jim that, in view of the fact I was already a member of the Civil Air Patrol, if I got my private pilot's license as soon as possible and applied for the Air Force's Air Cadet Program after graduation, I had a good chance of getting into the AF pilot training program. The Air Force was expanding rapidly because of the increasing Soviet threat to world peace and many of our experienced pilots were older World War II fliers. A large percentage of those would be retiring soon. We were going to need many more pilots to stand guard across the nation and around the world. It sounded like a good plan to me, having a strong aversion to M-1 rifles and mud (frozen or otherwise).
Jim immediately set up a schedule of flying lessons for me, first in his Piper Cub, then in his more powerful red Waco, a radial engine biplane with in-line open cockpits. He had also purchased a military surplus T-6 Texan trainer. The Texan was still disassembled in the hanger, stored in several large wooden crates, but he planned to have it assembled and ready to fly by early the next spring.
We agreed that I would work for him after school and weekends, receiving flying lessons in lieu of wages. I threw myself into the program and within weeks had soloed in the Piper. Then, after a few flying hours in the Cub, he moved me up into the more powerful and highly maneuverable Waco. The Waco took a little more getting used to, due to its higher engine torque and decreased visibility, especially on take-off and landing. Applying a little opposite stick pressure rectified the torque problem nicely. I really loved that plane! With my leather flying helmet and goggles, I could picture myself dueling with the Red Baron over the war-torn fields of France as I flew it over the green, heavily forested New Hampshire countryside. The only thing missing was a long white silk scarf streaming out behind me in the air stream.
In April of the next year, as soon as the winter snows had melted, Jim checked me out in his T-6. By the end of May I'd passed three major personal milestones, graduating from high school, celebrating my eighteenth birthday and being issued my private pilot's license.
In June I received a call from a Cleveland Browns football scout, inviting me to try out for their program as either a quarterback or a wide receiver. At six-two, a hundred and ninety pounds and having had a record-breaking senior year as quarterback of my high school football team, I just might have had a chance of making it but I politely declined, as that would not have gained me the draft deferment I sought.
In early September I received a letter of acceptance into the Air Force Air Cadet Program, followed the next day by my draft notice, which I politely declined citing my prior commitment to the Air Force. By that time I had accumulated a grand total of 751 flying hours, logged in Jim's Piper Cub, Waco and T-6.
Shortly after that I found myself on a commercial flight bound for Randolph Air Force Base, Texas and, although I was not planning on it at the time, the remainder of my life-time career. The rest, as they say, is history. After primary flight school at Randolph, I received orders to report to Craig Field, Alabama for F-51 training.
(Note: To clear up the confusion between P-51s and F-51s, after the Air Force became a separate military branch following WW II, all P- (for Pursuit) aircraft were redesignated F- (for Fighter).
Twelve months later, I was a freshly minted Second Lt. and fully qualified Mustang fighter pilot, defending the frontiers of freedom from the perceived Soviet bomber threat as a member of the 37th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. I was stationed at Ethan Allen AFB, flying out of the Burlington Municipal Airport in northwestern Vermont.
As we passed over Rome NY, I banked sharply, radioing the Griffiss control tower to request landing instructions and further requesting that the duty officer met our aircraft to take possession of the Security pouch.
We landed and taxied to the parking ramp in front of the base ops building, where a young Air Force Captain in a sharp Class A uniform met us. I noticed he did not wear silver wings on his chest and his pitifully truncated single row of ribbons reflected only that he had succeeded in being a good boy and played well with others;, not even an overseas assignment for this tiger. Must be some kind of staff weenie, I surmised as I climbed out of the cockpit. I handed him the document- transfer form and, after he had signed it, turned over the security pouch. Without ever speaking to me, he about-faced and marched away. "Gregarious bastard," I thought, as I scrambled back up into the cockpit, slid the canopy closed and fired up the engine. Billy, who had had not bothered to shut his bird down, swung in behind me and we taxied slowly back to the runway.
'Parsimonious Prick' I thought, still a little pissed off, as we accelerated down the runway and lifted into the air once more.
Once clear of the field, we set course for the Boston area. Our flight plan called for us to pass south of Boston, then out over Cape Cod to Provincetown before turning north over the bay toward Portland, Maine, our final checkpoint.
As we proceeded eastward, we passed back over the Hudson River, just south of Albany, and picked up the beacon that would lead us to Otis AFB on Cape Cod. About that time, as Billy and I were joking about Griffiss' taciturn Duty Officer, I heard him break in with panicky "Oh Shit! I think my engine's going tits up."
Over the radio, I could hear Billy's engine running roughly and occasionally backfiring. Visually checking his aircraft, I could see nothing obviously amiss, no signs of smoke or fire, but he was slowly losing altitude. "What are your gauges telling you?" I called to him over the radio.
"The tach's going crazy, but fuel and oil pressure look good. I think it's an ignition problem," he replied nervously. I suggested he try adjusting his fuel mixture but that did not help and he was still slowly losing altitude. Enough of this screwing around I thought, realizing that this situation could go from bad to catastrophic very quickly. Reaching down, I switched my radio over to 'Guard' frequency, and declared a Mayday. Almost immediately, a calm voice with a thick Georgia accent came over the radio. "Westover Control to military aircraft declaring Emergency, state the nature of your problem."
Keying my transmitter, I gave him my tail number and aircraft type, and then told him I was the leader of a flight of two, out of Ethan Allen AFB, that my wingman's engine seemed to be failing, and requested to be vectored to the nearest emergency field.
"Roger, Mustang Six-One-Niner, be advised the nearest field with a suitable runway is here at Westover, forty-five nautical miles from your current position at a heading of 98 degrees magnetic. Once you clear the Berkshires, you should be able to make it into Westover, even if you have to dead-stick it the last few miles. I will advise the Crash/Rescue folks of your situation and we will be expecting you on a straight-in approach from the west-northwest. Contact us when you have the runway in sight."
"Roger that, Westover, and thanks for the help. Mustang six-one-niner out," I replied and switched my radio back over to our squadron frequency. Pressing my mike button, I asked Billy if he had copied my conversation with the tower. He said he had, but the fact remained that his engine was getting worse and he doubted it would hold together long enough to make Westover. I silently agreed; his engine was sounding rougher by the minute but I still couldn't see any smoke.
"Hang in there, Billy," I encouraged him. "I'm going to drop down a little and pull up under you so I can eyeball the belly of your bird."
I eased down below him, and then throttled up slightly, slowly passing under Billy's aircraft. As I scanned his plane's belly, I noticed a small dark stain, starting under the nose and carried by the slipstream back along the shiny silver underside of his fuselage. "I think you're losing oil, Billy," I advised him.
"Yeah, I just noticed the oil pressure's starting to drop a little and the engine temperature's climbing," he replied nervously.
"OK, hang in there. We should have Westover in sight in just a few minutes, but if the engine seizes up before then, don't try to be a hero, just get the hell out," I advised him. "I'll drop back again and keep an eye on you."
He double-clicked his radio to indicate he had heard and understood. After a few more minutes, he said, "OK, I've got the runway in sight now. I think I'm going to make it!"
I contacted Westover Tower, requesting an emergency straight-in approach. "Roger, Air Force six-one-niner. We have been apprised of your situation by Air Traffic Control. All traffic has been diverted from the local area and Crash/Rescue teams have been deployed. I now have you at eight miles, on the beam, on the glide path. Good luck." By now, I could make out the runway, the near end of which was lined with the flashing red lights of emergency vehicles.
We were still about a half mile out when Billy screamed, "Shit, the damned engine just seized up on me. I'm flying a fuckin' lead sled here!"
"Calm down and listen to me, Billy. Feather your prop and leave your flaps and gear up to reduce drag until you're over the runway. Then, if you still have enough altitude, drop your gear. Otherwise, just set it down on its belly. It'll be a little noisy and it won't do your prop any good, but they've already foamed the runway so don't worry about fire." I told him.
I maintained 500 feet until I saw him drop his wheels, flair out and touch down gently. As he rolled out, a line of emergency vehicles raced down the runway behind him until he braked to a stop. I circled and watched him scramble out of the stricken Mustang and be hustled into a waiting ambulance. With him safely on the ground, I retracted my flaps and jammed my throttle forward, rapidly climbing out to go around and reenter the traffic pattern for my own landing.
Ninety minutes later, Billy and I were sitting in the stag bar of the Officer's Club, nursing cups of bad, stale coffee. I had already called Ethan Allen and filled my Ops Officer in on our situation. We were now awaiting a call from our Maintenance Officer. I had just motioned the bartender for a coffee refill when the phone rang. The civilian female bartender picked up the receiver, listened for a second and then said, "If one of you is Donaldson, it's for you." She placed the phone on the counter and refilled my cup, then went back to her glass polishing.
Picking up the phone I heard Major Willingham say, "Iggie, I understand you boys had a little problem."
I filled him in on our situation, to which he replied, "I've already talked to the maintenance chief at Westover and he advised me they don't have the parts, or even any mechanics qualified to work on it, so I'm arranging for our C-119 to fly a maintenance crew down there. I am warning you though, if we can't fix it with parts already on hand, we're not authorized to order anything. We just got the official word this morning that the squadron is standing down and that we will be turning our Mustangs over to the Air National Guard. Plans are now in the works to transition everyone into our new birds."
"New birds? What new birds, Major?" I exclaimed.
"F-86D's, and we're transitioning effective immediately," he replied, as though I should have already known that. "Hold on a minute, the Training Officer wants to talk to you."
After a short delay, Captain Walker came on the line. "Iggy ... I'm sorry to hear about Anderson's problem, but leave him there with his aircraft and continue your scheduled flight. If they can't fix his sick engine, he can catch a ride back in the C-119. Report to me when you get back and I'll fill you in on your future training schedule." With that, he hung up.
What the hell was going on, I wondered. I couldn't believe my precious Mustangs were being relegated to the twilight zone of the Air National Guard. It just wasn't fair!
"What's the matter, Iggie," Billy asked, apparently seeing the stricken expression on my face.
I explained what I had heard about transitioning to the 86D's and his face lit up. "Damn, I've often thought how great it would be to fly jets, and now I'm gonna get the chance, that's just great!" he gushed.
"Yeah, just fuckin' great," I replied in a surly voice. "But you'll probably have to ride home in that pile-of-shit flying-oil-strainer of a Boxcar first. If they can't fix your bird with a set of used plugs and some bailing wire, they're going to scrap it," I reminded him.
"Oh yeah?" he responded, sounding much less despondent than I felt.
Finishing our stale coffee, we returned to the flight line; me to complete our original flight plan, Billy to await the arrival of our base flight C-119.
After getting airborne once again, I climbed to altitude and set my course southeast toward Cape Cod. The flight progressed uneventfully and soon I was turning west over Portland's Casco Bay to complete the final leg of my flight back to Burlington. It was then that I realized that, with only a small course adjustment, I could over-fly my old hometown.
Picking out the Maine Central railroad tracks about forty miles west of Portland, I followed them across the state line into New Hampshire and soon recognized the familiar sight of Jim's tiny airport. Looking down from 6,000 feet, I could just make out his Waco taking off, a tiny splash of bright red against the lush green of the grass strip. With a grin, I throttled the Mustang back, banked hard right and slowly circled around, giving him time to get airborne.
After he had climbed out and leveled off, I eased up into formation with him, about thirty feet off his left wingtip, rocked my wings and gave him a thumbs-up signal. He looked a little surprised to find himself flying formation with a sleek red-tailed Air Force Mustang, but then he recognized me. Grinning, he raised his right arm and made a rapid pumping motion with his fist. I waved back to him, and then snapped him a sharp salute as I slapped my throttle forward and pulled back hard on the stick. As the Mustang's powerful V-12 engine screamed and the huge 4-bladed prop clawed for altitude, I threw it into a lazy aileron roll and spiraled upward to 10,000 feet before easing back on the throttle and leveling off.
Grinning to myself, I once again waggled my wings and reset my course for Burlington. I knew I had been showing off ... but damn, I'd enjoyed it! I found out later it had made Jim's day as well, knowing he'd been instrumental in putting me in the cockpit of this beautiful bird.
Twenty-five minutes later I was at two thousand feet over the cold blue waters of Lake Champlain, on the downwind leg of my landing pattern. Ten minutes after that I was chocked down on the parking ramp at Ethan Allen. As I proceeded to the equipment room and was stowing my flight gear, a squadron mate walked in. After a little small talk about my adventure at Westover with Billy's sick bird, I asked him about the scuttlebutt concerning our upcoming aircraft changeover.
Before he could reply, my squadron commander entered, accompanied by the training officer. After explaining what had happened and what we had done to get Billy safely back on the ground, they both agreed we had done everything by the book. My commander turned to leave but before he left he said, "Stop by my office before you leave. I've got something for you."
After showering and donning a fresh flight suit, I proceeded to the Commander's office and reported. "At ease, Iggy," Col. Mathers said. As I relaxed, he opened a desk drawer and removed a dark blue ball cap. Handing it to me, he said, "Everyone else got his this afternoon and I wouldn't want you to be out of uniform."
Accepting the cap, I saw it had gold 'scrambled eggs' around the edge of its bill and the front displayed the distinctive silhouette of an F-86D followed by the words "Sabre Dog". Centered under that was the inscription, "1st Lt. I. Donaldson 37th FIS", embroidered in bright gold thread.
"Thank you, sir ... but they got my rank wrong," I said.
"No Iggy, they didn't. The orders for your new bars came down this morning also, although I've known about it for a month or so now," he replied, handing me a set of glittering silver bars pinned to a small square of cardboard. "I also talked to the tower operators at Westover. From what they tell me, you did one hell of a job talking Lt. Anderson down in one piece. I'm recommending you for an Air Medal, and if it's approved you'll soon have a little more fruit salad to wear above your breast pocket.
That night the squadron threw a promotion party for me at the Officers Club. Everyone apparently had a great time and the booze flowed freely. At some point during the festivities, I remember dancing with a beautiful red-haired young beauty and thinking how I would love to caress those excitingly firm young breasts poking into my chest. Luckily, I was still sober enough to remember that she was the Base Commander's daughter and decided that really was not one of my better ideas of the day.
I don't remember how I got back to my quarters, but apparently my mates must have been more sober than I. Either that or I'd suddenly gained the ability to navigate while stumbling, falling-down, drunk! Although none of my friends ever admitted it, I tend to believe it was the former. At any rate, I woke up in my own bunk, still a virgin, eyeballs itching, mouth tasting like a stable and a head threatening to explode at any moment. I managed to dress and haltingly made my way to the mess hall. The thought of food made my stomach rebel but after three cups of hot, strong, mess-hall coffee I felt human enough to drive the two miles down to the flight line.
By the end of the week, we had shut down flying operations. Pilots from the ANG had taken our aircraft away and a sister fighter squadron at Plattsburg, NY had assumed our air defense alert commitment. The base was devoid of aircraft except for our base flight transport birds and a couple of hanger queen Mustangs, hopelessly awaiting parts that would probably never arrive.
At 1400 hrs Friday afternoon, all of the pilots and maintenance crews received orders to report to Perrin AFB, in Sherman, Texas, for transition training into our new jets.
As we took off the next morning, jammed into the back of a lumbering C-119, I noticed the Alert hanger at the end of the runway. For the first time I could remember, it was empty and deserted. I was in a blue funk.