Feb. 1, 2007

About the 40,000 Drawdown

Having been a member of the Air Force Association soon after I enlisted in 1993, I can’t tell you how many times I have read your defense of almost every single Air Force weapon system while simultaneously complaining about a lack of budget for our nation’s Air Force (almost always described as a narrowing “percentage of GDP”—as if this percentage alone should dictate how much money Uncle Sam should spend on defense). [See “Editorial: A Force for the Long Run,” December 2006, p. 2.]

It is therefore astonishing to me how little time you have spent discussing the fact that our Air Force is cutting 40,000 positions from our rolls—all while fighting two wars and (additionally) using 20 percent of our airmen to fill Army taskings.

Please consider giving our active duty airman just a small percentage of the attention you give the F-22 when describing reductions due to demanding GWOT priorities. No, we can’t afford the full-page ads that so beautifully decorate the pages of Air Force Magazine, but then I would hope we wouldn’t have to.

Capt. Kenneth P. Main

Scott AFB, Ill.

The Billy Mitchell Syndrome

One condescending phrase in an otherwise interesting article may explain some of the flak directed toward Air Force officers [December, “The Billy Mitchell Syndrome,” p. 52].

“Ground-pounders” is a phrase that I heard more than 50 years ago when an Air Force veteran was insulting an Army veteran. Its use in an article in your magazine is unworthy. How does this term sound to the families of deceased and wounded military personnel who served in ground forces in Afghanistan and Iraq

Perhaps one day more Air Force people will acknowledge that airpower is only one of three essential elements in military success—air, sea, and land.

The Air Force has no monopoly in this superiority complex. Within my own service, some in the aviation and submarine communities act and talk as if theirs is the only specialty that matters.

Pride in one’s specialty and good natured ribbing between communities is natural and harmless. When it evolves into arrogance, it is dangerous, destructive, and harmful to the nation’s security.

Go, team, go.

Cmdr. Walter Dunn Tucker,

USNR (Ret.)

Richmond, Va.

Flying Tigers

I’d like to commend Mr. John T. Correll for his outstanding article about the Flying Tigers in the December 2006 issue of Air Force Magazine [p. 36]. As you know I was a member of both the original American Volunteer Group (AVG) Flying Tigers and its successor combat unit, the 23rd Fighter Group. In fact, I activated the 75th Fighter Squadron on July 4, 1942 when the AVG was officially disbanded, and I served as its very first commander. The 23rd Fighter Group was activated the same day the AVG was disbanded. The group continued to call themselves “The Flying Tigers.” It consisted of the 74th, 75th, and 76th Fighter Squadrons, and the 74th and 75th Fighter Squadrons are still in existence to this day, flying A-10s. The photograph shown on pp. 36 and 37 of John Correll’s article is a 75th Fighter Squadron P-40E Warhawk. When this photograph was taken, my good friend, Johnny Alison, had just succeeded me as commander of the 75th FS.

While the article is a well-written piece, the one thing that troubled me was Mr. Correll’s reference to Mr. Daniel Ford’s book, Flying Tigers, which is much disputed by those of us who are surviving members of the AVG Flying Tigers. In his book, he admits that the Japanese did not have any records, and we simply do not accept his reliance on interviews with surviving pilots concerning the number of kills by AVG pilots. With the Japanese propensity for saving face, it’s hard to imagine that these pilots were going to admit to losing larger numbers of aircraft downed by the AVG or any other combatant. Mr. Ford seems bent on discrediting the AVG, in my opinion, and especially maligning Claire Chennault in the process. There are certainly other more creditable sources that should be used when writing about the AVG. The one that is endorsed by the Flying Tigers Association is Claire Chennault’s autobiography, Way of a Fighter.

David Lee “Tex” Hill

San Antonio

Thanks to John Correll for his excellent article on the Flying Tigers. Regardless of the version of history one chooses to accept, it’s clear the original Flying Tigers were skilled, courageous airmen. I’d like to add an addendum to Mr. Correll’s article by noting that the heraldry of the Flying Tigers lives on in the current-day 14th Air Force. As the AF’s space operations numbered Air Force, we like to think we embody the spirit and innovation that characterized those original Flying Tigers. We’re proud to inherit their heritage, and that we’ve moved from P-40s to a different kind of flying machine more appropriate to our mission. I believe Gen. Chennault would embrace the modern-day Flying Tigers—and maybe even smile.

Maj. Gen. William L. Shelton,

Commander, 14th Air Force

Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

The picture of the P-40 with seven pilots was not the AVG. This was the 75th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Group, and sometime after the AVG disbanded on 4 July 1942. All pilots shown were 75th, as was also the ’40 itself (a later model than the AVG flew). In another picture (p. 41), showing Robert Scott with Chennault, please note he was not in the AVG either, although he flew some missions as an observer with its pilots.

While units sequent to the AVG’s disbanding, those in the CATF and following that, the 14th AF, sometimes proclaimed themselves as “Flying Tigers,” they were not in the AVG. I write as a pilot of the 75th in a period some time after the picture was taken. While the 75th established its own outstanding record, it did not compare with the AVG.

You cited a kill ratio of “at least 10 Japanese airplanes shot down for every one they lost.” That is an inaccurate picture. The AVG lost 12 pilots, but only four in air-to-air, which is the real measure of the kill ratio. Considering that the AVG had 297 confirmed kills, the ratio should have been cited as 74-to-one. Couple this to the fact that some of the fighting took place over open water or jungle, where a downed plane quickly disappeared without anyone being able to get a confirmation, the actual figure of downed planes undoubtedly exceeds the recorded number.

I am aware some historians offer different figures, particularly one who said he verified his figures by checking with Japanese sources. However, I question the reliability of one who defends his loss by claiming it did not happen.

Churchill compared the AVG with the record of the RAF in the Battle of Britain—a poor comparison as it was only about three-to-one. Some have also claimed the Israel Air Force did better than the AVG in its brief war with Syria. Again, that is a poor comparison. The Syrian Air Force was a farce, untrained, undisciplined, and flying planes inferior to the Israelis’. The situation with the AVG was exactly opposite. The ancient P-40s were inferior to the Japanese planes, flown by pilots who had been trained to near perfection, while the AVG pilots had not much more than an “introductory course” in their P-40 training in the few months before the war.

The AVG produced a record in air combat that exceeded anything already on the books, one not equaled during World War II, and one that will stand without serious challenge.

One last comment: It was not until 2001 when the United States government, to its everlasting shame, finally granted AVG members veteran status—after most were already dead. Whether this is the result of chagrin at being shown up by those not considered “military,” institutional inertia, or simply grudge, I don’t know. I’m willing to let historians settle that. However, it was grossly unfair to wait until that year to do it.

I suspect you may receive other letters on this article, from those with more personal knowledge of the AVG than I have.

Lt. Col. Wallace H. Little,

USAF (Ret.)

Marshall, Tex.

This is in regard to the article in the December 2006 issue of your magazine titled “The Flying Tigers,” by John T. Correll. I have nothing but praise for the article itself except for the labeling of the P-40 as “obsolete” when first purchased for the AVG. How a 300+ mph fighter plane with a 1,000+ hp engine, six guns, armor plate, self-sealing fuel tanks, and a good rate-of-roll could be called obsolete in 1941 is beyond my comprehension.

However, the sidebar on p. 42 does need some clarification, if I may be so bold.

First, the statement that “more than 14,000 were produced” is in error. Actual production of the P-40 series totaled 13,738.

Second, the P-40 was used by 13 nations, not 28. These were: the USA, Great Britain, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the USSR, Brazil, Turkey, China, the Netherlands East Indies, and Egypt. An RAF Belgian squadron used some in West Africa so that could be one more. In addition, several were captured and used by the Japanese and one, captured from the Russians, was used by Finland.

As to the identity of the AVG P-40s: Those 100 Tomahawks released to China by the RAF all bore serial numbers of Tomahawk IIBs. The H-81A-3 designation has only appeared once officially, to my knowledge, in a reference titled the “C-W Designation Book” in the hands of Mr. Joe Christy during the early 1970s. My own research has, so far, given all the Tomahawk IIBs the Curtiss designation of H-81A-2. The H-81A-3s were listed as 100 aircraft diverted from a British order. The assumption has been made that this designation was a special one just for the Chinese/AVG aircraft. As China purchased only the airframes from Curtiss, all the equipment such as engines, guns, radios, etc., had to be bought separately. The engines themselves were put together from spare parts by Allison. So it is possible that those AVG P-40s could have had P-40B-style fuel tanks.

My thanks for your time and I hope this clears up some points for the author.

Eric H. Hart


The Gunship’s Creator

The article in your December issue, like many others about AC-130s, fails to give credit to the individual who fathered this “hare-brained idea” [December, “The Night Shift,” p. 44]. I was a test engineer at Eglin in the mid-60s when my boss called me in and told me that some strange captain named Ron Terry had flown in from Wright-Pat with a C-131 and was trying to find a gun he could mount sideways and fire out the bailout door. My project at the time was the SUU-11A gun pod which mounted the first minigun installation, so it seemed like that might work. To make a long story short, we managed to work our way through an aircraft mod package and a range safety review in about two weeks. Since I was flying with Test Ops at the time and was familiar with the range control and safety procedures, and also with the gun system, I was nominated to go along as the first lateral firing gun mechanic. We used up about 1,500 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition shooting up a barge in the Gulf using various tactics like low-level flybys and pylon turns. Ron captured pictures of this with a modified gun camera looking through the gunsight and used them as part of his report back at Wright-Pat.

These convinced the powers that be that this weird idea might work, and maybe six months later he showed up at Eglin again with a C-47 modified to mount multiple M-60 machine guns firing out through the windows. They turned out to not work too well, so he stole my preproduction test articles and the lieutenant who worked for me, Ralph Kimberlin, and took everything to Vietnam. That was where a new legend of “Puff the Magic Dragon” was born. Of course bigger is better, and longer range is safer, so the lateral firing standard changed from AC-47 to AC-119 to AC 130 over the years, with larger weapons and newer equipment, but the fact remains that without “that crazy captain from Wright-Pat” the gunships would probably never have come to be. Ron Terry deserves the credit for having had a vision and seeing it through.

Lt. Col. John F. Harvell,

USAF (Ret.)

Merrimack, N.H.

“The Night Shift” story in the December issue of Air Force Magazine contains a misleading statement.

The caption on the bottom of p. 46 states that the C-131 was one of the “successful gunships” of the past. In fact, the C-131 “gunship” was not a success, it did not go beyond initial testing at Eglin AFB, and it was never used in combat.

MSgt. Jim Walker,

USAF (Ret.)

Dayton, Ohio

An Accident-Free Force

In Otto Kreisher’s article “Toward Zero Mishaps” [December, p. 58], he uses a Hill AFB F-16 pilot as an example of how “failure to follow the right procedures can lead to mishaps.”

The author gives the following report of the March 2006 crash: “The pilot apparently was so preoccupied with the engine emergency that he forgot the cardinal rule: Fly the airplane first. The Falcon slowed down and stalled, forcing the pilot to eject.”

Immediately following the accident, Air Combat Command dispatched a Safety and Accident Investigation Board to the scene to determine the cause and prevent future accidents of a similar nature. After several months, ACC released the conclusive AIB report and corresponding news release.

The AIB determined that the engine’s No. 4 bearing assembly failure reduced engine thrust to a point where the aircraft would not maintain level flight. Because distance to the nearest recovery field was beyond the aircraft’s glide capabilities, it was determined that the aircraft was unrecoverable.

Because Mr. Kreisher’s article implies the accident was due to pilot error, I ask your publication to run a correction as soon as possible. The failure of the No. 4 bearing was undetectable, and the pilot followed proper procedures before determining the aircraft to be unrecoverable and ejecting.

I appreciate your help in ensuring correct information about the accident is passed on to the public. We appreciate your support.

2nd Lt. Beth Woodward,

Chief of Public Affairs

388th Fighter Wing

Hill AFB, Utah

More on Lavelle

I read with interest the article by John Correll on the ouster of Gen. John D. Lavelle (November, p. 58). As a brigadier general in 1968, I was elected by Lavelle as his deputy for operations in the Defense Communications Planning Group (DCPG), which was a cover for the development of seismic and acoustic sensors to detect primarily truck traffic on the roads that made up the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. It was also known as the Igloo White Project. In 1969-70, he sent me to command Task Force Alpha located at Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. TFA was the infiltration-surveillance center where sensor data relayed through EC-121 aircraft was processed by large computers—the speed, direction, number, and location of the truck traffic, as well as transshipment and storage areas were sent to FACs to direct immediate strikes and to 7th AF for subsequent Arc Light bomber targeting.

This idea was the brainchild of the Scientific Advisory Board and embraced by McNamara who made it a priority development under the direct control of SECAF Harold Brown and using primarily Air Force funds to budget it. Gen. Ryan thought it a flawed concept and a waste of time and Air Force money.

Harold Brown, on one of his visits to 16th AF at Ramstein, had several briefings by then-Maj. Gen. Lavelle and was astounded by his detailed knowledge of specifications and functioning of every element of weapons systems and operations in 16th AF in response to his, even trivial, questions. Not once did he need the support of any of his staff. He was the consummate micromanager (as was Brown). Therefore, when the position of director of DCPG came open, he personally appointed Lavelle to the job and promoted him to lieutenant general outside of the AF system. This did not sit well with Gen. Ryan, who did not have the same appreciation of Lavelle’s qualifications as the SECAF.

With his close relationship with Brown and knowing that McNamara wanted to accelerate the Igloo White operational date, Lavelle pushed hard and was able to divert valuable AF assets to his program. This also did not please Gen. Ryan. I attended several meetings between the two, and there was no love lost. It was quite apparent to Gen. Ryan that he had little control over Lavelle with his direct access to DOD and Brown, even to his selection and assignment of AF personnel. Also, Lavelle was able to bypass 7th AF/13th AF at Clark AFB and 7th AF in Saigon and personally direct many operations at TFA in Thailand.

In 1971, when the job of commander 7th AF came open, Brown, over Ryan’s objections, appointed Lavelle (who had no operational experience) and promoted him to four stars. So, the battle lines were drawn. All that was left was for Lavelle to “screw up” and Ryan would crucify him. And it happened—there could have been other outcomes less injurious to the Air Force had Ryan not been focused on extracting his pound of flesh. He had every right to be upset by Brown usurping his prerogatives and Lavelle’s freewheeling antics and promotion to full general. But the effective disciplining of the man could have been achieved without all the ruckus, had Ryan used the more subtle pressures at this disposal and a little more political astuteness. In the final analysis, the stalemate was broken when Lavelle, not wanting to fight any longer, compromised—and this is important—he would accept his demotion to major general and retirement if he would get 100 percent military disability (not VA disability), which meant a substantial increase in his total retirement compensation.

In my three years of a very close relationship with Gen. Lavelle, while frustrated by his micromanagement style, I admired his devotion to his job—his job was his life. Seven-day work weeks were the norm, and his workaholic civilian bosses rewarded him accordingly. Supremely confident, he did not fear “stove piping” Gen. Ryan. After all, he got his third and fourth stars!!! On a personal note, being Lavelle’s prime military deputy for those years did not especially ingratiate me with Gen. Ryan or enhance my prospects for further advancement—but it was an intriguing “wild ride” while it lasted.

Brig. Gen. Chet Butcher,

USAF (Ret.)

Fort Myers, Fla.

Regarding the John Correll piece on Gen. John Lavelle and resultant letters, I’m reminded of my first day as AC-47 combat tactics officer at HQ 7th Air Force in late 1968. The directorate’s office was empty save for a clerk and an officer who was composing a trip report that would go directly to the director of operations. In response to my question of “What’s my job?” Major Jerry Watson replied, “Anything you’re man enough to do.”

Anyone having experienced Vietnam (or having read its extensive literature) should realize that Gen. Lavelle and many others were thrust into circumstances that tested their manhood. Gen. Lavelle’s misfortune was that he was not serving under Napoleon, who on Nov. 2, 1809 wrote to Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessieres: “Be of firm character and will. … Overcome all obstacles. I will disapprove your actions only if they are fainthearted and irresolute. Everything that is vigorous, firm, and discreet will meet with my approval.” I suppose the general wasn’t “discreet” enough and therefore had to take the fall.

Col. Kenneth L. Weber,

USAF (Ret.)

Borden, Ind.

Airpower Classics

Thank you for the “Airpower Classics,” p. 88, December 2006. Aircraft capsules like this bring our heritage to mind and inspire us to “dig a little deeper” into our aviation knowledge memory bank. My deceased father, Lt. Col. John F. Thornell Jr., USAF (Ret.), achieved 13 aerial victories in the P-51B Patty Ann II and was assigned to the 352nd FG as a proud “blue-noser.” Our heritage is a critical piece of our present and future Air Force and displaying it with technical details and personal facts allows us to fondly recall the quality P-51B aircraft, the proud airmen who flew her, and the outstanding Air Force we have become, in no small part from their service. It is also an excellent diversion from the painful realities of the budget tightness, the drawdown of our force, and the necessary recapitalization effort. In every timeframe of our Air Force history tough calls have been made, sacrifices have occurred, and excellent results have been attained. Keep the “Airpower Classics” coming as they help us use our proud heritage to bolster and understand the need for our present decisions and actions.

CMSgt. Joseph E. Thornell Sr.,

Superintendent, CCAF

Maxwell AFB, Ala.

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