April 1, 2007
Ghost Dance

My compliments on your excellent editorial, “Ghost Dance at the Apocalypse,” February 2007 [p. 2], which objectively addressed the Kissinger/Schultz/Perry/Nunn call for US leadership in creating a “world free of nuclear weapons.”

Ultimately, their proposal rests on the assumption that all the US has to do is “set an example” and all other nations will follow along. This is highly doubtful in any case, but especially so when it comes to unstable nations run by irresponsible “leaders.” Unstable countries and their leaders pursue nuclear weapons because it serves their reckless ambitions and their narrow interests, as they see them. For them, nuclear weapons facilitate regional dominance, enhance their power and prestige, and, most importantly, immunize them from the threat of US or other great power intervention, providing a cloak for coercion or aggression. Under some circumstances that seem “right” to them, they might even use these weapons. A situation that could stimulate that use would be one in which the United States had disarmed or even removed our ICBM and SLBM forces from the prudent alert posture they now maintain. A second situation would be one where the United States questions or doubts the means by which we dissuade WMD proliferation, deter violence, and defend ourselves (“self-deterrence”).

Hopefully the compelling points made in the Defense Science Board report you reference will receive high-level attention within the DOD, DOE, and the Congress.

Maj. Gen. Tim McMahon,

USAF (Ret.)

Colorado Springs, Colo.

My view is that the reason nuclear, in particular, deterrence works is that it puts the leadership in mortal danger. Almost nothing else does as good a job as that. Combine your observations with the Congressional statement of purpose in Title 22 USC Section 2551 that includes “reduction and control of armaments looking toward ultimate world disarmament” (emphasis mine) and the graph on p. 10 [“The Chart Page: Entitlement Nation”] could have been predicted in 1961 when the US arms control and disarmament agency was created.

Richard D. Spalding

Orlando, Fla.

Bombers Over Korea

I appreciated the pictures of B-26s displayed in the article “Bombers Over Korea” in your February issue [p. 58]. I completed a tour in Korea flying my 50th mission in a B-26 of the 95th Bomb Squadron, 17th Bomb Wing, out of K-9 at Pusan about a week before the end of hostilities. At that time, the other two B-26 squadrons at K-9 were the 34th and 37th. There were also (I think) three squadrons of B-26s at Kunsan (K-8) which (again, I think, but am uncertain of) were assigned to the 3rd Bomb Wing. One of these (and I’m sure of this!) was the 13th or “Grim Reaper” Squadron.

Although you did not make a point of it in your article, it is apparent from the pictures that there were multiple configurations of B–26s. At K-9 we had hard nosed aircraft with four 50s in the nose, others with six, still others with eight. And there were also variations among the glass nosed planes, all of which used the Norden bombsight, but many of which carried Shoran sets in the compartment aft of the bomb bay. As to defensive guns, we had aircraft with no turrets (all Shoran equipped birds), others with an upper turret, others with a lower turret, still others (not many) with both.

A similar lack of standardization existed in the cockpits. All of the basic controls and instruments were pretty much in the same positions, but auxiliary items like gun controls, radios, and landing lights, were located in positions that sometimes seemed to lack serious thought about their placement. Following mission briefings, while I checked the bomb load, fuzing, and bombsight, my normally assigned pilot, Gary Wiersma, made it a practice to go sit in the cockpit of our assigned aircraft for a half-hour to familiarize himself with control item locations perhaps unique to that particular bird.

R.K. Markel

Corona, Calif.

I have ordered several copies of the [February issue] for the surviving four of our original 11 ex-B-29 Korean War combat crew mates, as a number of the B-29 photographs are 19th Bomb Group ships. We flew our combat tour in the second No Sweat. The original No Sweat—of the 28th Bomb Squadron—as pictured in your February 2007 issue, had been destroyed on the ground at an airfield in South Korea after having made an emergency landing there with battle damage incurred over North Korea in 1951. While there under repair, an F-51 Mustang fighter lost control on takeoff and crashed into and destroyed her. Our six-month combat tour (25 combat missions with 22 other formation training, search, and test hop flights for a total 47) was primarily in No Sweat II aircraft No. 44-70134 of the 93rd Bomb Squadron, 19th Bomb Group.

Bud Farrell

Tucson, Ariz.

Tanker Voices

“The 90-Year Tanker Saga,” February 2007 [p. 78], contains some misleading comments concerning the crash of the KB-50 at Takhli, Thailand, in October 1964. The aircraft did not crash on takeoff, the wings did not snap off, and the entire crew was not killed.

As a new first lieutenant navigator in the KB-50J, I was at Takhli in October 1964 and then went to Saigon on Oct. 5, 1964. I flew my last mission in the KB-50J on Oct. 10, 1964, so it was shortly after that that the aircraft crashed at Takhli.

As I recall the accident, the aircraft had departed Takhli for a combat refueling mission along the Thailand/Laos border. During climb out, the crew experienced a massive engine failure and fire. Normal emergency procedures failed to extinquish the fire, so the crew initiated a descent and return to Takhli. While returning to Takhli, the crew experienced a second engine failure and fire, which they were unable to extinquish. The aircraft was placed on autopilot and the crew bailed out at approximately 6,000 feet altitude. All crew members landed within one mile and were rescued shortly thereafter. The aircraft continued on autopilot and overflew Takhli in a normal attitude. Several squadron members witnessed the aircraft streaming fire and flying directly over the airbase. The aircraft struck the ground in a wing-level position but, unfortunately, in a small Thai village. Several Thai civilians were killed.

About two or three months prior to that accident, a KB-50 returning home to Yokota AB, Japan, from a refueling mission near Misawa AB, Japan, had two violent engine failures that resulted in fires that the crew was unable to extinguish with normal emergency procedures. The crew attempted to “blow out” the fires by diving the aircraft at a relatively higher speed. The tail section broke off causing the aircraft to pitch forward, the wing tips to break off just inboard of the jet engines, and the aircraft to impact a ridgeline in an “upside-down” position. Three crew members successfully bailed out and the rest were killed. Investigation of recovered aircraft parts revealed that severe corrosion caused the tail section to leave the aircraft.

The second accident in Thailand did result in the immediate grounding of all KB-50s and subsequent clearance for one-time flights to the boneyard in Tucson, Ariz.

Lt. Col. Mel Marvel,

USAF (Ret.)

Sacramento, Calif.

The unrelenting demands for refueling support, coupled with the growing cost of maintaining an aging tanker fleet that is in the twilight of its service life, dictates modernization begin now. I’m an old tanker driver who retired from the Air Force nearly 20 years ago. When I retired, the KC-135 re-engining program had been under way for nearly seven years and still wasn’t complete. And that doesn’t count the many prior years it took to recognize the need, select, and fund a re-engine program. We can’t afford to take as long acquiring and fielding a replacement for the KC-135 as the re-engining program took.

In the article, the author stated there were no tanker wings in SAC until 1988. SAC history shows there were at least five provisional air refueling wings dating back to the mid-50s. Permanent air refueling wings came into existence starting in 1964 with the 301st AREFW, Lockbourne AFB, Ohio; in 1970, the 305th AREFW, Grissom AFB, Ind.; in 1973, the 384th AREFW, McConnell AFB, Kan.; in 1982, the 22nd AREFW, March AFB, Calif.; in 1983 the 19th AREFW, Robins AFB, Ga.; in 1984, the 340th AREFW, Altus AFB, Okla.; in addition to several air refueling squadrons and groups that evolved into wings prior to 1988.

Lt. Col. Robert W. Burke,

USAF (Ret.)

Fort Worth, Tex.

Mr. Meilinger’s article is a good survey of the USAF air refueling story, and is unique in its mention of Alexander de Seversky’s role at the saga’s very beginning. For that alone it is very useful.

However, as the historian for the Tactical Tanker Association I would like to correct his depiction of the Air Force’s fighter aircraft refueling story. That tale begins in the late 1940s as the Air Force planned for the Cold War. It gained probe-and-drogue equipment and expertise from Britain’s Flight Refueling Ltd. and installed it on a few B-29s. SAC had acquired several fighter escort wings and needed this capability to enable them to perform their mission. The Korean War pushed the Air Force dramatically into the fighter refueling role, and several experiments were tried in-theater to extend combat radius and endurance over the target area. SAC deployed at least two of its fighter wings TDY to Japan in 1952, using its KB-29s (incidentally, fighters never used the looped-hose system). The way was open for fighter air refueling on a large scale.

The legendary tactical air general, Otto P. Weyland, was commander of Far East Air Forces at the time and quickly realized the enormous potential that fighter air refueling had. By the time he came to Tactical Air Command as its commander in [1954], he and the Air Staff were engaged in doctrinal discussions on what came to be known as the Composite Air Strike Force (CASF). This concept would enable TAC fighter and reconnaissance units to remain PCS in the US, instead of all be stationed in overseas theaters, and deploy as necessary to calm incipient crises or to bring to the fight, if necessary, tactical airpower quickly and effectively. This was especially important as tactical aircraft gained the use of nuclear weapons. Thus an entirely new tool was given to the President to cope with world crises.

Meanwhile SAC got out of the fighter escort business and ceded to TAC many of its KB-29s in two configurations, probe-and-drogue (good for the F-84G) and the flying boom (good for the F-84F). Using the KB-29s the Air Force began to get six refueling squadrons, one each in the Pacific and Europe and four in the continental US. However, with the century-series fighters entering the inventory, a better tanker was needed, and SAC’s surplus B-50 bombers were chosen. KB-50s with three refueling positions entered the inventory in 1956, and by 1958 all of them had been upgraded to KB-50J status with two J47 jet engines added under the wings. Thus TAC and the theater air forces had the refuelers they needed to cope with world war and any lesser crisis that might come along.

It was just in time. TAC had been practicing the CASF concept, and in 1958 it deployed two CASFs almost at the same time. Using air refueling and that other vital component of the rapid-deployment concept, airlift, TAC responded to the Lebanese crisis of July 1958 with a package of F-100s and reconnaissance aircraft sent to Turkey. Just two months later, TAC sent another CASF to the Western Pacific to cope with communist Chinese belligerence in the Taiwan Strait. For this heroic effort, that CASF was awarded the 1958 Mackay Trophy, an honor the refueling units made possible. TAC CASFs continued to be sent to crisis areas real and potential as directed by the President from then until the mid-1960s (Berlin, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Tonkin Gulf are just examples), and it all worked splendidly.

However, everyone knew that the KB-50 was just an interim solution. General LeMay as vice chief of staff in 1959 directed that SAC would become single manager of AF air refueling, and that the KC-135 was the aircraft to perform both strategic and tactical missions. SAC KC-135 units began training for the fighter refueling mission in 1961, and by early 1965 took it over. The whole process was planned in advance, the TAC and European-based squadrons phasing out beginning in 1963. The Pacific squadron, the 421st, was indeed grounded in 1964, as Mr. Meilinger states, but there were two accidents, not one, that spelled the earlier-than-planned end of the KB-50. One, off Japan in August 1964, killed seven and injured three on board, and another in Thailand in October killed 15 Thai villagers while all the aircrew escaped, only one being injured. The KB-50s were immediately grounded, but were eventually flown back to the US and their “retirement” to Davis-Monthan [AFB, Ariz.]. The KB-50 story is in fact summarized very well in your magazine (“Twilight of a Gallant Warrior,” April 1965).

The CASF concept went into hibernation with the huge commitments of tactical airpower we had to make in Southeast Asia. It could have been well used in the many non-SEA crises we had in that period. However, it surfaced again in the late 1980s and 1990s. Now the Air Force has evolved it into what is now known as the Air and Space Expeditionary Force concept, and makes the motto “Global Reach-Global Power” not just a slogan.

As you can see, it all began with us!

Lt. Col. John F. Bessette,

USAF (Ret.)

Springfield, Va.

An Operator’s Perspective

I found the article in the February 2007 issue, “Lavelle, Nixon, and the White House Tapes” [p. 86], about General Lavelle’s treatment very interesting. At the time, I was an AC-130 pilot by night and 16th Special Operations Squadron historian by day. There is at least one factual error in the article. While I can’t dispute whether any AC-130s took battle damage on Jan. 17, 1972 (p. 87), I can attest there was no loss of life that day. We did lose two aircraft in late March. One was struck by an SA-2 with all hands lost. The other was hit with AAA and thanks to the Jolly Greens, all crew members were rescued.

As the actual threat at the time was clearly building, we naturally welcomed the air strikes up north. During one mission over the Plain of Jars in February 1972, my aircraft was momentarily unescorted when a MiG was launched to intercept us. We received a warning and took evasive actions. Our escorts quickly left their tankers to chase the bandit, but the MiG got across the border into North Vietnam before the F-4s could engage.

Col. Charlie Seifert,

USAF (Ret.)

Fairfax, Va.

Entitlement Nation

[“The Chart Page: Entitlement Nation,” February, p. 10] was only partly revealing. In the first place, charting expenditures as a percent of GDP fails to disclose the absolute amounts, where Defense Department budgets are not exactly niggardly. Worse, though, is your implication that the proportionate growth of entitlements over defense is an unfavorable national priority. I might ask: What good is the strongest military in the world, with a budget greater than the rest of the world combined, if a large portion of the people who support that military are destitute, without medical care, unemployed, “and the like” (to use your words)? By now, no thinking person would seriously consider reducing our defense capability, and we can easily afford both defense and entitlements with a more rational tax policy such as we had in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s when defense was the greater portion of the two.

Howard F. Sosbee

Scotts Valley, Calif.

“The Chart Page,” by Tamar Mehuron, “Entitlement Nation,” in your February issue is misleading. It should have the entitlement line broken into two categories: earnings and benefits. An entitlement is defined in Webster’s as “a right granted by law or contract (especially a right to benefits).” In the case of Medicaid and welfare/aid payments, society (read government) has decided to give this right to those who have a nonexistent or low income and those who, because of low income status or no insurance, cannot pay for medical care. Conversely, Social Security and Medicare, as with military or civil service retirement, are entitlements earned through payment into a system or service to the country. Most DOD retirees will drink from all three of these entitlement troughs because they earned that right. By separating the entitlement categories, we would see that earned entitlements take a big bite out of the GDP because the baby boomers are cashing in (based on involuntary payments into Social Security and Medicare) during their retirement years. In truth, the paltry defense budgets we see today are a reflection of the popular belief that our nation is not really threatened, in the sense that WWII was a threat. We should not be too concerned about the entitlement portion of the graph. It will diminish because Social Security and Medicare cuts are coming soon, especially for those of us who don’t really need the money we paid in.

Lt. Col. Jim Beach,

USAF (Ret.)

Georgetown, Tex.

I realize Mehuron used a DOD/OMB chart that compared Defense Department spending to Payments to Individuals as a percentage of GDP to show Payments to Individuals rising much faster than Defense Department spending. However, as I thought about Payments to Individuals and how it was defined, it became apparent that population was a key variable/driver and not a constant. In fact, according to the GPO Economic Report of the President: 2005 Report Spreadsheet Tables, the US population went from 132 million in 1940 to 294 million in 2004. This equates to 1.2 percent population growth per year over the 64-year period. This omission was quite significant, I believe.

Brian D. Berry

Bellbrook, Ohio

**Mr. Sosbee missed the point of “The Chart Page.” It did not intend to show gross dollar amounts but rather—as it clearly stated—US “commitment to” or “emphasis on” various government efforts over a long period. For that purpose, percent of GDP is a perfectly valid measure. Colonel Beach offers a useful idea, though the law does not differentiate. Mr. Berry has a point. However, one must take into account not only a larger US population but also a much larger GDP. —the editors

Band-Aid Action

[Regarding the statement, “Medicare-eligible military retirees, as well as other Medicare patients, were spared possible tightening of access to physicians when Congress, in December, rescinded a provision of law that would have frozen doctor reimbursements at 2006 rates” in “Action in Congress: Medicare Doctor Rates,” February, p. 29]: The action actually froze the rates at the 2005 level since the same provision was rescinded a year earlier. I would call this “Band-Aid” action by Congress. Why doesn’t Congress rescind this provision once and for all? If the provision ever takes effect, many more doctors will drop out of Medicare and Tricare. The article went on to state “Medicare physician rates instead rose by 5.1 percent for 2007.” The rates did not rise by 5.1 percent, but would have dropped 5.1 percent. If the provision had not been rescinded, existing rates paid to doctors would have been reduced by 5.1 percent.

Lt. Col. Howard K. Smith,

USAF (Ret.)

Lexington, Va.

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