Midway Island Recollection

Midway Atoll (Photo USFWS)

INTRODUCTION: A while ago, my dad and I were looking through his flying and military photos, when he sent me an email:

Seeing the “Old Gooney Bird” reminds me that I flew one of these aircraft from Miami, Florida across the Pacific to Vietnam. The trip segment from the West Coast to Honolulu had us in the air for 18 straight hours traveling at 130 MPH. It seemed like we would never get there.

C-47 in Vietnam (Photo Bill Moffett)

After Hawaii, we went to Midway Island, where we observed the real Gooney Birds nesting all over the island. We also endured a mighty thunderstorm that had been predicted by the clairvoyant Jean Dixon to sink the island on that date. Obviously, she was wrong!

We then flew to Wake Island, Guam, and on to the Philippines before flying into Vietnam. The total trip took 75 hours of flying time and 20 total days. I got to know the “Old Bird”, C-47, pretty well in that time. The over 400 combat sorties I flew in that year in Vietnam proved to me that the “Gooney Bird” was one of the great all-time aircraft.

This led us to talk about current events relating to Midway Island, and his desire to document his memories. Thank you, Dad, for contributing this recollection to True Airspeed Blog.

January 2020 – Guest Blogger Bill Moffett


Recent ads have been touting a new movie about the WWII battle at Midway Island. Where is Midway and what is it like? I had the opportunity to spend some time there in 1967 and I thought it might be interesting to tell you about it. I was ferrying an old DC-3 aircraft, also known as a “Gooney Bird”, across the Pacific to Vietnam. Midway was one of our stops. We left Honolulu and after about 8 hours of flying westward, we arrived at Midway.

Out in the middle of nowhere is a pretty accurate description of the location of Midway Island. (Google Maps screenshot.)

Midway island was not much to see when we got there. Actually, it is a couple of islands about 1/4 mile apart and neither big enough that you couldn’t walk around it in less than an hour. The setting was quite pretty with lots of white sand beaches and an airfield, with some hangers, and buildings on the larger of the two islands.

There were numerous trees and gnarled cypress around the buildings, and a small wharf with a USN destroyer docked against it. Much to everyone’s relief, there was a mess hall and club for us to use. This, we found out, might be important as we were informed that there was a weather front between Midway and our next destination, Wake Island. The best estimate was that it probably would be at least two days before we could proceed.

USN ship at dock in Midway 1967. (Photo Bill Moffett)

As you might guess, there was not a lot of entertainment available for us to help pass the time. However, nature did its best and provided a spectacular sight for us to watch. Each winter, giant birds, Albatross or Gooney Birds, as they are called, come to Midway to nest and hatch their young. They turned out to be the absolute best show we could ever hope to watch.

They are big, up to 5 ft. in wingspan, beautiful and graceful inflight. On land, they are awkward, clumsy, and each full of personality. They are hatched at Midway and after about 3 months they go to sea and live at sea for about 5 years at which time they return to Midway, mated for life, and are ready to nest and raise their young.

Laysan albatross with chick. 
(Photo by James Lloyd https://pbase.com/freespirit/laysan_albatross)
Laysan albatross with chick.
(Photo by James Lloyd https://pbase.com/freespirit/laysan_albatross)

After being at sea for so long, they have forgotten how to use their feet and frequently land without putting their “gear” down. It is not unusual to see birds tumbling head over heels just trying to get down. They have no knowledge what a nest should look like or where to put it, thus there are birds sitting on eggs in the middle of the streets, on sidewalks, on stairs, on roofs or any other place they can scrape two or three sticks together and call it a nest.

The birds come ashore mated for life and it was observed that one of the pair will sit on the nest while the other goes to sea for food. Should something happen to the mate that went to hunt, the other bird will stay on the nest until it falls over dead.

A Gooney Bird has a long-hooked beak and seems to be in a constant state of squawking. You can imagine the noise of thousands of birds squawking all the time. The best show comes when a bird is ready to fly. They are like an airplane and require a good bit of runway to get into the air. This can often be greater than 50 yards long, depending on the wind. Before attempting a takeoff, each bird will walk the full length of his runway, stop and talk to all the other birds along the way, strut and make sure that they announce to every other bird within sight that they are going to take off and everyone should watch.

The takeoff begins with lots of practice wing flapping to get warmed up, and finally incorporating leg movement to start the run. Wings flap, feet flap, and the beak squawks. After about 25 yards, the bird lifts off enough to pick up its feet but stays in ground effect to try and gain enough speed to pull up and clear the trees. Unfortunately, as many times as not, the take-off has to be aborted because the bird didn’t get airborne soon enough to clear the trees or other obstacles. This results in a headfirst tumbling roll with no use of feet and a very clumsy stop and attempt to get back up.

Laysan Albatross landing on water. (Photo by USFWS)

There were numerous birds that didn’t make it, caught in tree branches or v notches in the trees. After a crash the bird usually walks back the length of the runway and explains to all those watching, just exactly what went wrong. Pretty soon he can be seen and heard, announcing another try.

Some of the nests contained newly hatched chicks all of them hollering for a meal. Vehicle traffic is at a standstill as the few streets are covered with nests. Nests are usually sited about every two or three feet apart.

We did have one matter that caused us all some concern. The famous clairvoyant, Jean Dixon, (she predicted JFK’s assassination, among many other famous events), had made a prediction that Midway Island was going to sink into the Ocean and her predicted date was to occur while we sat and waited. Needless to say, we were all a little nervous about this especially when on the evening of the predicted date, a big storm came up and pelted the island with wind and rain.

At about 10 pm the station emergency siren went off and the Island lost all electrical power. Talk about a helpless feeling. There was nothing we could do and no place to go. Fortunately, the Navy got the siren turned off and the electrical power back on, and by the next morning we were all still sitting on dry land. Phew! Even the weather had cleared, so we packed up and headed to Wake Island.

But that is another tale. Bill

We’d love to hear your comments or your own recollections!

The day B-24 Liberator “White Y” didn’t come home

Tens crews launched their B-24 Liberators into the dark, cold morning air on March 14, 1945 from Pantanella field in Italy. Copilot Lt. William Bradley flew next to Lt. Martz, who commanded the aircraft as they headed to bomb the Marshaling Yard at Nove Zamky, Hungary. Their crew of twelve included two navigators, a radar nav, bombardier, engineer, radio operator, and four gunners. The overall mission was deemed a success, but the only man to survive on Martz’s crew had a dramatic tale to tell.

The crew of Martz (pilot) and Bradley (co-pilot)

Memorial Day, where we remember those who have died in battle, seemed an appropriate time to tell a story about a distant Parks relative, Lt. William Bradley, who died in World War II. My husband had become particularly interested in him (a cousin once removed) after he discovered William and his brother were fellow Georgia Tech yellow jackets. The oldest brother graduated in 1941, and William entered that year as a freshman. William left college two years later in 1943, as many young men did, to go to war.

He was commissioned a 2LT in the Army Air Corp in 1943 and assigned to the 781st Bomb Squadron, 465 Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, flying B-24 Liberators. The the unit trained at McCook field Nebraska and operated until the war in Europe ended in 1945.

The only man to survive William Bradley’s last flight was engineer, T/Sgt. Beeson, who told his story about the fateful flight. Today that story and many others are printed in a booklet of the unit’s history published by the 781st Bomb Squadron Association. Below is an abbreviated version of that event told by Beeson in 1987.

The bombing run to the marshaling yard was not different than many others. The flak, while not as heavy as they’d encountered before, had pegged the formation’s location. The crew successfully unloaded their bombs over the target and were preparing to turn and head home. The tail gunner reported flak following their line of flight, bursting closer and closer.

B-24 Liberator over Ploesti oil fields, Romania 1943

An explosion shook their craft. Fire burst on the pilot’s side as flak came up from underneath his seat. A single glance revealed Martz had died. The last thing Beeson saw on the flight deck as he hit the bailout alarm was Lt. Bradley attempting to control the damaged aircraft. Beeson grabbed his chute and dropped into the bomb bay where the bombardier joined him with chute in hand. The plane lurched, and Beeson fell out, facing up where he could see the plane above going around and around. He never saw where it crashed. Other aircraft reported three or four chutes leaving the plane, but the unfriendly Hungarians below with their town in flames likely left them no chance for survival. Beeson lived to tell the tale because he was “rescued” from the villagers’ hands by a German soldier.

So many people have died in WWII and other wars our nation has fought. I appreciate their sacrifice to allow my friends and family to live in this great country.

Three Generations of Blue

Welcome again to guest blogger (and niece) Katy. Her stories of flying and life in the military are inspiring. Enjoy!


Hello again!

Flying is the family business. First, it was my Grandfathers’ business, with my patient & loving Grandmothers trailing along keeping everything going at home. Both of my grandfathers, Willie B. Craig, & William F. Moffett, went through pilot training in the 1950’s along with thousands of other men. My dad told me once that my grandfather was the top of his pilot training class–of a thousand! (No pressure or anything). My Mom’s Dad went from being enlisted to becoming an Aviation Cadet. They had to live in barracks and tents while going through pilot training! If I’m ever feeling scared or shocked at something the Air Force has asked me to do, or something that’s happened, I call my Grandpa. His response is usually something along the lines of. “That’s nothing, let me tell you about this one time.” And believe me, he’s always right.

This is only part of my flying family. L-R: Uncle Scott, Grandpa, me, and Dad.

For example, I went on my first overseas combat mission with only 9 hours in the C-17. Most of the initial qualification training is in the simulator, and the simulator is really good. But for someone who had only set foot on a C-17 a handful of times, the prospect seemed daunting. When I told my grandfather, he chuckled wisely, in the way that Colonel Moffett of the old Strategic Air Command days only can. “That’s nothing,” he said, and proceeded to tell me the story of how his checkride in an airplane was the first time he’d set foot in it.

My first mission as an Aircraft Commander of the C-17. We were doing a Joint NATO Med-evac exercise with a british helicopter unit in England. I’m just supervising, making sure no one gets close enough to hit the plane.

According to my Grandpa, the instructor gave him the manual the night before, and he and another pilot did a co-checkride in the plane. He did the takeoff, the other guy did the landing. The next day, the squadron put him on a mission to fly the aircraft across the ocean to Hawaii to preposition it for Vietnam. Upon arriving, my grandfather noticed that the flight orders had a Lt Col flying with him, and he felt relieved. “Hopefully this guy knows how to fly the damn airplane!” He thought. Turns out, the Lt Col hadn’t flown a single hour in the plane, and had the same dashed hope! Together, they had to navigate across the ocean in an airplane they’d never landed before to a base they’d never been to.

It gives new meaning to the phrase “back when it was hard”. I didn’t feel so bad after he told me that story.

In the second generation, it was my Dad’s business.  My father was a navigator in the FB-111, and has a brain for conceptual strategy like I have never seen. We don’t play monopoly with my dad. And most other board games we only play if he’s at some kind of obvious disadvantage, like never having played the game before. It doesn’t always help. My Dad was one of the brightest young navigators in his day, and his team won the AF-wide “bombs on target” competition back in SAC.  These days, he quietly retired from his second career in Security, plays golf, and edits my Aunts’ books for military correctness. I call him if I don’t know what to do in any situation, and he literally always has the best advice, even if isn’t what I want to hear.

And then there’s me: I’m technically too short to be an Air Force pilot. I needed a waiver for a quarter of an inch (5’3 ¾”, instead of 5’4″). Apparently, “big AF” hasn’t figured out how much fuel they save per pound less I weigh than your standard six-foot tall guy pilot, or else they’d be handing out a LOT more waivers.  I’m definitely not what most people expect from an “Air Force Pilot”, with a capital “P”. Once, two years ago, one of my loadmasters posted a picture of me in the C-17 cockpit. One of his family members commented something along the lines of, “How nice of you to show a child around the cockpit of the C-17”.  I didn’t take offense, the photo is a close-up, but it isn’t the first time someone’s said something along those lines to me over the course of six years flying.

In the meantime,  these days I fly every day, most days twice a day, “around the flagpole” with brand-new pilot trainees. I try to laugh a lot in the airplane with students, and most days I taxi in with a smile on my face. I’ve got a great job, and I only fly when the weather is good and I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep.

The family business is a pretty great one.

Greetings from the air!

The following is the first in a series of guest blog posts written by my niece, Katy, who flies as an Air Force instructor pilot.

Hello World!

Some of you may know me from Sandy’s previous blog posts–specifically about my husband and I’s wedding back in 2015, or my pilot training graduation back in 2013. My husband, Josh, and I are both Air Force pilots who met during pilot training in 2011 and have been inseparable since. Over the years, we’ve had some pretty unique experiences that I’d love to share with you.  It’s funny, when you do something everyday, you lose track of how spectacular and unique certain things are until you reflect on them later. I just hope that my crazy life brings you some enjoyment–or maybe a little belief and trust in the strength and love that my family has for what we do to serve our country.

Oh yeah, and some sweet airplane pictures!


More to come — including how many times Josh and I have been able to fly together, my most memorable flights, and the story of how Josh and I by chance were able to fly a refueling mission with each other. Not sure how many married couples can say they’ve flown two mult-million dollar airplanes through the sky physically connected at 305 mph (265 knots).

As always, thanks for reading, and fly safe!


A Military Wedding…A Stranger’s Surprise

A military wedding…and an act of kindness by a stranger to thank them for their service.


Bride and groom (in a mess dress party shirt) dancing.

Twin Cove

One of the sidewalks leading to the marina.

Our niece is an United States Air Force pilot and her new husband flies for the National Guard. They had an evening wedding reception at Twin Cove Resort in Tennessee over the weekend. To get to the reception held at the marina, which actually floats on the lake, we followed a steep, winding sidewalk down to a ramp. Our group included a person on crutches, one with a cane, numerous young children, grandparents, and great aunts and uncles.

Few if any lights edged the sidewalk, but on the way there, the sun was just setting and no one really noticed. However, late in the evening as I left with my military son and his fiancee, we discovered the sidewalks in all directions back to the lodges were lit with wonderful luminaries. We even checked them out to see how they were made, and gave kudos to the groom’s family for creating the lovely spectacle.

Luminary 1

Shine on. An act of kindness…a light of support.

 The next morning, however, we heard that the groom’s family was just as pleasantly surprised as we were. Evidently a woman who lived in one of the units nearby had heard a military couple was getting married and she wanted to express her support.

This act of kindness from a stranger touched us all, considering the number of military, both active duty and retired, who are in both the bride and groom’s families. My other son, unable to be in attendance because of a deployment, even Skyped that afternoon to catch the gathered family. The attached photo is not one of her luminaries because I sadly didn’t take a photo, and the one bag I’ve recreated cannot account for the fifty (or more) sand-filled and votive lit luminaries escorting us safely to our rooms or vehicles. Kudos and thanks to the mystery person who did this act of kindness and support. What a nice way to say you appreciate what the bride and groom do to ensure our freedom. Thanks from the bottom of all our hearts. Happy Veterans Day to the men and women of the armed forces.

ARIA: The Unusual Aircraft Spawned by the Apollo Mission

In the 1960s, the US launched (pun intended) into a new frontier…space and the race for the moon. The US discovered that in order to achieve this lofty goal, it required a premier agency to oversee the program, thus the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created. NASA quickly noticed a need to acquire launch tracking and telemetry data in hard to reach locations around the world. Thus a military program/aircraft was built called the ARIA.

Apollo/Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft The nose held a small, steerable satellite dish.

Apollo/Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft
The nose held a small, steerable satellite dish. This plane is pictured at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

The ARIA (Apollo/Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft) mission collected telemetry data during launches in locations where signals would be lost by lack of ground stations (particularly over the oceans). Why does that matter? Believe it or not, space, even around measly little old Earth, is a big place. When NASA launches into space, it does so along a particular trajectory. If the craft deviates for any reason, then it will enter space on a slightly different path and could easily become “lost in space” (ie. the telemetry tells NASA what orbit the vehicle is in).

Mission requirements caused the deployment of personnel around the world. Sometimes this took the plane to a small island in the middle of an ocean with a less than nominal (read dangerous/difficult/no alternate landing site) runway. Other times, the planes landed in paradise. Below are listed a few of the sites and what led to the design of a fun logo “ARIA World Tours” seen in the photo below.

ARIA program stickers

ARIA program stickers

Deployments (a few from a long list):

  • Easter Island
  • Thule, Greenland
  • Guam
  • Tahiti
  • Recife, Brazil
  • Saipan
  • Sidney, Australia
  • Singapore
  • Capetown, South Africa
  • Cold Lake, Canada
  • Dakar, Senegal
  • Ascension Island
  • [David J Dunn, ARIA Mission Coordinator (1967-1972) suggested I add the following:]
  • Puerto Rico
  • Trinidad
  • Surinam
  • Liberia
  • Johannesberg
  • Mauritius
  • Cocos (Keeling Island)
  • Darwin, AU
  • Perth, AU
  • Townsville, AU
  • Wake Island
  • Hawaii
  • Bermuda

Also lost over time is the meaning behind “AGAR,” the call sign used for the aircraft. If anyone knows when or how the name AGAR came about (it was used first at Patrick AFB and carried forth), please let me know so I can pass it along.

At a recent union for those involved in the ARIA mission, my husband and I toured the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. In a corner behind a huge rocket engine nozzle, we found this note about the mission: “A system of 14 ground stations, 5 instrumented ships, and 8 aircraft made up the Manned Spaceflight Network in 1969. The network provided data for tracking and communicating with Apollo 11. Look closely for the plane’s large round nose, which housed tracking instruments.”

Blurb about the ARIA mission at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, DC.

Blurb about the ARIA mission at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, DC.

The original ARIA aircraft were built on the Boeing C-135A frame and designated EC-135As. Later they were augmented by used Boeing 707 aircraft and were called EC-18s. They flew missions from 1968-2001 from the following locations.

  • Patrick Air Force Base, Florida             1968-1975
  • Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio 1975-1994
  • Edwards Air Force Base, California       1994-2001

People who lived in Melbourne, Florida or Dayton, Ohio or Lancaster, California might remember seeing these odd aircraft.

ARIA Wright-Patterson Squadron located at Dayton, Ohio

ARIA Wright-Patterson Squadron located at Dayton, Ohio 1980s

So why did their mission end after 2001? ARIA’s replacement, a new satellite named TDRS (pronounced TeeDRiS), arrived in space. The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, was built by TRW corporation and is now in its fourth generation. A first generation satellite example hangs in the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport. I snapped the photo below there last month. It makes me wonder if ARIA covered the launch of its replacement.

TDRS - First generation satellite in Smithsonian Steven R. Udvar-Hazy Center, Virginia. Photo by Parks

For more information about the ARIA, check out the following: ARIA video and website. Also check out David Dunn’s blog for a great story about ARIA being the first to receive contact from Apollo 13 after it survived re-entry and was the link for their communications between Houston and the spacecraft.

Please be sure to leave comments or share a story or provide further information about the ARIA. Thanks for stopping by.