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

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



Meet the Military – Women in Aviation International Conference 2014

Women and men crowded into the 2014 Women in Aviation International 25th Conference. This international event gives pilots and aviation specialists the opportunity to interface with industry and meet those with similar careers and interests. Daughters of members also had their own day to visit and be introduced to the aviation field. Did you know only 6% of the pilots flying for airlines are women? Why? That’s a good question and one seriously being considered on many levels, but I can happily answer it is not for lack of talented, adventurous, intelligent women who want to fly, and the men I encountered at the convention were more than encouraging.  A Washington Times article mentions that the percentage of women flying in the military are 2% Air Force, 1% Marine Corps, 4% Navy, and there are 513 Army female helicopter pilots.

With a camera and limited time to meet, chat, and photograph attendees, I focused on pilots wearing a distinguishable type uniform…a military flight suit. While these Nomex (flame resistant) suits can look the same, they vary by the attached nametags and patches indicating the pilot’s service, command, and squadron.

Barely outside the registration door, I noticed a friendly United States Coast Guard group. They had white nametags with the familiar Coast Guard orange stripe across them. For more information on the aircraft they fly, check out these links about the MH-65 Dolphin Rescue helicopter, the T-6 Texan II, and the USCG C-130 “Hercules”. The Coast Guard pilots below come from Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii; Hitron-Jacksonville, Florida, and NAS Whiting Field Milton, Florida.

Left: LCDR Breanna Knutson USCG, MH-65 Dolphin pilot, LT Becki Fosha USCG, T-6 Instructor pilot, LTJG Staci Kronberg USCG, C-130 pilot, LCDR Ernie Gameng USCG, C-130 pilot & Avionics Upgrade Transition Team

Left: LCDR Breanna Knutson USCG, MH-65 Dolphin pilot;  LTJG Staci Kronberg USCG, C-130 pilot; LT Becki Fosha USCG, T-6 Instructor pilot; LCDR Ernie Gameng USCG, C-130 pilot & Avionics Upgrade Transition Team

The two pilots below were manning the Whirly Girls booth. LT Andrea Giuliano works in the United States Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron TWO FIVE, nick-named the “Island Knights.”  She flies the MH-60s and is transitioning to TH-57 (Bell 206) at the Heltraron Eight Squadron. The LT on the right flew MH-60s at HSC-25 squadron based at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and now flies TH-57 Sea Ranger in the “Eightballers” squadron at NAS Whiting Field, Milton, FL.  LT Giuliano passed along this photo taken in Guam of the MH-60 and fellow females in the squadron.

LCDR Andrea Giuliano and fellow LCDR

LT Andrea Giuliano (left) and fellow LT

Pilots from the Guam Squadron

Pilots from the Guam “Island Knights” Squadron

The Whirly Girls are “a support network for pilots and provide a variety of scholarships to women for helicopter training.” If Sarah and Andrea are an example of the members, then they are a supportive and friendly group. If interested in flying helicopters or making contacts, check the organization out at Whirly Girls.

MAJ Laura Nealon, U2 pilot/ T-38 Evaluator/U2 Instructor and MAJ Sarah Eccles, U2 pilot

MAJ Laura Nealon, U2 pilot/ T-38 Evaluator/U2 Instructor and MAJ Sarah Eccles, U2 pilot

The next stop was by the 99s booth (an organization of women pilots which promotes the advancement of aviation) where I met 99s and Air Force MAJs Sarah Eccles and Laura Nealon (pictured above). They fly the U2 Dragon Lady, a high altitude reconnaissance aircraft. Both said they love their job and the unique aircraft. The U2 is the only current aircraft in the Air Force inventory that requires the wearing of a pressure suit when flying. For pilots who like a challenge, the U2 has “bicycle” gear and a support vehicle to assist in landings. Check out this Photo Gallery that shows many aspects related to flying the U2. Below is a closer look at their unit patch.

U2 Dragon Lady Patch

U2 Dragon Lady Patch

Also at the 99s booth, I met the current president Martha Phillips from the Ventura County chapter. She convinced me to join the 99s at last years convention by promising me members could use the 99s hut at the Sun-N-Fun fly-in to cool off and use the restroom. Needless to say, it was an easy sell. For more information on the Ninety-Nines formed back in 1929, check out their website.


Sandy Parks, Spaceport 99s and President Martha Phillips, Ventura County 99s

Nagin Cox, an engineer at NASA JPL Propulsion Lab, gave several presentations at WAI. This one called “Hitting the Road on Mars” talked about the Curiosity rover. The vehicle, about the size of a Mini-Cooper, is two times larger than Mars rovers Opportunity or Spirit. A few interesting things from her talk were; she has her watch set to Mars time, we go to Mars every 26 months (closest window), and the biggest challenge we’ve had with Mars is how to look for life? The search helped to create the new field of Astrobiology.


Nagin Cox – Presentation “Hitting the Road on Mars”

Dr. Kate Landdeck, a historian who has researched women pilots in the military, gave a presentation about the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). These women took over ferrying aircraft during World War II, when there was a shortage of male pilots in the US. Many believed women weren’t up to the task, but their numbers that made it through pilot training were equivalent to those of the males, and their accomplishments confirmed their success. After the war, the government played down their involvement (pretended they had never existed). Finally in the 1970s, they began to get attention and in 2010 they received Congressional Gold Medals. They had a float dedicated to them in the 2014 Rose Bowl Parade.

WASP signing books and booklets about their history.

WASP Bee, Millie, and Dawn signing books and booklets about their history for a younger generation of pilots.

WASP signing after history presentation.

WASP signing after history presentation with four of the attending WASP.

The old guard with the new.

The old guard with the new. Maj Ruth Meloeny, USAF Reserves C-17 Airdrop Instructor Pilot with WASP Dawn.

WASP Florence

WASP Florence

Hat with pins from WASP events.

Hat with pins from WASP events.

If you’re interested in learning a little more about the 99s, WAI, WASP, or flying opportunities for women in the military, make sure to click some of the links in this blog.

Blue skies,


2014 Wings of Blue Parachute Team Promo Video

Fresh off the presses for 2014 is the latest promo video of the Wings of Blue. They are United States Air Force Academy cadets and staff from the 98th FTS. Drop in on a USAFA football game or one of the many venues they perform at throughout the year. Are they talented and do they share their knowledge and experience? You bet. Wings of Blue conducts around nineteen thousand jumps per year. For more info check out the Wings of Blue website.

USAFA Wings of Blue

USAFA Wings of Blue



The Case of the Mysterious Biplane

My husband has a new hobby– uncovering the family history. A few weeks ago a distant cousin came up with a photo of two relatives standing in front of a biplane. We knew their names and that they were from the Atlanta area. The young gentleman held a stylish straw hat with the ribbon band popular in the late twenties and early thirties.

The Mysterious Biplane Family Photo

The Mysterious Biplane Family Photo

Being a family full of pilots, we had to discover something about the plane behind them. So I posted it on Facebook, friends started passing it around (thanks to you all), and the guesses started coming in. Each time someone proposed a possible plane (Sopwith Camel (supposedly offered in jest), Travel Air, Waco, Stearman), I spent time on-line looking it up. However, biplanes are a true weakness in our household repertoire and I failed to get any kind of match.

This weekend I attended a 99s meeting (women pilot’s organization). While there I mentioned to Bobbi Lasher about the biplane mystery. Without a second thought, she said send it her way. So I did, expecting another wait and round of guessing. Never underestimate a 99. She sent the photo out to over 170 aviation friends and information started coming in almost immediately. Would these new guesses to the plane’s identity match up with the facts concerning the young couple?

Dick Peiffer, from the Melbourne Area Pilots Association, in particular mentioned taking a close-up look at the aircraft and seeing lettering on it beside the couple. He was pretty sure it said “MAIL.” I took the photo and did my best to enhance that area. Below is the photo showing my efforts where the writing and symbol on the side can now be seen more clearly. But still, I wasn’t sure of the plane’s identity.

Photo enhanced picture after Dick Peiffer suggested he could read something on the aircraft.

Photo enhanced picture after Dick Peiffer suggested he could read MAIL on the aircraft.


Close-up of symbol and writing on side of aircraft.

Wayne Eleazer, an Air Force Lt. Col who retired after 25 years of active duty, came in with the first identification. Here’s what he had to say:

“My first thought was that it was a Pitcairn, since they have characteristic sleek and small rear fuselages and hefty fronts. And looking in the Juptner book (Reference: U.S. Civil Aircraft Series, by Joseph Juptner, Vol 1, P.228) at Pitcairns, I found that there is an “airfoil” symbol visible below the cockpit of one of the pictures of a Mailwing. The Juptner book has a couple of pieces on the Mailwing, one for each of ATC number assigned each version. That seemed to confirm it.”

This upclose look at the Pitcairn Mailwing symbol from Wikipedeia and attributed to Photographer FlugKerl2, 25 July 2011, is from a PA-7s Mailwing. This one appears to be sport configuration with Mail paint scheme.

This up close look at the Pitcairn Mailwing symbol from Wikipedeia and attributed to Photographer FlugKerl2, 25 July 2011, is from a PA-7 Mailwing. This one appears to be sport configuration with Mail paint scheme.

“The aircraft appears to be a Pitcairn Super Sport Mailwing, PA-6, which was the Mailwing mail carrying aircraft modified for passenger use. Normally that big hole in front of the cockpit would be for carrying mail or in the case of the Super Sport, a covered compartment for up to two passengers. The type certificate ATC #92 for the PA-6 was issued in December of 1928 and the revised type certificate for the Super Sport was issued in April of 1929.”

Wayne also mentioned he thought the aircraft may have been modified for airshow use. I’m guessing his reasoning came from the tall pole-like object seen sticking up behind the cockpit. [Update: Wayne later checked with his radio expert friends, who believe the tall object/pole is an antenna.] To help see the Pitcairn symbol being discussed, I added the detailing in yellow to highlight the areas from two photos above.

Overlay indicating the writing and Pitcairn symbol on aircraft.

Overlay indicating the writing and Pitcairn symbol on aircraft.

Aviation friend and pilot Bill Weiler also sent a long list of resources to check out which I’ll post at the end of the blog and he had this to say about the family photo:

“Absolutely a Pitcairn, but not totally sure of the exact model. A few confirming details are the logo markings, though faded on the subject aircraft, the elevator control wire location coming up from below, the shape of the pilot’s cockpit cut out, the windscreen, the longeron locations coming from the tail to the turtle deck behind the pilot, the bell crank location on the full span aileron, and the length and shape of the forward cockpit appears it’s a modified mail plane rather than a sport version. My guess is it’s an early PA-6 or very late PA-5 because of the lack of an engine cowling and the apparent extended fuselage.”

“Here’s a good PA-5 picture.”

“They claimed the PA-7 was the first 3 passenger, but it looks like when they created the cut out from the mail plane version there was enough room for 2 – and I’m sure no one worried about seat belts and gross weight. It does not appear to have a front windscreen like this PA-7 does.”

***So with all this good information about it being a Pitcairn, does it fit the family scenario?***

Remember back at the beginning I mentioned we believe the photo was taken in the Atlanta area? Would there have been any Pitcairn Mailwing aircraft in the region? My answer comes from Wikipedia so take it as you will. It all starts with FLORIDA AIRWAYS that Eddie Rickenbacker helped start in Florida in 1923. The airline flew to Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami. Florida Airways was the first to carry Commercial Air Mail (CAM) and eventually expanded the mail route to Atalanta in 1926. There could even be the initials C.A.M. under the word MAIL in the family photo, but it is impossible to see it.

Yea! Now we have an Atlanta connection. However, the planes they were flying were Stout 2AT’s like those pictured below.

This photo is of Ford's Stout 2AT's now in the Florida Photographic Collection

This photo is of Ford’s Stout 2AT’s (from the Florida Photographic Collection). Taken June 1926.

To expand the routes and stay in business, the airline needed to fly to Cuba. Pan American Airways beat them to exclusive rights. This was the demise of Florida Airways which was bought out by Harold Pitcairn (later to become Eastern Airlines). Pitcairn had the mail contract between New York City and Atlanta, Georgia flying the Pitcairn Mailwing biplane. Again this fits with the family being in Atlanta. Pitcairn was bought out in 1929 by the company that eventually became Eastern Airlines. That would place our photo likely before 1929 (before the logo would have picked up Eastern Air Transport and be painted on the Mailwing). This photo of a Pitcairn PA-5 in the Air and Space Museum shows that newer logo.

Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing in Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C. Photo by Parks 2015

Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing in Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C. Photo by Parks 2015

Close-up of PA-5 in Air and Space Museum.

Close-up of PA-5 in Air and Space Museum.

I certainly learned something about Florida’s involvement in the early air mail service along with tying in part of my hubby’s extended family history. Thanks to everyone who pitched in with information and links. If you’re interested in seeing more photos of Mailwings or further extending your knowledge, here’s a list of additional links.

Thanks for stopping by.

Some more good links from Bill Weiler:

Wikipedia Pitcairn_Aircraft



Elizabeth Pitcairn USplane PA-7

Airminded Photos and Specs

Wikipedia Pitcairn Mailwing

Interesting that Steve McQueen owned a PA-8.