Three Generations of Blue

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

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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!

Katy

Under The Radar Giveaway

This contest has ended and we have winners! Yes, winners. The response exceeded my expectations so I’m giving away an ebook copy of Under the Radar to the second and third place names drawn by a random generator. I have emailed the winners so please check your spam folders. Happy reading!

Winner of the print book: Pat Widder

Winners of an ebook: Pierre Borlase & Diane (no last name)

*  *  *

If a click on the link in my newsletter brought you here, your name has now been entered to win a print copy of the first book in my latest series.

Please check back on Saturday April 8, 2017. I’ll be posting the name of the winner and will contact them by email.

Happy reading!

*If you are dropping in on this blog and reading this message and like to read thrillers (with adventure, exotic places, and a little romantic tension), sign up for my newsletter by clicking HERE and get the FREE ebook Repossessed.

 

Visit to the San Diego Zoo

My last clear memory of a visit to the San Diego zoo had been thirty years ago when my husband and I pushed my beloved, and adventurous, grandmother in a wheel chair up and down the hills of the rambling zoo. No buses (that I can remember) ran in those days inside the park. Since I was in San Diego for a writers’ convention a day early, a fellow author and I decided to check out the zoo again and see how it had changed.

Welcome to the San Diego Zoo

I will admit to sticker shock at seeing typical entertainment park prices, but the facilities, transportation, and animal conservation efforts made up for the price. The only drawback we discovered was not having a kid along to see the wonder in their eyes as they hunted out where the animals were “hiding” in their respective enclosures. Whether timing for feedings or weather for that day, a high percentage of the animals were easy to see and moving around.

A mellow-fellow (monkey).

A favorite was the small red panda which walked along a log perch and then shyly  climbed up a small eucalyptus tree into the foliage. His/her coat was a beautiful tawny red. The much larger black and white panda common in Asia (China) was napping belly up on a ledge behind a log in the next exhibit.

The red panda climbing around its enclosure and headed toward a favorite perch.

The red panda headed toward a favorite perch.

The African savannah and other range animals in the collection were numerous. The zoo is almost finished with a vast new range/display for them to roam which should open soon.

baby-giraffe

A curious baby giraffe.

Gazelles. This one happily munching and keeping a close eye on me.

Gazelles. This one happily munching and keeping a close eye on me.

 

african-elephant

African elephant with the larger ears.

For those curious about African versus Asian elephants, the zoo had both. The ears are the biggest difference between the two, but also the Asian elephant has two bumps on its head, smoother skin, and eats mainly grass (African elephants eat leaves).

Asian elephant with the small ears.

Asian elephant with the small ears.

As usual, the meerkats were active, wrestling with one another and ultimately posing for photos. Their endless energy and sentinel, upright stance on their hind legs, makes for great photos. Years ago while visiting South Africa, I had a chance to see these creatures at a wildlife reserve. Two had gotten inside the reserve manager’s house and were standing in the picture window looking out at us. Delightfully rambunctious creatures.

meercat1

Ever seen Meerkat Manor?

As the day wound down, we stopped by the Koalas. Native to Australia, they are delightful marsupials  to watch, and their cuddly expressions are priceless.

kuala-bear-1-copy

koala-2-copy

The day ended with the rhinos. While I’ve seen them in the wild, it was fun to have a close up look at their thick, armored hide.

I also used a rhino midden in my latest romantic thriller novel OFF THE CHART which takes place in South Africa and Zimbabwe. A rhino midden is a huge rut or depression where rhinos defecate. The dominate male uses it to also mark his dominance. These two rhinos looked like I felt after spending the entire sunny day walking around the zoo.

If you enjoy reading novels with thrills, adventure, and a touch of mystery and romance, check out my newest TAKING RISKS SERIES which includes the novels UNDER THE RADAR and OFF THE CHART. It takes place in Africa where my characters might well run into a few of these creatures. Thanks for stopping by. Comments  are appreciated.

A Military Wedding…A Stranger’s Surprise

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

Katy_JoshDancing

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.

Concrete Ships and California Beaches

Northern California Sea Cliffs along US 1.

Northern California Sea Cliffs along US 1.

While beaches, ships, and oceans fit well into the California landscape, the last thing I expected to find at Seacliff State Beach in Altos was a scuttled concrete oil tanker. Yes, you did read that correctly, the ship was made out of concrete, that heavy, friable, and not very tensile material.

The scuttled S.S. Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach

The scuttled S.S. Palo Alto at Seacliff State Beach

So that begs the question, why would anyone build a ship out of concrete and place it in an undulating, variable environment like an ocean? The answer is timing, need, and history. World War I depleted the ready supply of steel required for shipbuilding, so the San Francisco Shipbuilding Company located in Oakland, California took a radical approach to building ships. They based their designs around the building material common on dry land…concrete.

Starboard side of ship.

Starboard side of ship. Some structural remnants and ship fittings are still visible.

Port side. You can see the rebar (metal rods that give support to the concrete) on the sides of the ship.

Port side. Rebar (metal rods that give support to the concrete) show on the sides of the ship.

On May 29, 1919 they launched the oil tanker S.S. Palo Alto, also know as “The Cement Boat.” The launch turned out to be ill timed as WWI ended and no one wanted the ship. It was docked in Oakland for ten years until the Seacliff Amusement Company purchased the ship in 1929 and sailed it (maiden voyage) to Aptos, California. At Seacliff State Beach, it was scuttled near shore and a long pier was then built out to the ship. The company then transformed the oil tanker into an entertainment mecca with arcades, a dance hall, gambling area, a dining room, and swimming pool. Again, timing doomed the ship’s active life. The depression ran the company out of business, and eventually the S.S. Palo Alto was stripped of its contents and metal.

In 1932 a fierce winter storm cracked the concrete hull. The company eventually sold the ship to the state of California for a $1. Now you can walk the pier out to the end where the S.S. Palo Alto is parked.

The Seacliff Beach entrance to the pier where people fish and sight-see.

The Seacliff Beach entrance to the pier where people fish and sight-see.

For years, people fished off the ship hull until it deteriorated so badly the state finally closed it to people.

Gate at end of dock where it connects to the S.S. Palo Alto.

Gate at end of dock where it connects to the S.S. Palo Alto.

You can see from this photo, though, that it has taken on a new life as a haven for birds. In the case of the photo below, it is covered in cormorants that dive deep into the ocean for fish.

Cormorants dry off and socialize before diving again for their meals.

Cormorants dry off and socialize before diving again for their meals.

Historic photos of the ship grounding at Seacliff can be seen at: http://bit.ly/1NIWiC1.

The S.S. Palo Alto has a sister ship, the S.S. Peralta, also an oil tanker which was launched in 1921. Over the years, it served as a sardine cannery and now acts as a floating breakwater on the Powell River. For more information on the S.S. Palo Alto or other concrete ships, these links might be of interest:

http://www.concreteships.org/ships/ww1/paloalto/

http://www.concreteships.org/ships/ww1/peralta/

If you enjoyed this post, please consider signing up to follow my blog for its posts on varied topics dealing with travel and aviation. I also have a newsletter that goes out infrequently to keep my reading fans up to date on new releases or specials I run on my award-winning action-adventure thrillers, with humor and touches of romance. Please sign up and look through my Sandy Parks website.

Thanks for stopping by. Here’s one last photo showing the pier, part of the beach, and the ship.

The wide beach, pier, and S.S. Palo Alto at Altos, California.

The wide beach, pier, and S.S. Palo Alto at Altos, California.

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.