Reading the Mars Parachute Code

By Scott Spangler on June 14th, 2021 | What do you think? »

Every color used in the construction of a parachute has a purpose. On some, it satisfies the owner’s aesthetic. For others, it is advertising. In the military, the color serves a specific requirement for visibility, or the lack of it. And then there’s the seemingly haphazard arrangement of orange and white panels on the parachute that slowed the descent of NASA’s Perseverance rover as it plummeted toward the surface of Mars. It was unique, so there had to be some reason for it, and finding out what it was consumed my free moments.

Anyone who thinks engineers are the antithesis of fun need only look at this chute. The New York Times reported that Allen Chen, the engineer in charge of the rover’s landing system, said during a post-landing news conference that “Sometimes we leave messages in our work for others to find for that purpose, so we invite you all to give it a shot and show your work.” The article, “NASA Sent a Secret Message to Mars. Meet the People Who Decoded It,” introduced the people on Earth who immediately tackled the challenge.”

My guess is that all of them have seen The Martian, the addictive Matt Damon film, or read Andy Weir’s book for which it was named and so closely hews. But the oddly arranged panels of orange and while did more than spell out “Dare Mighty Things” in binary code. (Here is NASA’s decoder ring, with an explanation in “STEM Learning: Mars Perseverance Parachute Coding Activity.”)

Embedding the message was a bonus benefit devised by parachute system engineer Ian Clark, who also worked on the slow-down system for the preceding Curiosity rover. Evaluating the high-speed video of a high-altitude test failure of a prototype design, Dr. Clark found the chute’s checkerboard pattern complicated the analysis of how the fabric unfurled and inflated. Knowing that Perseverance would live-stream its descent to Mars, he got approval for a distinct pattern that would simplify post-flight evaluation.

Each of the 80 gores that made up the 70-foot chute is composed of four panels, 320 pieces of fabric that can be a different color, but he stuck with the two colors used on previous extra terrestrial parachutes because the fabric dyes had proved successful. It makes sense that jeopardizing a $2.7 billion mission to Mars by introducing a new color, no matter how aesthetically pleasing, would surely be a career limiting move for everyone in that approval chain.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Review: YouTube’s Ward Carroll, F-14 RIO

By Scott Spangler on May 31st, 2021 | What do you think? »

A pandemic addiction to YouTube has delivered consistently interesting, entertaining, and educational interludes when its selection algorithm introduced me to Ward Carroll, a retired naval flight officer who spent most of his career as a radar intercept officer, aka RIO, in the F-14 Tomcat.

Based on my past searches and binges, YouTube’s algorithm served up “21 Cringeworthy Errors in the Movie TOP GUN.” This film sustained me during my recovery from Hepatitis A in 1987. Having worn out my VHS copy that summer, I’d noticed a few errors, and I was curious to learn what I missed, and I had 9 minutes and 35 seconds to spare.

It was a worthwhile investment of time, and I subscribed to Carroll’s channel when the episode concluded. I won’t spoil, but I will tease. What hooked me was his conversational finite detail. Only someone intimately familiar with the F-14 would know the dimensions of the Tomcat’s vertical stabilizers and that they would have tangled with the fuselage of the “MiG” in the famous inverted dive scene where Maverick “communicated” with the bogey’s pilot.

Intrigued by its title, I cued up “The REAL Truth About Kara Hultgreen’s F-14 Tomcat Mishap.” In the same conversational style I learned about that the F-14A was prone to compressor stalls and how that affected the Tomcat aerodynamically. But what got me to ring his channel’s notification bell was a discussion and display of the BOLDFACE recovery steps that aviators must memorize because these NATOPS procedures “are written in blood.”

For those unfamiliar, NATOPS is the Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization, the Navy’s aircraft specific general flight and operation instructions. Safety seems to be a consistent theme in many of his episodes, and this made sense when explaining “RIO Responsibilities” using examples from his career. It turns out he did a tour as editor of Approach, “The Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Safety Magazine.”

Having interacted with a number of aviators during my six years’ service in the Navy, I respected their abilities, but I have new respect for RIOs and their successors, WSOs (weapon systems operators, pronounced “whizz-oh”) after Carroll expanded my knowledge and understanding of their duties and responsibilities. And he’s earned my respect and admiration for not spewing an endless stream of Mil-speak and aviation jargon.

But I guess that’s not surprising, given that Carroll is also a novelist published by the Naval Institute Press. (The Punk’s War trilogy is now on my to-read list.) When he utters an acronym, he spells it out in English, and as applicable, he gives a topic deeper context by relating it to a scene in Top Gun or other film. (Don’t miss “The Truth About the F-14 and Goose’s Death.”)

Carroll’s YouTube channel will satisfy more than an individual’s Tomcat curiosity. It offers valuable insight for anyone interested in pursuing military aviation, including those considering the US Naval Academy or US Military Academy. A 1982 graduate, and later in his career an instructor at the Naval Academy, his episode on “The Real Story Behind the West Point Cheating Scandal” is a concise summary of a challenging educational environment that any prospective student should watch before seeking an appointment.

But I’ve gone on too long here. Check out Ward Carroll’s channel for yourself. I’m going to see what he has to say in “Chuck Yeager and True American Greatness.”

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

AirVenture 2021: Like Starting From Scratch

By Scott Spangler on May 17th, 2021 | What do you think? »

Covid’s disruption of uninterrupted participation at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 2020 was (we hope) a one-time disappointment. Like any break in a desired routine, resuming the activity is often like starting again from scratch. Whether you are flying in or driving, don’t rely on the mental muscle memory developed over a decade or more of previous Oshkosh adventures. Prepare now for the new AirVenture routines. Don’t be that person who hinders the efficient flow of traffic because they arrived oblivious to the changes.

If you are flying in, get the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2021 NOTAM now! The link gets you the 32-page PDF for free! Read it. Highlight the changes. Read it again as part of your preflight briefing before launching for Oshkosh in July because things have changed, starting with the NOTAM’s effective dates. This year it becomes effective at 1200 Central Daylight Time on July 22, 2021 and expires at 2000 Central Daylight Time on August 1, 2021.

On the plus side, the taxiway that becomes Runway 18L/36R during the show is now 60-feet wide. On the negative side (especially if you still rely on solely VOR navigation), the FAA has decommissioned Falls VOR/DME (FAH) at Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and Kankakee (Illinois) VOR/DME (IKK). On the just different side, the FAA has added a number of transitions to the Fisk Arrival. When the controllers use them to ease holding and congestion, they will announce them on the Oshkosh Arrival ATIS. Don’t be surprised by them; read about each of them in the NOTAM, each with a Not for Navigation Chart.

Those of us driving to Wittman Regional Airport need to be just as diligent in our preparation because EAA has changed the incoming traffic flows for exhibitors and civilians. And just to make things interesting, they have changed up the parking lots. To expedite parking, EAA is also selling advance auto parking online at $10 a day (or member-only for $60 a week). Paying for parking at the gate will cost you $15 a day in hard cold cash. Volunteers will be on duty at 0600, and they WILL NOT ACCEPT CREDIT OR DEBIT CARDS FOR PARKING.

You can get into all the public lots (Brown, Gray, Yellow, and Pink) from Poberezny Road, and EAA recommends exiting Interstate 41 at Highway 26 (Exit 113) south of the airport. The Gray lot is new; it fills the space south of the Media Check-in Quonset Hut on Waukau Ave., The Blue lot is now designated the D Lot and reserved for public vehicles with state-issued disabled/handicapped license plates or hang tags. Entering from Knapp St., which runs along the North 40 fence line, exhibitors will now park in the G Lot, which fills the fields between road and fence line that is the western border of homebuilt camping and eastern shoreline of Lake Louise by the Memorial Chapel.

To reduce conflicts with pedestrians, EAA has eliminated the parking lots that require specific permits to use, such as the media parking lot where I usually start my day at AirVenture. I haven’t found or heard or seen anything that gives me a hint where I’ll need to go, so I guess I’ll learn that when I pick up my credentials on Zero Day (Sunday, July 25). I hope to see you there.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Preflight Weather Briefings: Words vs. Pictures

By Scott Spangler on May 3rd, 2021 | What do you think? »

When preparing for a flight, it would be a safe assumption that pilots never consider their dominant learning style when ferreting out the information for their preflight weather briefing. Time, technology, and the recently published Advisory Circular 91-92, Pilot’s Guide to a Preflight Briefing, has made an individual’s learning style a key factor in acquiring—and understanding—this critical information because they can now seek out the sources of information best suited to their needs.

There are four fundamental learning styles—visual, auditory, read & write, and kinesthetic—but you can divide them into words and pictures. Visual learners prefer, and learn best from images, maps, and graphics. Auditory learners best acquire new knowledge through the spoken word. Read & write learners gain information from seeing words. Kinesthetic learners best understand something new by getting hands-on, which is an impractical process for a preflight weather briefing. Going outside might work okay for a local flight, but they will have to adapt their learning style when going cross-country.

There was a time when words were the only option for pilots who had to call 1-800-WX-BRIEF. Visual learners could see pictures if they were on an airport that was home to a Flight Service Station. DUATS offered more words and picture options, if you had access to a computer with a modem, but the words and pictures were not real time, and pilots needed patience while waiting for the images to coalesce on the screen. Modems gave way to broadband and while weather words pretty much stuck to their time-honored schedules, pictures marched closer and closer to real time.

And now, if properly equipped, weather words and pictures are available in the cockpit. Before compiling the list of preflight weather briefing resources in the appendix of resources in AC 91-92, pilots might want to first assess their learning style, if they don’t already know.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Pilots, Embrace Harold Gatty to Improve Your Aerial Navigation

By Scott Spangler on April 19th, 2021 | What do you think? »

In an Air Facts article, “Are Pilots Still Navigating?”, Glenn Mitchell reconfirmed an observation I’d made back in early 1990s, the dawn of the GPS era—for those so equipped, preflight and in-light navigation consisted of entering the destination ID in the navigator after pressing the Go-To Button.

Pardon me a second while I wander off to the airman certification standards to see if pilots today have to learn and demonstrate the stone-age navigation of pilotage and dead reckoning…yup, still there. “VI. Navigation A. Pilotage and Dead Reckoning. To determine that the applicants exhibit satisfactory knowledge, risk management, and skills associated with pilotage and dead reckoning.”

Given Mitchell’s accounting of pilot performance during flight reviews, the fundamental navigation skills that do not need electrical power are, like many others in aviation today (performance and ground reference maneuvers, anyone?), something they master well enough to pass the checkride and forget almost before the ink dries on their temporary certificate.

Some might say it is up to fight instructors like Glenn Mitchell to prod pilots to maintain their navigation and other essential aviation skills, but let’s be honest, poking a pilot once every 24 calendar months is not going to do it. As the pilots in command, individuals themselves must decide what kind of aviator they want to be, and then consistently act on that decision.

When it comes to navigation, pilots could do no better than to embody the spirit of Harold Charles Gatty, born on Tasmania 11 months before the Wrights made humanity’s first power flight in 1903. You’ve likely never heard of him, but few would argue that he is the patriarch of aerial navigation.

Charles Lindbergh called him the “prince of navigators,” and Gatty taught Lindberg’s wife, Anne Morrow, to navigate before the couple set of on their record-setting coast-to-coast flight in 1930. Wiley Post asked Gatty (that’s him, on the right, with Post in the photo above) to navigate the Lockheed Vega Winnie Mae on its circumnavigation of the globe in 1931.

In those days, dead reckoning was the only form of navigation available to those on land, sea, and in the air. Gatty learned the skill as a mariner and developed it, along with helpful tools such as the drift meter, for aviation. For those who have forgotten, dead reckoning is the computation of time, speed, and distance that accounts for drift with a wing triangle. Like I said, no batteries required (assuming you do the figuring by hand, not calculator).

Given what seems like an increasing number of GPS outages and related military training shenanigans, prudent pilots should consider computing a dead reckoning navigation log that traces the GPS route they intend to fly. If they are old school, they can pencil it on a paper sectional chart and follow along, confirming their position with landmarks, and maybe celebrating their estimated times of arrival at plotted waypoints as the GPS tells the autopilot where to go.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

What Covid-19 Didn’t Steal From Me

By Robert Mark on April 13th, 2021 | What do you think? »

by Micah Engber, contributor

(Listen to the audio)

In some ways, I’m very fortunate. Some of you know this from listening to my ramblings as I muse along on The Airplane Geeks Podcast. Sometimes it might be on The Airline Pilot Guy, or with Plane Talking UK. Occasionally you might even find me on The Plane Safety Podcast or with Leo LaPorte or Ron Ananian, The Car Doctor. Some even call me a podcast squatter.

Those of you who do know how this goes will know that I can go on and on. So why I’ve been asked to comment on my aviation life over the past year is both a mystery and well, maybe slightly anticipated. Not that I can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but maybe I can make a pigskin wallet.

What Did I miss?

In some ways, this year hasn’t been too terribly different from other years for me when it comes to aviation. Sure, I missed two events that are really important to me, events you may have heard about before.

There were the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Udvar Hazy Center’s annual Innovations In Flight Day that was canceled in 2020. That event takes place every June and somehow or another, since its inception, The Airplane Geeks have been invited down to record a show, typically right in front of the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay. Then we have a big meet-up with listeners that we hold in the evening at the Red Robin restaurant in Chantilly, Virginia. We’re still not sure if it will be happening in June 2021, but I already have my hotel reservations just in case.

And of course, there’s the Spurwink Farm Pancake Breakfast and Fly-In, sponsored by EAA Chapter 141 out of Limington, Maine. It takes place each year on the Sunday after 4 July in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and yes, on Spurwink Farm. On 364 other days out of the year, 365 on leap years, Spurwink Farm is a big horse pasture on the high bluffs looking over the Atlantic Ocean, but on this one day in July, it’s a soft grass strip where GA aircraft from all over the northeast USA fly in for breakfast. It’s not a big air show, it’s hangar talk and pancakes, and real Maine maple syrup. It’s all over by 14:00, but it’s a lot of fun. And where and when else can you be walking around getting close up to look at airplanes and helicopters while being careful not to step in horse-chips?

But those are my only really big aviation negatives, not so bad when I think about it. I mean yes, Farnborough would have been nice, and sure, the Great State of Maine Airshow would have been terrific. After all, the Great State of Maine Airshow organizer, who fouled up my passes last time, promised me a shot at interviewing the Blue Angels this year. But those events will happen again in the future, and neither are annual so it’s not like I missed out on anything in my normal life.

Before COVID

In my normal life, I don’t really have the opportunity to fly as often as I would like. I mean the last time I was flying was September of 2019 when I was in a PT-17 Stearman at the Owlshead Transportation Museum’s Wings and Wheels Spectacular. Talk about spectacular, I mean not only was it amazing to be in the front seat of the beautiful open cockpit Stearman biplane, but I got to attend that event with Max Flight, Producer Extraordinaire of The Airplane Geeks Podcast, who traveled up from Hartford, Connecticut to visit with me. But the point is if I get in the air once a year it’s a lot.

You may think that’s sad, but it’s not, not when you think about what I do have, and what Covid didn’t take away. I have KPWM, the Portland International Jetport practically in my backyard, about a mile away. It’s not a big airport but it is friendly. They have a spotting area right next to the MacJets FBO. That spotting area overlooks the main runway, 11/29 but you can also get a good look at 18/36. It’s a great place to park, drink a cup of coffee, and listen to Live ATC. Read the rest of this entry »

FAA Offers Homebuilders a Flight Test Carrot

By Scott Spangler on April 5th, 2021 | What do you think? »

When amateur builders complete their homebuilt projects, if their work passes muster the FAA awards them an airworthiness certificate and an operational leash, a Phase I test period of usually 25 to 40 flight hours. The certification of the powerplant and prop combination plays a role in the Phase I duration.

Ideally, homebuilders have already read Advisory Circular 90-89, Amateur-Built Aircraft and Ultralight Flight Testing Handbook, and developed a series of flight tests cards that will, once flown, lead to all the necessary performance data and numbers that will allow builders to safely and efficiently operate their flying machines.

In talking to homebuilders and writing about the construction of their airplanes, I can count on one hand those who actually created—and completed—a flight-test plan. The majority of the others bored aimless holes in the sky for the prescribed Phase I test time.

When it comes to operational data, they often get by with the performance numbers provided by the kit manufacturer. Their airplanes are often heavier than the kit prototype, and they often include modifications and different engine and prop combinations. When asked if they adjusted the prototype’s numbers for these differences, they often say, “They are close enough.”

Close may work for hand grenades and nuclear weapons, and too often “close enough” aircraft performance numbers can be just as lethal. To motivate homebuilders to actually create and fly flight-test programs that reveal aircraft-specific performance data, in the draft update of AC 98-89B, the FAA temps them with a “operationally centric or task-based experimental aircraft flight-test plan.”

Instead of boring holes in the sky for a prescribed number of hours, the Phase I test period is completed when builders finish flying a flight-test plan as discussed in the AC, crunched the numbers, and compiled them in the airplane’s flight manual. The flight test plans do not need FAA approval, but they must include the flight test points discussed in the AC.

If builders do not want to create their own flight-test plan, they can use one provided by the kit manufacturer or other qualified sources. For those seeking the path of greater economy and efficiency, there is the EAA Flight Test Manual & Test Cards ($22.95). Introduced in 2018, it is part of EAA’s How-To Series, it steps through the required tasks, explains how to fly them, and how to crunch the resulting data.

The FAA is accepting comments on the draft AC 90-89B Change 1 through April 29. Maybe by AirVenture 2022 I’ll meet some homebuilders who snagged this Phase I carrot and are willing to share their opinions of its nourishment of aviation safety and efficient use of time.

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Space Launch System: An Expensive Effort to Relive Apollo Glory?

By Scott Spangler on March 22nd, 2021 | What do you think? »

The news has been full of stories about the successful test of the Space Launch System’s core of four RS-25 engines at Mississippi’s Stennis Space Center on March 18. But the more I read, the more the tacit central theme of the project seems to be a multibillion-dollar effort of a middle-aged agency to relive its Apollo high school glory days.

Reinforcing this impression is the person nominated as the next NASA administrator. Bill Nelson, a former senator from Florida, was a key player in the in the political effort that directed NASA to undertake the SLS program in the first place. As a low draft number who took photos durng the evacuation that wrote Vietnam’s final chapter, I’m naturally skeptical, not to mention cynical, about any politician’s program because more often than not, they serve some unspoken ulterior motives, especially when such politicians found deferments from more direct participation.

If you doubt that, consider this. SLS will be the most powerful booster NASA has built since Apollo’s Saturn V. Engineers designed and built that heavy-lift rocket to meet the needs of the focused and well-defined goal that preceded it, President Kennedy’s challenge to send humans to the moon and return them safely to earth before the 1960s burned the last page of its calendar.

In 2010, senators wrote the legislation that directed NASA to design and build a rocket that would lift heavy things. They did not include in that legislation any specifics what those heavy things might be. I’m sure the engineers who designed the SLS would have liked to have had that information. Maybe that’s one reason why the program, like most government projects, blow well past their rosy projections of schedule and budget.

It might have been worth it had the SLS debuted some new technology or capabilities. But it is nothing more than the spaceflight equivalent of a midlife crisis muscle car. Like the Saturn V, the SLS will loft heavy things into space and beyond Earth orbit, and like the Saturn, NASA gets one launch per booster, and each liftoff will run $2 billion, give or take.

Since NASA had to build the SLS, it had to find something heavy for it to lift. They started with an asteroid research mission. Eventually, the agency settled on Artemis’s return to the moon and then the fantasy flight to Mars. NASA schedules Artemis’s first flight carrying humans for 2023. We’ll see. Given our political and economic unpredictability, guaranteeing the future realization of any promise made today is pure fantasy.

If there is any hope for our aerospace future it is that the technical and scientific pragmatists displace the politicians striving to relive their high school glory days and hope to bask in the reflected glory of humans who undertake dangerous and expensive journeys into space that would be more effectively, efficiently, and economically made by machines.

Perhaps the Artemis I mission is the culmination of the SLS midlife oxymoron. I’m all for investing in developing new technology that expands our exploration capabilities, but spending more than $2 billion on a test flight to make sure the Orion crew capsule is safe for humans to relive the flight of Apollo 8, which looped around the moon on Christmas Eve in 1968?

If you enjoyed this story, why not SUBSCRIBE to JetWhine, if you haven’t already, and please share it with anyone who might find it interesting. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Hasta la Vista Mike

By Robert Mark on March 11th, 2021 | What do you think? »

Click above to Listen – Run time 4:27

(Podcast Text)

I think it was Mark Twain who cynically spoke about “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” to explain how easily lists of numbers can be manipulated to tell some pretty extraordinary stories. And let’s face it … lists of numbers can be pretty dry, unless you can add some context.

Take the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re someone who trusts numbers, they show the virus has claimed 2 and a half million lives around the world … more than half a million in the US.

How do you even get our hands around that? Do you know 2 and a half million people, or even a half million? I sure as hell don’t.

Sometimes it takes just a single person for those numbers to make sense. At least that worked for me when I learned recently my friend Mike Collins had passed away.

At 59 he was AOPA Pilot’s Technical Editor and Director of Business Operations. COVID snatched him away after a couple of really awful weeks in the hospital.

Mike was a guy I was proud to call a friend. Not a close buddy, buddy kind of friend, but one of the regular dozen journalists I run into at aviation events.

Mike was the kind of guy, who’d pick me out of the crowd with a simple “Hey Rob,” before a quick catch-up session.

He was an extraordinary photographer and adventurer, like when he sat right seat in Mike Laver’s MU-2 for a trip around the world. In over 30 or 40 hours of flying, he never missed feeding photos and videos back to the AOPA mothership, for the rest of us to enjoy.

AOPA Pilot’s Editor-in-chief Tom Haines said, “If you’ve ever held a copy of AOPA Pilot or Flight Training magazine in your hands, over the past 29 years, you’ve benefited from the work of Mike.”

In a look back at Mike’s career, Haines said he learned the biz as a newspaper guy in North Carolina before becoming editor of the Southern Aviator. Tom said, “I knew I could toss any assignment Mike’s way and he’d figure out how to bring back a terrific story—almost always with a human angle to it.” I also loved Mike’s incredible knack for translating techno babble into great stories.

Early on he learned how to match his impressive video skills with the newest drone platforms. He was also an early podcaster and even a beermaker. Now why doesn’t that surprise me? Mike once said, “Photojournalism is all about storytelling. And aviation is full of great stories just waiting to be told.”

Here’s one Mike moment I remember. I was writing a story for AOPA Pilot some years ago about checking out in the L-39 jet. The magazine sent Mike to Chicago to handle the photos while I flew the jet. We arranged to use a restored SNJ with a back seat aimed rearward as Mike’s photo platform.

There was just one problem. The flight came together in the middle of January, so Mike was dressed like he was headed for the north pole. Think about the wind chill with an OAT of 10 F and a 135 mph.

In tight formation for the air-to-airs, I could see the fur on his big parka flapping wildly in the breeze, so I squeezed the mic button, “Hey Mike. You keeping warm over there?” He responded with “I’m freezing my butt off,” then silence.

After we landed the L-39 I was feeling really guilty having spent a couple of hours in a nice warm cockpit while Mike was freezing in the SNJ. “Are you starting to defrost Mike?” I said as I approached the big yellow bird. He didn’t even flinch. “Oh sure,” … “that was a blast. Let’s go do it again.” That was Mike. Check out “Flying a Real Jet to Make Like Maverick” at and you’ll see some of the awesome photos Mike shot.

Mike Collins left behind his wife Janette Prince, as well as two daughters and a son.

For the full scoop on Mike’s career, click on “Saying Goodbye” at You’ll also find a list of organizations where you can make a donation in Mike’s honor.

We’re all going to miss you Mike.

From Chicago, I’m Rob Mark for Jetwhine and the Airplane Geeks.

Review: Devotion, a Unique Look at the Korean War

By Scott Spangler on March 8th, 2021 | What do you think? »

paperback-coverTipped off by the movie being made about its story of Jesse Brown and Medal of Honor recipient Tom Hudner (see “Devotion: Bearcats, Corsairs, and Real Moviemaking Oh My!”), I found the book in our local library system. In Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, author Adam Makos surprised me. Not only did he tell the story of Brown and Hudner, he told similar stories of heroism and friendship of the Marines the aviators were closely supporting from the air as they fought their way out of the Chosin Reservoir early in the Korean War. But what made these 445 well-illustrated pages unique were the first-person recollections of the participants.

This historical gift exists because a 26-year-old Makos summoned the courage to walk across a hotel lobby, introduce himself to Thomas Hudner, a speaker at a 2007 veteran history conference he’d just attended, and asked if he could schedule an interview. Hudner agreed, and one interview led to many more with Hudner and more than 60 real-life “characters” in the book, carrier pilots, Marines, their spouses, siblings, and offspring. Makos found the bones of their stories in the nation’s archives, but like a gifted anthropologist, he fleshed them out with their recollections that are so concisely vivid that you’re with them in the cockpit or frozen foxhole.

When I started reading, I thought I had a good working knowledge of the Korean War and the particulars of Jesse Brown’s final flight, which ended behind enemy lines northwest of the Chosin Reservoir when ground fire created an oil leak that led to an engine failure. But new and often corrective information surprised me on every page. Unable to stop turning pages, I devoured every one of them in two nocturnal marathons that went past 0130.

leyteWith VF-32 embarked on it, the USS Leyte (CV-32), an Essex-class carrier homeported on the East Coast, was in the midst of a Mediterranean cruise when it was reassigned to Korea. This is where it connects with the Marines in the story, and a chance encounter with the 18-year-old Elizabeth Taylor connects them with the aviators of Fighting 32. And the ship carried the Marines on the first leg of their journey to Korea to bring the undermanned post World War II divisions closer to their fighting strength. On its way to Korea from a supply stop in Japan, the Leyte carried to Korea the first cohort of Marine helicopter pilots, including Charlie Ward. They shared a ready room with VF-32, and Ward would see Brown and Hudner again, and fly Hudner away from the two downed Corsairs northwest of the Chosin Reservoir.

Because he outranked Brown, I’d always assumed Hudner was the flight lead, but it was the other way around because Brown had more flying experience. After graduating from the naval academy, Hudner served a year in the surface Navy before putting in for flight training, and he flew Skyraiders before joining VF-32. After two years of architectural studies at Ohio State, Brown became the Navy’s first Black naval aviator through the NavCad program. After earning his wings he went to VF-32, which was flying Bearcats. Just before the Leyte’s Med cruise, the squadron transitioned to Corsairs and a close-air support mission.

hudner_presentationOver the years I’ve read various, often conflicting, accounts of Brown’s final flight, when he died, and what transpired afterwards. The book discusses briefly these media machinations, which withheld the truth from Brown’s wife, Daisy, until she finally met Hudner at the White House when Truman draped the Medal of Honor around his neck.

When Brown landed on the mountainside, the terrain rippled Corsair’s R-2800 from the nose, bending the fuselage and pinning his right leg between the center pedestal and the outside of the cockpit. With a message relayed by squadron mates overhead, Ward returned to his helo base for an axe. Despite their best and strenuous efforts, the tough old Corsair did not yield. But by then, after giving Hudner a message for his wife, Brown was gone.

According to photo recon planes, the North Koreans were also unsuccessful. When the Leyte’s captain asked if he should steer close to the coast to launch a helo with the flight surgeon could surgically remove Brown, Hudner shook his head and said, “Sir, those mountains are teeming with Chinese and that helicopter makes an easy target. There’s a good chance more men are going to get killed…I know Jesse wouldn’t want that.” The skipper had a second plan, a warrior’s funeral officiated by a flight of four carrying napalm. “I think Jesse would understand,” Hudner said, “And, sir, our squadron should be the ones to” conduct this funeral flight.

There are very few nits to pick with this book. The primary one is the author’s desire not to confuse civilian readers with military terms. This is why he consistently referred to the Leyte’s island, which rises above the carrier’s flight deck amidships on the starboard side as the “tower” and the officers mess or wardroom as the “dining room.” On the other hand, Makos did a superb job describing race relations by showing, not telling. Just as readers feel like they are in the cockpit or frozen foxhole, they will be silently in line to the air group commander’s office door to deliver their contribution to a college education fund for Brown’s daughter, Pam.

adam-tom-kpaTom Hudner’s final words to Jesse Brown were, “We’ll be back for you.” In 2013, at age 88, he took matters into his own hands and traveled to North Korea. Military officers were waiting when he arrived. Two days later, in the capital of Pyongyang, Hudner put on his Medal of Honor, faced “a North Korean colonel and his staff,” and asked them to begin a search for Brown’s remains. The colonel read the prewritten reply, North Korea’s supreme leader “granted approval to his army to resume the search for the remains of MIA American servicemen—beginning with Jesse Brown.”

With photos from the Adam Makos website, the author continues to deliver first-person history because he traveled to North Korea with Hudner. Jesse Brown, who died on December 4, 1950, still rests somewhere northwest of the Chosin Reservoir. His wingman, Thomas Hudner, died on November 13, 2017 and is now at rest at the Arlington National Cemetery.

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