Learning Mission Control’s Backstory

By Scott Spangler on February 24th, 2020 | 2 Comments »

mcWandering through Netflix’s streaming options hoping to trip over something that would hold my attention, in the Hidden Gems category I saw Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo. Having visited the recently restored facility (See 87 Steps to the Moon: Journey to Mission Control Enriches Memories of Apollo 11), I pressed play. And I didn’t move or divert my eyes from the screen for the next 101 minutes.

What held me rapt was the unexpected story of mission control told by the men (and as several of the active duty female flight directors interviewed, “they were all men then”) who conceived the idea of mission control and worked long hours (with noted sacrifices to their families) to make it a critical component of not only the Apollo adventure, but all of America’s aerospace efforts that preceded it and grew from it.

kranz panelIt begins with Christopher Kraft, who explains Mission Controls genesis from the flight data collection effort on the X-1 project. It steps lightly through the Mercury and Gemini programs, which represent Mission Controls infancy and and adolescence, before one of Apollo’s flight directors, Gene Kranz, delves into its adulthood.

Many of the interviews are held in Mission Control itself, and through them the subjects share who sat where and their responsibilities. Meeting the men, in the white shirts with their skinny ties and ever-present cigarettes who sat unknown at their Mission Control consoles, was captivating.  And before they spoke about their working lives, the film delved into where they came from and what ultimately led them to Mission Control.

Stephen BalesThere was Stephen Bales, who grew up in an Iowa farming community, earned a degree in aerospace engineering from Iowa State, and was the guidance officer during the lunar landing of Apollo 11. Among many others was Glynn Lunney, another Apollo flight director, and his contribution to the Apollo 13 effort subtlety emphasized the supportive teamwork of everyone who worked the shifts that covered every space flight around the clock.

The film delves deeper into the missions of Apollo 8, 11, and 13, with interview contributions from astronauts including Charlie Duke and Gene Cernan. But Jim Lovell had the best line when he talked about the delayed acquisition of signal (AOS, and the subjects do an excellent job of unobtrusively giving life to a seemingly endless stream of acronyms) on Apollo 13’s reentry. He might have been joking, but he said the crew decided to stay quiet for a bit. “It’ll make a great movie!” he concluded, laughing. Indeed! –Scott Spangler, Editor

Race of Aces Looks Anew at World War II

By Scott Spangler on February 10th, 2020 | 2 Comments »

race aceWith the end of World War II lining up for its 75th anniversary celebration at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, one might think there was little new information about the pilots who fought it. I was one of them, until I read the review of Race of Aces: WWII’s Elite Airmen and the Epic Battle to Become Master of the Sky, by John R. Bruning. (It should be no spoiler that I’ve already asked the library to add the 522-page tome published by Hachette Books to the its stacks.)

The reviewer, Elizabeth Wein, is no stranger to aviation’s preeminent conflict. She wrote A Thousand Sisters: The Historic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II, which is a finalist for 2020 award for excellence in young adult nonfiction writing. Yet the names of the racing aces, Dick Bong, Tommy McGuire, Neel Kearby, Gerald Johnson, and Tom Lynch were new to her. Already well read on the exploits of these Fifth Air Force pilots, on whom the book focuses, I was ready to dismiss the new book as regurgitated history.

Fortunately, I kept reading. To improve morale, after Eddie Rickenbacker visited the far Pacific outpost in 1942, Gen. George Kenny challenged his pilots to surpass Rickenbacker’s World War I tally of 26 kills. “Rickenbacker and Kenny each agreed to stand the winning pilot a case of Scotch, and the race was on.” This I did not know, had never heard, and I want to know more (hence the library request for the book).

Almost every warbird geek knows that Dick Bong was America’s leading ace with 40 victories, so he should have won the Scotch. And I’m sure Race of Aces will go into details about their telling dogfights. That’s not what I’m interested in because I’ve already read some version of what the book will share. My interest is learning more about the pilots beyond their combat experiences, and the review promises this.

Saying that Bruning, the book’s author, “is at his best when he delves into the pilots’ anguish and obsessions.” And “his telling is based on a dragon’s hoard of primary source material, including well over 1,000 interviews he conducted himself.” Since so few of these noted pilots survived the war, I’m curious to learn what new perspectives these sources have to share because they give shape to the human forms that fight in any conflict. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Does Your Airport Have a Wildlife Management Plan?

By Scott Spangler on January 27th, 2020 | 1 Comment »

ComfortableHawkIf wildlife encounters have made your flying life interesting during last year’s flying season, winter is the time to start thinking about doing something about it before the migrating critters return to your small nontowered aerodrome. Start by asking your airport manager and/or airport if the field has done a wildlife assessment and devised a wildlife management plan. If it has, get a copy and read it. What you learn may surprise you.

Airports certificated under Part 139 must conduct wildlife hazard assessments and develop wildlife management plans. This is no simple, quick, or easy endeavor. It requires time, a certified wildlife affiliated biologist who spends up to a year determining what critters may interact with flying machines each season. With this data, the biologist and airport personnel develop the airport’s Wildlife Hazard Management Plan, also required by Part 139.

The process sounds simple, but guess again. The assessment and resulting plan usually involve the US Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services; the US Army Corps of Engineers (which oversees the nation’s water resources); The US Environmental Protection Agency (if anything from pesticides to landfills is involved); US Fish and Wildlife Service (which oversees migratory birds and federally listed wildlife and their well-being). And then there are all the state natural resources, wildlife, and environmental agencies. When dealing with airport wildlife, killing it is the last option, not the first, and it requires more than a few permits.

The FAA’s National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems lists nearly 3,300 airports that are eligible for Federal Airport Improvement Program. Of this number, fewer than 650 have towers whose controllers can warn pilots of wildlife activity. At nontowered airports (as well as privately owned, public use fields and private strips), pilots are on their own to see and avoid not only other airplanes but also the birds and other critters who have no understanding or appreciation of right of way.

dumpsterThe FAA recommends that operators of public-use airports “implement the standards and practices contained in the applicable Advisory Circulars.” If the airport has received AIP funding, they don’t have a choice in the matter, but they can also apply for funding to help pay for the wildlife assessment and management plan.

If your aerodrome is public-use but isn’t eligible for (or hasn’t been blessed with) AIP funding, start with AC 150/5200-32B, Reporting Wildlife Aircraft Strikes, and work with all of the pilots who fly there to report their strikes. This feeds the FAA’s National Wildlife Aircraft Strike Database and the FAA’s Feather Identification Program, which can give pilots a heads-up on the critters they may face when flying to your (or nearby) airport.

AC 150/5200-33, Hazardous Wildlife Attractants On or Near Airports may give you some ideas on ways you can mitigate wildlife that aren’t too involved, like making sure all of the dumpsters are closed up. And if your community is thinking about a new dump near the airport, read AC 150/5200-34, Construction or Establishment of Landfills Near Public Airports before you attend the public meetings on its creation.

If your wildlife effort somehow manages to raise the funds necessary for a wildlife assessment for your airport, AC 150/5200-36 and AC 150/5200-38 respectively address the qualifications the biologist must possess and the protocol for conducting the assessment. There is much more to read on the FAA’s Wildlife Regulations, Guidance, and Resources page. And if you are really curious, look at Wildlife Hazard Management at Airports.

snowy owlFor more information on promoting wildlife strike awareness and mitigation, visit Bird Strike Committee USA, a volunteer organization that holds an annual conference (August 25-27, 2020 in Minneapolis).

Ultimately, pilots should be critter aware on every flight. Winter is no guarantee that all of them have moved to warmer climes or are taking a nap. In many places, snowy owls arrive with the cold white stuff that falls from the sky. They like airports because airport signs give them an excellent perch to search for prey on a vast expanse of level ground. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Pilots, OTC Drugs Can Be Interactively Bad

By Scott Spangler on January 13th, 2020 | 1 Comment »

Over-the-counter-drug-abuseA recent New York Times story about the hidden drug epidemic rooted in the conflict between prescribed medications and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and supplements focused on people in their 60s, but as I read, I could easily see that pilots taking prescribed medications could also be unknowing participants.

According to the article, people in their 60s take an average of 15 prescriptions a year. “And that’s in addition to the myriad of over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, vitamins and minerals they may take, any of which — alone or in combination — could cause more problems than they cure.”

Taking aspirin or another nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen, for example, could heighten the chances for bleeding for those taking a prescribed anticoagulant like Coumadin.

This combination of prescribed and OTC drugs—and their interactive side effects—is known as “polypharmacy.” It is the result, the article said, “of our fragmented health care system, rushed doctor visits, and direct promotion of drugs to patients who are ill equipped to make rational decisions about what to take, what not to take, and when.”

Contributing to it are the number of prescribing physicians, who may not know what the prescribed and OTC drugs the person is taking, and this is what made me think of pilots, especially if they fly for a living. Rare is the professional pilot I’ve known who will volunteer anything that might put a medical certificate in jeopardy.

pand mGiven the consequences to such pilots and those who fly with them, this is foolish and shortsighted. Everyone should compile a list of every prescribed and OTC drug and supplement they consume and use it as a checklist when any doctor asks what you’re taking. And if the doc doesn’t ask, be a proactive patient and present it before the appointment end, especially if there is another prescription in the offing.

Before any pilot swallows an OTC drug new to them, they should read the FAA Aviation Safety page, Pilots and Medication. Here’s the attention getter: “Impairment from medication, particularly over the counter (OTC) medication, has been cited in a number of accidents in general aviation. In a 2011 study from the FAA’s CAMI Toxicology Lab, drugs/medications were found in 570 pilots (42%) from 1,353 total fatal pilots tested. Most of the pilots with positive drug results, 511 (90%), were flying under CFR part 91.”

Then pilots should run the OTC checklist in What OTC Medications Can I Take and Still be Safe to Fly? An affirmative answer to questions such as “Am I having trouble clearing my ears at ground level?” and “If currently taking a medication only for symptom relief, would you be safe to fly without it?” yields this warning: “STOP. You might not be fit to fly!”

chose otcThis page includes a table that lists go/no-go medications and the rational for the rating. The table also lists the medication or active ingredient that determines the medication’s go or no-go rating. The table lists the frequently used OTC medications: Antihistamines; Nasal Steroids; Nasal Decongestants; and Cough remedies.

After reading the active ingredients in the go/no-go table, you’re ready for the three-step evaluation of choosing an OTC medication. 1. Identify the active ingredients. “Verify that you have taken this medication in the past with no side effects. 2. Read the label. If it warns of possible drowsiness or to “be careful when driving,” it is not safe for flying. 3. Read the directions carefully. “If this is the first time you are taking a new medication, wait at least (5) dosage intervals and ensure that you suffer no adverse effects from it before flying while on the medication.”

A pilot’s aviation medical examiner is the ultimate resource when it comes to avoiding interactive drug problems. If there is a conflict between the prescription and OTC medications, an AME, said the Pilots and Medication page, in many cases can recommend treatment options “that may allow you to fly.” –Scott Spangler, Editor

ASRS Callback Humility Recalibration

By Scott Spangler on December 30th, 2019 | 2 Comments »

callbackHumility is the absence of vanity or excessive pride, a state or quality of being humble. Humble individuals are conscious of—and acknowledge—their defects or shortcomings. They are modest and not overly proud. Humility is an essential element in aviation safety, and it needs to be periodically recalibrated at least annually.

This self-assessment depends, on large part, on how the aviator’s year has gone. If it could have been better, most likely these less than happy events have already recalibrated a pilot’s humility. On the other hand, if a pilot has had a good year (or consciously forgotten the unfulfilled consequences of less than stellar decisions), then the aviator should take stock and recalibrate because no one flies without fault.

There is no better place to reassess one’s aeronautical humility than Callback, published by NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System. It receives, processes, and analyzes thousands of incident reports that pilots submit annually. It publishes the more interesting incidents in each issue and publishes the ASRS Year End Roundup in December, which is perfect for a pilot’s annual humility evaluation and recalibration.

Related imageIn tune with the season, the Callback roundup is a “lighthearted medley” complied from the 108,000 reports ASRS received this year. Although I’d wager that the pilots making the reports were not so lighthearted when the situations they described were unfolding.

Imagine, you’re a private pilot winging your way out of the Washington, DC, Special Flight Rules Area when your 50-pound dog jumps from the back to the front seat. In the process it hit the panel and cleared the flight plan out of the Garmin 430, pulled the cigarette lighter power cord for the GDL 39, knocked the tablet to the passenger side floor, and “ripped the microphone port of my headset out at the connector.”

The pilot didn’t realize that his dog had disconnected his mic when ATC’s calls made clear that they could not hear him. It took him a while to untangle the cord from his dog and its leash while trying to fly the plane and not bust the Class B or the Flight Restricted Zone.

If, at any time while reading this report, or any other, you thought that “I’d never do that!” or “That would never happen to me!”, then you need to recalibrate your humility. In one form or another, it can happen to all of us. All it takes is a moment of inattention or assumption.

Image result for aviation fuel placardsJust ask the ASRS Roundup pilot whose twin Bonanza was topped off with Jet A. In a hurry to secure the airplane in weather, he requested “top off main tanks only” without specifying what to top them off with. He likely assumed that the new line service guy would read the 100LL placards, and if that failed, the Jet A duckbill nozzle would prevent him from putting the wrong go juice in the airplane.

But that didn’t happen. The Jet A truck didn’t have a duckbill nozzle, and the gas guy was new to aviation. Fortunately, the pilot caught the error when he saw the big JET A label on the truck, but he didn’t see it until his tanks were topped off. Pilots who think this could not happen to them either watch every drop that goes into the tanks, or they trust their lives to the line crew. In either case, a humility adjustment might be in order.

Ultimately, it is to every pilot’s benefit to read each issue of the ASRS Callback. This not only keeps pilots humble, it builds a mental library of less than safe circumstances that might grab their attention and arrest their progress on the error chain. –Scott Spangler, Editor

MCAS Certification a Human Factors Failure

By Scott Spangler on December 16th, 2019 | 2 Comments »

737-MAX-cockpitDuring the interviews for a story on avionics interfaces, one source made a passing reference to interface failure of the Boeing 737 Max MCAS (Maneuver Characteristics Augmentation System). The significance of this observation did not resonate until I started reading FAA Advisory Circular 25.1302-1, Installed Systems and Equipment for Use by the Flightcrew, dated May 3, 2013.

The guidance in the 62-page AC “is intended to minimize the occurrence of design-related errors by the flightcrew and to enable the flightcrew to detect and manage errors that do occur.” I added the italics because the 737 Max interface certainly did not enable the crews of the two doomed 737’s to detect and deal with the MCAS errors. (And why the FAA conjoins flight and crew is beyond me, so I’ll separate them in the following sections of the AC.)

The AC addresses the design and approval on installed flight deck equipment and makes “recommendations for the design and evaluation of controls, displays, system behavior, and system integration, as well as design guidance for error management.” The complexity of the system design “from the flight crew’s perspective is an important factor that may also affect the means of compliance” with the certification requirements.

Part 25 requires manufacturers to design installed equipment whose behavior is “operationally relevant to the flight crew tasks…predictable and unambiguous.”

K66476-2Operational relevance is the combined effect of the system’s operational logic, control function and placement, displayed information, and the crew’s perception and awareness of the system’s operation.

Complex controls that are inconsistent with each other or other systems are a source of errors. The family of controls includes buttons, switches, knobs, keyboards, keypads, cursor control devices, and touch screens.

After reading the guidance on “system behavior,” one wonders what obtuse rationalization laid the foundation for this aspect of MCAS certification.

Chapter 5 of the AC says a predictable and unambiguous system “enables qualified flight crews to know what the system is doing, and why. This means a flight crew should have enough information about what the system will do under foreseeable circumstances as a result of their action or a changing situation that they can operate the system safely.

Clearly, this guidance did not lead to the desired safe outcome on two occasions. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Giving Thanks: Bach in Nothing By Chance

By Scott Spangler on December 2nd, 2019 | 3 Comments »

Bach BooksSeeking refuge from the gloomy, overcast skies that are growing darker as a winter storm crawls across Wisconsin, I turned to my bookshelves in the hope that the title of a tome once read would catch my eye and lift my spirits. As my eyes slid across the books written by Richard Bach, they came to a full stop on Nothing By Chance, A Gypsy Pilot’s Adventures in Modern America.

Reading those words instantly recalled his word pictures of barnstorming through the Midwest in his 1929 Detroit-Parks P-2 biplane, powered by a Wright Whirlwind engine. A then 19-year-old Stu MacPhearson, the Great American Flying Circus’s parachute jumper rode in the biplane’s front cockpit and a photographer-pilot flew his Luscombe. Their goal was to see if they could survive as barnstormers, selling rides over small-towns for $3 a head.

What I did not remember is when they had their adventure. It was the summer of 1966. “Incredibly, these sky-gypsies found small-town Midwest America largely unchanged since the original barnstormers had passed through,” read the back flap of the dust jacket. William Morrow & Company published its 223 pages in 1969. Doing the match, I received it a half-century ago. Most likely, it was a gift from my parents on my 16th birthday, which that year was the Monday before Thanksgiving.

After making a mug of Earl Grey, I snuggled in my rocker and turned my back on the weather. The story begins over Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, where three of the Great American Flying Circus returned to the modern world and their pilots’ commitments to it. That left Bach, MacPhearson, and photographer Paul E. Hanson in his Luscombe

parksp2“We had thrown away our aeronautical charts, along with the time they came from, and now we were lost,” Bach wrote. “I thought we might be somewhere over Wisconsin or northern Illinois.” Running low on fuel, they circled a grass strip at the edge of some small town and then landed. The black block letters on the silver water tower read RIO.

“Rio was a hill of trees rising out of the low hills of earth, with rooftops down beneath the green and church spires like holy missiles poised pure white in the sun,” Bach wrote. “Main Street stretched two blocks long, then fell back into trees and houses and farmland. A baseball game raged at the school field.”

Curiosity dragged me willingly to Google. What state were they over? There is a Rio, Illinois, but it is way south, between Davenport, Iowa, and Peoria. And it does not have an airport. Huh! Rio, Wisconsin, is roughly 65 miles southwest of my front door. Pronounced rye-oh, the village was home to 1,059 people in 2010. The Census counted 792 in 1970 and 788 in 1960.

nbcWith an airport on the west side of town–Gilbert FieldRio Aero Club (94C)—this had to be the Rio Bach wrote about more than a half-century ago. Owned and operated by the Rio Aero Club, which flies a Citabria, the public-use field is still grass, with Runway 9/27 measuring 1092 feet by 66 feet. The 94C airport information says the airport is unattended and without fuel, but the aero club’s website has cameras.

And the club does a big fly-in/drive-in pancake breakfast in June. Something to look forward to is always welcomed over the winter. I wonder what other surprises await me on the following pages. So if you will excuse me… –Scott Spangler, Editor

Flying After Getting a New Hip or Knee

By Scott Spangler on November 18th, 2019 | 1 Comment »

Image result for joint replacement"Needing to keep my mind occupied after they wheeled my wife into the shop to get a new hip, I wondered how joint replacement surgery would affect a pilot’s ability to fly. Thankfully, the surgical waiting room had wi-fi.

My only knowledge of orthopedic consequences to a pilot’s medical certification was Frank Tallman, the renowned movie pilot. In the mid-1960s, he fell while pushing his son’s go-cart and injured his knee. An infection set in, and the doctors had to amputate. Tallman got his medical certificate back with a Statement of Demonstrated Ability (SODA).

But was the the time-consuming process of getting a SODA necessary? A joint replacement returns a body to its original operating condition, fixing the problem that led to its replacement, like the pain involved with the arthritic corrosion.

Wandering through the halls of the FAA’s website led me to the Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners: Decision Considerations—Aerospace Medical Dispositions Item 42. Upper and Lower Extremities. First up was Amputations. Apparently nothing had changed since Tallman lost his leg in the mid-1960s. A SODA is still the solution.

In this table, there was nothing specific to joint replacement. Atrophy, neuralgia (and its related ailments), osteomyelitis, and “tremors, if sufficient to interfere with the performance of airman duties,” all required an FAA decision based on detailed reports specific to the condition.

The closest this table got, in the neuralgia entry, was “limitation of motion of a major joint…sufficient to interfere with the performance of airman duties.” Okay, but the doc said the new hip would (after she’d healed up) restore her full range of motion.

Hmmm. Google told me that docs replace approximately 700,00 knees and 400,000 hips every year. Certainly some of them had to be pilots.

Finally, in the Federal Air Surgeon’s Medical Bulletin, Vol. 48, No. 1 2010-1, I found information specific to hip and knee replacements. It was the last item in Dr. Warren S. Silberman’s “Certification Update: Information About Current Issues,” under the subhead: Orthopedic Surgical Procedures.

After talking about Herniated Nucleus Pulposus (spinal disk) and rotator cuff surgery, it said “The FAA allows all types of joint replacements,” which generally do not need a special issuance medical certification.

Image result for hip range of motion"“We need to know why the joint was replaced and when the procedure was done (provide us the Operative report). When the treating physician and the airman feel he can return to flying, the FAA needs to know the range of motion and strength of the involved joint. It would be ideal if whoever generates this report addresses whether the airman can function in the aviation environment.”

And this won’t happen until the patient is off all of the industrial grade pain medications. I didn’t have to look up anything to know that a pilot taking an opioid does not fly. But, the doc said, my wife will be up and taking her first steps on her new hip as soon as the anesthetic wears off, so pilots getting a new hip or knee should know that their patch back to the cockpit starts there. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Veterans Day as a Time to Reflect

By Robert Mark on November 10th, 2019 | Comments Off on Veterans Day as a Time to Reflect

Funny how another person can make you think differently about something you thought you already understood. For me it’s my time in the military, the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s to be precise.

When Jetwhine contributor Micah Engber mentioned a Veteran’s Day podcast a few months back, I wondered why. He’d never served. But his idea for telling a unique story kept bugging me until I realized there was a non-vet with something to share and me, a real vet … I had nothing.

It took me a while to come to grips with my issues. Turned out I’m pretty burned out on all the sloppy love people seem to have for vets these days, tossing around phrases like “Thanks you for your service,” and sticking “We Support Our Troops” on the butt end of their cars as if that alone makes a difference. President after president seems not to understand that we seem to forget about these men and women once they come back stateside … the one time when Americans could actually put their money where their mouths and their stickers are. It’s the insincerity of it all that makes me want to scream at times. Could it be worse, sure. When I left the Air Force in the 70s, people were generally indifferent to servicemen and women.

Jetwhine publisher Rob Mark and an F-100

Jetwhine publisher Rob Mark and an F-100

But listening to Micah’s stories of his grandfather and dad made me realize the two great wars taught him things in a way I never experienced. My dad wasn’t a vet. I don’t fault him for that since he had a hearing problem from the time he was a kid that made him ineligible. But it meant there was no one in my family to hear stories from or ask questions of.

I think Micah grew up listening to those stories but actually grew up as he listened. He grew when he asked the questions others thought he should have left alone. After this seven-minute piece, I realized I was envious of Micah. While I’m glad he had that time with the guys in his family, I wished I’d been able to share the same thoughts with my family and people who wanted to know more. Maybe I will someday. Until then, have a peaceful Veterans Day.

Rob Mark, publisher


Veterans Day (script) Micah Engber

Here in the USA Veteran’s Day used to be called Armistice Day. It celebrated the end of World War I. We celebrate it on November 11 as the treaty between the Allies and Germany was signed at Compiègne, France on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. If I understand it correctly, this same day is celebrated in Britain and the Commonwealth countries as Remembrance Day. A far more dignified and appropriate name. As usual, here in the USA we changed the nature of the celebration and have turned it into something else completely, but at least we haven’t changed it to a “Monday Holiday” well, not yet anyway.

I grew up with great respect for Armistice Day at my house. My grandfather, Grandpa Max, served in the US Navy in World War I, and during the Mexican Campaign before that. Some listeners may remember that he and I shared our first-ever flights together in August of 1969, at the age of 73, me at 13.

My father, Lew, was a World War II veteran of the US Army and was a called back to the US Air Force as a retread for Korea. He was rightfully very proud of his service, and I was, and still am quite proud of him as my Dad. He was part of that group of people called “the greatest generation” by newscaster Tom Brokaw, so were most of my mother and father’s friends and family. I was raised by this generation, as well as the generation before, that fought World War I.

As part of “The Greatest Generation” at the age of 18, he was drafted out of his engineering studies at CCNY and landed in England on his 19’th birthday. He would have been one of the first to land on Omaha Beach during D-Day but looking back on it, I suppose he was fortunate to have been injured during the preparations for that invasion; suffering with both head and back trauma that plagued him the rest of his life, fortunately though, it did keep him off the beach that day. I’m not sure I would be here if he weren’t injured then. Those injuries didn’t keep him out of the war though.

After the war, Lew went back to college, but having spent so much time building and destroying bridges in the Army Corp of Engineers, he realized engineering was no longer his passion and he became a psychologist. I suppose in some ways this made him more valuable to the Armed Forces as when he was again drafted, this time as a “re-tread” for the Korean War; he was inducted as a Second Lieutenant for the then newly formed US Air Force Medical Corp. After being introduced by mutual friends, in the summer of 1955, Lew and my mother Harriet were married, I came along a little over a year later.

Now growing up my Dad and I would watch many World War II films together. Some we saw in theatres, some we saw on TV, all of them we would watch together over and over.

While watching those films with my Dad I would ask him questions, questions about his service, about his experience in the war, questions I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to ask. My Dad, being a teacher and a psychologist didn’t discourage me, he knew they were innocent questions and used those times to teach me and tell me about his experiences, as much as he could anyway. I suppose he realized that talking to me about him “having seen the elephant” was good for both of us.

He also taught me the etiquette about asking so I’d have a better understanding of veterans. I think watching those films with my Dad, and him teaching me about “The War” helped give me great respect for our military and the sacrifices they made, and continue to make to this day, in defending we civilians.

Thinking back on that makes me think of the word hero and its definition. No, I’m not talking about the sandwich, something I also learned about from my Dad and “the greatest generation”, I’m speaking of the men, and yes, based on the societal norms of the time, most often men, who risked their own lives to save others.

You see heroes aren’t sports figures or actors or singers. Celebrities aren’t heroes unless the heroism didn’t come from their celebrity status. Heroes are the people doing their job, not thinking or maybe at the time not caring about their own safety when they act to save the lives of others. Most heroes aren’t celebrities and don’t look for nor want that status. Heroes walk among us though, and most often, we, unfortunately, don’t know them. In truth, they probably wouldn’t want to be known, as they don’t think of themselves as heroes. Most would say, I was just doing my job, and to me, that’s what makes them heroes.

Now although my father probably wasn’t a hero to anyone but me, let me tell you what may be an apocryphal story about him. While I was growing up, he owned a 1914 32ACP German Mauser handgun that he captured during the war. I asked him how he got it and he explained that it was all a big mistake.

You see it was after VE Day and Dad was still overseas. He was somewhere along the Belgium Luxembourg German border. Things were safe and he was out at a local pub, “drunk as a skunk” he would say.

He didn’t know much German but while overhearing a conversation at the next table he was sure he strung together enough to know that a German Colonel had not surrendered and was hiding out in a house in the local village.

My drunken father dutifully went to report this to his commanding officer, who was not pleased. The CO could see my Dad was drunk and knew he didn’t speak any German. The commanding officer sent him to his barracks and ignored him. Not to be ignored Lew stormed back into the duty office and insisted that they needed to go to the address he had, and arrest this German Colonel. This time my Dad was sent back to his barracks escorted by MPs who stripped him down to his skivvies and put him to bed.

Still not thwarted my father returned to his CO and insisted he had to go arrest this Colonel. The CO must have been some understanding kind of guy and didn’t throw my drunken father in the brig, but took him and a couple of MP’s to this house to prove that there was no German Colonel hiding out in this fully cleared area.

They entered the house and sure enough, there was a German officer hiding out there, he was at the top of the stairs and drew his side-arm, a 1914 32ACP German Mauser, and started firing down at my Dad, the two MP’s and their CO. Lew, still being, drunk thought to himself, “somebody has to get that gun” and went charging up the stairs to take it away. The German Colonel, either stunned at this stupidity or out of ammunition, we’ll never know, stopped shooting and my father seized his weapon.

Stupidity, drunkenness, heroism, maybe bit of all of that, but when my Dad after telling that story in his joking, good-natured and raconteurial manner, was asked why he didn’t get a medal, he would say he was just lucky he didn’t end up in the brig and lose his good conduct ribbon. You see my father may have been a hero to me for various reasons, that being one of them, but it’s not the prima facie basis of it.

It does make me think though of other heroes. There’s a former US Air Force pilot I know, who among other duties during his service, was a flight instructor. He wasn’t just any flight instructor though, he would instruct many pilots about to wash out and was usually able to get them back on track and into the sky, making real USAF pilots out of them.

Then there’s this former RAF pilot I know, who also among other things during his service, would hear a klaxon alarm and hop into his F-4 Phantom II and run off to chase down and intercept Russian Bear Bombers. He’d show them we were ever ready and not going to be surprised by them.

Through their service, both these pilots helped in keeping a Cold War from going hot and creating the kind of heroes that most often come to mind when we think of Veterans or Remembrance Day.

So as a civilian with great respect for those who serve in our military, I want to extend my thanks to all of you who did and do serve there. Thanks for keeping us safe, thanks for just doing your job.

For Jetwhine, here in Portland, Maine

This is your Main(e) man,


A Year in Space Rekindles Skyward Interests

By Scott Spangler on November 4th, 2019 | Comments Off on A Year in Space Rekindles Skyward Interests

kelly windowTo be honest, my interest in extraterrestrial explorations waned with the establishment of the International Space Station. Sometimes I felt guilty about this, usually when I watched the luminous dot race across the night sky (forewarned by an Astroextra issued during the evening weather report on WBAY). And then, after the final episode of the Great British Baking Show’s final episode last Friday, I wandered through Netflix land and discovered A Year in Space, 12 episodes (all running less than 15 minutes) that documented the record ISS residency of Scott Kelly and Mikhail “Misha” Kornienko.

I couldn’t turn it off.

Hmmm. Perhaps my waning interest was not the result of wandering interests or a depreciating attention span but rather the consequence of mundane story telling. Like everyone else today who is drowning in the media ocean were every drop vies for our clicking attention, I rarely waste my most valuable resource watching or reading anything that does not pique my curiosity and desire to learn more in the first chapter or episode.

one-year-crew-landing-aLike I said, I could not turn off A Year in Space, and my wife was equally rapt.

Time Studios covered the year in a dozen episodes that are a visual master class in clear, concise, comprehensive, and compelling story telling. It revealed the personal side of the mission as well as the professional with an unbiased lens focused on the American and Russian protagonists.

The fascinating examination of the Russian space program was an unexpected surprise. Seeing Star City is much more interesting and telling than reading about it, especially when some of the people who work and live there are telling you about it. Despite some unspoken pleasure in remembering some of the Russian I learned in high school, subtitles thankfully told most of the story.

kelly soyuzNear the end of the series A Year in Space introduced the aeromedical study that compared Scott Kelly with Mark, his identical twin who is also an astronaut, upon his return to Earth. Replaying visual vignettes from the series as I search here for the right words, it is clear that the series presented a wealth of information that felt as expansive as the space through with the ISS flies. The only claustrophobia came with the shots of the the three spacefarers crammed into the Soyuz capsule for their return to Earth. –Scott Spangler, Editor