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FASF Members Celebrate WWII Generation and Pearl Harbor

L to R above: Melissa and Alan Fisher; Alma Villezcas; Roger Nichols; Ric Lambart; Virg Hemphill.

L to R above: Melissa and Alan Fisher; Alma Villezcas; Roger Nichols; Ric Lambart; and Virg Hemphill.  All four men at this table were former USAF pilots and are also active members of the local El Paso Daedalian Society’s Flight 24.  Additionally, everyone at this table is an active FASF member, and Alma is the FASF Treasurer.  This photograph is courtesy of Lewis Woodyard (Homepage), Professional Photographer of El Paso, Texas.  For many others of you who also attended the event, Lewis  probably has photographs of you, as well.  You can easily find out by calling him at (915) 217-5929.  Please simply click on any photo in this story to see the photo’s full resolution, but right click and choose the option to “Open Link in New Tab.” This will preclude the inconvenience of having to return to the story’s main page once you’ve studied the full-sized photo. Also remember to turn your sound on for the drone-view of El Paso’s Flag Monument video down below.

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Above is the colorful promotional poster, designed by the EAA Chapter 1570 event team, which managed to help the gala celebration sell-out for a full house.  Members of the Sponsoring Banquet Event Team Committee were: John and Melissa Keithly, Deb Rothchild, Mike Robinson, Marcia McNamee and Bob Dockendorf.  Over 250 people attended the historic celebration of “America’s Greatest Generation,” according to Mr. Keithly.

View of part of the crowd of Scholarship Fund Supporters in the WEAM

View of part of the early arriving crowd of Scholarship Fund Supporters in the War Eagles Air Museum (WEAM) – FASF Photo by Aerodrome staff.

The special celebratory and memorial event at which the above FASF table was present was put on to raise funds for the John and Betty McGuire Scholarship Fund.  The McGuires were the creators and long time primary supporters of the War Eagles Air Museum located at the Dona Ana County Regional Jetport, in Santa Teresa, NM.  Since Mr. McGuire passed away, his wife, Betty, has remained active in the Museum’s operations.

The memorial celebration was held inside the Museum itself, and organized by the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) Chapter 1570, which is also located at the Jetport.

"Doppler Dave" Speelman was Master of Ceremonies.

      “Doppler Dave” Speelman was the accomplished Master of Ceremonies.  Photo courtesy of Lewis Woodyard.

The entire program was MC’d by El Paso ABC Television’s (KVIA Channel 7) Chief Meteorologist, Doppler” Dave Speelman (photo above), and featured presentations by Jimmy Melver well-known El Pasoan and civic leader, seen with his wife in the photo below to the left, and

Jimmy and Mrs. Donna Melver by Lewis Woodyard.

Jimmy and Mrs. Donna Melver by Lewis Woodyard.

FASF member Roger Nichols, who is also the recently elected Captain of the El Paso Daedalian society’s Major General Frank A. Nichols Flight 24.

Many other active FASF members attended the gala event, including Wes Baker, President of the Las Cruces, NM EAA Chapter 555;  John Keithly President of the EAA Chapter 1570, the Chapter which organized and sponsored the entire memorial scholarship fund affair.

We also spotted Tomas Peralta, owner and CEO of Red Arrow Flight Academy (a long time FASF Business Supporter) and some of his staff.  His Red Arrow Team’s helicopter Flight Instructor, Deb Rothchild also worked hard on the Banquet Committee along with Mike Robinson and Marcia McNamee to help make the celebration such a great success.  Loyal FASF Business Supporter and Executive Director of the War Eagles Air Museum, Bob Dockendorf,  also a member of the Committee, and his assistant, George Guerra, were busily appearing everywhere during the event to help make sure things went smoothly.  Chaplain’s Catering of El Paso, managed to deliver and outstandingly delicious fare for all attendees, and its owner, Gerry Chapain, was there to personally make sure things went well.

There were also some other FASF members at the banquet, but your reporter unfortunately didn’t get to log down all their names, but he did see some of them, at least fleetingly, during the festivities.  If we missed getting you listed here, please let us know and we’ll make sure your name appears in this story.  After all, you all helped make this scholarship event such a great achievement by taking the time to participate.

"Flag Man" Jimmy Melver delivering his presentation to the audience. Photo by Lewis Woodyard.

Flag Man” Jimmy Melver delivering his presentation to the audience. Dave Speelman behind him. Photo by Lewis Woodyard.

The first speaker of the evening, Jimmy Melver, (above) was actually raised in Japan and didn’t become an American Citizen until some years later.  When he arrived in the U.S. he only spoke Japanese – no English at all.  When he later became a U.S. Citizen, he displayed a degree of enthusiasm rarely seen among immigrants.  Jimmy is now an active civic leader in his U.S. home town of El Paso, one who is involved with numerous community service groups.  However, Mr. Melver is probably best known for being the founder and President of the Flags Across America Monument project, which he managed to create, get funded, and then successfully develop.  As a result, Mr. Melver has become known around El Paso as the “Flag Man” and was just given the Citizen of the Year Award at nearby Fort Bliss.

The below short 48 second long video is best viewed directly on Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s “EDGE”, or Google’s Chrome, rather than Mozilla Firefox, which will redirect you to the general YouTube video site, rather than play the video right here in the browser you’re using.  If you are a loyal Apple devotee, then your MAC Safari browser should work well, too, according to Dr. Kathleen Martin, FASF Trustee, who just tested it for us.  This suggestion also holds true for the two short videos of the actual attack on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941.

His large El Paso Old Glory Memorial Monument (above short 48 second video) in NE El Paso has become a popular tourist and local visitor’s site.

Shortly after arriving in the U.S., Jimmy decided he would no longer speak Japanese, because he wanted to show how overjoyed he was at becoming an American – so he even refused to speak his native tongue at home with his Mother.  Today, one cannot detect even a slight Japanese accent when Jimmy speaks, so his determination to learn American English clearly paid off.  Considering how coldly some of Jimmy’s U.S. relatives were treated during WWII, when they were interred in U. S. Japanese prison camps, losing all their properties and possessions, it’s noteworthy to observe that this remarkably didn’t sour Jimmy’s enthusiasm for his new homeland.

After the first “Old Glory” was raised at Mr. Melver’s flag site, he designed and erected the World War II Monument; then the World War I Monument; next the Korean War Monument; and finally, the Women Warrior Monument. The impressive site is open to the public and located at Old Glory Memorial, on the corner of Gateway North and Diana Drive in NE El Paso (map).

Before the Paso Del Norte Big Band opened up the gala dancing session for the evening, playing the nostalgic “Big Band” tunes from the WWII era, our own FASF member, Roger Nichols, shared his Father and Mother’s written memories of their harrowing experiences at Wheeler Army Air Field on Oahu, Hawaii, on the fateful day of December 7, 1941 – 75 years ago.  Many don’t realize that Wheeler Air Field was actually the first target of the Imperial Japanese Air Armada that struck Hawaii, not Hickam Air Field and the Navy’s ships in Pearl Harbor.

 

Roger Nichols describing his Father and Mother's harrowing experience at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941

FASF member, Roger Nichols, describing his Father and Mother’s harrowing experience at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  Photo taken by El Paso professional photographer, Lewis Woodyard.

Luckily neither of the young newlywed Nichols were injured, although bombs and strafing Japanese fighters were wrecking deadly mayhem all about them.  Lieutenant (Then) Nichols hurriedly ran to the flight line, but found it under fierce enemy attack and most of the Curtiss* P-40 Warhawk fighters (photos below) were already in flames or blown up, so he rushed back to find his bride inside their apartment with heavy furniture piled around her as a safety measure in case their home suffered a direct machine gun or bomb strike.

Major General Frank A. Nichols - WWII Fighter Ace

Major General Frank A. Nichols – WWII Fighter Ace

After the vicious attack, “The Day That will Live in Infamy,” (FDR), Roger’s Dad (photo at right) stayed behind at Wheeler, and went on to become a highly decorated American Fighter Pilot ACE in the Pacific Theater of operations as the war progressed.  Roger’s Dad stayed in the Air Corps after the war ended and made it his career.

He retired a Major General in the United States Air Force (USAF) and finally settled in El Paso, Texas, where Roger was born after the war ended.  Roger himself later joined the USAF and became a Navigator on B-52 Heavy Transcontinental Bombers and was later selected for the Air Force Flight Training Program, where he successfully managed to become a USAF pilot, just as his father had been.  The El Paso Flight of the Daedalian Society was renamed in honor of Roger’s Father, Major General Frank A. Nichols, who had been one of its early Flight Commanders, when it was entitled the Daedalian Roadrunner Flight and was located at Holloman Air Force Base, in Alamogordo, NM, before it relocated to El Paso.

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk: One of WW II’s Most Famous Fighters - Photo courtesy of Brad Smith

These Curtiss*  P-40 Warhawks were One of WW II’s Most Famous Fighters – Photo courtesy of Brad Smith

A fully restored P-40 Warhawk in authentic Flying Tiger's Paint Scheme.

A fully restored P-40 Warhawk in authentic Flying Tiger’s (“AVG”) Paint Scheme.  U.S. General Claire L. Chennault (see photo at end of story, below) led this famous group of American (Civilian) Volunteer Group of fighter pilots in their outnumbered yet very effective fight against the Imperial Japanese invaders of China, a good year before the United States entered World War II, but he had been an aviation advisor to free China’s leader, at the time, Chiang Kai Shek, who later became the first President of Free China (“The Republic of China“- – -“ROC“) or what we now know as Taiwan, when the Chinese Communists pushed Chiang and his forces from the mainland at the end of WWII. Chiang rose to lead the Chinese Nationalist Party in the mid 1920’s and became the first Chinese leader to succeed in unifying the previously and historically highly splintered war-lord governed country, which had consisted of a patchwork quilt of independent warring fiefdoms.

Tigers, Teeth, and Sharks, the famed P-40 of the Flying Tigers.

Tigers, Teeth, and Sharks, the famed P-40 of the Flying Tigers.

Warhawk (also sometimes known as the Tomahawk) makes low pass over the desert.

Warhawk (sometimes known as the P-40 ‘Tomahawk‘ or ‘Kittyhawk‘ by the British) makes low pass over the desert.

claire_l-_chennault

Portrait of then Major General Claire Lee Chennault standing under the nose of his much beloved Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk. The wings on his right chest (left in photo) are those of the Chinese Air Force of the 1930’s.  Chennault long after his retirement from the service, was promoted to a three-star (Lieutenant) General by the USAF shortly before his death from cancer in 1958.  His second wife, Chen Xiangmei, whom he married in 1947, was a young reporter for the Central News Agency.  She became one of the Republic of China’s chief lobbyists in Washington, DC.

* The company that manufactured the legendary P-40 Tomahawk and Warhawk, Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Manufacturing Corporation still exists to this day, but goes by the name of Curtiss-Wright Corporation.  It is the very same company that made the famous First Aero Squadron’s JN-1, 2, 3, and 4 model “Jenny’s,” back during the 1916-17 Punitive Expedition out of Columbus, NM.  These early Army “aeroplanes” regularly flew out of Columbus and deep into Chihuahua, Mexico, before the United States actually entered Word War I in Europe during 1917.

The new company’s name is the combined (companies merged in 1929) names of America’s two great aviation giants:  The Wright Brothers, who made the first successful flight of a heavier-than-air airplane, and Glen Curtiss, the brilliant aeronautical genius and famous motorcycle racer of the early 20th century, who teamed up with a young aeronautical engineer from Great Britain, Benjamin Douglas Thomas, formerly of the Sopwith Aviation Company, to design and manufacture the first Jenny’s. The Sopwith company, with which Mr. Thomas was an engineer, made the renown Sopwith Camel, which was flown by American pilots against the Germans in WWI.


Actual Newsreel Footage and Audio Voice-Over of 12/7/1941 2:05 minutes in length – This is what those at home saw at their local movie theaters, since there was no TV at the time.  Some live portions are from captured Japanese films.

This is (4:02) what we on the “mainland” heard over our radios that fateful Sunday Morn:

Villezcas Find of old Mexican Jenny Photo Triggers FAS Story

FASF Treasurer, Alma Villezcas

FASF Treasurer, Alma Villezcas

While recently doing research on the First Aero Squadron in her old home town in Mexico, Casas Grandes, which also happens to be the 1st foreign Air Base the United States ever established, Alma Villezcas (at left), FASF Treasurer, discovered a long lost archival photo of one of the FAS’s pilots, Lt. Edgar S. Gorrell, photographed as he was taking off from the Casas Grandes Air Base in 1916.

Lt. Gorrell was among the first group of 11 First Aero Squadron pilots to arrive in Columbus, NM, when they joined the Punitive Expedition into Mexico.  Those airmen were: 1) Captain Ben Foulois, CO of the Squadron; 2) Captain Townsend F. Dodd; 3) Lt. Edgar S. Gorrell; 4) Lt. Joseph F. Carberry; 5) Lt. Thomas S. Bowen; 6) Lt. Carleton G. Chapman; 7) Lt. Herbert A. Dargue; 8) Lt. Walter G. Kilner; 9) Lt. Ira A. Rader; 10) Lt. Ralph Royce, and 11) Lt. Robert H. Willis.

Here, below, is Alma’s newly rediscovered photo:lt-gorrell-takes-off-from-casas-grandes-corrected

Following is an interesting insight into this young (at the time) fledgling pilot, “Ed” Edgar Gorrell:

West Point Cadet Captain, Edgar S. Gorrell.

West Point Cadet Capt. Edgar S. Gorrell.

Gorrell, (at left) graduated from the West Point in 1912, and volunteered to become an aviator two years later in 1914.  He became a certified Army Pilot in 1915 after training at San Diego’s North Island Army Air Service Facility (North Island exists today, but has long been a U.S. Navy facility.

Gorrell’s only flying assignment was with the First Aero Squadron, where he flew many missions out of Columbus.  However, he continued to serve in the Army for a total of 8 years, quickly rising to the rank of full Colonel by the age of only 27, which happened during WWI.

Lieutenant Ed Gorrell

Army Aviator Lieutenant Ed Gorrell

Gorrell (at right as pilot) left the Army in 1920 to become and executive in the automotive industry, later becoming an investment specialist where he financed mass construction of private homes in California just prior the the Great Depression.

ed-s-gorrell-circa-1930

Colonel Edgar Staley Gorrell

For the last 9 years of his life Gorrell (at left as a civilian) was the first President of the Air Transport Association of America (“ATA“), a trade association dedicated to airline safety and the economic growth of the industry.

That trade organization he established exists today, but under the new name of “Airlines for America.” Gorrell was an articulate critic of the poor equipment and lack of support from Washington for the fledgling Army air arm for which he flew while stationed in Columbus.

Lt. Carleton G. Chapman, who flew with Gorrell, readies for scouting mission from Casas Grandes Airfield in Mexico September 21, 2016

Lt. Carleton G. Chapman, who flew with Gorrell, readies   for scouting mission from Casas Grandes Airfield in Mexico – – – September 21, 2016

While with the First Aero Squadron, in the capacity as both its Adjutant and Supply Officer, he compiled a data bank of factual information about his Squadron, thereby also becoming its very first (unofficial) Historian as well as an outspoken advocate for his Squadron’s – and the Army’s – fledgling aviation interests back in Washington DC’s Army Headquarters.  His work helped him develop exceptional technical skills with the result that he likely knew more about the actual Jenny construction and its proper maintenance than any of the Squadron’s other pilots.

During his some 6 months of active duty out of Columbus with the First Aero, then Lt. Gorrell experienced one of the most hair raising experiences any aviation unit up to that time had ever experienced, including the first organized night flight in the history of the Army, and an emergency night landing in the desert that was succeeded by days and nights of wandering afoot until he found his way out by ingenious use of a revolver, silver dollars, and West Point Spanish, all taken out on a dubious Mexican campesino he chanced to encounter during his wanderings. In those days the rickety wooden and cloth covered “Jenny” machines that passed for airplanes frequently could not gain enough altitude to fly over Mexican hills, let alone higher mountains, so had to skirt around them, and it was discovered to be anything but safe to fly after the heat of the day had stirred air into strong turbulence with ubiquitous convection currents.

The Punitive Expedition into Mexico out of Columbus ended for Gorrell after he freely admitted that he had breached Army protocol and had, indeed, talked and complained to Journalist Webb Miller, whose stories from Mexico about the sorry state of our military aviation equipment shocked some desk jockeys in Washington. It has been suggested that Gorrell’s part in stirring up that public tempest that resulted from the published Miller reports, led to his being kicked upstairs, in September, 1916, to post-graduate work in Aeronautical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“M.I.T.”) . He left M.I.T. with his Master’s of Science, degree after writing a pioneer work on “Aerofoils.”

Gorrell arrived in Washington from M.I.T. on the evening of the day war was declared against Germany and was promptly was plunged into the job of helping plan America’s aviation war program in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer (The Signal Corps housed all of Army Aviation Operations).

And, it was while at that post, that young Gorrell actually worked out the request for the original appropriation for World War I military aviation plans — a sum of approximately $600,000,000 – which, coincidentally, came to within a few million dollars of what the net cost of our aviation program finally proved to be.

Unfortunately the large sheet of wrapping paper that Gorrell spread out on the floor of his office and on which he made the complex calculations for what was said to be the largest single appropriation for any purpose in our country’s history up to that time, was never archived nor otherwise preserved.

At this time in his brief Army career, then Captain Gorrell soon departed for Europe. In June, 1917, he was designated as one of the two Army officers to serve on the Bolling Mission for the purpose of visiting the Allied Countries to determine what aviation material should be built in this country and what should be bought in Europe for the American Expeditionary Forces (“A.E.F.”).

Gorrell’s mission sailed on June 17, 1917, scarcely more than a week after General Pershing had landed in Liverpool, England. After a whirlwind month of work in England, France, and Italy, the Mission completed its investigations in which now Captain Gorrell took a leading part. He was then designated by General Pershing as Chief Engineer Officer of the Air Service, A.E.F., and during the months of August and September, virtually unaided, he handled the entire engineering work, including the purchase of some $80,000,000 of nearly every conceivable item that an air force of those days might need. In amused recollection some of his friends have commented that at the end of this hectic period an entire boat load of people landed in France to take on the jobs that the then young Captain Gorrell had been holding down by himself – all alone.

From the end of November, 1917, until his twenty-seventh birthday in February, 1918, he was Assistant Chief of Stall of the Air Service, A.E.F., and was then transferred to the Operations Section of the General Staff, A.E.F., handling all aerial strategy and the coordination of the entire U.S. Army air warfare with the ground forces. He was finally made Chief of Staff of the Air Service, A.E.F., on October 28, 1918, with the rank of full Colonel. He was our Army’s youngest “full bird” Colonel, not yet even twenty-eight years old.

One of his most notable contributions to the development of military aviation was Colonel Gorrell’s formulation of the plan for the strategic air bombardment of Germany in WWI. On the day of the Armistice for WWI, Gorrell ordered the compilation of a complete history of the Air Service, A.E.F. He did so with a very definite aim: to pass on to the future the materials for building on the past. One typed copy of that history, called the “Final Report of the Chief of the Air Service, A.E.F.”, in some sixty volumes, still remains to this day inside the Defense Department’s Archival vaults.

As Gorrell claimed in the last of a lecture and printed series he produced on the need to study aviation history in order to be prepared for any future war, “Had certain nations studied more intently the technique of aerial bombardment, the use of cannon-equipped aircraft, armor-plating upon aircraft, the development of self-sealing gasoline tanks, and other items in the waging of World War I, the German aviation of World War II might have been less of a surprise and terror.”

With the convening of the Peace Conference after the WWI Armistice, Colonel Gorrell was made one of President Wilson’s Aviation Advisers, and he was a member of the American delegation at the writing of the International Convention on Aerial Navigation which, though never formally ratified by the United States, has constituted the basis for the international law of aviation as it stands to this day.

Colonel Gorrell was returned to Washington in July of 1919 where he was soon transferred from the Air Service to the Operations Section of the Army General Staff. He remained there until resigning from the Army in March, 1920.

In September, 1925, he resigned as Vice President from his first civilian employer, Nordyke and Marmon Automobile Manufacturing Company to become Vice President and Director of the famous Stutz Motor Car Company. In 1929 he was elected President of the Company and later was also made Chairman of its Board. He continued with Stutz until August, 1935.

In 1921 Gorrell married Miss Ruth Maurice of New York City whose enthusiasm for aviation became scarcely less than his own. His enthusiasm was never dulled during his automobile days. He was an inveterate airline passenger even at a time when a seat was a mail bag. He was one of the first American business men to sense the potential market which international air transportation would make available. By putting salesmen on the international airlines he increased his sales of motor cars abroad during the worst days of depression.

By 1935 Gorrell was again searching for a new world to conquer, and he became fascinated by the prospects of mass construction of houses. He resigned from Stutz and formed his own corporation in Los Angeles to go into the housing field. But he had hardly taken this step when a call came that returned him to aviation at a critical time in his country’s history.

In 1934, after his old First Aero Squadron mentor, now the Army Air Service’s Commanding General, Benny Foulois, had persuaded President Roosevelt to let the Army Air Corps carry the U.S. Mail, this new task was in serious trouble.  The Air Corps had been put to a severe test flying the mail, if even on only a temporary basis (a corruption scandal involving Airline handling of Air Mail had induced President Roosevelt to turn all Air Mail over to the Army Air Service).

Unfortunately, however, it turned out that General Foulois had bitten off too large a responsibility for his ill-equipped Army Air Service, which was all too quickly proved itself to be not properly trained for flying, as were the Airlines, in all sort of inclement weather.  The result was that many young Army aviators were crashing and being killed during night or in bad weather flights.  Neither their equipment nor their training had been adequate for the task or flying under such difficult circumstances.  Our Air Service was unfortunately only capable of flying in clear daylight weather.

As a direct result of this unfortunate development with the Army Air Corps, a special board was formed to study the Air Service and recommend improvement. It was known as the Baker Board after its chairman, Newton D. Baker. Colonel Gorrell was on the Board and quickly became one of its most active members. This Board, among many vital accomplishments, did much to stimulate modernization of U.S. military aviation and managed to make more specific some vague conceptions concerning the importance to the security of civil aviation facilities in case of another war.

The airline industry, after Roosevelt cancelled their air mail contracts in early 1934, had undergone a drastic shake-up and emerged in the latter part of 1935 with many new faces and countless new pressing problems. Without the lucrative old Air Mail subsidies, the Airlines were rapidly going into the red. Its members finally decided to form the Air Transport Association (“ATA”) and Colonel Gorrell was invited to be its first President. He dropped his California housing venture and assumed his new role in January, 1936, a role he was destined to play until his death.

His tenure as President of the ATA was a tumultuous period, but Gorrell managed to save the day – and thus the American Airline Industry – which, as did his old military aviation profession, went on to become the world leaders they remain to this day.

Military Discipline – Gunnery Sergeant as New Teacher

For a break from the usual, one of our top AVIATION NEWS reporters, Virg Hemphill, just shared this with us.  We thought you might enjoy a chuckle, too, so, without further ado, here it is:

Semper Fi!USMC Sergeant Stripes

After retiring, a former Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps took a new job as a High School teacher.

Just before the school year started, he injured his back.

He was required to wear a light plaster cast around the upper part of his body.

Fortunately, the cast fit under his shirt and wasn’t noticeable when he wore his suit coat.

On the first day of class, he found himself assigned to the toughest students in the school.

The rude know-it all punks in his class, having already heard the new teacher was a Marine veteran, were leery of him – and he knew they would be testing his discipline in the classroom.

Walking briskly and confidently into the rowdy classroom, the new teacher opened the window wide and sat down at his desk.

With a strong breeze blowing, it made his tie flap.  He picked up a large stapler and stapled the tie to his chest.

Dead Silence.

The rest of the year went smoothly.

 

Air Force (FINALLY!) Declares F-35A Ready for Combat!

       Air Force Declares F-35A Ready for Combat

Four F-35 Lightning II aircraft prepare for takeoff at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on May 4, 2016. Hill is home to the first operational squadron of F-35s, declared ready for battle on Aug. 2, 2016.(Photo: Paul Holcomb/US Air Force)

Four F-35 Lightning II aircraft prepare for takeoff at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on May 4, 2016. Hill is home to the first operational squadron of F-35s, declared ready for battle on Aug. 2, 2016. (Photo: Paul Holcomb/US Air Force)

Story by Valerie Insinna, of Defense News and Reported to the FASF by Eric Lambart, Portland, OR

WASHINGTON — The US Air Force on Tuesday declared its first squadron of F-35As ready for battle, 15 years after Lockheed Martin won the contract to make the plane.

The milestone means that the service can now send its first operational F-35 formation — the 34th Fighter Squadron located at Hill Air Force Base, Utah — into combat operations anywhere in the world. The service, which plans to buy 1,763 F-35As, is the single-largest customer of the joint strike fighter program, which also includes the US Marine Corps, US Navy and a host of governments worldwide.

The Air Force, which follows the Marine Corps in approving F-35s for operations, had a five-month window between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31 to proclaim Initial Operational Capability (“IOC”). After notifying Congress, Air Combat Command (ACC) head Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle signed off on the declaration on Aug. 2.

In a briefing with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Carlisle stressed that although the F-35A is not perfect, the aircraft has significantly improved from the early days of the program. More importantly, its stealth, electronic warfare and sensor fusion capabilities are urgently needed for future conflicts.

“Given the national security strategy, we need it,” he said. “You look at the potential adversaries out there, or the potential environments where we have to operate this airplane, the attributes that the F-35 brings — the ability to penetrate defensive airspace, the ability to deliver precision munitions with a sensor suite that fuses data from multiple information sources — is something our nation needs.”

The service’s top leaders also sounded off in support of the declaration. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James both labeled it “an important milestone.”

“The F-35A brings an unprecedented combination of lethality, survivability and adaptability to joint and combined operations, and is ready to deploy and strike well-defended targets anywhere on Earth,” Goldfein said in a statement.

F-35 Program Executive Officer Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said the IOC declaration sends a message to US friends and foes: “The F-35 can do its mission.”

F-35A's on Lockheed-Martin Production Line

F-35A’s on Lockheed-Martin Production Line

"Coming soon to a theater near you!"

Still, challenges abound. For example, during a recent interim readiness assessment, operational testers found the F-35A’s scope did not always display data in an intuitive manner, necessitating that the pilot hone in on a data point to get more information, Carlisle told reporters.

The Air Force, together with the joint program office, hopes to fix that issue in 2017 with its 3F software, which will give the the aircraft its full war-fighting capability, including the ability to launch certain types of weapons such as the Small Diameter Bomb. Other 3F changes, like improved pilot interfaces and displays, will make the plane easier to operate, he said.

To reach the IOC milestone, Hill Air Force Base needed at least 12 combat-ready jets capable of global deployment to provide what officials have termed basic close-air support, air interdiction, and limited suppression and destruction of enemy air defense missions. Also required were enough pilots, maintainers and equipment to support the squadron.

Asked to spell out what the difference was from the F-35’s basic close-air support capability and a full close-air support capability, Carlisle declined to go into specifics.

“Basically it doesn’t have necessarily all of the attributes” of the A-10, which was built for close-air support, he said. For instance, the airplane was not designed with an infrared pointer.

Getting to the point where the Air Force could meet its IOC requirements was not exactly easy, as the F-35 program hit a few unforeseen snags this year. Bogdan announced in the Spring that the joint program office had identified instances of “software instability” that would cause the jets to have trouble booting up and, once the software was running, prompt the random shutdown of sensors.

DEFENSE NEWS (Hill Air Force Base)

First Operational F-35A Squadron Finishes IOC To-Do List

Then, Lockheed in June disclosed that the latest version of the plane’s Autonomic Logistics Information System, ALIS 2.0.2, would not be available until at least October. ALIS is the F-35’s maintenance backbone, and is used for everything from mission planning to ordering spare parts.

The F-35 appeared to turn the corner after seven planes from Hill deployed to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. There, pilots and maintainers confirmed they could successfully operate and repair the plane away from home base, even with an earlier version of ALIS. They also demonstrated that Lockheed’s software update had fixed software instability problems, reporting zero glitches during the 88 sorties flown.

After that deployment, Carlisle said the current version of ALIS would not be a “limiting factor” that would keep the F-35 from becoming operational.

The squadron at Hill then completed its own checklist, which included tasks such as ensuring enough pilots were combat-ready and subjecting them to an oral examination. On July 27, members of Hill Air Force Base’s 34th Fighter Squadron told the press they had amassed 12 modified F-35As and 21 combat-mission-ready pilots and completed all the paperwork needed to make an IOC declaration.

 DEFENSE NEWS

F-35 Software Runs Smoothly During Mountain Home Deployment

Todd Harrison, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said declaring IOC is a sign the F-35 program has moved beyond the well-known cost overruns and development issues that marked so much of the fifth-generation fighter’s development.

“I’m sure there will still be kinks that come up in the system in the coming years, but for the most part I think this means the program has stabilized, they’re on a good trajectory, [and] most of the potential for major cost overruns and technological challenges are now behind us,” he said.

Critics of the program have said declaring IOC is more of a marketing move than an actual operational one, as the service set the IOC requirements itself. Harrison acknowledged that view but said IOC is still an important step forward.

“It’s not doing everything they wanted it to do. It’s had all kinds of problems along the way. But they are at the point now where it is stabilizing, so it’s still a milestone of progress.”

The Road Ahead

Carlisle said in July that even though he would feel comfortable sending the F-35 to a fight as soon as the jet becomes operational, ACC has formed a “deliberate path” where the aircraft would deploy in stages: first to Red Flag exercises, then as a “theater security package” to Europe and the Asia-Pacific.

The fighter probably won’t deploy to the Middle East to fight the Islamic State group any earlier than 2017, he said, but if a combatant commander asked for the capability, “I’d send them down in a heartbeat because they’re very, very good.”

The ACC commander reiterated that sentiment Tuesday, stating that he would deploy the F-35 if its capabilities were needed. Deployments to Europe and the Asia-Pacific, which Carlisle would like to see within 18 months, would help boost partner nations’ confidence in the airframe, he said.

Over the next several years, the Air Force plans to stand up two more operational squadrons at Hill. That will entail growing the F-35 maintainer corps from the 222 currently trained personnel to almost 700 maintainers, said Lt. Col. Steven Anderson, deputy commander of the 388th Maintenance Group.

“We’ve got at least another 150 in the training pipeline,” he said last week. “On average, it’s 12 months to take a fourth-gen legacy aircraft maintainer and turn them into a fifth-generation maintainer, so those maintainers that are in the pipeline now will be standing up our next couple squadrons.”

DEFENSE NEWS

Air Combat Command Head Suggests F-35A Approaching IOC Soon

Burlington Air National Guard Base in Vermont is set to become the second operational base — and the first Air National Guard base — to host the F-35, and will receive 18 joint strike fighters to replace its F-16s, Richard Meyer, the Air Force’s deputy chief of the F-35 system management division, said in a July 29 interview.

Around 2020, Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska, will get two squadrons of 24 F-35s. Those aircraft are not slated to replace any fourth-generation fighters at the base and will bring added capability, he said

The Air Force’s first overseas base, RAF Lakenheath in England, will follow about a year afterward. Lakenheath will be home to two F-35 squadrons in addition to the F-15E and F-15C squadrons it already has.

The service is still evaluating which installations to select for the fifth, sixth and seventh operational bases, Meyers said. The fifth and sixth bases will be Air National Guard bases, while the seventh will be one of four reserve bases that currently host F-16 or A-10 squadrons: Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona or Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas, which is home to Air Force F-16s.

“You have to do an environmental assessment to ensure the base meets all the requirements of the environment of the new plane,” Meyers said. That assessment entails evaluating whether new military construction is needed and whether existing facilities need any alterations to be able to support the aircraft.

“It just takes a while,” he added.

F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin congratulated the service on meeting the IOC milestone. “With the F-35A, the Air Force now has a fighter combining next-generation radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed, fighter agility and advanced logistical support with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history,” the company said in a statement.

Pratt & Whitney, which produces the F135 engine used in all three variants of the jet, also sent a statement congratulating the service.

Aaron Mehta in Washington contributed to this report.

Email: vinsinna@defensenews.com

Twitter: @ValerieInsinna

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OTHER F-35 RELATED STORIES ON FASF WEBSITE

1st Female F-35 Stealth Fighter Jet Pilot Takes to Skies

The above story was posted on May 27, 2015

Hi-Tech F-35 “Lightning II” Stealth Fighter Has Engine Issues

The above story was posted on April 28, 2015

Trustee Brings Daughter on History Venture to Columbus

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On Left is Jason Adams, 1st VP of the FASF and his daughter, Katie, at Right, in front of the Columbus FASF HQ Office.

Jason, who lives and works near Las Cruces, NM, made a special trip to Columbus this Monday to give his daughter, Katie, a full-fledged tour of the FASF, its facilities, and its sister (Columbus Historical Society – or “CHS”) organization’s well known Depot Museum, the First Aero’s 1916 Airfield and the historically rich Pancho Villa State Park’s outstanding Exhibit Hall.  While Katie reported that she had learned a bit about the infamous raid on Columbus in 1916 by the Mexican Revolutionary, Pancho Villa, she confessed to not knowing much of that tragedies’ details.  Katie is only 16, but already looking at colleges, because she is advanced in her classes at High School in Las Cruces.  While on this visit, the Columbus, NM Mayor, Philip Skinner and his wife, Diana, officially welcomed both of the visitors and congratulated Jason on his new position on the FASF Board of Trustees.

REMEMBER: To see any of these or other FASF photos from this website in full resolution, just click on them.

At Left is Katie with her father, Jason, signing the visitor Register at the CHS' Depot Museum.

At Left is Katie with her father, Jason, signing the visitor Register at the CHS’ Depot Museum.

Jason and Katie Adams stand in front of the 1st Aero Squadron's 1916 Airfield Windsock. The town of Columbus in on the horizon behind them.

Jason and Katie Adams stand in front of the 1st Aero Squadron’s 1916 Airfield Windsock. The town of Columbus is on the horizon behind them.  The Airfield, now the property of the FASF, has a fully graded 2,500′  East – West Runway.

L to R above: Jason and Katie Adams listening to Chief NM Park Ranger and long time FASF member, John Read, explain some details of the infamous Pancho Villa Raid of March 9, 1916.

L to R above: Jason and Katie Adams listening to Chief NM Park Ranger and long time active FASF member and volunteer, John Read, as he explains – and shows – the VIP visitors some specific details regarding the typical 1916 U.S. Army Infantry and Cavalry soldier’s belongings.  If you haven’t visited this Exhibit Hall, you are missing some fascinating historical relics and other memorabilia of the Punitive Expedition,  as well as much about the First Aero Squadron’s Columbus and Mexican Adventures.  To easily discover the Pancho Villa State Park’s visiting hours and its special events calendar, simply click right here.

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L to R: Katie Adams and her Father, Jason, listening to Chief Park Ranger and FASF member, John Read, as he explains some facts about the Punitive Expedition and the infamous Raid on Columbus of March 9, 1916. Notice the full-sized replica behind them of Jenny Number 53, which was one of the First Aero Squadron’s Pioneering aircraft.

6-Cropped-Jason-Katie-John Read by Mex Rev. DisplayL to R above: Jason Adams and his daughter, Katie (behind him) absorbing a flood of interesting historical information from John Read, about both the Mexican Revolution and its leaders, one of whom was Pancho Villa, the instigator of the infamous Raid which gave birth to the greatest air power on earth.  John possesses a wealth of fascinating historical facts and details about the 1916 incident.  He explained how Villa had previously been a close ally of the United States, and also why he had felt betrayed by his former Ally, which betrayal Villa then used to justify his disastrous and deadly raid on the town of Columbus.  Many visitors to this exceptionally well endowed historical Exhibit Hall and State Park don’t realize some of those historical facts about what allegedly motivated Villa to see the U.S. as his enemy rather than the ally and friend it had once been.

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L to R above: FASF Trustee and its former 1st VP, Dr. Kathleen Martin; FASF Treasurer, Alma Villezcas; new FASF 1st VP, Jason Adams; and his daughter, Katie, all conversing, after enjoying a luncheon together in Deming, NM, on their way home to Las Cruces, NM.

 

Former AF Pilot Members of the FASF Attend AF Graduation

This past weekend, the 314th Fighter Squadron at Holloman AFB (HAFB), New Mexico, graduated 17 young men into the front line ranks of the Air Force’s top fighter squadrons stationed all over the globe.  HAFB is adjacent to the famous White Sands Missile Range.

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Still framed shot above is by Lt. Aaron “Stroke” Gibson, F-16 Student Pilot Graduate. To see the Class’ Official 5:00 minute long Video, which was created by Lt. Gibson, simply click on this Photo and the 5 Minute Video will start up on YouTube.  Make sure your sound is turned on.  Watching this Video will give the viewer an insight into the daily sights and sounds typically experienced by today’s Air Force student pilots as they undergo their Basic Jet Fighter Training and qualification in the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

All 17 Graduating F-16 Fighter Pilots of Class 15-BBH* with Diplomas proudly in hand. *[15 represent the year the class began training: 2015, and the 1st "B" means the second class that year; the 2nd "B" stands for Basic Training; and the "H" is for Holloman AFB]

All 17 Graduating F-16 Fighter Pilots of Class 15-BBH* with Diplomas proudly in hand.  Photo taken by A1C Randahl Jenson of the HAFB Public Affairs Office.  His other photos in this story are credited as “AF Photo.”  The other photos are courtesy of the FASF Aerodrome staff.  As usual, to see the full resolution of any photo, simply click on it.  *[This is the meaning of the Class’ Acronym Title “15-BBH:” “15” represents the year this class commenced training: 2015, and the 1st “B” means this was the second class of that year; the second “B” stands for Basic Training; and the final “H” is for Holloman AFB].

This past weekend, the 314th Fighter Squadron at Holloman AFB graduated the above 17 young men into the front ranks of the Air Force’s top fighter squadrons stationed in almost every corner of the world.  They are now fully qualified to fly “wing” in their newly assigned squadron positions.  For the past year these pilots have responded with gusto and enthusiasm to the 314th Squadron’s Battle Cry: “STRIKE!”

This story is posted here for two reasons:

1:  Because four of our active FASF members had a role in this 15-BBH graduation ceremony and, because each of them is also an active member of the El Paso, Texas, FLIGHT 24 of the U.S. Military Aviator Fraternity, the Daedalians (an organization formed by World War I pilots some years after the end of that conflict’s hostilities).  All four are also former USAF pilots and one of them, Roger Nichols, is the son of the Flight’s honored namesake, Major General Frank A. Nichols, a highly decorated Air Force pilot and ACE who flew combat throughout WWII and later served in high ranking command positions in both Korea and Vietnam.

2:  Because it has become a tradition that the Daedalian Flight 24, with its many FASF members, award an outstanding leadership achievement trophy to one of the top Student Pilots of each graduating class of the 314th Fighter Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base.

Furthermore, this graduation event provides an insight, by way of these posted photos and especially the short video, into our current USAF operations, particularly in respect to one of its vital defense training programs.  It is good to remember that the 1st Aero Squadron’s ubiquitous Jenny biplane was tested and proven as a stable enough aeroplane that it could be – and was – put into mass production in order to be used to train pilots for WWI. The First Aero’s Jenny  would be used to train more than 20,000 young men to become Army Air Service pilots, destined to fight – and too often perish – in the skies over Europe in WWI.

Air Force veteran pilot, Roger Nichols, son of the Daedalian Flight 24's namesake, presents special leadership award to Captain Graeme Ross.

Above: Air Force veteran and former pilot, Roger Nichols, son of the Daedalian Flight 24’s namesake, presents the special Daedalian Leadership Award to Captain Graeme “Pug” Ross.    AF Photo.

Roger Nichols describes the Order of Daedalians' history and also that of his own Air Force Ace Fighter Pilot father, Major General Frank A. Nichols, to the audience.

Roger Nichols describes the Order of Daedalians‘ history and also that of his own Air Force Ace Fighter Pilot father, Major General Frank A. Nichols, to the audience.

314th Fighter Squadron Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Caggiano, presents his Graduation Certificate to Captain Pug Ross, recipient of the Daedalian Leadership Award.

314th Fighter Squadron Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew “Finch” Caggiano, presents his Graduation Certificate to Captain “Pug” Ross, recipient of the Daedalian Leadership Award.    AF Photo.

Another special Award Recipient among the graduates was Lt. Logan "Pacman" Mitchell. This trophy is called the "Warrior" Award and also entitled the "River Rats" achievement, the name arising from the Vietnam era conflict and given the the student who is voted the one the other pilots would most want to have fly (protectively) on their wing.

Another special Award Recipient among the graduates was Lt. Logan “Pacman” Mitchell. This trophy is called the “Warrior” Award and also entitled the “River Rats” achievement, a name arising from the Vietnam era conflict and given to the the student voted the one the other pilots would most want to have fly (protectively) on their wing.  Presenting the trophy is former USAF Lt. Colonel and F-4 fighter pilot, Miles “Cowboy” Crowell. AF Photo.

L to R above: Colonel Jensen, and Daedalians Roger Nichols, Virg Hemphill, and Colonel Bob Pitt

L to R above sharing war stories are: Colonel Jeff Jenssen of the 54th Fighter Group and Daedalians: Roger Nichols, Virg Hemphill, and Colonel Bob Pitt.  Immediately behind Nichols is his guest, Olivia Callahan.

L to R above: Daedalians Colonel Bob Pitt and Roger Nichols discussing program

L to R above: Daedalians Colonel Bob Pitt and Roger Nichols engaged in an animated discussion.

L to R above: Lt. Colonel Andrew "Finch" Carragio

L to R above: 314th’s Commanding Officer (“CO”), Lt. Colonel Andrew “Finch” Caggiano and Colonel Bob Pitt.

Above L to R: Daedalian Virg Hemphill, Mrs. Julie Pitt and Colonel Bob Pitt.

Above L to R: Daedalian Virg Hemphill, Mrs. Julie Pitt and Colonel Bob Pitt.

Above L to R: Roger Nichols and Colonel Bob Pitt.

Above L to R: Roger Nichols and Colonel Bob Pitt.

Above L to R: Virg Hemphill, Mrs. Julie Pitt, Col. Bob Pitt, Mrs. Jenine Hemphill, Olivia Callahan and Roger Nichols.

Above L to R: Virg Hemphill, Mrs. Julie Pitt, Col. Bob Pitt, Mrs. Jenine Hemphill, Olivia Callahan and Roger Nichols.

Above L to R: Parents and brother of Daedalian Leadership Award, Captain Graeme "Pug" Ross

Above L to R: Dr. David Ross, Mrs. Linda Ross, Capt. Graeme “Pug” Ross, and his brother, Brendan.  Captain Ross had earlier been awarded the Class Daedalian “Leadership Award.”  Captain Ross will soon leave for his next duty assignment at Osan Air Base in South Korea.

Daedalian Ric Lambart and 324th CO, Lt. Colonel Finch Caggiano stand before the 314th's emblem.

Daedalian Ric Lambart and 314th CO, Lt. Colonel Andrew Caggiano stand before the 314th’s fighting emblem.

Julie Pitt and Colonel Pitt pose before the 314th Fighter Squadron's Logo.

Julie Pitt and Colonel Bob Pitt also pose before the 314th Fighter Squadron’s battle Logo.

FASF Office is Open for Business – Ric & Alma Ready to Work!

L to R: Ric and Alma stand by Office Window showing WWI Air Service Recruiting Posters

  Ric Lambart, President and Alma Villezcas, Treasurer, by Office Window showing WWI Air Service Recruiting Posters

Slowly but surely, your local volunteers have moved into and set up the first HQ Office ever possessed by the FASF.  Ric and Alma pose for shot showing some of the WWI Air Service Recruiting Posters we sell.  For higher resolution of this photo, just click on the image above.  This shot is thanks to FASF Member, Norma Gomez, who is Executive Director of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce – and owner of the commercial building in which the office is located.