PH2 Aircraft Commander

During my time at NASGI during the 50s and 60s Monday and Tuesday were the slow post-drill weekend days. Occasionally an occurrence would lend a little spice to a dull Monday or Tuesday, such as:

The time that Jack Hendy, AC3 gave a “green light” to an old biplane that had no radio and become lost following railroad tracks enroute to someplace up north. The a/c landed and the pilot wearing traditional 1920s garb of leather helmet, goggles and white scarf, was directed to the “Hotspot” on the tarmac near Operations. The Operations Dispatcher, Jack Noel, I believe, had a road map, gave the guy directions and he was off again.

There was also the time that an enlisted pilot (his flight plan said he was an ADR1) delivering an AD to the old a/c boneyard at Litchfiled Park, AZ landed on a dull Monday or Tuesday. After being directed to the Hotspot he climbed out of the a/c in filthy dungarees pulling from his back pocket a white hat which would have left a ring on a cesspool. He had a cigar stub in his mouth (don’t ask me how or why). Standing on the wing outside the cockpit he reached in and pulled out the ugliest 30 to 35 pound English Bulldog I have ever seen and asked, “Anybody got a bowl of water for my dog??????” The Operations people gave the dog his water (and I believe a candy bar); the pilot filed his flight plan and they were off again for Litchfield Park.

The most reminiscent morning though, for me was:

In the 50s and 60s the airfield would close down at 2200 or after the last a/c landed and reopen at 0500 for flight operations. The duty Aerographer (Flight Forecaster) would RON in the Aerology (later Weather Service) “bunk room” adjacent to the office and Flight Planning Room. Teletypes would turn on automatically around 0300 and the paper would collect until the duty man would, arise, make his first pot of coffee and tear it all up as shown in the Clem St. Louis photo collection at this address.

VADM Fitzhugh Lee was CNTRA, headquartered in Pensacola. He had flown into NASGI in his C130 the day before the incident for a conference of some sort in Detroit. The Convair was parked on the hotspot when I awoke.

While cutting the voluminous teletype paper of a couple of hours from 3 teletype machines and hanging Facsimile weather charts that had also collected during the night I glanced over my shoulder and saw a sailor in blues. He asked what the weather was like in Pensacola. Thinking he was the night fire watch and he was just making small talk while I worked I gave him some off the wall answer like, “ Looks like they will get rain today.” Then he says to me, “What are the winds at 12000 between here and there?” This got my immediate attention! I turned around and there stood a 2nd class Photographer’s Mate (PH2) in dress blues with a flight plan. My attitude abruptly changed when He handed me the flight plan showing him, the PH2, as the A/C Commander with a LCDR as the co-pilot for the VADM Lee’s C130.

Never before nor ever since have I seen an enlisted pilot with such a responsible flight. I’ve seen the ADR1 as I said above ferrying the AD to Litchfield and there was Chief Ken Milburn at Grosse Ile, when I reported in aboard in 1955 who flew helos but never have I seen a non E7 enlisted man flying an Executive Transport A/C.

PS: Since writing the above stories I have contacted Chief Milburn who now lives in retirement in a rural area inland from San Diego, CA who spends his time restoring antique Chord automobiles. He informed me of his storied career as an Enlisted Pilot during and after WWII. He retired in 1974 as the 2nd most senior Enlisted Pilot in the United States Navy and confirms that many 2nd class and 1st class PO APs had choice duties such as the PH2 AP of this story.

Clem St. Louis, AGC, USN (Ret)


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Revised: June 30, 2010