Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Settling in back home

Evening in Arizona - getting ready to fly.
So I'm back from my schooling back east, I've had my check ride and now I'm a Standards Instructor for non rated crew members.  This means I can train crew chiefs and gunners, and perform evaluations on them as well as other instructors.  After talking with the other instructors I decided that Wednesday will be my night to fly.  While National Guard is known for the whole one weekend a month thing, in aviation we do quite a bit more to maintain our currency, to the point of routinely doubling the normal schedule.  So in addition to our drill weekends and annual training periods, we as a unit generally fly three nights a week.  The instructors split these nights up to make sure training is available as needed.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Speaking of training...

Classmate Willy studying after hours back at the dorm.
For the last couple weeks I've been in Pennsylvania at the Eastern ARNG Aviation Training Site enrolled in the 5 week Standardization Instructor course.  This is a rather intensive course intended to teach us how to train crew chiefs to become flight instructors.  We've been through the systems phase, and just finished the first flight stage.  Next we cover administrative tasks and classroom instruction, followed by more flying, this time at night using night vision goggles.  The class is a small group - six people with four instructors.  That alone should say something about the pace of the course. 

Friday, October 18, 2013


Arlington National Cemetery, Section 4

It was sometime in 1974, I couldn't really tell you now what time of year it was, but I was "home" on leave during the 18 month long process to become an E-2B Hawkeye avionics technician.  I use quotes on the word home because while I had joined the Navy out of Oxon Hill, Maryland, my parents had since bought their first house in a nicer part of the state.  I had no connection to that area, and being a night owl I cruised my old stomping grounds around Marlow Heights.  All night business establishments were the exception rather than the rule in the 70's, and about the only thing open was a Dunkin' Donuts on St Barnabas Rd.  Having recently discovered Robert Heinlein (I was, and still am, a huge science fiction fan) I had stumbled across a 7/11 that stocked a bunch of his books, probably ordered by mistake.  When I got tired of cruising the area and visiting school friends that I really didn't have much in common with anymore I would settle in at the counter with a never ending cup of coffee and read.  At least at first.

More after the break

The donut shop. That's Simon' Valiant parked in his usual spot.

It turns out that after midnight there was a whole crew of people, regulars, who also liked to drink coffee and socialize.  Marcia and Bernie would be working the store, making and selling donuts along with Joe, Ted, Denise and who ever else happened to be on the back shift that week while Tex, Corlis and a whole cast of regulars whose names now escape me would solve the problems of the world.  Simon was one of the regulars, sitting in the corner working a crossword puzzle until the conversation got interesting.

Born Emil Sasse, Simon was heroin chic before it became a fashion.  No, he wasn't into drugs.  You see, Simon had diabetes - the bad type.  Then in his twenties, he had already outlived his life expectancy.  He was a very intelligent man, a great conversationalist, and if he ever got depressed or felt sorry for himself, I never saw it.

Over the years whenever I was in the DC area I'd stop and hang out at the donut shop, and he could always be counted on showing up after midnight.  When I deployed on the Midway, he was one of the people that wrote regularly and kept me in touch with the world.  He would also take all the advertising cards out of magazines - the ones that were to get more information on some product or the other - and fill in my name and address to make sure that whenever there was a mail call, I could count on getting something strange.  The best one I remember was a really nice brochure for modular jail cells. Even though I was mostly on the other side of the country, if not the world, we stayed in touch over the years.

I had been out of the Navy for several years and was working in New Jersey when Simon fell and broke his hip.  Even though he was only 33, his bones were more like those of an 80 year old.  His medical condition had been worsening over the last years and he refused to be put on any sort of life support.  He passed away 30 years ago today.

The only picture I have of Simon.  He wanted me to know what I was missing.

His father being a WWII veteran he was buried at Arlington, next to his younger brother and his mother.  I wasn't able to get there in time for the viewing, but I did make the burial service.  Last April while I was at Ft Eustis I went to Arlington to visit my Moms grave, and while I was there I located his family grave site.  His father had since passed away and I felt bad for a man who had buried his wife and two sons. I only met his sister once, at the funeral, but I hope at least that she's doing well.

I would be lying if I said that I think about Simon daily, but he is frequently on my mind, along with the others that used to join us in our long, rambling conversations.  I miss him.

Simon was my friend.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013


While there has been money put aside for the active duty branches, the National Guard has sent all of the technicians that support the units between drills home till a continuing resolution, or God forbid, an actual budget gets passed.  Personally this doesn't impact me very much, but we have some soldiers that live pay check to pay check and this can get rough for them.  (All our technicians have to be MOS qualified National Guard soldiers as a condition of employment.)

If it were up to me, I'd say leave the Federal Government shut down, and let's get back to the states being in charge of their own destinies.  As was once stated by an individual far more eloquent than I, let Washington, DC return to the malarial swamp from which it rose.

A pox on them all...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Training... It's what we do

136 launches on a pilot training mission
Having been on a war footing for the last decade it's easy to forget what the National Guard really does.  Using sporting terms we provide a deeper bench for the active Army (and Air Force) with the additional mission of providing support as needed for the state.  Back in the civil unrest days of the '60's it was the National Guard that was in the papers at demonstrations because while it's against the law for the military to act as a domestic police force, a state governor can use the Guard.  That didn't always work out for the best, and thankfully it's not a mission we get called out to do these days. More common state missions are disaster relief and support - see Colorado guard assisting during the flooding in the Boulder area for just a recent example. Here in Arizona the Guard regularly responds to flooding and brush fire calls.

Now that the wars are winding down and we don't have an impending deployment on the schedule we're starting to grapple with the return to a peacetime status, though this is going to be something of a process.  In Aviation this is going to mean fewer flying hours available to the units, and the while the types of training we do will largely remain the same, the quantity of it will likely go down.  How much depends on what kind of budgets we end up with over the next few years.

Some of that money will come from DOD.  If you've ever wondered why a state would have a unit that does it little visible use (field artillery or helicopter gunships, for example) the answer is simply that it's a lot cheaper to keep that equipment in the Guard than it is to keep it in the active inventory.  The state gets the benefit of the additional man power along with the funds to maintain the equipment. Everyone is happy.

So while things will get understandably tighter, we'll still be training pilots, crew chiefs and maintenance staff.  We'll be doing fewer advanced training missions, saving those for our annual training, and I expect over time our staffing will be reduced, along with the active services.  It's going to be a change, but I think that will be a good thing.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wash Rack

On the wash rack
It's easy to forget that for every hour of flight time there are several hours of maintenance time.  The amount varies per airframe, but is substantial.  Most of the maintenance comes in the form of inspections, preventative maintenance and phase (time driven) maintenance.  The amount of time actually having to fix broken stuff is only a small part of it.  Here a crew chief washes his helicopter, a regular occurrence even here in the desert.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bucket Brief

Briefing for a Bambi Bucket Mission.
The wild fires are still an issue out west, last week we had two birds doing water drops for the bulk of the week.  Here one of the crews brief before heading out for the day.  This fire was close enough that the helicopters came home each day after their mission.  We've also done missions where the crews live in a fire camp for the duration.  The ratty looking orange is water soluble paint used to increase our visibility for other airborne assets. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Southern Visitor

AH-64D Apache
Our first battalion operates Apaches out of Marana, just north of Tuscon.  They've decided to stage one of their gunships at our facility to make life easier on the soldiers who live up Phoenix way.  Unlike most National Guard jobs, aviation requires a considerable amount of time beyond the "one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer" long considered the norm.  I think this is on a trial basis for the moment, but I think it's a good idea.

You've no doubt noticed the above picture is in black and white...  I recently got a nice film camera and have been testing out a process to digitize the images.  I developed the negative normally then scanned it into my Epson V600 photo scanner, which handles negatives and slides as well as prints.  Next I'll be trying color negatives.

Hasselblad 500C/M with the 150mm f4 Sonnar lens set at f22, 1/500 sec using Tri X Professional film (ASA 400). 

Monday, August 05, 2013

Drill Weekend

Chalk 2 poses for us - we tried to give everyone in both birds a chance to get a decent picture
This was a drill weekend, the first one in some time with the full unit.  We had lots going on with some of the new guys getting gunnery practice at Gila Bend (35,000 rounds worth, yee-haw!) and the Med det getting ready for their upcoming deployment.  I was assigned to crew on a pax flight up to Prescott supporting some Air National Guard troops.

More after the break

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Arrival

Well, new in the UH-60A world...  We just picked up a bird last belonging to the regular Army in Alaska.  It's not particularly old for an A model having been made in 1985.  We have a couple helicopters that are 34 years old.  This one is exceptional in that if the logbook is to be believed it have just over 9800 hours of flight time on it.  Most of our birds are in the 4000 to 6000 hour range.  This one is an A+ model, better known as Frankenhawk - it has the larger engines of the L models which makes it pretty frisky, although there are limits on the transmission to keep you from pulling full power.  The will be going to the Med Det so the red cross markings will be staying put.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hero Flight

The Hero Mission crews
Our company had the honor to help take William "Billy" Warneke home today, transporting his remains from Prescott to Marana for his funeral.  Billy was one of he Granite Mountain Hot Shot team, and was also a Marine. 

Semper Fi.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Fourth of July

"A Republic, if you can keep it." - Benjamin Franklin

Have a happy and safe 4th of July, everyone!

Friday, June 28, 2013

And that's a wrap...

Home Station
The Panama mission is in the books, now.  Our three helicopters were delivered via Antonov yesterday, and the last of our soldiers arrived back this afternoon.  All in all an interesting time.  We'll be spending the next couple weeks going over the helicopters with a fine tooth comb to catch any corrosion.  We expect that to be an ongoing process for the foreseeable future.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Different Kind of Mission

Parked in a field in Canita, Panama
It can be forgiven if the image that first comes to mind at the words "military mission" involve weapons, body armor, and troops moving to contact.  After all, for the last decade we've been involved in shooting wars in several countries.  There is another kind of mission that has been getting less press, but is important none the less, that being the humanitarian mission.  The National Guard unit I belong to along with other Guard, Reserve and active duty Army and Air Force have spent the last several months in Panama providing medical aid and engineering support in the form of building schools and clinics for the Panamanian people as a part of Operation Beyond the Horizon. Being a Blackhawk unit our support has been peripheral to main mission, consisting of standing by in case a medical emergency required evacuation to one of the hospitals available.  We also moved medical supplies and people around the country side and did a little training along the way.

More after the break...

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Cook Out

To close out our rotation at Panama, we had a unit cook out at the flight line.  Here out commanding officer fries up some fresh alligator.  Also on the menu were fresh caught lobster and hot dogs for the sea food adverse.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Don Layman
Johnny Cardenas
Darrel Kasson
Charles Browning
Richard Peris
Julie Ryan
Carroll LeFon
Timothy Simpson

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sling Loads

Sling loading a HMMWV
As a break for everyone and a treat for the engineers our unit takes a day to introduce the combat engineers to rigging and hooking up sling loads to the Blackhawk.  We start them with a cargo net, move up to a water tank and finish up with a HMMWV.  In the afternoon we take them on what's called an Incentive Flight, which is nothing more than a short ride designed to give them a couple thrills and an different view of the environment they've been working in.  It makes for a long day, but it is a lot of fun.

Hooking up the load

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

And now for a different kind of mission...

One of the coastal artillery batteries that once protected the Panama Canal
My last couple of deployments have been in support of the breaking things part of the military.  From March through July members of my unit have been rotating down to Panama to support Army and Air Force construction engineers and medical groups as they built and improve infrastructure in some of the more remote parts of the country.  Our primary mission here is CASEVAC, meaning moving injured people from where they got hurt to the best hospital for their type of injury.  The drive from Panama City to the old Ft Sherman on the Atlantic (north) side of the canal took nearly three hours with no traffic.  During the busy part of the day traffic just plain stops.  By comparison, it takes us 18 minutes to fly it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Monitor

Monitor mock up deck, stern looking forward
I'm still out here in Newport News, so last weekend I went to the Mariners' Museum where, among other things, the recovered parts of the Monitor are on display.  Here are a few pictures I snapped along the way...

More below the fold...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spartyka Nation Wounded Warrior 5K Run

The runners waiting to start
At the moment I'm in an NCO school at Ft Eustis, Virginia.  On of my classmates found out that Spartyka Nation was running a benefit 5k run for the Wounded Warrior Project at Virginia Beach this weekend, and we decided to go.  As it turns out one of our group had been assisted by the WWP, so there was a personal element to the trip.  Virginia Beach, while a major tourist attraction, is no stranger to the military with a strong Naval presence at nearby Norfolk, Oceana and Little Creek as well as nearby Ft Eustis and Langley Air Force Base.  With those kinds of neighbors, it's not surprising there was a good turn out even though it was a little cool.
Everyone evened out by the turnaround point
The run itself was an out and back along the boardwalk which made for a nice running surface.  It was the typical gaggle at the start, but within a couple of minutes everyone was sorted out and running at whatever their comfortable pace was.  It was a pleasant run, and a great way to get off post and get a little fresh air. 
The group of us from class
For information on similar events check out and

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Long Distance - the next best thing to being there...

Front to back - PSL-54, M-21, M-24 and M-40A1
Last year Remington announced that as part of the replacement program for the M-24 sniper rifle, they would be rebuilding the turn ins using new and turn in parts for a reconditioned rifle, which then would be sold to qualified buyers.  The first group was for graduates of military sniper courses only.  The current group is for active duty, reserve and National Guard.  Yeah, that would be me, among others.  The group opened up in September of last year, and my rifle arrived yesterday (though a proper FFL transfer process, thank you.)  To celebrate I decided a group picture would be in order.  While I have nowhere near the collection that the Castle has, I'm proud of what I have managed to piece together.

More after the break

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Faces of the Guard - Maintenance Test Pilot

Maintenance Test Pilot
Preparing to do ground tests and vibration checks after an engine upgrade. 

Olympus E-PL1 / 17mm at f11, 1/160 and ISO 200.  FL-36R flash camera left in RC mode manual at 1/8 power.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Faces of the Guard - Mod Team

Mod Team member upgrades some wiring
While we do quite a bit of work on our birds, most of the bigger projects are done at an Army depot level maintenance facility.  There are some exceptions to this.  We are currently upgrading some of our A model Blackhawks to A+ models with bigger engines.  The Army calls them A+'s, we call the Frankenhawks.  We actually like them quite a bit, the power of the newer models without the extra weight.  While we can swap the engines and make most of the changes necessary, this requires some new wiring to be installed.  OK, we could probably do that as well, but we had some depot level guys come out and due it for us.  Much easier.  For us, at least.  Those tubes hanging down in the back ground are only what connects the pilots controls to the rotor, so yeah it's kind of a major hassle to get at everything.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Faces of the Guard - Crew chief

SGT Tommy
Sgt Tommy is a two tour Iraq veteran, first as a gunner then as a crew chief.  Here he pauses for a photograph while performing the daily inspection on one of the Blackhawks assigned to Arizona.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Faces of the Guard - Flight Medic

Meet Staff Sergeant T.  T deployed as a medic attached to an infantry unit in Iraq for OIF 3.  She spent that year with them doing convoy escort, searches, and whatever else the infantry unit was assigned.  She returned from a tour in Afghanistan as a Flight Medic last year, so she has her OEF medal as well. She also has been awarded her Combat Action Badge.  It  really doesn't get much more front line than that. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The little things...

Sunrise at the workplace
Sometimes it's easy to let life's little hassles take on too large a part of the day.  I think it comes naturally - people listen to too much news, gossip, and unimportant BS and start thinking it has more of an effect on them than it really does.  Things have been a bit hectic at the airfield lately.  While we're not slated for a deployment at the moment we do have missions and training to take care of, as well as dropping off helicopters for overhaul or picking others up.  We're a little short handed so there's never enough time to get everything done.

Sometimes you need to adjust your outlook.  This morning I got in, got myself a cup of coffee and grabbing my camera and flash headed to the ramp to catch a sunrise photo of one of our birds.  So here I am - 0700 on a crisp morning getting ready to work on some pretty neat hardware, and I remember what it was like going to work in a cubicle every day.  Yeah, my day perked right up.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Oh, my goodness...

A T700 engine partially disrobed...
...Showing some thigh!  Well, not really, but it is a little more exposure than the engine usually gets. 

We have regular inspections on our helicopters, many of which are based on flight hours.  They range from the 40 hour and 120 hour inspections which get progressively more thorough to the phase maintenance where major disassembly, inspection and repairs take place.  This engine was pulled as part of a phase inspection.  During the borescope inspection of the compressor some damaged blades were found so the case was split so the blades could be repaired.  You can see a very clear picture of the first five stages of compression in our engine - a sixth stage is just out of sight on the left.  The inlet side of the engine is to the right, with the accessory module on top of it.  Think of all the stuff on your car engine - starter, alternator, oil pump, fuel pump, etc., all that stuff is driven off this module.  On the left side of the picture is the hot section of the engine.  Those holes around the outside of the casing are where the fuel injectors go.  When the engine is running a ring of fire that doesn't touch any of the case or combustion liner (it's way too hot) provides all the energy to power the helicopter, in this case about 1500 horsepower.  Not attached at the moment, although you can see it on the bench near the wall to the left is the power turbine section.  All the hot air from the hot section spins a couple of turbines that turn the shaft sticking up in the air which is attached to the main transmission in the helicopter.  Interestingly enough, 80% of the air that goes through the engine provides cooling, only 20% is used for combustion.  That's a lot of energy in a small place.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A New Year


Since I've been been doing most of my posting over on the PhotoPogue site lately, I thought I'd put up a Blackhawk picture for the new year to let you know I'm still here.  We're in a reconstitution phase in our battalion, getting new people up to speed as some of the older hands move upwards and onwards. More to come in the near future, but for now I hope everyone had a safe and happy Christmas and New Years holiday!