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Gray Eagles

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Well-known member
Apr 11, 2002
Gray Eagles

The week started out a big disappointment. I had been planning a long cross country in the Mighty 150 to visit a friend. This would also be my long cross country for my commercial certificate somewhere down the road. At the eleventh hour, the trip was canceled. It was disappointing and sad on many levels. I had a full week off, and no particular plans. Little did I know that it would end up being one of the most memorable, and enjoyable experiences in my life. I was feeling down and disappointed, so I decided to go see Jack and Charlie. I met Jack and Charlie a few months back. They both have hangers, out at small private airport a few miles from my home. I instantly liked the both of them. It did not take long for me to realize that I had happened upon some genuine gray eagles. My life has never quite been the same.

Jack is the elder of the two. Some where in his late seventies, he is a retired Airforce colonel. Jack has flown everything from a P-51 Mustang, to a B-52 bomber. Listening to Jack recount the day he first flew the Mustang solo was fascinating. Jack admits that he was scared, but this was war time and they had yet to develop the two seat training versions. One advanced from the T-6 Texan, right to the Mustang. The first time you flew the plane, it was solo. That first trip around the pattern was a memory that Jack would never forget. Jack was fortunate to never have to fly the Mustang in combat, as the Japanese surrendered before he was shipped out. However, he did fly combat in Korea. By then he was flying a twin piston engine fighter/bomber. It was a night fighting aircraft that mounted sixteen .50 caliber machineguns and 500lb bombs. With 8 guns in the nose, and 4 in each wing, it was a force to be reckoned with I am sure. It was flown single pilot. Jack recounts pulling back the throttles to idle at 14,000 feet. Then, with only the sound of the wind on the fuselage, he would dive on a small column of lights snaking their way up the side of a mountain. These were North Korean supply trucks, transporting the materials to make war on US soldiers. Jacks job was to knock them out. If the spotters on the mountain heard the sound of his airplane slicing through the night air, they would radio the trucks and the lights would go out. However, if he went unnoticed he would line up on the lead truck and turn lose those sixteen .50's. If he got the first one burning he could pick off the rest of them one by one. Sometimes, if the moon was full, he could attack trains carrying these same materials. If he missed the train on the first pass, the engineer would cut lose the cars, and race for a tunnel. If the engine made it to safety, Jack still had one trick left up his sleeve. He would fly low, maybe 150-300 feet above the ground right toward the opening of the tunnel. At the last moment he would release one of his 500lb bombs, specially rigged. That bomb would skip once, enter the tunnel and blow. Yeah, Jack has done a few things in his day. These days he enjoys the company of his friends, and flying his Aircoupe.

Charlie is a recently retired UPS captain. It seems that he reached the magic age of 60 and can no longer pilot the DC-8 that he has been flying for over 20,000 hours. Some people would be bitter, but not Charlie. He is enjoying his retirement, just taking each day as it comes. His constant companion is a Miniature Pincer named Peanut. Charlie and Peanut are inseparable. Charlie has had a very interesting professional flying career. Even though he has done more flying than most, he still enjoys the simple pleasure of flying his Skyhawk. He call his plane the Hawkus Horrendous. Charlie has special names for all this treasures.

So, with my plans canceled I decided to spend a week in the world of Jack and Charlie. It was one that I will not soon forget. It was memorable, not because of the great adventures we had, though we had a few. Mostly, it was just great to spend time with Jack and Charlie. What still amazes me is the willingness for these two great aviators to accept a wet behind the ears private pilot so readily into their group. But, then again that is just Jack and Charlie. If only others knew about the hidden treasures that can be found at the little forgotten airfields around the country. Well, I think I will just keep these two for my own.

Our week was spent on the retired mans schedule. Jack and Charlie are the best of friends, that is obvious. They love to argue and harass each other over the forgotten lore of aviations long lost history. However, the new guy was often included and many debates over the FAR/AIM and other important tidbits of flying lore where discussed The acquisition of breakfast and lunch were always of high importance. The one flying trip we took in Charlie's Hawkus Horrendous was both a Bi-Annual flight review for Jack, and a $100 hamburger run. Jack had not been at the controls of an airplane for over a year and a half. His Aircoupe was having a new engine and some other major restorative work done and was nearing completion. I was thinking this could be an interesting ride, with Jack being in his late 70's and a bit rusty from not flying for that time. Let me just say this, Jack's landing was the best one I can recall ever being witness to. He squeaked that 172 on the ground so soft it would have scarcely disturbed a nervous, paranoid cat, in a room full of rocking chairs and bulldogs from its mid afternoon nap. Yeah, Jack can fly. On the way back, it was Charlie's turn. He treated us to a leisurely 100mph, 300ft AGL tour of the open country between $100 hamburger and home airport. You could tell by the look on his face that he thoroughly enjoyed the whole trip.

Yeah, it was a great week. I guess the one thing that still sticks in my mid about the whole thing was one conversation me and Charlie had. I had commented on how they had spoiled me and that I would never be able to go back to work now. I had been helping with some minor runway improvements with Charlie and another hanger owner and his 15yrs old grandson John. I jokingly said that Jack and Charlie would just have to stop getting any older so I could catch up with them and begin my retirement. Charlie's eyes got a distant look to them. He said, "Yeah, getting old is not much fun. I wish I could trade places with young John. Oh, man I would have my log book and my little private pilot manual. I would be studying real hard." The import of what he said hit me, and my own eyes got misty, and I looked far off. But this time, it was in the past as I saw Charlie, not as a 62 yrs old retired pilot, but a 17 year old kid, learning about flying and life, loving every moment. If he could, Charlie would have gladly gone back and done it all over again. If you ever reach the place that Charlie is at, you will realize the great gift the you have been given. You have found your life, and look back with few regrets. Never forget, this is always within your reach if you close your eyes, let go your fears and for just one shining moment......live. Thank you Jack, and Charlie.
Good for you, dracos. Experience cannot be bought, and the voices that can recount history won't be around forever. To share their airspace during our short walk today is precious.
Hey, Dracos....

You should join the O.P.A. and ask if you can write a column for it.

What type aircraft was the fighter-bomber Jack was flying in Korea?
Well written story Dracos.

I office at a small airport. When I go to lunch I always drive through the hanger area and peak around. On any given day there is a salty dog turning a wrench on his love. I am sure they all have a story. I have just never pulled up to say hi.

I think I will today. I might be missing something wonderful right under my nose.


I'd say A-26 as a leap of faith, because Dracos wrote that Jack flew P-51s through B-52s, all AF equipment. However, I thought that A-26s were two-pilot airplanes.
Douglas A-26 Invader was first flown operationally in France--November '44. One pilot and gunner/crewman. No co-pilot. Could carry up to 16 .50 caliber machineguns--depending on configuration. This was not the same aircraft as Martin B-26. Later in its service with USAF, the A-26 was redesignated as the B-26--causing tons of confusion for later aviation enthusiasts.
Yeah, that was quite a mount. He also told me a lot about the B-52. Ever see how one of them lands cross wind?

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