Flying High – Cruising Altitude

Author: Frank Maio

When last I wrote, we had just arrived in Turkey and off-loaded the C-124.  It was hot,

Nighttime at Incirlik, Turkey

Nighttime at Incirlik, Turkey

very hot, and, after we completed putting up the OPS hut, we stripped down to bathing suits and brogans, to work inside. The next phase of our lives was about to begin.

The First Night

That night, after our arrival and having unloaded the equipment, we found ourselves near the Turkish Military Fuel Supply, which was just down the road.  Having been given the

Camp at Incirlik, Turkey

Camp at Incirlik, Turkey

first watch over the equipment; that would be one guard as we were inside the perimeter of the base.  It was terribly hot that night, I knew it was night because my watch said it was, but in all reality it was almost as bright as normal daylight.  A jeep went up and down the road putting me in a ready mode, but it never stopped.  At about 10 pm the jeep came back and stopped.  This bullish Turkish Army type jumped out and introduced himself by telling me that we were sharing the area and that he had a guard at the fuel depot.  I noticed a baseball bat in the back of the jeep and I asked what it was used for, he said that if he found a guard asleep on his post or not doing what they were told, he beat them with it.  Now I am thinking that I do not want him driving by finding me asleep.

He left after that and I referred myself to checking my carbine for some reason.  Pulled the clip out and test fired it, nothing.  So looking around and seeing no one, I started field

Welcome to Turkey

Welcome to Turkey

stripping the weapon, going as fast as I could, for I knew that it would be my neck if I were found out.  Luckily, no one came and I got it back together, when I heard this voice, “Hey, Joe, Hey Joe, OK, OK”, coming up the road was the guard from the dump, flicking his fingers in a lighting a match mode.  I figured he could not smoke on his post, so I told him OK, he put a cigarette in his mouth and came towards me.  I reached for my lighter in my pants pocket at the same time setting the Carbine down on the box that I had used to field strip it on.  Had the bolt action pulled back and locked, or so I thought, the second the weapon hit the box the bolt action came out and snapped shut making this awful noise as it fell into position.  Looking up, the poor guy must have thought I was going to shoot him and he was gone in seconds.  Walked out a ways and found his cigarette there on the ground.  Did not broadcast that right away.  I laughed, but it really was not that funny.  The shift being over, I went back to the Quonset to sleep, but it was so hot, no way.

U2 Before It Was an Irish Rock Band

Out bright and early the next morning, putting down flooring and cable in the floor for the Operations shack; the task was accomplished on the first day.  Next day it was working

inside this oven setting up the radar gear and plotting boards.  We were being pushed

Moscow Moscow broadcasts from Radio Moscow

Moscow Moscow broadcasts from Radio Moscow

because we were told that a squadron of F-84’s were to arrive very soon and they needed our setup operating on arrival.  Every hour we had to fall out for water breaks and salt tablets. The maintenance guys were busy in the hot sun putting up the antennas and radio hookups, we had accomplished our duties and were free to wait on the incoming aircraft.  Though as we sat around listening to ‘Moscow Molly’[1] that night we found our “top secret” move was already known in Russia.  Like Tokyo Rose, ‘Moscow Molly’ is pure propaganda as she welcomes us by unit number, personnel number and “we know that the U2 will be arriving soon” and she finished off by telling the base support staff that the third run way light on the left of a particular number was not working.  So much for a surprise, but we grunts really did not know anything about impacts, our job was to just do it. 

Next morning early we went to the chow hall talking about what this U2 thing was, at our

The U2 Reconnaissance Airplane is a single-pilot plane that operates at 70,000 feet--at the edge of space.

The U2 Reconnaissance Airplane is a single-pilot plane that operates at 70,000 feet–at the edge of space.

level we had never heard of it.  On the way back from chow, as we walked we heard this screaming type engine and looked up to see it fly right over us.  It looked like a glider, but with that engine it sure wasn’t a glider.  When we got to OPS, they had installed two fans that were supposed to cool us off.  We had a meeting about what was expected of us; this had never happened before.  Most of us were to ship back to Italy for re-assignment in about a week or as soon as an operational team could relieve us.  We were given a short course on the characteristics of this new type aircraft, from this we found that it was like nothing we had seen or heard before and the next day we would have our chance to see for ourselves.  The rest of that day, we cleaned and made ready for our mission.

The next morning the day shift was in Operations and the rest of us were outside, watching and waiting.  When at last we heard that engine and saw it slide out from the hanger. It was a faded black color and had two little wheels attached to its wings.  It came to our side of the runway and turned out and with a roar it went down the runway, not using half the distance, the nose pulled up and up and out it went.  It was kind of funny though, the two wheels on either wing had fallen off and I thought, “how is that baby going to land”?

Moments later we piled into the Ops shack to watch its progress.  All those additional bodies made the room even hotter, but we felt that this was a chance to see history.  I got close to the height finder screen and watched as it climbed out to near 70,000 feet and that’s as high as the radar measured.  It turned northeast and crossed the Soviet/Armenian border, a few minutes later there appeared four blips on the search radar.  The pilot radioed back that he had company and was being followed by four MIG’s.  They really were trying to catch the U2, but evidently because of his ceiling they could only follow.  Then it got real quiet for a while and then he reappeared on his way back, same circumstance, four aircraft chasing the uncatchable.  I, for one, had never seen anything like that before.  The U2 came across went out over the Mediterranean and started his let down and approach.

Military ‘Intelligence’

As it approached the field there were two pickup trucks that started moving down the runway to catch the wingtips. It was sort of like watching a NASCAR race and Lockheed was

Gone but not forgotten

Gone but not forgotten

working on a better method we were told that night.  After chow we had a meeting with the pilot and crew, it was then we found out that the MIG’s were nose up for most of their chase and unable to fire at him.  This went on for about five days, and then we were told that the 629th AC&W had been de-activated and NO longer existed. We would be replaced by another unit.

We were then given orders to go back to Italy, close our portion down and stand-by for re-assignment.  We were sent to the flight line where we were given parachutes and May Wests.  On the flight line stood 4 C-119’s (Flying Coffin’s they were called).  The pilot and co-pilot went through the standard “If anything happens to this aircraft in flight, the green light will come on and you had better jump, if you should look up and see me running for the door, you had better be right behind me”.  As we started to load up, quite a few froze up at the rear door.  I had jumped out of C-119s in Italy and they were just rickety old aircraft to me.  Many years later I had a friend who worked at Fairchild Aviation and he joked about how the designers had always maintained that they were not really aeronautically meant to fly.  Good to know that now.

Next Chapter: Wheelus Field, home of frequent sand storms, sand fleas and scorpions.

Check Out Frank Maio’s first post:  Flying High – Takeoff

 

[Editor’s Note:  This is the second in a series of posts about life in the early Cold War era.  Frank Maio tells us: “I was born in Washington, DC on August 4, 1935, lived most of my younger mahattan beachyears in the City and moved out to the Maryland suburbs at 16 and attended DeMatha Prep High School in Hyattsville, Maryland graduating in 1955.  Having received a partial scholarship to the University of Maryland, in Journalism and had made plans to attend. As is the case at that age when you have difficulties at home you act accordingly.  Moved out of the house to the Volunteer Fire Department whereI was a member.  As stated in the article I had seen the movie “Strategic Air Command”, turned down the scholarship and joined up.

After 8 years I decided that rank could not be made and so with family in tow, I came home struggled through 8 years of night school and was accepted as a Computer Systems person with the National Science Foundation.  Worked there until 1985, transferred to the Department of Agriculture retiring from Federal service in 1997 with a grand total of 38 years counting military.  Diagnosed with Lymphoma that same year went through the whole deal and was declared free of Cancer in March of 1998, my wife informed me that I had always wanted to teach, and so it began, retiring this past May.  Am presently a house husband here in the little burg of Great Mills, Maryland.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *