We prepared to leave Hickam AFB for Guam on a sunny morning. It was to be a long flight. It is close to 4,000 miles from Hawaii to Guam, which translates to a flight time of seven hours and a few minutes.
We departed on the 08R, The Reef Runway (see: https://www.doctoraviation.com/tanker-trip-island-guam-iii/ ) Kevin had the takeoff. He lifted off and immediately entered a shallow right turn in order to avoid Waikiki Beach. Something about a state that is almost entirely dependent on the tourist industry for its income makes it very concerned about keeping those tourists happy and coming back. Interestingly, the state officials don’t like their most popular beaches to be “buzzed” by a MIGHTY KC-135 loaded with fuel and old noisy engines.
Kevin apologize that he having most of the “stick time” (i.e. flying at the controls) since our departure from Fairchild. I had been relegated to traditional co-pilot duties, which included raising and lowering the gear and flaps, monitoring and managing our seven fuel tanks and burn rates, and, of course, monitoring the HF Radio. I understood, we were doing air operations that were unusual for us. They were far from our routine missions of refueling B-52 bombers over Montana. We were coming in and out of busy airports with lots intricate approach and landing procedures. I knew that Kevin would get me some flying time once we got used to Guam.
As discussed in the previous blog, we were concerned about the reliability of our Inertial Navigation System (INS). Dorothy, the Nav, was conscientious to get them aligned with the land navigation aids on Hawaii before we got too far out over the ocean. Beyond 100 nautical miles, our reception of the land based NAVAIDs would be spotty. As we headed west, southwest over the great blue ocean, she had the INS humming.
There is not a lot to do on a seven hour flight over the Pacific. Civilian airline passengers are fed, watch movies, read books and sleep. We had no movies to watch, we could take turns reading, or taking a quick “cat nap”, and being fed consisted of eating our box lunches. The Hickam Flight Kitchen had “cooked up” a fine ham and cheese sandwich along with some chips and a brownie. But who was to complain, there were people living on planet earth below us with nothing to eat that day.
The HF radio was as annoying as ever to monitor. The same scratchiness, the same strong Oriental accent, and the same, “Roger, Roger” for nearly seven hours.
My mind began to think about Guam. What would it be like? I had never landed on soil other than a US State. Guam was a US Territory. It lies about halfway between Japan and Australia. It is not a large island, it is roughly eight miles wide and 20 miles long. I knew there were two big military spots. A Naval base in the west and south, affectionately referred to as “Big Navy”. Andersen AFB, our destination, was located on the northern most part of the island.
The Spanish had claimed Guam shortly after the time of Ferdinand Magellan. They ruled the land until 1898, when it was ceded to the United States after the Spanish American War. William Howard Taft help set up the government.
Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded Guam and captured it. They occupied the territory until it was liberated by US forces in 1944. I will speak more of that period of time in a future blog. Since 1944 Guam has been a US Territory with strong US ties.
Andersen AFB was built in 1944. This would be our destination. I knew that Andersen had played a major role in the Linebacker II “Christmas” Bombings that helped end the Vietnam War. These occurred from December 18-29, 1972 (http://www.andersen.af.mil/ ) Mac, our Boom Operator, was there at the time. He told us that there were so many B-52s (and other airplanes) that there was not enough ramp space to park them all. They got around the problem by having planes constantly in the air. On Christmas Day, 1972, President Nixon suspended operations for one day. The ramp was so crowded they had to park planes on the runway, according to Mac. (see: http://www.andersen.af.mil/News/Features/Article/1398659/b-52-played-major-role-in-operation-linebacker-ii/ )
Mac was actually sad that they suspended operations on Christmas Day. The reason was the one day suspension gave the North Vietnamese a day to re-supply their Surface to Air Missiles and caused additional US aircraft to be shot down the next day. Although the Vietnam War was very controversial, I want to be clear that many brave men fought there to keep communism out of South Vietnam. It was shame that the war was conducted by Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara in such a manner that it tied our troops’ hands (see Dereliction of Duty by HR McMaster). To this day the Vietnamese live under an oppressive communist regime. I agree with Ronald Reagan, although we did not fight the war well, it was a noble cause. The brave men of the B-52 crews flew some tough missions 45 years ago this week.
But in September of 1987, I was thinking only of our approach to Runway 6 at Guam. On about a two mile final I thought I would initiate a wind check with the tower. Just as I was thinking of keying the mic, Kevin said, “Wind Check”. I obliged and the tower responded. It was then that I knew that Kevin and I would click as a pilot team. We had only flown a handful of missions together, to this point. Now, I was confident that we were on the same sheet of music. Guam, here we come.
For more information on Operation Linebacker II, also known as the “Christmas Bombings” see: