As we approached Hickam Air Force Base in the Fall of 1987, we were descending on the crossroads of the Pacific for the United States military – Army, Navy, and Air Force. Pearl Harbor became a household name on the “day that will live in infamy”, December 7th, 1941. Pearl Harbor is the home to the Pacific Fleet.
The Army also has a large presence at Schofield Barracks, nestled in the central mountains of the Island of Oahu. While the Air Force is located at Hickam Air Force Base, adjacent to Pearl Harbor and not far from Honolulu on the Island of Oahu. Hickman was our transition point for our journey to Guam.
Hickam shares the runways with Honolulu International Airport. This busy airport recieves a steady diet of civilian airliners, mostly Boeing 747s in 1987, crammed full of tourists coming to the 50th State. The runway configuration is fascinating in and of itself (see airport diagram above). Two side by side main runways occupy the island: 22L/04R and 22R/04L. A third, Runway 26R/08L, is the longest. A number of years ago, a fourth runway was added. It is known as “The Reef Runway” (seen at the bottom of the diagram). It was built on a manmade reef a stone’s throw from the island’s beach.
The Reef Runway, officially designated 26L/08R, was designed for aircraft taking off in the direction of Honolulu and the world famous Waikiki Beach. It is helpful for aircraft to be out over the water on takeoff. Then after lift off they can begin a shallow turn further out over the ocean for noise abatement purposes. When traffic conditions permit, aircraft also land on the Reef Runway.
This day traffic conditions did not permit, We were scheduled to land on 22L, which can be confusing because 26R is to the left as is the Reef Runway. With the help of “Mac” Kevin settled the aircraft onto the touchdown point and rolled to a stop. Taxiing can be a feat as well, as there are a myriad of taxiways, zig zagging the airport area. Controllers have little time or patience to direct aircraft on the ground. They are plenty busy with those in the air. When they issue the taxi instructions, they do so quickly and expect to do so only once. I was ready to copy the instructions as I had been caught by surprise eight months earlier (on a previous trip) and vowed to myself that it would not happen again.
Hickam Base Operations circa 2017
When we arrived in our parking spot on the ramp near Base Operations, we were met by a Major, a seasoned aircrew member, I remember him as a navigator. In the Air Force there are some tough assignments (e.g. a remote tour in Greenland, months in Vietnam or Iraq over Christmas) but there are some “cush” assignments that help make up for the tough ones. This Major had one of the “cushiest”. He and two other gentlemen manned the office assisting Strategic Air Command (SAC) crews criss-crossing the Pacific.
He was telling us about the great round of golf he had played that morning at Hickam and the 26’ putt that he had made, he curved it in. I was happy for him. He was impressed with our navigator and encouraged her to apply for an assignment at Hickam. He said that they were losing someone soon and needed a replacement. Dorothy was not interested. I wish he had been interested in my applying.
As we drove by the Headquarters Building – it was a pale yellow, a solemn feeling fell over me. I had felt the same feeling eight months earlier. There were holes and divots in the building. I asked why they had not been repaired. I was told that the holes were made on December 7, 1941. The Air Force did not want to forget. I certainly have not.
We were fortunate to be put up in an Outrigger Hotel near Wakiki. We did not have a lot of time for sightseeing, but it is always nice to have dinner on the beach. As we prepared for our flight out the next morning, we had only one concern. Our Inertial Navigation System (INS) and Doppler Navigator System (DNS) were acting a little funky. The INS is particularly important when flying over water. Land based navigational aids are not available over the Pacific. Kevin and Dorothy came up with a plan, along with Mac. I was confident because Mac was along, even if we lost the INS, I knew that Mac could take celestial shots with the sexton on the sun and Dorothy could use those to get us to Guam. We would find out the next day.