Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Bob Hovde

Getting to the Academy

My father, a San Diego Elementary School Principal, STRONGLY suggested I take the candidate exam for the Academy. ("Keep all the doors open!"} and so I went through the process. I remember having to write several pages of background and "why I want to go" types of information from a small town in northwest Spain, where I was living with a Spanish family as an exchange student. Apparently, the people who got my handwritten information were able to read my less-than-stellar scribbling, because they didn't ask me to send in a more legible copy.

Sometime in the spring, I was told to report to March AFB for medical/physical testing. The candidate who was the Congressman's "political" pick failed the physical, and I was told I was next in line - but would have to wait for the Academy to actually offer a position. (Unknown to me at the time, Fred Olmsted was also chosen from San Diego.) Following my father's sage advice (and nagging), I had applied for several other scholarships, also. In fact, I had decided to accept an engineering scholarship to Univ. of California, Berkeley, from the Naval Electronics Laboratory in San Diego. The day in early May when I was to go to the Laboratory to accept the scholarship, I was getting into my car in the school parking lot when my mother drove up, waving an envelope at me. "You'd better read this before you go," she said. It was from the Academy telling me I was accepted into the Class of '64.

My Uncle, CWO Jim Beard, was stationed at the Academy on the support staff. My folks put me on a plane to Colorado Springs, and my Aunt and Uncle put me up for the night. I was ready to go fairly early in the morning, but Uncle Jim said we should wait until after lunch. Great advice! I only got yelled at for half a day! I remember doing paperwork, getting shots, swearing an oath, and being told to go out a door - where I ran into an upperclassman with the biggest, loudest mouth I'd ever seen or heard! I remember doing many, many pushups (not a problem, since I had just finished wrestling season) and carrying three bags full of equipment up six flights of stairs (definitely a problem - the bags probably weighed as much as I did). Anyway, they put me in a room with someone who had been to Prep School and knew the drill. It was a big help - but I still went to sleep the first night at attention!

Four Years of Confusion!

Like everyone else, Doolie Summer was not very easy for me. I was the smallest guy in the Squadron - I arrived weighing about 112 pounds. The running, pushups, and calisthetics weren't all that much of a problem, because I was still in fairly good shape from wrestling season in high school. The problem was that I didn't know anything at all about the military in general or the Air Force in particular. I had seen military all my life in San Diego, but that's not the same as BEING ONE. Exponential learning curve is a good description of my early Academy life.

By the time our Survival Training came at the end of Doolie Summer, I was down to 109 pounds. While wandering around the Rockies, I managed to put back on about 5 pounds. No-one, apparently, had ever put on weight during Survival Training. They made a big deal about it and then decided that they must have mis-weighed me before we left for the mountains. I told them there was more food in the mountains than I got to eat at Mitchell Hall, but they didn't want to hear of it.

I was in 10th Squadron Doolie Year and appreciated the help I got from the guys there. Thad Wolfe told me I should try out for the Wrestling Team, because he and Terry Isaacson were going to. I thought it was a good idea, having seen the football training tables, with everyone sitting at ease while the rest of us were at attention. Lo and behold, they needed little guys on the team and I eventually got to a training table. Not so fast! One of the upperclassmen (Neal Starkey) on a Class III punishment decided that my being on a training table meant that I was missing some critical training. Because he was always in his room when he wasn't in class, he had me come to his room every night for 15 minutes just before lights out to tell him all about the "aircraft of the day." (He provided me with the reference books to get the answers. He just wanted me to learn lots of details. I can't say it was bad for me, but I got tired of reciting airplane statistic in the front leaning rest position on my M-1.)

Our 2nd Class year (You know, they no longer call them "classes," because everyone is supposed to be "1st class." They use "1st Degree, "2nd Degree," etc. Give Me a Break!) I moved to 12th Squadron, where I stayed for the rest of our time. Tom Till was my roommate for three semesters, until he went up to Wing Staff. The good thing about having a friend on the staff was that I got to be an escort officer for foreign visitors. One group I escorted was from the RAF College at Cranwell, England. After we graduated, I went to Europe and visited them at Cranwell. They hid me in one of the rooms and took me to several parties. (It was the week before their graduation.)

Most of my memories (the ones not purged while driving away from the Academy in 1964) revolve around the Wrestling Team and the Judo Club. There were a few other times, like when Dan Ward and I slipped out after midnight through the tunnels to the Gym and then out to the big bulldozers being used to prepare the lot for the new field house. Dan said he knew how to drive them - well, anyway, we figured it out and had a great time driving all over the lot until we noticed Security coming up the hill towards us. Back into the tunnels and home we went. I also remember using the tunnels to get to the Library with Tom Till. As I remember, he had a paper due and the only place that had his references was the microfiche files in the library. No problem - through the tunnels, across the parking lot under the Academic Building, into a stairwell, up the elevator and up a ladder to the roof, then down another ladder into the Library. We certainly had a lot of energy in those days!

Into the Wild Blue - But, First..

After graduation, my first assignment was to Williams AFB, Arizona, for Undergraduate Pilot Training. Since I didn't have to report until August, I decided to go to Europe for six weeks. One of the '65 guys, Bob Sutherland, told me he had some friends in Paris and that I should meet him there, because they were planning a trip along the Mediterranean coast. I was buying an MGB in Amsterdam to drive around Europe, so I told him OK. I'd see him on July 14th - Bastille Day. I actually got to Paris on the appointed evening - but I'd been driving straight through from Rome and was too tired to go out to celebrate Bastille Day. The group of us had a great road trip down the coast of France and Spain. As it was ending, Bob said, "I'd really like to go to Sweden to see some exchange student friends." So, the next morning the road trip north started, but that's another story.

In August, I made it to Williams AFB and signed in. There were German military student pilots at Williams, and my roommate, Peter Huse, was one of them. We became good friends, and I took him and another German, Klaus Linke, with me to San Diego for our Christmas break.

After six months, we entered the next phase of pilot training and the Air Force let the U.S. students move off-base. I roomed in an apartment with two other student pilots, Howie Cohen and Tony Tepedino. Tony eventually washed out, but Howie and I made it through. Pilot training was grueling - but great fun. Where else could you have a job that lets you fly jets every day? I had a couple of "pink slips," but always came back and passed each phase. My instructor recommended me for fighters, but I wasn't high enough in the class to get one of the few offered. (In the next couple of classes, you had to be dead to NOT get a fighter.) Anyway, I was assigned to the 14th Troop Carrier Squadron at Hunter AFB, Georgia, flying C-124s. All I knew about C-124s was that they had recipricating engines and the pilot's seat was higher than the roundout level of the T-38! Anyway, since I was going off to Georgia and probably wouldn't ever come back to Phoenix, I decided to get married to Sandy - the girl I had been dating. We drove to Las Vegas with her sister and her sister's girlfriend and got married at midnight in the Chapel of the Bells.

Into the Real (?) Air Force at Last

After we got married, we went back to Phoenix and I left for Savannah, Georgia. Sandy and Greg (Whom I later adopted) followed in about a month - and I promptly got sent on a three week mission. C-124s liked to stay on the ground and they flew low and slow (No pressurization and 185 Knots Indicated Airspeed), but the missions were measured in weeks and months. While I was waiting for a slot in the C-124 school at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, I flew as third pilot on a variety of missions. Did I mention that I was the only 2nd Lt in the Wing? In fact, I think I was the only 2nd Lt pilot they had seen for several years. The 64th Military Airlift Wing (formerly 64th Troop Carrier Wing) had been together for years, first at Donnelson AFB, South Carolina, and then Hunter. Everyone was very experienced, which was good for a new guy right out of UPT.

The 64th Wing had the Berlin support squadron at Rhein Main and I got sent there at the end of my first year. Luckily, my Aircraft Commander was a Flight Examiner (Maj. Wilhelm Stratmann) who was returning from Bootstrap and needed to fly. (He went to school to finish his degree.) Flight Examiners didn't usually pull Aircraft Commander duty at the rotation squadron, but the scheduling department apparently thought he should do his share since he had been off enjoying a civilian university. This was lucky for me, because a 2nd Lieutenant normally can only fly under restrictions unless the person in the other seat is a Flight Examiner. Wilhelm allowed me to fly every other leg, giving me as much overseas stick time in two months as I would have expected to get in about two years. When we returned to Rhein Main from one mission to Turkey, I was told I was out of uniform, because while I was gone I had been promoted to 1st Lieutenant.

If you ever get to the Air Museum in Berlin, there's a Junkers Tri-Motor with a left wing we hauled from Furstenfeldbruck near Munich to Berlin. Not many aircraft can carry a large wing. For that matter, the C-124 was the only aircraft that could carry a C-124 propeller until the C-5 came along. Also, it's the only aircraft I know of in which you can go out to the outboard engine through the wing during flight. I assisted the engineer in removing the generator from the #1 engine during flight. The pilot shut the engine down (but that's a normal happening in a C-124) and we crawled out to the engine and removed the generator. Then the pilot restarted the engine and we were back to four engines again. Another time, we had landing gear trouble as we approached Antigua. The engineer and I went out to the gear pod under the inboard engine and were pounding on the linkage when the engineer lost his grip on his big wrench. Bombs away! - or in this case, Wrenches away!

All good things must come to an end, and the C-124 was headed for the boneyard. They moved the 64th MAW to Norton AFB, California, and transitioned us to C-141s. Back to flying jets again, just as I was getting used to propellers!

Life in the Fast Lane

For some reason, the Air Force decided to let me stop at Tinker AFB for C-141 transition on the way to Norton AFB. Go figure! Any other time, they'd wait until I drove across the country and then tell me to go back half way. Anyway, after a couple of fun filled months in Oklahoma, we finally go to California (where both Sandy and I were born). It was nice for Sandy to be closer to family, but I was really on the road a lot - Vietnam was heating up in the late 60's. Soon after the Tet Offensive started, the President decided to send in the Marines. I got called off alert and went to El Toro Air Station to pick up about 100 Marines with all their gear. Every pair of Marines had a case of C-rations and case of ammunition. Some of them looked like the Sergeant pulled them out of a bar. Because we were the first plane and there was a tight schedule, we were told to takeoff ASAP. The loadmaster said that marines couldn't weigh all that much, so we guessed at the weight and took off. In flight, the engineer used the fuel burn rate and calculated that, with all the gear they carried, each marine weighed about 350 pounds!

Flying the C-141 was a pleasure for the pilot. It had more power than it needed and it liked to get off the ground. Because it could go anywhere around the world, we did. It wasn't able to land on some of the small strips we used for C-124s, but it sure got there a lot faster - and higher. In C-124s we crossed the Atlantic at 8,000 feet, right in the middle of storms. We normally couldn't get around storms - we had to pick our way between the worst cells in the thunderstorms. In C-141s, you normally only had to worry about weather during climb and descent. Eventually, however, almost all of our missions out of Norton AFB (except for the Deep Freeze missions to Antarctica) were to Vietnam. It was good training, since most of us were on our way there within a year or two.

What do You Mean, Live in a Tent?

Being a Captain and a C-141 Aircraft Commander, I thought I was on top of the world! In fact, I was flying all over the world. Did I say something about all good things must come to an end? I was assigned to be a Forward Air Controller in the O-2A Skymaster. It's a funny airplane with a propeller in front and another in back. This actually is a very efficient was to do it, but I guess the civilian version didn't really sell that well. I spent a couple of months at Hurbert Field, Florida, in transition school. Back to propellers again, but this time with fuel injection rather than a carburetor. Anyway, it was fun shooting rockets!

After a short week at home, I was off to the Far East. But first, we had to go to Jungle Survival School at Clark AB, Philippines. Upon arrival at a very late hour, we were told to report to the survival school office the next morning. One of the other FACs, however, learned that if you missed the call that morning, you would be put into the next week's class. They must have had a small class that week, because I saw a lot of our group around the swimming pool all week. Nevertheless, I eventually got to Vietnam and was sent to Phan Rang for further processing. When I got there, I was told that my assignment was to Det B-52, 5th Special Forces Group. This detachment was stationed in Nha Trang and was better known as Project Delta. We did recon inside Vietnam, while Project Omega worked across the border. My job was to fly cover for the teams on the ground and to guide extraction helicopters or air support when needed. Because we always had a free-fire zone in the areas we worked, any fighters that couldn't hit its target was sent to us. There were a lot of submerged bridges, reported weapons caches, and other low-priority targets in the jungle, and I always had a half-dozen targets in mind. I learned to respect the Special Forces soldiers and was glad to be supporting them. It feels good when a team gets extracted under fire and that night in the bar a soldier comes up and tells you, "Thanks for saving my life today."

One morning while we were up near the border with North Vietnam, the Supply Sergeant came to me and asked me to take a SeaBee Chief on an orientation ride over the DMZ. We went north and I showed him the large North Vietnam flag that always flew there. When we got back, the Chief made us honorary members of the SeaBees Chiefs' Club, which was about 20 feet underground near the runway. If someone put down a five dollar bill and said the drinks were on him, everyone would drink free all night. The drinks were only 5 cents each!

One day I was visiting the FAC home base at Cam Ranh Bay when I ran into Fred Olmsted. I had to spend the night, so we had a mini reunion - and some beer. (The TAC Wing Commander at Cam Ranh made us change into Air Force uniforms when we went there. In the field, we wore "Tiger Stripe" pajama-like uniforms. No-one wanted to be the only person in camp with a different uniform on.)

About 2 months before I was due to rotate, I got news that I would be going to AFIT in residence starting a couple of weeks before my rotation date. "Great," I thought. I can get out of here early by passing the GRE. I got a couple of math books and boned up on Algebra and Trig and headed to the Main Special Forces Camp to take the test. (Academic tests in the war zone. Uniforms and painted crosswalks at Cam Ranh Bay. We'd been in Vietnam too long!) Unfortunately, the different parts of the Air Force saw things differently. I had to stay for the entire tour (But, flying every day was more fun than going to school anyway!) - and they found a school slot for me later in the summer.

Guidance and Control What?

We arrived at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, and found a house to rent. I went to the AFIT office and discovered they didn't know what to do with a student who arrived three weeks early for classes. Eventually, they put me to work analyzing some student data until the rest of the class showed up. One of the first people I met was Dick Hackford. We eventually worked on different aspects of the same thesis problem (We were studying Guidance and Navigation Control - I modeled an F-4C in a strafing mode while he modeled the F-4C in an air-to-air mode.) In one astronautics class, we were doing a re-entry problem, but I neglected to enter the right drag term for the earth's atmosphere. We turned the computer card deck in to the operator and she loaded it. Unfortunately, she stepped out of the room just as our answer started to print. By the time she stopped the machine, the pile of paper was about a foot high! I had already gone home, but Dick brought the pile of paper by and left it with a note, "Bob, do you think we're asking for too much information?"

Just before graduation (after two years) the Military Personnel Center decided that engineering degree or not, I was a pilot and I had to go back to the cockpit in a real flying squadron. I had told Jim Feliccia at the Flight Dynamics Laboratory that I would like to work for him on the C-141 All Weather Landing System Test. Jim called MPC and got the Major that told me I had to return to flying (KC-1135s at Tinker). After several minutes of arguing, Jim asked, "Can the Chief of Staff change this assignment?" The answer was, "Of course." So Jim said, "Please tell me the lowest person between you and the Chief who can change the assignment and then let's talk to him." The assignment was changed, but instead of calling and telling me, the Major had the change of assignment sent to me by regular mail. We had the car loaded to go on leave, but if the assignment hadn't been changed, we would have had to cancel the vacation and go into the move mode.

Flying in the Fog

The C-141 All Weather Landing System test was designed by the FAA to gather information for the next generation of aircraft that were starting to be built. They would all have automatic landing systems and the airlines wanted to be able to land in lower visibility than previously allowed. The 4950th Wing at Wright-Patterson AFB owned the aircraft and the Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory modified the aircraft and ran the tests (with 4950th test pilots). Do you know how hard it is to find really pea-soup fog at an airport when you want it? We ended up flying all over the country in search of fog. We finally got some really good, shut down the airport fog at New Orleans. One of the radio recordings (We recorded everything.) captured an airline pilot asking for permission to start up and taxi. He was told the airport was closed and replied, "Then who's out there taking off and landing? I can hear them!" It turns out that you can see things in the fog that let you know the autopilot is going to land you on the runway, even when there's not enough visibility to land with visual cues. One night at Travis AFB, Mike Lipsey, our 4950th test pilot, had to land totally on instruments all the way to a full stop - because the autopilot failed.

Back to the cockpit

After flying C-118s for proficiency (Meaning - to qualify for flight pay.) and riding around in the back of the test C-141 for several years, I was assigned to Travis AFB, California. I flew with the 14th Military Airlift Squadron for a couple of years and then moved to the 15th MAS when I became the Flying Training Officer at the Wing level. About that time, the Air Force was starting to put the Ground Proximity Warning System into all of the large aircraft. Since I had tested all of the available industry models as my last project at Wright-Patterson AFB, Stand-Eval asked me to put together a test plan and then go do a "kit test" on the first C-141 with the installation. What fun! We went to Edwards AFB and spent the day diving at the ground, running around low-level in various configurations and flying level towards a cliff - but just above it. And remember! We were getting paid for this!

Travis was a great assignment. The location was great and the flying even better. We flew all over the Pacific, to Australia and New Zealand, and also to Europe and the Middle East. One of the other pilots, John Muir, and I always volunteered for the New Year's mission to Europe. Since the schedulers knew we had to be ready to fly at New Years, they left us home at Christmas. - And, being away at New Year's meant we didn't have to wear our mess dress uniforms! The last year I was at Travis (1979) we were diverted to Pisa, Italy, to pick up fuel bladders, and then on to Athens to fill them with diesel. We took the fuel to Tehran, Iran, so they could keep the heat and power on at the U.S. hospital there. The entire country was coming apart and the U.S. citizens had all been moved to the hospital. We shuttled back and forth between Athens and Tehran, carrying fuel one way and U.S. citizens the other. On the last run, we took General Heiser to Tehran. He told me later that President Carter had instructed him to go to Tehran to tell the Iranian military to stay out of the fighting that was going on. He got the generals to move the troops back to the barracks - and all of the generals were executed a couple of months later when the Ayatollahs took over.

Another exciting flight took place just before I left Travis for the Pentagon. I was giving a new Aircraft Commander a line orientation ride - where we ran a normal mission, but flew only during the day and made a series of practice approaches and landings at each base. We had just left California and were at 35,000 feet when I notices the autopilot was holding in full right rudder. I said, "What are you doing?" and he replied, "I thought YOU were doing something!" Just then, the autopilot clicked off and we went into a crazy turn. By the time I slowed the aircraft down to a speed I could control it, we were way off course and 10,000 feet lower. Having already declared an emergency, we completed the turn and returned to Travis. Upon landing, we discovered that the left aileron hinge had broken and the aileron was stuck in the half-down position. It doesn't fly very well that way, but luckily Mr. Lockheed put a large rudder and lots of power in the C-141. (Since we'd only been gone three hours, they transferred our cargo to another aircraft and sent us on our way again!) Not long after that incident, the Air Force decided that four years of flying was enough fun for me and assigned me to the Pentagon.

To the Pentagonal Building on the Potomac

If you've been assigned to the Pentagon, I don't need to explain it to you. If you haven't been assigned there, I probably can't explain it. I worked in the Research and Development of the Air Staff for four years as the Program Element Monitor for the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System. Try working that name into a one-page Congressional budget justification that's only allowed to be 15 lines long and with no abbreviations!

While working as a PEM, I attended the NATO message standards working group in Brussels as a technical expert. This is what's known in the operational world as a "boondoggle," but someone has to do it!

Following my four years, I got assigned as the Military Assistant to the Chief Scientist of the Air Force. This is one of the least known fantastic deals in the Air Force. My instructions were to keep the (civilian) Chief Scientist appraised of the effects on the Air Force of the things he work on and to educate him on how the Air Force works. I took that to mean we needed to travel all over Europe and the U.S. and visit the different operational and scientific organizations available. Traveling with a 3-star equivalent civilian is a lot better than traveling as an O-6. We got the first class treatment everywhere and got briefed on everything that was going on in the Air Force.

To Boston

Two years in the Chief Scientist's office was all they allowed, so I had to move on again. I arrived at Electronics Systems Division at Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts, and discovered that Dick Hackford was coming up from D.C., also. Dick was the new Logistics Command liaison officer to ESD. We lived next door and, when Dick bought Becky a snowblower for Christmas, I borrowed it. Becky and I had a deal. She'd keep the snowblower gassed up and I'd clean both our driveways. No problem! It was a lot easier than using a shovel on even one driveway!

Anyway, after three years of developing and fielding tactical communications systems (satellite radios and tactical telephone systems), I moved up the hill and took over as commander/director of the Air Force's Geophysics Laboratory. This was a wonderful terminal assignment. The Laboratory was part of what started out as the Air Force Cambridge Research Labs during WWII. The people were all "top in their field" scientists and engineers and were doing great work in all of the different parts of the lab. (Eventually the Air Force reorganized all of the laboratories and the Geophysics Lab divisions were split among several other labs for management.) One of the highlights while I was there was the Space Shuttle mission STS-39, which carried a full load of Geophysics Lab experiments to study the Aurora (the Southern Lights due to the orbit used). I was able to be at the Cape for the launch and then went to Houston to the control room for the first two days of the mission.

When it came time to retire, I decided to take advantage of the local area. I retired onboard the USS Constitution in Charlestown Harbor. Following the ceremony (in Air Force white uniforms, of course), the Navy personnel presented me with the flay they had flown on the gaff during the ceremony and then piped me off the ship. My mother thought I was something special!

The Rest of the Story

Life, of course, didn't end with retirement from the Air Force. I went to work in Texas on the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory, a Department of Energy project. (Notice that I always seem to pick projects with the longest names?) After Congress killed the project, I moved back to Washington D.C. and supported the Army for a while before being offered a good job in Huntsville. I worked for several of the local companies in Huntsville, with my last project being a hybrid-electric HMMWV test for the Army's TARDEC lab in Detroit. One day, I decided it was time to quit. Coming back to the office after an early morning dental appointment, I walked into my boss's office and said, "I was sitting in the dental chair this morning, he was drilling on a tooth without any anesthetic, and I suddenly realized that I was having more fun than going to work. I quit!" About an hour later, the Chief Engineer came by and asked, "Bob, why does everyone keep asking me when I'm going to the dentist next?"

At this point, when I spend my time volunteering or turning bowls on my lathe, I look back and think how lucky I've been that I could have been associated with such a great group - the Class of '64! It's an honor just to belong to such a distinguished group.
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