Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

There I was... 2

by Chuck Clifton


Instructing six years ago at the Monterey Navy Flying Club in a T-34.

When I was at the Academy as a member of good 'ol Fightin' Four:

I remember my doolie year listening to Hayden J. Lockhart (class of '61, one of the first POW's) bouncing golf balls off the wall of his room next door, seeing Joe Bill Dryden's new 'Vette (class of '62, his daddy was the foreman of the King Ranch) in the lot below my dorm window of the 4th Squadron floor; and hearing Charlie Price ('61 Wing Commander) calling my name from down the hall and being called out for responding "Yo Charlie" instead of "Yes Sir" (we were going on a double date I had arranged).

I remember Ed Harvey making good on his boast that he could get from his room to the showers from the beginning of call to quarters, take a complete shower and get back to his room before the last note of taps.

I was privileged to have Mike Ryan ('65) as a Squadron mate. Anyone remember the fights Mike and his late twin brother Jack had in the halls? Woe be it unto he who tried to intervene! After three years of camaraderie and conversations in the dorm rooms and halls of the academy, Mike and I later shared a hootch in Kunsan, Korea in 1975.

Not long after graduation, in the middle of a night thunderstorm in south Texas, Ken Zella, was on a flight with his new bride to start their honeymoon, when his father-in-law who was piloting the plane, suffered a fatal heart attack. Ken took the controls and safely landed the plane, even though he had not yet officially gotten his pilot rating.

In August of '64, I was assigned to Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, Texas for pilot training and was part of the first class to fly the T--38 for advanced training. About six weeks into that phase there was a tremendous line of thunderstorms that came through our area with hail the size of golf balls coming down for about 20 minutes. In addition to severely denting all the vehicles on base,it also dimpled the honey-comb wing structure of the brand new T-38's. After subsequent extensive flight tests it was discovered that the Talons, much like dimpled golf balls, actually flew faster. By the way, we started training in T-37's and I never flew a prop airplane until after I retired from the Air Force.

At Laughlin, Nick Zopolis was one of my UPT classmates. We had started to become good friends, he was a quiet and reserved guy, but a lot of fun once I started to get know him (we were in different Squadrons at the academy). He was the first guy in our class to get his car tricked out with an eight-track stereo and speakers in the doors. He was sure it would attract the ladies. When he was killed in a T-38 traffic pattern midair, I had the solemn honor of escorting his closed coffin home to his family in Seattle, Washington. His close knit family was very receptive and kind to a young apprehensive second lieutenant.

Proving once again that blind luck and prejudice beat skill and cunning, I somehow aced my instrument check ride and landed an assignment to F-4s coming out of pilot training. Next stop was Davis-Monthan AFB,Arizona, in late '65, for ground school on F-4 systems where I met Chappy James for the first time. A few of us were at the stag bar one Friday evening. While waiting for another round, I was attempting to clear the debris from the candle-holder on our table so I could relight the candle. Unfortunately when I lit it the extra debris in the holder also caught fire. Chappy suspected I was attempting to commit some sort of mischief and summarily ordered me out of the bar.

Fortunately when we reconnected a year later at Ubon, Thailand, he didn't remember me. Unfortunately when I surreptitiously attempted to remove his "Gooney Bird survival kit" at the stag bar the night he arrived, although the pocket came off, the seam down the leg of his flight suit also separated. He never blinked and stood shoulder to shoulder with Robin Olds drinking for the next little while, watching us play our latest invention, karate pool.

For a while in the Triple Nickel at Ubon, we had a Squadron Commander, whose name I cannot (will not) remember. The unit had a standing bet on when he would abort his participation in any mission. It was 5-1 he would not make it through preflight, 20-1 no farther than start engines, 50-1 not past the arming area and 150-1 not break ground on takeoff roll. One time he actually got airborne, but had to air-abort because he had testicular entanglement with his parachute harness. The one time I was in a flight that he actually led beginning to end, was a "Sky Spot" mission over Laos where there was no triple-A threat. We jinked and went through gyrations the whole flight for no good reason. (Sky Spot was a mission where we pretended we were a flight of Buffs in formation, dropping in unison over some cluster of trees.) He went on to become a one-Star before he was retired; several allegories come to mind, none of which are really apropos to this discussion.

Did you know that the super-heated steam from the boiler of a steam locomotive engine is close to the same infrared signature as jet exhaust? My Flight Commander, Smitty and I proved it one day over the rail yards on the outskirts of Hanoi. We caught a steam powered train just departing the yards and we didn't have any other ordnance left besides missiles. I suggested he try to get a growl from the Sidewinders. It worked and that train never did leave the station.

In my travels through the fighter community I have accumulated a few tales along the way that I have verified to the best of my ability.

To wit:

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