The Gadabout

Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Friday, June 7, 2019

Omaha Beach.

Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Omaha Beach - 67 Years Later

"I couldn't be happier if we had the kind of world in which people in my profession were permanently out of job." ~ Dwight Eisenhower

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

 I'm sitting in a hotel in Gay Paree, France as I write this.  Four days ago I read this post in one of Ann's and my favorite blogs.  Towards the bottom of that link is another link to an essay entitled: First Wave at Omaha Beach.  If you could not stomach the opening scenes of "Saving Private Ryan" then I recommend that you not read the essay.  

Yesterday, we flew from Indianapolis to Paris.  The arrival routes you directly over the landing beaches of D-Day and Omaha Beach in particular.  Having just read those essays, I was somewhat awestruck to be flying over the scene.  I did remember to take a few snaps that I will share later. 

To orient you, here are two maps:

I stole that last map from Wikipedia:

Here are the poor pictures that I took.  In all them we are flying east towards Paris.  We flew directly over the beaches.

In this first picture, we are due south of Cherbourg and looking directly at the landing beaches.  Omaha Beach is closest.

I have flown into Paris fairly often in my career.  The weather in Europe is often bad and this was really the first time it was clear enough to see these beaches.  I lack the skills to convey the awe I felt as we flew down the beaches at 35,000'.

On that note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff
(PS, I originally posted this in 2011.  I took it down because it violated FedEx's policy, but what the heck now? )

Saturday, March 9, 2019


Gentle Readers and Loved Ones All,

Attached you will find a sort of uninteresting picture that I am about to weave a long torturous tale around.  The picture: “Japanese Fishing Fleet.jpg” is a picture I took the other night over the South China Sea.  Click on this link for a map:
The picture is southwest of the big Japanese Island of Kyshu - in the inset map in the upper left corner - roughly centered between the islands of Amami and Tokara.  We are flying roughly 6 miles above the ocean and every white spot is a brilliant spot light each fishing vessels uses to attract fish at night. 
Gentle reader, I know some of you either read these to your young and impressionable offspring or allow them to read this.  Were I you, I would stop at this point and do a little parenting for I intend to relate a story containing a vulgarity that is vital to the integrity of the story.  You continue past this point at your own peril.
Like many of my flying stories, this one will require some extensive background information to make sense.  I am about to discuss spatial disorientation, radio discipline and standardized radio terminology.  At the end, I will tie it all back together to the big picture. 
Spatial Disorientation (Vertigo) is a fancy word pilots and flight surgeons use to describe the condition of not being able to tell up from down.  Spatial disorientation is what killed John-John, (JFK, Jr.) his wife and sister in law.  It’s a deadly condition to have while airborne.  Student pilots spend several hours of classroom time learning about the condition. 
All humans rely on two separate systems to orient themselves to the vertical:  the inner ear with its’ semi-circular canals, otoliths and vision.  My father-in-law, whose auditory nerve was destroyed early in life by meningitis, is a fine example of how these two systems work together.  Dad has to keep a light on at night in case he needs to get up because he can’t find the vertical without vision. 
I now digress into a small political statement.  He-Man Bush Haters and sufferers from Bush Derangement Syndrome use the following quote as an example of Rumsfeld’s ability to confuse and distract. 

The message is that there are no knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know." 

I, on the other hand, think this is one of the wiser things I have ever heard a senior government employee say.  Realizing that there are things that you erroneously think true and that there are things that you don’t know is the first step to wisdom, grasshopper. 
The same is true with spatial disorientation and the pilot.  True spatial disorientation is pretty straight forward.  When you get it – and all of us have – you know you have it.  It usually happens inside a cloud where you can’t see the horizon or at night.  The world goes whirling around; your eyeballs begin uncontrollably bouncing all over the place looking for something to orient on and it is very uncomfortable.  John-John died because he was flying at night over the ocean with no discernable horizon and didn’t know how to handle it.
There are more sneaky versions of disorientation sometimes called miss-orientation.  Miss-orientation is where your body is oriented but wrong. The best kind is where your body and eyes are orienting you to a false horizon, but you know this to be false.  I experienced this once on a student training flight as an instructor.  We were flying in thin wispy clouds and I had a streak of perspiration that ran down my left eyeglass lens leaving a straight vertical line when it dried.  My vision locked on to this vertical line and the part of my brain responsible for orientation became convinced that this line was the horizon and that I was flying in 90 degrees of bank.  I knew that feeling was wrong but I spent the whole time flying in that cloud – roughly 15 minutes – fighting a constant battle to overcome that false feeling.
The worse kind of miss-orientation is where you are miss-oriented and don’t know you are miss-oriented: Rumsfeld’s “things we don’t know we don’t know.”  These will flat kill you.  If I had believed it when my eyes were telling me I was in 90 degrees of bank, bad things would have happened.  There are many fatal aircraft accidents that are assumed to have been caused by this last and most dangerous miss-orientation.
Modern fighter cockpits are especially conducive to getting disoriented.  The seats sit high under big bubble canopies and reflections off the glass can be disorienting while flying in the weather.  The jets themselves are much faster than a generation ago and “Spatial Dee” as it is sometimes called is given a lot of respect and caution.  If any member of a formation is suspected of being “D’ed”, the entire formation immediately ceases whatever they are doing and gives all of its’ collective attention to helping the stricken pilot.
The next topic required for this story is radio discipline and standardized radio calls.  The Air Force flies several aircraft together in formation to achieve mass of force and mutual support in combat.  But if everyone in the formation just talked casually on the radio then the radio would rapidly become a source of confusion and lead to defeat.  So radio discipline is one of the cornerstones of any pilot’s training. 
There are many single words used that carry a very complex meaning.  Before every formation flight, the formation commander computes and briefs a fuel quantity that will provide a safe margin to knock off maneuvering and return to land.  This is known as “Bingo Fuel” and the first member of the formation to burn down to bingo is required to state it on the radio:  ‘Red Four, Bingo.”  At this point, everyone knows the mission is over and it’s time to go home.
An unknown radar target is assigned a standardized name “Bogey”.  Once it is identified as a friend or foe it becomes a “Friendly” or a “Bandit”.  As the formation closes with the bandit, each individual member of the formation informs the others that it is in sight with the call “Tallyho”.  If it is friendly then it is “Traffic in sight”.   A ground target is called in sight with the standardized word: “Visual”.   It is a significant error to use any of these words for any other sightings.  
I give you this description to give a taste of the complex use of simple words while engaging in air combat.  There are many others and all of these words are described in great detail in official Air Force Flying Regulations.
But of course, there are also, unofficial and casual terms that enter the lexicon too.  There is one official phrase that all fighter pilots know and use that is neither condoned nor officially recognized in writing.
The unofficial but universally accepted radio call when you think you are “D’ed” is “All Fucked Up.”  “Red 4 is ‘All Fucked Up” will get an immediate and positive reaction from everyone who hears it.  All will try to get you in sight and give you positive instructions to get your eyes inside the cockpit onto the instruments – especially the attitude indicator – which will save your life.  If anyone sees you in a dangerous flight attitude they will try to simply and quickly talk you back to level flight.
Now, gentle reader, we are ready to tell the story.
I was flying as co-pilot in a KC-135 tanker out west of Okinawa late one night.  We were refueling a flight of four F-15s.   The first element, Eagle 1 and 2 were flying in the observation position on our left wing.  Eagle 4 was flying alone in the observation position on the right wing and Eagle 3 was refueling on the boom behind our aircraft.  There was a hard overcast overhead and a Japanese fishing fleet was directly under us with the bright lights spread out from horizon to horizon. 
The picture does not do justice to this scene, but it reminds me of it.
Suddenly I noticed Eagle 4 quickly and suddenly climb up above the formation off the right wing.  Very soon we hear: “Eagle 4 is All Fucked Up.”  Things got very busy very fast.  Eagle 3 as the element lead of Eagle 4 took responsibility, disconnected from the boom and began maneuvering to join on his wing.  Eagle 1 directed him to “get on the gauges.”    Eagle 4 replied: “I am but I feel like I’m inverted.”  By then Eagle 3 was with him and told him he wasn’t inverted and doing fine.  They departed the formation, declared an in-flight emergency and returned to base. 
The next day we called over to the fighter squadron to find out what happened.  We got hold of the pilot who said that out of nowhere, something had clicked in his mind and suddenly those fishing lights below him were stars and he was upside down.  Even though he went inside the jet, got on the instruments and stayed there, his brain remained convinced he was upside down. 
When they got the island of Okinawa in sight, just as suddenly his brain recovered and the world returned to right side up and he was fine. 
Hope you enjoyed this story.  I hadn’t thought about it in years until I saw how well the handheld picture of the fishing fleet turned out.

I remain,


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Gunner and the Allosaurus

"All bravery stands upon comparison." ~ Francis Bacon

A quick story about my grandson.  Gunther James Whisler turned two back in Nov and loves him some dinosaurs.  He’s bright, learns fast - like all two year olds and is a treasure.  He loves to watch Dinosaur story on the History Channel, has a set of plastic dinosaurs and will watch Dinotrux for hours.

So Ann and I invited Gunner and his parents to go with us to see the Minnesota Science Museum and its’ fairly extensive collection of dino fossils.  The museum is your standard airy, sunlit box of big windows sitting on the north bank of the Mississippi River in St Paul.  The main lobby is huge, probably close to half an acre and is close to 50’ high.  The exhibit designers have sited a complete Allosaurus skeleton in the classic ‘Sue’ pose – nose close to the ground, hunting – and it is oriented vaguely towards the lobby entry door from the parking lot.

The same door that we came through with a fired up Gunner.  At this point, Gunner had not really internalized how big dinos were.  Filling his world is this huge, bony apparition, full of teeth all pointed in his general direction.  Worse, behind the Allosaur is another exhibit.  It’s an Allosaur skull fitted up with a hydraulic frame that kids can operate the lever to open and close the skull’s mouth.  Which is happening as Gunner walks in.  Chomp, chomp.

This is when Gunner’s Dinosaur Paradigm shifted. 

Two seconds into the Minnesota Science Museum he has had all of the dinosaurs he wants and he’s done.  He’s making a 180 and getting the heck out of here.  And screaming.  It does not help that the adults he loves and trusts are preventing him from doing this.  Nor does the grandfatherly laughter.  (I hang my head in shame here.)

George and Brook do some magnificent parenting, get him calmed down and distracted and within 30 minutes or so Gunner is sitting on dad’s shoulders and walking around the Allosaur skeleton in rapt attention.  

Best was when he got to see the most complete Triceratops skeleton in the world.  He likes Triceratops.

Despite the scary beginning, the kid had a great time at the museum.

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Big Sunspot

 "Knowledge has a trick of paying off in unexpected ways." 
        ~  Poul Anderson, The Boat Of A Million Years

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

I'm going to go all astronomy geek on you again.  For the last two weeks or so, the sun has been going through a period of really big sunspots and solar flares.

Please click this and this for information.

I saw this spot on the sun with my naked eyeballs on Thursday, Oct 23. It took a fairly non standard set of events to see it.  We were sitting on the ramp on Beijing Capital International Airport, waiting for the load and refuel crews to finish before we left for Incheon, South Korea.  The latest weather observation was clear and visibility unlimited, which in Beijing means the smog gives you about a mile of visibility.  Maybe less. 

Which is the point of this story, because the smog was just thick enough that you could look at the face of the sun comfortably.  The sun is almost exactly the same relative size as the moon when looked at from Earth - which is why solar eclipses are so cool - and you could see the big sunspot those articles talk about on the lower face of the sun.  You didn't even need sunglasses.

It felt kind of ominous to me.  That thing is tossing out stupendous amounts of ionizing radiation and is just generally bad news...and it looked like it was pointing right at us.

But there was also a sense of wonder to be able to see what is usually unseen while sitting on a flight deck looking west.

It looked a lot like this picture if you imagine black sky around it replaced by gray smog. 

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff