Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Enigma Machine

Enigma



I left my tool case in the trunk of my car and walked into the Eastern Airlines headquarters building in Miami wondering if I might run into my brother who managed the Interline Billing department, located in the same building. I just finished a service call in nearby Hialeah and called Bob Traum to find out if he could meet me for lunch. Bob was signed out to nearby EAL, not far from one of our favorite barbeque places. He was working on the one machine that bedeviled the Miami IBM service office for years, a forty-year old bank proof machine known as an 803. Bob was far from finished with his service calls so I thought I’d drop by and, since I wasn’t trained on the banking machines, see if I could lend moral support.

There are famous machines, or more correctly, infamous machines in IBM. This particular bank proof machine was one of the infamous ones. It defiantly blew fuses whenever it damned well felt like it. It didn’t care who the operator was, or who tried to solve its mysterious idiosyncrasies. It failed intermittently no matter how much time or money IBM threw at it. It had been whimsically powering down without warning for years despite the effort of the talented specialists who practically rebuilt the machine from the frame up. Eastern had long relegated the machine to backup service as they couldn’t rely on it for uninterrupted service.

This particular machine, built in 1949, performed a unique service that newer, more modern check processors simply couldn’t. It processed checks and tickets that were mutilated or damaged simply because the document was only moved a few inches to the receiving pigeon hole as the receiving pocket, mounted on a huge, rotating drum, was moved to meet the check, as opposed to the newer machines which used belts and pneumatics to zip checks around the machine to find the appropriate receiving slot. This 803 was appropriately assigned to the slow speed section of the accounting department.

Bob graciously introduced me to Patricia, the section manager, then asked me if I had ever seen the famous machine that defied analysis.
No, I’ve never seen it,” I answered, “Is it in use?

Yes, but no problem,” said Pat, “I’ll ask the operator to move to a different machine.”

I walked behind her as she approached the operator who was busy running the 10-key calculator style keyboard. Patricia leaned over and talked to the 803 operator, who nodded, then started clearing the machine. As she slid open the door over the huge drum pockets on the side of the machine, a flash caught my eye from inside of the machine. I saw the flash through the partially open door. The big machine went dead.

Oh look! It just failed! That’s funny it would do it when you’re here.”

Bob looked at me and said, “I don’t believe it. That’s the bug!”

Hand me a screwdriver,” I told Bob, “I know what the problem is.”

Bob gave the that famous, “Oh, brother, here you go again.!” look, but he handed me a screw driver and we proceeded to take the side panel off the 803, then rerouted the power leads to the panel access light switch which was shorting to a metal flange on the door cover, only if the operator pushed just hard enough to flex the door against old, worn wire insulation on the switch termnals.

Bob just looked me and laughed as we re-wrapped the wires with new electrical tape. We moved the wires so they would never touch anything, much less the panel cover, and told the operator to let us know if it ever happened again.

She gave us that “Yeah, sure!” look and once again powered up the machine.

Bob said to me later as we ate our barbecue sandwiches, “Are you lucky, or what?”

Timing is everything!” I answered. “But I’ll take luck, too! It certainly doesn’t hurt my reputation!”

The 803 never powered down unexpectedly again, and I still disavow any knowledge of banking machines.



Friday, July 17, 2015

The Box Cars and Me

Epiphany


When Danny Levine walked into our tenth grade English class wearing what appeared to be a khaki-colored Air Force uniform, I was presented with a solution to my stuck-at-home problem. I was incredibly impressed with the sharp crispness, the military image of the uniform. It wasn't really an Air Force uniform, rather the summer dress uniform of the Civil Air Patrol cadet program, but you had to look closely at the insignia and the uniform patches to tell the difference. I sat behind Danny in English class, one of the few classes I actually tried to do well. I know because I still remember my teacher's name. I found I was fascinated by great writing, and if it hadn't been for my distaste of Shakespeare and the endless doting on obsolete, medieval writing that bored me senseless I probably would have done much better. How well I succeeded in English is still an unresolved issue.

I had no idea what a CAP cadet was or what the Civil Air Patrol even did, but I knew it had to do with airplanes. I pestered Danny the entire class and he easily convinced me to attend a cadet meeting the next Tuesday night. All I had to do was convince my mom and dad to take me to the west side of the Miami International Airport for the meeting. My mother agreed, even though she had reservations about what the program was all about. She assumed it was something like the Boy Scouts, which both my parents frowned on. My dad, as usual didn't seem impressed one way or the other, but he certainly didn't like the late hour he would have to pick me up. Even though the meetings were scheduled to end at 10:00pm, he actually relented and drove us all over to the west side of the airport to look for the one-story, military building that housed the Civil Air Patrol squadron. That Tuesday night changed my life.

The building was located on the two-lane road that ran around the west perimeter of the Miami International Air Depot, home of the US Air Force Reserve units stationed at Miami International Airport. MIAD was the home of active Air Force reserve units that flew both C-119 Flying Boxcars and SA-16 Albatross Air/Sea rescue amphibians. The barren street lights and security lights on the beige colored buildings gave the place an eerie pale cast. There were two rows of parked cars on one side of the building, and a group of men in khaki uniforms standing in rows with their hands behind their backs in an empty parking lot just beyond the building. My mom and dad waited in the newly acquired 1956 Ford that had eventually replaced the old station wagon as I walked cautiously over toward the group of men standing in the dim light. The smells pervading the air were new to me. Aircraft fuel smells and exhaust fumes hung in the damp evening air like cheap perfume at a department store ladies counter. I soon recognized Danny in the group, and I turned and waved at my parents. OK, leave now! Come back at 10:00 pm. 

There were several of us in civilian clothes, newly recruited to join the cadet squadron. I looked at the formation of men and realized the majority were not much older than me. They were all high school students. Some had stripes on their sleeves, and several had officer's insignia on their collars. They all looked sharp. Shoes were highly shined, no, they were polished! Absolutely polished to a sheen I had never seen before. I was to later learn what “spit-shined” meant. Danny told the new members to stand in a row off to the side and simply follow what the regular, uniformed cadets did when commanded by the Cadet Commander. As we shuffled into position and nervously watched the two young men in front of the assembled group, we realized we had no idea what to expect. We were in a new, unfamiliar setting where everyone else was in total synchronization, while we were in absolute chaos. As the furthest cadet turned and said, “Lieutenant, call the squadron to attention,” everyone seemed to tense and prepare for sometime important. As the second cadet spun on his heel and faced the formation of cadets, he called out “Squadron, ATTENHUT!” The group snapped to perfect alignment, and finally, I had found something thrilling I wanted to be a part of. 

I embarrassed myself later in the general meeting that very first night by asking a question about getting a uniform I thought was valid, but apparently Lieutenant Palumbo, the senior Commander, Cadet Squadron Two, thought otherwise. The senior members of the Civil Air Patrol were all adults, serving in command positions to oversea the cadet functions. There were Cadet officers and Non-commissioned officers but they had no real “power' within the actual organization. That rested with the senior members who actually ran the organization. I don't remember the question, it was something about how to acquire uniforms or something, but his blistering answer set a tone with me that taught me caution in all dealings with superiors that became my standard throughout my time in the Civil Air Patrol and the US Air Force as well. 

Palumbo looked silently at me at first, and when the theatrical impact was perfect, he caustically and loudly said, “What the Hell does that have to do with windshield wipers on a duck's ass?” I was stunned, absolutely shocked I had misread his question of “Any Questions?” Obviously, that was not what he meant! A couple of the older Cadet officers chuckled, but most simply sat, staring straight ahead. After the meeting was over and we walked to our waiting parents, several of the regular cadets came over and told me not to take Palumbo's rebuff personally, that was a standard response from some senior members. One of those cadets was Cadet Lieutenant Scott Stoddard, who later became Cadet Commander. My dumb-ass question won me several other sympathetic friends that night, and we remained friends until we left the CAP. 

That night was the beginning of a wonderful time in my life, one that molded me in more ways than one. Happy times were here again. 


Cadet George Mindling - 1957

The Drill Team


Sometime during the first year of regular meetings at the squadron, I volunteered to be on the squadron drill team. Every Civil Air Patrol cadet squadron competed in annual drill competitions held at state level. The state competition winners then competed regionally, with the best ten regional teams going on to National Competition at Rockefeller Plaza in New York. We practiced for an hour extra every Tuesday night, every Saturday, and sometimes even on Thursday nights between the dark, empty warehouses of the freight terminal. We all got along well, and we were good. In fact, we were very good. Almost all of us became good and fast friends. The more we practiced, the better we got. 

We flew from Opa Locka Naval Air Station to Orlando Air Force Base in a Navy R5D, the Navy version of a C-54, or DC-4, for my first state level drill competition. It was my first ride in a big, four engine airplane. We sat sideways, sitting in canvas strap seats, wondering why we were flying Navy instead of Air Force, but apparently they were the only ones who could supply a flight to Orlando. 

We lost. In fact, we lost badly, but how we lost changed everything. We were better than any other team there, but we got burned by something we hadn't counted on: Orlando Air Force Base used a grass drill field. The reviewing stands looked better suited for a football game than a drill competition. We had practiced all year using only silent drill! We counted our moves by the stamping of our feet, which couldn't be heard in the soft, irregular sod surface, so once we got off cadence, we were lost. It cost us the competition, but taught us a good lesson. From then on, we counted softly among ourselves as we maneuvered through our Queen Ann’s salutes and counter moves. We developed a system where one cadet in the center of the team would initiate the count, and the whole team would lock on his mark counting quietly in unison. The next year, we competed at West Palm Beach Air Base, and we walked away, literally, with the state championship. We worked hard and long, and we were determined not to lose. We could have competed in flip-flops on the beach in the sand and we would have kept our cadence. From there we were scheduled to compete against the other Southeast region state winners at the next big competition to be held at Memphis. I worked harder at being a good drill team member than I ever worked at school work, but I had to keep up passing grades or my dad would have stopped me from going to the meetings. My grades improved, but my averages would never recover from my tenth grade years. 

We flew to Memphis for the Regional Drill Competition on a C-119G Flying Boxcar of the 76th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 435th Troop Carrier Wing. It was my first flight in one of the lumbering twin-engined transports, the workhorse of the Korean War, and I loved it. We flew from Miami to Memphis, stopping to refuel at Maxwell Air Force Base, just outside Montgomery, Alabama. It was hot at Maxwell, we were all ready for something cold to drink. Actually, anything to drink. It was a long, dry flight, but most of us cadets loved it. The several adults who accompanied our cadet drill team looked like they would have rather walked. The big, twin engined transports were slow, cruising along at less than 170 miles an hour and never getting above 9000 feet because they weren't pressurized. Today's jets would have been in New York by the time we got to Alabama. 

The Boxcars were usually stuffy, smelly airplanes, ventilation wasn't their strong suit. We actually flew once later with the back personnel doors open. There were permanent, cupped vents in Plexiglas windows in the back that the adult smokers would throw cigarettes out of as we monotonously droned along, but sometimes that wasn't enough to keep the air from going stale. Everyone had to sit sideways as the canvas seats ran along both sides of the big, square fuselage. The square, dingy Plexiglas windows were hard to see through, but there was always one or two clear ones and I would sit as close to one of those as I could. There were steel cables that ran from the front of the plane to the back at the top of the cabin. Those were the “Jump lines” the static lines paratroopers would hook their parachutes to when they jumped out of the back of the plane. We didn't have any paratroopers with us, so the cables were a great place to hang our dress uniforms. 

The problem with the refueling stop at Maxwell was no one was allowed off the, hot foul-smelling airplane. We had the side door open, and both of the personnel doors in the big clam-shell doors at the back. The Cadet Drill Commander, Lt. Terry Thomas, was allowed to leave the plane with orders to pick up as many soft drinks and candy bars as he could carry from base ops. He brought back a couple of drinks that went to our senior members, the rest of us had to wait. While we were being refueled, an airman standing outside started yelling at the cadets standing in the open doors in the back of the plane. A couple of the cadets had thoughtlessly used the relief tubes that hang on detachable hooks in the back of the airplane. There were two of the relief tubes, side by side, mounted on the center brace that is part of the door system. They are black, funnel-like pieces of plastic attached to rubber hoses running below the airplane into venturis that vaporize the urine in the air during flight. However, sitting on the ground, no vaporization takes place and yellow puddles began to form on the tarmac around the back of our airplane. We were soon lectured by a stern U.S. Air Force sergeant who boarded the aircraft to inform us we were really, really grounded, and to stay the hell away from the relief tubes! Apparently he didn't know we couldn't get off the airplane anyway. I think they were glad to see us leave. 

C-119G Flying Boxcar
The landing at Memphis was another highlight in my Civil Air Patrol cadet career. We got busted! Some of us, anyway. After the Air Force reservist flight crew finally got our lumbering beast parked and shut down in the transient area of the flight line, they loaded all their gear in a waiting blue station wagon and drove off. Someone from the air base led the senior members off toward waiting cars and trucks, and they too, were soon gone. The rest of us were on our own to carry dress uniforms and duffel bags behind an unhappy airman who led the way across the big, open flight line toward our white, wooden two story barracks off in the distance. We all trundled along like good cadets until we passed behind a twin-engine C-123 sitting with its back to us with the personnel door open. Myself, Gerard, Benson, and five or six others piled our gear on the tarmac and climbed in. We had never seen a C-123 before, and besides, no one was going to miss us anyway. We sat in the pilot's and co-pilots seats, tried on the radio head sets and generally acted like 15 year olds left in a big candy store. Then someone found a survival kit under a seat. There was a Very flare pistol with a collection of flares, all kinds of first aid stuff, and small packs of camel cigarettes packed in cosmoline paper. We were totally engrossed in our wonderland when two Air Policeman stuck their heads in the back of the plane and wanted to know who the hell we were and what we were doing in the airplane. 

At least we didn't have to walk to the barracks, we were taken in station wagons to the Base Provost Marshall's office. That's where our Commander picked us up, fuming we were already at two strikes and we hadn't even gotten there yet. Our punishment was two-fold. The whole drill team was confined to barracks and prohibited from the welcome mess, or banquet, for all the teams. In addition, we were given coal duty. The two-story, wooden barracks still had huge, coal furnaces at each end that had to be filled every four hours or so, and part of our punishment was stoking duty, even though being from Miami, none of us had ever seen a furnace, much less coal. I'm pretty sure the furnaces were the hot water heaters as it just wasn't cold enough to heat the barracks. 

We were shown the furnaces in four or five of the wooden, two story barracks and told not to let the fires burn down as they were hard to restart. We honestly did not know, not one of us, that stuffing the entire furnace with coal would put it out. We just wanted to save time so we absolutely packed the furnaces solid. We actually hammered some pieces of coal into whatever cracks were there. Within an hour or so, we got called back out again, and once again we were dressed down, this time for putting out the fires in all the barracks. When we protested we didn't do anything wrong, it finally dawned on the powers that be that none of us Florida teenagers had ever seen a furnace, or for that matter, even a piece of coal. We were relieved of coal duty, but we were still confined to the barracks. Except for Lt Thomas, our cadet Drill Instructor, who was being afforded all the niceties the rest of us were being denied. So, after he left with the senior members of the squadron for the formal dinner, we removed his bed. 

We were way past lights out when Cadet Lt. Terry Thomas returned to the barracks, gloating he and he alone had the privilege of being entertained as a fine, upstanding future officer in the Air Force. But it slowly dawned on him he had no where to sleep. All the bunks were occupied. Everyone on the team was involved as we shuffled all the remaining beds to take up all the extra space. At first glance, both sides of the bay looked the same, only when you did a bed count could you tell one was missing. We had taken his bed apart and stuffed pieces in the latrine, even in the furnace room. The laughter went on for ten minutes before all the pieces, including the mattress, finally reappeared on his side of the barracks. When it was all over the next day, we were unceremoniously marched to the flight line and closely watched as we were put aboard the old C-119 for the return flight to Miami. 

By the way, we won the regional drill competition at Memphis. The original bad boys from Miami, the winners everybody stared at and wondered who the hell are those guys? Aren't they the ones who were confined to barracks the whole time they were here? Yep, that was us. 

The iconic original CAP Florida Wing patch,
created by Zach Moseley, the cartoonist famous for the
Dick Tracy  newspaper cartoons 

National Drill Competition


 A month later, on June 11th, 1959, a bright, cloudless Thursday morning, our drill team met a beautiful, four-engine chartered Super Constellation, a “G” model that arrived from San Juan to take us to New York City. The flight to New York aboard the last magnificent flag-ship of the propeller era was first class by comparison to flying sitting sideways in a C-119. 

The Puerto Rican drill team had already made themselves comfortable the front, first class section of the aircraft, so we had the back, coach section. It didn't matter to us, we were going to sit facing forward in real recliner seats! We boarded through the rear passenger door carrying all our dress uniforms and duffel bags. The hostility was immediately apparent. We weren't liked, and it was obvious it had nothing to do with being competitors on the parade ground. Our cadet squadron made the best of it, but the airplane was definitely segregated. They stayed in the front and we stayed in the back. When we disembarked at Mitchell Air Force Base near Hempstead on Long Island, we used the aft door and they used a separate ramp at the front. We did not meet them again until the compulsory part of the competition on Friday.



We stayed in old wooden, two story barracks at Mitchell Air Force Base, out on Long Island near Hempstead. A highway ran through the area separating our billets from the main base, so we were sort of isolated from the real Air Force. We had an Air Force mess hall near the barracks that was activated just for the cadet's stay at the drill competition. All ten teams had were given plenty of free time to see Hempstead the first evening, but we had a last call, a lights out, at 11:00 pm, the latest light's out we ever had. We all made it back on time. The second floor of our barracks was unoccupied, our reputation may have preceded us. Sometime during the first night, long after the base had gone eerily quiet, somebody threw one of the big, metal trash cans out of a second story window above us. The racket when the can hit the pavement was incredibly loud, and startling. Lights came on all over the barracks area, but the culprits were not caught. Who would want to wake up a bunch of sleeping, dorky cadets is beyond me. 



The actual drill competition was held in two parts, both in Manhattan; The mandatory or compulsory routine was held at the Park Avenue Armory on Friday, and the final, open competition a day later at the lower Plaza of Rockefeller Center. We could hardly wait, but our nerves did us in. Our compulsory drill on Friday was held in the armory at Park Avenue, and for some reason, we did poorly. The ride into New York City was a memorable ride for all of us, but that was about the highlight of the first days competition. None of us were happy about how well we did, and we pretty much knew we blew it. 

We were all taken to Rye Beach that night where we got to ride the famous wooden roller coaster. All in all, a really exciting time. 

On Saturday, the final day, we were taken to Rockefeller Center where we were in line behind the Puerto Rican team to perform. We watched them go through their free routine at Rockefeller Center, they even did a free, optional section to the music of “She's So Fine,” which was an artistic shocker for us. The arrogant bastards were good, but they weren't good enough. The Hawaiian team did a pineapple formation to perfect cadence and took first place. The hip Puerto Ricans settled for second. 

We came in eighth. At least we beat two teams, both from the west coast, I think one was from Idaho. [Ed note: It was Utah, I stand corrected]. When I finally got home, I slept for twelve straight hours before my mom sent Dean in to wake me up. They were beginning to get worried I was ill. No, I was just exhausted. 

Above and Beyond 


The 76th Troop Carrier Squadron had the distinction of not only hauling our CAP drill team around the state for drill competitions, but they also got to fly all the cadets from the Miami area to the two-week long encampments held annually at different, remote Air Force bases. The first encampment I attended was at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle in July, 1959, and once again, we flew in a C-119 Boxcar of the 76th Troop Carrier Squadron. The encampment was scheduled just before we flew up to New York for the Nationals. Spending two weeks at the Air Force Air Proving Ground Center was a treat for all of us, but the flight home was really something special. 

As we approached Miami from the west coming in from the Everglades on the long, gradual descent into MIAD, the flight engineer climbed down out of the cockpit and casually looked out the window on one side, and then crossed over to the other side of the cavernous, square box of the troop compartment and leaned against a window to get a good look at the engine on the other side. The fabric troop seats mounted sideways along the fuselage walls were in the way, so he would lean between whoever was sitting there to see out the window. The flight engineers always checked for oil leaks from the powerful Pratt and Whitney R-4360 radial engines on every flight, and sometimes before we started an approach to land. He was satisfied and climbed back up the short ladder on the left side of the front bulkhead and disappeared back into the flight deck. Not soon afterward, the huge wing flaps began to extend and the buffeting that accompanies their extension began in earnest. The huge main landing gear doors opened and the main landing gear began to noisily lower. The C-119 was unique in that some of the passengers could watch as the huge landing gear assemblies extended downward right beside the passenger windows. Another unique feature of the C-119 was it required almost full power to fly with all the drag of the wing flaps and exposed landing gear. Those who were in the Flying Boxcar for the first time always got quiet and you could usually see the whites of their eyes from anywhere inside the fuselage as the noise levels rose and power was applied to the big Pratt and Whitney engines. The whole plane would shake and vibrate. Us “old” cadets would usually talk heroically to the rookies but some you just couldn't console. Besides, you had to yell and that didn't help matters. 

The flight engineer, a dark haired, slender young man, probably in his late twenties or early thirties, climbed back down into the troop compartment for a second time. The flight engineers usually came down to spot check the main landing gear to ensure they came down, a routine task. This time however, he couldn't mask his concern. He turned and squatted down looking at the center of the bulkhead in the very front of the compartment. The bulkhead had an access panel held in place with Dzus fasteners, the standard Air Force twist-lock type quick access fastener. In the center of the panel was a small inspection panel that allowed a quick check of the nose landing gear. When the landing gear was up, the huge double tires of the nose wheels were right up against the panel. You could squat and look through the panel and actually see the tread on the tires on the nose landing gear, folded compactly inside the fuselage just under the flight deck. That was the problem for our flight engineer. They weren't supposed to be there, at least, not when the pilot was trying to land. They should have been down and locked for landing. The adult members of our squadron began to look like the first timers. You could see the whites of their eyes in the dimly lighted compartment better than those of the scared cadets! We hadn't changed course, still droning on directly toward Miami. 

 We knew we were still well west of Krome Avenue, over the Everglades, but we knew we weren't too far or out or the pilot wouldn't have lowered the landing gear. The flight engineer removed the panel and looked around inside the nose-wheel compartment. He backed out and stood up, grabbing a red painted D-Ring hanging just above the panel. The D-ring was on the end of a metal stranded cable that barely protruded into the troop area. It was the emergency gear release should the hydraulic system fail. He braced himself by putting one foot against the bulkhead and yanked the D-ring with all his might. He practically fell on the floor as the D-ring pulled off the cable, leaving our surprised flight engineer with a useless, red painted D-ring in his hand, and the nose landing gear still firmly stowed inside the aircraft. He scrambled back up the ladder and almost immediately reappeared as if speed were of the utmost importance. 

 All the cadets watched, absolutely fascinated by the drama unfolding right before our eyes. He had grabbed a pair of vise grip pliers, a type of locking pliers that can be adjusted for size and locking grip, and returned to the stubborn cable. Working to get a grip on the cable proved to be futile as attempt after attempt to pull the cable met with failure. Finally, with absolutely no recourse, he twisted the remaining Dzus fasteners and took off the main panel. He laid it off to the right side of the bulkhead. With the panel removed, we could all see into the wheel well from the troop compartment. The flight engineer took a deep breath and climbed into the wheel well, squeezing past the huge tires that all but blocked the opening. He disappeared from sight completely and all the cadets as well as the few adults held their collective breath. It was a moment most of us will never forget. He couldn't be seen, yet we knew he was struggling inside a dark, cramped compartment with absolutely no room. The droning was incredibly intense, yet none of us heard it. Suddenly, with an indescribable noise, the nose gear doors slammed open and the huge landing gear fell free. The inside of the fuselage was blasted by 150 mile an hour wind! Dress uniforms, carefully wrapped in plastic, hanging from the static jump lines that ran the length of the aircraft, blew all over the back of the airplane. I could see the landscape below with the nose gear fully extended, and our incredibly dedicated, unsung hero, bracing himself with one foot on each side of the gaping hole! Nothing below him but the Everglades some 2000 feet down. And he didn't have on a parachute! He couldn't fit in the wheel well with one on. He slowly backed out of the wheel well, and climbed back out through the access panel. He brushed off his pant legs and climbed back up the ladder while we sat in wind-blown awe. The landing was without further incident, even though we were met by an Air Force O1A fire truck that followed us back to Base Operations. 

 I was hooked! I was going to fly in these things one way or another! It didn't take me long to figure out how. 

 By Order of …

 

I picked up a copy of the flight orders issued by the Florida Headquarters of the Civil Air Patrol to authorize flying the Miami Cadet Squadron Two Drill Team to Memphis aboard USAF aircraft. It had been left on a clipboard sitting on a chair after a squadron meeting. The orders included the required authorization numbers from the Civil Air Patrol Wing Headquarters and the respective USAF travel or funding codes. I took the orders home and studied them until I practically wore them out. 

My dad kept an old typewriter at home, one he brought from his insurance office down on Biscayne Boulevard. He used it to type up insurance and claim reports he sometimes did at home. He also had several blank mimeograph masters he used to make forms he needed at work. I had watched over his shoulder as he typed up master documents and asked what they looked like when he was finished. He pulled several official looking documents from his briefcase and told me they were made from mimeograph masters just like he was using. It looked just like the forms we had as flight orders. He just took the masters to work and ran off as many finished copies as he needed. 

I asked if I could have one or two to print orders for a Civil Air Patrol project, and if he would run them off for me at his office. He reluctantly agreed to help, as long as I didn't get carried away with using too many. Placed on a drum of a mimeograph machine, you could run off or print as many copies of a single master as you wanted. So, one night, I practiced on a sheet of paper until I had it exactly like the real orders I picked up at the meeting, except I changed the dates to the coming weekend. When I had it like I wanted, I placed one of the priceless masters in the typewriter and carefully typed out my first flight order. I left the names open until I found out who would go with us on the first attempt to fly with the 76th Troop Carrier Squadron, 435 the Troop Carrier Wing, USAFRes. 

The 76th was an active reserve unit based at Miami International Air Depot, better known as MIAD. MIAD was on the west side of Miami International Airport, away from the commercial terminals and was located in the center of the freight hub of the airport. A chain link fence and a stinky, fuel fouled canal separated the Air Force section from the commercial freight terminals at the end of a row of warehouses. The gate to the Air Force section was never closed in the three years our drill team practiced there. We actually practiced drill in the evenings outside the compound, in the dimly lighted streets between the warehouses, but access to the Air Force compound was basically open to anyone who wanted to drive or walk in. 

There were only five of us on the first flight. I only told my closest friends and the ones I knew who would help me pull it off. My younger brother Dean, who had joined the CAP as soon as he was eligible, Jim Coleman, Wayne Horstkamp, and either Tom Gerard or Tom Benson, and I, made up the first flight manifest. Once I had the names, I took the master, placed it back in the typewrite and slowly and carefully typed the names over the manifest listing. My dad took the master to work with him and printed off 10 copies or so. He brought them home before our weekend attempt at finagling rides in C-119 flying boxcars, and I excitedly studied my masterpieces. I could hardly wait to try them out. 

Armed with our official looking flight orders no one knew were fake besides Dean and I, – I lied to my dad, too, in a way. I told him it was all authorized, we just needed someone to print the orders -- we all met on a Saturday morning just outside the main gate at MIAD flight-line, the old Air Force section on the west side of Miami International Airport. We told our parents not to wait on us, we would call them sometime late in the afternoon. 

The official CAP cadet fatigue uniform at that time was white T-shirt, blue jeans and black shoes. The standard Air Force soft cap with a CAP patch on it was the only official looking part of the get up. The fact I was the oldest one at only 15 didn't make us look real military, rather like a group of explorer scouts who had on Air Force caps. 

There was no guard at the gate, and it was wide open, so we decided not to march in, just walk in carrying our orders in a manila folder. We had been to Base Ops, the flight operations center, inside the main hangar when we flew to Memphis, so I knew where the flight manifests were hanging on clip boards. I walked up to the counter and announced the Civil Air Patrol had five cadets authorized to fly as passengers, space permitting, in local, non-transient flights made by the 76th Troop Carrier Squadron. Officially, the orders read, we were allowed to fly as part of the Observer's program. I thought it sounded very official. 

The NCO behind the counter took the orders, looked at me and left without saying a word. He came back a few minutes later and asked who was in charge. I told him as the senior cadet NCO present, I was. He then asked which flight we would like to go on, they had two leaving in about an hour. One flight was going to Orlando and the other to Sarasota to pick up reservists for an upcoming training weekend. To say my heart was about to jump out of my chest was an understatement. One of the pilots standing at the counter watching us came over and chatted with us for a few minutes, then suggested we go with him to Sarasota as he was only picking up ten or twelve reservists. He would have an empty airplane. We were absolutely thrilled! 

My pulse never slowed down the whole time we were in the Operations room, and I still to this day get excited thinking about the first time we climbed up into that big, open, smelly, fuselage of the Boxcar. The Flight engineer came down and introduced himself, then gave us an in-depth lesson in wearing the parachutes required for every passenger in the airplane. The parachutes were simply piled in the back of the plane, dumped there by the last wearers to be picked up by the next bunch of passengers. 

We each picked out a parachute, and watched as the Engineer snapped open the back cover of the chute and gave us a lesson in what to look for. He showed us the latch pins attached to the cable that runs over the chest to the D ring on the other end. He also pulled out the little white inspection book that accompanies each chute with the date and name of the inspector. We never got on another Air Force flight without checking the pack date or not looking for bent pins or obstructions to the cable. 

We had a great flight, landing first at Fort Myers to pick up two or three reservists, then flying to Sarasota to pick up a hand-full more. After we landed back at Miami, we waited and walked back to base ops with the flight crew, and in our best military manner, thanked them for the great experience. The pilot said, “Be here at 1:30 tomorrow afternoon and you can go on the flight to take them back.” 

We did, and we flew with many flight crews of the 76th TCS for the next year and a half. We even got invited to spend weekends at the reserve center as guests. We got to stand fire-watch with the real crew members as the big radial engines roared to life, work on refueling trucks, and even got to eat in the mess hall and sleep in the billets with the reservists. It was a thrill we all loved. The flying though, was the best part. We kept up the facade about the orders and no one ever questioned us. We flew sometimes three or four times a month. 

We bought used Air Force flight-suits, and even carried hunting knives. We all had survival mirrors tied to our flight-suits somewhere, even though the mirrors were actually kept in a leg pocket. We rarely wore the CAP caps, doing our best to look like regular Air Force personnel. We got more than a few stares from AF Reservists flying back and forth between their homes and their once-a-month weekend duty in Miami as we acted like the aircraft were actually ours.

Cadet M/Sgt George Mindling 1958
The part I worried the most about was when we told our new senior member commander, Lieutenant Howard Gelbman, about the “great new Air Force program” that allowed us to fly with them on a space-available basis. Gelbman had replaced my original commander, Palumbo, and was the one responsible for training the drill team. I first told Scott Stoddard, our cadet adjutant, that we were flying with the Air Force but I didn't tell him how we got the orders. Instead, I made it sound like we had stumbled on an Air Force program we simply hadn't taken advantage of. Scott thought it was a great idea and he presented it to Lt. Gelbman. Lt. Gelbman, our senior member, Commander of Cadet Miami Squadron Two, agreed and asked me to run the program so all cadets would get a chance to fly if they wanted. I was home free! I even got promoted to Cadet Second Lieutenant! Neither the Air Force nor the Civil air patrol ever questioned the program from then on. At every Tuesday night meeting for the next year and a half, I stood up at the end of the meeting and asked those who wanted to go to give me their names. Then I would go home and type up another set of fake flight orders. 

We would show up for every reservist weekend, and sometimes on regular weekends just on the possibility of a plane going somewhere we could “sand-bag.” I spent many more hours in the back, watching the Everglades or the lakes below. The old planes weren't pressurized so they couldn't go over ten thousand feet. We rarely flew more than five or six thousand feet high, the big billowing clouds over the center of the state even more impressive than ever. We got to be so much a part of the reservist's routine, many times I wasn't even asked for copies of the fake flight orders, all we did was sign in on the flight manifest sheet. The most I ever took with us on one flight was twenty cadets, outnumbering the reservists who couldn't understand why we wanted to fly in those airplanes. Most of them hated flying in the Boxcars. On many occasion, we were the only passengers both ways. Not all the cadet rookies enjoyed the big, smelly planes as much as our core group of flying junkies, but many came back as often as their parents would allow. 

CAP Cadets George and Dean (Don) Mindling, 1960
I assigned all cadets who had flown in the C-119s before to be mentors to the first time fliers. Some of the teenagers had never flown in an airplane before. We would show the new cadets the parachute inspection routine while the Air Force Reservists would just sit and watch, some had never seen it done before. We knew more about the equipment than most of them did. We looked just like the flight crews by then with our olive drab Air Force flight suits, complete with survival knifes secured to our pockets and zippers. The CAP cadet insignia on our caps gave us away, so we rarely wore them, keeping them folded in our pockets except when we were in Base Ops. 

The black, plastic, funnel-shaped relief tubes in the back of the C-119's were notorious. We used them as an initiation for the new cadets who flew with us the first time. The veteran cadets told the newbies, the first time fliers, if they wanted to ride in the cockpit they had to use the intercom to ask permission from the pilot. The intercom, of course were the relief tubes. Most cadets never fell for the stunt, mainly because they didn't have the nerve to ask the pilot anything, but every once in a while, a new cadet would get up his nerve and pick up the relief tube, hold it close enough to talk into and say “Hello?” Then he would put the black funnel next to his ear to hear if he got an answer. While the ones watching from the front of the airplane would erupt in laughter, we never let on why. That was up to the rookie to figure out. When they saw the relief tubes being used for what they were designed, they rarely ever said a word. 

We always had barf bags, the air sickness paper bags tucked away in pockets because someone would invariably woof during rough weather. One of the worst flights was a return trip from Orlando when we had to fly through one of the famous Florida thunderheads. We were pitched violently for many long minutes. The lights went out, came back on, then went out again. It was almost dark inside the plane even though it was in the afternoon. The cadet sitting next to Dean, on the other side of the aircraft began to lose it, and before Dean could give him a barf bag, the new cadet turned, and instead of leaning forward to keep it away from everybody, simply tilted his head down and threw up. Needless to say, that started a chain reaction that soon swept the whole plane. We always cleaned up afterward unless the flight crew told us to leave the plane. We didn't want the crewmen to do it as we were afraid they might cancel the program to get rid of us. 

The floor of the airplane was covered in wooden boards with several metal rails that ran from front to back, interspersed with big, metal tie down loops. The seats were simply canvas stretched of metal tube frames. You could watch screw heads in the side panels actually vibrate completely around from the heavy engine vibration during takeoff when the engines were at full power. We got to sit in the huge, spacious cockpit of the C-119 many times during takeoffs and landings. My favorite was Sarasota, takeoffs there were always memorable. The old C-119 would sit with its twin-boom tail right up against the US 41 perimeter fence and go through the engine run-up procedures. When we got permission to take off, the pilot would swing around and line up at the end of the longest runway, stand on the brakes and run the engines to full power. The old airplanes would shudder and shake, and when the pilot had maximum power, he would release the brakes and the airplane woulds lurch crookedly forward until the pilot had it straight again. We would lumber slowly at first, then pick up speed just as we passed the control tower where the nose would lift up, but the pilot never pulled up then, waiting until we were practically out of runway before he would pull back gently on the wheel and we would clear the eastern fence of the airport by 50 or 60 feet. You could see the facial expressions on the people in the cars on the road below. 

There were four fixed seats in the flight deck, with another fold down seat we got to use as “observers,” plus there was a long work table across the back of the cockpit with a neat little view screen called a “drift meter.” We would take turns looking down through the device with its marked divisions and graticule and pretend it was a bomb sight. Flight crews were always made up of a pilot, a copilot, and a flight engineer who did everything from load-master to coffee runs for the pilots. We could fit three cadets on the table, and two in the empty seats. During landings the pilot would clear the deck of anyone who couldn't be strapped in, so at least two of got to sit up front for every flight. I actually had over 80 hours of cockpit time, signed in my CAP logbook, by the time I joined the Air Force in December of 1960.

In early 1960, Miami International Air Depot closed, and the 76th TCS moved to Homestead Air Force Base, forty miles further south. The C-119s were eventually retired and my CAP flight program came to a close. Ironically, I flew in a U. S. Air Force aircraft only once the next eight years I was on active duty in the Air Force, and that was when I flew from  McGuire AFB to Rhein Main AB, Germany, aboard a KC135, sitting sideways in canvas strap seats for 6 1/2 hours. At least I was trained. 

The Civil Air Patrol was a great time for many cadets, young flying enthusiasts who got to experience military flying at the end of the propeller-driven era, and the beginning of the jet age. No one realized the whole thing was put on by a sixteen year old boy who typed with two fingers. 

The Miami News - Saturday, July 9th, 1960

George Mindling © 2013

Excerpt from "Confessions of an Old Liberal"

Weird Science

I enjoyed my 10th grade chemistry class at Southwest Miami Senior High School. It was an incendiary time in my teenage years, so to speak. I got to play with things that went boom. Not with anyone's help, of course, but the opportunity was there and I took it.
The store room for the science lab was left open most of the time we were in class, and during one of my trips to find rubber stoppers or new flasks, I came across a large jar filled with yellow liquid. Soaking in the liquid was a piece of rock. Well, it looked like a rock. Actually, it looked like a piece of petrified wood my grandmother brought back from a trip out West many years ago. It was a chunk of pure sodium, and the yellow fluid was kerosene. 

I looked up sodium in my text book, one of the few times I read the book without being told, and found sodium reacts exothermically with water. Really? I looked up exothermic and decided to find out if it meant what I thought it did. I went back into the store room, checked to make sure our somewhat overstressed teacher was busy, took down the huge jar and unscrewed the top. I didn't like the smell of kerosene so I was careful not to stick my hand all the way into the jar. The block of sodium was firm, but not rock hard. I could gouge pieces out with my keys. Several chunks slowly sank to the bottom of the jar. I took a test tube, poured some of the kerosene into it, and placed five or six small pieces of sodium in it, then capped it with a rubber stopper. I washed my hands in the sink, then wiped down the test tube slipped it into my pants pocket. I placed the jar of sodium carefully back on the shelf.
I didn't tell a soul about my criminal activity. I was terrified I would get caught and expelled. The next several classes I sat like a frozen zombie, afraid I would do something to give myself away.
I nervously rode home on the school bus, sitting by myself, as usual, trying not to talk to anyone. At home, I couldn't wait to show my brother, Dean, what I had. We went in the back yard and used a garden hose to half fill a galvanized bucket. I took the first piece of sodium, about the size of a fly, and using a tea spoon, dropped it in the bucket. At first it zipped around on the surface like a rocket-propelled fly, white smoke pouring out of it. Then it did something unique: it blew up! The loud bang got Versie's attention and she came outside to see what we were doing.
I told her it was a science experiment, which really wasn't a lie, and she watched as interested as Dean and I as we went through all the pieces in the test tube. The smaller pieces would scoot around and consume themselves, but the bigger pieces were really explosive.
The next day one of my classmates saw me in the store room with the log of sodium laying on the edge of a shelf. I took the sodium out of the kerosene and was cutting chunks out it with a knife I brought with me just for that purpose. I filled seven big test tubes with sodium and kerosene stuffed them all in my pants pockets. I couldn't walk without clinking. My classmate decided to take some, too, but he stupidly threw his in the lab sink where it exploded. Luckily our teacher was out of the room, but the teacher next door stuck his head in and saw the white cloud drifting through the classroom.
When the period bell rang, I put the test tubes in my book locker. I couldn't take a chance on getting caught in class. My jerk science classmate took a chunk of the sodium and showed his buddies after class what it would do by flushing it down a toilet in the boy's room. I don't know how big a chunk he used, but it cracked the porcelain commode.
They locked the storeroom after the classroom sink incident, and perhaps they linked the two explosions, but I never heard any more about it. My access to the sodium was over that day, but I had seven test tubes full as I rode home on the school bus.
What to do with all that sodium? One answer appeared as if by magic, and it couldn't have turned out better. Our neighbor across the street, a high school coach somewhere in Dade County, was a real jerk. He threatened to keep our football if it rolled into his yard one more time. A big bear of a man, he would strut around his front yard in his Athletic department shorts, showing off his hairy physique as he pulled weeds and putzed around in his manly way. He always finished by taking his hose and watering his yard.
So, Dean and I cut up twenty or so pieces of sodium, making sure they were all big enough to explode. We made them about the size of marbles. Then we carefully walked across our neighbor's yard before he got home from work, dropping pieces of sodium over his entire front yard. We salted his whole yard in just a minute or so, careful not to be seen by his wife or kids who were at home.
Then we went and got our iced-teas, sat on the front porch and waited. Even Versie came out to see what we were up to. It didn't take long for our victim to pull in. We rarely made any attempt to wave at him, although Versie might have said hello. I rather doubt it, she didn't care much for him, either.
Within a few minutes he was out in the yard in his shorts, as always. He pulled weeds, walked around the yard with his hands on his hips, and generally cleaned up imaginary trash. He eventually walked up to his garden hose, stooped over and picked it up. He turned on the water spigot. Dean and I held our breath. He casually sprayed around a flower bed when suddenly, BOOM, and a cloud of white smoke floated up from his grass. He stared at the smoke and decided to spray water on it. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! The more he sprayed, the more explosions there were. They went off all over his yard. Dean and I had to go in the house we were laughing so hard.
He sprayed the whole yard and every single piece of sodium exploded as if it had been scripted in a movie. He never once looked across the street, but he spent hours looking through the grass the next several days.
Versie, Dean and I laughed about it on her 90th birthday. She laughed almost as hard then as she did when it happened. One of the highlights of living on SW 36th Street in Miami.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Miami Teaches More Than Sailing

The Top Line is Fair sailing
The Bottom Line is Sportsmanship


When graduates of a youth sailing program return to enroll their own children in the same program, that program can be considered successful. 

Such is the youth sailing program at the Miami Yacht Club. Every Saturday for 35 years, the Miami Yacht Club has held sailing classes in Clearwater Optimist Prams. The program is a two-part program, one for beginners and one for advanced skippers who like to race.  The beginner's class is open to all 8 to 15 year olds who would like to learn to sail. The basic sailing instructor, Mr. Ray Williams, has not missed a class (hurricanes excepted) in over twenty-three years.

Using twenty club-owned prams, the five month classes begin the last Saturday in January and July. While the emphasis is on basic sailing and boat handling, some racing is introduced in an informal way. The graduation ceremony is always preceded by the class's sailing to Monument Island, a three-mile round trip, for a cookout.

The advanced class, taught by Lew Twitchell and Dr. Gid Stocks, concentrates on on racing. Skippers sail their own boats and compete for club standing, as well as participating in regattas sponsored by other clubs. Miami YC sponsors two youth regattas a year with a usual turnout of about eighty sailors, although a recent regatta registered 103 skippers in Prams, International Optimist Dinghy's and Lasers!

When Fred Bremen, Jr., recently enrolled his daughter, Mandy, a unique cycle was completed. Mandy's grandfather, Fred, Sr., was an instructor in the same program some twenty-five years ago.

As Lew Twitchell prints on every set of racing instructions, “The top line is fair sailing – the bottom line is sportsmanship.”

The secret to a successful youth sailing program is the dedication of those who love to pass on the joy of sailing.

George Mindling
Sailor's Gazette, Tampa, FL,  April, 1985