Monday, May 30, 2011



Tom T. Hall tells it how it is to lose a brother or son in war!

Go to this YouTube link:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

CH-46 Sea Knight

Upon earning my naval aviator wings in Pensacola I was transferred to HMMT-302 at MCAF Santa Ana, California  to transition to the fleet aircraft I would be assigned to fly.  I spent several months learning to fly the CH-46 Sea Knight Medium Lift Helicopter in preparation for orders to Vietnam.

 The CH-46 was a new turbine powered tandem rotor helicopter built by Boeing-Vertol.  The Marines used it as a primary troop transport and medevac bird in country.  At the time it was underpowered and did not have the desired lift capability for the hot humid climate of Vietnam.  We learned the tactics and art of mountain flying,  landing with just our back wheels on the edge of a cliff while hovering the front of the bird over the drop-off below!  We did high speed spiral approaches at 90 degrees angle of bank from 3,000 feet into small landing zones.  This type of approach should keep you above ground fire and the rapid descent and spiral would make you a difficult target... if you did get hit you should "end up" near the LZ and friendly Marines.

A 46 casts a shadow as it climbs out of an LZ

The "46" earned the name of the "CH-46 Crowd Killer" because it went through a period where it broke in half in flight!  It was learned that massive loads used  to stop the high speed descent and a week splice joint in the aircraft caused the problem.  Modifications to the aircraft and to landing technique resolved that problem.

The "46" or as it was affectionately called "Phrog" (see the front view) became the workhorse of the Marine Corps from when it was first built in 1967-68 to today where it is just being replaced in Afghanistan.  That is not bad for an aircraft that last came off the assembly line 44 years ago. It is amazing how upgrades and good maintenance can extend the life of an aircraft.   

Finally,  over the past couple of years the CH-46 is being replaced by the Tilt Wing "Osprey" which also has had a difficult beginning.  As an old Phrog Driver I do not believe the Osprey will ever be able to replace the "46". I know there is no bird that will replace the Phrog in my heart!

A hard working Phrog ready for preflight

An emergency landing at Big Sur on a flight to San Fransisco

As things turned out I never flew in Vietnam.  However there were many other tales from the Phrog!  Stay Tuned!

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Terry Irwin at the helm of the old Tun Tavern
Here in Vermont it has been snowing or raining  for over forty days and forty nights.   Lake Champlain has risen to its highest level in known history.  Rivers are swollen.  People are desperate for sunshine and a major dry out.

Old Tun Tavern
We have not built an ark but are very excited by our new boat which is approaching completion in a shop in California.  We are expecting delivery within weeks!

The new boat is a Montgomery-15 built by Bob Eeg.  This will be a beautiful day sailor which will provide our need to be on the water.  We have missed sailing; the peace, the changeability of the weather and water, the wildlife,  since we sold our Pearson-27 about five years ago.    Thanks to Bob's flexibility and beautiful work the boat will be built to many of our specifications.   The small size belies the seaworthiness of this craft which has actually sailed from California to Hawaii.  Because it will live on a trailer the horizons are wide open to us.  We can sail it in our old sailing grounds, Lake Champlain, on smaller lakes in Vermont, or trailer it to the coast of Maine or maybe the Florida Keys in the winter!  Captain Hale and First Mate Susan decided to keep the name of our previous boat as a tribute to the Corps.  The US Marine Corps was formed in the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia in 1775.

These pictures show the new TUN TAVERN under construction beneath the hands of the craftsmen at Montgomery Boats.  We can't wait to post pictures of her unloading and first launch!

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Finally we have found a cool device that can digitize old 35 millimeter slides!  We are sure all you fanatical readers of CHECKING MY SIX  will be ecstatic to know that we will now be able to dig way back,  deep into the past,  and unearth pictures heretofore unavailable!

Wolverine Slide Digitizer

Author unearthed from deep past - Tegucigalpa Honduras

Friday, May 13, 2011


One of the most important traits of being a pilot is being cool.  I don't mean just the cool swagger of  the baby-blue clad Blue Angels as they march out to their F-18s at the beginning of an air show.  I am talking about keeping your cool during an emergency and being able to analyze and respond to the problem calmly and quickly.  Then, most of all, you gotta be cool on the radio when you transmit on Guard - the emergency frequency everyone is monitoring!

The coolest pilot I recall hearing was when I was flying a helo in Southern California.  Our cockpit banter was interrupted by a Navy Pilot transmitting on Guard:

Single Seat A-4 Skyhawk

"Mayday, Mayday Mayday,  This is is Navy Skyhawk 123.  I have a flame-out at 25,000 feet, 75 miles West of Point Mugu. Over,"

A couple of minutes later we heard

"Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Navy Jet 123 unable to get a restart.  Passing through 15,000.  Ejecting Now!"

That is all we heard from this cool dude.  He was later picked up from the Pacific Ocean by a rescue Helo from  N.A.S. Point Mugu.

Tone and calmness is not all that is important.  You have to know the language of the aviator.  When an air controller in Approach Control points out traffic he sees on his radar above and ahead of you he might say:  "Nighthawk-6, traffic 12 o'clock high, fast mover."

We would then scan the sky for a high speed aircraft above and in front of us.  If we see him the response is Tally Ho.  If we do not see it we would respond:  Approach, Nighthawk-6, No Joy.

If he wants you to activate the signal on your transponder that will highlight your aircraft on his cluttered radar screen he or she  will say Squawk Ident As you depress the switch you let him know that you have done so by responding:  Splash.  Of course no pilot would call a transponder a transponder.  It is a Parrot.  If your transponder is working OK . Your Parrot is sweet.

If you understand something you respond with "ROGER".
If you will do as you were told to do the response is "WILCO".
When you are done with what you are saying in a 2-way conversation you say "OVER".
Now that I have said way too much and don't expect any more responses I will say: 

"Polecat-13, Good Evening.

Monday, May 9, 2011



On Saturday, July 9, I am going to bike 100 miles in the 30th Annual Prouty Century Bike Ride to raise money for cancer research at Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Norris Cotton Cancer Center. One hundred miles is quite a distance and The Prouty route through the Connecticut River Valley and White Mountains is challenging. It has some serious climbs and usually lots of head-winds. However, when I think of my Mom, friends, and family who have battled and are presently fighting cancer, I realize that my bike ride is nowhere near as tough as what they experience.  
To participate in The Prouty, I will donate $100 toward cancer research.  But it's my personal goal to raise at least $5,000. You can help by sponsoring me; just click on the website listed below. All donations are tax deductible and should be turned in by July 6. If you prefer to send a check, you can make it payable to Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center and mail it to Friends of NCCC, The Prouty Office, Attn. Catherine Rentz, One Medical Center Drive, Lebanon, NH 03756. Make sure that you indicate that it's for my ride by placing my name in the memo area of the check.

I have ridden this ride about 22 or 23 times out of the 29 it has been held.  With your help I have raised somewhere around $75,000 over the years.  I ride in memory of my Mom who died 25 years ago tomorrow and in support of so many of my relatives who have fought and are still fighting cancer.

I need your support so we can kill this disease once and for all.

Let's dig deep and fight this disease until it is eliminated!



Sunday, May 8, 2011


Today is Mothers Day. Twenty- five years ago today was the last time I saw my Mom and said good-bye to her.  She died of Cancer two days later at the age of 65!  Mom was probably the most loved and respected person I have ever known.  Near the end she was living in Middlebury and came to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Hanover to have radiation and chemo therapy treatments.  She would take the bus to White River where I would meet her and take her to our house or to her brothers house in Hanover.  One day the bus driver who had gotten to know Jo on various trips came over to me and told me, "your Mom is the finest person I have ever known".  He had seen her interact with numerous passengers over the months.  She never complained about her illness but became concerned and a good friend to all she met. I learned later that she had met a young woman on the bus and learned that she was having major financial difficulties.  Several weeks later Mom sent her a check to help her out!

When we were all a lot younger and I was in Junior High in Washington, Mom taught high School English at Woodrow Wilson High School.  I remember her getting calls late into the evenings from her inspired students about their assignments and from distraught kids looking for advice or a sympathetic ear from someone who truly cared.

I can not tell all the stories by which I remember my mother but I must say I truly miss her.  She died to soon.
The world was a much better place thanks to her.  Mom, Happy Mothers Day!

Hale, Mom, Terry 1950?
Mom, Maude, Hale  1955?

Mom with kids, spouses and all her grand children

My son Jeff with his Grandma Jo at Christmas sometime in the early 80s

Friday, May 6, 2011


"The thing is, helicopters are different from planes. An airplane by its very nature wants to fly and, if not interfered with too strongly by unusual events or by a deliberately incompetent pilot, it will fly. A helicopter does not want to fly. It is maintained in the air by a variety of forces and controls working in opposition to each other and, if there is any disturbance in this delicate balance, the helicopter stops flying; immediately and disastrously. There is no such thing as a gliding helicopter."

"This is why being a helicopter pilot is so different from being an airplane pilot, and why in generality, airplane pilots are open, clear-eyed, buoyant extroverts, and helicopter pilots are brooding introspective anticipators of trouble. They know if something bad has not happened it is about to."

Harry Reasoner

February 16, 1971


HT-8 was the last squadron through which future Marine and Navy  Helicopter pilots passed before earning their Wings of Gold.  It was here that I first climbed into a helicopter and found out what real flying was!  By this time I had around 150 hours of flight time, had been through Basic Instruments, Radio Navigation, Aerobatics,Formation Flying and I was Carrier Qualified...  SHIT HOT
Jet Ranger
It was now like starting at the beginning  all over again.  Learning to HOVER was a whole new thing. My instructor flew me out to a huge field in a shiny new Jet Ranger. After he had the bird in a rock solid hover he progressively gave me one set of controls at a time:  The Rudder Pedals,  The Cyclic (stick) and finally the Collective which adjusts power and make the helo go up and-down.  It was all I could do to keep the aircraft in the humongous field and not spin it around and bounce it off the ground.

Helicopter pilots learn to hover as a second sense, taking cues from scanning the horizon.  At first this scan is very deliberate and takes extreme concentration..  It eventually becomes second nature.  Years later as a maintenance test pilot I could have my head bent down inches away from an instrument -to read it carefully- and the bird would stay steady as a rock.  If you can rub your tummy, pat your head and do fancy foot work all at the same time you would be a good helo driver!


It was at HT-8 where I learned my biggest problem in learning to fly.  An older Navy Lt. Commander told me that I had about the best natural ability to fly that he had seen.  He said I tried way to hard and that my self imposed stress was my biggest detriment.  Jokingly, he prescribed 2 shots of scotch before each flight!  I never tried his antidote. I believe the words of LtCdr. Villar gave me the confidence that carried me on in my aviation and other careers.

HT-8 passed quickly.  The big event was hiding out in the strongest building at Ellison Field - the Officers Club during the disastrous Hurricane Camile.  Soon it was down to the last week and a long cross-country flight in a Huey (UH-1D) from Pensacola to N.A.S. Glenview outside of Chicago.

Finally, at a small ceremony with no family present, I was presented the Wings of a Naval Aviator by the Squadron Commander. I was very proud to have made it.  This year was the most challenging year of my life. I had made it!  I was now a Marine First Lieutenant and a Naval Aviator.  I had joined some pretty good company.

So this was the end ..... but actually it was just the beginning!

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I was fortunate to be in one of the last classes to be trained in Formation Flying and later to become Carrier Qualified in the T-28.  Formation flying was very exciting as we finally learned to fly in four-plane formations, alone in the aircraft, with an instructor "chasing" the flight safely in his own aircraft.  The student pilot learns to follow the plane he is formed-up on by keeping the "gauge".  The gauge might be lining up the tie down ring on your leader's wing with a certain place on his fuselage.  By holding that line up your aircraft maintains the same relationship with the lead bird - no matter where he goes:  simple -yeah right!  A vivid recollection is the feeling of another T-28 under-running your bird when he becomes acute on a running rendezvous.  Instead of running into you he dips his wing and slides or shoots under you to form up on the other side.  What is memorable is the jolt your bird gets from the burble of air kicked up by his propeller as he cuts under you with his prop inches from your belly!


Training Squadron Five (VT-5) is where we learned to land on an aircraft carrier.  As I recall, we had 12 solo flights practicing Field Carrier Landings  (FCLPs) at Barind field in Foley, Alabama. Here we learned to keep the ball in the middle on the Fresnel Lens (mirror) Landing System.  This was the best - flying a 200 foot pattern (that is low!) with the canopy open, Speed Brake Down, Cowl Flaps open and the engine at a a high and responsive RPM while flying barely five knots above the stall speed.  Our Landing Signals Officer (LSO) stood beside the touch down spot  - looking at our approaches; telling us if we were hot, low, high or slow. We then made minute power corrections adjusted our speed and attitude to hopefully catch the Number 3 Wire.



It was finally time for Polecat Flight to hit the boat!  Solo, our flight  took off from Saufley Field with our instructor chasing. On a very hot and hazy day we headed out over the Gulf of Mexico at 2000 feet in search of the USS Lexington. We found her, and "holy shit" did she look small - like a postage-stamp.  Our flight was directed to Marshall, an area to hold until we were given our Signal Charlie to descend to 200 feet and enter the break over the ship and enter the landing pattern.  Before I new it  I was entering the down wind leg dropping the gear, opening the canopy, locking my harness and pushing the mixture to rich.  As I turned off the 180 i began pulling off power, I focused on the mirror and  listened to my LSO.  I called the Ball: "Polecat 13 Meatball".  As I rolled out on final I managed to keep the orange ball reasonably centered in the mirror and executed a touch and go.  As the wheels touched the deck I pushed the throttle to the fire wall and added 52 inches of manifold pressure to slowly climb back into the pattern to execute 6 full stop landings!  The procedure was the same except now I lowered the tail-hook.  I shot a decent approach; caught  the number 2 or 3 wire and was jerked to a complete and very sudden stop. 

I quickly raised the hook and followed the taxi directors to the launch position.  No catapult for this beast!  The T-28C is so powerful and the engine is so responsive, unlike a jet, it launches from the carrier under its own power.  Lock the brakes, run up full power, salute the shooter or launch officer and I was off off crawling down the deck.  The bird left the deck and maintained level flight for a bit before gaining enough speed to begin to climb out.  If you look at your airspeed indicator as you go off the deck it will show the aircraft is going about 10 knots below the speed need for it to fly - time lag in the air speed indicator.  So faith and a gentle touch nurses the plane into flight.   After one bolter, where the hook skipped over the arresting cables, I finally qualified with my six arrested landings.  Probably the most exciting day of my life.

Today I have the utmost respect for the Navy and Marine aviators, now both men and women, who fly F-18 Hornets, EA-6B Prowlers, and the S-3 Vikings off pitching carrier decks at night.  I believe there can be nothing more challenging and frightening as that!


Wish we could all get together again today!



A couple of weeks ago there was a horrendous squawking of Blue Jays outside the house.  I looked out at our bird feeding area and noticed that none of our normal red squirrel marauders were chowing down beneath the feeders. The area became strangely quiet.  I happened to look at the tree next to the feeder to be blessed with the sight of a beautiful Bard Owl!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


As I look forward and scan the sky ahead of me I am beginning to plan the future of this blog.  As time goes on I will add more SEA STORIES of my years as one of Uncle Sam's Misguided Children (USMC).  I hope to tell more interesting events of my flying days and about the best people with whom I have had the privilege to work - young Marines.

Some other topics I plan to tackle or discuss are:

As we take this flight together I hope you will make comments and suggestions to make this a worthwhile read.

Semper Fi!


On my first solo flight in the "Terror-28" I was feeling cocky.  At the end of the runway I popped the gear up and climbed North  to 10,000 feet over Southern Alabama.  I lined up on a road and and attempted several unauthorized snap-rolls. As I leveled out I quickly noticed a red glowing light on the lower center of the instrument panel:  SUMP PLUG WARNING LIGHT.

It had been engrained in our  crammed minds that this meant that there was metal in the engine oil.  The monster R-1800 radial engine could self destruct at any time - or the light might be bad!
The procedure was to declare an emergency and land at the nearest field ASAP or sooner.   I pulled back the power and spiraled down for a landing at the outlying Santa Rosa Field, manned only by a crash truck. As procedures dictated I held my gear to the very last minute - in case the engine quit  on final approach... you do not want to land in the dirt with your gear down because the aircraft will flip over and crush the canopy and the pilot within.   The crash crew fired a flare to remind me I had not lowered the gear before I reached the 180 as you do on a normal approach.  I landed long and hot because you land with no flaps in an emergency where the engine can quit at any moment.  As the T-28 hurtled  toward  the end  of the runway and I was contemplating raising the gear and sliding off into the pucker brush I decided to make a very high speed turn onto an intersecting runway.  The gear did no collapse.  I stopped, did my shutdown checklist: Gas, Battery, Mags Off, checked my skivvies and then looked around.   The crash crew that had been screaming down the runway  behind me was gone - busy putting out a huge grass fire that their warning flare had ignited.

This was my first solo flight in the T-28.  I believe this hop was a precursor to many more interesting times in this beast of an aircraft.