Randall L. Sohn was born February 1, 1934, in Lake Park, Iowa and grew up on a farm in nearby Jackson County, Minn. He took to tractors and airplanes more than cattle and grain, learned how to fly from a local sprayer and left life on the farm for the Air Force. He became the youngest four-engine instructor in the Air Force, and developed an expertise and fascination with big radial engines that continues today. After the Air Force he flew DC-3s and Convairs for North Central Airlines, sometimes making 18 stops a day while contending with the weather in the upper midwest. He spent a period in the '60s flying the Andes as part of a foreign aid program to Bolivia, then came back to fly the line for North Central/Republic/Northwest in Convair 580s, DC-9s, 727s, DC-10s and 747s.
Despite being a Yankee and an airline pilot, he got into the Confederate Air Force, and still captains four-engine bombers from show to show. When the round-engine folks at FAA started retiring, they worked with the EAA Warbird division to develop the National Designated Pilot Examiner Registry so new pilots can "keep 'em flying." If you need instruction, a checkride and a rating in, for instance, a DC-6 or a B-17, you've got about 10 individuals to pick from. Randy coordinates the NDPER program from his home in Minnesota, and the program takes him to every corner of the world. When he's not flying, he's a frequent contributor to Compuserve's AVSIG Forum, and a frequent visitor to John Deakin's Perch, Rick Durden's Lounge and OSHTalk. He has also contributed several articles to the DC-3 Aviation Museum site. In 1998 Randy was inducted into the EAA Warbird Hall of Fame, and in 2000 received the EAA President's Award.
If you added up all the articles and AVSIG messages you've posted you've got enough for a series of books. Is there one coming?
I'd thought about it when I was instructing in B-25s at Reese. I even had a cover design figured out, with big red balloon letters saying, "10,000 Landings Later, What I've Learned About Flying." Later I remembered that 10,000 is only a few landings per hour and I'd a shot as high as 50 touch and goes in a day with two students, so I figured that it was probably over 10,000. Then I was sent to SAC headquarters in Omaha instructing on the Stand Board. Procrastinator that I am, I thought, you know, I could write that book now, but I'd make a big X through the 10,000 and title it "20,000 Landings Later...What I've Learned About Flying." Much later when I retired from an airline career -- from the DC-3 to the 747 -- I thought, you know, I could cross out that 20,000 and title it "30,000 Landings Later, What I've Learned About Flying," the point being that some chapters would be serious and some chapters not so serious.
Let's cover as much of it as we can. How did you get started?
My sixth-grade teacher told my mother -- before there were parent-teacher conferences -- "'You know, that kid is never going to amount to anything. All he does all day is sit there and look out the window and draw tractors and airplanes in the margins of his schoolwork." She was right! After that farming experience I finally got off of that F20 and Farmall M and learned to fly in an Aeronca Champ on skis from a crop-sprayer in Worthington, Minn.
Who taught you?
Eldon Sorenson, of Sevdy-Sorenson Aviation. I could buy maybe a half hour at a time, and when he died his widow gave me the original bookkeeper's journals and checks that I'd written for $9 and $10 an hour, and I've still got them.
I never flew with anybody except Sorenson in one Aeronca Champ until I went off to the military. The second fortunate thing in my life was that I got sent to Beverly "Bevo" Howard's contract primary school to fly T-6s. Bevo must have maintained a really tight rein on his instructors and I was just very fortunate to go through his T-6 school.
How old were you when you learned how to fly?
I think probably 18, somewhere in there -- late teens -- whenever I could afford to get away from that farm and grain and cattle.
And how old were you when you went to the Air Force?
|Minnesota ANG 1st Lt. Sohn ... seven years after "BP" (Boy Pilot)|
When I went into the Air Force I didn't -- and still don't -- have any college. I spent a goodly portion of my career writing books and manuals and teaching but I've never set foot in a college. I was naive enough to believe the recruiter when he said, "Oh, there's no problem, you can just enlist in the Air Force and then all you have to do is take the two-year college equivalency test and apply for the aviation cadet program, and you'll get in cadets and you'll be on your way," and I believed him. Well, much later I found out there's probably only one in a million that had ever gotten that done.
Then I couldn't get into the Air Force right away because back then the Army was unhappy with the Navy and Air Force for taking all the high scoring enlistees, and I had scored a 99 on the Armed Forces Qualification Test. So I had to wait for the quota to enlist out of South Dakota in August of '53, and I missed the Korean War by six days. I wanted to fly F-86s and shoot down Korean MiGs, and I didn't quite make that date. So after enlisting I was a radar operator with the 9th Air Force in Alexandria, Louisiana, then I went to aviation cadets from there.
In the '50s in the Air Force you must have wound up at SAC?
I found myself in just about every command there is, I guess. I was in TAC as an enlisted man in Alexandria, and from there I went back to the Air Training Command, and then I stayed as an instructor. They had what they called "plow backs." I was a distinguished graduate of cadet class 55N and they kept some people to go through basic multiengine instructor's school -- they just kept us there instructing in B-25s. In 1955 I joined the newly formed EAA and we formed Chapter 19 at Lubbock. I instructed at Reese until 1958, then I went to SAC headquarters at Offutt as a B-25 instructor, but within a few months the B-25 was phased out of active service with the USAF. So I moved over to C-54s and started instructing in those and the U-3, and I was flying the T-33. LeMay was gone by that time, General Power was running SAC, and we had a bunch of white-backed transport airplanes. We had the U-3s, T-29s, C-47s, C-54s, C-97s and T-33s. So I spent that time in SAC instructing, but it was sort of a strange existence. We operated with a MATS 55-1 manual in SAC 'cause SAC didn't really know how to run a transport squadron, we just flew the inspector generals and VIPs around and that was that. Then I resigned my regular officer's commission and went to work for North Central Airlines in May of '60.
Did you make a conscious decision at SAC to stay with piston engines over jets or did it just sort of happen that way?
No, I flew jets. I've flown both jets and pistons, we had probably 15 or 20 T-33s for the pilots at Offutt. In fact, my brother-in-law was the chief of jet standardization there, and I don't know if it was a conscious decision. I just thought maybe I needed to learn something about four-engine transport flying while I could. The experiences on the piston engines and airliners was just something I fell into as a result of being brought into the flight training department on the airline, and working very closely with the powerplant maintenance group. The knowledge of them is going to be gone one of these days, and nobody'll know anything about them. People tell me it's so, and when I think about it, I guess it's true.
In one of your articles on the DC-3 website you talk about three minute stops and making eighteen stops a day. Tell us about how things were laid out and how you ever accomplished that schedule with the upper Midwest weather and mechanical delays.
|Flying the line for North Central Airlines.|
I had been a regular officer in the military and I got to thinking, "You know, it'd be nice to have something to fall back on." So I joined the Minnesota Air Guard on the MATS C-97s, and that's where I got the Stratocruiser time. I don't have a lot of Stratocruiser time, only a couple thousand hours or so -- instructing and examining on it -- and I ended up as the chief pilot of the Minneapolis unit, and Clay Lacy was our sister squadron's chief pilot out in Van Nuys. I stayed with the Guard until the later '60s, I guess.
I was sent to South America in '64. In fact, I got the only four-engine type rating ever given by North Central 'cause they sent me to the American Airlines school in Fort Worth to learn to fly the DC-6 and -7, and then off to South America to instruct on their DC-6Bs on a two-year airline foreign-aid project. TWA and Pan Am and other airlines had those foreign-aid projects. Ours was in South America with LAB -- Lloyd Aereo Boliviano -- in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We flew to Lima, La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, and then either Sao Paulo or Buenos Aires, and of course all the domestic stops.
What's it like flying the Andes?
It was a hard life. I was infected with three kinds of intestinal parasites while down there. La Paz's airport, at 13,498 feet, made high-blower takeoffs and landings necessary. It's a different world and you need to become mountain smart pretty quickly if you want to stay alive. I was there for a year right after Kennedy's assassination. It was an interesting experience 'cause there were only 20 or so of us to manage the airline, so you had a microcosm of how an airline is run. I came back here in '65. I can still remember having bricks thrown at me in La Paz when I sent in my absentee ballot for Barry Goldwater.
Then I came back to Minneapolis and we got into the Allison Convair Turboprop business. We were hoping to buy it for LAB and it became obvious they were not going to buy the 580. I had all the figures done with an E6B computer on yellow legal pads of how it would perform between Chicago and Milwaukee and Eau Claire and Minneapolis. We knew how the 580 would perform for North Central and that's the genesis of North Central's ultimate purchase of the 580. A big battle ensued between the Dart-powered Convair and the Allison Convair but the Allison conversion finally won -- much to our relief!How did you get from flying for North Central to the EAA Warbird program?
After being recalled to active duty with MATS in 1961 we were released a year later. It became obvious that when we came back to North Central that I'd be only one number away from being laid off -- the guy below me had gotten his furlough notice and the guy below him had been furloughed, and I had figuratively -- not literally but figuratively -- walked over to the edge of the cliff and looked down at the wreckage below. When I'd had my separation interview in the Air Force at Offutt they'd said, "You'll be back here in a year with your tail between your legs, Lieutenant," and I thought, "If I get furloughed, they're going to be right."
About that time the airline needed an assistant manager of flight training, and they thought it would be cheaper to pay a co-pilot. I found out that I wouldn't get furloughed if I was working in flight training, and even if a few guys around me were furloughed I'd be able to stay, so I said, "Where do I sign?" I had been flying with the airline for little more than a year and all of a sudden I found myself in the training department. Not too much later they made me a check pilot on the DC-3. I was the first of the co-pilots doing that on the airlines, to the best of my knowledge.
I got in the warbird area 'cause I had a good amount of experience in DC-3s and B-25s and the like. When I first went down to the Confederate Air Force they had a 200-person limit and Lloyd Nolen said "I don't need more than 200 people to accomplish what we want to do." My first wife and Gerald Martin and Buddy Holly were all together in Lubbock high school in '55. Gerald and Squeaky Rhoades -- both duster pilots -- got me down to the CAF for a meeting and Gerald said, "They know you're a Yankee, but DON'T tell them you're an airline pilot." Nolen said "We're at our limit but we'll keep your name on the list and if an opening comes up we'll get hold of you." A few months later he called and said "Royce Norman got his'self killed this morning in a danged old Stearman duster down by the Rio Grande river. You still want to join up with us?" So one guy went west, made an opening to let me in, and that's how I joined the CAF. I was the 208th member, best I can tell from looking at my number.
|"Les'see here, on THIS airplane the primer is on the RIGHT! Correct?"|
From there I went on to fly about every fighter and bomber we've got, and then at some point I became an FAA examiner on the PBY since I'd already been doing it on the airline for the 580. I remember the PBY flight training we did. I flew Bob Pond's P-40 over to Oshkosh one time and Paul came driving out across the ramp with that red Volkswagen, in a cloud of dust. After I parked the P-40 and shut it down, Paul jumped up on the wing and said, "Connie Edwards wants you to come down and teach him to fly the PBY and bring it up here to Oshkosh." I said, 'This year?" and Paul said, "Yeah, right now!" I jumped in the VW with Paul, and said, "Paul, I've never flown a PBY," and he said, "Oh, hell, Connie thinks you have." So I got Ronnie Gardner to give him a land rating and then Connie brought the PBY up to Oshkosh.
We hunted all over the EAA grounds for someone that could teach us to fly the PBY, and we couldn't find anybody. Paul got on the PA in Oshkosh for two days straight asking for somebody that could teach these two guys to fly a PBY on water. By that time I'd bought a pre-war book over in the fly market by a Pan American boat captain called, "How We Fly the Big Flying Boats." Connie and I called it the "Black Cat," and we decided to go out on Lake Winnebago and teach ourselves. We're driving down the road early one morning and over our head comes a Grumman Mallard spewing water from its hull and Connie says, 'He's been in the water! Follow that man!' We did and after tracing the Grumman to its hangar on the north side, lo and behold, we found John Mark. We didn't know him and he didn't know us. After he looked us over with our boots and Levis we asked, "Do you know anything about flying on the water?" He replied, "Yeah, a little." We said "Well, come over here a little closer."
Then we said, "Would you go out with us in that Black Catalina? We want to learn how to fly on water," and he says, "You boys don't know how lethal that can be," and he started to walk away. We said, "We're not kidding, mister. We really need somebody or we're going to have to teach ourselves," and he stared at us, and after about fifteen minutes of conversation he says, "Well, you certainly sound like you know what you're talking about, but my advice to you is don't do it. It's lethal. Tell you what I will do, I'll take you out and show you what a Mallard is like on the water, but I'm not going to get in that airplane with you," and that's what we did. John took us out and demonstrated several landings in the Mallard and we came back and parked it and he said "You boys be careful." John is an excellent aviator!
Then we cranked up the Catalina and went out. I'd never flown one. Bernie Geier was the chief of FAA Flight Ops at the time, and he'd typed up an exemption from the regulations, basically an LOA saying that you've got a 60-day period to operate in lieu of the type rating -- stay away from populated areas, use the minimum crew, and teach yourself to fly the Catalina -- and when you're done come back and present yourself for a type rating. Lo and behold, that's what we did, we taught ourselves.
I remember the first landing in Lake Winnebago very distinctly. You could see the wind line really easy, a little chop in the water, and I said, "That's where the wind's from, right there," and we landed into it. At about 300 feet I remember Connie and I were both on the controls and both on the throttles. Connie said, "You know, there ain't but one person in this world...," and I said, "That's just exactly what I was thinking. You're about the only other guy in this world I'd trust enough to do this." We got down about 100 feet above the water, put the props to full increase, and Connie turned to me and said, "Ferd*, blood brothers, right?" and I said, "Well, I certainly hope not too bloody."
[Editor's note: "Ferd" is short for "Ferdinand J. Mergatroid," a nom-de-plume used by Randy Sohn. Another Randy Sohn a.k.a. is "Felix McGillicuddy."]
We touched down and it bounced and Connie said, "Power off!" and I said, "No, not yet, don't move it!" and it went into the water the second time and the nose stayed up and we pulled the throttles off and came to a splashing halt. All of a sudden we're just sitting there, kaboom, kaboom, kaboom went our hearts. Connie's son Tex, who was 14 years old at the time, was with us. Connie hollered 'Tex, check the belly and hull water tight compartments!" and I said, "That's a good idea." Connie says, "We didn't spring any leaks so shut it off and let's have a drink," so we shut it off and had a Coke! They checked the water tights again while I'm reading the book about how to take off, and we started up again, did a takeoff and got it in the air. On the second landing I said, "Connie, you do it all," and we were at 78 knots, two knots slower than the first one, and it still bounced, but we were solidly in the water on about the second bounce, and I thought "We ought to slow it up more." So next time we slowed to 76 knots, a two-knot reduction each time, and at 76 knots it touched and I eased the bow down about an inch, and it sucked tight onto the water, and Connie says, "Ferd, I think we done broke the code." That's how we taught ourselves to fly a PBY. Two days later the former landlubbers show up and ask Bernie for a type rating and Bernie says, "Oh no! Not you two again?"
In two days?
|Randy and Connie Edwards at Oshkosh in 1986 after returning from the 75th Anniversary of U.S. Naval Aviation flight, which re-enacted the USN's 1919 first airplane crossing of the Atlantic by the Curtiss NC4.|
We borrowed some life preservers from a Coast Guard helicopter and put them on, and Connie got into the left seat and went out and we did all our stuff and Mike says, "Well, it looks to me like you know what you're doing, and I'll write up a rating." Then Mike wanted to fly it a little so Connie gets out of the seat and I stay in the right seat, and Mike flies it awhile. After I teach him what I know about it he says, "Boy, that's fun, let's go back to shore." I said, "Well, wait a minute, I need a rating, too!" "Oh, yeah. Uh, you go ahead and do the stuff, and then I'll write you a rating, too," so that's how it all started. About a year and a half later we flew the PBY to England for the U.S. Navy, so I always say we went from flea market to Fleet Street in a year and a half.
When I was faced with bringing the B-29 back to Harlingen from China Lake in 1971, I guess I was the most qualified of the unqualified. I had flown the Boeing airframe in the C-97s, and I had flown the B-17 and instructed in the one we had in the Confederate Air Force, and the systems are essentially the same, and I'd flown the engines on DC-7s. I said to myself "Well, you've flown the engines, you've flown the systems, you've flown the airframe, you just haven't flown them all in one airplane." After I brought the B-29 home I've flown it ever since. Right now the CAF operates it plus two B-17s and one Liberator.
You must have an encyclopedic mind or a really good system for keeping track of all the systems and the speeds as you move from airplane to airplane. Which is it?
Connie and I have talked about that a lot. Connie and I probably are some of the oldest friends, we go back to '65. If I didn't think it was safe, I wouldn't do it, but I can jump in a B-25 or a DC-3 or a Mustang and it's just like yesterday. However I did learn something from Bill Barber while watching his airshow performances.
I administered Bill's type rating on the Convair 580. Bill was one of our Detroit captains, and we always called him Bill-I've-got-to-be-somewhere-three-minutes-ago-Barber. That's the way Bill lived his life, he was frenetic, and Bill taught me something that I have observed all my life in this business, and that is I want some quiet time in the cockpit before I fly anything for the first time that year. After I've flown it -- whatever it is -- that year, then I don't think that much about it, but you can get yourself killed if you don't think about what you're doing beforehand.
When they pull an airplane out of the hangar in the spring they just know to go away and let me sit there with a book and review everything. The Thunderbolt or the Bearcat or the P-38 or whatever it may be, the first time that year, just leave me alone for about a half hour and let me think, because if things go wrong you haven't got time to think about where they put that gas valve. You have to be able to get hold of it. The electric prop in the Thunderbolt -- some of those systems need study or thought. The P-40 is different, the Spitfire's different. The Spitfire I have to really stop and think 'cause the British ancillaries can easily drive you nuts. In the P-38, you know, the old joke is just do everything you did in the P-40 but do it twice. That's really not so. The P-38 is a different airplane, and has Lockheed's way of doing things.
|Flying over Flying Cloud, Minnesota in Bob Pond's F-6F|
What's your suggestion for CAF's new name?
Years ago my daughter Sari LeAnne said she and her younger brother Mike were outside on the Harlingen ramp at night in the fog "looking at ghosts", so she started the name "ghost squadron." I wrote something about this for Contrails a while back.
Is it true you discovered John Deakin?
Well, not really "discovered" him, he's always been here, how about "uncovered?" He was an unknown JAL pilot when I first became aware of John due to an AVSIG message about Air America's pilot list. Someone claimed to have flown for Air America, Deakin read that and violently objected to it, saying "Unh-unh, that's not true!"
It appears to me that person had fooled a lot of people, including several agencies! I remember he wanted to fly the Thunderbolt and some of us thought that probably wouldn't work too well. I'm pretty touchy about checking people out in Thunderbolts and A-26s -- they can be lethal. You land the Corsair and it sorta just flutters a little and then it's all over. The Thunderbolt -- same wing, same weight, same engine -- and it just runs and runs and it runs and it runs on landing rollout. What a difference!
I remember flying with this guy and thinking, "This guy does not have the experience that he claims." Well, I became aware of Deakin's messages on AVSIG, and apparently they'd uncovered something bogus about this person's name. That name didn't appear anywhere on the Air America list, then he claimed to have used a pseudonym during that time. Hmm. I didn't know John Deakin from the man in the moon, but someone I respect highly -- Tim Jackson -- had written a reply to Deakin questioning the research that went into this. So that heated discussion or exchange really caused me to stop and think about the whole matter. Deakin and those other pilots who were really there are very jealous of their efforts and sacrifices while at Air America, and they well should be!
Later on I got talking to Deakin on the phone, and he started talking about the C-46 with a tear in his eye. I said, "Deakin, I want to see if you're real. Do you know anything about the C-46s and DC-4s at Tachikawa in Japan?" He says, "Know anything about them, I flew on them." I said, "Tell me about them. What N number did they have on the side?" He said, "B and sometimes it didn't have any number,: and I said, "Hoky smokes, this guy's been there." "Tell me a little more." Many times I've had guys try to tell me something and I've thought, "Why don't you just shut up and get in the seat and show me and then we'll both know something 'cause talk is cheap!" The more I talked to him I realized this guy really does know what he's talking about.
I said, "Deakin, you don't know me and I don't know you, but I'm going to try to find a way for you to fly the C-46 out in California. I'll introduce you to a friend of mine, Merrill Wien. I want you to do what he tells you and see if we can get you flying the C-46 that he's instructing in down in Camarillo, Calif.," so that's how it all started. Deakin didn't know anybody but he just wanted to get involved. I could very much appreciate that and wanted to get him involved with that CAF organization because of his abilities. I also think that right now that wing is the premier organization in the CAF. I really love to argue with him. I've told him several times "Deakin, you're a worthy adversary." I think the world of him.
Deak's pretty good at dispelling myths and old wives tales. How about one from you?
Well, one is that business of people putting the mixtures in autolean on the ground. When I see that I'm liable to ask, "Why are you doing that?" Usually they'll say "Well, it keeps it from loading up." It doesn't do a thing, absolutely does nothing. If you know how a carburetor works inside, the fuel isn't going through what you're controlling with the mixture plates -- it's going through a little idle valve, and it dribbles some idle fuel in, and you can move the mixture control rich and autolean, whatever you want, and the fuel doesn't even go through it -- it goes through something else. But you find all sorts of people, mechanics included, absolutely convinced of it.
Is that something that crept over from fuel injection systems or just a bad habit?
It's an old wives' tale and, like all of them, contains just enough veracity to seem to make sense. Just like the business of reducing manifold pressure on take-off to "baby the engine." Deakin, who doesn't swear much, let loose a burst the other day on a message to me about somebody wanting to reduce manifold pressure on take-off. It's a valid concept on a turbine engine, where creep does occur at the high EGTs. In a turbine engine if you heat those turbine blades up to their maximum, they might creep a little bit, so you say, "Well, let's cut back on the take off power a little bit and we won't get up into those temperatures near the red line." Well, then people that really didn't know too much about engines said, "Well, if it's good on a jet engine, then it must be good on a piston engine," and it made sense, right? But problem is in the piston engine the carburetor has a power enrichment valve, and the only way you can guarantee that the valve is fully open to provide cooling gas at the high power setting is to use the rated takeoff manifold pressure.
Another OWT is getting low on a no flap approach and landing. Several of us have talked a lot about our common distaste for "Old Wives' Tales" and we all agree that every one of us is capable of passing along some OWT. But I think the shame comes from hanging onto it and still believing in it once it's been brought to your attention. If you insist on maintaining that the world's flat, then shame on you!
1 Timothy 4 : 7 says "Have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women."
How did the NDPER program get started?
|Connie Bowlin and several other B-17 pilots in the Kermit Weeks maintenance hangar at OSH in front of B-17G "Aluminum Overcast" just before starting the tour season a few years ago|
What qualifications do people need to get into the program?
They have to be really interested in it and have a good background operating vintage airplanes and, most importantly I guess, have the ability to say "no." That's a tough thing, the ability to say "no" and have it mean something. Anybody can say " no," but to be able to back it up from experience and say, "Look, just quit talking and show me!" That's part of the reason why we picked Deakin up.
What have you got planned for Oshkosh this year?
We'll probably fly the B-17 and Michael Chowdry's estate is donating a DC-3 to us, so I guess I'll do that. I flew with Michael in the B-17 a year or so ago. Tom [Poberezny] called and said, "Randy, can you give this guy some time in the B-17?" Chowdry's airline operated the largest fleet of 747 freighters in the world. We shot a couple of take-offs and landings and he lowered the wing in the crosswind just fine. The guy could fly the airplane. I don't know what happened in his L-39 out in Denver.
Buzz Nelson called me to set up a few type ratings in the old pre-war Boeing 307 Stratoliner. They've got the last one in the world up there in Seattle and are going to start flying it some. I'd given Buzz some dual in Bob Pond's B-17 several years ago so he could ferry the 307 back from Tucson to Seattle.
Besides that nothing special that I know of. Last year I received the President's Award. I ended up driving over to Oshkosh, and as I came driving down to the Theater in the Woods and parked, Tom looked up and says, "Randy, you're here, and, as usual, with six minutes to spare." It was six minutes 'til 8, when we were due up on stage. Ron Alexander from Atlanta also received the President's Award. Now there's a guy that really deserves it.
You deserve it too, but you said you'd give all this up if you could be an entertainer. Would you really?
I can't play the guitar. While I was taking lessons they'd try to get me to read music, but I think I'd have just done better by ear. I've always said there's a difference between an entertainer and a guitarist, and I'd like to be able to do what Boxcar Willie or Roy Clark did -- just pick up a guitar and entertain people. Some people are master guitarists, but I've looked at some people on the Grand Ole Opry, and think, "He is an entertainer!" People will listen to him tell stories, and sing and laugh. I'd have traded it all for that gift.
Tennessee Ernie Ford was Russ Doherty's bombadier on B-29's. He used to sit in front of me in the bombadier's seat on "Fifi" [the CAF's B-29] and just loved to buzz places with her. Boxcar Willie was a good friend also, smart mechanic, ex-Texas Air National Guard and Air Force B-29 and C-97 flight engineer. Marty Caidin went along to Europe when Connie and I flew over there to celebrate the 75th Annversary of U.S. Naval Aviation. He was a good friend. His widow DeeDee flies for American Airlines as a flight attendant and just called me again the other day to talk about the old days. I'd re-qualified Paul Tibbets in the B-29 and the two of us flew the pass when they set off the smoke device that created a mushroom-shaped cloud in Harlingen in 1976. I had a Japanese photographer with me on that flight as a scanner. I still talk some to Paul, as well as Bob Robbins.
I checked out Ernie Gann in the CAF's B-17 -- N7227C -- years ago. We were longtime friends and when he passed away he wanted me to have his little silver Quiet Birdmen lapel pin wings -- Dodie gave them to me at Oshkosh. I've been so very, very lucky all these years to have had all those master craftsmen, both military and civil, to patiently teach this apprentice their craft.