Ferrying Airplanes from Stockton, California to Fort Hood, Texas
The 183rd Aviation Company was formed in Fort Hood, Texas in the first part of 1966, I think January. The pilots came from all parts of the country, one by one, from all types of U.S. Army units. One thing in common: they were all 0-1 Birddog pilots. I came from Fort Lewis, Washington. We lived off base in Waco, Texas. There were very few duties for the pilots. One thing we did every day was to go to the Officers Club for a happy hour along with a Texas-size steak dinner. Others went to Moss Rose restaurant.
The first duty of any significance was to fly to Wichita, Kansas to pick up our newly rebuilt Cessna airplanes and fly them to Fort hood. The L-19s were not new but only rebuilt airplanes. The U. S. Army found the airplanes from all types of active duty units and national guard units. Some were in very poor condition because they were old and had many flying hours. Most of the airplanes were manufactured beginning in 1949 to 1954. The airplanes were completely rebuilt with the addition of self-sealing fuel tanks and armored seats. We had a chance to review the original logbooks. The Birddog that I flew from the factory to Ft. Hood was 686. That was the airplane that I flew in Vietnam. The logbooks contained the entire history of the airplane. The airplane that I flew to Texas was received by the Cessna factory with a cracked firewall. Consequently, a new airplane was built around the new firewall.
One day the headquarters officers told us that we were going to fly the airplanes to Stockton Army Depot, California. The flights would be flights of six 0-1 airplanes. I was selected as one of the six to go on the first flight. Captain Gerry Carson was the flight leader. The Army gave us hotel money, rent-a-car money, and TDY money. I remember conferring with Gerry about what route to use to fly to California? The U.S. Army decided to give us six days to fly to California. Looking at the US map, we decided that the best route would be through Las Vegas. So we decided to get to Las Vegas as soon as possible. The first long day was to Midland, Texas to refuel and then on to El Paso, Texas. The first night was in El Paso, Texas. Naturally, when in El Paso we went to Juarez, Mexico looking for a cantina with a beautiful Mexican girl. The next day we flew all day and ended up in Las Vegas. One pilot was assigned the duty of navigating. The rest of us followed the leader. Usually, these flights would be some sort of formation. With boredom of flying, some of us were miles apart. Flying over the Grand Canyon was very very turbulent. We decided to change our altitude up to 10,000 feet so as to escape some of the turbulence. It was very turbulent! After crossing over the Grand Canyon we decided to check in with the flight leader. We all checked in except Woody. Woody, where are you? We all looked around and No Woody. Finally, Woody's meek voice came over the radio and he indicated that he was “lost” and could not see any of us. He said because of the turbulence he got airsick and threw up in his map and subsequently threw the map out the window. We did find Woody!
Now we were in Las Vegas. We all taxied into Executive Airlines and told them to refuel the airplanes and that we would be back in 2-3 days. We gave them a US government credit card. We checked in at the Sands Hotel. The first thing to do was to go to the gambling area. We decided to go to the casino in our flight suits. Flight suits in a casino? What are they going to do to us—send us to Vietnam? I remember being at the crap table when Woody looked up to see Arnold Palmer. Woody was from Pittsburg and so was Arnold Palmer. Woody shouted, “Hi Uncle Arnie”. Arnold motioned for us to come over. We did and he gave all of us a $100.00 bill. Ash got a $100.00 chip. “Thanks for defending our country”.
At last we arrived in Stockton Army Depot. They accepted our airplanes and told us to take our parachutes with us. On to San Francisco International Airport where we booked a flight to Dallas, and then on to Fort Hood. Can you imagine walking into the San Francisco airport with our parachutes on today? While in the entrance to the airport someone pulled the D Ring on Carson’s parachute. I can remember the parachute shot out across the entire lobby. I can also remember Carson trying to pick up the parachute in his arms? As I remember the scene—Carson looked like a monkey trying to pick up many coconuts. You should have seen the look on the faces of all of the people? Who pulled the D ring?
A footnote to the Stockton Army Depot story. Sometime in 1974 or 1975, there were crates of 01 Birddogs and crates of 0-2 Airplanes on the docks at Alameda, California ready for shipment to Vietnam. With the active American portion of Vietnam war over, the U.S. Government sold the airplanes from the docks. The price was $1,500.00 for the 0-1’s and $2,500.00 for the 0-2’s. All you had to have was a cashiers check and someone to pick up the crate. At that time frame, I was in and out of San Francisco and I had the money. My dad was in the trucking business and had trucks that were in and out of San Francisco. The problem was that I did not know about the sale?