Updated: 13 April 2000
Posted: 7 March 2000
EDWARDS AFB & THE YF-12A
Departing Mountain Home AFB after being stationed there for 10 1/2 years was difficult but the anticipation of a new and exciting challenge helped to ease the sadness of leaving old friends. After a 30 day leave in Ohio and Pennsylvania, we (wife Dorothy, son Mark and daughter Kim Marie and I) arrived at Edwards AFB, CA in June 1964. I was full of anticipation and anxious to get started on this new assignment. At this point, I should mention that I still do not know what my job would be or even what aircraft I would be assigned to. I quickly found out that there is nothing more frustrating then being assigned to a ìcloak and daggerî outfit which required double checking of security clearances, briefings, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting......Finally after approximately three weeks, we were briefed and cleared to start as part of the YF-12A Test Force. The Test Force maintenance personnel were made up of NCOís from the Air Force Systems Command(AFSC), the Air Force Defense Command(AFDC), and the Strategic Air Command(SAC). At this point however, the assignment of SAC personnel to this project was ìhush-hushî. Any reference to an influx of SAC personnel to Edwards AFB was strongly discouraged since information pertaining to assignment of the highly classified SR-71 to the Strategic Air Command as a reconnaissance aircraft had not yet been publicized. In fact when several of us were awarded the Air Force Commendation for service in our former units, the medals were presented in a private ceremony in the office of the Commander, Edwards Flight Test Center, Major General Irwin L. Branch. Although photos where taken, they were not published in the base newspaper to preclude identifying our former major command, i.e. (SAC). These precautions were lifted a year later with the unveiling of the SR-71.
Although the first SR-71 was not delivered to Edwards AFB until almost a year after we (SAC personnel) arrived , the experience on the YF-12A was invaluable since the basic design, engines, systems, etc. were fairly similar. The YF-12A of course was designed as an interceptor equipped with missile firing capabilities, whereas the SR-71 Blackbird was a reconnaissance aircraft equipped with photo, infra-red, radar, and electronic surveillance systems.
One of the highlights of this most interesting year at Edwards AFB was the visit of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey who arrived to be briefed on the YF-12A. One NCO from each of the major commands involved in the Test Program was selected to meet the V.P.. Naturally, I was quite proud to be selected to represent the SAC contingent. Besides the three NCOs, also in the greeting line was Major Jim Irwin(YF-12A Test Pilot) and Captain James P. Cooney(Fire Control Officer). Incidentally, Major Irwin later became an astronaut and landed on the moon during the Apollo 15 mission. I might mention also that during my time at Edwards I had the opportunity to fly from Edwards AFB to Beale AFB in a twin engine U-3A with then Major Irwin. Little did I realize then that I was flying with a future famous astronaut.
Another Test Force highlight occurred on 1 May 1965 when the YF-12A broke 7 world speed, altitude, and payload records. For this achievement, the combined YF-12A/SR-71 Test Force was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. The following month, the first SR-71 was delivered to the Test Force at Edwards AFB. After the initial familiarization and ground school on the SR-71, the SAC personnel in the Test Force was transferred to Beale AFB, California, the ultimate home base of the SR-71 Blackbird.
BIRTH OF THE FAKAWEES
Upon arrival at Beale AFB, we were assigned to what was then designated the 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. The 4200th SRW was later redesignated the 9th SRW. The purpose of the redesignation was to preserve the historical continuity of the 1st Squadron which was the oldest unit in the U. S. Air Force with a history dating back to pre World War I days. The 9th Strategic Bomb Wing which included the 1st Bomb Squadron was coincidentally being deactivated at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. It should be noted that the first mission of this fledging 1st Aero Squadron of the old Army Air Corp was observation (reconnaissance) flights during the Mexican Border War. It was therefore a pleasant coincidence that the 1st would now be redesignated as the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron with the same basic mission it had during itís inception so many years before. I also felt a special kinship to the 1st since I was already a member of the 9th Wing for over 10 1/2 years.
At the time, it did not require a genius to see that the new SR-71 Blackbird Wing was a special and elite unit. In addition to the new Wing forming at Beale AFB was being manned with the ìcream of SACî. Never has there been a more knowledgeable, dedicated, and enthusiastic group of NCOs and Officers ever assembled to form a new Wing. However, this initial outstanding manpower situation did have an unusual side effect. Here we had several hundred outstanding and ìgung hoî NCOís ready to go to work and no aircraft to work on. It would be over 6 months before the first SR-71 would be delivered to Beale AFB. Realizing that this was a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of all this ìspare timeî, the Officers and Senior NCOs established numerous projects that not only kept everybody busy but also resulted in huge savings to the Air Force. Maintenance personnel were sent to SR-71 engine, aircraft, electronic, and reconnaissance systems ground schools, surplus trailers were converted for use as offices for Flight Line Supervisors and ground crew teams were training by making simulated dry runs in procedures related to launching and recovery operations of the SR-71. It was also during this period that routine military requirements such as safety lectures, firing range qualifications, record checks, physical fitness requirements, etc were brought up to date.
All these projects effectively kept everybody busy, however, it was not all work and no play. Our philosophy in those days was to work hard and play hard. Morale was absolutely the greatest. One of the post work day activities of course was the ìgathering of the troopsî at the watering hole on the hill (i.e. the NCO Club). This was especially true for ìFriday Nite Two-fersî. It wasnít long before the 9thís NCOs (especially those from the 9th Organizational Maintenance Squadron (9 OMS), dominated the activities at the club and soon gained the reputation as a boisterous, fun loving hard drinking group. At this point, I must admit that I was one of the primary instigators of these Friday Nite forays on the club. It was at one of these gatherings that Chief Master Sergeant Jim Davis told the story about the forlorn nameless Indian Tribe that traveled cross country from Florida to the Pacific Coast in search of a place to settle. Totally unaware of where he was and obviously lost, the Indian Chief climbed a small knoll, faced west, shading his eyes against the setting sun, uttered what sounded like ìWeíre the Fakaweeî. Most of us never heard this sad tale and thought it was hilarious. From that day on the 9th OMS was known as the Fakawees. These Friday Nite forays on the club eventually became legendary. In fact, it wasnít long before the wife of Crew Chief Master Sergeant Carmen D. Allen designed and embroidered a flag depicting a forlorn looking Indian. Also embroidered on the flag was the inscription ìFakawee Big Braveî and the words ìFridays are my favorite Nitesî. This flag was not only a terrific morale booster but also perpetuated the legend of the 9th OMS Fakawees.
With the obvious popularity of the Fakawee Flag and the well known camaraderie of the 9th OMS personnel, it was inevitable that our sister Squadron, 9th Field Maintenance (9 FMS) would also follow suit with their own Squadron Flag. with CMSgt Joe Gaudet as the spark-plug, the 9th FMS troops opted to be known as the ìSemi-holesî of ìHalf-assed Indiansî and of course, not to be out done by OMS, they also had one of the wives embroider a flag depicting their symbol of a Semi-hole Indian. Now that both Squadrons had their respective flags, it was inevitable that friendly rivalry would result in an exchange of shenanigans. Meetings of the two Squadrons (tribes) at the club would be referred to as pow-wows at the big teepee on the hill. Each ìtribeî would develop elaborate plans to steal the otherís flag. For example, one morning as I drove to work, I noticed the OMS Fakawee Flag waving gently in the breeze several hundred feet in the air atop the base water tower. On another occasion, the Semi-holes stole the Fakawee Flag and demanded a ransom of a keg of Fire water (beer) to be consumed by both tribes at a pow-wow by the NCO Club swimming pool. That evening turned out to be a ìwetî meeting for a lot of Indians. The story of the two OMS and FMS flags ultimately became well known throughout the Strategic Air Command. On one occasion, during a visit of the SAC Maintenance Standardization and Evaluation Team, both flags were stolen by members of the inspection team. Nobody knew what happened to the flags and each tribe blamed the other for stealing their flag. When the KC-97 aircraft returning the Inspection Team back to SAC Headquarters, was taxing out, we saw our flags brazenly waving out of the left and right cockpit windows. We were duped by a bunch of ìstraight lacedî inspectors from higher headquarters. After a ceremonial presentation of the flags to the SAC CINC, the flags were returned to Beale AFB with the admonition that you donít trust anybody. And so the tradition and escapades of the flags grew and flourished.
© Wm. M. (Bill) Gornik
Chapter 4 & 5
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