Radiological Defense College at Keesler AFB, Biloxi, Mississippi
During my third assignment to Keesler Air Force Base I attended the
Air Force's Radiological Defense College. In 1949 the U.S. military was quite
aware of the Russian's nuclear program. The Department of Defense wisely mandated that
the Armed Services set up the Military Occupational Speciaty, MOS, of Radiological
Defense Officers whose specialty covered almost every aspect of Radiological Warfare
Defense. The course at Keesler AFB was actually two semesters of nuclear physics
with almost every aspect of A-bomb technology covered in depth.
The classes ran eight full hours a day and every student was expected to complete
3 to 4 hours of homework every evening. Actually, the two semesters were crammed
into one. Fellow student officers in my class of 20 were from England,
Australia, Canada and New Zealand with the majority from the US Air Force
and US Army. Rank varied from 2nd Lieutenants to Majors. After getting the
theory down pat, our laboratory work covered every nuclear measuring device
known at that time from film badges to pocket dosimeters to high level RADIAC
(radiation integration and calibration), measuring instruments. We also got a
heavy dose of shock wave dynamics.
Upon graduation we all received the MS Physics equivalent degree. I was then
assigned to the 15th Liaison Flight. While waiting for our 'Q' clearance to
arrive I flew a lttle twin engine Beechcraft C-45 up to Wright Patterson Air
Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. It is illustrated below.
There was a rumor floating around that the Air Force Institute of Technology
at Wright Petterson was considering offering a Master of Science course in
Aeronautical Engineering. I was interested and arranged an interview with the
Professor who headed up the Aero Engineering Department. I took off for Dayton
very early in the morning and had an uneventful flight. The aircraft's Master
Sergeant crew chief who was an old friend came along with me. We left Wright
Patterson Air Force Base about 2:00 pm that afternoon and were cruising along
at 8,000 feet altitude over West Virginia when BOTH engines quit cold. OK
bozo the first thing one does is switch fuel tanks without even thinking about
it. NO HELP. Carburetor heat? We already had carburetor heat on so carburetor
ice was out of the question.
We were over heavily forested mountainous terrain with not one patch of open
field where I could have dead sticked the aircraft in. With no power at all
we were gliding/descending about 1000 feet a minute. Decisions, decisions. At
about 2000 feet above the ground I told the crew chief to pop the cabin door
off, put on his parachute and bail out. It only took him 15 seconds to leave.
The C-45, the cabin door and the crew chief floating down in his parachute is
shown in the little sketch below.
I followed him out a few seconds later with my parachute and landed first in the
tallest oak tree in West Virginia and then fell though it to the ground
injuring my knee. A few minutes later the crew chief and a bunch of West
Virginia hill billies showed up and helped me get to the nearest town, Blair,
West Virginia. Would you believe? Blair was the only town in 1949 in West
Virginia without electricity, but they had an old crank up phone that got
me through to Wright Patterson Air Force Base. To make a long story short,
the Air Force Accident Investigation Board came up with two probable causes
for the accident.
1. Failure of the aluminum master ignition switch or wiring (this was an old
C-45 like the ones the Air Force was selling surplus for $1,000. or less).
2. Failure of the master fuel distribution valve .
End of war story. Bailing out of an airplane with both engines dead is easy
over the mountains.
After we all received Atomic Energy Commission 'Q' clearances, the highest
security clearance in the US, we set sail for Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall
Islands, half way around the world in an old Navy troopship. It took almost
three weeks to get there including a fun five day stop in Honolulu, Hawaii.
From Kwajalein Atoll we were flown 300 miles north to the Eniwetok Atoll where the 12 month
Operation Greenhouse (atomic tests) were scheduled. Eniwetok was the one place
in the world at that time where an Air Force officer could not take his wife,
so Gram moved back to Meadville, Pennsylvania with her parents and enrolled
in Allegheny College. After 18 months active duty, the minimum, I was promoted to
First Lieutenant. I was now 23 years old.