USAF Tactical Air Command Headquarters, Langley Air Force Base, VA
Langley Air Force Base, Virgina is one of the oldest Air Force Bases in the US
dating back to about 1917. It is just across the mouth of Chesapeake Bay from Norfolk, Virginia.
It is beautifully laid out with excellent buildings, runways, hangars, officers'
homes and NASA's large aerodynamics plus wind tunnel facilities too. My wife and I were
assigned a delightful 2 story, 3 bedroom, brick home in the center of the extremely
large base. How did a junior officer get a home on the base usually assigned
to field grade majors and colonels?
My basic job at Langley AFB was that of supervisor and instructor at the Tactical
Air Command Radiological Defense School which was certainly NO big deal. My
secondary job was that of the radiological officer aboard one of 6 Sikorsky
H-5 helicopters based at Langley AFB whose main function was to rescue the President
of the United States and his family from the White House in Washington, DC after
a nuclear attack. The Radiological Defense School had two officers, me and another
one. One of us was required to be on the base at ALL times ready to rescue the
President in case of nuclear attack. This may sound pretty foolish today, but
in 1951/1952 with the intelligence community knowing how rapidly the Russians
were advancing in nuclear technology, was taken very seriously.
On a remote part of Langley AFB we had a underground reinforced concrete hut that
could withstand almost anything except a direct A-bomb hit. It was manned 24 hours
a day, 365 days a year by master sergeant radio operators who had a direct radio
link to their counterparts in the basement of the White House. Three of the six helicopter
pilots were also required to be on the base at any time. The story line goes like this.
If Washington were attacked by a Russian nuke and there was enough left of the White
House to rescue any one, a radiological officer and 3 of the Sikorsky helicopters would
take off within 15 minutes and rescue the President and his family about an hour later. We would
then take them to the Catoctin Mountain bomb shelter near Winchester, Viriginia.
Happy to say, during my one year stay at Langley AFB we never had to do it.
Our Radiological Defense School course for Tactical Air Command captains and
majors was a short 2 week course that familiarized them with nuclear fundamentals
and taught them how to use basic radiological measuring instruments. Each class was
about 20 students. We had two radiological defense college graduate/officer instructors
and two master sergeant instructors. With classes running 8 hours a day all instructors
had a very busy workload.
Flying at Langley:
At first I thought I would learn to fly a Sikorsky H-5 helicopter with one of my
friends as the instructor. The H-5 was an absolutely AWFUL machine. There was
enough vibration to shake the fillings out of your teeth. I at least learned
how to make a running take off and running short field landing in these beasts should the
helicopter pilot I was flying with become incapacitated, but that was ALL. Most all
my flying at Langley was in DC-3s and my old favorite AT-6s for acrobatics.
During November 1951 I was assigned to the Frenchman's Flat, Nevada, Atomic
Energy Commission for 30 days temporary duty. There were a series of both
underground and surface low yield atomic bomb tests scheduled. Tactical Air
Command wanted me to get some experience with low yield atomic bombs. Gram
and I drove out to Las Vegas, Nevada in our new Ford convertible.
Frenchman's Flat was about a one hour drive northwest of Las Vegas and only
had separate Quarters for male and female officers and workers. Gram got a
temporary job as cashier in the AEC cafeteria so stayed at Frenchman's Flat
for all the tests. Underground atomic tests are pretty much a big bore. The
earth shakes a little and that is about it. Low yield surface atomic tests
are a bit more interesting as the graphics below illustrates. You can see the
Amargosa Mountain range in the background.
We had weekends off so since it was in the middle of the deer hunting season
Gram and I went deer hunting with my little 30-30 rifle. On our last weekend
in Neveda we bagged a 100 pound beauty which we had cleaned and frozen. Using
a lot of dry ice we managed to get it home to Langley Air Force Base, Virginia,
in good condition. Family and friends had venison for Christmas dinner. Feeling
a little guilty, I never shot another deer again.
After a year of having a new class of students at our Radiological Defense School
every 2 weeks, I decided I had had enough and decided to leave the Air Force
in June of 1952. My physics training and ham radio hobby gave me enough background
to get a job as an electronics engineer in Washington, DC. Gram and I bought and moved
to Miskel Farm near Sterling, Virginia on the Potomac River just northwest of Washington,
DC where all three of our children were born and raised during our 25 year stay there.