Low Level Navigation                 Jack Leonard

USAFA Memory:


One very late, cold, and windy night, a group of us assembled on the terrazzo at the west end of Vandenberg Hall with a furniture dolly (essentially a piece of plywood with four wheels) and a parachute.


Two of us would sit on the board – one to steer and one to serve as ballast.  Then two others would fluff the parachute up into the stiff 30-knot breeze and off we would go.  Just before the Battle Ramp, the steer-man would let go of one riser, causing the parachute to stream to the side where another member of the team would catch it as the two on the board went screaming down the ramp.  Then, it was hike back, change roles, and repeat.

So it went, until the Officer in Charge came out to check on us.  We explained that we all signed out on an Off-Duty Privilege and therefore could be on the terrazzo at that hour.  We fully expected to be told to get back to our rooms but instead, we got a “carry on” and so we did!


Air Force Memory:


Perhaps the coolest and/or most stupid thing I did in my flying career was as a young B‑52 copilot, flying in a Maple Flag exercise.  This consisted of flying north in to Canada and then turning around to penetrate the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), accomplishing a simulated bomb run on the way.  The problem was we were flying at 1,000 feet above ground level (AGL) with a solid, bright white undercast. We knew that it would not be very difficult for the fighters defending the target area to see a woodland green B-52 against that background.  As we approached the bomb run, we confirmed with the Radar Navigator that the terrain was flat as a board.  We then asked, “How tall do you think the trees grow here?”  The answer was, “No more than 200 feet.”  So we decided we would slowly descend in to the fog and if we didn’t see the ground by 300 feet on the radar altimeter, we would climb back out.  Well, on the third or fourth attempt, we saw the ground.  Now we’re flying under the fog layer as we make our sweeping turn on to the bomb run.  At this point, there is no indication that we are an “item of interest” as we used to call it.  But, as we got closer to the target, the Radar Navigator couldn’t see his aiming points because they were being obscured by our altitude (or lack thereof).  We started a gradual climb and he was still calling for more.  As the ground became more and more indistinct we finally decided that we had no choice but to get back above the fog.  I have to believe that it was pretty spectacular for the fighter guys when they saw a B-52 breach out of the fog like a whale.  You know what they say, “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots; but, there are not that many old, bold pilots.”  I thank God that I lived through the “bold” phase.


Bill Van Horn

9491 South Johnson Court 

Littleton, CO 80127


303-948-8435   work

303-596-3615   cell


USAFA Class of '74 - published a book of our experiences for our 40th reunion!



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USAFA '74 Class Reunion Book