Photos of Bob in his DG-100 on the runway at Moriarty, New Mexico.
How did you get started flying?
I was an airport bum at age 15. Hanging out at the airport and begging flights. I would see someone starting to take off with an empty seat and suggest someone should be in the seat. Then in college I joined ROTC. They paid for my flying lessons in a Cessna 150. I got my license from them, but it wasn't exactly free, I was going into the Air Force.
Tell me about Vietnam.
I was over there flying B-52s out of Guam, then I moved to Uptao, Thailand. I was flying out of Thailand, on 26th Dec. 1972 and was shot down over Hanoi. I was prisoner of war for 93 days. I was in two prisons, the Hanoi Hilton and a prison they called the Zoo.
Everyone has heard of the Hanoi, Hilton and how horrible it was…
Yes it was.
Why did they call the other prison the zoo?
Just, of course they had real Vietnamese names, we Americans nicknamed the prisons. This prison had, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens. Other prisons were called briarpatch, dogpatch, the plantation…
What happened after you got out of prison?
After prison I came back to the states and was a patient in a hospital in Dayton, Ohio for four months. Then they sent me to Omaha, where I flew T-39s.
Did you get to fly during your entire military career?
Some assignments were not flying assignments but I flew most of the time.
What kind of planes did you fly while you were in the Air Force?
First the B52-H then the B52-D, they sound like the same airplane but they are two totally different airplanes. If you walked up the them you would say they look alike. The H at one time was the fastest airplane in the world, the D model was old and worn out, but it could carry a lot of bombs. I was flying the B52-D when I got shot down.
Then the T-39, which is a small passenger business jet. I flew VIPs, everything from four star generals, senators, congressmen, I flew the director of the CIA, Mr. Casey once, Claire Booth Luce, she was a gabby lady, a nice lady and George Will, the newspaper editorialist.
After the T-39 I flew the FB-111 it was the first fly-by wire electronic flight controlled airplane, the wings moved. The faster you went the wings swept back then the slower they would swept forward. It was rated at Mach 2.2 but you could actually get it going a little faster than that. I went almost 900 miles per hour at 100 feet above ground.
Next I flew the EC-135, it was the airborne command post. It’s code name was Looking Glass. The mission was to be the command post for WWIII until we could establish control on the ground again. It flew continuously for 25 years 24 hours a day. We had 13 of them, one would take off and fly an 8 hour shift, then the next one takes off, we just kept rotating them. I was on the EC-135 on the 25th anniversary. We were sent congratulations messages from all over the world. I give lectures on that mission.
I flew the EC-135 for two years. Then I had a couple of desk jobs where I didn’t fly very much. Then I had the opportunity to command two Air Force bases, one was Brooks Air Force base in San Antonio, TX, the other was classified.
I was the last Air Force pilot to fly the F-100 then I flew the F-16. The mission was fun, I did mostly test work. Most of it was chasing classified packages or missiles. You get about half way out and they launch the missile then 3 or 4 of us try to chase it so that we can film it.
How did you get into flying Gliders?
Unfortunately I lost my medical in 1996. I had an artery close up when I was in Saudi, Arabia. It was from an injury I got when I was shot down in Vietnam. I had a lot of damage to my chest, the left anterior descending (LAD) coronary artery was damaged. It finally caught up with me. I had to come back to the States and have surgery. I couldn’t fly power planes anymore, but since you don’t need a medical for gliders I started to fly them.
What was your first glider?
My first glider was a DG-100, I bought it from my ex-boss. I hadn’t seen him in 20 some years. I had dinner with him and he invited me to fly gliders. He died very suddenly about a year later of pancreatic cancer. I bought the glider from his wife.
What was your most challenging flight in a glider?
One day when the stick broke in my hand. I was on tow in my DG-100 when the glider started to pitch up. I kept pushing down and the glider kept pitching up. The tow rope pulled out because of the angle. Then I realized that the reason I couldn't put the nose down was that I was holding the stick in my hand, it wasn't attached. I took the little bit of stick left and did a loop and landed on runway 8. I was scared to death.
Do you still own the DG-100?
I sold the DG-100 and have been flying club airplanes. I am going to buy Al Santilli's glider. He had a Libelle.
You have been president of the glider club for 3 years now, do you like this position?
Yes, I enjoy it but there is a lot more work then I realized. Some days I don’t get to fly because I have so much administrative stuff to do. But I love it, I like the people and just love being around the flying. Its just like being in the Air Force but you don’t have the uniforms and people talk back to you.
You can find out more about Albuquerque’s Soaring Club at their website. This site gives information about joining the club and offers links to other sites regarding flying, weather, and glider contests.