Friday, November 7, 2008

Flying Tigers reunion

The Valdosta Daily Times

Published November 06, 2008 11:52 pm
By Matt Flumerfelt

MOODY AFB — Flying Tigers attending the 23rd Wing's 66th anniversary reunion Thursday at Moody Air Force Base's Grand Bay Range were given a spectacular reception.

Under clear skies on a balmy afternoon surrounded by fall foliage, active and retired members, their families and guests were treated to a combat search and rescue simulation using live ammunition.

The demonstration of Moody's combat search and rescue capabilities was attended by dozens of veterans, some of whom had flown with the fabled 23rd Wing in China before the American Volunteer Group (AVG) was assimilated by the U.S. 14th Air Force in July of 1942.

The demonstration at Grand Bay Range simulated a search and rescue mission involving a downed airman. The injured F-18 pilot was concealed in some underbrush, according to the script read over the loudspeakers as the plot unfolded for the assembled crowd. The downed pilot was supposed to have been injured and had reported enemy ground troops in the area.

He had begun to treat his injuries while waiting for his eventual rescue. The 23rd Wing's mission was to rescue the pilot and return him safely to friendly territory. The task force was told to expect significant resistance from enemy ground forces, including the threat of surface-to-air missiles.

About that time, seemingly from out of nowhere, a couple of A-10 Thunderbolt II's swooped in low to the right of the assembled spectators and strafed the area with their GAU-8 30 mm avenger cannons. The range erupted in a barrage of dust as the ammunition struck the target area. The noise from the cannons couldn't be heard until well after the ammunition struck the range. A smoky Sam — a simulated surface-to-air missile — burst from the staging area in front of the grandstand as the aircraft used a combination of defensive maneuvers and infrared counter-measure flares to demonstrate how the task force defeats hostile attempts to down their aircraft.

The whole event lasted about an hour and demonstrated a wide range of weaponry as well as the rescue capability of the Jolly Greens — 60HG Pave Hawk helicopters. Captain Nick Dicapua explained some of the armaments carried by the A-10's such as TV guided and Infra Red guided missiles, Maverick air-to-ground missiles, and Mark 80 II and IV laser guided and GPS guided bombs. Altogether, these aircraft can carry about 16,000 pounds of ordnance. The demonstration also included HC-130 transports used to extend the range of combat search and rescue helicopters by providing air refueling in hostile or contested airspace if required. The downed airman was eventually rescued as the two helicopters hovered overhead, pulling him in with a hoist attached to a stretcher as the medics who had rappelled down a rope earlier to assist climbed back into their helicopter using a long rope ladder.

One of the attendees Thursday afternoon was Odell Leonard, accompanied by his son. Leonard had originally joined the AVG in China and said he attends all these reunions. "It seems to me they have these operations down to a science," Leonard stated. "They didn't have any of this stuff back in my day," the former fighter pilot observed.

The Tigers' shark-faced fighters are still some of the most recognizable combat aircraft of World War II. Its original members were former United States Navy, Army and Marine Corps pilots and ground crew recruited and commanded by Claire Chennault with tacit approval by Franklin Roosevelt to aid China during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45). An unpublished executive order went out under Roosevelt's signature authorizing reserve officers and enlisted men to resign from the Army Air Corps, Naval and Marine air services for the purpose of joining the American Volunteer group in China. Chennault, who was something of a maverick, called upon a small cadre of Americans who knew and loved him from their service in the U.S. Army Air Corps — most notably, "Luke" Williamson and Billy McDonald — to help organize what became the 23rd Fighter Wing. They had been Chennault's wingmen in the Flying Trapeze, an army precision-flying team that prefigured the Thunderbirds of today.


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