1965 North African News Beat: Wheelus Diary

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  • By Staff Reports
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: The 48th Fighter Wing has an incredibly rich history. This article is an excerpt from the Oct. 22, 1965 issue of Jet 48, the 48th Fighter Wing's long running news publication, which has since transitioned to digital news delivered via the base website. The article is reproduced in its original form with the exception of several typographical corrections.)

The next time you see a man walking on base with a "Wheelus suntan," take off your hat. He didn't get that tan by lolling around Libyan beaches... contrary to a popular belief. His golden brown coloring signifies 35 days or more on a sweltering hot pad, called a flight line. And chances are the 10 hours-a-day average he spent working on that flight line was in temperatures ranging from 80 to 100 degrees.

This, and related stories have been written to represent a diary of the time spent at the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing's Detachment 1 at Wheelus AB, Libya.

I hope to tell about the 48th's mission in Africa; to clear any misunderstandings you may have about "beach status," there; and most important, to salute the men of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing who show an outstanding capability in their acclimatization of an entirely different and extremely strenuous environment. And who successfully accomplish the vital mission of weaponry training during these short periods of rotational duty.

Libya is located on the upper-most border of Africa on a map. Wheelus lies on the warm and salty Mediterranean some 7 miles from its capital city of Tripoli. Every 30 days pilots from one of three respective fighter squadrons in the 48th go for a tour of duty there.

Every 36 days personnel from field maintenance; organizational shop; armament and electronics; supply; transportation and squadron clerks, board a MATS aircraft at RAF Mildenhall and make the same 2,000 mile journey to North Africa.

We arrived at 10:30 p.m. at Wheelus after a stop at Bitburg AB, Germany. Members of the 48th already on duty there met and transported us from the C-124 aircraft to the 48th Airmen's Quarters, the top floor of a three-storey building shared by two other rotational fighter wings from the USAFE command. After signing-in, receiving an incoming briefing, being given locks for our lockers and dining hall passes, the 26 new maintenance arrivals and I went to midnight chow before retiring to our assigned rooms. It was near midnight and that meant less than six hours sleep for many, before reporting to the flight line for an eight to 12 hour work-day.

Flying 28 missions daily with 14 F-100 aircraft means that the refueling, maintenance, arming and checking of aircraft is a full and hard day's work for all concerned.

There is little or no time for rest in a work day for any of the men on duty. This is the only opportunity pilots of the 48th have for concentrated weaponry training and in order to adhere to strict local scheduling, crew chief, electrician, munitions specialist, motor pool driver, drag chute packer and every other man enlisted and commissioned alike, must work proficiently, smoothly as a team. And man... this is team work at its best!

If I had never seen an outstanding example of professionalism in the Air Force before now... after leaving the 48th's Det. 1 at Wheelus I can now say I have seen it!

I've waited 'til this point to single out one man's as his tour is extraordinary in length of time, not mentioning the countless responsibilities he is charged with. The 1st Sergeants assigned on duty here rotate on a 60 day basis, and the jobs they perform are too numerable to list here.

To try and draw and clear picture of the work load, and the absolute necessity for teamwork, I have outlined the work required of each section to fly one ordinary mission.

The following is a break down from each major section explaining tasks they perform. Remember... this is repeated 28 times daily. Multiply the following by 28 and fully appreciate the work day of the 72 enlisted and 15 commissioned personnel assigned to Det 1.

The work day begins for personnel assigned to the detachment at 5 a.m. two hours before the first sorties are flown by the 48th Tactical Fighter wing pilots. This starts with a preflight for the crew chiefs, as it takes them this time to thoroughly check aircraft. They check the tire pressure, fuel load, set up the cockpit for the pilots and clean the canopy.

During this time weapons load teams headed by TSgt John A. Jacobs of the 346th Munitions Maintenance Squadron select ammunitions to be used in the day's sorties and they load the aircraft. These men may either load rockets, ammunitions or practice bombs depending on the type of mission to be flown. A team from the 48th Armament and Electronics Squadron, under SSgt Elkin Spitzer's supervision, checks the bombing systems, lighting, weapons delivery systems and the radio communications to detect any flaws.

Simultaneously SSgt Steve Popvich of the 48th Field Maintenance goes over the aircraft engines. He also screens aircraft hydraulic, instrument and electronics systems. The first engine starter is up at 7:15 a.m. and the aircraft are on their way. The last aircraft is down at 4:30 p.m. and the aircraft have been turned around twice on the pad during the day's operation.

Out of the 630 sorties scheduled from Sept. 13 to Oct. 15, 606 were flown. This is a milestone not alone for the pilots of the 48th who flew the missions but also for the maintenance, munitions and support crews assigned to the task of keeping our aircraft combat-ready.

Another record was achieved by the drag chute packers on the non-scheduled maintenance. SSgts. Watson R. McFarland and Charles Good established an outstanding feat of maintenance over the three month period when none of the aircraft had drag-chute failures.

The success of the operations at Wheelus depends entirely on teamwork, both in the air and on the ground. The seasoned veterans who work in this area of noise, grease, and tension on a sun baked plateau are the cream of the 48th. It is my aim to mention as many of these men as possible but should someone be omitted, don't take it personal because sometime I will make a point of mentioning you in a later story. The crew chiefs assigned to the 48th's Wheelus detachment during my visit whose dedication to their job, professionalism and skill made the mission a complete success include:

A1C Stephen F. Simon, SSgt Gordon L. Hartley, A1C bill W. Henderson, A3C Darwin W. Aeschilman, SSgt William J. Marsden, A1C Wilfred A. Bonin, SSgt James H. Cashman, A1C Raymond S. Petrusch, SSgt Ronald R. Withrow, A2C John W. Edwards, SSgt. William Carrigan, SSgt Raymond M. Siegler, SSgt John A. Deville, SSgt James E. Elmore, SSgt Gerald T. McKinney.

Members of Sergeant Jacobs' load crew were SSgt Jesse Crowe and A1C Charles Aldridge.

1st Lts. Burrell Sullivan and David J. Michael were the maintenance officers and the flight line boss was SMSgt Charles E. Jackson. Flight Chiefs were TSgts. Erving Milliang, Robert Quilan, Perry Mosley, G. W. McVay and SSgt Lenhart Linville. In charge of requisition supplies was A1C Charles Zimmerman.