50 Years Ago Today

My blogs are almost always about some person or thing other than myself. This one is intentionally different. This morning’s Facebook post generated some interest in my life I hadn’t expected:

50 years ago today, I was inducted into the U.S. Air Force. I didn’t want to be there but I was about to be drafted and my dad suggested I’d have better conditions than in the Army and might learn something useful. He was right but it was a very long 3 years, 7 months and 16 days, including 18 months in The Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

Besides receiving well wishes from several people, I was asked about what was it I did when in the Air Force and responded with the following:

I was an Automatic Weapons Control System Technician on MG-10 and MA-1 systems. In English, I worked on the fire control radar on F-102 & F-106 interceptors.

To make sure I remembered some of the terminology correctly, I Googled the terms to unexpectedly find this written by Tim White:

PACAFUSAFETAC An Extraordinary Bunch

In the middle and late 1960s, the sophistication of high-tech electronic systems began to grow at a phenomenal rate. Fortunately, the USAF (and a few other nations) had a small number of technicians – rarely exceeding 600, worldwide–who had the ability to maintain, upgrade, and even improve upon these state-of-the-art systems. Sustained, at first, by the compelling “equality” of the Vietnam draft (a rich source of competent and intelligent recruits who otherwise would have excelled in civilian life) the switch to an all-volunteer military resulted in a slow decline in the “quality” of personnel available for this challenging task.

They were farm boys and ghetto punks; college drop-outs and those who barely passed in high school. Scoring in the top 5 percent of the population in spatial perception, electronic/mechanical aptitude, and command of language, they were some of the best and the brightest the nation had to offer.

Eventually, basically-analog systems (containing digital components) were completely replaced by digital; in many cases, the software writers had no idea how the electronics worked, and never considered the hardware to be a maintainable, alignable system. In a binary world of on/off, there was no room for a concept other than pass/fail. Maintenance mock-ups became “test stations” in a “smart machine/dumb technician” form of maintenance–and the WCS troops were no longer required. Failing components were trashed instead of repaired (because no one knew how anymore), and dependence upon “spares” grew, along with depot and manufacturer-level repair. WCS troops, as a species, started to become extinct. It was the end of an era.

I assumed the newer aircraft used digital systems but was unaware that the newer equipment does not require alignments—which were a significant part of my job—and of the shift to a “smart machine/dumb technician” approach to maintenance. Thank you for the kind words about my generation, Mr. White.

F-102-37

Two F-102s I worked on overseas. PK on the tails indicates that they are 509th FIS birds.

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