John Dorgan


Mil. service, Three months as a Marine reservist, March -June 1955.


Joined the Air Force in June with basic at Sampson AFB, Geneva, NY. Rotary Wing school at Gary AFB, San Marcos, TX. H-19 class. Graduated in early 1966.


First assignment was Donaldson AFB, SC. and wouldn't you know it, they had H-21's. I learned the hard way about these wonderful and temperamental beauties.


There for only a short time and was transferred to Sewart AFB, TN. to the 23rd Helron which was prepping for an overseas transfer. Ten of our H-21's went to Phalsbourg AFB, France while four went to Wethersfield, England and four went to Wheelus Field, Tripoli, Libya. (My-My, how times have changed).


I was in the group that went to France via an old WWII jeep carrier, the USS Tripoli. Seventeen days from Mobile Alabama to Bremerhaven, Germany. Being an A/3c at the time, I got laundry duty aboard ship, which while in the beginning meant temps in the 100+ range with humidity about the same.


Our H-21's were cocooned and tied down on the flight deck for the trip while a squadron of Army H-34's occupied the hangar deck. After entering the north Atlantic in October, the weather turned decidedly colder, and I began to enjoy the laundry. I knew it was too good to last, when I was transferred to deck watch. which meant checking all the lashings and tie downs every hour and reporting to the OD on the bridge. If you can imagine the Atlantic in late October/November, it was pretty miserable.


On arriving at Bremerhaven, we had to de-preserve our birds and fly them down to Phalsbourg. Easier said than done. No maps other than road maps. This was truly IFR conditions. (I follow roads). Since all of our birds were not in condition to fly, this meant flying several to Phalbourg, removing necessary parts and returning to Bremerhaven to get the others fixed. A real project!!  A side note to this is the fact that Major James L. Blackburn was our Squadron commander and brought his little dog aboard ship for the voyage.


After a year at Phalsbourg, I received a humanitarian re-assignment to Otis AFB, MA. to the base flight unit that had the responsibility to supply the H-21's flying support to the Texas towers. The three, oil rig style, radar stations off the coast. In all our years of flying this operation, we only lost one H-21 due to engine failure and didn't lose a single life.


Our birds were equipped with flotation gear that was so good, that the one that did go down floated so long that the Coast Guard finally had to sink it with gun fire.


Now, having a little experience under my belt, I became a crew chief and went on flying status.


After about four years there, I attended H-43 school and was a part of the initial cadre that formed Det. 45, EARC, Pease AFB, NH.


At Pease, the story can now be told about the infamous fire. It seems that one fine day while flying local, a crew decided to land in an apple orchard. This orchard was on base property and was pretty overgrown, but still had great fruit. On takeoff, it was seen that the dry grass under where the exhaust stack had been was blazing merrily. I don't believe that anyone to this day has divulged this bit of information, the crew being very closed mouth about it.


After being there about a year and a half, I was transferred to Loring AFB, ME. to another LBR Det. This was a pretty interesting assignment since we seemed to be continually rescuing hunters who had gone missing.


From Loring, in 1965, I was transferred to Cigli AB, Turkey, pronounced "Chili". Another LBR unit. I was lucky enough to have had concurrent travel approved for my dependents and off we went with five kids in tow, two in diapers. Due to the shortage of housing (more about that later) we had to spend six weeks in a local hotel in downtown Izmir. We had one room, the kids had another. Dinner was at the downtown NCO club where we soon became a fixture. My quarters on base when we moved in were an 8'X32" trailer with a 10'X20" addition. This was considered standard. Do the math, this is 456 square feet.


This tour lasted two and a half years with an assignment to Edwards AFB, CA, perhaps my most interesting assignment and one of the most rewarding. We flew coverage on all of the X-15, B-70, SR-71, YF-12, lifting bodies, etc. We had a mixed bag of helicopters including three H-13's, one UH-1B, three H-21's and one CH-3B. The H-3 and the Huey were instrumented for test purposes with remote panels and were used for many projects. 


One afternoon, just before quitting time, there was a stir and we were asked to get the H-3 ready to go. Since it was out of commission, we instead used the Huey. A Navy A-1 had gone down on Mount Whitney while on a search mission. It was said that both aboard had survived, but needed help. By the time that we arrived, it was dark and snowing, and as we found out later, there was up to ten feet of snow on the ground.


We had a pickup crew with a qualified pilot, a co-pilot with no helicopter time, myself and the world's oldest PJ, Guy Roberts. If I remember, he had to be in his mid fifties. In any case, we finally did locate them and decided that the best thing to do would be to insert Guy to assess the situation. We came to a hover, opened the door and out went Guy.


Then the wheels came off! The change in temperature caused the inside of the windshield to fog up! The pilot was yelling, "hit the defrosters" and the poor co-pilot was at a loss, I climbed over the console and hit the switch. On returning to the door, Guy was just emerging form the deep snow into which he had fallen. (he never did hit the ground).


To make a long story longer, Guy stayed the night with the two pilots who both had back injuries after we dropped him cold weather gear and sleeping bags along with his medical kit. The next day dawned bright, clear and with no wind. We were tasked to lead an H-43 from George to the site to do the pickup since we didn't have a hoist. Guess who all got DFC's while I received my first Air Medal.


From Edwards, the gods saw fit to assign me to yet another LBR Unit, this time in Takhli, Thailand. No excitement at all on this tour thank goodness.


From there I was assigned to Davis Monthan AFB, AZ. The home of the 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing of SAC. Talk about a bastard child of an outfit. Nobody at Air Force level seemed to know what to do with us. Our mission was so classified that we weren't even supposed to tell our wives what we were doing. Peace Time Aerial Reconnaissance it was called.


Our aircraft included the C-130s, the U-2 and the CH-3'C. Perhaps you may have noticed, there was no mention of a CH-3 school. Once again, I had to learn for myself. I was assigned as a Flight engineer/Winch operator.


The mission was a one of a kind in the Air Force, as we were the only ones doing mid air retrievals of drones. The lightest of which weighed in at about 1800 lbs dry weight. The heaviest weighed over 4500 lbs dry.


We operated at Da Nang AB, RVN, so 90 days after returning from a one year tour in SEA, I stepped off the plane in Da Nang. We were scheduled for a 60 day TDY. Our schedule of 60 days over and 60 days back continued for four years giving me a total of 1094 days SEA time. 


Our record of successful recoveries of recoverable drones was over 98%. In other words, if it were in the chutes, we got it. There were some notable recoveries in other ways, such as the crew that caught the chute on the nose (covered the windshield). This makes instrument flight pretty much a necessity. The one who caught one on the nose gear (Sikorsky builds rugged nose gear assemblies), and the ones that went in the drink. We even had the Navy get into the act by shooting one down and claiming a MIG kill.


Then there was the day that the Navy bombed DaNang. It seems that they were bombing above the cloud layer off a TACAN fix which would not have been a problem if they had the correct TACAN station dialed in. 


Since DM was a five year stabilized tour and coincided pretty much with my 20 year point, I opted not to stay for E-7 since I already had a job here locally in Tucson. Been here ever since and love it. 


~  Final Flight 13 May 2012 ~