John Cheney Bielstein, Pilot
18th SOS, Da Nang, 1971
Beginning with my first flight from a grass strip at Bluffton, Ohio in August of 1953, I spent the next 53 years exclusively in aviation. During this time, I accumulated over 25,000 hours of flying time, in all phases of aviation. With my entry into Air Force Pilot Training as an Aviation Cadet, I accumulated over 10,000 hours of military flying time in a number of Transport Category Aircraft including the C-46, DC-3, DC-6, Boeing C-135 (Boeing 707), the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter and the C-119 Flying Boxcar.
During my military career, I accumulated over 1,100 hours of combat flying in Southeast Asia and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal with Eleven Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm. As a result of my Military Airlift Command service, I received the 10,000 hour Accident Free Award.
I served a lengthy period with the Military Airlift Command, some of which was with Special Air Missions, Presidential Wing, 89th Airlift Command, Andrews AFB, MD. I also served as an AC-119K Gunship Pilot. For five years, I served with the Ohio National Guard and, during that time, was stationed in France during the Berlin Wall Crisis.
My C-119 experience included a period from 1958-1960 with the Ohio Air National Guard. Then requalified in the 119 and AC-119K as a Gunship Pilot joining the 18th SOS at Da Nang AB in January 1971. I was at Da Nang until June 1971, and participated in almost nightly missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Among memorable incidents was a week in May that began with a direct hit by two 57MM rounds through the center of the aircraft. Shrapnel severed the hydraulic lines, the copilot’s right rudder cable, and tore holes in the fuel cross-feed line across the top of the cargo compartment. The rupture caused more than 4,500 pounds of fuel to spray into the cargo compartment, saturating the five crew members with 115/145 octane avgas during the 45 minute flight back to Da Nang. Turning downwind for landing, the gear was extended manually, but then one small glitch. No green gear down lights. Bailout looked certain as a gear up landing with a belly full of avgas was not an option. After what seemed like forever, but in reality, was only 45 seconds or so, the green lights came on and a successful landing was accomplished.
Later in life, I once again, flew the C-119 as a Warbird from 1989 thru 1991, at various air shows in the Eastern US.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1980 with the rank of Major, I continued my civilian flying activities with various airlines. Following mandatory airline retirement at 60, I, my son Gary, and two others commenced operation of a full service Fixed Base Operation (FBO) at the Pickens County Airport, Greenville, South Carolina.
In May of 1960, I married the former Kay Rex and we recently celebrated 46 years of marriage. We have three children, Gary, Lee, and Traci, and 6 grandchildren. I graduated from George Washington University in Washington D.C. with a degree in Political Science.