James May, Jr, Propeller Mechanic and FMS
4413th CCTS/14th CSG, Lockbourne, Nha Trang, & Phan Rang, 1969-70
I was born in Los Angeles, California in July 1947. I attended Baldwin Park elementary and secondary schools east of LA. I started my college education at Mt San Antonio Junior College, but with a near total absence of concentration on schoolwork, I lost my 2-S deferment after one semester and decided to enlist. I went to the Navy recruiter in nearby El Monte, CA. No one even looked up so I went next door to the Air Force recruiter. I had scored high on all categories of the AQE that I had taken in High School, my brother was already 6 months in the Air Force, and I maxed the AFQT before signing up, and they allowed me to get delayed enlistment to finish the semester at Mt San Antonio Junior College.
I reported back to TSgt. Ribertelli at the Induction Center on So Broadway in Los Angeles 21 June 1966 (I received my Draft Notice around the middle of July). My initial assignment was Basic Training at Amarillo AFB, Texas. Then moved over to Sheppard AFB for 17 weeks of Technical training in Aircraft Propeller Repair. Promoted to A3C on 22 Jul 1966.
My next, and first PACAF, assignment was 23 December 1966 to the 56th SOW, Det 1 606th Air Commando Squadron in Udorn, Thailand, working on T-28s, many C-47s, O-1Es, OV-10s, a U-6, and recovery of an A-1E. Full system maintenance of the T-28s was the primary mission and required TDY to Laos where I proved my system knowledge and reliability, under less than desirable conditions. I suppose it was a false comfort flying back over the Mekong to the safety of Udorn, because 5 months after I returned to CONUS, Thai-Communists attacked Udorn shot up a C-130 and smoked a C-141. I always thought it wrong that the Air Police providing base security patrols carried their M-16s in a locked case in the back of their Jeep. I was promoted to A2C on 1 Aug 1967.
My first work assignment in the States on 8 Jan 1967 was to SAC headquarters at Offutt AFB, Nebraska in the 3902nd FMS working on C-97s. The huge 4360 Pratt& Whitney engines and huge 4 blade Hamilton Standard props were impressive. Later made me wonder why we couldn’t use Hamilton props on the AC-119s. I had completed my 5 level 23 Oct 1967 in Thailand, unfortunately SAC didn’t recognize that and carried me as a 3 level until 10 April 1968, when orders came down transferring me to the 4413th.
My PCS to the new 4413th Combat Crew Training Squadron TAC unit at Lockbourne, Ohio, involved an enroute TDY to the 302 TAW at Clinton County AFB, OH (a great facility) and another a few weeks later for additional C-119 propeller system training. In May 1968 we began to recognize some of the inherent problems to be expected with the 4 blade AeroProducts propeller and regulator system and how to prevent or delay those problems. My work involved assisting aircrew and other maintenance elements to expediently complete their work. I can attest that assembly of this prop from the crate requires at least two people – ask my back. The Reservists that trained us until they were sent to Phan Rang were instrumental in developing the techniques that allow effective system analysis as well as speed in any repair efforts. This increased the mission success for the air crews training on the AC-119 Gs & Ks and the AC-130 gunships. I was promoted to Sgt. on 1 Sept 1968. Met my wife and married in November 1968, and then received orders 11 Mar 1969 transferring me back to PACAF to the 14th Combat Support Group at Nha Trang.
I left McChord AFB on 9 May 1969, I didn’t know a DC-9 Stretch could use that much runway without trimming the trees at the end. Arrived in Nha Trang and spent my first night on a cot in a screened, wood-floor tent next to the Special Forces 105 howitzers that went off around 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. Next day I sought out Sgt. Kay Mack that I served with at Lockbourne AFB’ he let me stay with him in the AF compound Hotel downtown Nha Trang.
Eventually I got a bunk on base and stayed until again transferred TDY to Phan Rang on 22 May 1969 to relieve the reserve contingent in the 71st working on the G models at Phan Rang. Our group from Nha Trang was one each AFSC with extras for engines. I again found that working with the other specialties expedited our work completion, returning the aircraft to “Ready” status. On occasion if a “cannot duplicate” condition arose, I could investigate further during a ferry flight or wet fire operation of the weapons systems. During the TDY assignment period to Phan Rang, I was the only prop man assigned to “B-flight” operations at Phan Rang. We were a very tight knit group that had an interesting dynamic in our maintenance role; we knew what we were doing and did it well. The mortar round impact scars down the asphalt maneuvering strip between our revetments was always a reminder of where we were. And the occasional 107mm rocket hits, were eventually relegated to “if it’s got your name”, i.e. the day a rocket hit one of the concrete power poles along the road next to the field we crossed heading to the flightline, I think Rasmussen was in the field at the time, and did his hair really turn white? When the rest of the 14th FMS, under 15 Oct 1969 14th SOW order AA-4891, made a group PCS from Nha Trang to Phan Rang, things changed. I went on night shift to assure planes were mission ready until I left 8 May 1970. One night my section was in our new shop and we had no work to perform; I became aware of a motor running and a Jeep passed by our rear doors, then mostly drowsy I alerted that someone was entering our shop. In the light I could see metal glinting on the collars, I thought “crap, my guys are asleep on the tables, and a General Officer is coming in.” Fortunately it was only a Bird Colonel, the Chaplin, and we talked about the action at the south end of the base that evening. He noted that the strip (bars & houses of ill-repute) had been targeted. That may have been the same night one of our flares got hung up on the temple south of the south gate. I suggested that he may have not felt too bad about that. Chuckling, he left, and my guys were waking up about then. I can’t remember if I had to go change my shorts.
The AeroProducts’ propeller system had many problems and you can ask any pilot or air crew member about the frightening potential for overspeed or runaway prop especially at takeoff. It all came down to a little O-ring seal that mated the Propeller to the propeller regulator, and its little nylon holder. It was spring loaded pressing against the back of the propeller hub, anytime I could find a metallic version of the holder, I would replace the nylon one, unfortunately that was usually after an overspeed and replacement of the engine. An engine oil operated Hamilton Standard aluminum 4 blade prop would have been less stressful on everyone.
Following my work on the AC-119s at Phan Rang I rotated back to CONUS for separation at McChord AFB, WA. and went back to school. I went to night-school for 10 years, and finished my BS Civil Engineering degree at Cal State-Long Beach in 1980. In 1982 I passed and received my California Engineers license, and in 1991 I completed a Certificate program in Land Use and Development Planning at Univ Cal Irvine. In 2010 I completed my master in Public Administration at Cal State Fresno. I have worked for municipalities, Special Districts, Private Consulting Firms, and finished my Engineering career working for the Counties of Fresno and Tulare in California. I did a little consulting on my own but saw the cronyism raising its head. I am now retired, working on my hobbies (1971 Chevy El Camino), and planning an escape from California.