Posted by MataHarley on 5 September, 2009 at 11:35 am. 7 comments already!


With the Labor Day weekend upon us, it cannot be said enough that the engine of the US is us, her citizens. From those that are perceived to carry the lowliest of jobs to the highest CEO, it is the fruits of our labor, and the regulations we must abide by to harvest those fruits, that enable the elite in the beltway. Truly a fact I believe they have long since discarded as inconvenient.

Today, I am reminded that our military are also toiling daily… sans days off and always on call. And while all deserve mention and our respect, I’m here to tell you the story of just one crew, from one crew member’s personal story.

On Sept. 14th, the Crew of Torqe 05, 40th Airlift Squadron, Dyess AFB, Texas, will be the recipient of the Lt. General William H. Tunner Award for 2009 in a ceremony at the Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington DC.

Al's crew

To examine the honor of this award, we might want to first examine the man for whom it was named… Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner, the most outstanding authority on airlift operations of the United States Air Force (and Army Air Corp in WWII). The below are excepts from a biography, written by a grateful recipient of Tunner’s “Candy Bombers” in Germany as a young girl.

Lt. Gen. Tunner first helped orginally create, the “Air Corps Ferrying Command” divisions in the early 40s.

July 1942, the name “Ferrying Command” was changed to Air Transport Command. General Tunner, by now a Colonel, was made Commanding Officer of the Ferrying Division. At that time, this division was ferrying 10,000 aircraft monthly to the Allied Forces, which was of vital importance in the early days of World War II.

In Sept of 1944, then Col. Tunner was called to command “The Hump” airlift transport of supplies to the Chinese people in the China-Burma-India theatre of the war. It was there he demonstrated his exceptional abilities to organize efficient and successful airlift missions.

This was the legendary “Hump” airlift, so named because the airplanes had to clear the 16,000 foot high Himalaya Mountains. And even though all air traffic had to be channeled over this enormously high range, Tunner and his crews delivered 71,000 tons of material to China, far beyond what had ever been carried by air before. In OVER THE HUMP, published in 1964, he told of his experiences in this operation.

The Hump airlift laid the foundation for his next, and even more famous airlift mission four years later, The Berlin Airlift – a mission defying all odds and embarrassing the Russians by supplying what was then the fifth largest city in the world (2.5 million people plus 6000 occupation troops), by air alone. In a ten month period, over 2.3 tons of supplies were flown into the city, dwarfing even future airlift operations. For example, between 1992 and 1997, there was a total of 179,910 tons brought into Sarajevo – less than the amount flown into Berlin in merely one month.

The Berlin Airlift earned a later Maj. General William Tunner, and his airlift crews, the H.H. Arnold Award in 1949.

From all over the world, veteran Air Force personnel had been jerked from their peacetime homes and were now flying endlessly through three 20-mile-wide air corridors, which were the only means of access.

The immensity and the danger of the mission should never be forgotten. In the heavy-laden and slow cargo planes, the pilots would have been clay pigeons for Russian fighter aircraft if Moscow had chosen to block the air lanes, too. Day after day the planes kept coming. The runways were repaired. A third airport (Tegel) was built. The crews were rotated. The planes refurbished and augmented. And the tonnage crept upward and upward, reaching the 4,000 daily minimum, then exceeding it, and eventually, in the spring of 1949, reaching the old pre-blockade level.

There were bad weather periods, and hard weeks, and frightening moments, but the personnel and General Tunner continued to perform and enlarge upon the miracle, which was lovingly known as “Operation Vittles”. Because of the masterful direction by General Tunner and his crews, the airlift was succeeding far beyond all calculations. By May 1949 the battle was finally over and won. Once again General Tunner had set new records for tons of food, material and coal into Berlin, and flying a total of 124.5 million miles. He had also proven that great bodies of troops, or great numbers of civilians, could be sustained by air transport alone.

It was a William Tunner, with the rank of General by then, who was called in to repeat this extraordinary airlift performance during the Korean War… a success by both commander and crews that earned General Tunner an on-the-spot Distinguished Service Cross from General Douglas MacArthur.

By the time he retired from the Service May 31, 1960, he had successfully organized and commanded the three largest airlift operations up to that time.

The first recipients of this award I can find was a 1st SOW Combat Talon crew for mission “Urgent Fury” in 1983, and after Tunner’s death in April of 1983. This was a seven day operation, centered at Point Salines Airport, effecting the rescue of Americans from Grenada. Since then, many crews have been honored annually for their outstanding contributions. And indeed, there is illustrious company.


So today I pass on the story of the 2009 recipients of the Lt. General William H. Tunner Award.

Greetings all,

As you may know by now ( thanks mom), my last desert crew is the recipient of the Lt. General William H. Tunner Award for 2009, The Crew of Torqe 05, 40th Airlift Squadron, Dyess AFB, Texas.

“The award is given to recognize extraordinary achievement by the most outstanding airlift crew in the United States Air Force.” We will be presented with the award on Monday, September 14th at the Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington DC.

So how did we get this honor? Funny you should ask. Let me share a story with you.

So there we were, just a few minutes into a long flight from Kuwait to one of our bases in Africa. As our plane climbed out we detected a faint, but growing, odor in the aircraft. Strange smells in flight are rarely a good thing. As the odor got stronger we discussed returning to base. In the meantime, we were trying to find out the origin of the offending smell. We soon made the decision to don our oxygen masks and emergency depressurize the aircraft in order to evacuate the now very acrid fumes.

A little about donning oxygen in flight (for your education), we have helmets much like those seen on any cheesy war flight movie, with masks that fit over our headsets. There are also four portable oxygen bottles to use when we have to move about the aircraft. These portable bottles can be refilled from the aircrafts oxygen supply as needed. That point will be important later in my story. The passengers, we had five, two crew chiefs and three security forces, had to put what amounts to a plastic bag with an oxygen generating canister attached, over their heads.

As I said before, we made the decision to done oxygen, depressurize, open a top hatch and evacuate the fumes from the aircraft. This is standard procedure for smoke and fumes elimination. Unfortunately, in situations like this, things are rarely standard. As I began the procedure, blink, a loss of hydraulic pressure light illuminated. Now, I thought, I may have bigger problems. I called for the loadmaster in the back to check our #1 hydraulic system and make sure it has fluid in the reservoir. After all, it may just be a false indication. No, unfortunately, it was not a false indicator. We lost the entire system, which meant no flaps, no landing gear, and one-half of our hydraulic assist for the flight controls were gone. So we did have bigger problems!

Wait, this gets even better!

We continue the fumes evacuation, which never fully dissipates so we must remain on oxygen. I now have to use one of the portable oxygen bottles to work on getting the landing gear and flaps down. The pilots are calling back to the base, declaring an emergency so we can get priority landing, and have all fire and rescue ready as we turn back to base.

Oh, by the way, the passengers are now passing out!

Passing out! As if we didn’t have enough to do already. The passengers had put the EPOS, emergency personal oxygen system, ‘bags’ over their heads and were now passing out. Well there goes one of the two loadmasters to help these guys breath. We would find out later they were improperly activating the bottles rendering them useless, and suffocating themselves in the process. Five guys would eventually go through sixty EPOS’ before we landed. This had never happened before.

After we got the guys breathing again, it was time to try and get the flaps and gear down so we could land.

That’s where I come in with the portable oxygen canisters.

To lower the flaps I must go through a process to release the brake and then hand crank the flaps down. This takes some time and effort which means heavy breathing for a big guy. Heavy breathing while on portable oxygen meant that I would go through a bottle in about a minute. So, one loadmaster fills a bottle, takes about a minute, the other swaps mine out as soon as its empty, in about a minute, and the process continues over and over again. While I’m hand cranking the flaps down, we are in communication with the pilots to slow the aircraft so as not to over-speed the flaps.

OK, passengers are breathing, the flaps are finally down, and it’s time to lower the gear. This is a simple process on our aircraft so there’s not much to tell here. We can free fall the gear and just verify a down and locked position for landing. But since we lost the #1, or utility hydraulic system, we have no steering once we land! All we can do is hope we can stay on the runway! This shouldn’t be too bad really, as long as the pilot remembers not to touch the nose wheel steering and the crosswinds are mild. Either one would send us shooting off into the sand.

Obviously, we landed safely. You would have heard about this sooner if we hadn’t. As soon as we stopped on the runway, we got the hell off that aircraft. The cops that passed out were hauled off to the hospital to be checked out while we got a pat on the back and asked the question of the day, “we have another plane which can be ready in about ten minutes if you want to take that one to Africa.” We took it.


Thanks to the training, and efficiency under duress, they and their precious human cargo are not being mourned by families. Nor are they fodder for the nightly news, and part of another statistic to be used for political purposes.

Instead they will be honored, along with others receiving various National Aerospace Awards. And I could not be more proud, and thrilled at the outcome. You see, this young Air Force crew member is my nephew… one of two serving our country in the USAF.

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