Lemay, Hound Dogs and Buff

Sterling Hayden as Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper

Sterling Hayden as Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper. From Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, commonly known as Dr. Strangelove. Directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick.

When I was in grade school I would occasionally present my father opportunities to practice parental discipline, typically as a result of my poor behavior at school. My father never used a probation, curfew or belt in any effort to correct my conduct. Instead, his Red Right Hand would point to the array of thick ivory, green and gold volumes of The World Book Encyclopedia and request a three-page-single-spaced-to-be-reviewed-prior-to-bedtime “book report.” The topic of this report would be of my own choosing. I think my father preferred that I develop a skill for self-administered discipline / self-flagellation, and this way he could never be called-out as the bad guy, and I recall learning a great deal about everything from flesh-preserving mummification to the flesh-eating Piranha as a result of these reports.

One report was administered for forging my mother’s signature on a note to her from my teacher requiring her acknowledgement that I had been a disturbance in class. My mother, I reasoned, had no time to waste on such trivial matters, so I took it upon my self to deal with this on my own. This second grade forgery was less than convincing, and as a result I needed to face the family magistrate.

Not a lot of thought usually went into picking a topic for such reports. I was a curious kid and everything was pretty much a mystery. But I had a particular fascination with flight and aviation at that stage of my life. My father was in the Air Force during the tail end of Korean War and I recall him spinning tales about his exploits serving as a hydraulic mechanic at Wheelus Air Base in Libya and later at Castle Air Force Base in California. At Castle, according to my father, he was personally picked off the flight line by the commander of The 93d Bombardment Wing to work on a classified top-secret Strategic Air Command (SAC) project involving the Boeing B-52 bomber.

The following is a dramatic re-enactment: Cut to long shot of an USAF airfield. A VIP Jeep adorned with four-star flags comes racing toward a group of airman working on a parked jet. The Jeep slams on its breaks in-front of saluting airmen. From the backseat of the Jeep a cigar-chomping general barks, “Which one of you knows how to draw pretty pictures?” My father drops a greasy rag and steps forward, “That would be me sir.” “Fine” snorts the general. (Casting suggestion/note: see attached photo of General Curtis E. LeMay, father of the Strategic Air Command, for reference. I think Stanley Kubrick did a great job of casting Sterling Hayden as Lemay’s stand-in in Dr.Strangelove.) “I guess you will do, jump in….” The jeep lunges forward and races across the tarmac as a gaggle of fighter jets climb sharply on takeoff overhead.

More accurately I believe my father was reassigned to the air force equivalent of the AV Dept (audio visual department). His “classified” assignment was to render overhead slide presentations for public relations purposes. The Boeing B-52 bomber was first deployed to Castle AFB in 1956. Ten years later it was supporting ground combat operations in Vietnam, appearing as a graphic for the nightly news, and serving as a convenient topic for a three-page-single-spaced-to-be-reviewed-prior-to-bedtime “book report.”

I still can recall a few facts from that report. Official USAF nickname: Stratofortress. Role: Strategic bomber. Engine type: Pratt & Whitney JT3D. Flyway cost: 10 Million each. Armament: 500 lb. bombs or Hound Dog missiles. Produced from 1952 to 1962. But what is truly amazing is that in age when technology has a shelf life of months or weeks, here is an exemplary airframe that has been soldiering-on for over sixty years. In fact, after planned upgrades for the current fleet, the USAF intends to keep the B-52H in service until 2045, which is nearly 90 years of military service! How may Model T’s do you see on the road today?

Something I learned today about the B-52: “Its Stratofortress name is rarely used outside of official contexts; it has been referred to by Air Force personnel as the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat/Flying Fucker/Fellow)” (Wikipedia B-52 page).

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