Thursday

"The Mercury 13"


First off, I'm a HUGE Wally Funk fan. She is an outstanding aviator with amazing credentials. She is exactly what I call "A pilot's pilot" and an aviator that everyone should look up to. Like so many of us she always had the desire to fly in space and now, thanks to Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos, she did just that.

With that said, I think it's time to quell this "Mercury 13" fiction.

First off the, the term, "Mercury 13" never existed until the mid 1990s when it was coined to title a TV program that simply alleged that somehow NASA recruited a group of women pilots with the promise that they would be astronauts, ran them through medical testing and then simply cut them off and cast them aside.

That is complete bunk... but hey... it was in a book in 2003 too... so it must be true... right?

The fact is that Dr. Lovelace, of the Lovelace Clinic, which had tested the Mercury astronaut candidates, on his own, and without NASA's consent or request, decided to begin testing women to the same standards as they had tested the 32 men a year earlier.

NASA's Mercury Astronauts were notified of their selection in the first week of April 1959. That was a full year before Lovelace began his independent testing of women.

NASA did NOT "cut them off" or "cut them out" or "abandon" them. The women who Lovelace tested, although outstanding female pilots all, were never in consideration in the first place. The original letter seeking astronauts went out in 1958 to 110 military test pilots- all were men. 

Lovelace later sent out letters to 13 of the women stating that they had passed the medical portion of testing and asked if they would like to return for "further training." The group assumed that Lovelace was representing NASA- but he wasn't. He was only representing the Lovelace Clinic.

In the mid 1960s those same women pilots that Lovelace had tested made an effort to be considered as astronaut candidates, but the hardware had already been developed at great expense and NASA's focus was on simply getting the male pilots into and back from space alive. From reading some of management's accounts of that time, they initially had no idea who these women were.

Frankly, and this is just my opinion, the political pressure applied by that effort on the behalf of the women likely irritated some of the more narrow-minded men in upper NASA management. It was one more unnecessary political issue for the agency to have to deal with- and those fellows had very long memories. Just read Chris Kraft's book and you'll see.

Thus, it was not until the 1970s when the prospect of the Shuttle flying "like an airliner" came along that NASA management finally opened the doors to female crew members as well as female pilots.

Disdain toward women in aviation, however, was a very real thing through all of aviation history and right up into modern times. I personally flew with an old fart captain in 1998 who would boisterously say that he resented women in the cockpit and he would, "...never fly with one of them." Which is ironic as this attitude existed in an era when aviators such as Eileen Collins where piloting the Space Shuttle. Meanwhile that guy was universally known as the worst pilot in our entire pilot group. (My wife nearly clocked that loudmouth at the company Christmas party. One more glass of wine and I'm pretty sure she'd have knocked him on his ass).

Yet, when I came into the aviation industry in 1977 women were simply a part of the pilot group. I trained with them and my second flight instructor was a woman. My favorite ground instructor at ERAU was Dana Middlekhoff who was a long time aviator. I had female flight partners and later managed women who were flight instructors plus I crewed with many women in the airlines... no big deal. 

So my attitude is that we're all flyers. Let's simply stick to the actual history.

The "Mercury 13" is a myth made up for a 1990s TV show. But, Wally Funk, IS a true aviator.
 

I'LL SIGN ANYTHING THAT'LL GET YOU OUTTA HERE QUICKER

One of the dark sides of aging into your 60s is that you begin to see many of your teachers and mentors pass away. It’s the price you pay for living long. This week I was deeply saddened to discover that someone who was a good example of one of the good guys, has left this life. His name is Dr. Tom Connolly and he was a star among the faculty at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical university and someone that I looked up to through all the time that I was there. The best way for me to handle such things as his passing is to do the one thing that I am best at- write about it.

As most of you know I was in and out of ERAU for a full decade and saw Dr. Connolly rise from faculty member to administrator. Likewise, he was well aware of my struggle to work my way through the university. This episode takes place in my senior year. Along the way of climbing the mountain toward graduation, the “independent student” receives all sorts of shots. In my case they came from occasional vindictive jerks, or administrative bumps in the road, or self-induced speed bumps of stupidity, or just unexplainable funk adoodles (UFA)s- all of which have to simply be handled and left behind. This was a UFA that left me unable to register for flight without the signature of my faculty advisor. I only had two advanced flight courses to do and an aerodynamics class to make up in order to be completely done with my degree. The aerodynamics class was due to the fact that the previous trimester I’d had to miss the final because my oral surgeon in Michigan insisted that I fly back and be in his chair within 24 hours because of a rare infection of the bone the result having an impacted wisdom tooth removed while back home during Christmas break. I’d gone through all of the channels before I had to bug out and when I got back 14 days later, made up all of my exams but aerodynamics. The instructor, Bishop Blackwell, had taken a six month sabbatical in Mexico right after finals. So, I just had to take the “incomplete” and was set to make up the class in the spring. Now, however, I needed a signature to get into my next flight course. My faculty advisor was Bill Gruber, and he simply refused to give me the signature. The result was a polite, but somewhat peppery discussion where I actually avoided telling him to have that stick removed from his tight ass.

 When I left his office, his student assistant, who was a friend of mine, gave me a quiet “psssst” and motioned to come near.

 “He’s going on sabbatical for six weeks,” she whispered.

 “When’s he leavin’?” I whispered back.

 “Wednesday,”

 “Who’s takin’ his place?”

 “Tom Connolly,” she replied with a whisper and a wink.

 Nodding in approval I left. Instantly I knew one thing, Gruber was an Air Force vet. and Connolly was a Naval aviator… two different breeds, and one without a stick up his ass.

 Thursday, I walked into Dr. Connolly’s office with my document that needed to be signed in hand. I didn’t even get a word out. He just nabbed the paper and signed it while saying,

 “I’ll sign anything that’ll get you outta here sooner.”

 He handed me back the paper and I walked over to the flight line and registered for FA-314 minutes later.

 Six weeks later I was finishing the flight course when I got a message in my box to come and see Gruber immediately. So, that’s what I did. He was pissed,

 “You went over my head, if you weren’t dang neared finished with that flight course I’d pull you out of it!” he snarled

 “I didn’t go over your head Mr. Gruber,” I replied professionally, “I went around your flank. You departed and left your flank wide open.”

 He told me to get out of his office.

 Of course he and Dr. Connolly had discussed the whole thing long before Gruber called me into his office, I’d been around that place long enough to know that. And if Gruber could have pulled me, he would have. He just needed to vent toward me. I finished 314 and 315 and then easily passed the aerodynamics class to end my time at ERAU. Thereafter whenever I saw Dr. Connolly on campus I always smiled and shook his hand. 

Whenever I saw Mr. Gruber, such as at the homecoming basketball game, I’d take the time to go up to him and quietly ask if his flank was open.


Wednesday


 

Monday


Often I place little things into my cartoons that help me go farther than just the words in the bubbles.

This week I went to work and created a "Special Screener" logo that helps me express my disgust at the fact that our nation's capitol is, at this moment, cordoned off with razor wire. 

The logo is two stylized "S" letters made from razor wire.

Washington DC has ALWAYS been a place where the American people can freely walk right up the steps of the capitol building and gaze back across the open mall toward the Washington monument. People from all over the world come and are free to do the same.

Suddenly, we find huge steel barriers topped with razor wire blocking access.

Why?

"Well because there was a riot an people stormed the capitol and broke in." comes the reply.

And so... where is the danger now? I don't see any more "rioters" stalking in DC. 

Oh... and I didn't see any such response last summer, when Antifa, and BLM  rioted, tore down statues, burned buildings and a historic church all of which went on for days. 

Liberty is lost by way of it being slowly chipped away... and by razor wire.

 

Sunday

I lost a pal...


It is with deep sadness that I announce the passing of a long time friend. 

"Ron Jay Scott" was his "air name" and it's what he liked to be called. He started his career in Saginaw, Michigan as a DJ at radio station WSAM in a time when I was just getting into rock music. We all listened  to 1400 "Big Sam Radio" in the early 70s and Ron Jay often worked the afternoon show.

Then I knew him as just a voice as did tens of thousands of Saginaw teenagers... until the Saginaw Gears hockey club hit town. Ron Jay took an interest in hockey and soon became infected with the hockey bug. The new franchise needed all of the local help that it could get and that soon led Ron Jay to being a part-time worker for the team. He soon grew his role and went to announcing. By the 1975-76 season he was doing "color" calling during the game broadcasts while still working for WSAM, which had become "The Home of the Gears." The following season he sometimes filled in for team announcer Al Blade and formed a good chemistry with full time announcer Wally Shaver. On May 11th, 1977 he was side-by-side with Wally calling the third period of  game 7, Turner Cup finals as the Gears won their first ever IHL championship. I actually have that recording that I later shared with him. During that season, me being in Zamboni alley with my dad and Ron Jay working for the team, I bumped into Ron Jay often and we traded quips about hockey and the team. He was nice to everyone and we all thought he was cool.

Our paths separated the following season as I went to Florida to become an aviator and he soon took over working as the Gears full time game announcer and publicity man. It was in that role that Ron Jay won a second Turner Cup with the Gears and even got a championship ring out of it!

In 2002 I started a web site for the Saginaw Gears and about three years later Ron Jay contacted me through it. Now it was me, interviewing him. I found out that he was really into trains and he found out that my dad, who he knew only as the Zamboni driver, was actually a career railroad engineer. He kicked himself in the butt when I told him that back in the day all he needed to do was ask and dad would have taken him for a train ride. Since my dad had passed on by that time I packed up a care package for Ron Jay consisting of all of dad's old railroad training manuals and all sorts of other railroad stuff. Dad would have done the same.

Ron Jay with his second Turner Cup

Of course I got busy writing books and Ron Jay got busy being retired. However, he always hung around hockey and had spent a good deal of time announcing for the Notre Dame hockey team.

It always seems that when you haven't been in touch with an old friend for a protracted period, that's when we lose them. This post is for you Ron Jay. You are missed.