Video Transcript: FORREST FENN: I was born and raised in Temple, Texas born in 1930

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21-06-2015 Dal Neitzel - Video Click Here
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Air Force Interview Part One Video Transcript: FORREST FENN: I was born and raised in Temple, Texas born in 1930. Japs bombed Pearl Harbor 11 years later just as I was getting to know what an airplane was. I remember during the war, we didn’t have television, but we had radio. And we’d get reports about what was going on in the war, and they kept talking about this guy, Robin Olds. Who was an Air Force, Air Force pilot flew top cover in Normandy. Shot down nine airplanes, Nazi airplanes, during the war and shot down four more in the Vietnam War. But he was, I think, eight years older, I mean I was a little kid and this guy’s eight years older than I am and all the news is talking about Robin Olds. Well later on I got to know Robin very well. I flew with him in our gunner school in Tripoli Libya when I was flying F-100’s and I flew a mission with Robin Olds as my wingman and I tell people that’s a religious experience for me.

I used to have a gallery here in Santa Fe and he would come into my gallery and we’d go to lunch, and I was so thrilled to to know that guy. They tell me there’s a sign in the Pentagon in Fighter Ops that says they wanted to put Robin Olds’ body in the glass case there and put a sign there that says, “In case of war, break glass.” That’s what they thought about Robin Olds. And I loved the guy. Really good friend. But, uh the kids in junior high in those days in the early 40’s when the war was really going good, the army asked us to make model airplanes. And they would give us pictures of them. All the kids now, we’d get a pocket knife out and we’d start carving these models and we took great pride in it. It was a big deal to us. Our school got a, I remember we got a commendation from the Army because we were helping the war effort, so. But I was interested in that.

The three airplanes that I really liked in those days - one was the P-39, P-38, and the P-51. Of course, the P-39 didn’t have much of a mission during the war. The P-38 and the P-51 did the heavy work. And I sat in class, instead of listening to what the teacher was saying, I’d draw pictures of P-38 and P- I bet I drew a million pictures of those airplanes. I’d look out the window and see the sky out there and I’d wonder why I wasn’t out there instead of sitting in the class.

I graduated from high school in 1947. I made terrible grades in high school. And my father was the principal of a junior high school there in Temple, Texas and I was a great embarrassment. But I’m sure I graduated from high school because my father was very prominent there in town. I didn’t have anything to do. You know, I didn’t want to go to college, but all my buddies were going to Texas A&M. So the Sunday that they were going down there in the car, I called one of them on the phone and said, “Come on and pick me up. I want to go to Texas A&M with you guys.” So they picked me up. I got in the car and we went down there. I signed in. They gave me a uniform and a bed. And this is really great, you know! All my buddies were there. I even went to a class as I recall. And one afternoon, we were playing football out on the field there, and I heard over the loudspeaker, “Cadet Fenn report to Finance.” I knew my college education was over. I lasted four days at Texas A&M. But I still tell people that I went to Texas A&M. True story. So that was in September 1950. The Korean War had been going on for a little while, not very long, and they were going to draft me because I was perfect for the draft. And so, I knew I wasn’t going to go in the Army if I could help anything, so I joined the Air Force. And they gave me all kinds of tests, you know, and whatever. And they decided that I had an aptitude for electronics. One of the world’s great misnomers. The fact that I had an aptitude in electronics. I went to Biloxi, Mississippi the Keesler Air Force Base. And I was on the night shift, and I did that for nine months, and I graduated without the slightest idea of what I was doing.

So they sent me to Greenville South Carolina. And so I started flying a little bit in C-47s as a radio operator. And C-82 and C-119s. Those are models you may not even remember.

OFF CAMERA: Flying Boxcars

FENN: I didn’t like what I was doing. I was working for a sergeant who didn’t like me and I didn’t like him. So I went down to personnel and I said, “What can I do to get out of here?” I said, “I’ll do anything to get out of this Greenville, South Carolina.” So I signed a bunch of forms. About six weeks pass and they call me to “You want to go pilot training?” I mean I volunteered for jump school and everything else. I said, “Sure, I mean I don’t have any education but I…” and they said, “Well come on over here in this machine and we’ll see if you have any pull motor skills.” That was the phrase they liked to use, and I didn’t have any idea what that meant. And they put me in this thing. Looked like a little simulator. It was on springs. And the secret is that they have a stick here like in an airplane. And if you turn the stick, the airplane will fall forward or backwards or left or right. The secret was to hold the stick so that the airplane was perfectly still. And I got in that thing and I did it perfectly. I didn’t know what I was doing. But the guy told me I was as good as he ever saw! I said, “Well, okay, tell me where to go, and I’ll go do it.” So they sent me to Bainbridge, Georgia. Class 53 George. 1953. And I start flying a T-6. The world’s worst airplane was a T-6. My instructor was a guy by the name of Carl Smith. One of the greatest human beings that ever lived. And I was in the front seat, and he was in the back seat and he’s flying the airplane. We’re doing chandelles and lazy eights and m-1’s and those kind of things and lining up with section lines. After a couple of days he said, “Pull over to headquarters there.” And I said, “Okay.” And I pull over there, and he started getting out of the airplane. He said, “Cadet, I want you to make three patterns and three landings.” I said, “WHAT?” I said, “I haven’t flown this airplane yet.” I didn’t feel like I was doing it. I could always feel him on the stick in the back seat and, “Yeah, you can do it.” He got out. And I didn’t know what to do. I told myself, “If I shut this airplane down, run and jump over the fence, they’re gonna court martial me.” And that’d be bad. I said, “I”m gonna try to do this. I don’t think I can do it.” But I took off. I made the landing. Touch and go. Came around and did the same again. I mean. Three landings and they were pretty good. And all my buddies - soloing was a big deal. They cut my shirt off or whatever it was in those days. And I told myself, you know if that’s all there is to this, I can do that!

Everybody said this is the hardest airplane in the Air Force to fly. Said if you can fly this thing, you can fly anything. So I did, and I graduated, and I went to Laredo, Texas to fly the T-28. As a matter of fact, in about 20 years I bought a T-28. T-28 Charlie with a tailhook. I bought it out at mothballs down in Tucson and had it restored and I flew that thing around here, but what I learned was I could afford to fly it, but I couldn’t afford to break it. And every time you flew it, you broke it, so the least little thing was $8500. I did that for three or four months and I sold that airplane to get out from under it. But I liked that airplane. Then they put me in a T-33 and that was an easy airplane to fly. The airplanes that I flew after, the T-6, they all got easier, but I always liked the North American airplanes. T-6 was one. F-86 was another one. I always liked North America. So I graduated in 1953 and they sent me to Scott Field, Illinois. Scott Air Force Base Illinois. Were you there too (gestures off-camera)?


FENN: Flying F-86D’s. It had an afterburner and a dragshoot and that was big time for me. I remember one time there was a lot of esprit de corps in our fighter squadron. You had to fly - a third of your total flight time had to be at night. 'Cause we were in our night - all weather interceptors so I remember one time we were going to gunnery school in Yuma, Arizona from Scott Field and they had, uh, forgot what they called it, sections where you had to go down the airways, you couldn’t cut across Albuquerque because

OFF CAMERA: The restricted area?

FENN: Restricted areas. But, we were all ferrying the airplane down to Yuma and there was a little competition going, you know, about who’s gonna get down there first. The F-86D had eyelids, but you could close the eyelids and get a little more thrust but your tailpipe temperature started going up and when you reach a thousand degrees you change the engine. We didn’t want to go to a thousand degrees, but I remember I was tweaking that. I was going to go up to 999 degrees but anyway...Those were fun times for me and the airplane was pretty new in those days and I should have been killed 3 or 4 times I don’t know why I didn’t. Those were good times for me, and then I started playing golf with this guy that was in Air Training Command. That was headquarters Air Training Command at Scott Field. I started playing with this guy who was a Lieutenant Colonel. He was a good guy, and we had a lot of fun. And he was working for a Brigadier General in the Air Training Command headquarters there. This Brigadier General got promoted to Major General and this Lieutenant Colonel asked me if I’d like to be aide de camp to this Major General. And I said, “Well, who is he?” And they told me and he had just gotten a command at Randolph Field Crew Training Air Force on nine bases. All the crew training - he commanded it. Nellis and Williams and … gunnery school. And I said sure, I’d like to do that. And he introduced me to the General and we got along pretty good and I… General had a wife, and I kind of looked at her sideways because I had heard about General’s wives before and I told the General, “I’d love to be your Ace but I’m not a bootblack.” I said, “I’ll do what you tell me to do but, I’m gonna hide behind a tree when your wife comes around.” He said, “I understand what you mean Lieutenant. What I want you to do is fly as many of my airplanes as you can so that you can tell me what’s going on with my airplanes.” So Good Lord, I started flying the F-86, F-86D, the T-33, the F-89 and I flew the F-84G and I went to the helicopter school and gee, that was a pretty good job for me. But the good thing about being a General’s aid was that I met so many Generals that… And let me tell you, every time I met a General, I didn’t have to wonder why he was a General. 'Cause those people just. You see, when you put on a star, you think everything changes. And these guys were so bright and I met so many of them that I really did like and they helped me later on in my career, you know. And I remember one time, this was 1954 I think it was. The F-100 was a brand new airplane. It was top secret. Nobody knew anything about it. And so the General and I, he was giving this airplane and he owned Nellis Air Force Base and they were getting the F-100. So we went out to look at it at Palmdale in California. And they had guards around this hangar. They opened the door and the General and I walked in there, and there was that big airplane. I thought the F-86D was a big airplane and here’s the F-100. Good Lord I was so impressed with that thing. Speed breaks were about this wide (gesturing). And so, fast forward a few months and I told the General I’d like to fly the F-100. He said, “Call Colonel McGee and tell him you want to fly the F-100.” And Colonel McGee was the commander at Nellis. So I called him on the phone and said, “Colonel I want to come out and fly the F-100.” Colonel McGee says, “Fenn you’re not going to fly the F-100 till all my people, all my instructions are checked out. Then you can come out and fly the F-100.” I said, “Okay.” So this went on. Two or three phone calls later - he kept telling me I wasn’t going to fly the F-100. So the General called me into his office one day and he said, “Lieutenant, you still want to fly the F-100?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “Call Colonel McGee on the phone.” He handed me a piece of paper. So I called Colonel McGee. I said, “Colonel McGee I want to come out and fly the F-100.” Colonel says, “Dammit Fenn, I’ll tell you a million times you’re not going to fly the F-100 till all my people are checked out.” I said, “Okay then, I’m not going to tell you.” He said, “You’re not going to tell me what?” I said, “I’m not going to tell you made Brigadier General.” He said, “Fenn, when can you come out and fly the F-100?” So about two weeks later, I went out there. His people weren’t checked out, but they were in the check out program, and here’s this hotshot First Lieutenant “World’s Greatest Pilot” coming out there to fly this huge airplane. But, I’d had afterburner time in the F-86D and dragshoot, and I said it’s just another airplane. So, they pulled an airplane out there and the crew chief - I didn’t know how to start it - but the crew chief got up on the ladder there, and he showed me how to start it and he told me what to do and I said, “Okay, all these instructions” - a lot of them Captains and Majors were there watching me killing myself. And I was pretty cocky then. And I was confident. I think that helped me a lot. But, when I started taxiing out, that F-100 had knee action on that nose - you know that go up and down like that (gesturing). And boy let me tell you the controls were a lot stiffer than what I was accustomed to. I started taxiing out and I said, “Good Lord, I got a little bit carried away this time.” But, you know, what can you do? Now, I got to go fly the airplane. It was heavy, but it was good. I took off and I flew around for about 45 minutes. I came in, pitched out, and the tower sent me around. You know, looking back on it now, it was inevitable they were gonna send me out because they wasn’t gonna let me get by with - anyway. So I went around and I flew a big pattern and I landed. Made a good landing. Taxied in and fortunately all the guys down there applauded me. And, and General McGee told me later, he said, he said, “I didn’t like what you were doing, but you were my boss’s aide and I felt responsi - I’ll tell you this: when those Captains and Majors saw this brash First Lieutenant who didn’t know anything jump in that airplane while they were going to ground school and fly it around and land it - it was the best thing that ever happened to those guys. If this guy didn’t kill himself, how - (laughs).” Anyway, that worked out pretty good.

When the General was in ah, I went to the, uh, the Army Helicopter School down in Texas. I think it was about a six month course. And I went through it, I think, in nine days. And I graduated. And I went back to Randolph Field about 40 or 50 miles away, and I walked into the General’s office, and I said, “General, you’re looking at the Air Force’s brand newest helicopter pilot.” He said, “You didn’t get a diploma in nine days.” I said, “Here it is. Look at this.” He said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. Randolph Field has an H-13 they need to take it to Williams Air Force Base in Phoenix. Go down there and tell General Persons at Randolph that you’ll fly - you’ll ferry that airplane out. We’ll find out if you’re a helicopter pilot.” Boy let me tell you when you’re - when you fly west in an H-13 with balsa wood wings, uh, rotor blades, uh when it starts raining, you land. I could fly the airplane, but I found myself following the highway. The wind, you got a westerly wind, top speed is 60 knots, and you got a 55 knot headwind, and you didn’t have any radio. You have a low frequency radio but tach-an wasn’t around yet. Didn’t have a VOR. And if you want to fly it solo, you have to take the battery out of the back and put it in the front, I mean, because that battery was big enough to make a difference in weight and balance. So now I’m looking for truck stops along the highway, route 66, to get out to Phoenix, and I’d land that airplane, and push the rotor blade around, and I could pick it up and push it all by myself. And push it up to tank, and put some gas in it. Get it, pulled it back, and get on to start again. I nearly starved to death I think. Took me about two and a half days or something to get out there. But, I did that and in those days you could get by with something like that. Today, in a million years, you couldn’t do anything like that.