Old Timer War Story from 1960s Japan

Editor’s note: Doug Moore, reminiscing with Jeff Grider about their tour in Japan, all but overloaded, with one detachment flying patients fresh from Vietnam to five different Army hospitals in Japan, tells about the fun weather on the island.

Jeff, I remember the day well. Dave Dryden looked like a dog crapping peach seeds because the weather was right down on the ground at Zama, and you had five-stars on board. We could barely see the runway, and the Med Command staff was demanding to know where you were. We were fumbling for answers.

I believe that mission was the reason Gail Bowen developed a homemade IFR approach to Zama using the old Sagami beacon. Remember the hand drawing we posted on the flight operations board?

Not long after that, I got a mission about ten o’clock one night to run 24 boxes of blood over to Tachikawa because they needed some on a stat basis to put on a plane that was going to the States. The weather was not bad, and I thought it would be a short flight. I believe Tom Roberts was the crew chief, and I know Majewski was the medic. Majewski sat up front with me because he wanted to go to flight school.

Just after we lifted off from the 409th Medical Laboratory, I ran into a solid wall of fog at about 200 feet. The only choice was to climb out high enough to get over the high tension wires and head for Tachikawa. I called Tachi Tower and requested a GCA because McGowan and I had gotten into a similar fix a few days earlier. The tower told me their glide slope radar was inop, but the ASR could put me on the centerline, and they did a perfect job getting us down.

I asked the tower to check the weather back at Zama, and they said it was still VFR. So I asked to take off and skirt around the edge of Yokota and stay as far west as we could, hoping we could beat the fog bank that was moving toward the west.

As soon as we cleared that ridgeline south of Tachi, we went IFR again. I can still remember the drawing Bowen put together. If my memory is correct, you had to fly 142 degrees off the Sagami beacon for about 14 miles. I let down to about 400 feet and tried to fight that blooming ADF needle. You remember how hard it is to stay on track going away from an ADF station.

I think Majewski and Roberts were beginning to wonder about me when, all of a sudden, Majewski blurted out, “There’s the tower!” Bowen’s approach brought us about three-fourths of the way down the runway near our operations shack. Like you, I bottomed the pitch and got on the ground like I knew what I was doing.