Tuesday, July 7, 2009



MSGT. C. Skip Ahrensfield
On Memorial Day 2009 I had the great pleasure to meet and introduce C. “Skip Ahrensfield as our guest speaker for the Memorial Day service in Orwigsburg, Pa.
As I am always on the look out for something interesting that relates to our Schuylkill County military heroes, I was fortunate to have a copy of his bio and military career of Skip’s. Being an ex-Air Force aircraft mechanic my self, his career and story was fascinating to me and needs to be shared with all.
While most of my generation was growing up, safe and secure in the United States during the time period 1954 to 1969 Sgt. Skip Ahrensfield was serving and defending this country during a period known as the “Cold War”. A war were shots were never fired between the United States and Soviet Union, but hostilities were brought near the point of nuclear confrontation many times. While we slept, played and lived our normal lives, under a blanket of freedom provided for us by men like Skip and the members of the Strategic Air Command, Skip and his fellow crew members spent long, tiring hours training and flying alert missions over the borders of the United States and the far frontiers of North America and near the shores of the Soviet Union in their B-36 and B-52 bombers armed with nuclear weapons and ready for any emergency. These men are the very backbone of a life spent defending something that is dear to us, our freedom. We as Americans owe these men and what they did and stood for everything. And for that I want to share part of a story told to me by this remarkable airman Msgt. Clayton “Skip” Ahrensfield.


Skip was born and raised in Orwigsburg. His father Elmer was the constable of Orwigsburg for twenty years. His brother Herman was Orwigsburg, Chief of Police for several years. Skip graduated from Orwigsburg High School in 1952. While attending Orwigsburg High School Skip was an All Star basketball player, who in 1988 was inducted into the Blue Mountain High School All Sports Hall of Fame. And also in 1997 he was inducted into the Allen-Rogowicz Chapter of the Pa. Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1955 Skip married carol Ditzler from Palo Alto. They had one daughter Robin who was born in El Paso, Texas in 1958, and a son Bradley born in Wichita Kansas in 1965. Both children are graduates of Blue Mountain High School, Orwigsburg, Pa.

On December 12th, 1952 about six months after graduating from high school, Skip took the oath of enlistment with the United States Air Force and began a career that would span the next 21 years of his life.
Immediately after enlisting Skip was sent to Sampson A.F.B. in Geneva, N.Y. where he began basic military training. After graduating from basic training on March 12, 1953 Skip was assigned to ATC technical school for aircraft mechanic’s at Sheppard A.F.B. Wichita Falls, Texas. Here Skip learned the trade of a line mechanic on B-29’s. After graduating from the Aircraft Mechanic course in October, 1953 Skip was assigned to the 97th Bomb Wing, 342nd Bomb Squadron at Biggs A.F.B. El Paso Texas, where he was assigned to the B-29. Only working on the B-29 for a very short time Skip was transferred to the 95th , Bomb Wing, 336th Bomb Squadron working on the massive “Aluminum and Magnesium Overcast” as it was known, the Convair B-36 Peacemaker. The 95th Bombardment wing, medium was established on June 4, 1952, and activated on June 16th at Biggs AFB, Texas. It was then redesignated the 95th Bombardment Wing, Heavy on Nov. 8th. However it was nothing more than a paper unit until July, 1953 flying the B-36 Peacemaker.


The 95th was minimally manned through September, 1953 when it began receiving B-36’s and started training with them. By April of the following year, it was fully operational and supported SAC's global commitments. From July through November of 1955, the wing was deployed to Andersen AB, Guam, and operated under control of the 3d Air Division.


In January of 1954 Skip was assigned as a mechanic crew chief and also began training to fly as a flight engineer on the B-36. Skip holds the proud distinction of being the youngest crew chief and flight engineer in rank and age in the 336th Bomb Squadron. He flew a remarkable 5,000 hours on the B-36, flying all over the Pacific, to include the Philippines, Okinawa, Guam, Kwajalein, Wake, Midway, Johnson Island, Hawaii, and numerous bases through out the continental United States. Skip also flew missions over the Atlantic, to the Azores, Puerto Rico and Bermuda.


While flying as a flight engineer on the B-36, a job most people would look as probably the most complicated job in aviation, especially on an aircraft that had 10 engines, 6 reciprocating engines plus four jets, but to a flight engineer it was a dream. Imagine having control of all that power.


While being assigned and working in SAC, (Strategic Air Command) all the crews were part of a select group of specialist. The crews within the Bomb Wing worked countless extra hours, pulled extensive temporary duty (TDY) and deployments, spot promotions were designed to reward the very best. The flight crews were required to meet the SAC's rigorous training and evaluation schedule.

A typical flight crew on the B-36 consisted of the aircraft commander co-pilot, navigator,, bombardier, first engineer second engineer, first and second radio operators and the gunners. 15 crew members in all.
Skip relates about the B-36, “ It was the heaviest and biggest bomber the Air force ever had. It was called the Peacemaker. This aircraft carried 21, 416 gallons of high octane 115/145 aviation fuel in six internal wing tanks. It had four bomb bays and could carry twenty 500 lb bombs or two nuclear bombs called Big Boys. It had a wing span of 230 feet and the fuselage was 163 feet long. It had six R-4360 Pratt and Whitney engines mounted on the back of the wing, in a pusher type configuration. Each engine had a sixty gallon oil tank and there were two J-47 jets on each wing tip. It carried a crew of 15 men and could go to sixty thousand feet altitude. Actually the normal flight level for missions was thirty to forty thousand feet. At sixty thousand feet you can actually see the curvature of the earth, I remember seeing it at least two times while flying missions.”


While flying as a flight engineer and before any mission one of Skip’s duties was to perform a pre flight exam of the aircraft, he had to make a walk around inspection of the external portion of the aircraft looking for any faults , cracks oil or hydraulic leaks that might need maintenance. He also had to do a hard inspection that required him to “crawl the wing”, he would have to climb up into the left main gear and climb into the wing crawl area ahead of the inboard and center engines were he would check all the fuel lines, hydraulic connections, fuel and oil lines, all the necessary items to make sure the engines were in top shape. Crawling back the way he came Skip would then climb into the bomb bay and enter the other wing and perform the same type of inspection. If he could not exit out the wing hatch by way of a maintenance stand he would have to crawl back the way he came and go down the right main landing gear.
Another aspect of his job as flight engineer required him to be responsible for the fuel to be loaded on the aircraft for the mission, and any maintenance that had to be perfumed on the aircraft tit was Skip’s responsibility to oversea the mechanics.
But the main job of the flight engineer was to run through all the checklists, takeoff, taxi, climb, cruise etc. at cruising altitude it was his duty to monitor the operation of the 6 reciprocating engines synchronizes the propellers , he writes into the log all pertinent information, such as fuel flow, cylinder head temps, , hydraulic systems, electrical systems, hundreds of meters gauges and switches. He was also required to calculate the take off parameters, to include the total power need for the take off, the nose up and flap retractions speeds. He worked out all the weight and balance loads, the mission fuel requirements, fuel burn to altitude, cruising speeds and fuel burns on the bomb run and descent to landing. And also required to do any in-flight maintenance on the aircraft that can be accomplished.
Skip relates;
“I loved flying on the B-36.It was the most reliable and forgiving airplane the Air Force had. you could feather one or two engines and never lose a knot of air speed. We also had bunks and a kitchen and a stove in the rear end. We could lay on our backs on the buggy and pull ourselves back to the tail with out depressurizing... The only thing I really didn’t like about the air plane was after we landed I had to close the plane up which meant I had to get a work stand and climb up and put the rudder and elevator locks on.
The flt eng. Was responsible for monitoring the six engines and all the electrical and hyd sys.. I controlled the speed of the engines and fuel usage. We were quite busy.. I had a Sperry engine analyzer that told me how each engine was operating. The pilot feathered the engine if I had trouble . I had to shut down the fuel supply and electrical sys. And the he hit the feather button.. The pilot controlled the jets ,starting and stopping. We only used the jets on take off and landing and if we needed more speed at low altitude.. Jets didn’t operate to good at high altitude in those days
The bomb runs over Washington were done mainly to check their radar. A lot of times they didn’t know we were there until it was to late. We flew under their radar. that’s why we didn’t carry any bombs.
The biggest problem with the engines were the oil leaks. Our tail got real dirty. A lot of times the engines ran out of oil and we had to feather them.

On a typical mission in the B-36, the crew would line up for inspection prior to entering the aircraft checking and making sure all their personal emergency equipment and parachutes were in proper order. Engine start was minimally set to 45 minutes prior to take off, so that all pre flight checks were made. The Co-pilot would handle the jets on take off reliving the engineer of that added duty, he had enough responsibility with the recip engines.
The B-36 never dropped a bomb in anger but the air crews flew daily missions preserving peace and making sure that the United States was under its vale of security.
Skip describes what a typical mission in the B-36 was, “ We would leave Biggs, A.F.B. in El Paso, Texas and fly out over the Gulf of Mexico and then up the coast over Florida, and head North East over the Atlantic Ocean and follow the coast line up past the outer banks of North Carolina, when we would drop down to 500 feet and fly up the Chesapeake Bay and make a low level bomb run on Washington D.C. We would then climb back up to 40,000 ft. and continue to fly up thru New England, where we would fly over Nova Scotia at 2, 000 ft. We use to like to look at all the light houses as we flew by. Then we would continue up past Newfoundland and out across the Atlantic to Lodges Field on the Island of the Azores. After a crew rest of a couple of days we would fly back to Biggs A.F.B. The actual flight time on the one way mission to and from the Azores was over 20 to 26 hours. I can remember making that run at least three times from January 1954 to December 1955. Then for some reason Washington would not let us do it anymore.”
On other types of training missions Skip states, “On other missions we would take off from Biggs A.F.B. and fly all the way up to Alaska where we would shoot some practice instrument landings at Elemendorf A.F.B. at Fairbanks. After completing these tests we would then fly down the Aleutian Island chain make a turn and then head back to Biggs.A.F.B. in Texas. Flight time on these types of trips was also 20 to 26 hours of flying time.”
“On the 10th of July 1955 the Wing I was in, the 95th Bomb Wing was deployed to Anderson A.F.B. on the Island of Guam. There we flew missions all over the Pacific, where I saw most of the Islands of Japan. We flew missions there until October 1955.”
“We flew three or four times a month in the B-36. Each flight being 20 to 26 hours long and we also flew many test flights which usually took about 4 hours in length. I flew 5000 hours in that bomber as a flight engineer. We had two engineers on the B-36.but I did spend a lot of time on the panel. On the runs over Alaska and Washington D.C. We didn’t carry any Bombs at all. Nukes or regular. We carried 100 lb bombs or 500 lb. bombs on practice bomb runs over Matamoras Island, off the coast of Texas. That was our practice bomb range and we called the island Magoo.”
All in all, the B-36 was the single most force in its day that symbolized America's strategic defense. It ranged as far as 8,000 miles and flew with impunity where jet fighters of the day could barely operate. The massive, rumbling B-36 never dropped a bomb in combat, although tensions with Russia and China in the 50s made the presence of the global-ranging B-36s comforting to military planners in the United States. With American bases abroad, virtually any spot in the world came under the thundering domain of the bomber. Despite a service life of 10 years, which covered the height of the Cold War and all of the Korean War, the B-36 never fired a shot, preserving the peace, richly earning its unofficial name-Peacemaker. The last B-36s left active USAF service in 1959.


Almost every minute of everyday, there was a USAF B-52 in the air, loaded with nuclear bombs, ready to fly into action at the mere spark of the right radio signal. These are the men and planes of the Strategic Air Command. So said the back of a book entitled RED ALERT.
In January 1959 Skip was assigned to duty at Loring A.F.B., Maine to train on the B-52. After completing school on the 52 Skip was assigned to the 4138th O.M.S. (Organizational Maintennce Squadron) At Turner A.F.B., Albany, Georgia were he was assigned the duty of crew chief and in flight mechanic, for over three years Skip would spend many hours flying and working on the B-52 over the Bering Straits and Air Borne Alert station.
During this time period, America’s decade-long Cold War with the Soviet Union could not have been more frigid. The two countries, with vast nuclear arsenals, maintained a never-ending death stare upon the other. Heavy bombers in both countries maintained constant alerts. In the United States, hundreds of B-52 bombers, loaded with multiple hydrogen bomb payloads, stayed in the air 24 hours a day, flying to their fail-safe points near the Arctic Circle. The B-52 affectionately known to its crews as the Buff (Big Ugly Fat Fellow or other not so nice word) served as the first line of America's strategic nuclear deterrent.
In October 1957, the Air Force implemented an "alert" strategy for the B-52 force. A third of the force, including both bombers and their supporting Boeing KC-135 tankers, was to be always available for takeoff on a live nuclear attack mission within 15 minutes. The aircraft were set up on standby in dedicated flight line alert facilities, known as "Christmas trees" for their layout, which included "alert shacks" where the crews could reside, dashing to the aircraft when the alarm was sounded.


During this time period the alert system meant long and tedious work weeks; it was hard on marriages and family life. Much of the time on alert was spent reviewing mission plans and procedures and ensuring that paperwork was in order, with occasional surprise practice alerts to keep the crews on their toes. Failure to follow proper procedures was punished by severe disciplinary measures. There was also the underlying tension that the crews were really preparing for the Apocalypse. Even if they survived their missions, their bases would very likely be vaporized, along with their homes and families.

Skip relates; “I started flying the B-52 as a crew chief and in flight mechanic, at Turner A.F.B. Albany Ga. From August 1959 to November 1962. We would be on alert pad for seven days, fully loaded with nuclear bombs and a Hound Dog missile under each wing ready to go to war. On the eighth day one of the three aircraft would be selected to fly Airborne Alert over the Berring Strait for 24 hours, then return home. I did it at least once a month for three years. We would leave Turner A.F.B. and fly directly to the Berring Strait. The strait was only three miles wide and if you had to bale out the life expectancy in the water was three minutes. When we got to our assigned position we were usually picked up by a Mig -15 on one wing tip and a USAF F-100 on the other wing tip. After a while we would head up towards Minske Russia. Minske was the only deep water harbor the Russians had. The Russian pilots did not have our radio frequency and couldn’t communicate with us by radio, so they would hold up a sign that said in English. YOU ARE IN MY AIR SPACE AND YOU HAVE THREE MINUTES TO GET OUT. We would make a 180 degree turn and head back to Alaska. When we got to Alaska we would hold up a sign that said ,, YOU ARE IN OUR AIR SPACE AND YOU HAVE THREE MINUTES TO GET OUT.”


“ On board our aircraft we had a black box that we had to check quite a few times, when the bell would ring and the light came on we had to select one of three targets and wait for the word to go or abort the mission. We never had to go, but we were always ready and prepared to go in. I carried a 38 revolver on my chest and in my A3 survival kit I had 222 rifle with a collapsible stock and 30 rounds of ammunition and 40 Russian Ruples. Glad I never had to use them.”
The airborne alert system was greatly expanded during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, with alert status raised to a "threshold of war" level. Skip and his bomber crews orbited outside of Soviet airspace, the crews prepared to attack the instant they received the order. After the crisis the airborne alert force was reduced to a much more modest level, with about a dozen B-52s kept in the air with a load of nuclear weapons.
Skip relates:” When the Cuban Crisis happened the Air Force moved all their planes out of Florida and we were prepared to be the first strike team to go in. We were ready to go. I had some great flights on the B-52. We would do some low level flights and had lots of mid air refueling. I had a great time working and flying on the B-52, I loved it!”
My crew station on the B-52 was upstairs. I sat in the jump seat between the pilot and co-pilot. I had to use manual bail out. I had no ejection seat. My job title was in flight mechanic I performed minor maintenance while in flight I would replace any broken or inoperative instruments in the cabin for the crew. We carried nukes on the
B-52 on those missions. We also had a Hound Dog Missile under each wing. We only stayed over Russia a couple minutes and then left for Alaska.



In October of 1962 Skip was transferred from the B-52 to the 381st Strategic Missile Wing O.M.S. at McConnell A.F.B. Wichita, Ks. On the Titan 2 Missiles.
Skip, “I assisted the Martin Marietta Co. on installing 18 missiles in and around Wichita. I was assigned as the Pad chief of Complex, 533-9 which was the command silo for the 533rd, missile squadron.”
The 381st was composed of two Strategic Missile Squadrons (the 532nd and the 533rd). These squadrons were each composed of nine ballistic launch complexes, each housing a Titan II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. The Titan II being 105 feet long and 10 feet in diameter. The launch complex was about 150 feet deep and 50 feet in diameter including the twenty foot diameter launch tube which comprised its center.
The Titans were fully configured for immediate launch in a matter of two minutes. The launch sequence included a number of test and initiation functions as well as a 20 second door opening sequence. The Silo closure door weighed 780 tons and was locked down with hydraulically operated locks, and raised on hydraulic jacks. The hydraulics also operated the radial motors that pulled the door open with 1.5 inch diameter steel cables (4 of them). Launch initiation was also accompanied with attenuation water which flowed 9000 gallons per minute for sound suppression and protection of the silo during the launch.
Launch crews were composed of four personnel. Two officers were responsible for launch initiation, while two enlisted crewmembers were responsible for equipment checkout, repair and readiness. All four crewmembers were together responsible for communications, and final responsibility for launch. With an average of eight alerts (duty shifts at the site) per month, a crewmember achieved 200 alerts in about two years.


Skip tells a about a harrowing experience; “When President Kennedy was killed on November 22nd ,1963 myself and two trainees were at the bottom of one of the Titan two missile silos working. We heard the prepare to launch siren, and we thought we were gone. After six minutes we heard the hold launch siren and were able to return to the control center and found out what happened. That was a very harrowing experience. After two years in the silo I was assigned to Maintenance Job Control as Senior controller/N.C.O.I.C.”
“All my time from November 1953 to June of 1969 was spent in the Strategic Air Command, General Curtis Lemay was my hero.”


In June of 1969 Skip was out of S.A.C. and was assigned to recruiting duty in Elizabeth N.J. with the 3502nd Recruiting group out of Maguire A.F.B., N.J. Detachment 215, Sector D.
“My family and I had a very successful and rewarding experience in serving in the United States Air Force for 21 years, serving my country, travelling and meeting good friends. I am extremely proud to have been born and raised in Orwigsburg, Pa. and call Orwigsburg my home”

No comments: