By Mitch Meador, Fort Sill TribuneSeptember 6, 2018
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sept. 6, 2018) -- Retired Army Maj. Paul Harrington, a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions during World War II, got to see a re-creation of how he directed artillery fire from the air when Henry Post Army Airfield celebrated its 100th anniversary Sept. 1.
Harrington called for fire on the first and last in a column of German Panzers advancing upon an elevated road. Once he knocked out the first tank there was no way for the others to go around it. By knocking out the last one, he boxed them in. That allowed artillerymen to go up and down the line destroying every one of them.
Maj. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, honored Harrington by presenting him with a certificate and a flag that flew over the Oklahoma Capitol.
Shoffner said the arrival here of the 1st Aero Squadron in 1915 made Fort Sill the birthplace of Army aviation, and in 1918 Henry Post Army Airfield was born.
"Over the years it's changed quite a bit. We started out with biplanes here as World War I was going on. We then went to blimps, dirigibles that were located in large hangars here on Fort Sill. And then after that, the Army aviation here at Fort Sill transitioned to what we call aerial observers, aerial observation. That's observers who are in an airplane who do artillery spotting. And that continued through the Vietnam War," said the general.
Many of the aircraft that participated in that activity were at the airshow, he noted.
Though Fort Sill was the longtime training facility for aerial observation, the centennial celebration was the first time that activity had been seen here in quite some time.
Maj. Lucas Sparks was the active-duty Soldier who re-enacted the observer role Harrington played, spotted and corrected artillery fire from the air. Sparks works for the Army's Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team as part of the Army Futures Command and has volunteered at the Field Artillery Museum for more than four years.
He dressed up in a 1937 woolen uniform to represent a World War II lieutenant. Pilot Sam Taber flew in from Wisconsin to carry Sparks aboard a Stinson L-5. A gun crew from Fort Sill's "Salute Battery," B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Field Artillery, performed the fire mission that Sparks called in.
Sparks said he had never spotted targets from the air before, and he was "absolutely" pumped up about it. He's been looking forward to doing it ever since Field Artillery Museum Director Gordon Blaker approached him about doing it a month ago.
"It's going to be a new and interesting thing," Sparks said.
A C-17 Globemaster III from Altus Air Force Base dwarfed all other planes on the airfield. Two members of the Italian Air Force came with a T6-A Texan II, the trainer Sheppard Air Force Base, Wichita Falls, Texas, uses for its international pilot training at Fort Sill. Shoffner mentioned that Sheppard and Sill have a very close relationship in this regard.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Tyler Lee, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot assigned to 3-227th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, explained the new Mike model that the Army is transitioning to.
Bob Carlton of Vertigo Airshows, Albuquerque, N.M., brought the only aerobatic act to the airshow, which he said is a little strange.
"We're used to a lot more aerobatics, but they've got a whole lot of history here," Carlton said. "Originally we were going to be here in April, and that didn't happen, so we rescheduled."
Carlton has two different aircraft he flies in airshows, a SubSonex Microjet and a jet-powered sailplane. His bright yellow microjet was what organizers of the April airshow asked for, and that's what he brought. It can reach 300 mph, but on a test run for the high-speed pass Aug. 31, it was really bumpy, so he decided to keep it at 250 mph.
Jets don't normally do tailsliders, but this one does. In this maneuver, the pilot puts the jet into a steep ascent then allows the aircraft to fall back on its tail.
"A lot of jets can't do that because they can't have the airflow interrupted into the front of the engine. But this jet has a centrifugal compressor, and so it's pretty much impervious to airflow interruption problems," Carlton explained.
Other stunts he performed for the spectators included loops, rolls and Cuban eights.
"I do a big horizontal eight that's kind of fun, lays a lot of smoke down to get the show started," Carlton said.
He's been flying the microjet about five years.
"It handles just like it looks. It's sporty-handling, a very nice-handling aircraft," Carlton said.
The questions he gets from people are never-ending: "How high does it go? How fast does it go? How much thrust does the engine produce?"
The little engine weighs 40 pounds, and produces 250 pounds of thrust.
"They have taken this engine up to 38,000 feet. The factory has, I haven't had it that high. I like to cruise. If I'm going cross-country, I cruise at about 17,000 feet. That's a good, comfortable altitude to get the most range out of the airplane. Cruising speed would be about 230 mph," he said.
Fans of the M*A*S*H movie and TV series were excited to see a helicopter like the one from the show, among the static displays outside. Actually, it was a Hiller UH-12C built in 1955 in Palo Alto, Calif., that went directly to the Army.
Owner Tim Tyler of Owasso, Okla., said he doesn't know anything of its Army history, as no one has found any documentation on it. Supposedly, these were used as scout helicopters in Vietnam.
"We do know that it was surplused out, probably in '76, and then it sat derelict for 42 years. I found it down in Florida, and I bought it as a derelict," he said.
It was at a heliport within sight of The Ringling museum in Sarasota, Fla. What caught his eye was that it still had its original military metal checklist, the only one he's ever seen. He bought it six years ago and brought it back.
"It's been under restoration for six years. We just finished it. We don't even have the Federal Aviation Administration registration for it," Tyler said. "Everything in it is new. The engine's overhauled, transmission, all of the glass is new. We bought it because it had never been restored. It was still in its original military colors and configuration."
Tyler's next-door neighbor, Craig Cooper, car-pooled to the airshow with him and whiled away his time polishing the glass bubble surrounding the cockpit.
2nd Lt. Chase Conner came to the show with his wife, Ashley, and their two sons, 7-month-old Sonny and Kendrick, 2. As a field artillery officer with the Pocatello-based 1st Battalion, 148th Field Artillery, 116th Cavalry Brigade, Idaho Army National Guard, he's attending Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Sill.
They were fortunate enough to be here with Henry Post Army Airfield's centennial airshow rolled around, and it couldn't have made their toddler happier.
"He loves it. He's infatuated with anything that flies," said Kendrick's father, predicting that the airshow would definitely be his son's favorite part of the day.
"We have no problems taking any trips with him and getting on the airplanes because he just loves it," said his mother.