Toward the end of my four-year tour at Keesler Air Force Base outside Biloxi, Mississippi, it was becoming clear that President Nixon’s quixotic attempt to “Vietnamize” the Vietnam war by, among other things, training Vietnamese pilots to fly T-28s, would soon be ended. Base Commander General Madsen thought the hands-across-the-waters instruction should be commemorated, quickly coming up with the idea that the Air Force would donate an obsolete, T-28-A — one of the older ones with the two-bladed propeller — to the town of Biloxi.
General Madsen made arrangements with Biloxi’s town fathers who picked a spot downtown for pedestal and plane.
We in Field Maintenance would pick the donated aircraft, strip it down, and install a special mounting ring in the belly of the plane.
A couple of my Field Maintenance NCOs met with a couple of Biloxi Parks & Recs officials to work out the details, among which were very precise drawings of the pedestal so that the monumentalized T-28 could be precisely attached to its pedestal.
After weeks of work by both the town’s crew and my machine shop, the time came to tow the spruced up T-28 from the flight line to downtown Biloxi for installation.
As the designated project officer, I drove a flightline pickup with my folder of authorizing paperwork in front of a slow-moving caravan of Air Force vehicles — tractor-tug, maintenance van, crane, and following vehicle — along a pre-arranged route; several of my troops walked in front and alongside our convoy to temporarily block traffic as we slowly traversed the on-base streets, out the main gate, and on into downtown Biloxi to the installation site.
Everything went along fine until the moment of lowering the plane onto the ring of upward bolts, slowly, slowly, twist it a little, a little more….
Damn it! The bolt-holes didn’t line up! As the plane dangled over the pedestal, we valiantly tried to secure it, but somewhere, somehow, someone had made a measurement error and the installation had to be aborted.
A couple of weeks later, with close supervision, and a rebuilt mounting ring using traced out cardboard cutouts to make sure the holes matched up, we assembled the convoy and paperwork and off we went back downtown.
I naively assumed that since we had done all the paperwork and obtained all the approvals two weeks earlier that we didn’t need to do the all the paperwork and notifications over again.
We were moving along at a snail’s pace, maybe 2 or 3 mph, through the Keesler main gate into downtown Biloxi when, after getting about a block off base, all of a sudden an Air Police truck hit his lights and siren and came up behind us.
We slowly pulled over and came to a gradual stop.
“What are you doing, sir?” asked the Air Police supervisor as he walked up. “Do you have authority to take this plane off base?”
Oops. I hadn’t re-notified Air Police of our plans. Apparently, they thought I was in the act of stealing a T-28 in broad daylight at 3mph.
I took the file folder off the passenger seat and handed it to the AP sergeant, saying, “Sorry. I guess I didn’t realize we needed to notify you again.”
After a few minutes the AP sergeant returned, presumably having called someone about the problem.
“Ok, go ahead,” the sergeant said, handing me back the folder. “But don’t let this happen again.”
“Don't worry, Sergeant. If the bolt holes don’t match up this time, I probably won’t be the one delivering the plane the next time.”
The bolt holes lined up. The plane was installed. And I wasn’t arrested for trying to steal an Air Force T-28.