Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Blast From the Past

About eight years ago, I did an internet search for World War I aircraft models. While going through the hits, I came across a company called Fiddlers Green. After ordering their Aircraft CD, I became hooked on cardstock models of aircraft.

The Fiddlers Green models come on PDF files and are easy to build. Plus, if you make a mistake, you simply reprint and rebuild.

After completing a number of models, I decided I would try my hand at designing a card model.

But what should I design?

I pondered that question for several days until one night, I tuned into one of my favorite cartoon shows...The Flintstones. But what object from the show should I make my first design attempt?

I settled on Fred Flintstone's car.

After breaking out my favorite CAD program (TurboCAD), I began drawing. I had downloaded screen captures of the car from the net and listed all the parts on it. After that, I free-hand drew the parts to get an idea of what each should look like as a flat object, then I transfered the piece to the CAD program.

It took a couple of weeks, but I finally finished the first version of the car and sent it off to a friend to test build. He found several problems which were easy to correct and in the end, the first of the World Famous Flintstone Models was born.

Since then, I have added Barney's car and a Police scooter to the collection, along with the limousine driven by the Gruesomes. The latest model released has been the drive-in theater seen in the opening and closing segments of the show.

I have plans for future Stone-age era releases, such as the car hop restaurant and other vehicles, but for now, these are the only ones available. If you'd like to start your own collection of World Famous Flintstone Models, they are available at the links below.

Fred's Car, Barney's Car and Police Scooter are included in one file located here.

The Gruesome's Limousine is located here.

The Drive-in Theater (with a number of different possible movies) is located here.

Keep watching this blog for more Stone-age card models as they are released.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

And Now You Know My Story

Sunday morning I heard a news item which saddened me.

I didn't know Paul Harvey, but when I heard he had died, I reflected back to another time.

I thought back to December 1971. I was on a temporary assignment to Galena Air Station, Alaska. Now closed, the base was located next to the native Alaskan village of the same name on the north side of the Yukon River. At the time, the station housed two alert aircraft, ready to respond to any intrusion into the airspace of the Northern Frontier.

Myself and three other fuels troops from Elmendorf AFB, near Anchorage, Alaska, arrived at Galena for a three month assignment in early October. Our main job was to support the alert aircraft. We also gassed up transient aircraft and motor vehicles. It wasn't hard work, but when the temperatures of the interior Alaska area dropped to well below zero, it made the desire to do the work a lot harder. I spent many a cold hours standing in the weather passing gas.

However, In early December, the person doing the fuels accounting for the office, went on a 30-day leave. Someone had to take his place and the lieutenant in charge of the office, gave that job to me. I quickly learned what I needed to know and when the time came, I settled into the job.

Things were going fine for me at that time. In the mornings, I would walk to work in the cold (there were several days in a row when the thermometer outside the door of the fuels office read -65 or more...yes, that is 65 degrees below zero) and once inside, warm my hands over the oil stove providing heat for the building. I'd then pour myself a cup of coffee, go to my desk and listen to Paul Harvey present the news in only the way he could.

I hadn't been working at my new job much more than a week, when I walked into our office, warmed my hands, got my cup of coffee, settled into my office chair and glanced at the paperwork in front of me as the voice of Paul Harvey came over the radio on the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. As he presented his news, I was getting ready to dive into my work when I heard something which caused me to spit coffee across my desk and stare at the radio in disbelief.

I don't remember the exact words he used, but about midway through that day's presentation, Paul Harvey began his next news item with: "Galena, Alaska...Officials at the Bureau of Indian Affairs say the U.S. Air Force spilled more than 15,000 gallons of aviation fuel in the Yukon, killing fish up and down the river. " He continued with more information about the spill, including the date it happened and then went on to other items. By this time, I was in shock.

Everyone in the office turned and looked at me with a puzzled look on their face. The lieutenant looked up from his desk, with a jaw which had dropped almost to the floor. And then my phone rang.

I knew immediately who was calling...and I didn't want to answer the phone. Glancing skyward, I reached for the phone knowing I had nothing to do with the loss of fuel, but also knowing I would be the one catching hell for what Paul Harvey said.

"Fuels...Sergeant Sobkoviak," I said.

"Are you the one who took over for the guy on leave?" came an unfamiliar voice from the other end.

"Yes, I am."

"Were you listening to Paul Harvey this morning?"

"Yes, I was."

"Then why is this the first we are hearing of this massive fuel spill?"

I had no idea what to say to the person on the phone. I knew he was assigned to our headquarters at Elmendorf and he read the daily reports we sent down to him. I also knew he knew as much about our fuel situation as I did, maybe more, considering I had just started at the job. I looked over the lieutenant for help, and he grabbed the phone on his desk.

After a few minutes of talking, he said, "We'll have the report ready as soon as possible and call you back with our findings." He hung up, shook his head and told me some background on the Paul Harvey report. He told me how during aviation fuel (AVGAS) off-loading from the supply barge, a passing vehicle hit the pipeline system and caused a leak. Fuel did fall into the Yukon River, but the amount was determined to be 15 gallons or less.

He then asked me to go stick the AVGAS tanks, so another report could be filed. Sticking the tank meant measuring the depth of fuel. With that measurement and the temperture of the fuel, a chart could be cross referenced, and the amount of fuel in the tank could be determined.

When I completed my calculations, I found that close to 150 gallons of AVGAS was missing...not the 15 gallons as originally thought. I passed this information on to the lieutenant who wasn't happy. He had been in charge of the office when the accident occurred and now had to tell headquarters that his original report was in error. But before he would do that, he told me to double check my figures. This meant returning to the AVGAS tanks, getting another depth measurement and temperature reading, and redoing my calculations.

So off I went, back to the AVGAS storage area.

When I arrived at the tanks, I decided I would check to see if there was any water in the tank. To do this, a person needed to open a drain valve at the bottom of the tank, let about a pint of fuel to flow into a jar, and then visually check the amount of water in the bottom of the jar. If there was any water, another procedure would done to determine how deep the water was in the tank.

I grabbed a jar out of the truck I drove to the storage area, and began removing the three feet of snow covering the area I believed the drain valve to be. After moving about a foot of snow, I was puzzled to see snow stained in the color purple. I knew the AVGAS we had in the tank was dyed purple for visual verification of the type of fuel and I instantly knew there was a leak at the drain valve.

After removing all the snow from around the drain valve, I realized where the extra 135 gallons or so of aviation fuel was in the bottom of the dike surrounding the tank. I checked the valve and noticed a steady drip of liquid coming from around the area where the valve was attached to the tank. After doing what I could to stem the flow of fuel, I redid my measurements and returned to the fuels office. Once inside, I told the lieutenant what I found out and put in a work order for maintenance to fix the leak.

When I completed my new calculation, I came up with the same number as before...150 gallons missing. Reporting this the LT, I speculated that additional missing fuel is inside the dike. Since the dike was sealed to prevent any leaked fuel from contaminating the environment, it was unlikely any more fuel was leaking into the Yukon. However, the river was frozen over and there wasn't any way to tell for sure.

Resigned to the fact that the Air Force at Galena AS may have screwed up, the lieutenant called headquarters back and relayed the news. After talking to his counterpart, he told me to get on the line and I gave my counterpart a blow-by-blow description of everything I had found out since he called me that morning. When I finished, he said, "This isn't over. We have everyone from state officials to people in Washington calling about this. File your report and get it in the next outbound mail." He then hung up.

I then turned to the lieutenant and said, "Of all people...Paul Harvey."

He let out a long sigh, cracked a smile, stood up and proclaimed, "Let's get something to eat, then hit the club before we do the report."

I grabbed my hat and parka and said, "You're buying."

Even after his report on Galena Air Station, I continued to listen to Paul Harvey when I could. I learned things I never would have known from his "Now You Know the Rest of the Story" segments, although I have probably forgotten everything I heard. But as before the incident above, I enjoyed listening to him.

He has passed on now, but I will still think fondly of him and am saddened by his loss...even if he did get me in trouble with my superiors back in December, 1971.

And now you know my story.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Superbowl and Things

This weekend is Superbowl XLIII (43 for those trying to figure it out).  But I already had my Superbowl...and guess what?  

I won it!

Yes, my fantasy football league superbowl game was played almost a month ago, and I was victorious.  The game started out slow, and at halftime, I was far behind.  But in the second half, Drew Brees and Donald Driver both put up numbers which brought me back into the game.  And then, with minutes to go, the score was tied.  But I had my field goal kicker still to play, and when the Sunday games were finished, I still had a two point lead, and the victory.

This was my fourth season as a fantasy football player.  I'm proud of the win and even though I won the big game, I didn't get a ring, nor a big trophy.  I did receive a book with photos of past winners, and my photo will be included as a champion of the "There Can Be Only One" Fantasy Football League.

My fantasy football victory isn't the only proud moment of my life.  During my Air Force career, I accomplished many things I'm proud of.  I antaganized Soviet soldiers in East Berlin, I flipped off the chancelor of East Berlin, I won awards for my journalism skills and I faced down Mother Nature.

But my greatest pride came at a place close to the top of the world.

I was stationed at Thule AB, Greenland at the time.  The base is located somewhere between the  North Pole and the Arctic Circle on the west side of the island.  Although I started getting a bit of cabin fever near the end of my year there, I still enjoyed the assignment. 

At the time, the Cold War was still going strong with the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the two big men on campus.  In January 1983, events began to happen which, in the end, would prove to be my greatest accomplishment in my career.

In the Summer of 1982, the Soviet Union launched a satellite into orbit.  I don't know the function of Kosmos 1402, but I do know it was carrying a small nuclear reactor.  A couple of months after its boost into space, things started going wrong, and the satellite's orbit began to decay.  When it appeared 1402 would definitely reenter the atmosphere, folks began wondering when and where.  But it was too early to tell.

At Thule, life was going on as usual during the cold, dark Winter months.

Then one day, I was informed that a Swedish journalist who claimed to have visited Thule, had written an article about his trip.  He wrote about the missiles and bombs and if I remember correctly, the submarines he saw at Thule AB.  This very much puzzled myself and our Danish liaison officer, as none of the items the reporter mentioned seeing were positioned at or anywhere near the base. 

A little background is needed here now.  Thule AB was primarily a radar support base.  The largest radar array (at that time) was situated several miles northeast of the base along the cliffs of a fiord.  The job of the people at Thule was to provide support for that site, and several other out-lying radar units.  My job was that of noncommissioned officer in charge of the Public Affairs Office.  Among other duties, I met and escort visiting news media around the base.  Since the base was on Danish soil (Greenland still belonged to Denmark at this time), we had a Status of Forces Agreement with the Danish government which spelled out what we could do and have on the base.  To monitor what the U.S. Air Force was doing there, members of the Danish navy were assigned as liaison personnel.  Their office was a couple of doors along the hall from my office.

Back to my story.

Not long after the article was published (I believe it was around mid January 1983), the liaison officer came to my office and asked if I had escorted a Swedish journalist around the base.  I told him I hadn't, and since I had to have his approval, before I could approve the visit of any media organization, he knew the journalist had never been on the base.  He then explained the reason for his question and told me he would provide me with a translation of the article when he got a copy of it.

Less than a week later, unrelated events began to combine.  One was the article written about Thule AB.  The other was the orbit of Kosmos 1402.  

A couple of days after asking me about the article, the liaison officer was recalled to Denmark.  I was told he had left in a rush by one of the other people in his office.  It couldn't have been more than two days after Commander Johanssen's return to Denmark, when I received a call from him.

He informed me that he was testifying before the Danish Parliament regarding the article written by the Swedish journalist.  Parliament was concerned because what was written about was a violation of the SOFA, something which could lead to dismissal of the agreement and loss of American rights to use the base.  And that is just what the parliament was thinking at the time.

Cmdr. Johannsen gave me a brief rundown of what was going on and informed me things weren't looking good.   He had told parliament that the article was a fabrication and parliament basically asked him to prove it.  All he could do was state that the Americans were following the SOFA and only supporting the BMEWS radar site (BMEWS stood for Ballistic Missile Early Warning System).  But the Danish Parliament was skeptical.

As proof of our good intentions, Cmdr. Johannsen was asked for something the Danish government was having difficulty obtaining.  

Here is where Kosmos 1402 enters the picture.  By this time - the end of January, everyone around the world knew the satellite was going to reenter Earth's atmosphere.  But where, no one knew.  The space tracking facility at NORAD, in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado was closely watching the object, trying to predict its reentry, using orbital data from numerous radar sites around the world.  However, other governments needing the data, were having a difficult time getting up-to-date number, as they had to go through the U.S. State Department to obtain the information.  For the most part, this meant any data they received was close to 24 hour old.  Old data meant inaccurate predictions.  And this included the Danish government, who were especially concerned since the orbit of the satellite at that time brought it over the area of the North Sea and near Denmark.

So the Danish Parliament asked Cmdr. Johannsen, since he was the liaison officer at the base supporting the largest and most powerful radar system in the world, if he could get more accurate orbital elements.  Orbital elements are numbers which when used with proper equations, will show where an object in space is, and what its current path will be, should the orbit remain unchanged.

Cmdr. Johannsen then called me.  I don't know if he called anyone else before me, but he and I had worked together on a number of projects and we both had great respect for each other.  When I got on the phone, he informed me of how bad things were looking and then told me about parliament's request for the better orbital elements.  We talked a little bit about situation, then set a call back time.  We both hoped I would have the requested information by that time.

After hanging up, I called the BMEWS office and inquired about the elements.  I was informed they couldn't release the information without approval from NORAD.  I then asked for verification that if I got the approval, they could provide me with what I needed.  Even though I was making an official request, the officer I was talking to, was tight-lipped and wouldn't even verify if they could provide the data.

After discussing the situation with my boss, we decided the best course of action would be to wait for the Public Affairs Officer at NORAD to open, and call them.  So an hour or so later, I placed a call to the NORAD PA office.  I explained the situation to the lady who answered, and she put me through to the officer in charge of the office.  Although they didn't have the information I needed, I was given the number to another office which could help me.  So I asked to have my call forwarded and waited for someone to answer on the other end.

During this time, I could only hope my goal was soon within reach.  When a gentleman answered on the other end of the line, I again explained the situation and asked him if he could help.  He not only could give me the most current and up-to-date orbital numbers, he also gave me the civilian phone number to his office and informed me the Danish people tracking the satellite could call him anytime for updates. 

After breathing a sigh of relief, and then verifying the numbers I had which were less than 20 minutes old at the time, I hung up and waited for Cmdr. Johannsen to call me back.  An hour later, at the agreed time, my phone rang and I heard the rough, yet familiar voice of Cmdr. Johannsen on the other end.

I gave him the numbers I was given, and the phone number which could be called to obtain newer numbers.  He thanked me and we hung up.  I then went back to work on other projects.

A few days later, Cmdr. Johannsen walked into my office again.  This time he wanted to thank me for what I did.  He explained how the information I gave him was given to members of the Danish Parliament and a vote on the situation at Thule AB shortly thereafter, went in favor of the base.  The situation was contained, thanks in part to my help.  He then said something which brought a knot to my throat and almost a tear in my eye.  He said, "You saved Thule base."

I smiled and said, "Anytime you need anything, just ask."  He laughed and walked out of my office.  I never spoke about the incident to anyone after that until about a month later.  I received a call from someone in the State Department.  This person wanted to know who it was who circumvented the State Department and provided the Danish government with data regarding Kosmos 1402.  I informed him that I was that person.

He began to tell me how many state department regulations I had bypassed and before he could go too deep into his tirade, I told him he really needed to talk to my commander.  I offered to transfer his call to the colonel's office, but instead, he stuttered a few things about protocol, I said, "Yes...thank you," and hung up.  That was the last I ever spoke regarding Swedish journalists, Danish Parliament and Kosmos 1402.

That my friends, is and probably will be, my proudest moment.  In case you are wondering, Kosmos 1402 burned in over the Atlantic Ocean on Feb, 7, 1983.