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March 16, 1942 — Santa Maria, California
My dad soloed a BT-13 and has this report (with apologies to John Gillespie Magee):
"I've flown them all, The big and small, From low to high, Into the sky, And I touched the hand of God."
This story is part of a flyer's poem, however, the words are not as written but the gist of my story remains. I too had this experience. It occured in 1942 while in basic flight training.
It was such a day of those high, big fluffy clouds, thunderheads to be exact. I was alone but I wanted to get up there and fly around these beautiful clouds. It's always been known that flying through them is a no-no. Should you do so, you may not make it through the cloud as winds in excess of 100 mph going up and down would tear off your wings. One of the more famous flyers for movie stunts did this. He was seen to fly into a heavy cloud and never made it through, Frank Tallman was his name and we have seen him fly in airshows doing incredible stunts.
At 10,000 feet or so there is no such white on earth and the sight near or around them can never be matched. This day I flew around them, through alleys between them and there I too touched the hand of God. After 10 minutes there, it was time to head back to earth. Getting lower and looking around nothing was familiar, so I flew in the directior from whence I came and finally found the airbase. He had guided me back to where I came from.
This day in my life is as clear today as it was flying around those beautiful clouds. And my flying career has been blessed with wonderful experiences I shall NOT forget.
Bill Rhodes, Major, USAF (Retired)
1955 — United States
This story was written by William G Rhodes at the request of his daughter:
While in the military, I was given a commercial pilots license by the FAA with no strings attached, a short test sheet on a few regulations and that was it. That left me being able to haul people for hire but not to teach anyone to fly. I did some sightseeing flights while stationed at Langley AFB (late 1940s) in Virginia. Not being satisfied with that, I learned about flying advancement thru the GI Bill. Within a week, I was assigned an instructor and did 40 hours of flying, about half with this instructor, and the other half solo - brushing up on precision spins, lazy 8s, and precision spot landings within 10 feet of a line on the runway. All went well, and I had a two hour check flight with an FAA flight instructor who had flown transport planes over the Chinese Hump in WWII. I passed with flying colors and he got out and I had to make 5 spot landings with him near the spot line. I fudged on one landing but it was no major thing and in a few weeks I had a commercial license with a CFR (Commercial Instructor Pilot) rating. I was elated about this, but never was a "Hot Pilot".
When I was transfered to Alaska, I went out to Fairbanks Field and checked with the local airport operator, asking if they needed an instructor pilot and they said, "Mercy, yes!" I was put right to work. I don't even remember showing my credentials I had worked for. I flew on Saturday and Sundays and any day I could get away, fly an hour with a student, and then right back up with another, all in small planes with skiis. An experience! I did this back in Victorville, California (George AFB), and Honolulu, Hawaii (Hickam AFB), and Roswell, New Mexico (Walker AFB).
In Roswell, I was assigned this clean cut gentleman who wanted to learn to fly for his "business". No further discussion was made. Roswell airport had an asphalt taxi-way and a concrete ramp for the airliners. Getting on the concrete as a shortcut to the runway was a no-no. On about the 3rd session and after he was doing OK on taxiing he started onto that concrete for the 2nd time. I got quite disgusted and stomped on the floor and told him so in cussing words that I didn't want it to happen again! He stopped the plane, turned around and told me that he was the pastor at the mission south of town and he didn't appreciate my language. He wanted to learn to fly 'cause he had another church about 40 miles away and he wanted an early service here and fly the 40 miles to preach there. Well, I was a very embarrased by it all but I got the word across and we never got on the concrete again.
Another incident with the pastor is worth mentioning was flying a dual cross country trip. This day it was from Roswell to Lubbock, Texas, then return via Clovis, New Mexico. I elected to not refuel in Lubbock and I told him why and explained the plans. The Cessna 140 airplane has right and left wing tanks and plenty of fuel for a good 3 hour flight time. On the Lubbock/Clovis leg, I told him we'll just fly on the left tank 'til the engine quits and then switch tanks so we'll have lots of fuel for the leg home and a safe landing. It was about 15 minutes later the engine quit out over the desolate desert and he started halfway screaming, "We're gonna die, aren't we, have mercy!" I told him that I had warned him of this event, not to worry, switched tanks, dove it to get the propellor rotating and we flew on home. He had forgotten what I said in Lubbock, but I'd told him this would happen and I had reminded him at least twice.
I flew with him 'till he had the required 35 hours for a private license, probably 20 hours dual, the rest solo. Learned a lot teaching a Pastor to fly.
1947 — Langley AFB, Virginia
My story happened while in the United States Air Force in the year 1947 at Langley Air Base, Virginia, near Newport News.
At this time I was an assistant crew chief on a Douglas A-26 twin engine bomber called the Invader. I was assigned to a night photo recon squadron, the 41st Night Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. I was going about my duties when a Sgt. came up to me and said I was scheduled for a test flight on an aircraft that had two flights with the right engine backfiring and having a loss of power. It had been thoroughly and was ready and I would go with a test pilot. My rank was Tech Sgt. at the time.
We boarded the aircraft, it had a ladder on the side and you crawled into two seats side by side. Both engines started normally and we taxied to the end of the runway. On engine run-up everything was normal and we called the tower for take-off and proceeded down the runway. At about the point of no return, the right engine, to my right, started backfiring and the pilot hit the feathering button, which changed the engine to a no-drag angle and we retracted the landing gear and went to full throttle on the left engine. When we reached the end of the runway, which had 75 to 100 foot trees, and we clearded the trees by a few feet and called, "Mayday" to the tower. We got a "Roger" from them and "you are cleared for an emergency landing". We were able to go up about 200 feet with the left engine on full throttle and purring nicely. All went well except for our sweat. We got lined up for the landing and made it to where emergency vehicles were parked in mid-field. What a relief to feel the ground under us!
The airplane was parked and mechanics got right with it. They removed the carburetor and found the supercharger vanes had been damaged by a foreign object, probably not from something picked on the runway but more aptly to be a small tool, socket or something to create foreight object damage.
What a lucky day for us. I felt God was our co-pilot on that day and I was happy to go home to my family in Newport News.
Bill Rhodes, Major USAF (ret)
PS The engine (Pratt & Whitney R-2800) was removed and replaced with another. I had to go on that flight as the fellow that was origionally assigned had an "emergency" and had to go to the "bank". All the aircraft in our squadron had checker-board painted tail fins and we were called the "Checkerborad Squadron" of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Group.
October 1947 — Fairbanks, Alaska
My story takes place near Fairbanks, Alaska, when I was stationed at 26 Mile Airbase which was a new field - under construction when I arrived there in October 1947 (via US Army Troopship - but that is another story). That field is now Eielson Air Force Base.
When I arrived only one aircraft was assigned to the base, a tired C-47 twin engined transport. It was used for the needs of the base and was flown frequently to Anchorage. Some weeks I made two round trips a week, a two plus hour flight one way. On this particular flight we picked up a hitch hiker wanting to go to Anchorage. About an hour into the flight, he came forward to the cockpit and informed us that he had a bad stomach ache and he had to go badly. The airplane was equipped with a urinal, but nothing else, so I told him I would go back and see what could be done. I saw a one gallon can that said "hydraulic fluid" on the side. I had a nice, handy jack knife in my pocket, so I cut out the top of the can which still had two inches of fluid remaining, then left him with the can and went forward. Shortly, he was up front and said he couldn't piddle and relieve himself at the same time, so 'water' was on the floor! We told him to find something to wipe up the 'water'. He told me he couldn't find any paper so had wiped himself with his handkerchief. He went back and did what he could with the 'water'.
Sometime later, he was forward again and had to go again. So I returned with him and told him to use the can and to be darn sure he took that can with him and dispose of it at Anchorage. Again he came forward (it was cold in the cabin) and told me he was not good, that he had wiped himself with a love letter to his girl friend. We all cracked up over that!
After we landed, I can still see this poor fellow getting out of the aircraft, headed for a hanger with the hydraulic can in hand.
Bill Rhodes, Major USAF (ret)
1954 — Guam
In 1954 our entire Air Wing was scheduled for a rotational TDY (Temporary Duty) from Roswell, New Mexico, to Anderson Air Base, Guam. The entire wing (509th) of B-50 four engine bombers and KC-97 tankers would be involved. I was in maintenance section and would fly in a C-97 passenger type aircraft. On take-off from Walker Air Force Base, and engine failed and we had to return to base. As this aircraft was equipped with the 28 cylinder Pratt & Whitney engine also common to the B-50s and KC-97s, the engine change was completed quickly, and we took off a day late. Landings at Travis AFB, California, and Hickam AFB, Hawaii, then Wake Island and finally Guam were routine.
The B-50s took off at intervals and had air crews and huge storage bins in front and rear bomb bays. The bins contained spare parts and anything needed for service of the aircraft. A bin could be replaced with a platform on which things could be lashed down and the platform raised into the bomb bay with the bomb hoists. In several aircraft these platforms contained small motorcycles and scooters. It was neat to have wheels in Guam. One B-50 had refueled at Hickam AFG and took off for Guam, but not far out he also lost an enging and could not maintain altitude with the load of motorcycles, storage bins, and crew - so the aircraft raidoed that they would have to return and dump fuel and the bin or the cycles. A colonel that was a passenger riding the jump seat said to dump the motorcycles, but the aircraft commander said it was his aircraft, and that he would elect to dump the bin, which he did and then he returned to Hickam and landed. The colonel was irate over that decision to dump the bin, for good reason to him because his baggage and his golf clubs were on that bin and they were in the Pacific Ocean! The B-50 had and engine change and some sheet metal work as the engine was torched from a fire. All that had to be repaired plus the colonel had to have some new clothes and essentials.
I had a Royal Enfield 125 on one of those aircraft, and it arrived safely. I enjoyed riding it on Guam and sold it to a permanent party fellow before I rotated back to Walker AFB. Most of the other cycles were sold there, too, for the enjoyment of military people stationed on Guam.
1945 — Sedalia, Missouri
My story begins in Sedalia, Missouri, at Sedalia Air Field, now home of Whiteman Air Force Base, home of the B-2 Batwing bombers.
In 1945, Sedalia was home for a glider detachment, plus C-46 and C-47 cargo aircraft used for glider towing. One day I was selected to fly in a C-47 with pickup gear which included a large reel in the cargo compartment with a steel cable to play out on the pickup of a glider. A WACO CG4A -15 place glider - had become detached from a tow plane and was in a farmer's field. To pick up the glider, two 20 foot poles were stuck in the ground and nylon rope strung across the 25 foot glider. Hung beneath the tow plane was a rail to hold the cable with a hook on it similar to a landing hook to arrest aircraft on an aircraft carrier. The trick was to come in over the glider at VERY low altitude, hook the rope between the poles, go to full power and climb out.
We were given the clear signal that all was ready and to come in. We got the nylon with the hook perfectly on the first try. We hit at about 135 mph. The next thing was to reel in the extra cable that was pulled out and the airman stationed at the reel did that and we gained our altitude and flew to the base, the glider dropped off on the downwind leg, we swung over to the rope drop area and landed. Flight ended - or was it?
I was about ready to leave operations when a runner caught up with me and gave a message to report to the Colonel and he said the other pilot had to go, too! We got together and reported to the Colonel with a salute. He asked if we were the ones who picked up the glider and he got a "Yes, Sir"! "And did you have a good flight?" and another "Yes, Sir". "No, you didn't," he said. "After you picked up the glider, you flew low over a turkey farm, the turkeys panicked, flew into each other and 16 were killed!". We looked at each other, stunned. Then the Colonel kind of smiled and said, "The government will pay for the turkeys." What to do with 16 turkeys? We never heard if they got in the mess hall or not.
Bill Rhodes, Major USAF (ret)
1949 — Sacramento, California
In 1949 I was transferred to McClellan AFB near Sacramento, California, from George AFB near Victorville, California. We could not get quarters on McClellan and rent was $80 a month in a nice apartment on $200 a month military pay (Tech Sgt), so we house hunted and bought a small place for $4500. It was comfortable enough for us and 3 children. After a short 7 months there I was transfered to Hickam AFB, Honolulu, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, so had the Sacramento place rented so that took care of payments.
All went well for maybe a year until 2nd daughter Mary was born. Shortly afterward, we got a letter from the realtor handling the rental and payments. In this letter was the contract and a line across the face and the word "cancelled" written in black pen. I couldn't understand this so went to the legal office at Hickam and a fellow looked at the contract and said "You don't have much with this 'cancelled' on it. You need immediate help and I'll get you on an airplane to the States ASAP." Fast was the word 'cause by evening, I was on a C-54, 4 engine transport, staff type plush airplane. I never saw so many officers! I was sitting next to a Colonel and he asked me why I was headed stateside and I told him and showed him the contract. He said this is typical action of some people taking advantage of military people away from their property. He said, "Do you know who the Major General is sitting in the front row?" I said I did not. He said "He is the Judge Advocate General from the Pentagon. You should talk to him." I was blushed, but the Colonel eventually went up and chatted with the General. The Colonel came back and he said the General was at my problem. He said, "Keep your eyes on the General."
Five minutes or so later, I see him turn around and give me a hand sign to come forward. I got nervous! A T/Sgt being treated this way. So went up and he said, "Don't let these people get away with this! You contact the legals at McClellan AFB when you get there."
I got a but from Travis AFB to McClellan, 90 miles away, and called the legals. The fellow who answered the phone said, "Are you the fellow from Hickam with a house problem?" and I said I was. He said, "We got a call from JAG in Washington, DC, and we're to give our assistance in tackling your problem. Where you go, we will pick you up." Up comes a staff car and we go to the legal office, went over the problem, and left for the real estate office. We chatted with this woman and she asked the fellow who he was and he said he was representing the Judge Advocate General from the Pentagon and he said to get this straightened out! She started to get nervous and I could see her hands shaking. He told her to get another contract made up, "Now!", and let him see it, get it signed, recorded and get this man back to his unit in Hawaii. In 30 minutes or so it was done, the legal approved, and he took me to the bus depot. He said he had to call the General and tell him how it went. I caught the next plane out that evening from Travis AFB, a Boeing C-97 freighter and 10 hours later, on next day, I was home. Mission accomplished.
A further note - we sold the property too soon. A couple of years later it was condemned and a freeway interchange covers the property - so who bought it made a bundle.
Bill Rhodes, Major, USAF (Ret)