US Air Force Lt. Col. (ret.) Alan H. Allison passed away last month at the age of 91.
He filled many roles during his life: oldest child, big brother, golf caddie, underage bartender, high school basketball starting player, first in his family to go to college, first in his family to enter the military (enrolling in US Air Force advanced ROTC to avoid being drafted and sent to Korea, this after earlier turning down a "sure thing" nomination to the US Naval Academy), husband, father, second in his flight school class, C-119 aircraft commander as a second lieutenant, Century Series aircraft fighter pilot, MBA student, bank Vice President, father-in-law, stepfather, retiree, golfer (always a golfer), fly fisherman, downhill skier, Disabled American Vets shuttle van driver, Aerospace Museum of California docent, grandpa.
During his 20 year career in the Air Force he flew the J-3 Cub, T-6 Texan, T-28A Trojan, C-47 Skytrain, C-45 Expeditor, C-119 Flying Boxcar, F-89D Scorpion, F-101B Voodoo, T-33 Shooting Star, F-105D Thunderchief (aka: The Thud), T-39A Saberliner, and the O-2A Skymaster. He accumulated more than enough hours during his 20 years as an active pilot to earn Air Force Command Pilot wings.
As an F-105 "Thud" driver, he flew combat missions over North Viet Nam, at a time when F-105 losses were considered high, and the Air Force was short of pilots experienced enough to fly them. On one particular mission "up North" a "SAM break" was called, telling all the flight to scatter to avoid the incoming anti-aircraft missile Returning from the mission he and the crew chief found shrapnel marks on the belly of his airplane. Evidence of how close the exploding SAM got to his aircraft. Of the 833 F-105s produced, 382 were lost in Viet Nam (320 in combat). Another serious threat was the Migs. He told me once "If you saw a Mig-21, you could out run them, but not out turn them. Ya got one pass, and hauled ***."
Up until about age 9, I grew up thinking everybody's Dad was a pilot. And some of them, the select few, were fighter pilots. Ever since I can remember, from being a little kid, up until he retired from the Air Force, I got to hang around with fighter pilots. Loud, gregarious, confident men (they were all men back then) who had one of the most dangerous jobs one could have. But they also got the chance to become skilled in flying some of the most sophisticated aircraft of their day, and to see parts of the world their high school peers and parents could only imagine. I so wanted to become one of those guys.
He had always planned on putting in 20 years and retiring from service. Eventually that came to pass, and the Air Force and Dad parted ways. It was kind of traumatic for all of us at first, him especially. He started a second career in banking, and would eventually be there far longer than the Air Force gig. During that time he got checked out in some aero club Cessnas (first the C-172, later a C-210). He stayed actively flying long enough to give my brother and I some initial "flight lessons". Although a military instructor pilot, he did not have the FAA paperwork to do that in the civilian world. But, the two of us got enough experience we both knew we had to fly sometime later in life. But then, I think we always knew that.
When I finally finished and flew my RV-6A (notice my signature tag line), my brother took Dad in his Piper Arrow, and I took my wife in my RV to Oshkosh 2014. Hobbled a bit by a walking boot (after surgery) and staying in the University of Wisconsin dorms across town (he didn't do camping by then...too many Air Force "survival school" sessions), he stuck it out for the week. He wore his "Thud Driver" hat, and was stopped and asked about it enough times I lost count. Some who stopped him were pilots, but not all. Some were aircraft maintenance techs in Viet Nam, others Viet Nam service vets there at different times and places than he was, and some were just airplane enthusiasts interested in the fact he was a Thud Driver, a survivor, someone who had been there at a time when being there was not a safe or popular thing to do.
I am thankful in so many ways to have been his son.
- for sharing with me your love of flying.
- for having a collection of hand tools, giving me just enough instruction to not be too "dangerous", and allowing me to learn to use them on EVERYTHING, even if I kind of abused them at times, or messed up the job.
- for indulging me through all the plastic, balsa wood and tissue paper, control line, and radio controlled model airplanes I HAD to build.
- for encouraging me through my struggles with math, even though you kind of struggled with it too.
- for supporting me when the Air Force told me I would not be "pilot qualified", and my life plan was altered. "You don't want to ride in the back seat. There are other ways to fly."
- for allowing me to go to the one college you had earlier said was "the one place you can NOT go to college."
- for giving me the life skills necessary to make it through engineering school, flight lessons, and to build my own airplane.
- for living long enough to see me complete that airplane and give you the chance to be my second passenger. "It feels like a fighter" was probably the best comment I ever received about it.
Blue Skys Dad.
Nickel on the Grass