Tag Archives: California Air National Guard

21 May 1955, 05:59:45–17:26:18 PST

1st Lieutenant John M. Conroy, 115th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, California Air National Guard, checks the time after arriving back at the point of departure, 21 May 1955. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
1st Lieutenant John M. Conroy, 115th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, California Air National Guard, checks the time after arriving back at the point of departure, 21 May 1955. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

21 May 1955: At 05:59:45 Pacific Standard Time (13:59:45 UTC) 1st Lieutenant John M. (“Jack”) Conroy, U.S. Air Force, a World War II B-17 pilot and former Prisoner of War, took off from the California Air National Guard Base at the San Fernando Valley Airport (re-named Van Nuys Airport in 1957). His airplane was a specially-prepared North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre, USAF serial number 49-1046. His Destination? Van Nuys, California—by way of Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. His plan was to return to the ANG base in “The Valley” before sunset.

North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, "California Boomerang." (California State Military Museum)
North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, “California Boomerang.” (California State Military Museum)

Several weeks of planning and preparation were involved in “Operation Boomerang”. Five refueling stops would be required and Air National Guard personnel across the United States would handle that. A deviation from peacetime standards would allow the Sabre to be refueled with the engine running to minimize time spent on the ground. (The F-86 was not capable of inflight refueling.) The six-year-old F-86A was polished to ensure that all rivet heads were smooth, seams in the fuselage and wing skin panels were adjusted for precise fit, then were sealed. The gun ports for the six .50-caliber Browning machine guns in the fighter’s nose were filled then covered with doped fabric and painted. This was to reduce aerodynamic drag as much as possible. The General Electric J47-GE-13 turbojet was overhauled, then tested and adjusted for maximum efficiency.

Arrangements for official timing of the West to East and Back Again speed run were paid for by North American Aviation, Inc., whose personnel also provided technical support to the Air National Guard.

Jack Conroy’s F-86A was nicknamed California Boomerang, and had a map of the United States and a boomerang painted on the fuselage. The Sabre remained in its overall natural aluminum finish but had green stripes on the fuselage, vertical fin and wings.

North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, California Boomerang, being readied for its record flight at Van Nuys, California. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, California Boomerang, being readied for its return flight at Mitchel Air Force Base, New York. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

After takeoff, Lieutenant Conroy climbed to approximately 40,000 feet (12,192 meters) and headed to his first refueling stop at Denver, Colorado. He landed at 7:48 a.m. PST and the Sabre was refueled and off again in just 6 minutes. From Denver he continued eastward to Springfield, Illinois, arriving at 9:32 a.m. PST. Refueling there took 5 minutes. The next stop was Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. He touched down at 11:19 a.m., PST and remained on the ground for 39 minutes.

Conroy departed Mitchel Field on the westbound leg at 11:58 a.m. PST and arrived at Lockburne Air Force Base, Ohio at 12:58 p.m., PST. This refueling stop required 7 minutes. Next on the flight plan was Tulsa, Oklahoma. The airplane landed there at 2:26 p.m. PST, and was refueled and airborne again in 6 minutes. The last refueling took place at Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lieutenant Conroy landed at 3:58 p.m., PST. After another 7 minute stopover, California Boomerang took off on the final leg of the round-trip journey, finally landing back at Van Nuys, California at 5:26:18 p.m., PST.

John Conroy’s Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast “dawn to dusk” flight covered 5,058 miles (8,140.1 kilometers). The total elapsed time was 11 hours, 26 minutes, 33 seconds. His average speed was 445 miles per hour (716.2 kilometers per hour). Weather across the country caused some delays as Jack Conroy had to make instrument approaches to three of the airports.

California Boomerang, 1st Lieutenant Jack Conroy's California Air National Guard F-86A-5-NA Sabre, 49-1046, being refueled at an intermediate stop, 21 May 1951. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)
California Boomerang, 1st Lieutenant Jack Conroy’s California Air National Guard F-86A-5-NA Sabre, 49-1046, being “hot” refueled at an intermediate stop, 21 May 1951. At least six fueling hoses are simultaneously filling the fighter’s fuselage, wing and drop tanks tanks while the jet engine remains in operation. Note the fire fighting apparatus standing by in the background. (LIFE Magazine via Jet Pilot Overseas)

California Boomerang, North American Aviation F-86A-5-NA Sabre 49-1046, is on display as a “gate guard” at the entrance to the Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, adjacent to Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, California.

North American Aviation F-86A Sabre 49-1046 at the entrance to the Channel Islands National Guard Station, Point Mugu, California. (Goleta Air and Space Museum_
North American Aviation F-86A Sabre 49-1046 at the entrance to the Channel Islands National Guard Station, Point Mugu, California. (Brian Lockett, Goleta Air and Space Museum)

© 2016 Bryan R. Swopes

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21 March 1987

Captain Dean Paul Martin, United States Air Force. “Just look up in the sky and I will be there protecting you.” (Deana Martin Collection)

The men and women who volunteer to protect our country put their lives at risk every day—even during peacetime and when close to home.

On 21 March 1987, Captain Dean Paul Martin, Jr., United States Air Force, a fighter pilot assigned to the 196th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 163rd Tactical Fighter Group, California Air National Guard, paid the ultimate price when his McDonnell F-4C-25-MC Phantom II, serial number 64-0923, slammed into 11,501.6-foot (3,505.7 meter) San Gorgonio Mountain. The airplane hit at the 5,500-foot level (1,676 meters), inverted, at 560 miles per hour (901 kilometers per hour). Also killed was Captain Ramon Ortiz, U.S.Air Force, the Weapons System Officer.

McDonnell F-4C-25-MC Phantom II, 64-0923, 196th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 163d Tactical Fighter Group, California Air National Guard. (Photograph courtesy of Ernest Pellen via Phantom Phanatics)

Captain Martin was piloting the #2 aircraft, Grizzly 72, in a flight of three. They took off from March Air Force Base in Riverside County, California, in trail, and made a maximum performance climb through multiple layers of cloud and falling snow. Much of the time it was not possible to maintain visual contact, and formation was maintained with radar.

The flight leader, Grizzly 71, requested to climb to a higher altitude to get clear of the clouds but Air Traffic Control was not able to authorize that because of a large volume of civilian traffic above them. Martin was unable to maintain formation, and knowing that mountains were near, requested a left turn. The controller authorized the turn, but had to repeat himself several times due to frequency congestion.

The pilot of the #3 aircraft, Grizzly 73, briefly caught sight of Martin’s Phantom through a break in the clouds. He saw Grizzly 72 begin a sharp left roll and its afterburners ignite before it disappeared into the clouds again.

It is probable that Captain Martin lost spatial orientation because of the steep climb under acceleration while passing in and out of cloud layers.

McDonnell F-4C-25-MC Phantom II 64-0923, 196th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 163rd Tactical Fighter Group, California Air National Guard, in an earlier “wrap around” camouflage pattern. (Photograph courtesy of Ernest Pellen via Phantom Phanatics)

There may have been another factor, though: Martin was divorced from his second wife, Olympic Gold Medalist Dorothy Hamill, but had hopes of a reconciliation. While obtaining a briefing in the weather office just prior to this flight, a worker there asked Martin what he thought about Hamill’s re-marriage two weeks earlier. Martin had been unaware of this and was visibly shaken by the news. This may have been an additional distraction at just the wrong time.

At any rate, Dean Paul Martin joined the Air Force to make something of himself and to make a meaningful contribution. He wanted to be more than “Dean Martin’s son” or an entertainer. The crash on San Gorgonio Mountain is a sad end to a noble venture.

Martin had told his sister, Deana,

“I will always be with you. Just look up in the sky and I will be there protecting you.”

Peace is Our Profession. But it is always a perilous occupation. Rest in Peace, Gentlemen.

San Gorgonio Mountain in the San Bernardino Mountains, at 11,501.6 feet (3,505.7 meters), is the highest peak in Southern California. (skmnational.org)

Dean Paul Martin, Jr., was born 17 November 1951 in Santa Monica, California. He was the first of three children of entertainer Dean Martin and Dorothy Jean Biegger Martin. He was educated at the Urban Military Academy in Brentwood, California, and was a pre-med student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). While there, he played football and tennis. Martin later completed his degree at the University of Southern California (USC).

“Dino, Desi and Billy,” circa 1965. Left to right: Dean Paul Martin, Jr.; Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV; and William Hinsche. (Reprise Records)

During the mid-1960s, Martin, then known as “Dino,” was a member of the singing group, “Dino, Desi and Billy,” with Desi Arnaz, Jr., and William Hinsche. Their most successful songs were “I’m a Fool” and “Not the Lovin’ Kind.”

“Dino” Martin earned a private pilot license at the age of 16 years.

He was a professional tennis player, and, later, was a wide receiver for the World Football League Las Vegas Casinos, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Mr. and Mrs. Dean Paul Martin, Jr., (née Olivia Osuna Hussey), 17 April 1971.

On 17 April 1971, Martin married Miss Olivia Hussey in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Miss Hussey is best known for her portrayal of Juliet Capulet in Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet,” 1968). They had a son, Alexander. The couple were divorced 24 January 1979 in Los Angeles, California.

Also in 1979, Martin starred with actress Ali McGraw in Paramount Pictures’ “The Players.” Martin’s character was a professional tennis player.

Ali McGraw and Dean Paul Martin on the set of “The Players, “1979. (Paramount Pictures)

Dean Paul Martin, Jr., joined the United States Air Force 5 November 1980, and underwent pilot training in the Cessna T-37 Tweet and Northrop T-38A Talon at Columbus Air Force Base, near Columbus, Mississippi. He trained as fighter pilot in the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II at Luke Air Force Base, west of Phoenix, Arizona, completing the course in November 1981. He was assigned to the 193d Tactical Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard, based at March Air Force Base, Riverside County, California. He initially served as a Weapons System Officer in the McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, before upgrading to aircraft commander.

A spokesman for the California Air National Guard, Major Steve Mensik, said, “Captain Martin was one of the better pilots, an exceptional athlete who handled himself well in the cockpit.”

Lieutenant and Mrs. Dean Paul Martin, Jr., (née Dorothy Stuart Hamill), 8 January 1982.

Martin married Olympic Gold Medalist Miss Dorothy Stuart Hamill, 8 January 1982, in Beverly Hills, California. They divorced in 1984.

Captain Ramon Ortiz, U.S.A.F.

Captain Martin’s remains were buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery.

Ramon Ortiz was born 31 August 1947, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, an island in the Caribbean Sea and an unincorporated territory of the United States.

Ortiz joined the United States Air Force 22 December 1973 and served on active duty until 13 November 1980.

Captain Ortiz’ remains were buried at Palm Memorial Park, Las Vegas, Nevada.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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