Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Mid-Air Crash Over Midland, 1956

                On October 24, 1956, a Lockheed T-33 “Shooting Star” collided with a Cessna 170 over the Permian Estates development of Midland, Texas.  The crash killed all persons on board both airplanes.  Miraculously, no one on the ground was injured despite all of the wreckage falling on a residential area.  This would be Midland’s worst aircraft crash, in terms of lives lost, until 1983.  It remains Midland’s deadliest military aircraft incident.

Cessna 170
                There was little detail published on the crash because Cold War secrecy restricted public information on military aviation incidents in the early 1950’s.  Unlike the many reports I've obtained for World War II era and civilian crashes, I had to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the Air Force for the report.   The Air Force redacted some personal information on military personnel, all names and information on civilians, and much of the investigation details.  Fortunately, the findings remained. 

                There were photographs of wreckage and model mock-ups, but there were no photographs of the victims released, which I found to be respectful.

Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star
                A Lockheed T-33 “Shooting Star” jet departed Webb Air Force Base in Big Spring, Texas at 13:51 that day.  The T-33 is the training variant of the P-80 jet fighter, and was a frequent sight over the skies of west Texas in those days.  Captain Roy Roberts, an instructor pilot, was in the forward seat.  The student pilot, First Lieutenant Lowell Hale, was in the aft seat.

                Their mission was to perform ILS (Instrument Landing System) approaches at Midland’s airport, known today as Midland International Air and Space Port.  ILS allows pilots to land in conditions that restrict visibility, such as darkness or fog.  To effectively train for ILS, the student pilot wears a hood or helmet attachment that prevents them from seeing anything but their cockpit instruments in order to simulate a real-world experience.  This requires a second pilot to keep watch for other aircraft or hazards.  For this flight, the student flew under the hood in the rear seat, with the instructor pilot in the forward seat. 

                The T-33 was in radio contact with the Midland tower throughout their flight, and successfully performed a touch-and-go on Runway 043 around 14:50pm.  As they departed, they were granted permission for a second approach.  Runway 043 runs east and west, alongside Business Loop 20 (Old Highway 80).

Firefighters at T-33 Wreckage, USAF Report Photo
                Minutes earlier, a Cessna 170A left Ector County Airport bound for Bowie, Texas.  The single-engine prop plane had five souls on board.  The passengers included the pilot, his wife, infant daughter, and his wife’s parents.  The Cessna is believed to have flown north of Midland’s airport, then southeast to the crash site.

                A transcript of the control tower conversations shows that the tower lost contact with the T-33 shortly after their touch-and-go, then smoke was seen rising over Permian Estates.  The airplanes had collided 6.25 nautical miles from the runway at 1000-1200 feet above the ground. 

Cessna Wreckage, USAF Report Photo
                The report shows the T-33 striking the Cessna from behind at a downward angle, slightly to the left side of the Cessna.  The rudder of the T-33 ripped through the thin aluminum structure of the Cessna, which “broke into pieces, throwing the people aboard out of the aircraft.”  The instructor pilot ejected from the aircraft, but did not have sufficient altitude for the ejection seat system to operate.  The report further explains that he didn’t separate from the seat sooner due to a failure of an “oxygen hose quick-disconnect.”  The instructor’s body came to rest near the main wreckage of the T-33.  The student pilot remained  with the wreckage.  The civilian passengers fell over an area covering about seven houses.  Several news and social media reports indicate that a female passenger fell through a roof into a bathtub.  The location of the infant varies, some saying the child was found in shrubs and others claim the child fell into a home.  

                The T-33’s tail separated and fell into a back yard, and the Cessna fell in at least five major pieces.  The engine of the Cessna fell through the roof of a home that was unoccupied at the time.  Parts fell on homes, in yards, and vacant lots.  The main wreckage of the T-33 struck the driveway and a garage of a home and burned.  It was the only fire reported throughout the incident.

The Air Force lists several factors that caused the crash:

1.       “The primary cause of this accident is supervisory error on the part of the Instructor Pilot in that he did not see the other aircraft in time to avoid the collision.”  Since the student was wearing a hood to restrict his vision, the instructor pilot in the front seat was responsible for keeping watch for traffic.  The downward angle of the jet’s impact could indicate the possibility of a last-second attempt to miss the Cessna.

2.       “A contributing cause factor is that current CAA regulations do not require light aircraft to be controlled under VFR conditions in control zones; Midland Tower was not aware of the Cessna’s presence.”  Control zones were much smaller in 1956 than today, and the Cessna stayed out of Midland’s zone throughout the entire flight and probably wasn’t monitoring Midland’s radio traffic.  The Cessna pilot was operating his aircraft in accordance with regulations and practices of the time, and was probably over Midland in order to follow Interstate 20 for part of his flight.  Control zones and traffic procedures have changed drastically, and this sort of incident would be impossible today if procedures are followed.  The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) became the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1958.

3.       “Installation of the stand-by compass… precludes unobstructed vision forward.”  A significant piece of the T-33 forward pilot’s view was obstructed by instrumentation.

Although the report had the names of the civilian victims redacted, newspaper sources listed them as Winfred Clement (27 years of age at the time of the accident), his wife Elizabeth (25), and their infant daughter, Cathy.  Elizabeth’s parents were also on board, Roy E. Howard (63) and Ethel Howard (57).  The aircraft was registered to Winfred Clement.  The family was buried in Bowie, TX.

Lt. Lowell was buried in Decatur, Illinois.  Capt. Roberts was buried in Trinity Memorial Park, Big Spring, TX.

Ector County Airport became Schlemeyer Field sometime in the 1970’s, and features a T-33 on static display. 

The Air Force report included a map that plots 13 locations of wreckage.  In respect of the crash victims and current property owners, I will only show a modern map of the wreckage area and will not release the specific points. The crash area was published as "the 3500 block of Apache Drive."  

I teamed up with local videographers Tim Kreitz and Michael Montalvo with the intention of filming a documentary about the crash, but we were not able to locate witnesses willing to be interviewed.  There just wasn’t enough material for  a video production without them, and we completely understood their reluctance.  Many thanks to Tim and Mike for helping me assemble all the data on this crash.

This incident is an important piece of Midland's history of military aviation.  As far back as World War II, Midland has served an important role in our nation's air power preparedness, and many lives have been lost.  This is the only local military aircraft incident I've found with civilian casualties. 

Should anyone have photos or witness accounts they wish to share, please contact me at mattvann@suddenlink.net.   I won't publish anything without the contributor's permission.

Cessna 170 Tail, USAF Report Photo

Ejection Seat, USAF Report Photo
T-33 Tail, USAF Report Photo

Models Showing Impact Angle, USAF File Photo
Wreckage Area, Present Day

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Lockheed P-38 Lightning Crash in 1945 - Midland, TX

Report Photo
Report Photo
               Midland, Texas and the surrounding area has deep history in World War II military aviation, most of which involves bomber training.  While researching another project, I found a report on a 1945 fatal crash of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning in Midland.  Most accident reports in the area are bomber trainers, so the P-38 was unique.  This particular aircraft crashed shortly after taking off from Midland Municipal Airport, now called Midland Airpark (KMDD),  just a couple of miles from my home.

                On July 31, 1945, 25 year old First Lieutenant  Thomas R. Frederick unsuccessfully attempted to start the engines on a Lockheed P-38L Lightning aircraft on the ramp of Midland Municipal Airport.  Assigned to the 6th Ferrying Division, he had logged over 500 hours of flight time, with about four hours in the P-38.  A mechanic took his place in the cockpit and found the engines flooded.  Once started, the mechanic performed a run-up and Lt. Frederick got back in the cockpit.  He departed on runway 16 (southbound) for a ferrying mission to Love Field in Dallas.  About two minutes into the flight, Lt. Frederick reported trouble with his right engine which was trailing smoke.

                Several people on the ground, including mechanics, could hear the struggling engine and see the smoke trail.  One mechanic had just left his home for a trip to Pyote.   While at the intersection of “C” and Texas streets, he was directly in line with the runway and saw the distressed aircraft turn back for the field.  As the aircraft entered a downwind leg for a left pattern on the same runway, several witnesses saw that the right engine was completely stopped with the propeller feathered as he flew over the field. About two miles north of the field, Lt. Frederick turned west onto his base leg.   During the turn, the aircraft stalled, dropping the right wing.  Unable to recover from the stall, the aircraft crashed in a pasture about two miles north of the airfield.

Report Photo
Report Photo
                Firefighters and crewmen from the airfield responded immediately and found the aircraft on fire.  Lt. Frederick was unresponsive in the cockpit and rescuers struggled to free him from the twisted wreckage.  Before the crew could unfasten the seat harness, both fire trucks at the scene ran out of water.  The aircraft quickly became engulfed in flames and rescuers had to back away, leaving the pilot inside.  The emotional toll of the loss was evident in their written reports.

                The cause of the engine failure was never determined.  The stall was blamed on an improper single-engine landing procedure.  The pilot had lowered the undercarriage and flaps for a normal landing, which is not procedure for the P-38 on one engine.  The correct procedure was to land with flaps fully retracted and lower the gear as late as possible on final approach.

Lockheed P-38L
Lockheed P-38L
                Much of the report is dedicated to the lack of proper firefighting equipment at the airfield, detailing the need more water capacity and asbestos suits.  One officer reported that he believed the pilot would have survived the accident had they been able to fight the fire longer.  A pathology report, however, indicated that Lt. Frederick was most likely killed on impact.

                Photos and reports didn’t pinpoint the exact location of the wreckage, but crash site was on or near the present location of Midland Country Club.  While some wreckage was certainly left behind, the entire area has been developed or plowed and any sign of the aircraft is almost certainly gone.

                While it’s disappointing that I couldn’t call this one a definitive “find,” it was exciting to find a piece of local history that memorialized a lost military aviator. 

Click on the YouTube link for video of the crash site:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Ghosts in the Guads

     There’s plenty of history to be found in the Guadalupe Mountains, from ancient coral reefs to the Butterfield Stage Trail and Native American heritage.  This Texas/New Mexico mountain chain is also a memorial to many aviators, military and civilian, who lost their lives in these rugged heights.  The altitude, location, and weather of these mountains have snagged many an airplane from the sky.  There are over a dozen known crash sites within the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and more in the surrounding mountains.  Because most of these accidents were the result of aircraft striking the ground at cruising speeds in low visibility, very few of these tragedies left survivors.

     Even though the incidents were investigated by civilian or military authorities, the exact location of the crash isn’t always well documented.  The Air Force and other entities maintained maps and databases of crash sites, but much the information has become inaccurate over time.  It’s led to confusion during wildfires and rescue missions because the aluminum remains of an aircraft can look like a fresh crash for decades.  A few people set out to locate these sites and match them to published data.  We’re sometimes called “wreck chasers” or “aviation archaeologists.”

     A couple of friends I met in the Civil Air Patrol in the 1980’s led me into the wormhole of wreck chasing.  As a search and rescue ground team, we sometimes trained in the Guadalupes and visited old crash sites.  We collected stories of lost aircraft and matched sites to the reports.  Around 2010, I found a curious entry in an Air Force database.  Along with a set of errant coordiantes, it said, “Navy TV-2, acft in gully.”  Records were tough to come by for the era of the TV-2, mostly because of Cold War secrecy, and I could find no records of a lost TV-2 in the Guads.

      In 2016, AviationArchaeology.org led me to the report of a Navy TV-1 that crashed near Salt Flat, Texas on February 25, 1954.  The TV-1 is the Navy version of the P-80 Shooting Star and is similar to the TV-2.  The report, complete with photos, detailed the most unique aircraft incident of the area.

     According to the report, Navy pilot LT Henry J. Zieba took off from California that day on a mission to ferry a TV-1 to Naval Air Station Corpus Christi.  After refueling in El Paso, he climbed to an altitude of 18000 feet near Salt Flat Airfield.  For an unknown reason, the starboard tip tank detached from the aircraft.  The pilot explained the sudden problem:

“I found myself in a most uncomfortable position:  On my back and in a tight but flat spin to  the left.”

     The extreme forces of the spin killed the engine and prevented him from reaching the controls to eject, but these same forces also caused the opposite tank to detach.  This restored balance to the aircraft and allowed him to recover from the spin.  Once he righted the aircraft, he found himself at 800 feet above the ground with a great deal of speed.  He attempted an “air start” of the jet engine without success, and was forced to land.  Fortunately for LT Zieba, he wasn’t in the teeth of the mountains, but over the relatively flat surrounding plains.  After running through his ditching checklist, he made a rough landing that covered about 900 feet of ground.  

1954 Navy Report Photo
     He was injured from being slammed around the cockpit during the rough gear-up landing.  He described having pain in his back that was later found to be a severe spine injury.  Despite this, he gathered his gear and walked to a nearby windmill.  He built a signal fire and climbed the windmill to sight the beacon of Salt Flat Airfield at dusk.  He managed to hike 13 miles to the airfield in the dark and was taken to an El Paso hospital.  Henry J. Zieba retired from the Navy in 1969 as Lieutenant Commander, having served in WWII, Korean and Vietnam wars.  He passed away at age 83 in 2006.

LT Henry J. Zieba, courtesy
of Susan Blanchard and Justin Zieba
     The fun part of wreck chasing is hiking, but the real work is in reading reports, gathering data, and spending hours searching aerial photos and satellite images.  Working with permission from park authorities, we made a few hikes to narrow down the search area, but the break came from Dr. Mike Medrano, the Chief of Resource Management for Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  He located a USGS aerial photograph that he suspected was taken in search of the aircraft just three days after the crash.  USGS had photographed the area a few months before the crash, but it's likely a mission was re-tasked to locate it.  Reviewing the photo, I found a scrape on the ground that matched the orientation, dimensions, and location of the crash.  It even looked like an airplane was perched on it.

     We set out to the spot on January 14, 2017 and found what remained of LT Zieba's aircraft.  The bulk of the ship had been removed by a Navy salvage crew. The largest piece was an armor plate that sits forward of the pilot.  Bits of aluminum and steel were scattered about, and much of it was melted.  Although there was no fire when the aircraft landed, it did appear that the wreckage had been piled up and burned.  We found bottle glass and similar material that was foreign to the crash, so it may have become a trash pile when the area was a cattle ranch.  Locals told us that the area was a target range during WWII, so aircraft junk wasn’t anything special in the area at the time.  We took GPS fixes and snapped photos before we sat down to lunch at the site and toasted our success.

Armor Plate
Aircraft Skin
     All of our information was bundled up and sent to the park service to document the site as a historical resource.  The NPS wasn't aware of the crash since it occurred long before the area became a national park.  I made contact with the pilot’s family and sent them the info, and they graciously supplied me with the above photo.  This certainly won’t be our last chase, but I don’t believe we’ll ever experience another one like it.  It was an honor to walk in LCDR Zieba’s steps and bring this story to light.  For all the death faced by fliers in these mountains, a happy ending is always welcome.

PLEASE NOTE:  Aircraft crashes are historical sites.  Not only are many of them honored like a grave site, sites in national parks are federally protected.  It is illegal to remove any artifact from a park.  Should you visit a crash site,  please do so with dignity and respect.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Matt's MOvember Message: The Cancer Conspiracy

Just 40 years ago, science fiction writers prophesized a world where computers are an integral part of an advanced, intelligent society.  By the 1990's, urban legends filled our AOL in-boxes and the information super highway has since delivered us more nonsense than we could imagine.  Conspiracy theories are now so rampant that “Flat-Earthers” again walk among us.

                I’m quite in the middle of it.  As a career cop (civilian and military), Freemason, amateur astronomer, and pilot, I have quite a view of the conspiracy freak show.  I’m so in-the-know that I’ve even been attacked by Alex Jones.  My role as a cancer survivor has opened channels to another legion of foil-hatted keyboard warriors, but these people can actually be dangerous.

                At best, the pipeline of useless information is disheartening or depressing for patients.  Cancer patients are often the target of sheeple-wakers in their circle of family or friends.  The conspiracy theorist has no empathy for the stress and treatment-ravaged mind and selfishly adds a few more bricks of unnecessary load to an already-full wheelbarrow.  I’ve seen weakened people drained of hope because they were convinced, in their vulnerable state, that they’re victims of an evil underground.  At worst, people have made decisions about their treatment that causes harm or dramatically shortens their life.

                The root of all conspiracy theories is emotion.  A cancer diagnosis brings extreme limits of fear, depression, and anger.  Chemotherapy and other drugs intensify the effects. When we’re in emotional or physical pain, we tend to blame others.  Somehow our problems are made a little easier when we see ourselves as a powerless victim. 

                I’m a tough sell on pseudoscience and conspiracy.  Show me motives, connections, and patterns.  I want to see a story so tight that I will trust the life of a loved one or myself to it.  So far, I remain unsold on departures from conventional cancer treatment.  I personally know several people cured of cancer by accepted treatment, and zero who have survived by other means.  Let’s take a look at some of the more popular internet cancer chatter and put it to test.

                I’m going to generalize several of the reigning champions of cancer conspiracy theories into one statement:  There is a cheap, naturopathic cure for cancer, but THEY are suppressing it because it’s making them rich.

                I’ve never had a conspiracy theorist clearly explain who “they” are.  In this one, they often claim the medical community in general, but the pharmaceutical industry is always on the suspect list.  First, the medical community is simply too large to support a widespread fraud against a large body of people.  Our system is certainly broken in places, but there is no possibility that millions of researchers, physicians and their support system are suppressing a South American fruit that cures cancer.

                We’re famous for expensive drugs in the United States.  We love the stuff, too.  It’s on TV.  One commercial sells it, and the next helps you sue the manufacturer and your doctor for side effects.  Right here in ‘Murica, you can go to a doctor, be cured of cancer, then sue for millions along with other patients because your hair fell out and didn’t grow back.  Combine this with the high cost of producing, mixing and administering chemotherapy to a relatively small body of patients, many of whom are elderly or diagnosed late-stage and won’t survive to pay the bill.  It’s an expensive market. 

How many social media memes have you seen that claim a natural cure for erectile dysfunction that is being suppressed by evil entities?  None.  We see a lot of snake oil in the ED world, but no one rails against Viagra or Cialis. It's the only treatment that works.

                I have many friends in the medical field.  These people are angels who dedicated their professional lives to healing.  They deserve to be paid well because they carry a heavy burden in their hands and hearts.  Cancer patients with financial means choose their treatment based on success.  We will seek the best proven treatment at any cost.

Cannabis.  There is no way to get through this post without talking about weed, so let’s get this over with.  It’s time to shut the **** up about weed.  Cannabis has been a part of medicine for a long time.  It’s been used to treat side effects of conventional cancer therapy, and some recent discoveries in treatment of neurological disorders have turned many heads, including the medical community and lawmakers. It wasn’t a treatment option for me, but I connected with a number of patients who relied on cannabis to curb side effects, including pain, nausea, and loss of appetite.  I resorted to conventional drugs for these symptoms, but eventually discontinued them in favor of the original symptoms.

                While there’s been some promising research at times, there’s no proof that cannabis will cure cancer.  The reality of the issue is that people enjoy using it, while another group of people think it’s heroin.  Somewhere in the battle the green stuff has been raised to medical miracle in order to chastise detractors.  

                Please, before the angry replies come in, read on to see what we’re looking for in terms of proof of a cure. 

                Have you heard of that one guy in Greece who was curing cancer?  THEY assassinated him for it because the evil medical empire couldn’t be outdone.  I heard this story about six times during my treatment.  About half the time the person says they personally knew the patient, but no specifics about their disease.  The locale varies from Greece to South America and other places.  A bit of Google-Fu will turn up some serious quackery.  Revenge for being defrauded seems more of a likely motive for murder than a government soft-target job.

                The baking soda cure was the most surprising to me.  The gist of this cure is that cancer survives in an acidic environment.  Whatever you’re doing as a sheeple (diet, conventional medicine, etc.) is making your body acidic and cancer is thriving.  By choking down baking soda or some specific diet, you’re creating a pH balance where cancer can’t survive.  This ignores the fact that everything leaves the stomach in an acidic state, and enough pH shift to kill cancer would kill you.  Again, before the nasty reply, please read on.

                Cancer feeds on sugar, so go low-carb and starve it out.  I had my doubts about this one since I was a low-carb guy for a couple of years before diagnosis.  I think the PET-CT test is the origin for this one.  The PET scan involves starving the patient for a bit, then injecting them with a carbohydrate infused contrast.  Cancer does, in fact, primarily uptake carbohydrates.  When this happens, the contrast is retained in the cancer cells and they “light up” on the scan.  The problem is that everything else in your body consumes carbohydrates, and it’s impossible to starve the cancer without starving your body.  Imagine trying to rid your house of mice by not feeding your family.  This thinking does have some truth, however.  Being smart about carbohydrate intake and avoiding sugar and excess white starches will lead to better general health, which reduces the risk of many cancers.  Should you get cancer anyway, you’ll be in better condition to put up a hard fight.

                People love to say, “THEY just cut, poison, or burn it out” as a means of implying there’s never been an attempt to treat any other way.  Next time that argument pops up, drop proton therapy or immunotherapy on them and ask what they know about it.  This is a clear indicator that the speaker doesn't understand the advance of cancer treatment.  A relative had the same cancer as mine over a decade ago, and there was only one treatment option.  Fortunately, it worked and she's still with us.  When I was diagnosed in 2013, there were more options and higher survival rates.  I personally experienced advances made during my treatment.  For all the claims made by the cancer cure counter-culture, they forget a couple of basic facts that render many alternative treatments useless.

                Cancer is not a foreign invader, it is an uncontrolled growth of cells.  While these cells are abnormal in their behavior, they’re not foreign like a virus or bacteria.  Effective treatment usually targets these cells by the mechanism by which these cells reproduce, which is very similar to how other cells in the body reproduce.  Normal cells in the hair follicles, digestive system, and skin reproduce in a similar manner, causing side effects like hair loss and nausea.  If all goes well, the treatment is tougher on the diseased cells than the healthy cells.  Creating a metabolic or chemical condition with alternative method would produce similar side effects if it was actually working.

                There are over 200 forms of cancer.  There is no single treatment effective on all of them.  We should be skeptical of any treatment that claims to cure cancer without specificity.  Some are highly curable, some don’t respond to any treatment. 

                 Demand proof.  I wrote this post because I know someone who chose alternative therapy because they believe what they read on the internet.  A common thread to miraculous alternative is the absence of an accompanying surveillance.  I see blog posts and clickbait articles claiming cures and effective alternative treatment.  In reality, this would be such a breakthrough that someone would be willing to undergo testing and surveillance to share with the rest of the world.  Sadly, there’s nothing like that out there.  In a recent search, the best I could find was a woman holding before-and-after pictures, claiming they’re scans showing how some miracle removed cancer from her body.  Many of the claimed treatments (cannabis, in particular) were evaluated in scholarly medical tests with promising results with some promise, but didn’t make the cut when the efficacy was compared to conventional treatment.  I’m a participant in a medical study, and after dealing with the screening, interviewing, forms, and data involved, I’m certainly more likely to believe a study from M.D. Anderson than a cannabis enthusiast. 

                By no means am I discouraging anyone from using alternative treatment in addition to proven therapies.  Modern medicine readily acknowledges the benefit to many therapies considered to be alternative or holistic, and encourages them to be used along with their accepted, effective treatment.  Some top cancer treatment hospitals have acupuncture clinics and oncological massage.  

                Don’t propagate false information.  If you wouldn’t choose it for yourself or a loved one, don’t broadcast bad data in social media.  If someone is diagnosed with cancer, don’t bombard them with bad information.  They’re not in a state to deal with nonsense.  Support treatment that has been proven effective.

                This is something I wish I never had to research.  I spent many hours grinding through medical journals, testimonials, web sites, and talking to physicians and other patients.  I found no truth to the hype.  I do hope that "one simple trick" is out there that will rid the world of cancer, but it doesn't exist.  Should cancer hit me again, and a holistic treatment cures me, expect a public release of every piece of my medical record and the accompanying study.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Misunderstood MRE

Most conversation about the famous MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) rations leads down a path of nostalgia, recalling one’s favorite meals and what they traded for it.  Some service members were able to enhance the field fare with creativity, bringing us delights like Ranger Pudding.  Many recipes, along with creative uses of MRE packaging, can be found in The Complete Ranger Digest.  At some point, someone usually says that they have a case or two stashed away for emergencies.  There’s some misconception about the MRE and how practical they are for emergencies.
The Famous MRE

                First and foremost, MREs aren’t designed for the long-term storage they’re often subjected to in civilian life.  They do have a long shelf life (up to 8 years or so) with proper storage conditions, but they’re often removed from active stores after 5 years.  Storing them in hot conditions, like an attic or vehicle, can reduce the life to as little as 18 months.  They won’t suddenly spoil or become poisonous, but you won’t be happy about eating it.

                MREs are intended to solve the logistical problem of feeding people in remote areas.  For the military, much of this is related to packaging.  There’s no magic in the food preparation that isn’t used in the civilian market.  An MRE needs to be relatively lightweight, able to survive parachute drops and being crammed into a rucksack.  They produce lighter packaging waste than cans, and a soldier can cram all the empty packaging together and stuff it in his ruck so as not to leave it behind.  

                Government rations aren’t available on the civilian market through any authorized channel.  If you get ahold of them, they’re probably past prime.  It’s likely they’re left over from a disaster relief effort or made it home with a veteran.  There was quite a stir over a flood of Ebay sales of Katrina leftovers.  It’s wise to check the date codes on government rations.  Old pretzels taste like varnish, but 20 year old M&M’s are a delicacy.

                Everyone needs a chow stash at home in the event of emergency.  We’re talking about real emergencies, like weather and power outages, not the varied forms of apocalypse prophesized by the foil-hatters.  It’s wise to be able to feed your household for at least a week or so without utilities, and be able to take your stash should there be an evacuation.  Portable food is handy for road trips, camping, hunting, and other places where we might want for convenience.  You can buy civilian versions of the MRE from government contractors, but beware that sub-standard knock-offs exist.  For the average person, there are more efficient, cheaper, and tastier options at your grocery store.

Chow section of my gear bag.
                Over the last few years of hunting, hiking, and motorcycle trips, I’ve found quite a few alternatives to the MRE rations.  Dinty Moore, Pace, Campbells, and  Prego offer decent choices in lightweight packaging (bowls or bags) that are a packable alternative to cans.  The only downside is that they can’t be heated on an engine like cans or the MRE.  Anything else works, including hot water, microwave, sun, or even an MRE heater.  Don’t microwave an MRE! 

                If you’ve been saving that case of MREs in the attic for zombie apocalypse, you may want to give it a taste.  Whatever your choice, don’t just hoard it.  Rotate your stock.  Take replaced items to work for lunch.  Experiment with heating methods.  Keep your chow stash filled with fresh selections that you will actually eat.  If you're ready to step up to prepper-hoarder behavior and filling a zombie shelter with a 20 year supply of nutrition, you'll need to order specialized dehydrated food.  Try to be with people you like when the aliens invade, because you'll be spending the apocalypse with awful food and a level of flatulence that will bring on a nuclear winter.

              Prepackaged heat-and-eat food from the grocery store doesn't seem as exciting as a case of MREs, but it's the most economical choice for anyone not needing to shove their food out of a C-130.  If you really need your stash because your pipes are frozen, utilities are out and your family is stuck in the same house for a week, the last thing you want is bad food.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

An Assault Rifle by Any Other Name

                Once again, social media is abuzz with emotional responses to an active shooter incident with a record breaking body count.  The “assault rifle” controversy is at the top of the list, and I’m seeing some bad arguments on the pro-gun side.  The most notable chatter is questioning the definition, or even existence, of the “assault rifle," an argument that makes me give an eye-roll usually reserved for flat-earthers.

                First, it’s important to understand that there are many definitions of an “assault rifle,” and the term has been around for decades.  Wikipedia is a good place to start on this one, as it links to the array of meanings.  There’s a popular argument that assault rifles must be capable of full-automatic fire rather than semi-automatic only, but it’s not present in some instances.  Semantics aside, we’re talking about the same thing:  Light, short, high-capacity, mid-powered, semi-automatic rifles available for civilian purchase.  If you’re not sure what to call them, here are the current trendy names.  Pick your favorite adjective and noun:

Assault/combat/defensive/tactical/patrol/black – Carbine/rifle/gun/weapon/platform

Author with his Colt AR15A3
 Tactical Black Combat Assault

Defensive Patrol Carbine Rifle
 Platform Weapon Gun
                Next, let’s not nitpick over the purpose of the black guns. Manufacturers have called them "sporters" as far back as the 1960's when the AR-15 first hit the gun shop shelves.  The vast majority of these firearms are used for lawful sporting purposes without incident, but they are ideal pieces for winning an armed encounter.  Unfortunately, this makes it the best choice for mass murderers in schools, theaters, and night clubs. 

                Imposing a ban on these weapons failed in the 1990’s, and would be a larger failure now.  Mexican drug cartels are currently producing AR-15 lower receivers (the central and federally regulated part of the firearm) for their own use.  I have no doubt that they’d be happy to ship them to the US if another ban was introduced.  They're probably looking for a commodity to replace losses caused by legal marijuana in the US.

                Rifles along the lines of the AR-15 are in police use because changes in criminal tactics required capabilities beyond shotguns and pistols.  When I hear the statement, "No civilian needs an assault rifle," I question why anyone thinks a civilian shouldn't be afforded the same protection as their police.  These rifles are at the top of the food chain of available force, therefore every citizen has a right to defend with and against them.  Despite claims to the contrary, they are ideal for home defense when correctly deployed.  They're a better option than Joe Biden's shotgun.
                Gersh Kuntsman’s article detailing his experience with the AR-15 is a common example of the emotional opposition to firearms ownership.  I’ve spoken to people who claim to experience physical anxiety at the mere sight of a firearm.  Although accepting unfamiliar cultures is all the rage in the United States, it does not apply to cultures in our nation where firearm ownership is commonplace.  Don't give them more fuel.  Own up to the reality of the controversy because the math is on the side of armed citizens.  All that's left is emotion, as illustrated by Kuntsman's masterpiece of un-manliness.  

                I’m often asked what the solution is to preventing mass shootings in the US.  I believe that an armed civilian populace is the only reason the United States isn't in the same condition as Mexico.  In my experience, our civilians are better armed than our criminals.  I have yet to have anyone explain how confiscation, bans, or new laws will help.  Individual choices on safety and defense are the most effective measure of protecting oneself and family from murderers.  Since the black guns have been on gun store shelves since the 1960's, perhaps we should be asking different questions about our active shooter problem.

                Looking at the math and other facts of shooters in the US, we come to realize that there are far greater threats to life in our country.  Criminals with rifles are a very microscopic speck on the chart.  However, murder is always emotional, and firearm issues are extremely polarizing and controversial, and everyone retreats to their political/social happy place.

                Stand strong against the flow of social inertia.  Avoid the pitfalls of political correctness standards of either side of the issue, and realize that government can't solve this one.  Stand fast to your rights and don’t waste time arguing a title.  Develop the courage to act on logic and pragmatism and don’t surrender to emotion.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The YouTube Era

               There’s not much on TV worth watching.  Reality shows aren’t for everyone.  The documentary channels are all gone.  Guys like me aren’t in the target audience for TV anymore, so there’s less on the dial that catches my interest.  I no longer watch the news.  There are still gems out there, and they’re available through “on-demand” sources that can be worked into any schedule.   Still, it’s enough to make us watch too much TV.

                I’m a collector of hobbies, meaning that I prefer doing things with my spare time other than staring at a TV.  That doesn’t mean I don’t watch the tube, but I have a rule.  I do my best to watch only when I’m doing something else.  I can cook, clean, work in the shop, drive, and handle similar mundane tasks with something on in the background, even if it's just listening to XM or a podcast.  This doesn’t apply to movie night with the bride or a solid first-run show, but it helps make the medicine go down.  With other options like audio books, there’s plenty of background chatter to keep awake on the interstate.

                YouTube has become it’s very own media platform.  Users establish their own channels, and viewers can subscribe and stay updated with episodes.  As soon as I dipped a toe into this world, I was hooked.  It has, without exaggeration, something for everyone, and a little time invested in learning the system will open the door to a valuable experience. I'm fortunate to have a couple of prolific YouTubers within my inner sanctum.

                I’m specifically pimping two channels because the owners of these channels send me into the video vortex.  Tim Kreitz of Tim Kreitz Adventures and Scott Green of Bonehead Guitars are both friends who share their interests in video for the world to see.  Tim is a motovlogger (MOTOrcycle Video bLOGGER) and Scott is a luthier, both of whom create episodes of their experiences and share in video.

                Motovlogging is popular now, and it’s nothing more than people taking video of themselves riding motorcycles.  It seems simple enough, but the themes vary. Tim combines a bit of everything and has drawn a crowd by visiting interesting sites around his west Texas home.  He's a professional musician, graphic artist and videographer, which is apparent in the production level of his motovlogs.  I’ve had the pleasure of appearing in a few of his episodes, which is always an honor.

                Scott Green started building guitars a few years ago, and is designs are being snatched up by local musicians.  I have the honor of owning the first solid-body electric design from his shop, which is a compact bass guitar.  He’s since produced guitars for other musicians, including Tim Kreitz.  Scott’s channel exemplifies what I love most about the YouTube world.  It’s honest, candid, and extremely real.  He doesn’t edit mistakes, bad ideas, shop disasters or failures.  You can watch as he finds solutions to problems, or tosses three digits worth of wood into a trash can.  After an episode or two on Bonehead Guitars, you’ll fast understand that Scott isn’t superhuman, he’s just dedicated.  His channel will inspire you to get off the sofa and create something.

                Both of these guys were fortunate enough to discover and use their own talents, and it’s very encouraging to watch them put their ability to sea.  Their channels are about accomplishing things that most only talk about.  Anyone can become a Tim or a Scott, all you have to do is watch and learn.  What they’re doing is attainable by anyone with an idea and the willingness to devote some time to it.  It’s inspired me to chop out a video or two, but I’m not willing to put in the time to match these guys in production level.  It’s been said that I should put some of my experiences on camera, and I’m willing to tinker with it.  I’ve landed a few views and it’s been fun.  The lower visual production value of channels like mine is a bonus because they’re easy to listen to while doing other things.  If you miss something, it’s only a click away from repeating.

                I’m footing this post with the latest editions of my two favorite YouTubers.  I’m also pimping my own channel, also named Matt’s World o’ Wonders, in the hopes that you’ll have a look at my subscriptions and get a feel for what’s out there.  

                As always, give a tip of the hat to your favorite YouTube vids by clicking "like" and subscribing.  You'll need an account, and that's quick and easy.  Having large numbers of subscribers opens doors for serious YouTubers, so please give them a little treat for their many hours of work.