Planned missions for Canby air force veterans for top-secret planes

Seeing the friendly, smiling face of longtime Canby resident and Rotary Club member Bob “Cash” McCall, spy missions and global intrigue probably aren’t the first thing you think of.

But make no mistake: During his time in the U.S. Air Force, McCall worked with the Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird,” one of the most technologically advanced spy planes ever built or operated by the government. American.

Indeed, his lifelong nickname derives from a very different genre of fiction: the 1960 romantic drama Cash McCall featuring James Garner and Natalie Wood, whom he and a group of other air cadets went to see together when he was in his first year of service.

“When we came out of the cinema, one of them said, ‘Your nickname is now going to be ‘Cash McCall’,” Cash recalled. “And that stuck with me for 24 years of service. Even today, most people don’t know my real name.

He had joined on the recommendation of a cousin who was in the Air Force.

“It turned out to be a pretty good decision,” McCall said.

For more than 10 years, McCall served as a crew navigator on missions that primarily involved reconnaissance in North Vietnam during the war. It was simple but extremely important work.

“The purpose of the navigator is to keep the plane on track, to detect emergencies if something goes wrong,” McCall said. “It goes from point A to point B, you know. I used to tell everyone, ‘I tell the pilots where to go.’ But it’s all about trust. They trusted me because I never lost them.

He flew 5,500 hours for the military, including 110 intelligence-gathering missions in and around Haiphong in North Vietnam. On several occasions, their reconnaissance planes were spotted and even pursued by the enemy, but the American fighter planes supporting their mission urged them to stay away.

“They tried maybe half a dozen times to chase us, but eventually they forgot about it because they were in danger of getting shot themselves,” McCall said. “It was dangerous, but we had the advantage because our technology was vastly superior.”

After the war, he returned to the United States, where he was assigned to the SR-71, a long-range, high-altitude Mach 3-plus aircraft designed for strategic reconnaissance.

Entering service nearly 60 years ago in 1966, the Blackbird remains a marvel of aircraft engineering and design, still holding the record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft – despite being removed more than two decades ago.

One story McCall likes to tell is how the plane got its name. It was originally called the RS-71, but was forever renamed when President Lyndon B. Johnson officially acknowledged the existence of the new top-of-the-line American reconnaissance aircraft in July 1964: the “SR-71 . ”

“Nobody wants to correct the president,” McCall said with a laugh. Skunk Works, the official pseudonym for the Advance Development Projects division of Lockhead Martin in Palmdale, California, was forced to modify approximately 29,000 plans to coincide with the “new name” of the aircraft.

The aircraft’s design had many features intended to enhance or compensate for its high speeds and the intense gravitational forces it would place on the craft and its crew.

The engineers also faced the unique problem of how to prevent their pilots from being cooked alive.

“As it was flying, the air friction was so great that the plane would get very hot,” McCall explained.

Designers plated the Blackbird’s motors in gold – not because it looked cool (although it probably did) – but rather to help with heat dissipation. The Air Force also developed a special fuel, JP-7, which doubled as a coolant.

“It would circulate and cool the plane,” McCall said. “It had a very high flash point. You could take a torch to it and it wouldn’t ignite.

The plane was unarmed – with a top speed of over 2,200 miles per hour it didn’t really need them – but instead sideways airborne radar and high-resolution cameras if advances they could if your shoe was untied at 80,000 feet.

“The resolution was six inches at 80,000 feet,” McCall said. “In Haiphong Port, side-looking radar allowed them to identify different ships just by the way they got into the water. At the time, it was so state-of-the-art. It was amazing. It was so ahead of its time.”

One of his last assignments was as security coordinator for the Department of Defense at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, where he witnessed the shock victory of the team of United States hockey over the highly favored Soviet Union – later immortalized as “Miracle on Ice.

“It was something,” he recalls. “It was amazing, really. Then I saw them win the gold medal beating Finland.

McCall retired from service in 1981 and began a second career in business and as a financial adviser. He and his wife, Betty, moved to the west coast in 2002 to be closer to family and settled in Canby in 2005.

“I had a good career,” McCall said. “I can’t say anything negative about my serve. You showed up, you worked hard and when you did a good job, you got the appreciation from your superior: Mission accomplished.

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