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"Chutes & Cargo" - Golden anniversary of Reserve rodeo

  • Published
  • By Gene Vandeventer
  • Air Force Reserve Command staff historian
"Chutes and Cargo" is not a new board game but it does aptly describe what the Air Force Reserve and its predecessor, Continental Air Command, regularly practiced 50 years ago.

What better way to maintain and sharpen the parachute airlift drop skills of ConAC's World War II and Korean War veterans than to throw down the gauntlet in a commandwide competition, determining the "best of the best."

Competition always inspires professional rivalries, and in this instance, it was no different. Many of the units represented in 1956 are still in the Air Force Reserve, although some of them have moved to new locations over the years.

In 1956, senior leaders were concerned with honing the techniques of airlift warriors on new platforms coming into the inventory. They knew that this "friendly, but spirited" competition would do just that - increase airdrop proficiency using new technologies.

Another possible motive for this airlift initiative was to exhibit the reliability and capability of Air Force airlifters at a time when congressional interests focused on decisions concerning the proper military airlift force needed in support of the Army's ever-growing tactical demands. The competition was called "Reserve Troop Carrier Rodeo."

Thirteen ConAC troop carrier wings sent two crews each to participate in ConAC's and indeed the Air Force Reserve's first Rodeo held at Bakalar AFB, Ind., on Oct. 5, 1956.

For two days, 26 crews flying C-46 and C-119 aircraft competed against each other to see which wings could most accurately parachute supplies into a small target area using the computed air release point system. The CARP system required the navigator to determine the exact time of the drop before approaching the target area. This was done without the navigator actually seeing the target.

According to a news release of the event, the standard crew had a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, flight mechanic, radio operator and a "cargo kicker."

The drop zone for the competition was at the Army's deactivated Camp Atterbury, about 20 miles northwest of Bakalar AFB. The targets were actually three concentric circles of 100 yards each with the outermost rim 300 yards from the center.

Maj. Gen. William E. Hall, the Air Force's assistant chief of staff for reserve forces, and more than 200 other dignitaries, including press and radio newscasters, were on hand to witness the Rodeo events.

Brisk autumn winds made the going rough for the aircrews on the first day. The second day's weather was much improved. The good news was that no mishaps occurred during the two-day event; ground and flight safety teams ensured crews erred on the side of caution.

The awards criteria for the Rodeo were determined well in advance of the competition. A trophy, to be retained for one year, would be awarded to the troop carrier wing with the lowest composite score. Determining the lowest scores was based on accuracy and attention to detail. For example, penalty points were assessed for the timing of take-offs, not adhering to airspeed parameters during climbs or descents, missed drops, and cargo impact distances from the target's center.

No practice runs were permitted nor could the autopilot mechanism be used. Also, to make the exercise as realistic as possible, pilots were to consider themselves flying a 9-ship lead. As an added requirement, the wing or group commander had to be the first pilot of one of their two crews.

Any wing winning the competition three years in succession took permanent possession of the trophy. Awards also went to the first-, second- and third-place team winners - to their wings and to the individual members of those crews.

In 1956, the winner of ConAC's inaugural Reserve Troop Carrier Rodeo was the 302nd Troop Carrier Wing from Clinton County AFB, Ohio. Col. Donald J. Campbell was the commander. Runner-up was the 434th TCW, from the host base, Bakalar AFB, commanded by Col. John O. Bradshaw. Third place went to Col. John S. Bagby's 512th TCW from New Castle County Municipal Airport, Del.

The top aircrew was the 302nd TCW's second entry, piloted by Lt. Paul B. Heironimus. Second place went to Colonel Bagby's 512th TCW crew. In third place was the 459th TCW, Andrews AFB, Md., piloted by Col. Ernest W. Burton, the wing vice commander.

Other Rodeo participants included the 514th TCW, Mitchel AFB, N.Y.; 376th TCW, Greater Pittsburgh Airport, Pa.; 403rd TCW, Portland International Airport, Ore.; 442nd TCW, Grandview AFB, Mo.; 435th TCW, Miami International Airport, Fla.; 436th TCW, Floyd Bennett Naval Air Station, Brooklyn, N.Y.; 433rd TCW, Brooks AFB, Texas; and the 446th TCW, Ellington AFB, Texas.

The Air Force Reserve traces its lineage back to the ConAC days and continued participating in airdrop rodeos in the years after 1956 eventually competing within the Military Air Transport Service, abbreviated as MATS; Military Airlift Command, MAC; and Air Mobility Command, AMC.

"Chutes and Cargo" competitions helped improve the Air Force Reserve airlift warriors' capabilities back in the 1950s and paved the way for reservists to become total force partners, Unrivaled Wingmen, in today's Air Force. (AFRC News Service)