Q&A with Gail Peck
Your dad was a pilot in WWII. Tell us about him.
Dad was an instructor pilot and bomber pilot. During WWII he moved from Kelly Field where he was a flight instructor to Sebring, FL for B-17 training. At the conclusion he was retained at Sebring as a B-17 instructor. Eventually he was transferred to Chanute AFB, IL and was involved in the B-24 prior to being returned to Sebring. Toward the end of the war he was sent to the Philippines but flew no combat.
After the war he was on McArthur’s staff in occupied Tokyo. Numerous assignments followed including the B-29 training program at Randolph AFB, TX during the Korean War, Deputy Wing Commander at Eielson AFB, Alaska and the Pentagon.
Upon returning to Randolph in Air Training Command, he got involved in the T-38 introduction and was a part of the test force for that aircraft.
Dad’s final assignment was as the Wing Commander at Laredo AFB, TX. When his time there was up there he retired from the AF in lieu of going back to the Pentagon.
You were in one of the first classes at the Air Force Academy, what was the school like then? How has it changed since?
I was in the fourth class at the AF Academy (AFA). It was the class that made it a four year school.
We started our summer training at Lowry AFB in Denver, CO and in late Aug moved to the permanent site of the AFA. Thus, we were both the last small class who knew all of our classmates and the first to attend all four academic years at the permanent site.
Things were pretty austere at the AFA, especially the first couple of years we were there. Initially, we had no social facilities as Arnold Hall was still under construction. We watched the chapel being built. It was not yet complete when we graduated.
The 4th class system was much tougher then as compared to now. Our class was not recognized until the week that the Class of ‘59 graduated in June ‘59. That meant that we were at attention any time we were not in our rooms or in a classroom. We double-timed anytime we were outside and not in a marching formation. We got no Christmas leave and there was no Spring Break. It was a long first year.
Our various outside activities were just getting started. We had no flying opportunity other than a few rides in the T-37 or the T-28 and the rare incentive ride while on an AF orientation field trip. The only aviation we experienced at the academy was navigator training in a T-29. No gliders, no fixed wing, no parachuting, etc.
The AF Academy has matured in the 50+ years since I graduated and is much more like a University with a military slant.
Given the legacy of your father, did becoming a fighter pilot come easily to you or did you struggle in any way?
I think being the son of an AF pilot gave me an edge in that I knew exactly what I wanted to do in life from a very early age. West Point was my goal. And, then the new AF Academy started and I was a fit.
I was young and immature as a cadet and as a result had priority problems that led to struggles with academics.
After graduation I blossomed in pilot training and was first in my class. Academically, I now have two Master’s degrees with a very high grade point average.
I was warned that graduating from the AFA would not mean automatic advancement in the Air Force. Instead it would provide me with an environment for forgivable mistakes that would help if I learned from them. I found that to be true.
What was your year in Vietnam like?
It was stressful because it lasted a long time.
The flying was great and I confess that I enjoyed the rush from flying combat. Every day was not a good day and many friends paid the ultimate price.
So, I was lucky in many ways and thus survived. I am grateful.
What did you do when you got back from ‘Nam?
I attempted to obtain my parachute rating with the US Army stationed in Thailand after I finished flying combat. I was injured in a training jump and was transferred to the AF hospital in San Antonio. That canceled an assignment I had to go to Bentwaters AB, England where I was programmed to continue to fly F-4s.
When released from the hospital I was returned to MacDill AFB in Florida, the site of my original F-4 training, as a line F-4 pilot.
Fighter Weapons School (FWS) at Nellis followed and after a couple of years I was assigned as a FWS instructor at Nellis. From Nellis I went to the Pentagon, via Armed Forces Staff College.
Tell us what it was like working for General Vandenberg at the Pentagon?
Gen Vandenberg was a fighter pilot who appreciated the value of training. He was not a nit-picker or micromanager. Instead, he gave me a job, supported my proposed solutions when I ran into headwind and was generally a pleasure to have as my boss.
How did Constant Peg come about?
We basically rebuilt the AF approach to air-to-air combat training during the time that I was a FWS instructor. I didn’t do it. Instead, I was a part of a group that did it. And, they continued to refine the product long after I was gone.
Training against actual MiGs was a dream we all had because it was a logical top piece to a well-developed training system.
When the opportunity presented itself at the Pentagon I suggested building the airfield that became Tonopah and equipping it with MiGs. The generals embraced the idea and all together we made it happen.
When you got to Tonapah, what was there?
There were no facilities at the Tonapah Test Range airfield when we arrived other than a short runway and a parking area for the Test Range support aircraft.
Did you get along with the F-117 guys?
The F-117 guys arrived after my watch.
The relationship was rocky, or so I have been told. We were at a disadvantage because our commander was a Lt Col and the F-117s had full colonels, some of whom were super Type A personalities.
It all worked out, but relations were sometimes better than others primarily due to personalities and the nature of our two vastly different missions.
What is the legacy of the 4477 TES?
The 4477th served as a capstone training program to an otherwise excellent air-to-air training approach.
According to an Aug 2012 AF Association magazine writer (Daniel Haulman) the Vietnam kill ratio was 1.85 to 1, meaning we lost a jet for every 1.85 that the bad guys lost.
Since Vietnam the USAF has not lost a jet in aerial combat while scoring 39 kills.
I think the number speak for themselves.