Photo by Richard Wright

Greenland.  Richard Wright, former Firebird navigator, and George Mason Gregelein, former Firebird pilot, perusing the area around Sondrestrom Air Base, Greenland.

Major George Gregelein was a fine example of a junior Field Grade officer. An excellent pilot, a devoted husband and father, an exacting and precise individual who had his serious moments, George was also known to have a keen sense of humor. He was always on the cutting edge of technology. He built his own color TV from a Heathkit when color television was a rarity, had a base station and mobile radio setup, and a Cessna 195 tail dragger that he kept in immaculate condition. George also owned a 1953 Thunderbird that was pristine. Electronic technology was commonplace for this Firebird pilot.

One day, prior to his departure from Elmendorf to Sondy, George installed in a blank space on the navigator's panel, a harmless electronic device that he had designed and built. During his briefing to the crew, he informed the navigator, Jerry "headwind" Harris, that they had been selected to test this new navigational system. It consisted of three lights, red, yellow, and green, along with an appropriate button. The green light indicated the system was receiving a valid signal. After pushing the button on a very precise hack, the red and yellow flashing lights were to be counted by the navigator for a one minute period and carefully recorded. George had devised a formula into which one would enter the number of yellow and red flashes, and then with a calculated hypothetical position, one would come up with an actual position. He was careful not to call on Jerry for these extracurricular activities when he was engaged in navigating, because he understood the real importance of celestial shots during the trip from Elmendorf to Sondy. (Some of us can remember the days before GPS.) Anyhow, during this trip, George got a real maximum effort from Jerry. There was certainly no time for catnaps between position reports and position-taking during this trip. After telling the navigator that he needed another position from the "new system," George would look back every three or four minutes. The Nav would be staring intently at the panel containing the flashing lights, tapping his left foot in time with the yellow flashing light, and tapping his right foot, counting the red flashing lights. The navigator didn't realize that the lights flashed in a random, not regular sequence, and to count both of them during the same time period was practically impossible, especially after the pressure George had applied with his briefing on the importance of this initial test. He had emphasized that this "new system" was unproved, but if they could get some good data, that it would have a profound effect on navigational practices in the Arctic area of the world.

This is just another example of the Firebird spirit, humor, and camaraderie that existed in the 17th TCS/TAS during the 1960's. One can be assured that "pay back" was received post haste. (Written from information provided by Hal Martin, Firebird pilot.)

In Memorium: George Gregelein, an extraordinary officer, gentleman, and skilled airman, was killed (shortly after leaving Alaska) in a C-123 crash during a "Ranch Hand" training mission in Florida. George was riding in the cargo compartment, waiting his turn at the wheel, when the aircraft's wing tip contacted a tree top and caused the C-123 to crash.