Flying Top Cover for America



Photo courtesy of Gary Andrejak, Firebird Pilot



I don't recall where the concept of replacing the F-4 on the main Elmendorf billboard with a C-130 originated, but I do remember mentioning it to Charlie Heifner right in front of the scheduling desk.  I suggested that there would have to be some recon done to find out how the F-4 was attached and make some measurements of size, bolt holes, etc.  A few weeks later, I was again in front of the scheduling desk and Charlie (LTC Heifner, the Ops Officer--I was a simple Second Lieutenant at the time) started to talk to me about the billboard.  I started to recap what would be necessary to accomplish the "mission" as he was kind of guiding me towards his office.  As I finished talking, we reached his office, and he pointed to his sofa and said, "Do you think this is about right?"  There on his sofa was a beautiful 3-4 foot long plywood cut-out of a C-130, painted in our aircraft's colors of orange and gray.  There were even bolt holes already drilled in it.  I don't know who had done this preliminary work, but it was great!  He then said, "Think you can do something with this?"  I kind of gulped as I realized that I was now committed to this "special covert operation."

As I recall, I got a couple of other JUNIOR officers involved.  There was Jake Dustin, and I think Mike Terrell.  We borrowed, not a bread van, but a six-pack from the Combat Control Team that had an aluminum cap over the bed.  We got tool boxes, extension cords, bolt cutters and the like, then pulled on fatigue pants over our flight suits and put the old green fatigue caps on as well.  With parkas on, the idea was that by looking the way we did and doing it in broad daylight, we would seem to be CE troops doing something to the billboard. 

We pulled up in front of the billboard got out our tools and went to work.  The F-4 was bolted to the billboard but had spacers to let it stand out from the board.  That made it REAL easy to use the bolt cutters to remove the F-4, and we then slapped up the C-130 and "got the heck out of Dodge," but not before taking some pictures.

As I recall further, one of the photos was made into a Christmas card and sent to the fighter squadron commander, and I think also to the Wing Commander.  The C-130 lasted about 8-10 days before someone removed it.  Eventually, another F-4 was procured and placed on the billboard.  The reason another one was procured is that the first one was transported to Sonde and moly bolted to the concrete wall in the Firebird lounge on the second floor of the BOQ.  The biggest flap was with the Elmendorf base officials who were upset about the loss of the original F-4 because it had been made and painted by a commercial artist and had cost the base about $700.00. 

Anyway, the original F-4 remained in Sonde, and I remember, at one point, that it was "decorated" with cutouts from Playboy magazine by Steve Gilbertson.  I do not know of the final disposition of the F-4, but It was still there on my last trip to Sonde just before the Schenectady guys took over the Sonde operation.  Maybe one of them can shed some light on the final act.

That's my recollection of the "Top Cover for America" episode from many years ago.  Sorry if my remembrances don't match with others, but time has a way of molding our memories.  Thanks for letting me share what I remember as one of the funniest 17th TAS episodes from the early seventies.

Jim Banas
Firebird Pilot: 1971-1976


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