Monday, June 22, 2015


Thanks, Dave W, for your suggestion. Here it is:

Do you remember that 1960s American TV sitcom named “My Three Sons”? You probably don’t. Here’s a clip: My Three Sons.
William Frawley played the role of “Bub.” Frawley was better known as “Fred” in “I Love Lucy.” (Surely you are familiar with that one—with all its re-runs.)

Somehow in the annals of history, my dad, Hayes Watson Cockrell, collected the moniker “Bub” from that TV series.I don't think he was happy with it, but he didn't complain.

He served aboard the USS Alsea (ATF-97) in WW2 as an electrician’s mate. But before he went to sea he served a few months as a clerk in the pilot records office at Pensacola Naval Air Station. There the commander took a liking to him and invited him to go on flights in SNJ trainers. Bub once told me they referred to the SNJs as
Stuka Nuka Javas.” One day the CO asked my dad if he would like to enroll in the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. He declined. In later years I asked him why he passed up that opportunity. He just shrugged and said he wasn’t sure of it.

His service aboard ship was mostly uneventful except for watching torpedo wakes go by headed for larger targets than the Alsea. His most repeated story was of timing shells going overhead from battleships to the Normandy coast at D-Day.

After the war he married Helen and enrolled in electrical engineering. But when I came along he dropped out. After two aborted attempts to be a law enforcement officer he settled into a vocation that the Navy taught him—electrician, at which he was very successful. Motivated by his interest in airplanes that had captured him at Pensacola he used the GI Bill to learn to fly.

When I turned  six he deemed me airworthy and took me down the Black Warrior River in a Piper Super Cub with the wheels only few feet off the water. (He was far from a perfect man and so was his judgement at times.) Of course I loved every second of it. Later he became a pilot with the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and flew many search missions for lost aircraft. His involvement in CAP was my impetus to becoming a CAP cadet, which launched my career as a military and airline pilot.

Bub wasn’t there when I first soloed at the age of 16. I don’t remember why, but suspect my instructor simply didn’t notify him that it was going tom happen. Later that day I joined up with him at the river for some fishing, and I don’t even remember what he said about my solo flight. I think he just considered it something that was simply destined to happen.

I remember him once telling me that his flight instructor went on to become the chief pilot at Southern Airways, which eventually merged with Republic and then Delta. One day he crossed paths with his old instructor and they caught up. The instructor told Bub he would be glad to set him up with a pilot candidate interview at Southern. 

“Did you?” I asked.

He just shook his head and sighed. He said he wasn’t sure about it.

Eventually he dropped out of flying as his family grew. Yet to the day of his losing consciousness I think he considered himself still a pilot. In the U.S. a pilot’s license never expires unless it is revoked. Only the medical certificate and the logbook currency expires.

He was a bit disappointed that I went to the USAF instead of the Navy, which he stayed with as a reservist for another 30 years as a Chief Petty Officer. But he always saluted me.

I respected his work ethic and devotion to family and country, but I resolved not to make his mistakes. I seized opportunity when it presented itself and when it didn’t, I knocked its door in. I was the success he imagined he never achieved. His other kids did well too.

And in that respect he was a victorious achiever. 

CPO H.W. Cockrell, USN "Seabees", 1975

My boat's name

Monday, June 8, 2015

Mongoose VI, the End

Apologies, readers—those who are left. My dad's health took a bad turn a few months ago, and I have had little motivation or time to write. He passed last month.

AirVenture 2014 is old news now and I won't dwell on it much. After the recovery of the mass formation I joined the ranks of the spectators and hung out with my old Air Force friends. I bade Mongoose so-long. He had to get back to work.

The highlight of the week was the Thunderbird performance. I never grow tired of it. They played “God Bless America” during the bomb burst maneuver and I damn near went to tears. (It’s hard to believe the nauseatingly politically correct USAF would allow that.)

The next morning Mike and I mounted up and joined up with Lefty and BJ, both CJ-6 pilots, and set course for home. We enjoyed another round of great cross-country weather for the run down south. Lefty broke off at Nashville and as BJ led us to Windward Pointe Airpark I started to get antsy again. You’ll need to read “Flyin’ Miss Daisy” to understand what I was up against. Windward was a short grass air strip with a dog leg in it. It was narrow and had a host of obstacles at its ends and along its sides. My departure out of it the prior week in the heavy Nanchang had given me the jitters. Now I had to land on it.

I remembered that first and only landing I had made there a few weeks before. I had dragged in over the high tension wires and the cut the power, hoping not too soon, and dropped the Chang onto the grass, seeing the guy-wire on the right flash by, hearing my back seat instructor—BJ—yell, “Watch the fire plug on the left!” which I never saw, then braking to a stop right before the narrow part where the trees come within a few feet of your wing tips. I felt lucky, not skilled, and did not look forward to doing it again.

But I had to—Windward was Alabama Girl’s home base. I wasn’t about to end this fantastic journey by depositing Mike’s Nanchang at the municipal airport.

Yet things looked different as I turned in on the runway. I saw the orange balls on the wires. I spotted the guy-wires and the fire plug. I checked my airspeed and approach angle. Everything looked good. I even felt comfortable. This was going to work out okay. Suddenly I realized why it felt better than before. It was Mongoose, again!

On the way up to Oshkosh Mongoose had looked over at me, pressed his mic button and said, “You look like you’re sitting too low in that cockpit. Raise your seat.”

The Yak-52 that I had been accustomed to did not have an adjustable seat. It simply didn’t occur to me that the Nanchang—a very similar aircraft—would have one. I did as he suggested and suddenly it was like flying in another plane, one where I could actually see the world.

I glided in over the wires, and landed between the guy-line and the fire plug and rolled to a satisfying stop. My break-out trip into retirement was a resounding success.

I owed Mongoose for another save.

I flew Alabama Girl in an airshow in my home town in March. Some of the other pilots
in the show went with me to visit my dad in his nursing home. The old WWII Navy vet insisted
on saluting each one of us.