Review by Nicholas A. Veronico
The bond between aircraft and crew chief, maintainers and aircrew, and airmen in general, is dramatically illustrated in Flight Line: The Adventures of a Vietnam-Era AC-130 Crew Chief. From Air Force induction and basic training, to military occupational specialty schooling, the author takes the reader on a personal journey through his young life in the early 1960s. There’s a Corvette, a pretty wife, and a baby on the way as Combs begins life as a C-130 Hercules maintainer. Temporary duty trips and an overseas deployment keep the young Hercules crewmember away from home and worried about his young family.
During one of the deployments to Europe, there’s a ‘Top Secret’ hostage rescue, then later is the long trip to a combat assignment at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, with the 16th Special Operations Squadron. The unit flew the Lockheed AC-130 Spectre gunship and Combs was assigned to AC-130A 55-0044 ‘Prometheus’ (the god of fire in Greek mythology).
Accounts of living conditions, attacks on the base, interacting with the local population, recreation opportunities, and bonding with fellow members of his unit in combat all make extremely interesting reading. The connection a crew chief has with ‘his’ aircraft is brought into sharp focus as are the relationships one has with those flying it. The raw emotions when an aircraft and crew are lost grace the pages as Combs deals with this exact situation. He is then transferred to another unit where he must prove himself again to other maintainers and demonstrate his ability to the flight crews. They are, after all, putting their lives in the crew chief’s hands. The book nicely concludes with a ‘where-are-they-now’ essay about the majority of the characters in the book.
A small nit: There are a few pages about an unrequited romance with a local Thai girl. This was probably of importance to the author, but it slows down the pace of action. Should this not be of interest, it can easily be skimmed over. Also, there were a few places where the word ‘hangar’ was spelled ‘hanger’. I blame this on an auto-correction that did not get caught. It happens, but really shouldn’t.
Flightline is a slice of one man’s life that was a difficult time for him and the United States. Very few war stories are written by the unsung heroes that are the maintainers; that makes this moving book so valuable.
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