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The Big Dog's last run

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Bob Oldham
  • 189th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
They call him Big Dog. 

Ask anyone in the Arkansas Air National Guard's 154th Training Squadron who he is, and they'll point to the pilot's section upstairs in Building 118. 

Legend has it that he received the nickname from a TDY early in his career. A fellow aircrew member couldn't hang with the Big Dog's "social skills," so he wrote in a log in the unit that he'd be better off staying on the porch instead of running from establishment to establishment. 

His hair is silver now. Some say they can't recall what color his hair used to be as a young pup, but Lt. Col. Steve Moore says it's just a sign that time is passing him by. 

It's under that guise that he will retire on June 30. His retirement ceremony is June 17; his final flight is scheduled for June 14 - exactly 36 years to the date that he enlisted in the Arkansas Air Guard as a fire protection specialist. 

He put a couple of stripes on his sleeves before he traded them in for lieutenant's bars and a pilot position, flying the RF-101 Voodoo. He is the last active military pilot in the state to have flown the Voodoo. In fact, two of the planes he flew are on display in Central Arkansas. One is at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock. The other is here on base, near the corner of Vandenberg Boulevard and CMSgt Williams Drive. 

In the year and a half he flew the Voodoo, he recorded 232.6 hours in the seat. 

"It got the name Voodoo because it killed so many test pilots," he said. "We lost two pilots in this unit while I was gone to pilot training." 

The plane had plenty of power. In fact, pilots had to be careful on takeoff not to over-speed the gear. The landing gear folded forward, and if the plane was going too fast the gear wouldn't fold away properly.

"I could be 500 miles an hour by the end of the runway," the colonel said. "It could eat an F-4 up [in low-level maneuvers.]" 

During low-level flights over Arkansas, the RF-101 pilots would slice and dice the countryside at 540 knots. In comparison, today's C-130s fly low-level missions at around 210 knots. 

"It's a good thing they paint city names on water towers," he laughed, admitting that he'd been "temporarily disoriented" a time or two. 

On one flight with then-Lt. Col. H. Lynn Wassell, the pair were in a two-ship formation near Hot Springs. Colonel Wassell directed him to roll out and read a sign near the interstate to help determine their location. 

When Big Dog returned to the formation, he said Colonel Wassell asked, "What'd the sign say?" 

Big Dog replied, "Exit." 

"Boy, you ain't never gonna make captain," the future two-star general and Arkansas Air Guard commander told him. 

In 1976, the Guard unit transitioned to the KC-135, refueling aircraft for Strategic Air Command's bombers and Tactical Air Command's fighters. 

Colonel Moore was torn between flying the RF-101 and transitioning to the heavier, slower refueling aircraft. After some soul searching and guidance from his wife, Janell, who had been an Air Force brat her whole life, he chose to keep his roots firmly planted in Jacksonville. 

The KC-135 took him to five continents and nearly every state in the union. He'd touch down in every state once the unit converted to the C-130. As a traditional Guardsman, he also flew commercially for the airlines, spending eight years with Eastern flying to Miami, New York, the Caribbean and South America. 

Ten years later, the unit transitioned to the C-130 and joined the 314th Airlift Wing training C-130 aircrew members. 

"We've gone through two transitions and every time we've transitioned I've lost half my air speed," he said with a laugh. 

Of course, he admitted, getting older and flying slower isn't necessarily a bad thing. "The C-130 is an old man's fighter." 

Legendary for his shenanigans on the ground in the pilot's section, the colonel is all business when the plane is in the air. He has immense pride in his ability to fly and doesn't have a lot of patience for those who don't work hard to better their skills. 

"God blessed me to be able to fly a plane," he said. 

Over the years, times have changed though. The Air Guard is now used as an operational reserve instead of a strategic reserve. 

"It's a lot more of a professional organization than when I first got in," he said. "The Air Force really didn't have much to do with us." 

That professionalism along with experience is one reason the 154th now teaches the instructor syllabus of C-130 aircrew training. With more than 14,000 hours in the air - 7,500 military and 6,500 civilian - Guard pilots like Colonel Moore are hard to come by on active duty. But he relishes the opportunity to stretch the C-130s capabilities to the limits, forcing instructor pilot candidates out of their comfort zone. 

And, of course, there's the good-natured ribbing that occurs in the pilot's section that doesn't go unnoticed. "I can still kick any of their butts in there [in the pilot's section]," he barked. "But I've got to work harder at it than I used to." 

His advice for current and future Airmen is simple: "Don't take yourself too seriously, and if you don't think that people helped you get where you're at today, you're wrong."