Emerald Empire Chapter

Military Officers Association of America


​              ...just for grins



I had just been recently promoted to E-5 SSGT in 1961 and I was convinced that I had arrived at the pinnacle of my career.  I was deployed to a base in Florida that had a large assortment of fighter aircraft parked on the apron and as I was returning from the chow hall, I happened by four aircraft preparing for takeoff.  I had never seen this type of aircraft and as I later learned, they were British made Canberra’s that the U.S. Air Force had purchased and were converted to a mission that included electronic countermeasures.  Their purpose was to jam our fighter’s radars and increase proficiency in our fighter pilots.  These aircraft were manufactured to have an engine start capability without the use of a ground power unit normally used by most other aircraft.  They were designed to use a canister of black powder installed by the aircrew into the nose of each engine.

As I ventured by these four aircraft, I was attracted to the fact that there were no ground crews to pull the chalks, remove the ground wire, or stand by the fire extinguisher.  Being recently promoted to NCO, I was immediately encouraged to take full responsibility to ensure that all safety procedures were followed during the launch of these aircraft.  I determined which aircraft was going to start first and smartly stationed myself next to the large fire extinguisher sitting close to the aircraft.  The aircrews did not seem particularly interested in my presence, but I still was convinced I was following all safety standards and was proud to do so.  As the aircrew initiated the start of his number one engine, the black powder ignited producing enough black smoke to completely engulf the entire aircraft.  Totally convinced that this aircraft and its aircrew were about to be totally destroyed, I immediately deployed the fire extinguisher expelling copious quantities of fire retardant down the intake of the engine. I was totally convinced that I had saved everyone and everything involved.  As the smoke cleared and the engine had been shut down, I could see the aircrew waving frantically for me to get away.  Of course I interpreted their motions as “Thank you for saving our lives”. 

Later that evening at the NCO Club, someone prepared a necklace by flattening out a large empty can of tomatoes, drilled a hole in it and attached a large string through the hole and glued a sign on the can that read “Tyndall AFB DUMB S--T Award”.  I had the distinction of wearing this necklace every time I entered the club for the next two weeks.  A rather humbling experience and at that point, I realized I was just another NCO. 

 Dick Norton, Lt. Col. (Ret)​


The mission of the Emerald Empire Chapter of MOAA is to advocate for our military community and connect it to the nation we serve.