There are many Talon operators who are better equipped to pen an introduction to this issue of the Air Commando Journal. But, the editor was kind enough to approach me and of course I enthusiastically agreed to prepare this brief narrative. Allow me to assert at the outset that my service in our Air Force was profoundly influenced by that initial operational and four follow-on supervisory tours in the Special Operations community. Let no one suggest otherwise: had I not experienced the intensity of the mission, associated with an array of remarkable joint teammates, and earned a reputation as being a “SOF warrior,” I would never have had the opportunities to lead in our Air Force that I ultimately enjoyed.
I arrived at Hurlburt for Talon School in the fall of 1980 in the immediate aftermath of Honey Badger. I arrived as a reasonably well qualified C-130 tactical pilot. I knew the airplane (or so I thought) and basic airdrop tactics. How hard could this be? Well, it was hard as Bob Brenci, Jim Hobson or Jerry Uttaro can attest. The leadership of the 8th SOS accepted me, with some deserved reservations of course. The Talon business has always been a “show me” activity. At that time and hopefully for all time, performance trumped other considerations…but these notable Talon leaders and marvelous squadron-mates gave me a chance: Lee Hess, Tom Bradley, Ray Turczynski, Bob Meller, George Ferkes, Jerry Thigpen, Sam Galloway, Thom Beres, Bob Almanzar, Buff Underwood, Ray Doyle and Taco Sanchez among a number of others. How important it was to me not to disappoint them in any way.
I checked out and ultimately was assigned to Jerry Uttaro’s crew…one of just five in those days. Jerry was also the crew commander for the initial mission and follow-on Credible Sport II effort to evaluate short take-off and landing and related avionics technologies that had matured under the earlier classified program, undertaken following the American Hostage rescue attempt in Iran. Ultimately, the leadership of that crew passed to me, with Sam Galloway, Chris Armstrong, Mike Dredla, Tom Daignault, Dee Newberry, Ken Bancroft and Dave Metherell and others as teammates.
The Credible Sport II crew worked for many months together at the Lockheed Marietta plant, evaluating and documenting those aspects of the Credible Sport I aircraft that should be incorporated in the then newly conceived Combat Talon II aircraft development program. Self-contained approach avionics was one such capability. I will never forget a Friday night sortie in the Sport aircraft inbound to Field 6 at 80 knots when all the instrumentation in the aircraft was “wired,” but looking outside on PVS-5s I apparently mumbled to myself: “This Doesn’t Look Good”. Had we followed the internal approach guidance we would have landed well short. The moral of the story was that good instincts in the special operations aircraft cockpit will always be essential to managing the inherent risks of and accomplishing that very demanding (and rewarding) special operations aviation mission.
It is with genuine humility that I now defer to the authors of the accounts of Talon history you truly wish to read. I just close this introduction by expressing appreciation to all the Talon crews over the years, our “Heavy” program predecessors, those in each of the Talon squadrons (notwithstanding the focus on the 8th SOS above), and those who lost their lives (and in some cases their careers) in pursuing Talon excellence in special operations aviation. Only Talon families sacrificed more and are more deserving of our lasting respect.
-- NORTON A. SCHWARTZ
General (Ret), USAF
Former Chief of Staff