Photo: Major Gen. Carl G. Schneider with a model of a F-86 Sabre, which he called his “all-time favorite airplane of all the planes I flew.”
By LANDON WOODROOF
Major Gen. Carl G. Schneider has done hundreds of times what many people would be too skittish to do once.
As a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force, Schneider flew more than 100 combat missions in Korea and Vietnam. Overall, he logged over 5,000 hours of flight time in his 34-year career, which saw him fill a number of different positions in the Air Force.
Schneider shared some of the stories from his illustrious career at the Rotary Club of Brentwood on Friday. Many of those stories are included in his autobiography, “Jet Pioneer: A Fighter Pilot’s Memoir.”
“How many of you would like to be in a supersonic jet fighter over the Atlantic Ocean with no navigation and no radios?” Schneider started off his talk by asking.
Unsurprisingly, no one held up their hands.
That is the situation, though, in which Schneider found himself late in his career when he was on his way to the Azores islands from Newfoundland.
Schneider lost radio communication and his navigation aids began malfunctioning after takeoff. He had to find a tiny runway on an island in the North Atlantic with little to help him.
Schneider eventually managed to spy the top of a mountain peeking above a cloud. He knew that the runway they were looking for was a few miles away from a mountain. He went down through the clouds and managed to land just before running out of gas.
The story was an apt illustration of the uncertainties that come along with putting yourself in harm’s way for the service of your country.
Schneider addressed some of those uncertainties when he defined the word veteran for the crowd on the day before Veterans Day.
“What is a veteran?” he asked. “A veteran … is someone who at one point in his her own life wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount up to and including his or her life. Anybody who is a veteran here today knows that means. You lay it on the line and do what you have to do.”
Schneider knew he wanted to be a pilot from a young age, when he first saw a plane zip past his childhood home in rural Ralls, Texas.
“My brother and I had to pick cotton and pull cotton, and we hated every minute of it,” he said. “One day we saw this old biplane come over, and I turned to my brother and said, ‘That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to get out of this cotton patch and fly airplanes.’”
Schneider kept to his word, attending Texas Tech University before going through basic training and pilot training.
His early years flying were an especially dangerous time given the fact that jet fighter technology was still in its early stages. Schneider especially remembered problems with the Republic P-84B Thunderjet, which he called “a real dog.”
Overall, it was a “pretty hairy time,” Schneider recalled.
“We had wings come off, engines quit, canopies come off,” he said. “We lost six guys just from operational accidents the first year I was flying.”
Schneider’s early career included stops at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, Japan and Korea.
In Korea, Schneider flew more than 100 combat missions. He remembers the harsh conditions that U.S. service members in Korea had to deal with.
“We lived in these little pup tents with a sleeping bag on the bare ground in the coldest winter they had in Korea in 100 years,” he said.
He moved around to different Air Force bases throughout the 1950s, working with future astronaut Buzz Aldrin in Nevada.
In the early ’60s Vietnam beckoned.
“Where’s Vietnam?” Schneider remembers asking when he first got wind of his assignment there.
In Vietnam, Schneider flew combat missions with South Vietnamese forces and served with Nguyun Cao Ky, later the prime minister of South Vietnam for a couple of years.
After Vietnam, Schneider taught fighter pilots at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, and then took positions in Kansas, the Pentagon, Korea and Oklahoma, to name a few.
At Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Schneider served as Commander of the Oklahoma Air Logistics Complex. Even at this point in his career, in the late 1970s, Schneider still tried to stay in the sky as much as he could.
“I figured I should fly every airplane I was responsible for,” he explained.