Sunday, February 16, 2014

B-52 Tales: Mafia 33

This is a true story.

As I stated in previous posts, I served in the US Air Force  as a B-52 Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) in Strategic Air Command (SAC).

One day in early 1984 our crew had a routine training flight: Take-off, air refueling, low-level penetration and bomb run, climb out of low level and fly home.  The missions normally lasted 8 hours of flight time depending on the mission profile and the location of the target range.

The call signs used by the bomb wings changed daily -- to confuse potential adversaries and on occasion ourselves as well.  On this particular day, the bombers of our wing had the call sign 'Mafia' and our crew was flight 33; hence our call sign for the day was ''MAFIA 33".

I was born in Chile and spent my teenage years in New York City... I still have a slight accent when I speak English and I can "tolk Nu Yoik..." Normally, line of sight UHF communications were handled by the co-pilot. The EWO handled long-range HF radio communications.  Our aircraft commander, Capt. Bob Wheelock, was a smart-aleck kind of guy.  Given our call sign MAFIA 33, he came up to me and with a twinkle in his eyes said "Gonz, you got the radios today... Just don't get us in trouble otherwise communications are yours."  I knew exactly what he meant and wanted me to do.

After a normal start and standard instrument departure from K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Michigan, we passed 10,000 feet and it was time to contact the air traffic control center (ATCC) to request altitude change. In my thickest Nu Yok accent [combined a touch of Spanish], I called over the UHF radio:

"Yo, Minneapolis Center, dis is da Mafia 33 requesting climb to Flight Level 350 [35,000 feet]"

These are standard requests and Center usually responds immediately... Silence

"YO, Minneapolis Center, dis is da Mafia 33 requesting climb to Flight Level 350"

Finally:  "Mafia 33 [???] identify yourself"

"Yo, Mafia 33 isah Bravo 52 Hotel aircraft with 6 goombas on board."

"Mafia 33, squawk ___" the ATC controller said with obvious amusement on his voice.  Every aircraft has an IFF box and you program a specific code to ID yourself.  We put in the correct squawk.

"Mafia 33... is that your real call sign???"  The ATC guy asked.  You could hear laughter in the background.

"Ya, we don't pick da call signs"

"Mafia 33 you are clear to climb to flight level 350."

"Yo, Minneapolis Center, dis is da Mafia 33 requesting direct radar vectors to Nu Yoik City"...

"Mafia 33,  Minneapolis Center request dat yu contact Chicago Center on ___ for yur request." ....

We weren't going to New York, but it seemed a great request...

It was a great flight...

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