James E. Kelm


 
Preferred Name: Jim
Nickname/Call Sign: Jim
Date Of Birth: January 6, 1932
Highest Military Grade Held: Colonel, O6
Hometown: Grand Rapids, MN

Biography

I was born in Grand Rapids, MN but lived most of my adult civilian life in and around Oklahoma City, OK.
In August of 1956, on graduation day from Primary flight training at Bartow AB, FL, I was selected to fly the last T-6 mission in the USAF. I’d been in finals for the Thunderbirds while at the Fighter Weapons School in the Fall of 1964, flunked the “finals” but made DG at FWS with a great bunch of fighter pilots.
In early 1974, I spent a couple months at Wright-Pat AFB as one of 25 pilots in an Air Force study group formed directly under the AF Chief of Staff. The group’s task was to develop a force modernization and composition strategy for the 1980’s & beyond.
I then returned to England AFB to get my own A-7 squadron, the 76th Tactical Fighter Squadron “Vanguards”.  I was then selected for the NATO Defense College in Rome (somebody’s gotta do it) in the summer of 1975 while on TDY in Hawaii in support of Army maneuvers.  A NATO tour in Naples, Italy followed and from there to Lakenheath, England in 1978 as Base Commander. (Suddenly I was in charge of all those base agencies I used to bitch about.) Realizing my AF flying days were over, I volunteered for and got an assignment in 1980 as head of the AFROTC detachment at the University of Oklahoma where it all started.
It was a great 26 ½ years!!
After retirement, I went to work as VP for Downtown Airpark, Inc., a business aircraft full-service repair facility in Oklahoma City, OK.  The company owned the airport, so it was a real mixture of duties. I became Corp. President in 1985 and retired from there in 1994 after which I  worked for a gentleman from Guadalajara, MX to develop & promote Mexico’s business aviation trade show until 2003. When I finally decided enough was enough, I bought a small vacation spot on Grand Lake in Northeast Oklahoma and retired fully. Life is good!!!

Jim Kelm – Caterpillar Story

Jim KelmIt was a Saturday, July 28th, 1968, about a month before I was due to rotate back to the States. My replacement, Maj. Val Robertson had arrived at Phan Rang and this was his first ride in-country. Val was in the front seat of the F-100F & I was in the back. Our callsign was “Devil 51”, a single ship flight.

We did a brief tour of central S. Vietnam at medium altitude & then picked a location south of Phan Rang near the coast to practice various types of weapons deliveries, primarily low angle stuff. We were near a small village. I demo’d hi-drag, slick, nape & a strafe pass & then gave the stick to Val to do some. On Val’s first or second pass, I thought I noticed some flashes on the ground off to the side as we were coming in and, in the recovery, the engine blew & smoke filled the cockpit. The smoke was so thick I had to get within a foot of the instrument panel to see it. Of great prominence was the BIG red fire warning light.
I immediately took control of the bird, had Val go to Guard Channel, and made the first of several radio calls (while going for whatever altitude we could get) and headed out over the South China Sea. In the process, I also tried a couple air starts. I know, I know, the book says that (as I remember) if the engine explodes or is on fire, do not attempt a restart. Believe me, if you only have one engine and that one quits over bad-guy territory, you’re gonna try to get it running. No dice. I told Val that we were going to eject & to get ready. I wasn’t sure how high we were because of no visibility in the cockpit, but I guessed about 3000 feet. Val confirmed he was ready, so I made our final radio call that we were ejecting and raised the handles.
The wind blast was impressive when the canopy left & up I went. I immediately went blind, was slammed by something, & then felt the chute open. I realized that my helmet had rotated 90 deg., so I moved it back to its normal position so I could see again. I checked the chute – it looked OK. I looked over my shoulder & saw Val in the distance with a good chute and then I looked for the aircraft. The plane was in a wings-level attitude heading for the coast. It then nosed over & went into the sea.
As I approached the water, I disconnected the mask from the harness, took off my helmet and threw them both into the water. Looking down, the water looked a tad rough. (I found out later there was close to ten-foot swells.) I landed in the water, dumped my chute and attempted to get in my one-man life raft. I got in on my first try by pulling myself in from the small end using the handles – as taught in water survival. The only problem is that I am now laying face down in a raft full of seawater. I forcefully rolled over to a sitting position and rolled right out of the raft! Back to square one. I started my boarding process again. This time both handles on the life raft broke, which made getting in even more interesting, particularly in 10′ swells. I finally got in the raft, gingerly rotated to a sitting position, pulled in my survival kit, and looked around to see if there was anything in sight except water. Nothing. I looked down and there was my helmet floating & bumping up against my raft. I picked it up & placed it in the raft.
I took stock of my physical condition. All was fine except my left shoulder was sore & stung a bit. After a short while, as I topped one of the swells, I noticed a small boat in the vicinity. I popped a flare and in short order, a U.S. Navy patrol boat pulled alongside and a sailor leaned over the side, grabbed my arms at the top of a swell, and yanked me into the boat. I was glad I hadn’t broken anything up to that point because it would have gotten a lot worse when he hauled me into the boat. I had been in the water only about 20 minutes. I was glad to see him and the whole crew, as you can appreciate, and expressed my thanks to one & all. I also drank every bit of water I could get my hands on. Boy, was I thirsty. They told me at that time that they had been racing a VC gunship to see who could get to me first. I hadn’t seen any other boat before I was picked up. I thanked them all again for a hell of a good job. The boat skipper quickly found Val and they got him onboard as well. Shortly thereafter, the rescue helicopter (Pedro) from Phan Rang came and hovered over the boat, hoisted us up and returned us to Phan Rang.
We were taken to the base hospital and checked over. I had a minor cut on my shoulder which the experts surmised was caused by the seat when I separated. I was released to quarters, but they kept Val overnight for observation though I’m wasn’t sure why. En-route to the Q, I had whoever was driving drop me at the Squadron where, and you may find this hard to believe, I hoisted a few with the guys.
As an aside to this whole thing, while still at the hospital, I asked to call my wife in Phoenix. I tried for over an hour but couldn’t get through. The Wing Commander heard about my problem, got on the horn, and I was connected in about three minutes. As it turned out, my wife had already been informed that something had happened – in a most unusual way. She received a phone call from someone who identified himself as a ham operator for Barry Goldwater. He said that I was down on a mission and missing, but that was all the info he had. He then hung up. She knew basically what “down” meant and, obviously, was shaken. She called the base but they had no information and then called a friend who started making calls. After a while, I was able to get through and reassure her that I was OK. We never found out who had called her initially.

Units Assigned

  • 10/1955 Commissioned thru AFROTC @ the Univ. of Oklahoma
  • 1/1956  Lackland AFB Preflight
  • 2/1956-8/1956 Primary  Flight Training, Bartow AB, FL (PA-18, T-6, (DG))
  • 8/1956-2/1957  Basic Flight Training, Webb AFB, TX (T-33)
  • 3/1957-6/1957 Advanced Pilot Training, Williams AFB, AZ (F-86)
  • 7/1957-8/1957  F-100 Checkout – Nellis AFB, NV (F-100A)
  • 8/1957-2/1958  511th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Langley AFB, VA (F-100D)
  • 3/1958-11/1958  506th Tactical Fighter Wing (Maint Qual Control), Tinker AFB, OK, F-100D/F
  • 12/1958-6/1962 12th Tactical Fighter Squadron/18th Tactical Fighter Wing (Wing Stan Eval), Kadena AB, Okinawa (F-100D/F)
  • 7/1962-7/1966 4514th CCTS (IP) & 4510 CCTW (TA&D), Luke AFB, AZ (F-100 C/D/F)
  • 8/1966-6/1967 ACSC – Maxwell AFB, AL (T-33)
  • 8/1967-/1968 614 Tactical Fighter Squadron/35th Tactical Fighter Wing (Flt Cmdr), Phan Rang AB, Vietnam (F-100D/F)
  • 9/1968-6/1972 Pentagon Ops (Munitions OT&E) Wash DC (T-33)
  • 7/1972-5/1973 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing (Chief, Wpns & Tactics), England AFB, LA, A-7D
  • 5/1973-5/1974 74th Tactical Fighter Squadron/23rd Tactical Fighter Wing,(Sq Ops Off) England AFB, LA (A-7D)
  • 5/1974-8/1975  76th Tactical Fighter Squadron/23rd Tactical Fighter Wing,  (Sq Cmdr) England AFB, LA (A-7D)
  • 9/1975-2/1976  NATO Defense College, Rome, Italy
  • 2/1976-4/1978 NATO AIRSouth Hqs. (Exec to C of S), Naples, Italy
  • 5/1978-5/1980 48 CSG (Base Commander), Lakenheath AB, UK
  • 6/1980-7/1982 AFROTC Det 675, (Commander – Professor of Aerospace Studies), Univ. of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
  • Aug 1, 1982 – Retired

Awards & Decorations

Flight Info

PA-18
T-6
T-33
F-86
F-100 A/C/D/F
A-7D

Military Education

2/1957  Primary  & Basic Fight Training Class 57-I
6/1957  Advanced Pilot Training
11/1957 AGOS
12/1961 SOS (ECI)
10/1964 ACSC (ECI)
11/1964 Fighter Wpns School (DG)
6/1967 ACSC (Res)
8/1967 Survival & Jungle Survival Courses
9/1969 Tactical Fighter Commander Course
7/1970 ICAF (ECI)
10/1972 – RHAW Course
2/1976 – NATO Defense College
7/1980 – Academic Instructor Course

Civilian Education

1949 Central & Capitol Hill High School, Oklahoma City, OK
1955 BS/Aeronautical Engineering, University of Oklahoma
1976 MSBA Boston University, Night School, Naples, Italy

Biography

Biography

I was born in Grand Rapids, MN but lived most of my adult civilian life in and around Oklahoma City, OK.
In August of 1956, on graduation day from Primary flight training at Bartow AB, FL, I was selected to fly the last T-6 mission in the USAF. I’d been in finals for the Thunderbirds while at the Fighter Weapons School in the Fall of 1964, flunked the “finals” but made DG at FWS with a great bunch of fighter pilots.
In early 1974, I spent a couple months at Wright-Pat AFB as one of 25 pilots in an Air Force study group formed directly under the AF Chief of Staff. The group’s task was to develop a force modernization and composition strategy for the 1980’s & beyond.
I then returned to England AFB to get my own A-7 squadron, the 76th Tactical Fighter Squadron “Vanguards”.  I was then selected for the NATO Defense College in Rome (somebody’s gotta do it) in the summer of 1975 while on TDY in Hawaii in support of Army maneuvers.  A NATO tour in Naples, Italy followed and from there to Lakenheath, England in 1978 as Base Commander. (Suddenly I was in charge of all those base agencies I used to bitch about.) Realizing my AF flying days were over, I volunteered for and got an assignment in 1980 as head of the AFROTC detachment at the University of Oklahoma where it all started.
It was a great 26 ½ years!!
After retirement, I went to work as VP for Downtown Airpark, Inc., a business aircraft full-service repair facility in Oklahoma City, OK.  The company owned the airport, so it was a real mixture of duties. I became Corp. President in 1985 and retired from there in 1994 after which I  worked for a gentleman from Guadalajara, MX to develop & promote Mexico’s business aviation trade show until 2003. When I finally decided enough was enough, I bought a small vacation spot on Grand Lake in Northeast Oklahoma and retired fully. Life is good!!!

Caterpillar Club

Jim Kelm – Caterpillar Story

Jim KelmIt was a Saturday, July 28th, 1968, about a month before I was due to rotate back to the States. My replacement, Maj. Val Robertson had arrived at Phan Rang and this was his first ride in-country. Val was in the front seat of the F-100F & I was in the back. Our callsign was “Devil 51”, a single ship flight.

We did a brief tour of central S. Vietnam at medium altitude & then picked a location south of Phan Rang near the coast to practice various types of weapons deliveries, primarily low angle stuff. We were near a small village. I demo’d hi-drag, slick, nape & a strafe pass & then gave the stick to Val to do some. On Val’s first or second pass, I thought I noticed some flashes on the ground off to the side as we were coming in and, in the recovery, the engine blew & smoke filled the cockpit. The smoke was so thick I had to get within a foot of the instrument panel to see it. Of great prominence was the BIG red fire warning light.
I immediately took control of the bird, had Val go to Guard Channel, and made the first of several radio calls (while going for whatever altitude we could get) and headed out over the South China Sea. In the process, I also tried a couple air starts. I know, I know, the book says that (as I remember) if the engine explodes or is on fire, do not attempt a restart. Believe me, if you only have one engine and that one quits over bad-guy territory, you’re gonna try to get it running. No dice. I told Val that we were going to eject & to get ready. I wasn’t sure how high we were because of no visibility in the cockpit, but I guessed about 3000 feet. Val confirmed he was ready, so I made our final radio call that we were ejecting and raised the handles.
The wind blast was impressive when the canopy left & up I went. I immediately went blind, was slammed by something, & then felt the chute open. I realized that my helmet had rotated 90 deg., so I moved it back to its normal position so I could see again. I checked the chute – it looked OK. I looked over my shoulder & saw Val in the distance with a good chute and then I looked for the aircraft. The plane was in a wings-level attitude heading for the coast. It then nosed over & went into the sea.
As I approached the water, I disconnected the mask from the harness, took off my helmet and threw them both into the water. Looking down, the water looked a tad rough. (I found out later there was close to ten-foot swells.) I landed in the water, dumped my chute and attempted to get in my one-man life raft. I got in on my first try by pulling myself in from the small end using the handles – as taught in water survival. The only problem is that I am now laying face down in a raft full of seawater. I forcefully rolled over to a sitting position and rolled right out of the raft! Back to square one. I started my boarding process again. This time both handles on the life raft broke, which made getting in even more interesting, particularly in 10′ swells. I finally got in the raft, gingerly rotated to a sitting position, pulled in my survival kit, and looked around to see if there was anything in sight except water. Nothing. I looked down and there was my helmet floating & bumping up against my raft. I picked it up & placed it in the raft.
I took stock of my physical condition. All was fine except my left shoulder was sore & stung a bit. After a short while, as I topped one of the swells, I noticed a small boat in the vicinity. I popped a flare and in short order, a U.S. Navy patrol boat pulled alongside and a sailor leaned over the side, grabbed my arms at the top of a swell, and yanked me into the boat. I was glad I hadn’t broken anything up to that point because it would have gotten a lot worse when he hauled me into the boat. I had been in the water only about 20 minutes. I was glad to see him and the whole crew, as you can appreciate, and expressed my thanks to one & all. I also drank every bit of water I could get my hands on. Boy, was I thirsty. They told me at that time that they had been racing a VC gunship to see who could get to me first. I hadn’t seen any other boat before I was picked up. I thanked them all again for a hell of a good job. The boat skipper quickly found Val and they got him onboard as well. Shortly thereafter, the rescue helicopter (Pedro) from Phan Rang came and hovered over the boat, hoisted us up and returned us to Phan Rang.
We were taken to the base hospital and checked over. I had a minor cut on my shoulder which the experts surmised was caused by the seat when I separated. I was released to quarters, but they kept Val overnight for observation though I’m wasn’t sure why. En-route to the Q, I had whoever was driving drop me at the Squadron where, and you may find this hard to believe, I hoisted a few with the guys.
As an aside to this whole thing, while still at the hospital, I asked to call my wife in Phoenix. I tried for over an hour but couldn’t get through. The Wing Commander heard about my problem, got on the horn, and I was connected in about three minutes. As it turned out, my wife had already been informed that something had happened – in a most unusual way. She received a phone call from someone who identified himself as a ham operator for Barry Goldwater. He said that I was down on a mission and missing, but that was all the info he had. He then hung up. She knew basically what “down” meant and, obviously, was shaken. She called the base but they had no information and then called a friend who started making calls. After a while, I was able to get through and reassure her that I was OK. We never found out who had called her initially.

Units - Education - Awards - Flight Info

Units Assigned

  • 10/1955 Commissioned thru AFROTC @ the Univ. of Oklahoma
  • 1/1956  Lackland AFB Preflight
  • 2/1956-8/1956 Primary  Flight Training, Bartow AB, FL (PA-18, T-6, (DG))
  • 8/1956-2/1957  Basic Flight Training, Webb AFB, TX (T-33)
  • 3/1957-6/1957 Advanced Pilot Training, Williams AFB, AZ (F-86)
  • 7/1957-8/1957  F-100 Checkout – Nellis AFB, NV (F-100A)
  • 8/1957-2/1958  511th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Langley AFB, VA (F-100D)
  • 3/1958-11/1958  506th Tactical Fighter Wing (Maint Qual Control), Tinker AFB, OK, F-100D/F
  • 12/1958-6/1962 12th Tactical Fighter Squadron/18th Tactical Fighter Wing (Wing Stan Eval), Kadena AB, Okinawa (F-100D/F)
  • 7/1962-7/1966 4514th CCTS (IP) & 4510 CCTW (TA&D), Luke AFB, AZ (F-100 C/D/F)
  • 8/1966-6/1967 ACSC – Maxwell AFB, AL (T-33)
  • 8/1967-/1968 614 Tactical Fighter Squadron/35th Tactical Fighter Wing (Flt Cmdr), Phan Rang AB, Vietnam (F-100D/F)
  • 9/1968-6/1972 Pentagon Ops (Munitions OT&E) Wash DC (T-33)
  • 7/1972-5/1973 23rd Tactical Fighter Wing (Chief, Wpns & Tactics), England AFB, LA, A-7D
  • 5/1973-5/1974 74th Tactical Fighter Squadron/23rd Tactical Fighter Wing,(Sq Ops Off) England AFB, LA (A-7D)
  • 5/1974-8/1975  76th Tactical Fighter Squadron/23rd Tactical Fighter Wing,  (Sq Cmdr) England AFB, LA (A-7D)
  • 9/1975-2/1976  NATO Defense College, Rome, Italy
  • 2/1976-4/1978 NATO AIRSouth Hqs. (Exec to C of S), Naples, Italy
  • 5/1978-5/1980 48 CSG (Base Commander), Lakenheath AB, UK
  • 6/1980-7/1982 AFROTC Det 675, (Commander – Professor of Aerospace Studies), Univ. of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
  • Aug 1, 1982 – Retired

Awards & Decorations

Flight Info

PA-18
T-6
T-33
F-86
F-100 A/C/D/F
A-7D

Military Education

2/1957  Primary  & Basic Fight Training Class 57-I
6/1957  Advanced Pilot Training
11/1957 AGOS
12/1961 SOS (ECI)
10/1964 ACSC (ECI)
11/1964 Fighter Wpns School (DG)
6/1967 ACSC (Res)
8/1967 Survival & Jungle Survival Courses
9/1969 Tactical Fighter Commander Course
7/1970 ICAF (ECI)
10/1972 – RHAW Course
2/1976 – NATO Defense College
7/1980 – Academic Instructor Course

Civilian Education

1949 Central & Capitol Hill High School, Oklahoma City, OK
1955 BS/Aeronautical Engineering, University of Oklahoma
1976 MSBA Boston University, Night School, Naples, Italy

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