Dhahran Diary®

Title: Bobby Head


Bobby Head, second from right, spent two summers in Dhahran in the 1950s. From l to r: Clarice Christophersen, Jan Head, Bobby, and the author. Heads now reside in Arizona (2002).

My first recollection of A. W. 'Bobby' Head was at the pool one summer in the early 1950s. Bobby was a handsome Texan with a big, squinty-eyed grin. He was the dependent stepson of ARAMCO driller M.H. Burt. They lived on Fifth Street. I recall Bobby hanging around with Leon (?). I also recall him with a lot of girls. He seemed older than his years and I think he hung around with the air base crowd that summer. We were acquaintances. He was from near Bay City.

Leap forward to 1959. I am in the U. S. Navy at Brunswick, Georgia. That May I was transferred to Brunswick's training command where I began to attend air control early warning school, a flight billet job in Super Constellations, a big, tri-tailed patrol aircraft. I was thrilled to be associated with flying and the job of airborne radar air traffic operations was fun and challenging to learn. In the first week, most of the students in special class 23X were settling into the routine and the real pressures of the curriculum had not surfaced. We were taking touch-up classes in math and other areas. We'd finish studying early and then shoot the bull in the study room until lights out. No one was allowed out during the week and on the weekend it was Cinderella liberty only. It was a four month school. Late one afternoon I was talking to a new friend about living overseas and the fun of travel. I mentioned a few city names like Rome and Paris when a newby from across the room said he had visited those places. My new friend said," Well, I'll bet you haven't been to Saudi Arabia!" The sailor said in a quiet voice, "I used to live there." I leaned forward to get a better look at this guy. There was that big grin. It was Bobby Head.


  That moment was the beginning of a life long friendship. We finished school together, were assigned to the same squadron (VW-ll in Argentia, Newfoundland)), and after flying for several months, we ended up in the same crew, 12 Knothole. The airplane was a large communications and radar platform with a crew of 22.
The Lockheed Early Warning Star- named the Super Constellation, a Navy patrol aircraft, was instrumental in maintaining long range RADAR coverage of the seaward extensions of the DEW line during the cold war. Bobby and the author were in the same flight crew.

Our main task was flying between Argentia and the Azores, the eastern seaward extension of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, that cold war barrier of fixed radar sites that stretched across Canada. Our part of the barrier was across 1100 nautical miles of north Atlantic, a nasty place to fly in winter and a foggy place to come home to in summer. The round trip was about twelve hours. Bobby was headed for a flying job after the Navy. He spent every waking moment in the flight station. The pilots helped him gather time and after the Navy Bobby finished his ratings and went to the airlines.

While still in Argentia, he joined the flying club and built time in the Ercoupe and the T-34. He was always going off to Gander or St. Pierre and Miquelon. He took me up in the Ercoupe, kind of a vibrating mosquito with a fat wing, and the T-34, a beautifully designed trainer where the pilots sat in tandem. I realized that the T-34 was really flying and this led me to seek my commercial ticket and instrument ratings later in civilian life. But, Bobby was driven by flying more than I.

We both brought our wives to Newfoundland. We spent a lot of family time together. Our first children, Kelli and Marty were born there. Our daughter Kelli was about ten months older. Bobby's wife, Jan, was a teacher and got on with the Dept. of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS) in Argentia. My wife, Clarice, had a semester left. When Kelli was old enough to travel, Clarice took her back to Iowa where she finished school and began to teach in Cedar Rapids, our home for the next 18 years. Clarice retired last year with 36 teaching years to her credit!

Bobby and I deployed to Iceland together and we spent time in the Azores too. We both had crew leader status and had reached the limits of our advancement potential (E5) for a first enlistment. We enjoyed the work and the excitement of flying in an operational status with real world issues on our plate each time we flew. The aircraft were well maintained and this was paramount as the weather was always a challenge and a threat. A Connie had crashed at Argentia a year or so before and we lived under the stress of too few flight personnel and too many flight hours. Our commander, LCDR Moe English, was the best. He brought us through icing conditions when the deicing boots on the wings would cap over, forming a crust to destroy the airflow, and, when the propeller spinners had circular accumulations bigger than a medicine ball. More than once I saw English step out of the flight station with his winter flight suit sweated through. Bobby and I amassed over 2000 flight hours and we were members of the 100 barrier club. We had Lockheed service pins for 1000 and 2000 flight hours. Bobby extended for a year and may have reached the 3000 hour mark.

After the Navy, Bobby took his family to Dallas. They lived in Irving where Bobby worked as a bricklayer (his other love). He took his flight ratings and when Central Airlines hired Bobby, he thought his career was launched. Unfortunately, his brother, Buddy also worked for Central. Bobby was hired in the morning and fired that afternoon, as I recall.No relatives! That same day someone at Central told Bobby that Braniff was hiring for the first time in years, so he hot-footed it over to their Dallas offices and got on as a flight engineer. We, in Cedar Rapids, were thrilled to hear of Bobby's success. He flew the DC-7 freighter from Texas to New York until he bid into the BAC-111. After a stint in this jet, he got on as a copilot on the 727. They moved to Lake Jackson, near the gulf. Eventually he was promoted to captain and had well over 30,000 hours when the bottom fell out and Braniff rolled over from poor management. He was home for a year, then was hired by Piedmont as a 737 copilot. They moved to High Point, North Carolina. He was promoted to captain quickly and when Piedmont was bought out by U. S. Air, Bobby flew with U. S. Air until his retirement several years ago.

Bobby and Jan live in Arizona now. Marty is a pilot with a major airline and their daughter, Geri, is an emergency room nurse. When they lived in Texas, we used to see then almost every summer. But when they moved east, this was more difficult. Now that they are in Arizona and we are settled in Colorado, we are back on schedule. While in Newfoundland, Bobby and I found a lot to be friends about. He taught me about flying and I thought I taught him how to play golf while we were in the Azores. As it turns out, like everything else in his life, Bobby worked hard on his game and became a five handicap until his knees and hands started to bother him. Now he's a ten but he's working to get that number back down. I played golf years before he did and I'm still a twenty-five handicap. He tells me that he'll get my handicap 'down there' next summer. I may be his first failure.

If you think about it, Bobby's done a lot. In over 30,000 hours, just think of the number of passengers he's carried from here to there safely. He never had a fatality, never dinged an aircraft, and most interestingly of all, he never set foot in a college or university.



Copyright ©1999-2006 Rolf A. Christophersen
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