Cold Fronts: Table of Contents





Abbreviations and Acronyms

Chapter 1 The Forces of History

“How patiently wars wait”; Planning for college; Cold War beginnings; Granddad knew his grandson; McCarthyism; Korea; the Cold War turns hot; FSU and Air Force ROTC; Active duty

Chapter 2 Combat Ready

School’s out; Briefing brass; Fallout charts and other responsibilities; SACumcised; First major responsibility; Fill ‘er up; Deployment; RAF Brize Norton; The Lord Mayor’s reception; Training continues; Major Rea does the right thing; Launch, ready for war; Unintentional weather modification; Idle time; Wing Weather Officer; A badly busted forecast; A weather briefing to nowhere in particular; Morocco; Aircraft carriers or bombers; Cas; Dealing with boredom; Suez and Budapest; McCoy Air Force Base

Chapter 3 Pole Vaulting

The high ground; The birth of weather reconnaissance; Cold War growth; Sputnik and Lieutenant Sharp are launched; Once is too often; Shall I unpack?; Low morale; Our mission; Preparing for take-off; Airborne; There’s cold, then there’s Arctic cold; Arctic Survival School; The secret handshake; Almost a Molotov Cocktail; Chasing nuclear weapons debris; The International Geophysical Year; Top cover; Back to the lower 48

Chapter 4 The Wagon Wheel

McChord; Alaska is not the same; Carbon dioxide sampling; A close call on son John’s birthday; A square peg; Ho Ho Ho; Sandy leaves many questions; Feet-first most of the way; Next stop McClellan; SOS; The Wagon Wheel; I lost my temper; Another close call; Flying across the jet stream; Weather modification; Supporting something or other; Ruptured fuel cells; Adieu to my flying days

Chapter 5 College; Climatology; and Computers

Boarding a fast moving train; Graduate seminar; Comps; The Cold War plods on; The Air Force Climatic Center; Solar forecasting: looking to the future; The Cuban Missile Crisis;Automating Noah’s Ark; The end of Camelot; Who do Voodoo; More of Fred

Chapter 6 The Automated Weather Network

A pioneering effort; Justifying the need; Air Force’s weather intercept program; A joint effort; Gathering a team; Waiting for Godot; Real-time programming; Blue suiters take over; Primitive modems and other challenges; Sharp, you’re our man; Through Tinker to Offutt by chance

Chapter 7 Upgrading the System

A blank check; Global comes on line; A national resource; Phase II planning; The family; Phase B – a more efficient baloney slicer; Syntax; Five hole paper tape; I reluctantly laid my pencil down; Overlays – stretching the 418 to fit the job;Trips to Fuchu and Wycombe; The mythical man-month; Progressing toward Phase II; A confrontation; “DEAD HORSE THIS IS CADAVER; RGR RGR”; An assignment to England; Clearing the air; Adieu once again

Chapter 8 "Gone to the United Kingdom”

Tiffany’s and Old Jordans; Suppose our turkey dies?; High Wycombe Air Station; But first – no more mandolin lessons; Phase II goes on line; Hey Sarge; “I didn’t know he was sick”; A romantic tryst; Dinner at Westminster; Forecast verification; Whip Wilson; Darts; Russian tanks roll through Prague; Fully automated; Sensible weather plots; La Luna; Operation Officer; Proud parents

Chapter 9  Defense Military Satellite Program

The high ground revisited; Weather satellites: the beginning; A deliberate breach; A sunsynchronous, near-Polar orbit; Big Jimbo; Hank Brandli; Spies in the sky; AFGWC’s contribution; Catch the can if you can

Chapter 10 Air Force Global Weather Central

Sources; Growth; Colonel Steele; UNIVAC 1108s?; Building D


Chapter 11 Assistant Director of Operations

An grim welcome; “Jack, when I’m not here, you’re the DO”; Tying off a loose end; No more painful than losing a lung; Special projects; Other useful intelligence gleaned from Global’s data base; Steele’s visits; Assembling a top-notch DMSP briefing team; The day “we saved the DMSP but lost AWS”; Salesman; The blizzard; The demise of Weather Plots; Détente and Vietnam; The ARPA Net, Granddaddy of the Internet; Digital fax; Exit Dave, reenter Ray; Update on AWS’s solar forecasting program; I talked my way out of that one; An offer I couldn’t refuse

Chapter 12 Out on the Floor

What fun!; Zauch; Side-saddle; Cries of “Baby Killers” are hurled; “What will Henry think?”; Preparing Global’s new Forecast Centers for business; Playing Cupid; A guided tour of a bizarre Bazaar; CTFP; Looking Glass; Inflation everywhere; “Colonel Galligar dropped by”; Global’s new commander; “In this man’s case, the promotion system failed!”; Tying off another loose end; An unheralded departure

Chapter 13 Chief of Aerospace Sciences

A prestigious title, an inner office, but little job satisfaction; The SAC Underground; Current projects; A new commander; Pickett’s charge; So this is how it’s going to be; “Would you be my best man?”; Reporting to my jail cell; An opportunity to calm the waters; “Find out what their problem is!”; The no-think forecast was our adversary; Time to retire; Proud and fond memories

Epilogue: Reflecting Back and Looking Ahead

Changes in the science of meteorology; The Family; The Cold War


Appendix A





Over one hundred years ago Daniel Webster wrote “God grants freedom to those who love it and are willing to protect and defend it.” Cold Fronts is a documentary of world events as experienced by a talented, dedicated, professional Air Force meteorologist as he sought to meet his responsibilities in response to Webster’s charge. In his book, Jack Sharp traces these events and their impact on both the perspective of his profession and their effects on the lives of his family members.

I greatly admire Jack for spending his time and energy to gather the information which gives Cold Fronts so much credibility. We are indebted to him for leaving us this chronicle from which we can derive pleasure by reading about his many interesting and varied experiences; but perhaps more importantly, from which future generations can benefit from an appreciation of the hard work, commitment to a mission, loyalty to country, and a lesson on how successes come when you don’t allow frustration to deter you. I had the privilege of serving in the Air Force’s Air Weather Service during the same years as Jack, thus I can vouch for the reputation he earned over his twenty-one years of service as a recognized technician, creative thinker, a firm but understanding leader, and above all – a gentleman.

As Cold Fronts unravels, we follow experiences in Jack Sharp’s life as they are driven mainly by the Cold War. There is the discussion of early family life; humble beginnings, underpinned in family values and religious faith. We learn of his early college years, his successes as a collegiate gymnast, his soloing in the Navy’s flight training program and the reasons which led him to eliminate himself from that program, and then his return to college to complete his undergraduate degree and be commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force. Active duty, as the Korean War was ending, finds Jack at Penn State University studying meteorology and receiving a second bachelors degree. All this sets the stage for an Air Force career which has left an enviable record of achievements, many of which still have significant impact on the conduct of both military and civilian operational meteorology today.

Jack takes us through assignments in a base weather station, aerial weather reconnaissance, graduate education, and what was then referred to as the Air Force Climatic Center. When computers arrived on the scene in weather analysis and forecasting in a real way, he was ready. Jack Sharp spearheaded the work that brought computer technology to the field of weather data collection. Real-time weather data is a meteorologist’s life blood; military requirements demanded that weather data be available to decision makers in decidedly less time than (prior) low speed teletype circuits were able to provide. By mid-year 1965, in the middle of the Cold War, and when U.S. involvement in Vietnam was rapidly escalating, the Air Force’s Automated Weather Network (AWN) – a pioneering effort in computer networking – would become a national resource. Today it is still one of the most vital components of weather communication for not just the Air Force and the Navy, but also the civil and private sectors in this country. Here again, when the science of meteorology was not moving forward fast enough to meet critical national security interest needs, bright, talented and dedicated Air Force weather people, communication people, and supporting contractors stepped in and provided solutions that dramatically improved urgently needed weather support. In this area, Jack Sharp has left an enviable record of successes in his wake. Suffice to say, his work (as he describes it rather modestly) was of critical importance to programs and decisions managed directly and daily at the highest levels of our government. Toward the end of his career, Jack became a key player at the Air force Global Weather Central: the largest, most complex and far-flung weather central the world has ever known.

I would be remiss if I did not say a word about Jack’s wife Almira. The devotion she showed to Jack in his work, and to the Sharp family, and thus the nation, is repeated over and over by countless wives and families of uniformed military members. It is they who most feel the effects of frequent moves, the long separations, changes in cultures and surroundings – – – yes, the nation gets two for the price of one. Spouses and families deserve unqualified recognition, for were it not for their concern, understanding, support and commitment, our military would not be able to do those things the nation calls upon them to do.

And so the Cold War is behind us, but let us not forget the lessons of this important chapter in U.S. history. Young men and women will be called upon again and again to protect and defend our cherished way of life. The form of the threat may now be different, but a threats are still there. I am convinced that those who recognize their responsibilities and are willing to put all of the line in service to their country are the greatest hope this nation has for a future of freedom, with “liberty and justice for all.” Jack Sharp answered his country’s call in 1953 and served in such a way as to leave a mark on the wall just a bit higher than those who came before him.

However this is simply the way it’s supposed to work in the ideal. Jack stood on the shoulders of the many brilliant and productive Air Weather Service leaders who preceded him and built on top of their efforts. After all, they didn’t have electronic computers, earth satellites with remote-sensing instrumentation, and all of the other high tech tools Jack and I had during our watch. Knowing Jack, I believe that he expects nothing less from those who are following us. Enjoy this chronicle, learn from this representative example of our combined experiences, respect and honor the professional achievements of Jack and the rest of his colleagues – unsung heroes all – and applaud also their lives as husbands and fathers, wives and mothers.


Albert J. Kaehn Jr.

Brigadier General, USAF (Ret)

Commander, Air Weather Service (1978-1982)





There was nothing mundane about life in the Air Force’s weather service during the Cold War. Air Weather Service meteorologists played an indispensable role protecting America: by forecasting navigational winds for nuclear-armed bombers and arranging for forecast winds and densities at 200,000 feet to be loaded into the guidance systems of our Minute Man II ICBM missile fleet to chasing Soviet nuclear weapon test debris across the Arctic and implementing a pioneering computer network that captured Sino-Soviet weather observations at their source. I was there as part of a dedicated team committed to help strengthen our nation’s defenses.

Many of these interesting and complex projects were highly classified at the time, but no longer have any military intelligence value. Their stories now belong in history books and personal accounts such as this.

This is the story of the middle-years of the Cold War, 1953-1974, as experienced by a kid from Philadelphia, too young for World War II, swept up by the forces of history into a career as an Air Force meteorologist, a career he came to enjoy. It is a unique “first person” prospective of what it was like to be in the (non-combatant) front line of the Cold War, supporting Air Force weapons systems in important ways. While you will read about some of my personal experiences, the “Hero”, the major protagonist in this work, is not me nor my work, but the Cold War –a frightening period in human history.

This narrative describes a number of important programs, many classified TOP SECRET, that have until today remained unchronicled and unheralded; programs that supported our country’s response to the Soviet threat. Most of what I describe has never before been made available to the general reading public.

Before this book is published I will have been retired longer than I was on active duty, plenty of time to reflect back. Enough time, also, to tell and retell my “war stories,” many my family has come to know by heart. After hearing just a few of these tales, Walt Kuenstler suggested “You should write a book.” He was convinced the average reader would react as he had: “Wow – I never knew that!” I had already been toying with the idea, so when Walt handed me the perfect title, Cold Fronts, I was hooked.

The project has been fun in many ways. It has given me an excuse to reestablish contact with many of my old Air Force buddies who graciously agreed to review episodes they lived through with me. We are all gray-haired (or bald) by now, and sometimes it has required our combined memories to sort out some of the details, however, early in my career a wise man told me “Never throw away a piece of paper with your name on it.” Fortunately, I followed this advise and had collected a drawer full of military orders and notes to refer to.

Most of the work I performed was interesting and challenging, which also made it enjoyable. Few people can imagine the breadth of opportunities awaiting fledgling meteorologists attracted to Air Force life; mundane forecasts of “fair and warmer” don’t begin to cover the responsibilities we assumed. The reader may be struck, as I have been, by the diversity of my own assignments:

  • Duty forecaster in a base weather station.

    Wing Weather Officer for a SAC refueling squadron and a bomb wing.

    Aerial Weather Observer on a WB-50D weather reconnaissance crew.

    Graduate school student.


    Computer Systems Analyst.

    Commander of a programming group at the hub of the Air Force’s Automated Weather Network (AWN): a pioneering effort in computer networking.

    Operations Officer, European Weather Central.

    Assistant Operations Officer, Air Force Global Weather Central (AFGWC).

    Chief of Analysis and Forecasting, AFGWC.

    Chief of Aerospace Sciences, Headquarters Strategic Air Command (SAC).

  • This variety matched my personality well, for I am forward-looking, always eager to face new challenges. As a boy I enjoyed helping my dad design and build our Christmas electric train platforms each year much more than I enjoyed running the trains afterwards.

    In spite of all the weatherman jokes that abound, professional meteorologists are on the main an intelligent group. To earn even a bachelors degree requires lots of mathematics and physics. Mathematics course requirements include partial differential equations and vector analysis. Thermodynamics, radiation, and fluid dynamics are but a few of the myriad of physics disciplines that must be studied in some detail.

    MIT Professor of Meteorology Edward Lorenz’s contributions to science transcended his chosen discipline. Dr. Lorenz is now recognized as the father of the new Science of Chaos and one day may become the first meteorologist-Nobel Laureate. My friend Jerry Perren always enjoyed telling people that when he enlisted in 1947, his acceptance into meteorology technician school required a higher score on the Army’s General Classification Test than he would later need for Officers Candidate School.

    During my career I witnessed an explosion in new technologies, many that AWS people quickly mastered and applied: computer numerical weather prediction modeling, 1954-55; weather-specific radar, 1954; airborne Doppler radar for measuring wind speeds, 1956; satellites (Sputnik), 1957; third generation computers (transistor chips), the middle and late 1960s; advances in modems and other computer communication technology that by 1965 led to the Automated Weather Network.

    We served demanding customers with important needs and satisfied many of their requirements. The majority of our customers understood and appreciated our contributions as well as the limitations of the science of meteorology, the impatient among them and those with unrealistic expectations did not.

    Necessarily, meteorology was one of the last physical sciences to come of age. Its beginnings had to wait for most of the other physical sciences and technologies to mature. Telegraph circuits were the last important step that finally set the stage, allowing data to be sent rapidly and collected at a central point for wide-area analysis. The largest of all possible pictures of the weather came as pictures, literally, with the advent of remote sensing, i.e. weather satellites, that would eventually allow Air Force meteorologists to substitute pictures of clouds for forecasts in Vietnam. Listed in their order of descending reliability are meteorology’s three basic services: observations, analyses, and forecasts. Forecasting, the least accurate of the three, will forever remain a combination of art and science.

    Korea and Vietnam were hot wars imbedded within a cold one. Those who went to fight there or support our warriors, including as many as 700 Air Weather Service personnel at one time, left their families at home. For many of the rest of us most of the time, the Cold War was different. We waged war at the office Monday through Friday, returning to hearth and home each evening and on weekends. The years I describe were a blend of my work at the office and my life at home.

    Blended also during these years were the ever changing forces of history, plus some major shifts in the attitude of a large percentage of American citizens toward what I was so deeply involved with: our country’s military response to a deadly nuclear stand-off that dared not erupt. Younger Americans were the first to oppose the Vietnam war. We in the military were not immune to their vehement opposition that eventually modified the views of many, if not most, Americans. This, I believe, will provide a broader and more meaningful context to the total book.

    My friend Walt Keuntsler tells me that one of my strengths is an ability to understand the historical links from our nation’s pre-war mentality of the 1930s to its WW II and Cold War experiences, while also trace my own experiences during these times through to my later life philosophies. Over that period, there have been profound changes.

    While I was serving in Alaska in 1958, a sweet little gray-haired woman came up to me after church and, looking up into my face with the nicest smile, said “You don’t look like a paid killer.” She had just heard that I was a lieutenant in the Air Force – but she didn’t really know me, for if she had, she would have realized what a peaceful person I really am. I was surprised by her remark, but felt no need to defend or explain; her description did not match my self-image. I never felt like a paid killer. This rather charming experience, however, was a harbinger of things to come. During Vietnam, some returning veterans were even spat upon.

    A few years after the Berlin Wall fell in 1992 I met Boris Makarenko, a young Russian studying at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs as a mid-career fellow. He and I became good friends and my wife Almira and I befriended him, for his wife and baby daughter stayed behind in Moscow and he was often lonely. My new friend told me that his father, one year younger than I and also a retired colonel, entered military service as a way to continue his education. We were mirror images. Boris further describes his father as a peaceful man and I believe him, for Boris certainly is that. Before young Boris returned to Moscow, he gave me a memento I will always treasure: a small, square piece of metal on a plastic stand, inscribed:





    This small plaque was designed by the Soviet Peace Committee, renamed the International Peace Committee after the Soviet break-up. Receiving this precious gift in 1993 marked the real end of the Cold War for me.

    I’ve attempted to be honest where I relate my own attitudes as they evolved over these years. I didn’t always agree with how our military forces were being used, but I was comfortable remaining in uniform. Bumper stickers that read “America, love it or leave it” bothered me, for they represented everything our country and my military service do not represent. I served to defend free speech. Honest differences of opinions are inevitable in a group of any size, they result from honest differences in values.

    Americans with tolerant views are constantly bombarded by intolerant views from both ends of the political spectrum. I do not enjoy debating, but that doesn’t mean I hold my own views lightly, rather, I see no gain in shouting and name-calling. Differences of opinion only become more rigid. You will read some opinions I held that I realized at the time were perhaps not typical within the military establishment. That was always OK with me. No fellow officer ever thought less of me for expressing my honest opinions, in fact I attribute my successful career in part to the fact that my colleagues trusted me to say what I honestly thought, without seeming self-righteousness about it.

    I have woven all of these components – advances in meteorology, my work at the office, my life at home, the forces of historical events, and changes in the public’s and my own personal attitude toward war (especially during the Vietnam conflict), the nuclear arms race, and military service – into one story: a description of the total fabric that was my Air Force Cold War life.

    I offer the reader this example of how the Air Weather Service supported our nation’s warriors during some of the world’s most dangerous years.




    This book is dedicated to Almira, my dear wife, my best friend, and my closest confidant. Thanks you for your patience during the many months when you saw little of me except the back of my head as I spent endless hours writing. Thank you also for your careful editing. You have much better eyes than I for this important chore. Thank you also to my four children, Doug, Joan, John, and Diane, for their honest critiques.

    I called on many of my former colleagues, now retired, each who lived through a portion of these experience with me, for their assistance. Without their help, this account would be incomplete and marred by misinformation. In order of their appearance in my military life they include: Col. Castor Mendez-Vigo, Lt. Col. Frank Hassett, Col. Bruce Abraham, Lt. Col. Kenneth Pitchford, Lt. Col. Jerry Perren, Col. Walter Richard Brett, Col. William E. Smurro, Col. Robert Fitzsimmons, Maj. E. Bruce Huber, Col. Walter R. Brett, SMS Albert Polston, Msg Harry Rice, Col. James Kennedy, Col. Norman R. Phares, CMS James Rosenberry, Lt. Col. Louis Westphal, Col. Arthur Bidner, Col. Dale C. Barnum, Col. David W. Saxton, Mr. Arthur Gulliver, Col. Thomas Madigan, Lt. Col. Hugh M. O’Neil, Lt. Col. Patrick E. Pickett, Col. Robert F. Woodnal, Col. John H. Wylie, and Lt. Col. Hank Brandli. Thank you all.

    Thank you G. James Spahr, a high school classmate and former Chief Meteorologist for American Airline, for your meticulous review of my manuscript, Walt Kuenstler for encouraging me to write this book and handing me its title, Cold Fronts. Thanks also to my niece Ann Sofie Mortimer for digitizing my photos and other graphics. I also owe thanks to another niece, Mary Jo Mortimer, who once told me I was a great story teller. Her off-handed remark one day stayed with me and helped give me the confidence I needed to begin this project.



    Abbreviations and Acronyms


    AFB Air Force Base

    AFCS Air Force Communication Service

    AFGWC Air Force Global Weather Central

    AFIT Air Force Institute of Technology

    AFOAT Air Force Office of Atomic Testing

    AC Aircraft Commander

    ARPA Advanced Research Project Agency

    ARS Air Refueling Squadron

    AS Air Station

    AWN Automated Weather Network

    AWS Air Weather Service

    BOQ Bachelor Officers Quarters

    CFP Computer Flight Plan

    CIA Central Intelligence Agency

    CINCSAC Commander in Chief Strategic Air Command

    CDC Control Data Corporation

    CLT Communication Line Terminal

    CMS Chief Master Sergeant

    COMUSMACV Commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam

    CPU Central Processing Unit

    CTFP Centralized Terminal Forecast Program

    DAP Data Automation Proposal

    DMSP Defense Military Satellite Program

    DO Director of Operations

    DoD Department of Defense

    ETAC Environmental Technical Applications Center

    FAA Federal Aviation Administration

    FNWF Fleet Numerical Weather Facility

    GNP Gross National Product

    ICBM Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

    IFF Identify Friend or Foe

    IG Inspector General

    IGY International Geophysical Year

    JNWPU Joint Numerical Weather Prediction Unit

    JSTPG Joint Strategic Target Planning Group

    LOP Line of position

    MAC Military Airlift Command

    METO Maximum except for take-off

    MSG Master Sergeant

    NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    NASCOMNET NASA Communication Network

    NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization

    NCO Non-commissioned Officer

    NCOIC Non-commissioned Officer in Charge

    NMC National Meteorological Center

    NOAA National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

    NOTAM Notice to Airmen

    NRO National Reconnaissance Office

    OL Operating Location

    PACAF Pacific Air Force

    PIREP Pilot report

    RAF Royal Air Force

    ROTC Reserve Officer Training Corps

    SAC Strategic Air Command

    SEL Space Environmental Laboratory

    SESS Space Environmental Support System

    SAMSO Space and Missile Systems Office

    SOS Squadron Officers School

    SSG Staff Sergeant

    TAC Tactical Air Command

    TDY Temporary Duty

    TSG Technical Sergeant

    USAFE U.S. Air Forces in Europe

    UU Unitarian Universalist (a religious denomination)

    WAD Wind and density (card decks)

    WAF Woman in the Air Force

    WBAN Weather Bureau-Air Force-Navy

    WMO World Meteorological Organization

    WRS Weather Reconnaissance Squadron

    WSU Weather Support Unit

    WW Weather Wing

    WW II World War II

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