Texas Top Gun happily grounded in Toodyay
By Ieva Tomsons
ALLEN Clabaugh has gone from flying $US38 million supersonic jets at 2000km/h to being happily grounded for 16 years on a rural property in Hoddys Well.
“My dad was a B25 bomber pilot instructor during WWII and I guess you could say I’ve followed him in some ways.”Read more
Allen was born in 1944 in Pampa Texas, an air force base in the Texas Panhandle and once his father retired from the military and started working as a civilian, the family moved from state to state, eventually winding up in Denver, Colorado.
In his last year of high school he was accepted by the University of Colorado on a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship as an electrical engineering major but discovered he wasn’t cut out to be an engineer.
“Math really wasn’t my focus and I petitioned to change majors to English which set me back a year.”
To make ends meet Allen had to work three jobs; waiting tables in fraternity houses, cooking in dormitories and a one-year stint in a physics laboratory analysing photos of high-energy particle trails to verify Einstein’s theory of relativity.
At 19, his punishing academic and employment schedule landed him in hospital for two weeks with mononucleosis, a virus which attacks the immune system.
In 1968 he got his English degree and headed to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola Florida for pilot training.
“During the screening process for training they found that my depth perception was not good enough to be a pilot but I could become a Radar Intercept Officer, the backseater, in the F4J Phantom II jet program.
But down the track I finally realised my dream to be a pilot and gained a civilian pilot’s licence – so I did get to sit in the front seat.”
Allen married his first wife in 1968 while he was still a student and their first son was born in 1969, the same year his fleet squadron was deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin, Yankee Station, off the coast of Vietnam.
“Our role was to provide air support for the troops on the ground and to protect the US Navy forces in and around the gulf.”
By now he was a 24-year-old Lieutenant Junior Grade (2nd Lt) and recalls being “scared shitless” on his first combat mission when they came under fire.
“That mission gave me a lot of respect for the ground pounders (ground troops). The threat for them was constant while we could always fly back to the ship and have a nice hot meal and a good night’s sleep.”
Allen completed two tours of duty in Vietnam flying 175 combat missions and recalls an unexpected medal for a night flight to bomb a target which they missed.
â€œWe always flew with our lights off at night but the anti-aircraft gunners could hear us and if the guns on the ground were near the target we were attacking all they had to do was line up on the sound of the jet engines.
â€œHalfway down our run, tracers were flying over the cockpit and wings and we were way too low when we dropped our bombs which completely missed the target and landed in the jungle where they blew up a munitions dump. So the navy awarded me the Air Flight/Strike Medal.â€
By the time Allen returned to California in 1971 another son had been born and he started working as an instructor for student F-4J Phantom pilots.
The following year he became a member of an exclusive group who have survived ejecting from a stricken aitrcraft using the Martin Baker ejection seat.
“On a training flight there was a loud bang at the back of the plane and the warning lights panel lit up like a Christmas tree.
“One of the engines was on fire and we had to eject.”
Both the trainee pilot and Allen landed safely in the sea off San Diego but it was almost an hour before a helicopter winched him to safety and doctors told him he had very narrowly avoided hypothermia.
Allen was transferred to another F-4J Phantom II squadron in 1973, operating off the USS America.
The squadron transitioned to the F14 Tomcat in 1974 and the following year he was among the first F-14 aircrews to fly the Tomcat at the Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as Top Gun.
In 1977 Allen was transferred to the navy’s Operational Test and Evaluation fighter squadron (VX-4) and from 1977 to 1980 was involved in assessing the effectiveness of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons systems at the Pacific Missile Test Centre at Point Mugu California.
“We would test the systems in real operational situations, something we called ‘shake and bake’.”
Allen’s first marriage was nearing its end and he “wasn’t in a good space” but at this time he was transferred to another operational F-14 squadron, the VF-213 Black Lions aboard the aircraft carrier USS America.
In 1981 the massive vessel left Norfolk Virginia for the Mediterranean Sea, narrowly squeezed through the Suez Canal and sailed onto a port visit at Fremantle.
By now Allen had been promoted to Commander (Lt Col.) and it was in Perth that he first laid eyes on his second wife Glenys.
“They (the squadron) flew over my house in South Perth and blew the washing off the line – just to let us know they had arrived,” laughs Glenys.
Two days later they met at an officers’ dance at the Sheraton and Allen was smitten with what he calls “the Glenys effect” and they married in 1983.
That year, Allen, with his new wife at his side, was transferred to the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) located 610m underground at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs Colorado.
“I was in the strategic planning division and during periods of elevated defence alert would stand watch with the battle staff in a bunker built to withstand a 30 megaton nuclear explosion.”
At the end of this tour he was offered the choice of naval attaché in Argentina or instructing at the Maritime Tactical School in Portsmouth England.
“My wife was British, and the Falklands War was about to break out, so England it was.”
Prince Andrew was one of Allen’s students and the Clabaughs were enjoying a game of skittles with the soon-to-be-married royals when the paparazzi descended in hot pursuit of bride-to-be, Sarah Ferguson.
Prior to Allen’s retirement from the military in 1990 he was the Caribbean Desk Officer for the US Atlantic Command in Virginia but the couple had already decided to move to Perth.
With no job but with a Masters Degree in Human Resources Management, Edith Cowan University snapped Allen up as a senior lecturer.
During his 17 years at the university he headed up the Human Resources Management coursework stream and managed to squeeze in a PhD in Business Studies at the age of 57.
Now that’s what you call a real Top Gun.