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Flying high all over the world

After graduating from Hutchinson-Central High School in 1950, Cravane M. Givens received a football scholarship to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

At the historically black university, all of the male students were required to receive two years of military training. Givens initially participated in Army infantry drills, but when the Air Force added its presence to the school, he became a cadet in that program.

Initially, his goal was to practice medicine. Then the idea of becoming a physical-education teacher and coach caught his fancy. But when he got a taste of the wild blue yonder, he decided to give the military a shot.

Givens trained to be a bombardier but gravitated to flying propeller-driven strategic tanker planes, KC-97s, which supplied fuel to other aircraft in midair.

With the Cold War in full swing, Givens was assigned to refuel reconnaissance aircraft all over the Northern Hemisphere. When the Vietnam War heated up in the mid-1960s, he was flying missions over Southeast Asia.

By this time, he was flying KC-135 Stratotanker jets with the 903rd Air Refueling Squadron. At 30,000 feet, he and his crew would lower a rigid boom to thirsty B-52 bombers trailing about 40 feet below their own aircraft.

"The maximum offload of fuel that I ever did was 124,000 pounds. That took about 20 minutes," he said.

So what's it like to tether one aircraft to another flying at about 500 mph?

"It's all relative. It's a zero difference. We're flying as fast as they are. We're in the same air mass as they are. When they feel a bump, we feel a bump," Givens explained.

But at times, it could be challenging, especially when they were refueling SR-71 "Blackbird" long-range reconnaissance aircraft that slowed from three times the speed of sound to just under Mach 1 for a refill.

While flying missions above Vietnam, Givens flew out of Guam, Okinawa, Thailand and the Philippines.

He never set foot in Vietnam.

"I have no reason to be less than grateful," he said.

Vietnam was not the only global hot spot where he supplied aviation fuel.

When the North Koreans captured the USS Pueblo in 1968, he participated in operations to find the ship.

"Our reconnaissance planes did find it after a number of missions," he said.

By the early 1970s, Givens became an instructor, teaching others how to refuel SR-71s.

In reflecting back on his service, he said he could never have imagined becoming a pilot, since the very thought of flying had frightened him.

As a youngster, Givens had been out walking with his father one day toward the Central Terminal and came upon a small aircraft that had just crashed into the attic of a house on Paderewski Drive.

"So when I started out in college, I was afraid of flying. I had never really thought about it; nor did I have the desire," he said. "But as it turns out, it was just a fear of the unknown."

***

Cravane M. Givens, age, 79

Hometown: Buffalo

Residence: Williamsville

Branch: Air Force

Rank: Lieutenant colonel

War zone: Vietnam

Years of service: 1954-1974

Most prominent honors: Air Medal, three Air Force Commendation Medals

Specialty: Pilot

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