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Bubbles gets set to do his thing at Bien Hoa Air Base, near Saigon, in 1971.

Bubbles gets set to do his thing at Bien Hoa Air Base, near Saigon, in 1971. (Howard Lavick /Stars and Stripes)

SAIGON — As the 7th Air Force pilot eased his huge C130 cargo plane onto Bien Hoa AB's east ramp, he could scarcely believe his eyes. Strutting purposefully ahead of the massive transport was a high-tailed dog wearing headphones and flight glasses, leading the plane into the parking area.

The pilot was understandably perplexed, but since December the sight of Bubbles leading a plane has become a matter of routine around the transit aircraft parking ramp.

Bubbles has adopted the men of the Bien Hoa Aircraft Transit Alert Office and has become their most famous mascot.

Bubbles isn't an airedale, but according to his owner, S.Sgt. John E. Molnar, the dog took to leading planes as if he were born for the job.

"Bubbles would follow me out onto the flight line when I was marshaling in an aircraft," Molnar said. "Pretty soon he got the idea and started trotting down the yellow line ahead of the planes. Once in awhile we put a headphone set and sunglasses on him and it really cracks up the pilots," the lanky airman laughed.

Resembling a mixture of golden Labrador and dachshund, Bubbles has a long rounded body, short legs with big feet and a black stripe around his tail. One airman describes him as a "Heinz — 57 varieties."

The east ramp has become Bubbles' domain, according to Molnar. He chases other dogs away — unless they're too big — and he often makes three roll call formations a day when each of the swing shifts begin.

Bubbles' antics sometimes cause a few anxious moments.

"Like the time he got too close to the prop blasts of a C130 and was blown 15 feet through the air," Molnar recalled. "And just last week he was almost sucked into the turbine of a commercial 707."

The warm afternoon sun and a busy schedule on the flight line makes for a pooped-out pooch. Occasionally Bubbles will plop down on the runway and refuse to move, Molnar said. Usually the pilot just revs up those big engines, and Bubbles — all 40 pounds of him — moves in a hurry.

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