|The Collings Foundation's F-4D Phantom II|
So there I was, reporting for duty one fine, lovely Korean afternoon (for I worked the 1500 - 2300 shift in the Radar Calibration "barn") and there sat "The Boss", Tech Sergeant Skip (whom we've met before, here.) He had "that look" which indicated to me that there was something "wrong". Not that I had done anything "wrong" but that what was about to happen had the potential to make me unhappy.
He then sat me down and explained to me that beginning forthwith (not that day but the following Monday) I would be reporting to Wing Headquarters for to become a "QA Puke" as we affectionately termed them. My first thought was "what have I done to deserve this?"
But Skip went on to explain that they had pretty much requested me "by name". Seems that I had had a pretty good rapport with the old QA guy and I did have a certain reputation for being
It was then that I stunned Skip. For I looked him in the eye and said, "Sure, sounds like fun." Skip waited, assuming (of course) that I was being sarcastic. But I just sat there and said nothing.
"You understand that you're being reassigned, permanently?" Skip asked.
"So if I extend again, I'm stuck in Wing HQ?" For now I was a bit concerned. While staff jobs are okay for a while, a permanent gig seemed somewhat daunting. I mean I could handle meetings with our maintenance officer (a captain) and from time to time the squadron commander (a major). But at Wing I'd have the occasion to be in meetings with full colonels. To include the Deputy Commander for Maintenance (DCM) and from time to time even that lordly personage the Wing Commander himself!
Skip said that he would look into that. (He did and it turns out that my stint in QA would last roughly six months until they got a more senior guy in from Stateside. Seems the billet I would be filling was for an E-6 and I was an E-5. Oh well.)
So the following Monday I showed up at the QA offices. Discovered that everyone except the admin guy outranked me. Wonderful. Second thing I discovered was that the guys on day shift didn't really serve any discernable, real-life, necessary function. Yup, they were basically billet-filling, paper-pushing, go-to-meetings staff pukes. I asked the captain when I could go on night shift.
Dead silence. Everyone looking awkwardly at everyone else. No one knowing quite what to say. Until one old Master Sergeant spoke up, "You actually want to be on night shift?"
Um, yes. Yes I do. Sitting at a desk is not why I signed on to this man's Air Force. No sir, no how. (My desire to be behind a desk came later in life. And not as a staff-weenie.)
So, they huddled, they discussed, they harumphed and then it seems that a decision had been made. I would report to work on swing shift the very next week.
"Uh, why not tomorrow?" I asked, in all innocence.
"Well, um, let me see, uh, oh, the Colonel, yes the DCM himself, has to approve having two guys on night shift instead of just one." the captain managed to sputter.
Oh well, I guess I could wait a week. And what a boring week that was. Seems the day shift guys didn't do much more than read tech manuals, leave instructions for the guy on night shift and then review the night shift guy's nightly reports. For the night shift guy actually went out to the flight line, he would actually watch the guys maintaining the aircraft. He actually had a real function, ensuring the quality of the maintenance performed on our two squadrons of mighty Phantoms.
One guy working at night. Five sergeants, one airman admin type and a captain to evaluate and adjudicate the night shift guy's findings. Wonderful. I seriously wondered if they would have to double the numbers on day shift now that night shift would have two guys. Nope, said the old Master Sergeant, but now we'll just have to work harder on day shift. (And he said that like he was, ya know, serious!)
Okay. At least it wouldn't take more guys to accomplish what little they actually did on day shift. No skin off my butt. I'd be on night shift.
So the following week I reported for night shift. The guy I was working with was a Tech Sergeant. Now I knew why he was on the night shift. With the exception of the airman admin guy and the captain, all the other guys were Master Sergeants. So, as is the norm, the lower ranking guys got what was viewed as the "less desirable" shifts.
Except many of us could never figure out why day shift was in any way, shape or form, "desirable". All the big shots were around during the day. You had to get up early. The jets were flying most of the day so we couldn't work on them. And, the big shots were around during the day. (Yes, I mentioned that twice. No normal person liked being around the big shots.)
On night shift we got to ride around in our truck and talk on the radio and observe the maintenance guys in their natural habitat. In fact, we started referring to driving around on the flight line as "going on safari". (And the captain told us no, we couldn't wear shorts, bush hats and talk in South African accents. Not that we could've pulled off that last bit anyway.)
So, one of the first things I learned was that we had our very own call sign. We were "Snoop", because we were always snooping around, annoying the wild life. And Job Control, the guys we dealt with most of the time, the guys who controlled the flow of aircraft maintenance, their call sign was "Wolf", short for Wolf Pack Job Control.
If we wanted to call them, we'd hit the button and say "Wolf, Snoop". (Short hand for "Hi Wolf Pack Job Control, it's us, the Snoopers".) They would answer with simply "Wolf". Reverse the order to get traffic to us, as in "Snoop, Wolf", "Snoop" was (of course) our reply. I thought it was "cool". (And no, I didn't get out much in those days. After all I was married. Where we were was an "unaccompanied tour" as in the Air Force would send you, but not your family. So many of the folk there were effectively "single". I was very effectively "married". My wife being Korean, she was already in place when I arrived. And would remind me that while all my buddies might be out on the town drinking and chasing women, I was to be home at a reasonable hour. Thank you very much! Oh, and don't drink too much. Grrrr.)
One night we headed out "on safari" and knew that this night was going to be more interesting than it normally was. For not only was maintenance going on, so was flying. The Wing was practising night operations so we planned on spending an appreciable amount of time down near the end of the runway where the BB-Stackers would be prepping the aircraft just prior to take-off, called the "Arming Area". Doing their thing which would allow the ordinance to come off the airplane as it was designed to do once in the air. (For there were safety devices to prevent this while on the ground. One of the last things to happen before the jets headed for the "hold short" was to have those safety devices removed, in the Arming Area. Fun to watch. From a safe distance of course. Wouldn't want our precious QA Pukes to get hurt now would we. Especially now that I was one!)
After an hour or so of patrolling the Whiskey Arches (see below) we saw one jet getting ready to taxi out and launch. We thought it would be cool to do so and we so informed Job Control. To which they said:
"Snoop, Wolf. That's a roger on the follow." (Or other cool sounding radio words to that effect.)
|Aircraft Shelter, What we called a "Whiskey Arch".|
We watched the crew chief (plane captain to you nautical types) guide the jet out of the arch, render a snappy salute and then we took up a position in trail for to follow the Phantom as it trundled out to the arming area. (At a distance where we would not be troubled by jet blast mind you.)
As we followed the aircraft, something began to trouble me. At first I couldn't put my finger on it. It appeared that there was a light of some kind on the back seater's left side cockpit ledge. The place where the canopy would settle upon closing, the place where the cool kids would put their arms as they taxiied with the canopies open. The place where the crew chief would kneel over as he helped the crew strap into the jet.
Now there was a map light on a cord which the WSO could unclip from the side of the cockpit to examine maps, mysterious documents, comic books and various and sundry other forms of printed matter (for this was in the day before all of your fancy handheld ee-lek-tronical dee-vices came into being). But no, I've used that map light before. While its cord would stretch that far, why would you bother? Also it was night, normally the red lens would be used at night. (So as not to ruin ones ability to see in the dim light. Kind of important if one is going to be flying at night.) The light I was seeing was white.
Then it struck me. That cockpit ledge would also be a logical place for someone to set something down if they needed both hands to do something for the intrepid airman about to "slip the surly bonds". Something like (remember it's night time) a FLASHLIGHT!
Turning to my compadre I pointed out the lighting where there should be no lighting. His eyebrows went up and he got on the magical talking box and let Job Control know that there was something amiss with aircraft tail number such and such and would they please get the BB-Stackers in the Arming Area to check it out?
We observed someone climb up the side of the jet. Saw the light source waiver, then go out. Then we observed that same someone climb down off the jet. Moments later the magic talking box came to life...
"Yeah, good catch Snoop. We had the guys in the Arming Area remove that 'Unauthorized Auxiliary Lighting' from the back cockpit. I'm sure that the crew chief for that bird is wondering where his flashlight is. He can explain it to the colonel tomorrow morning."
Of course we were in hysterics at the term 'Unauthorized Auxiliary Lighting'. And, being the highly trained professionals we were, entered that in our nightly log. That should cause some raised eyebrows on the day shift. (It did.)
Oh, and that crew chief? Yes, he had a nice explanation for the colonel the next morning as to the lost flashlight. Seems it consisted mostly of "Yes, Sir." "No, Sir." "No excuse, Sir." No, the colonel was not pleased.
But we had fun.
This is the first in what may (or may not) be
a series dealing with my time in Flightline QA.
There are many tales of the flightline, this was one. A
Black Hat Tale, for QA wore black ball caps with "8th TFW QA"
prominently displayed on the front of the cap.