Bureaucratic Stupidity, Spies, Screeching and a Wedding.
Two more refuelings and 4 hours and I’ll be home with my Fiancé, 4 whole days before we get married! I was supposed to have been home 3 weeks ago. I’m in an F-4E with my BackSeater, Goose. We’re about 500 miles south of Iceland and have just rendezvoused with the tanker out of Loring AFB Maine. I start to move into the pre-contact position to make sure everything’s still good. Cleared into the contact position, the boomer sticks me… then pulls out. Sticks me again… and pulls out, moves me back to pre-contact. Uh-Oh, maybe it wasn’t the Mildenhall tanker. It’s US! I call the boomer and tell him about the pressure refueling. There’s a pregnant pause for several minutes. Finally, the tanker AC calls me and says that Loring Wing Policy is pressure refueling is not authorized unless in an emergency situation. So unless I declared an emergency, I wasn’t getting any gas. Gotta love SAC!
First thing Goose and I do is figure out landing options (on a runway is preferred, at an airport with JP-4 and a ground power unit is even better). Both Gander and Keflavik are within range. We’re generally headed toward Gander, so it’s just a matter of figuring out whether my soon to be wife’s reaction will constitute an emergency. I’m pretty sure it will for me, but not for the rest of the people in my general vicinity. Even if I did declare an emergency, I’d still have to land at the first available base. So we clear the tanker off and head for Gander.
The front we flew through during refueling #5 has cleared out everything behind it and it really is Ceiling and Visibility unlimited. Start the letdown about a 100nm out since we can see the field from there. I cancel IFR and proceed VFR once we’re below 18000’. Contact the tower and they clear us to land. Winds are right down the runway at 40 knots. I've been flying for about 6 hours in some pretty crappy weather, so am a bit tired. I perform a USN approved carrier landing of the aircraft smack on the numbers (this IS an F-4 and my RTU instructor was a Navy Exchange Pilot) and, habit kicks in, I immediately deploy the drag chute. The runway is about 10,000’ long. The head wind, drag chute and energy dissipating landing allow me to turn off after 2500’.
We taxi to parking by the International Airport terminal and shut the aircraft down. Safe the seats and climb down. We are facing into the wind and the drag chute is still fully inflated, shaking the whole aircraft with each gust. We don’t have a spare chute since the flight was supposed to be non-stop, so we've got to reuse this one. This will be my first attempt at a repack.
The Field Expedient Drag Chute Repack Technique requires a broom handle, a maintenance stand and stuffing the drag chute back into the chute bay with the broom handle. I had a broom handle and a ladder. Goose and I grabbed the bottom of the chute and began pulling it down to deflate it. I then climbed the ladder and started to stuff it back into the chute bay with the broom handle. I’d get it almost all the way in, and a gust of wind would catch it and BANG! It’s redeployed shaking the plane and coming THIS close to knocking me off the ladder. Goose gave me 7 style points for my dismount technique. This went on for about 20 minutes. 20 minutes in 40 knots and about 45 degrees. We are not having fun again! Finally, I can stand it no more. The wind catches the chute a final time, I walk to the front, climb in and release the chute handle. The chute disappears. Go back, close the chute bay door and start putting the rest of the down locks and assorted safety pins on the jet.
While we’re putting the bird to bed, an airliner lands and taxis over to the Terminal. It looks kind of like a 727 except with two engines on each side. Putting my aircraft recognition skills to work, I identified it as a Tupolev TU-134.
The airliner pulls up beside us and shuts down. The door opens and people start to walk down the steps and proceed toward the terminal. One of them, however, turns and starts toward us. I’m underneath the aircraft and Goose is over with the Gas Truck attendant getting ready to show him how to refuel an F-4E. This guy rounds the nose of the jet when I first get a good look at him. He’s wearing a London Fog Overcoat and a Brown Fedora pulled low, a Russian James Bond! I kid you not! (Cleaned that one up for the Sarge, he’s got tender ears.)
I scurry out from under the jet as he starts
reaching for the boarding steps. (For Sarge’s take on boarding steps, click
here.) I pleasantly ask him what he’s
doing and in a thick Russian accent, he says he’d like to look in my
airplane. I’m somewhat flummoxed with
his audacity. I’m sure the Kremlin has
several working models of the F-4E in their possession and probably knows its
capabilities better than me, but I’ll be darned if some Russian is going to
climb into MY aircraft. So I politely tell him “No”. About this time, a law enforcement type pulls
up and requests the passenger report to the terminal without further ado. I ask the officer what that was all
about. He said that’s the Tupolev is the Aeroflot flight from
Moscow to Havana, and they try that kind of thing all the time.
|For some reason, there's a paucity of pictures of actual Russian Spies on the Internet, but you get the idea.|
We get the aircraft put to bed, and call the local RCAF station to see if we can get quarters for the evening. Being gone 17 days on a planned 4 day trip has put the money locker into an emergency condition. They said they had quarters and they’d send someone over to pick us up shortly. We’re standing there, now significantly chilled when we see a hangar door open on the other side of the field and a truck exits, drives across the field and stops. A couple of guys in flight suits get out walk over and introduce themselves. Evidently, they are rescue pilots and they sit alert at Gander. We are welcome to bunk with them and join them at their Mess for Screeching. This has us curious, but gift horse, mouth……
Back across the field we go, learning our drivers are part of a 4 HC-130 crew detachment deployed to Gander maintaining 2 crews on, 2 crews off alert. We get to their ops building and drop our stuff off in the room. Evening mess is about to commence, so we join them there. Some classified formalities ensue of which I am forbidden to speak (there was some ceremony of which I remember no details), and the meal begins. A thoroughly enjoyable meal was had by all, the requisite war stories exchanged. Finally the detachment commander tinks on his glass and the mess quiets. He stands and says “In Honor of our American Guests, we will celebrate with a round of Screech.” He walks over to the bar and brings back a bottle of brown liquid.
|Lest anyone doubt my veracity!|
Pours a round and passes it to all. Again, there was some formality of which I have no recollection, but at some point we were allowed to drink. IT WAS AWFUL! Pretty sure it was in the high hundreds in proof and did not look like it was commercially made. (it made VX's Barbancourt taste wonderful in comparison.) Managed to get it down and maintain the honor of the USAF. When he poured a second I began to think this could be a mistake. We drink that one and he marches over and places the bottle back on the bar citing their requirement to assume alert posture in the morning. I was very thankful. We got a certificate to document our induction into the loyal order of screechermen and retired for the evening.
Takeoff the next morning was uneventful. The weather was clear and a million. Landed at Pease AFB and was momentarily startled by the No Chute call from the tower, but come on, the runway is 11000’. It handled B-52s. Barely had to touch the brakes. Refueled and back in the air. Down to Seymour Johnson, touched down, deployed the drag chute (Courtesy of Pease). Refueled and on Home.
Touchdown was normal; rollout and parking smooth. I walked into the Squadron with a certain amount of trepidation, 18 days after I left for a 4 day trip and 3 days before my wedding, to see my Fiancé standing there with a smile on her face. We were married shortly thereafter. Since she’s managed to put up with my shenanigans for the ensuing 30+ years, I think I’ll keep her.
Oh, and by the way, her maiden name was Murphy!