Day 1 Going
I’d been flying the F-4 for about three years and had finally become “experienced” meaning I’ve accumulated at least 500 hours in the jet. I’m also now a Flight Lead which means not only am I responsible for not killing myself and my backseater, but also not killing anyone in my flight. I’ve led flights at Red Flag and other large scale exercises, so am at least marginally capable of handling a “real world mission”.
During this learning phase, I’d also met a lady (itself a story to be told at a later date) who I somehow convinced to marry me.
This story commences about a month before that momentous date.
I’ve just completed a sortie (AKA a flight, a mission). In other words, a takeoff followed by an hour or so of Pure D excitement followed by a landing, followed by a debrief where every aspect of that hour or so was scoured in excruciating detail with absolutely no regard for offending ones sensibilities or hurting someone’s feelings. AHH…Those were the days, but as Sarge says, I digress. The sortie is over and I walk into our flight’s (in this case a flight is a unit of command primarily used to give Fighter Pilots something to put into their Officer Performance Reports so they might get promoted) office and my Flight Commander calls me into his office. Well, that’s not good usually. I quickly review the sortie for anything done wrong that might have been observed from the ground, like accidentally going supersonic directly over the city while chasing a bad guy. (Not that I had done that…Oh no never!) Couldn’t think of anything, so figured I was going to get a non-flying related and, therefore, onerous chore.
Walked into his office and was asked when the wedding was scheduled. I told him and he said he had a good deal for me. “Shields to Maximum! Ready all phasers and photon torpedos!” I am attentive to his every mannerism at this point. Reagan had just taken over and actual "Good Deals" were still few and far between. “I need you, a wingman and two backseaters to pick up two jets at Hahn AB Germany and fly them back. A day to get over there, a day to check out the jet and a day to get back. You’ll be the flight lead, there will be two additional crews from Hahn, so it’ll be a 4 ship coming home. All the Tankers, clearances, flight plans are being handled by the 2ADG (Second Air Delivery Group), so should be a piece of cake. You leave day after tomorrow.” (Hahn was transitioning from the F-4 to the F-16)
I walk out absolutely elated. I get an all-expenses paid (plus per-diem) trip to Germany. I’d never been there. Get 10-15 hours more in the jet, which was still a significant percentage change in my total hours and get to lead a relatively challenging mission. And I’ll still be home 3 weeks prior to the wedding. Life is GOOD!
So, I call up my Fiancé and explain all this to her and she’s ok with it. We’re not planning a large social wedding, close family and respective squadron members only. (Fiancé is also a USAF Officer.) Most of the planning has already been accomplished.
I get my backseater and the other crew together and discuss what we know about the mission so far and they’re as enthused as I am. My backseater had just arrived from Hahn and started regaling us with stories of things to do and see. I reminded him that we’d only be gone for 4 days and we’d be flying on two of them. Nonetheless, we’re all enthused.
Departure day arrives, and our Airline Reservations are a feeder airline to Dulles, with a 6 hour layover then Dulles to Frankfurt. We depart on time and arrive at Dulles, check the flight information boards and don’t see any gate information for our flight. Well, it is a 6 hour layover. Grab a lunch, wander around a bit. Now it’s 2 hours to go. Still no information on the board. So I check with the Airline rep, hand her our tickets and see her face go white as a sheet. “Shields to Maximum! Ready all phasers and photon torpedos!” I am attentive to her every mannerism at this point. I ask “Is there a problem?” She responds, “Well, the originating point of this flight has been changed.” Thinking, she’s talking a gate change, I ask “To where?” She responds “JFK!” All sensors are on maximum alert now. I ask her what our options are. She’s talking on the phone (this was the early 80s) to someone and then finally hands us our new tickets and tells us that we have 15 minutes to get to a different airline’s gate and board a flight for JFK. I asked about our checked bags (flight equipment, helmets and survival gear don’t fit well in the overhead bin). She said they had already left on a previous flight for Frankfurt and would be there on arrival. OK, not optimum, but doable. We OJ through the airport, make the flight, arrive at JFK, and check the flight information board for our Frankfurt flight. Noting the departure time and the current time are nearly the same we OJ through the airport and down the jetway. Bang on the closed but not yet locked door and the Flight Attendant opens it for us. We hurry in, find our seats, strap in and the airplane pushes back. I breathe a sigh of relief.
I have an aisle seat and across the aisle is the backseater from the other crew. We have just taken off, and I’m starting to settle in to a book when I glance at him. He’s white as a sheet. “Shields to Maximum! Ready all phasers and photon torpedos!” I am attentive to his every mannerism at this point. I ask him if there’s a problem. He responds “My passport is in my checked bag. What am I going to do?” I tell him to hold that thought while I ponder the situation over a resuscitating adult beverage. Somewhere over the Atlantic, it comes to me. I gather my little flock and ask if everyone has their orders and ID cards. We all do. I tell them, we’re going to present that paperwork on arrival en masse and see if that gets us through. Only if it doesn’t will we pull out our passports and then we’ll figure out what the other back seater’s options are.
We arrive at Frankfurt, walk up to the immigration counter en masse and I present our orders and ID cards. Works like a champ!!! We’re through. Go to baggage claim and there are our A3 Bags with our gear. The other WSO quickly retrieves his Passport and we clear customs. (Side note, I happened to run into that WSO at TAC HQ very late in my career and we chuckled about this story. Then he reached in the back pocket of his uniform and pulled out…his Passport.)
Wandering through the Frankfurt airport looking for the USO kiosk where we’re supposed to rendezvous with our ground transportation to take us to Hahn. It’s about 3PM. We find the airman and he leads us outside to a VW microbus, olive drab 1 each. Load our gear and we’re off.
|VW Microbus, Olive Drab 1 each.|
The Airman says it’s about a 2 hour drive. Never been to Germany, so I opt to sit up front. The others climb in the back and are soon asleep. Our route takes us on the Autobahn for a while, and I’m kinda excited about that, but this is a VW microbus, olive drab 1 each, so the Airman stays in the far right lane. We exit the Autobahn and are now going through picturesque German villages, speeding up and slowing down. I start to notice that the Airman has suddenly started having difficulty shifting gears without grinding them. We continue on. As we decelerate into another village, he downshifts into second gear. We leave that village and as he starts to accelerate, he can’t shift out of second gear. The Airman says we’re only a few miles from Hahn, so he’ll just leave it there and continue on. We limp along slowly easing towards our goal. Now Hahn AB is in the hills above the Mosel River, so we are going up hill. As we approach the gate, there is a vehicle at the gate asking the gate guard something. The Airman is trying to gauge the approach, but fails and has to stop. The VW microbus, Olive Drab 1 Each, stalls and won’t restart. I look at the Airman and can see he’s sweating BBs. The 4 of us, get out of the vehicle, walk around the back and begin to push the Airman and the VW microbus, Olive Drab, 1 Each, through the gate at Hahn AB Germany.
We have arrived.
Stay tuned for Day 2 Preflight.
*What’s the difference between a fairy tale and a war story? A fairy tale starts with “Once upon a time” and a war story starts with “So there I was”.