As you might expect, virtually all aspects of flying a high performance fighter were exciting, at times terrifying, but almost always exhilarating. Most guys would jump at the chance to fly. I mean, as a scheduler, I rarely had to do any arm twisting, to get a guy to fly an actual mission. Fly a Sim, pull SOF or Mobile (that dates me, since we don’t do that anymore) or any kind of ground related activity required pulling teeth, blackmail and/or bribery. Tell a guy that he was on the schedule to fly and that was usually good enough. Sure, they might try to weasel their way into a better sortie, but not at the risk of losing the one they had. However, strangely, there was a sortie that most guys would pass up, given the chance.
Back in the Day, the Air Force had a program where people, typically enlisted and junior officers, who were recognized for outstanding performance could be given an “incentive” ride. They’d actually get to ride in one of their Wing’s aircraft. If you were on a MAC base, you might get a ride on a C-141 or C-5. On a SAC base, you might get a ride on a KC-135. Somewhat interesting, and you still got credit for Duty, but didn’t have any duties to perform, so okay not great. But….if you were on a PACAF, TAC or USAFE Fighter Base, you might get a ride in an F-4 or F-15. Several orders of magnitude more exciting!
But, incentive rides were the flights no pilot wanted to do, and I never understood why. I actually enjoyed the rides. The person getting the ride typically oscillated emotionally from giddy with excitement, through nervous and sometimes almost terrified out of their wits and then back to excited, and that was before the briefing started. One way or the other, they were always enthusiastic. For whatever reason, I got a fair share of incentive rides.
Obviously, flying in a high performance aircraft on any mission, is a bit more risky than sitting at a LGMD-6D (large gray metal desk-6 drawer) all day. So the missions, started with a bit of life support training. How to work the helmet, strap in to the ejection seat, where the ejection handle was, how to pull it, how to unstrap from the seat without pulling the ejection handle. All very critical items to discuss. Strangely, the student was always very attentive at this point.
We’d then go into the flight briefing. In a normal regular mission briefing, emergency procedures are usually covered as “standard” (i.e. we’ll handle them in accordance with the Dash-1 and/or Wing procedures). If something out of the ordinary was happening on the flight, additional time might be spent on what could go wrong on that aspect and how it should be handled, but typically, that portion of the briefing was very short. On an incentive ride, I’d start out the briefing by telling the person that we could have a ride that will make the wildest amusement park ride they’d ever imagined pale in comparison, or we could have the most spectacular view from an airliner they’d ever have and it was their choice.
My thoughts were, this person had been selected for the ride by doing their job in some outstanding manner and whatever their duties were, in one way or another, they were supporting me doing my job. So, if I made this ride memorable and fun, it might serve to reinforce the importance of doing their best at whatever their responsibilities were. There were some who believed it was their job to make the person as sick as they could as fast as they could. As scheduler and later as Assistant Ops Officer, as soon as I was able to identify that type, they no longer flew this type sortie. I think both they, I and the recipients were all happier.
So, once I’d identified what the person wanted to see on the ride, I’d get into the more serious aspects of the sortie and what I expected them to do or not do (mostly) if things went wrong. Then we’d step to the jet and have a good time. Never had a problem, never had anybody get sick or GLOC (G-Induced Loss of Conciousness). But I did have some moments……
So, There I was…..* Moody AFB flying the F-4E. I’m on the schedule for an incentive ride that I was really looking forward to. The recipient was a Staff Sergeant who was the crew chief on the F-4E with my name on the front canopy (Blog ROE prohibits the use of the word “MY” to describe the Jet, even if it was on the tail”).
He’d been named NCO of the quarter and an incentive ride was offered to him. (Off topic, but for a Crew Chief to be named NCO of the quarter was almost unheard of, as it was for a fighter pilot to be named junior officer of the quarter. To much time required to do the real job and not enough to do the extra stuff that got the nomination. That having been said, he deserved it, even if all he’d done was his job. He had, and I used and broke, the best F-4E in the fleet.) But, as Sarge is not hesitant to let me know, I digress. He’d stopped me after a mission and asked me about incentive rides and what they entailed. He was a bit uncertain about whether to actually go on one.
A bit about him. I’m not sure exactly where he was from, but it was DEEP South somewhere. I was always “Suh” to him. Pretty big guy, 6’4”ish and probably 220 or so, all muscle. His Phantom was always ready and, most appreciated to a good jinker like myself, the cockpit was virtually immaculate. Very little dust appeared in negative G situations. I think knowing a bit about the inner workings of the Jet made him a bit nervous about going up in one. I spent a bit of time convincing him that it would be fun and he’d gain an appreciation for what the airplane breakers actually did with the jet.
He finally acquiesced on the ride and as I was leaving to get to the squadron, he stated “Suh, no Loop Dee Loops though!”
I got with the scheduler and talked him into letting me give him the incentive ride. Since there were no other takers, that wasn't a problem.
We’re in the briefing and he says he’d like the airliner option and NO Loop Dee Loops! Now, Moody’s airspace was primarily over the Okefenokee swamp and sightseeing things are pretty limited. Point out things on Base, point out the sights in Valdosta, and you've still got about an hour and a half of gas left. We’re tooling around and finally he says, “Suh, can we roll this? Not too fast, mine yuh.” I say sure and do an nice 1 G maintaining barrel roll. Bob Hoover could’ve poured Tea during this one.
We roll out and I ask how was that? He said that was fun, “Could we do another, Maybe a little faster?” I do another barrel roll increasing the G to 2-3, and ask him how he’s doing? He says, “What’s the fastest this jet will roll?” I say hang on. Now, the F-4 won’t roll as fast as an F-15 or AT-38 (IIRC 360/sec and 720/sec respectively), but it does ok. I unload the aircraft to minimize drag, slap the stick against my left thigh and do a quick aileron roll. Roll out a second or so later and once again ask how he’s doing? I can hear a little tremor in his voice as he asks “Suh, can we do a Loop Dee Loop?”
“Why, Yes we can!”
The stick smoothly goes forward. The F-4 really needed ~500K to get over the top comfortably, and demonstrating the out of control bold face procedures on an incentive ride was sure to get me standing tall in front of the Director of Operations, so…to be avoided.
Get the burners going. 500K on the dial and I start a smooth 5 G pull. I maintain that as we get to 90 degrees nose high when I hear a scream from the back seat! It sounds like someone's dying.
Now, I’ve got a problem. The nose is pointed straight up and no matter what I'm going to have to do about the back seater, I’ve got to get the nose back to level flight first. I tell him to hang on, and continue the pull until the nose comes back to the horizon, roll upright transitioning the loop to an Immelman, pull the throttles out of Burner. Then I ask him “What’s wrong?”
He tells me “Suh, That was Sheeeet Hawt! Can we do some more?” Bang, go the burners and we’re off on a Split S. The rest of the ride was as many G’s as the aircraft could handle.
Down on the ground and he’s got a grin as wide as the Okefenokee! Mission accomplished.
*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”.