The wing does recognize this and includes a few continuation training missions in the schedule. These missions would have the IP in the front seat (it was up to him whether he wanted to allow a student to ride along in the back), and the mission would be anything from BFM (1 v 1 similar air to air) to 2 v 2 DACT with the F-15s across the field. Occasionally, we’d even get a 4 ship Air to Mud sortie. Quarter a bomb was the usual bet with the last place guy buying beer for the debrief.
Those sorties were highly prized, sought out and fought over.
The other and main way we maintained proficiency was through the cross country program. Assuming the squadron was meeting its training goals and Maintenance had the jets available, the squadron would schedule a 4 ship, or 2 two ships to leave the third launch (of 4) on Friday. The requirement was to fly a minimum of 4 (6 if you wanted to leave on the second launch) sorties on each airplane and return the airplane by 4 PM on Sunday. You could go anywhere you wanted as long as they didn’t charge a landing fee and had a compatible starting cart and JP-4 (jet fuel).
Depending on where we were going, we’d schedule an enroute low level, and sometimes did instrument work on the arrival, usually because the weather required it. It was a chance to get away, go someplace new and chill, away from the IP rat race.
It’s mid-July and I’ve been offered the opportunity to lead one of these cross countries. I find another IP that wants to go and we decide on Tyndall AFB, Panama City FL. Fly down on Friday, hit the club Friday night, do a little beach work on Saturday and a leisurely flight home on Sunday. Two jets, two pilots, flying as it was meant to be.
Friday goes as planned, the club on Friday night was hopping, wake up on Saturday to a glorious Florida day. Hit the pristine white beach for a little vitamin D treatment whilst visiting the OClub Beach bar for liquid refreshment. A thoroughly enjoyable day.
The sun is starting to approach the yardarm, when my wingman, (let’s call him Dan) asks “Juvat, what are we gonna do about dinner?”
I look at him for a second, pondering and then we both chime in “Harry’s!"
Officially, it’s named “Harpoon Harry’s” but the 347th TFW (the wing at Moody AFB of which both Dan and I were Alum) had adopted it and renamed it to the shortened moniker on the wing’s numerous weapons deployments it made to Tyndall.
|347th TFW F-4E dropping Mk-82s on Eglin Range|
The pictures on their web site reflect a much nicer establishment than I remember from 30+ years ago. At that time, the infusion of 40-50 fighter pilots and WSO’s actually added a measure of class to the place. But the beer was cold and cheap, they had Boiled Shrimp and Oysters on the Half Shell for next to nothing, and they had a Crud Table. (Ok, it was actually a pool table, but when your usual Friday clientele is a couple of beach bums nursing a beer, and 40-50, free with the cash, thirsty and hungry guys come barging in, it becomes a Crud Table. Seriously, I think the 347th paid for most of the renovations.)
So, Dan and I had been there. There was also a distinct possibility that another deployment was taking place and another Wing might be at Harry’s. A chance to see old friends or just hang out with kindred spirits, so Harry’s it is.
Alas, there is no other deployment in town, there are a few people in the bar, but none that we know, and a guy and his lady are playing pool (with cue sticks! what blasphemy) on the Crud Table. Dan and I sit down at the bar and the first couple of rounds of adult recreational beverages are served and consumed. We decide to have dinner there. I order Boiled Shrimp and I hear Dan order Raw Oysters.
I jokingly remind him that there are no R’s in July **. He says that’s an old wives tale, finishes the dozen and orders another. I’m working my way through the shrimp (It’s a BIG order), when he finishes that one and orders a third.
We finish dinner and savor a final refreshingly cold beer to cap off the night and head back to the base.
Wake up the next morning and head to base ops, plan our RTB as Tyndall to England AFB, England to Dyess AFB, Dyess to Holloman. None of the Bases are reporting any significant weather although we will encounter the standard SE Texas Summer Thunderstorms.
Tyndall to England is uneventful although as we begin to let down at England, we can see the beginnings of some T’Storms to the west. Refuel, hit the head, down a soda, head back to the jets, crank them up and blast off.
Headed towards Bergstrom AFB Austin TX as a waypoint and we’re leveled off at 39000’. Airliners ahead of us are reporting that they’re in the tops of the storms at FL390, so I ask Houston Center for FL410.
41000’ puts us on the ragged edge of the engine envelope. Not out of it, but close enough that you don’t want to make any abrupt throttle movements. But that consideration is much better than flying through, near or under a thunderstorm which we would have to do at any altitude below FL410.
So, we’re cruising along at FL410, when Dan starts to feel, let’s just say, “uncomfortable”. It’s becoming obvious to him that he needs to “use the restroom”.
Now, the T-38 is a dandy and fun little aircraft to fly. It will roll two complete rolls in 1 second, pull 7.33 g, go 1.08 Mach. But it doesn’t have a “restroom”.
Moreover, Dan’s current need cannot be resolved through use of a piddle pack. He needs to go # 2.
As in Now. Bad.
Assessing the situation like the resourceful fighter pilot he is, he decides he’ll unfold a high chart (a navigational map), unstrap, take off his parachute, g suit and flight suit. Do his business. Fold up the map, put it in his helmet bag (sacrificing the helmet bag for the good of the team). Pull on his flight suit, g suit, parachute, strap back in. No one’s the wiser.
Image is all important when you’re a fighter pilot.
His stomach is telling him it’s now or never, So Dan begins execution.
Unstrap – Check
Parachute Off – Check
G-Suit off –Check
He unzips it, gets his arms out of it. It’s one piece, so he’s got to get it passed his posterior so that the firing port is unmasked. He’s squirming around in the small confines of the cockpit to get it far enough down.
He lifts his left leg, kicks the throttles and flames out both engines.
Now, the first thing that happens when the engines begin spooling down, is there’s a noted loss of thrust. This means that staying at altitude is no longer an option. Dan begins to fall back out of formation and below it.
The second thing that happens is the generators go off line and the radios fail.
Switch back over to my aircraft. We’re approaching an airway intersection that is usually crowded. I check that we are on altitude and then glance over to check my wingman. He’s not flying where he should be, so I give a little wing rock to tell him to close it up.
|Where he should be and is not.|
I’m glancing around and happen to catch sight of him a couple of hundred feet below me. I key the mike and tell him to close it up.
Nothing. Give him a radio check, nothing.
He’s now about 500’ below me.
I pull the power back and rejoin him. I notice that none of his lights are working and there doesn’t appear to be any exhaust coming out the back, but what really catches my eye?
The airplane is being flown by a Naked Man!
Being the master of the obvious, I deduce that something is wrong, but for the life of me, the only way I can think this could be happening is Dan wanted to Moon me over the top of the T’storm, somehow became hypoxic and is incompacitated.
I contact Houston Center and declare an emergency, asking to be cleared direct Bergstrom and to be cleared all altitudes.
They reply with the usual “State the nature of the Emergency, souls on board and fuel in pounds.” There is no way on God’s green Earth that I am going to relay to them what I see right now.
“juvat 2 seems to be having some engine and electrical problems, stand by on the rest.”
He clears me to Bergstrom and we’re about a hundred miles out, But the glide ratio of the T-38 is 9 to 1. I’m about 38000’ now, which means we’re going to be hitting the ground about 43 miles short.
Switch back to Dan’s aircraft. He’s just lifted his leg, hit the throttles and flamed out both engines. Ordinarily, the primary focus in handling this problem would be to restart both engines. However, the engines are designed such that they won’t restart above 28000’. I don’t remember why, air density most likely.
In any case, Dan has a period of time when he can’t deal with the aircraft problem. He does have an additional problem which compounds the aircraft problem.
We have now descended into the T’storm.
|For some (good) reason, I couldn't find a picture taken from INSIDE a thunderstorm.|
Dan decides he can’t do much about that either, so proceeds to ruin a perfectly good map and helmet bag.
By the time that business is concluded, the aircraft is now at 28000’, so Dan begins the airstart procedure.
Right throttle to idle, right start button depressed. Nothing
Left throttle to idle, left start button depressed. Nothing.
Try the right again. Nothing.
Emergency Airstart procedure. Right Engine -Afterburner. Nothing
Left Engine – Afterburner. Nothing.
By now, we’re below 20K’.
Dan realizes that he’s still got his flight suit around his ankles and nothing else is on. He knows that he’s got to get dressed or else if he needs a nylon letdown, well, things might get “interesting”. And the explanation might be difficult.
He gets everything back on and we’re now down to 10k’ about 8500’AGL.
He tries the normal airstart. Nothing.
Tries the emergency airstart, nothing.
About this time we exit out of the T’storm and we’re on an ultra-long 50 mile final for Bergstrom. Dan figures he’s got time for one more try and then it’s over the side.
Tries the normal airstart, and the right engine begins spooling up. Left engine follows shortly thereafter.
I see the lights come back on and feel our descent rate slow. I give him a wing rock, pass him the radio frequency visually and check him in.
I ask him if he’s got any problems remaining. “No”.
I rock him into close formation and keep him there as Houston hands us off to Bergstrom. I coordinate with Tower for a straight in, drop him off over the overrun, followed by a closed pattern full stop for me.
|T-38s, but you get the Idea|
I’m on the ground and get the shutdown signal from the transient crew chief, jump out and hurry over to his jet. He’s still in it. I drop the boarding steps and haul myself up, fully intending to strangle him. As I clear the canopy rail, two things happen. First, I’m overwhelmed by a horrible stench and two, he grabs the front of my flight suit and says, “If you tell anyone, anything, I’ll kill you.”
Been 32 years, Dan, your secret’s safe with me. Nobody will ever know.
** BTW, this post suggests that there is some validity to the "Don't eat raw seafood in the summer" theory.