I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again (mostly in jest... mostly). "There's only one time it's good to see a helicopter in flight. When it's hovering above you and the extractor is coming down to pick your pink butt up."
When I was a 2LT going through F-4 School at Luke, the wing had a graduation exercise where the nascent F-4 and F-15 Fighter Pilots flew on the wing of experienced flight leads/IPs in a large force on force exercise.
|I love the "soft focus" used in this shot to romanticize the Phantom. A clean F-4 is a thing of beauty.|
The airspace and targets were on the USAF Ranges south of I-10 in southern Arizona. The F-4s were attacking, the F-15s were defending.
I was on the early go, and so, hunkered down in my sturdy F-4C, I was flying low and fast on my ingress into the target area. I was about to rain inert death and destruction on a dirty, ratfink, commie airfield.
|No, the Arizona desert is NOT this green.|
We're approaching the target area, so I'm getting the aircraft ready for dropping bombs. Switching the F-4C from Air to Air to Air to Ground was overly complicated. The switchology improved as I progressed through F-4s from the C to the D and finally to the E. Switchology in the Eagle was a dream comparatively. The C, as I recall, took several switch changes, most of which were down by my left hip. Head inside the cockpit is never a good thing.
In any case, I've gotten the aircraft configured and I'm back outside looking for the hillock we're using as an IP to start our attack. Just as I spot it, over the radio, I hear a call "Fox 2 kill, right hand F-4 over xxx". That would be me. I look around behind me and sure enough...
No, this was not me! (Thankfully)
My experienced flight lead and his inexperienced WSO's lookout wasn't as spiffy as it should have been. Ah well, something to be learned. Continue in to the target, drop bombs and egress the target area and RTB. Get done with the debrief and hear a call over the intercom. "Lt Juvat, report to the duty desk with your flight gear."
Oh Boy, another flight!
Not so fast, juvat, not so fast. Literally.
Yes, I'm going flying, just not at the controls. Seems the exercise also included A-10s from DM doing close air support as well as the CSAR Jolly Greens doing a combat extraction. Since I had gotten "shot down", I was the logical choice to be the survivor.
Did I mention this exercise occurred in late August?
So, I board a Huey and am choppered down to the range and deposited on a hillside and told someone would be coming for me eventually.
So, I find me some shade and watch the airplanes over head. I don't remember having a radio, so I suspect that someone had decided that having a newbie on the radio with 50 percent of the pilots over head being newbies also, might violate a safety constraint or something. I do have a safety observer keeping an eye on me, an E-4 from Fairchild. Since I haven't been through survival school yet, I'm not of much interest to him. He asks me some basic questions about survival and E and E. I don't have many answers. That changed a month or two later.
As I said, I'm watching the A-10s dropping bombs and strafing trucks on the range a mile or two away. They're being controlled by an OV-10, so there's several airplanes in the vicinity. I've been there for a couple of hours and except for being a little hot and dusty, I've been having fun.
|Whole lotta uranium being depleted there.|
Pretty soon, I notice another flight of A-10s enter the area and start making dry passes much nearer to my position, I also notice that the OV-10 is orbiting nearer to my position. The E-4 has handed me a flare, pointed to the day end and tells me to light that when he gives the signal.
|Unguided Mk-82s from a high altitude level delivery. Hope he's aiming for.....Arizona!|
Meanwhile, the A-10s are getting closer and closer to my position. They make another pass and as they pull off, from behind me comes the loud roar of a helicopter. About this time the E-4 give me a nod, I pull the pin and hold the flare over my head. Very shortly thereafter, a very large ugly object comes over head, hovers briefly there and then sets down in a flat spot a hundred yards away or so. The E-4 tells me I've got about 30 seconds to get on board or it's going to be a long night in the desert.
|Not overhead and the winch isn't deployed. So doesn't fit the criteria for "when is it good to see.."|
I make it with plenty of time to spare. The HH-3E Jolly Green takes off, levels off immediately and makes for home. I look out the door and there are the A-10s flying formation. Half an hour later, I'm back at Luke sippin on a beer, purchased by the WSO who'd been in the back of Lead's F-4.
Reflecting back on the day, I realized that while i'd had fun, it very probably wouldn't be fun if it were for "realsies". I also realized that a lot of people hung their own pink butt's out in order to return me to that cold beer. That was the beginning of my becoming a fighter pilot rather than a person who flew fighters.
Every time thereafter, I saw a Jolly Green guy in the bar, I'd buy him a beer. My version of "Pay it forward", I guess.
This story was supposed to be a preamble to a different type of post. It got a little longer than I'd envisioned for a preamble. At this point, it would detract from that post, so I'm going to post that one next week. See you then.