Monday, July 21, 2014

The Motorcycle Diary

“You're never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.” *

So There I was……** Kunsan AB Republic of Korea, my first operational fighter pilot assignment.  A dream I’d had since I was a boy.
According to Mama Juvat, her boy is pointing at F-86s in the Pattern at Naha AB Japan

Graduated from ROTC as one of the two pilot candidates in the class.  When I’d gotten my scholarship, there were probably 20 pilot candidates in my class, but my senior year, we’d all been called in to the classroom and been handed a letter.  The opening paragraph read “As you are well aware, the United States Air Force is in the midst of a drawdown.  This drawdown requires changes in the number of personnel being assigned as pilots.”  This went on for a couple of paragraphs, but I’d stopped reading.  “Crap, I lost my slot! “  I looked around the room, everybody there had very long faces.  “Crap, EVERYBODY lost their slot! Now what am I gonna do?”  The Professor of Aerospace Studies (The Colonel in charge of the ROTC detachment) got up and tried to give us a pep talk without much success, then dismissed us.  As I’m walking out, he took me aside and quietly said “Congratulations”.  I looked at him like he was nuts.  I’d just lost my slot and he’s saying congratulations? He must have read my face, because he asked what was wrong.  I handed him my letter, he takes a look, confusion on his face, then finally a smile comes back.  He hands it back to me pointing at the last line which read “Congratulations on having retained your flying slot.”  If I EVER run into the SOB that decided to send out a form letter……

Graduated from Pilot Training near the top of my class.  Not #1, we had a guy that was a natural, so good, we took to asking him to “bless” our flight gloves prior to taking a check ride.  Couldn’t hurt. It’s assignment night, and I’ve been hearing rumors that the Instructors want me back.  I hadn’t volunteered, which usually meant that if Training Command wanted you back and you didn’t volunteer, you got a T-37 for being so peckish.  I’m nervous.  They call my name, I come to attention.  F-4 to Luke AFB.  That was about as good an assignment as could come at the time.  I floated around the room the rest of the evening. 

So it’s off to Lead-In Fighter Training at Holloman AFB, NM, little did I know how that location would figure in my future.  Got through that with only a few dings. A gradesheet that said “Lt. Juvat cleverly showed the flight lead his burners, inverted, while overshooting during the rejoin out of traffic” comes to mind.  Well, my IP never should have said “Go get him, Tiger!” as I took off.

Got to Luke and am checking in at the squadron and am standing at the ops counter waiting for the duty sergeant to get back from whatever he was doing, when in walks a Lt Col who promptly starts yelling at me for not calling the squadron to attention.  Apparently, he was the Squadron Commander.  So much for first impressions.  My IP is Lt Squidly, USN.  We’re up on our first sortie which involved Hi AOA rolls.  The Recovery from a badly performed one is :

1.       Stick-Forward
2.      Ailerons and Rudders –Neutral.
3.      If not recovered-Maintain Full Forward Stick and deploy Drag Chute.

That was from memory, 32 years after last flying the F-4.

Anyhow, Lt. Squidly and I are in the traffic pattern and I am about to perform my first landing in an    F-4.  I get all set up and am looking pretty good on numbers and position when Squidly yells “Go around, burners”.  I comply and set up again, and the same thing happens.  Squidly says “here, let me demo.”  Comes in what looks steep to me, but I’m thinking it’s because of the back seat visibility, chops the throttles at what seems to be 100’ in the air and slams the jet onto the runway.  “THAT’s how you land an F-4” he declares.   Hmmm, well OK then.  I take it around and crash it onto the runway in a similar fashion.  “Good Job!  Now let’s do one more as a full stop.”  CRASH!  I passed! 

Ride #2 is with Capt. Smedlap, USAF.  All is going well and we’re back in the pattern and I’m setting up for my first landing.  High, steep, chop the throttles, just like I learned on Ride 1, when I hear a shriek from the back seat.  “Oh My Lord! Go around, Burners, Burners, Burners!”  I comply, pitch up onto downwind and set up again.  Same result.  He demo’s the next landing.  Nice smooth flare with just a touch of power added at the last second to “grease” the landing.  The light bulb goes on.  While the USAF and the USN may fly the same jets, they don’t fly the same way! 
Back when I was young, slim and had hair!
Anyhow, I’ve graduated from RTU and spend a few days paddling around in a raft in Florida for Water Survival followed by a couple of weeks in Eastern Washington for survival.  Early November in the mountains is mostly freezing rain.  Not a lot of fun.

I’m now on short final in a Boeing 707 that I’ve been riding for Forever!  Travis to Elmendorf, 5 hour delay while they fix the aircraft.  Elmendorf to Yokota another delay.  Yokota to Osan AB, ROK.  We touch down and I’m looking out the window and see Vulcan AAA and Hawk SAM sites.  Juvat, we’re not in Kansas anymore.  Get through the disembarkation procedures and get in the Blue Bus bound for Kunsan.  As the ranking officer (My Date of Rank was 2 days before the other 1Lt on board), I’m in charge.  I look around at my “troops” and decide they’re not going to be any trouble as they’re already asleep.  It’s dark out, I join them.  Some 40+ hours since the trip began, we arrive at Kunsan.  The bus pulls to a stop at the gate and two men get on board in Combat Gear asking for me by name.  I wake on hearing it, and glance up at two Oriental men with guns.  My sleep deprived brain comes up with the analysis “Good Grief!  The war started, we lost, I’m a POW and I didn’t even get to participate.”  Not even close.  The wing was holding an exercise in preparation for an ORI, the two guys in combat gear were guys from my Squadron (they were Chinese in heritage) picking me up to get me settled in.

I was here.  24 years old, two degrees, 21 months of flying training and I was exactly where I wanted to be.

So, it’s a few days later and I’m briefing with my new Flight Commander, and IP, (let’s call him “Speed”) whose going to take me out and give me an area check out ride and, most importantly, get me landing currency again.  I’m not sure what the actual number was, but if a pilot hadn’t landed in x number of days, he had to fly with an instructor to get currency back.  I was to learn, during the years of the second worst President, this was a constant issue. I had to get recurrent 3 times in this one year tour. It may be worse today. Do they have to put in a second Barcalounger if a drone pilot loses currency?

We’re out in the arming area and are cleared on and for takeoff.  I run up the jet, give it a good, albeit not quick, look over and hear a “better be looking” from the back seat.  “Huh?”, I release the brakes, the aircraft accelerates, leaving me behind (figuratively of course, I’m strapped in and along for the ride).  We get airborne, I remember I have to raise the gear and flaps and change several other switches, frequencies etc.etc etc.  I hear again, “you better be looking!”  “Huh?” About this time, another F-4 comes speeding by me and does an aileron roll as he passes.  “WTF?”  “I told you you’d better be looking.” Speed says.  We drive North and in very short order, Speed tells me to come hard right to East.  He tells me to look left and talks my eyes on to an object on the ground.  “North Korea”  I look at my clock, we’ve been airborne about 15 minutes.  HMMM, I begin to see the strategic implications of this assignment.  Head back south, find some clear airspace and perform some Hi AOA rolls.  I manage to avoid performing the Bold Face recovery procedures, although Speed asks me to recite them before we begin.

As we enter the landing pattern, I ask Speed if he’d ever served with the Navy.  He said no. Ok, then, Landing Style #2.  First landing was a little firm, but the rest were within acceptable parameters. 

It’s Friday Night, and the Squadron is at the Club.  There’s a movie projector rolling and there’s film from various missions during the week.  I’m drawn to a clip showing an F-4 on the takeoff roll with gear and flaps hanging and on the film the pipper is buried on the front canopy as the range bar descends through minimum gun range.  It dawns on me who’s the star, just as I feel a heavy hand on my shoulder.  I turn, it’s the Wing Commander!  “Son, I don’t get to do that very often anymore!  If you’re gonna fly in my wing, your better be looking.” 

We’re about a month from an ORI (for an excellent description of this, see Jay Riedel’s book  “Memoirs of a Fighter Pilot”.  Jay, Lt Col Riedel to me at the time, was my Squadron Commander and the ORI described in the book was the one I’m talking about).  I have to get “Mission Ready” before the ORI hits, or else I'll be relegated to non-flying (i.e. non pleasant) duties.  I've been to the range during the day a few times, had a couple of dedicated air to air flights as well as a couple of impromptu engagements going to and from missions.  I’ve been in a few movies, but never again as a non-participating target and even contributed some film a time or two.  In short, I’m learning.  It’s been decided that I will be on the night schedule during the ORI, so I’ve got a night air to ground ride scheduled.  Because it’s the first time I’ve been to this range at night (and only a minimal number of times at night at all) and because it’s the first time I will try Dive Toss, I’ve got an IP in my back seat again.  I’ll leave the mechanical details of Dive Toss to our resident Radar Expert, but suffice it to say, the back seater finds the target with the radar and locks on.  The radar determines your range to the target.  When you get to the computed release range, the bomb drops and the bad guy is slain, you return a hero.  When it works.

I’m going to be #2 in a 2 ship.  Speed will be in the lead, Marv is in my pit.  We brief, step to the jets, and on crank up, Speed has a problem that will cause him to abort.  There are no spares, but because I’ve got an IP in my Pit, I can go as a single ship.  The weather is overcast at 20K or so and the eternally present haze has obscured what little horizon that might be visible.  We blast off, find the range and check in.  We’re cleared on.  The target tonight is a small island, a rock actually, a mile or so of shore in the Yellow Sea.  The rock has several of the old roadway flares scattered in a circle on it.  These flares are the ones that look like an old bomb with a wick and flames coming out the top.  They don’t provide much light.
The rock is the dark spot to the left of the oval,  The Range used to be the area on the mainland to the right, but it looks like it may have been given back to the ROK.

We’ve got a few high drag practice bombs on board, so we initially fly practice nuke runs.  Since that mission is part of the Wing’s overall Combat Mission, we’ll be evaluated on it in the ORI.  Nothing particularly exciting about the runs, it’s just a matter of flying the aircraft as close as possible to what the computer says to fly it, pull up when it begins beeping at you and keep pulling until the beeping stops.  Our scores are acceptable, we pull up into the 30 degree dive toss pattern with the roll in altitude about 12K.  Very difficult to keep the target in sight and since we’re mostly over water, there are very few cues to position yourself with.  I roll in, am cleared hot, and put the pipper on the target.  Call that and am waiting for Marv to tell me he’s locked on.  He doesn’t and I’m at pickle altitude, so call off dry.  Up on downwind, Marv tells me the Radar won’t lock on to the ground return, but he’s going to try and manually track the ground return.

 Fortunately, Marv and I will be able to debrief the wrongness of our decision to continue trying Dive Toss.

The cloud cover has gotten thicker and what moonlight that had filtered in before, was now gone.  I’ve been looking out the side to keep track of the target and unnoticed had crept closer to the target.  I roll in and put the pipper on the target, but, because I had neglected to adjust the pipper intensity to compensate for the reduced lunar illumination, I lose the target in the brightness of the pipper.  Marv is concentrating on tracking the radar return and is not looking at altimeter, airspeed or dive angle.  Oh, and the throttles were still in Mil (full non-AB) power. The brilliance of our actions are about to become abundantly clear.

I’m searching for the target in the pipper when all of a sudden, the flares come out from behind, They’re BIG and Bright.  I pull as hard as I can on the pole while pulling the throttles to Idle and putting out the speed brakes (high speed dive recovery procedures).  My first glance at the attitude indicator is all black (it was divided into gray for above the horizon, black for below) so I had to be at least 45 degrees of dive or more.  We were supposed to pickle at 6000’ and recover by  3500’  We were already below pickle altitude. 

The nose comes up, but our momentum is still down.  The altimeter is slowing and stops at about 200’.

  I call the range officer and tell him I’m heading home.  I get a terse “Roger that”.  Marv chimes in and asks why we’re headed home.  I tell him “One, I’ve over G’d the aircraft, two the right engine isn’t running, and three, and most importantly, I’ve scared the crap out of myself”. 

Declared the emergency, but landing was normal.  Get to dearm, and the crew chief connects the comm panel, not a usual procedure, and advises me to shut down.  Climbing down, I see why, many of the panels are missing, the skin is buckled.  The right engine is kind of twisted in the engine bay.

We get back to the squadron, and there are a lot of people waiting for us.  We spend a lot of time talking about that flight and the shoulda, woulda, coulda’s.  

I went on to become mission ready. We passed the ORI and I became Speed’s wingman.

“So, Juvat, good tale, but why is the title Motorcycle Diary?”  Well, it seems that car ownership was prohibited for GIs in Korea at the time and only Motorcycle parts could be imported.  This limited the ability of Fighter Pilots to get around on their own (which may have been the plan).  But an enterprising member of the squadron found out that a complete Honda 90 could be disassembled and all the “parts” would fit into a centerline baggage pod.  Several of these were ferried from Okinawa to Kunsan before the plot was discovered.  The policy was then published that said parts had to be transferred to another individual upon the owners PCSing.

Speed was up for PCSing a couple of months after the incident and one night at the club asked me if I would do him a favor by buying his motorcycle.  I had no real desire for a motorcycle as I had a bicycle which did fine for me getting around base.  I had mastered the bus to Kunsan and the train to Seoul, but I asked how much.  $1.  I told him ok.

Looked it over the next day, nothing much to speak of.  Tried to fire it up, didn’t work.  Ahh well, I’ll see if I can figure it out this weekend.  Forgot about the whole issue. Speed PCS’s, gets an F-16 which puts him in a different sphere than me and I lose touch.

Months pass. Now it’s time for me to PCS.  I’m out processing and I get asked for the transfer of ownership paperwork.  Huh?  The papers that show you transferred ownership of your motorcycle.  Crap!  Forgot about that.  I go over to Speed’s old quarters, figuring I’ll pay someone $1 to take it off my hands.  It’s GONE!

I had to file a stolen property report in quintuplicate, then fill out the transfer of property statement to reflect ownership by person or persons unknown.  I’ve always thought it was NORK special forces that stole it to infiltrate the base, but what do I know?
NORK Special Forces Infiltration Vehicle
Oh Yeah, and by the way...
Photo: ShareAlike 2.0 generic (CC By-SA 2.0)
So, I had forgotten this story until this past Friday night.  My wife owns a Bridal Boutique and was having a show today.  She had asked my lovely daughter to find some friends who might want to model for the show.  They arrived Friday night.  I had the pleasure of dining with 7 lovely women (one of whom is my wife, thank you very much!) After Dinner, we’re sitting around the table conversing and it became known that I had been a Fighter Pilot in a prior life.  One of the young ladies mentioned that she had a Uncle that had been a Fighter Pilot.  I asked what his name was. She laughed and said  “We call him Uncle Speed”.

It's a small world!

Richard BachIllusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah 

**What'the difference between a fairy tale and a war story?  A fairy tale begins "Once upon a time..." ,a war story begins "So, There I was...".


  1. "The right engine is kind of twisted in the engine bay."

    Holy crap!!!! I guess you stressed that air frame just a little. As for your GIB seeming somewhat unsure of what was going on, one of The WSO's first traps on the boat was with an instructor pilot who read her the riot act for not keeping her head out of the cockpit on the approach.

    She said, "Well, you're landing the jet, why do I need to pay attention to what you're doing."

    Pilot said, "Well, if I'm going to smack into the round down and smear the two of us all over the flight deck, you might want to know about it."

    From that day forth, she keeps her situational awareness of what's going on in the cockpit AND outside the cockpit. Ya know, just in case.

    Back seaters do tend to focus on their own stuff and let the driver worry about the flying part.

    Great story Juvat.

    1. The G-meter only went to 9 and it was pegged. Never really had a problem with WSO's getting too focused on their stuff, it more often happened with IPs. I think primarily because the IP didn't fly back there that often and wasn't as proficient at the WSO stuff so could get overwhelmed. The combination of IP capability, degraded avionics, marginal weather, very inexperienced front seater was a big part (OK the only part) of the woulda,, coulda, shoulda discussion in the debrief.

      At some point later in my career, I had a boring day and was reading the safety magazine for entertainment (a VERY boring day). There was an article that spoke of the chain of events leading to accidents and how someone just breaking the chain could prevent the accident. That resonated with me as this evening sprang to mind.


  2. Read that sat on my front 'porch'. So interesting my mug of tea went cold :D Top stuff!!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Sorry about the tea!

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Skip, This time of year, I'm more partial to Iced Coffee (my own, not the Iced Sugar sold in stores).

  4. The F4 is basically a brick with some bent wings, isn't it?

  5. That's a fair assessment...Takes a lot of thrust to fly? Check. When thrust stops, flying stops? Check. Takes a lot of abuse while still maintaining a certain manly charm? Check. Bent Wings, Check (some more than others :-) )

  6. Outstanding story, and yes we DO land a bit differently than y'all do... but our runway is only 425 feet long... and moving in three dimensions... :-) And glad you didn't completely fixate on the target...

    1. Spent a lot of time in my later career associated with the other services. ~6 months aboard Blue Ridge/Coronado over 3 years at CincPac, about the same at 3 MEF and at Ft Lewis. My Boss at CincPac was Army, His Boss was Marine and of course,his boss was USN. No One of us can do it alone, We CAN do it together (still not a big believer in Drones however.)

    2. Oh, Re: fixation. not sure how much more time I had to fixate, but I'm pretty sure my kids are glad I didn't use it. Just sayin'

    3. Yep, those purple tours DO get interesting... :-)

    4. Yep, those Purple tours DO get interesting... and are sometimes an eye opener! :-)

  7. "Passing thru six grand"

    LOL! When we used to go down to Wheelus Ab in Tripoli for Bomb & Gun I used to have a back-seater Nav who drank all night and consequently spent the next day between flights wretching his guts out--until he'd recovered by happy hour (sayyy, I'm feeling better...) wherein he'd begin the cycle all over again. Naturally he was often consequently just "along for the ride" at the range. Of course like most in the F-4 we let the backseater call out the altimeter so we could concentrate outside on the target. "Hey Steve, let me know when we're about to hit six grand," I'd say. Came the reply as often as not: "Fuck you!" at which point he'd go cold mike--so I'd be stuck keeping track of the alt unwinding besides sighting in on the tgt, lol. Good thing he and I were best friends, lol.

    1. I never realized how different single seat was from two seat. After Holloman, which was kind of a transition for me from two to one, I got the Eagle and had been flying it for a year or two. Ran into a back seater from a former squadron at Cope Thunder. There was a D model on the morning go and I asked him if he wanted to ride in the Pit. The first thing he noticed was there was a fuel gauge in the back seat (for other readers, there isn't one in the F-4). I think he thought that was the coolest part of the ride. Although, he got very excited when Betty called Bingo and we're in the middle of a furball. I take a shot and separate out of the fight in Max Grunt. He's jabbering about gas, and I said we're going to land with plenty of gas. Pulled it out of AB, pulled the nose smoothly up and topped out at 45K. Put the throttles in idle 150 miles from Clark over the Lingayen gulf and cruised in, pitched out and landed without ever pulling the throttles out of idle. Still had plenty of gas. Man, I loved that airplane!

    2. Oh, and the normal mission chatter in the cockpit was disconcerting to say the least.

  8. "When I had hair."

    "Let it gray but let it stay!" :)

    (h/t: my Father)

  9. PS on my Nav: On the way to and back from the range he'd catch a few winks by placing his head face down in the radar rubber scope mount with his hands tucked into his g-suit to prevent any untoward unconscious wayward had/arm movements while sleeping, lol. Also, it happened our squadron was in Tripoli the night of the revolution when old King Idris was overthrown and when we evacuated the aircraft in the middle of the night to rtn to the UK I said: "Hey Steve, give me an initial steer. " "Go north until you hit France and then turn left" came the reply--at which point he went cold mike again and (presumably) passed out. (It DID, after all, occur on a late Sat night early Sun am, lol In those days France would not allow overflights, so we had to go the long way around Spain up to the UK.)

  10. Juvat/

    About getting your UPT "slot." My how times can change! In my day EVERYONE who wanted one went and my ENTIRE class at Laughlin (save for the #1 Jock who got F-105s (KIA 23rd msn) top to bottom went pipeline F-4 RTU.

    1. And I think they've changed again. Now, Barcaloungers are going to guys in the top of the class. Hmmm, bust your butt to do well and get a drone! That'll keep them on the farm!


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