Monday, July 7, 2014

Vegas!!! Part Deux

So there I was…an At-38B Instructor Pilot at Holloman Airplane Patch New Mexico.  I’ve been there about two years and my non-flying duty is squadron scheduler.  I have been blessed with a “good deal”, and I have made the most of it.

Current Wing Policy is that all senior Wing Personnel will receive check rides from the Chief of Stan-Eval.  The actual name is Standardization and Evaluation, most of us called them Stan Evil.  Ostensibly the requirement for the Wing King and the like to get their check rides from the Branch Chief was to reduce the likelihood of “undue Command Influence” in passing their check rides.  Works for me!  A Lieutenant Colonel looking for a Squadron to Command and therefore, earn his ticket to Bird Colonel.  No possibility for influence there…..

In any case, those thunderstorms raged far, far above my limited horizon.  My immediate problem was simple.  I had busted the Director of Operations (The number three guy in the Wing, call sign Vegas) on his last ride before his check ride.  Apparently, he had forgotton everything he’d learned in his 4000+ hours of flying about landing a jet, therefore he required another practice ride and his Check Ride was scheduled for tomorrow.

The Chief of Stan-Eval had booked a cruise for the day after and would not be available for the next two weeks. When dealing with the gods, scheduling is important.

I get back into the squadron, and the squadron CO is waiting for me.  Already having  been chastised by Vegas for having questioned my busting him on the ride, he asks me what my intention is.  I look at the schedule and see a three ship of IPs scheduled  for a continuation sortie.  Continuation sorties were missions where the IPs flew front seat and actually got to fly the jet and remain proficient at flying a fighter.  Students may or may not get to tag along in the back seat. Didn’t get a lot of them and these three guys were going to go out and fly a 2 V 1.  This was about as fun and complex a mission as we were allowed.  Highly sought after. Schedulers were able to get IPs to do all sorts of unpleasant things on the promise of a continuation ride.

I walk up to the schedule, draw a line through the 1 in the 2 V 1 and wrote Vegas and my name in.  The IPs would now be going on a 1 V 1.  Vegas and I would get our refly.  I was not popular.

Obviously, this ride was going to be later in the day and at Holloman during the summer, a later sortie made everything just a little bit more difficult.  The pressure altitude was higher, the engines responded different, winds were gusty, dust frequently blew so visibility was worse.  In short, for a person having difficulty landing a jet, flying late in the afternoon could make or break him.

We blast off, go to the area for a few minutes just to get down to landing weight, then return to the pattern for touch and go’s.  I’m a bit tense, but Vegas doesn’t seem to be worried.  He flies down initial, pitches out, configures, starts the turn, rolls out on speed and greases the landing.  Requests closed, granted, rolls out on downwind, configures, starts the turn, rolls out on speed and greases the landing.  Starts the go around, and says, “You want to fly the rest?”

I clearly had passed the test.

It’s now towards the end of the program.  Vegas had flown with other IPs, but I still was his primary IP.  We’re now in the first ride in the Air to Ground phase and Vegas is in the front seat.

 Once he sees the bombing range from the front seat, he will switch to the back seat and “instruct” me in Air to Ground techniques. Truthfully, I’m looking forward to it.  We had just completed Air to Air, and having him in my back seat instructing me (note the lack of quotation marks), had been VERY educational both for my IP skills as well as my actual Fighter Pilot skills.  I was looking forward to experiencing the same in Air to Ground. 

We’ve been to the range, dropped our 6 blue practice bombs and headed home.

We’re coming down initial for runway 16 and I hear the tower clear a flight of 4 F-15s on to runway 25 to hold. 

We pitch out, configure, turn final for a Touch and Go.  Roll out on final, I do a quick look out the nose of the Jet to check lineup, configuration etc.  (I’m still the Aircraft Commander, and IP, it’s my butt if something happens.)  As expected, Vegas is on the numbers.  I glance out the right side of the jet as we cross over the overrun….

Pause for a scenario setting .  Runway 16 and Runway 25 butt up against one another.  The overruns intersect.

The problem will occur in the light gray area at the top center of the photo.

Clearing a flight on to hold, gives that flight permission to do just that.  Taxi into position and sit there until given clearance to do something else.

It does not give you permission to run your engines up to military power in anticipation of takeoff!!

So, enough interlude.  I glance out the right expecting big wide exhaust nozzles  from 8 Pratt and Whitney F-100 Engines .
What I'm expecting when looking at exhaust nozzles

instead, I see little bitty teenie exhaust nozzles spewing exhaust gas across our approach at who knows how fast.
This is what F-15 engines look like in Mil Power and what I'm seeing

I advance the throttles into afterburner, while at the same time calmly communicating to Vegas that I was going to take command of the aircraft and would he please let go of the stick (I slammed the throttles to AB while I screamed “I got it!!”), just as we hit the turbulence.

The jet rolled to the left, and my guardian angel kicked in at that second, because my expected reaction should have been to roll back right.  I didn't, I added right rudder, which yawed the nose away from the ground as well as countered the rolling moment. I have no idea where that reaction, the only and absolute right move, came from.   I’m not sure what the angle of bank was, but I have a very clear picture of looking up at the runway.  The jet begins to yaw the nose above the horizon while rolling back towards level. We exit the turbulence as the aircraft rights itself.  I clean the gear and flaps up and remember the burners.  About this time, Vegas calls from the front seat and says “Well, that was exciting, do you mind if I fly the full stop?”  “No Sir, not at all.”

These guys practice it,  me, not so much!

Full stop, and Vegas asks what happened.  He’d never seen the four ship and all he knew was we had almost lost control.  I explained what had happened.  Debrief began later than usual that day as my student was unavailable.  Evidently, a flight lead lost his flight lead status.

About 6 months later, I’m now the Wing Scheduler and am up for assignment.  The F-4 is being phased out and F-15s and F-16s are starting to be assigned.  However, the AF still needs folks assigned to F-4Gs as well as F-111s, so the policy is that IPs  up for assignment in the next 6 months will be divided into Top Half/ Bottom Half.  Top Half will get the jet of their dreams; Bottom Half will get needs of the AF.  I’m fairly certain I’m in the Top Half, but, since I also want to be assigned with my wife, also military, and 2 year old son, I’m a bit tense.  Today is the day.  I get the call from my assignment officer.  F-4G to George.  I’m disappointed, but it is with my wife, so that’s the way the ball bounces. 

Vegas also knows this is the day.  He comes walking in to my office and asks what I got.  I tell him, his jaw drops and he says “Captain, can I borrow your desk?”  Dials an number and says (I’ve forgotten the name, so let’s use Stan)”Stan, Vegas here, do you personnel wienies still subscribe to the Top Half/Bottom Half policy?....Well, I’d like to know why Juvat here, my number one guy in this assignment tranche, is getting an F-4G? …..Yeah, I know about his wife…..Look, Colonel, I've got a retention problem here (he did) and if I can’t get my number one guy a new jet, what am I going to tell the rest of the guys to keep them in the AF? Why should they stay? I want him in an Eagle, and I want his wife assigned to the same base.” 

At that instant, it no longer mattered to me what my assignment was, I was reassured there were still people in the AF that cared about their people.  I would stay.

There’s more conversation on the phone, finally Vegas hangs up and says “Juvat, you and Mrs. Juvat are going to Kadena.”


  1. SWEET!

    Great story Juvat, Vegas is one Hell of a leader.

    1. Yes he is! I was fortunate that I generally had more good leaders as bosses than bad. There were a few of them though.

    2. Taking care of your people. Should be mission one in both government and the private sector, bat sadly it seems to have gone the way of the Dodo bird.

      Cool story though. Keep 'em coming, please.

    3. Yep, It should be. As I get a bit older and have read more, I'm starting to believe that not taking care of your people probably has always been a problem and requires constant resistance to its encroachment is required.

      I'll try.

  2. Excellent story, especially since I just finished reading CDR Salamander and his entry today covers the other end of the command spectrum. Leadership matters.

    1. Thanks, I'll go over there and look at that post shortly.

  3. Looking back at your first post, do you think "Vegas" deliberately messed up those last two landings? Good way for him to asses the backbones of all involved, and to show what a senior leader should do.

    1. That has always been my impression, but he didn't say and I didn't ask. The fact that he greased the two landings and then gave me the jet for the rest of the flight, indicated to me he wasn't worried about the check ride. If he had been, he wouldn't have let me touch the stick at all.

  4. I understand your preference for the jet you wanted and needed... but Kadena over George? I've been to both and would take George in a heartbeat (assuming the place still existed, of course). Just sayin'.

    Great story!

    1. Kadena was a great assignment. Flying wise, taking off from an island, by the time you got the gear and flaps up, you were feet wet and cleared all altitudes and supersonic. From a family point of view, there was a busy MAC terminal there with hops to anywhere in the Pacific. The family vacations were fabulous. TDYs were to some "interesting" places. So, yeah it was a great assignment.

  5. I did my RTU in Apple Valley, so have fond memories. At least I dodged Holloman and the searing all-desert--all-the-time heat (not that Victorville is much better, 105F there today, lol)

    1. I don't remember Holloman getting that hot. However, both my F-4 RTU and F-15 RTU were at Luke. I remember driving to Luke at about 0400 for an early flight and listening to the DJ say it was already 103. I was sure glad the air conditioner in the F-15 actually worked on the ground on the second go 'round. Was a little nervous the first time I put the canopy down.

  6. PS: I think the USAF made a BIG mistake when they retired the F-4G early (all to save money for the "vaunted" 35") We still can't accomplish the Iron Hand/Wild Weasel msns as we really need to w.o. them. Those were special birds w. some exotic equipment..

    1. I haven't kept up, so honestly am just asking. The F-16 block 50s and 52s aren't up to the mission?

    2. Oh, I realize the 16s are more maneuverable, have far better viz, etc., juvat, but there is always a lot going on in the sort of high-threat environments they work in and I guess I'm of the school of thought that, although the glass cockpit is supposed to allow the pilot to keep his head out and concentrate on ac control, I just feel that things are so damn busy in that environment that a two-seater works best with the front-seater flying with his head out and the back-seater with his head in concentrating on the electronic threat. (plus a second set of eyes when maneuvering)

    3. No doubt all true. From experience, it's very hard to keep SA when you're pulling 9 gs. A significant amount of your concentration is involved in not g-locing. I guess I kinda thought most of the WSO work (detecting, identifying and jamming) was now done by the computer.
      BTW, "Shack Lead!" on the vaunted F-35 comment. 20 years ago I was slashing money from a lot of programs to help fund an aircraft that is just now becoming operational.

  7. Great story! And yes, 'sometimes' the brass DID do things like that to instructors...

  8. Thanks OldNFO. The "appetizer" you published this morning was most excellent. Looking forward to the book.


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