Monday, March 9, 2015

When Boredom Strikes

So,  There I was…..* A second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force in the final stages of my first assignment at lovely Laughlin AFB, Del Rio TX.  I was within a month or so of graduation, and was now in that portion of UPT where I had just enough of that glorious combination of confidence and actual flying skill to be extremely dangerous.  There are no more new phases in UPT, the emphasis now is on building skills and experience in Formation, Acro, Instruments and Navigation.

With the exception of Instrument rides (back seat under the bag, not a lot of fun), we’re flying a lot of solo rides.  Since, by definition, we’re by our self, things are a bit different.  There’s less of the feeling that every tiny little thing you do wrong or not by the book will end up on your gradesheet.  There’s also more of a feeling that, by golly, I can do this! 

In short, we’re starting to have fun.  Still working hard, but having fun.

I’ve been out in the area with some building cumulus, trying to sculpt them a bit.  Used them to try a little ultra-low level flying, seeing how close I can get and for how long before I actually graze one.  An interesting exercise and one of the few ways you actually experience how fast you are going.  It was always exhilarating.

Formation solo rides were interesting, because you were either 2 or 4, and there wasn’t an IP to be guarding the stick, or assisting with power control (they always seemed to be pulling it back for some reason).  You could be as aggressive as you wanted in your rejoins.  I always strived, as 4, to be in position on 3 before he completed his rejoin on lead.  Fortunately, our flight commander was an F-4 guy with a couple of tours in SEA under his belt.  The word Aggressive, was not a pejorative to him.

But there were rides that just had to be gotten through.  Instruments, under the bag, as I’ve mentioned.  Not fun.

The only ride I've ever pinked, was my T-38 Instrument Check.  Out to El Paso, shoot the ILS approach to RWY 22.  

A strange approach since the TACAN is not located on the field, you shoot the approach by crossing over the TACAN and then flying a vector to the north west until you intercept the ILS localizer (the course indicator which shows whether you’re left or right of course, the Glide slope tells you up or down).  

Usually pretty simple, unless there’s a strong right cross wind blowing you ever closer to the runway.  Anyhow, I’ve passed over the TACAN, got the localizer dialed in and waiting for it to come off the wall at which point, I’ll start my turn and begin the ILS.  

Well,  the wind huffs and puffs and blows me closer to the field unbeknownst to me (GPS and moving map displays would’ve been deeply appreciated).  Finally the localizer comes off the wall, just as the inner marker beacon starts flashing.  I roll to the max allowed bank angle on an approach (with a check pilot in the front seat) of 45 degrees and try to intercept it.  Overshoot, and realize I don’t have the gear down yet.  In short, I’ve screwed up the approach.  Look at my gas, got plenty.  Decide to go missed approach. Which is what the procedures say to do when you screw up the approach.

Come back around, make the proper adjustment for wind, configure properly, intercept the localizer and shoot the approach down to minimums as planned.  Not good enough for the FAIP check pilot with delusions of grandeur.  His nickname was Pinkum for a reason.  The grade sheet was all “Excellent”s (the highest grade) and one UnSat.  UnSat Overall.

In any case, I’ve got to recheck with the chief of Stan Eval as this is my last check ride prior to graduation and I’m headed to fighters.  Evidently, they want to make sure I can hack it.  

The Stan Eval chief is a Thud driver with a couple of tours in SEA also.  We fly out to Laredo, which had a similar approach as El Paso.  Come in, shoot the approach, on course on glideslope all the way.  We’ve got plenty of gas, so he takes the aircraft and we stop in an area on the way back.  He demo’s some low level and pop up dive bombing (simulated of course). I guess I’m still going to my fighter. 

But, that all occurred before I got picked up by a UFO.

Just seeing if you’re paying attention.

One of my last rides is a night solo.  Now, night rides are essentially instrument rides.  There is no advanced handling maneuvers allowed.  Further, we don’t go anywhere, except to the area, burn down to landing weight, RTB and do a couple of touch and go’s.  Bore! Ring!

It’s a clear night in South West Texas, there’s not a lot of ground lights to be seen.  The glow of San Antonio can be seen to the east.  I’ve driven around for awhile and am bored to tears.  I decide I’d like to see what I can see with no external lights on.  The blinking red light on the wing tip can be distracting and somewhat detrimental to night vision, so I turn them off.  There are lots of stars to be seen from 40K+.  The rings of Saturn are visible to me.  It’s pretty cool, but Attention Deficit that I am, also soon gets boring.  

So, I wonder how slow I can fly at 40K+.  Crack the power back and start to slow down.  Get down to approach speed, and put down 60% flaps and figure, what the heck, put down the landing gear also.  Airplane flies pretty well.  Although, I’ve got to be VERY smooth.  Interesting exercise, but of little utility, at least until Flying Aircraft Carriers are invented.  

I smoothly advance the power, clean the gear and flaps up and start a left turn to North.

What the heck, let’s get this over.  I light the AB and pretty soon, I’m streaking along.  I can see the glow of the AB in my mirrors.  Kinda cool I’m thinking.
F-15 Burners,
Source YouTube

FINALLY, I’m down to landing weight, and as I start my approach, I realize my external lights are still off.  OOPS.  Turn them back on.  Come on in to the field do my touch and goes and then full stop.  Taxi back in and shut her down.

Back in the flight room, when one of the other guys in my class comes up to me.  He’s one of the 2 most popular guys in the class.  They both volunteered for B-52s.  They didn’t have to buy beer at the club for weeks.  Anyhow, I digress. He’s kind of breathless. 

“Juvat, did you see it?”

“See what, Phil?”

“The strange lights”

“Where, on the ground?”

“No! They were in the air to the west of me!”

“What did they look like?”

“Well, the first I saw, was a Bright White Light. Then it went out and turned into a blue white streak heading north.  Did you see it?”

“No, Phil, I didn’t”

“Do you think I need to fill out a UFO sighting report?”

“And lose your B-52?” <cough> “Which I might then get?”<cough>

“No Phil, I don’t.”

Phil went on to the BUFF, got out of the AF when his commitment was up, went to med school and, last I heard, was a brain surgeon in New York City.

*SJC Applies


  1. Flying Aircraft Carriers? Hmm

    1. Well, as usual, my timing stinks. Too late for one, too early for the other. But I was ready, I'd practiced approaches at 40K. After that, landing on Everest should be a piece of cake.

    2. At 40K you have prepared yourself for inevitable approach and landing on the mothership just now launching from Mars apparently. Someone caught the launch dustup last week. Should be here soon or perhaps it will land on the other side of the moon.

    3. Put me in a jet! I can play Randy Quaid as well as anyone.

  2. It is amazing what a twenty-something can think of and accomplish on a solo ride. My instrument flying was always much better on those hops. Go figure.

    1. Yeah, Dave, the 38 was a fun airplane to fly, but that slow and that high every little stick movement brought the tickle to the wings. It was fun though.

  3. So that explains all those UFO sightings, JOs playing at night.

    1. I'm not sure Phil ever figured it out. The landing light and the absence of normal flashers, through him for a loop.

    2. I'm assuming your trip report will be submitted shortly?

    3. Wednesday. Maybe. I have a cross-country tomorrow.


    4. Hope it goes better than the outbound leg!

  4. You have to wonder how many UFO sightings are from the same circumstances? The wildest light show I ever heard of - i didn't witness it - but there is a certain road in the Eastern Sierras out of Lone Pine - you climb 3000-4000 feet in 8-10 miles - they used to film the Lone Ranger up there.

    Anyway a friend is talking about the time he was up there looking down on the valley and a pair of "somethings" = from Edwards probably - flew at nearly eye level and all he could see was the rotating strobe reflecting off the bottom of the fuselage.

    1. Now days with NVGs and lights out training, I think there are a lot of places that could get spooky pretty fast.

  5. LOL, I don't think the Macon could make it that high... And a LOT of the UFO reports back in the late 50's early-mid 60s and later were SR-71s... Just sayin...Not that I ever saw any glowing 'things' go by... Nope...

    1. Well, Mach 3+ in the 50s and 60s was pretty speedy. In the 80s and 90s, we had to ask them to slow down just a bit so they would show up. Just sayin'

  6. Another fun read Juvat. Something about "brain surgeon in NYC" gets the giggle factory going. The "dark" afterburners of G model Buffs taking off with water are kinda interesting too... (80's vhs quality,long but interesting).

    Great description of the night slow flight at altitude. That's not a lot of wing interacting with not a lot of air! Be an interesting approach to the boat at 40k+. Wouldn't have to worry about hitting the water though.

    1. Dark AB indeed. Kinda makes the F-4 appear smokeless in comparison.


  7. Well, juvat, you certainly bring back certain old memories of UPT at Laughlin & Del Rio--that cutting-edge playground of the idyl rich, lol.


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