Monday, February 29, 2016

There's no R in July

So, There I was……*  Holloman AFB NM, an instructor pilot (IP) flying the mighty AT-38B late in the first term of the Best President of the 20th Century.  The military buildup is going full swing and students are going through Lead In Fighter Training as fast as they can go.  Most are headed to new 4th Generation fighters, F-15s and Lawn Darts F-16s.  This means the IPs aren’t getting a lot of stick time to maintain our basic flying skills much less our fighter pilot skills.

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

Flight Suit-  

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.

Left. 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.  

“juvat check” 


I’m slightly (ok really) (ok unbelievably) peeved (and you know what word I'd be using if this wasn't a family friendly blog, it also begins with a P) at this point thinking that he'd been fooling around and did something to flame out his jet.

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.


  1. Great story! I m given to understand (ahem) that breakfast burritos will have the same effect. Sometimes.

    1. I have it on personal, meaning reliable, authority that consuming a burrito before 1000 hours ensures the consumer can not be defeated in aerial combat. Failure to consume one resulted in the demise of the Red Baron. Hence the name on that brand of burrito.

    2. Why yes, of course, especially with lots of hot sauce!

    3. Hot sauce helps, keeps the bacterium under control.

  2. All I'm sayin' is that it ain't the first, and probably not the last, helmet bag to be sacrificed for the good of the order. And I'm sure that the maintainers were very happy that he decided the helmet bag was expendable.

    1. Now how can one go to exasperating lengths about a mislaid spring left in an aircraft and not notice 3 gallons of vile rolling around in the cockpit?
      Do you suppose there was a 'gripe' on that one?


    2. This story answered all of my questions as to why the cockpits in some F-4s had a peculiar aroma.

      Not sure I wanted to know that...

    3. Dave, I'm sure you're right on both counts.

      HMS. At a minimum we had to have both jets inspected for hail/ice damage for our ride through the T'Storm. Which if I hadn't been so annoyed at my wingie at the time, I'd have probably been terrified. I don't recall any issue with the cockpit, so I think his execution of his plan was successful.

      Sarge. There always was a certain Funk to the cockpits wasn't there?

    4. Always.

      Except the first Lawn Dart I sat in, it still had that new jet smell.

    5. The only time I experienced that was while I was cleaning a brand new Dassault Falcon 10 at the FBO I worked at in college. Even my Eagle was 8 years old by the time I got in it the first time.

  3. I once had raw oysters in New Orleans in July.
    Fortunately there were no ill effects.

    1. But if you had them in NOLA, you probably had cajun seasoning with them. That is known (to the State of California) to kill all harmful bacteria. So you were never in danger.

  4. Now that was a tale worthy of Hizzoner hisself.

    1. My thoughts exactly! I am just thinking of the difficulty of undressing in the confines of a T-38 cockpit

    2. It was a tight cockpit! The Eagle was gigantic in comparison.

  5. As a ground-pounder, I can't compete with a story of a comrade riding a non-functioning T-38 down through a thunderstorm over Texas while filling a helmet bag and worming his way back into uniform. Doubt anyone could.
    But . . . I've got something close . . . I think:

    1. Great story Snuffy, I'll be chuckling about that for a while.

    2. As will I. I wonder what Willie used for a bomb sight?

    3. You had to go there, dincha? :-)

    4. I would expect no less from our dear Cap'n...

      (Tee hee, SWO humor!)

  6. Both hilarious and (in conjuring up the mental picture of "Dan's" cockpit - disgusting

    1. Well, as I commented earlier, Dan's "Aim" seemed to have been pretty good, as I don't recall any problems getting home or any extensive cleanup being required at Bergstrom. However, the smell was awe inspiringly horrible.

  7. Oh man... That 'stinks' in more than one way...LOL

  8. My twin brother started his career in the Air Force as a 462 loading F-15's (He was at Kadena from 90-92, and I do remember a "Juvats" hat). I distinctly remember being 18 years old and going to visit him at Lowry while he was at Tech School. He took me on a tour of the Hanger. He was showing me the B-52, the F-111, etc. He, too, used the term "Lawn Dart" along with the actual action of throwing one when it came to the F-16. I laughed hysterically then, and the beginning of this story reminded me of that. Great story, Juvat.

    1. Well, I left Kadena in the summer of 90, so we probably had some overlap and I may have met him. Small world.
      Yeah, Lawn Darts was our moniker for them. Flying Tennis Courts was theirs for us. Ours was better, just sayin'.

    2. He spent three years loading Eagles at Kadena, then went to Kunsan where he loaded F-16's. He HATED them from a weapon system specialist perspective. He said the Eagle was designed way better. He left there for Special Operations as a Pavelow Gunner and retired in 2009. His son is now a Weapon System Specialist at Lakenheath working on C and E model Eagles.

    3. It's hard to believe the Eagle that had my name on it is still flying and is almost 40 years old. That's old for any military aircraft and flippin Ancient for an Air to Air fighter.

    4. Along those lines, I went to an air show at Pease a few years ago. There were two C models there from the Vermont ANG. I spoke with one of the pilots, told him about my brother. The pilot said that the planes they were flying had come from Kadena. I took a picture of the tail number and sent it to my brother. Turns out it was one of the jets he'd worked on.

    5. Hmmm, Wonder if mine is there? Sure would like a picture of the old girl.

  9. Great story! As they (?) say, necessity is the mother of flexibility.

    1. Necessity (at least in this case) is indeed a mother......


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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