Monday, April 18, 2016

La hondureños, segundo intento

So, last week I ran afoul of the technology gods and my attempt to blend blogging and pleasure was only very marginally successful.  Who knew that pictures on a blog post could be so difficult.  

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa!

But....At least the "What the heck am I gonna write about THIS week?" question has been answered.  To quote from a great Alert Movie "So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."

In any case, I was doing research for my topic and whilst reading the source of all verified truths in the universe, came across this quote.

"Events during the 1980s in El Salvador and Nicaragua led Honduras — with US assistance — to expand its armed forces considerably, laying particular emphasis on its air force, which came to include a squadron of US-provided F-5s."
I had always wondered why we had two  Fuerza Aérea Hondureña  Officers attend Lead-In Fighter Training while I was an IP.  Now, I knew.

So,There I was *....

I don't know how the Boss got the notion that I might speak Spanish, but one day, he walked in the scheduler's office as I was putting the finishing touches to the next day's schedule.  

Flying time, especially front seat flying time, was highly sought and fought over in the early years of the Reagan Build Up.  As such, the Boss would always come by late in the process and give the schedule a once over.  It was, after all, his squadron and he was ultimately responsible for what happened with it, especially the flying.  Most of the time, he'd just give it his blessing.  Occasionally, he'd make a "suggestion", on students or IPs flying together.  

Today he seemed a bit distracted.  He begins the conversation with "You're from Texas, you speak Spanish don't you?"

I'm still pondering a schedule change he'd suggested and the question doesn't immediately register.  

Then it does.  I think "Huh?"  However, I reply "Sir, I speak a little."  Meaning "Sir, I speak enough to say "hello", "I'd like another beer, please" and "Where's the bathroom?".

I make the suggested change on the schedule, and he replies "Good. Go ahead and post it."

I take that to mean, "I approve your change to the schedule and you can make it public."  (Meaning I can give it to the SSGT who will write it on the plexiglass in front of the flight desk and the pack of drooling fighter pilots (both student and IP) will quit bothering me to find out if they're on it or not i.e. my day is done.)

In that hubbub, I forget about the Spanish Question.

Now, in a spirit of honesty.  I speak a tad bit more Spanish than I've said, but not much.  I do however, read and understand it at a higher level.  I can generally follow a conversation and get the gist of what's being said, especially if the speaker is using the Texas version of Spanish where every 5th word or so is English.  I'm almost fluent at that point.

A couple of weeks later, he calls me down to his office.  I walk down the hall, doing the mental exercise of listing the things I've screwed up lately (a long list) to determine if any of them merit a trip to the boss's office (none that I can think of, but....).

I knock and enter, standing at attention.  He motions me to sit down.  Hmmmm....This is unusual.

"Juvat, (for that was my actual call sign at the time) We're going to have some different students in the next class.  I'm gonna need your help."

"Yes Sir?"

"We're going to have two Captains from the Honduran Air Force in the class, and I'd like them to be your students."

Ooh Boy!

"Yes Sir, are they fresh out of UPT?"


"What have they flown?"



"Here is their personnel data.  Just so you know, one of them is the son of their Air Force Chief of Staff."

"Oh" (S4!T!)

I glance down at the forms.  They're the usual military personnel type forms.  The person's picture in one corner, assignments, schools, awards etc.  This one also includes a questionnaire filled out by the individual.  One of the questions is "How well do you speak English?"

The top form (belonging to someone we'll call Jorge) is answered "Quite well".  

He's got quite a bit of flying time and will be going through the B course.  

The B course was the F-4 and F-16 course, and will familiarize them with both Air to Air and Air to Ground techniques and procedures.  The A course is for F-15 students and focuses exclusively on Air to Air while the C course is for students going to the A-10 and F-111 and focuses exclusively on Air to Ground. 

I think, Ok, shouldn't be too bad.

I shuffle the pages and look at the second Officer's record.  (We'll call him Juan.)  It is quite apparent that Juan is the Chief of Staff's son.  His picture has him in uniform with a wide variety of medals, ribbons and sashes.  

(As an aside, at the time, I had two ribbons. An overseas short tour and a commendation medal, oh, and one silver star on my flight suit sleeve indication at least 501 hours of fighter time, no combat.)

I glance at the flight experience section, he's got less time than me and most of it is in Cessnas (with props).  OOOH Boy!

I continue perusal of the form and get to the question about how well he thinks he speaks English.  Juan has entered "Fair".

Juan will be going through the A Course.  

I look at the Boss.  He says, "let's see how it goes."

"Yes, Sir"

A few days later, the new class arrives.  Shortly thereafter, I'm invited to the Boss's office, where I'm introduced to Jorge and Juan.  I can tell within seconds that Jorge is a fighter pilot, maybe not a jet fighter pilot, but a fighter pilot.  He will do fine.

Juan, on the other hand.  There's something about a person, who won't look you in the eye, that always make me wonder.  

The Boss dismisses us with a "Juvat, why don't you find a briefing room and sit down with our guests and discuss the program and answer any questions."

Finding an empty briefing room, I welcome them to sunny Alamogordo and ask them to tell me a bit about themselves.  Jorge starts off, describing his AT-6 experience and what he's looking for from the LIFT program.  Jorge, in fact, does speak English "quite well."

He finishes, and I turn to Juan.  He begins to speak.  In Spanish.  

He stops, and Jorge begins to translate.  This goes on for a while, and finally I ask a question.  Juan, looks puzzled, and looks to Jorge.  Who begins to speak, in Spanish.

Oh Lord!

I ask Jorge if Juan speaks and understands any English.  He says Yes, but not if spoken quickly.  I slow down my verbal pace, and I can see that Juan understands some of what I'm saying.

I relate this to the Boss, who turns slightly pale.  He dismisses me with a "Do the best you can."

A few days later, I'm scheduled for a double turn.  A flight in the morning, and one in the afternoon.  It's an orientation ride, I'm in the front, my Honduran friends are in the back.

Jorge is first.  It's obvious that he's never flown a jet, as he's way behind it.  We're out in the area, and I demo some acro, then give him the stick to try and repeat.  He over controls it at first, but I talk him through the corrections, and he performs the maneuver passably.

That afternoon, I walk Juan through the briefing, explaining what we will be doing, and how we will pass control of the aircraft.  (One of the stupidest, but not altogether uncommon, accident causes occurs when two pilots both think the other is flying the aircraft when, in fact, neither is.)  He says he understands.

We go out to the aircraft, and I get it started, airborne and out in the area.  I demonstrate an aileron roll.  I tell him "he's got the aircraft". "I've got it." Close enough.  He does the aileron roll.  His maneuver is actually more of a barrel roll as he's got a bit of back pressure in throughout.  

I demo it again.  He tries again.  Same technique.  I ask him why.  He says he doesn't like the zero g.  

Hoo boy, this is going to be a long course!

Time passes and some changes are made.  Jorge is doing well enough that he can fly with other IPs.  Seems Juan feels comfortable with me and has requested me as his only IP. 

 Yay me!

I've managed to get him "qualified" in the jet, meaning he can take off and land, if I give him several hints with the stick and throttles e.g. holding the stick and throttles in the desired position, until such time as they should be changed.

The program calls for solo rides.  I advise the boss that for Juan to solo, would be to write off a perfectly good airplane.  He says he can't be that bad.  I invite him to take him out for a ride himself.  He does.

Never seen the Boss that shaken before.

The Boss goes to the Wing King with the problem.  The question goes up the chain.  Finally, the answer comes back down.  Juan WILL graduate, whatever it takes. 

The Boss asks "What will it take?"

I reply "Sir, first, he is taken out of the A course and put into the C Course."


"Second, it counts as a solo, if I never have to take the aircraft.  I can talk him through any maneuver and if he accomplishes that, but I don't take the aircraft, it's a solo." 


And, pushing my luck, "All flights will consist of myself and Juan, and another IP in the second jet, solo only" (I wanted to minimize casualties.)


This works pretty well, and Juan is actually making a fair bit of progress. My hands are never more than a quarter inch off the stick and throttles, but still...

We're late in the program, I'm even starting to feel like I may survive.  We're scheduled for a two ship low level mission.  The low level route is one I've flown easily a hundred times.  I know it like the back of my hand.

Our solo IP is a new Captain and He's got a humdinger of a mission brief prepared.  I'm old and tired and want to get Juan graduated.  

The Captain begins the briefing.

"OK, we'll start at XXXX, taxi will be standard, we'll do a formation takeoff.

"No, we won't!"

"Ok we'll take 10 second, you rejoin on me."

"No, we won't!  You'll pass us the lead on the runway, we'll take off, you rejoin on us and w'll pass you the lead."

The Captain asks Juan if he'll excuse us for a minute.  He steps out of the room as the Captain turns to me and says "Juvat, it doesn't look as if you're trying to maximize this student's training!"

I say, "No, as a matter of fact, I'm not!  I'm trying to maximize the chances of you and I living through this mission!"

"He can't be that bad."

"He can.  Trust me"

We get through the briefing, and basically the plan will be to takeoff as I'd outlined, drive out to the low level entry point in route formation, fly the low level in route formation, come back in and I'd update my back seat landing currency.

Juan takes off, and manages to fly the departure fairly well, the Captain rejoins with us and we pass him the lead.  We  let down to enter the low level and are now about 500' AGL on Lead's left side.  Lead gives us a manual frequency for the low level route as he begins a right turn for the first leg .

Now, typically, there would be a channelized frequency, say like the programmed buttons on your car radio.  Today, however, we've got to manually change that frequency and since there are 4 digits in the frequency, there are lots of combinations.    Normally, an experienced pilot would have set those digits in the dials on the ground, so that all it would take would be switching the radio selector from Channel to Manual. 

Juan didn't do that.  I'm watching lead as Juan has matched bank angles with him in the right turn.  I watch lead roll out, we're a couple of hundred feet away, but now with a closing vector.  I'm expecting Juan to roll out.



I glance in the front seat and am treated to a view up the back of Juan's helmet.  He's bent over looking at the frequency selector as he changes it.

As I holler, "i've got the jet", I slap the stick to the left to level the wings.  Hard enough to see Juan's helmet bounce off the canopy. 

We've still got a closing vector.  I don't want to continue rolling left as that will blank out lead.  I can't go down.  No one has ever exceeded the low altitude flight record.  If I go up, I'll lose sight of lead.  Unless...

I pop the stick back and am treated to a grunt from Juan over the intercom.  As the nose clears the horizon, i slip in right rudder and aileron and do a quick tight barrel roll over the top of lead.  As I Tom Cruise over the top of him, I am treated to a very clear view of his wide open eyes through his canopy.  I now complete the roll rolling out on his right side, back in formation.

Juan comes on the intercom.  "What happened?"

Debrief over, Juan leaves the room.  The Captain says, "I didn't believe you, I'm sorry."

I replied.  "That's ok.  You, He and I are repeating the ride again tomorrow."

That evening when I got home, I kissed the floor, kissed my wife, and poured my self a stiff drink.

By User:Bernardo Moncada - Own work

Honduran Air Force Corsair loaded with Nape.  Just because I like Corsairs



  1. Oh sh!t oh dear!

    Juan sounds like an aerial disaster waiting to happen.

    (This is a two part story right? Does Juan pass the course? Does Jorge go on to fame and glory?)

    1. Yes, yes he was.

      Unfortunately, no. Did Juan pass the course? On paper, yes. I'll leave it at that. Jorge did quite well in the course. What they did on return to Honduras I never found out.

  2. Great story Juvat!

    Probably about the same time frame, the NASO medical clinic go-to translator was Jorge Velez. He was a self-proclaimed Chicago Rican and had learned Spanish in a similar fashion to you. One day we needed a translator in the ER and the nurse sent for Jorge. That was the day the nurse, who'd invented and taken credit for the whole forward thinking translator program, discovered that not all brownish style folks speak Spanish. It was funny though, watching Jorge try to translate Omani Arabic.

    1. Thanks.

      Oh, now THAT's funny, and somewhat predictable for the folks that think the world is populated with English Speakers and Not English Speakers. If you're a Not English speaker, you must be able to understand other Not English speakers, Right?

    2. Hay, just speak louder or shout. At least that's what most folks seem to think works.

    3. I have watched that behavior with embarrassment many times while overseas. It makes me cringe.

  3. My maternal grandfather was born in Honduras.
    He managed to unlearn all of the Spanish, probably because he came to San Francisco at a very early age.
    I have a really cool recording of him being interviewed about The Quake.

    1. My maternal grandfather lost his first tooth in The Quake. Coincidence? I think not! :-)

    2. My maternal grandfather commandeered a milk wagon to go get his mother and take her to safety in Vallejo. It is a small world. Actually there are only 127 people in the world and the rest are extras or walkons.

    3. Very interesting theory. I'll have to ponder that. Maybe Sarge will turn it into a posting.

  4. Geez, you mean zoomies occasionally really earn their pay?

    (Just a jealous ground pounder)

    1. Actually, we do. All those non-flying additional duties are what we get paid for. The flying part is done for free!

  5. The bright spot is he didn't pull a knife and threaten to cut your throat! Happened to an FE friend of mine on EP check in P-3s with an Iranian pilot!


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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