The T-38 Follow-On Trainer…

The T-38A/C is getting old, and tired.  It entered service in 1961 and has served America well.  I had the privilege of flying it for 13 years on active duty – and I loved every moment of it!  But she is getting tired… It’s sad, for sure, to see the T-38 at the end of her tour, but it’s time.

In the late 70’s I attended a briefing on the T-38 by a couple Northrop engineers who designed it.  At one point during the briefing they said that if they had to design a replacement for the ’38 it would look a lot like the T-38.  That statement never left me.  And now, I think they did.  In this TX, I can see the T-38.  And I am sure it will do well.

I suppose my only ‘regret’ in seeing the TX come on board is, I won’t get a chance to fly it…

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“Roger that, and you can pick up the squawk…”

Gary G. was a senior captain when I got to Vance in 1975.  He had been a Forward Air Controller (FAC) in Vietnam before becoming a T-38 IP.  Gary had kind of a ‘cynical demeanor’ but in a humorous way.  I never saw him use his humor in a harmful manner – but he sure could get his point across with it!

One day Gary was out in the area when the jet he was flying had a T-5 Amp, on one of his engines, let go on him.  The T-5 Amp was a device on each engine that controlled engine temperature by opening the nozzles to keep the temperatures within their operating range.  They only came into effect above 95% rpm (I think).  It was not a ‘big deal,’ but something that you didn’t want to continue the mission with.  So on this day, Gary calls for a return to Vance, then calls into the squadron to tell them what is going on.

Now, at the time, when we experienced an ‘anomaly’ with the jet we could declare either an Emergency or a Precautionary, depending upon the severity of the problem.  This would give us preferential treatment for recovery, if necessary.  So, now Gary calls the Supervisor of Flying (SOF) to advise him that he is returning to base with this T-5 amp issue.

The SOF in turn, asks Gary if he is declaring either an Emergency or a Precautionary.  Gary was a bit perplexed by the question as it really didn’t warrant either.  So he told the SOF that he wasn’t declaring anything to which the SOF replied that he (the SOF) was declaring a Precautionary for him!

Gary was somewhat taken aback.  He had never heard of anything like it.  So, he then told the SOF, “Roger that, you can pick up the squawk then!”  Meaning: the SOF could turn his transponder to the ‘precautionary setting!’  Gary was justifiably upset that the SOF was attempting to ‘fly his jet.’

I thought Gary was ‘spot on’ with his retort…

      

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“Where Are You Guys?”

One of the ‘additional duties’ we had in the squadron was to provide resources to the Base Exercise and Evaluation Team (BEET) for exercises on occasion.   And one day we sent 2 of our pilots to participate in a staged holdup of Base Finance – to ‘exercise’ the Base Security Police (SP).  The plan was, our 2 pilots would walk into Base Finance and announce a ‘holdup.’  There was to be a ‘little old lady’ carrying 2 sacks of ‘money.’  The ‘money sacks’ would actually be filled with scrap paper.  The ‘bandits’ would then head out to their car and drive around until the Security Police collected them and retrieved the money.  Pretty straightforward, one would think.

When our two guys walked into Finance and announced the stickup, as planned, they saw the woman carrying the two sacks of money.  She handed over the ‘money,’ again as planned, and our guys headed out the door.  Another objective of the exercise was to have Finance folks look out the window to identify the getaway car for the Security Police.  No one did, and off our guys went.  The only problem at this point was, they confronted the wrong lady at Finance and actually grabbed 2 bags of real money – somewhere around $15,000! 

So now we have these 2 guys driving around base with ’15 Large’ in the back seat, actually waving at the SPs driving everywhere with sirens and lights!  And after a while they get hungry.  So they decide to head off base to get a burger.  No problem.

They leave the money in the back seat and head inside for their lunch.  After lunch they go back to the base and drive around a bit more, again waving at the cops when they see them.  Finally they decide to contact the BEET team guys to find out when this whole thing will be over as they both have flights later the afternoon.

When they get ahold of the BEET team chief he asks, “Where are you guys?”  They tell him they have just been driving around the base.  And, oh yes, we went off base for a bit, for lunch.

The team chief then tells them they grabbed the wrong bags, that they actually have ‘real money!’  Oh shit! 

They were then able to return the money, debrief and return to the squadron – with one great story! 

           

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Just Point Him Toward Sky Harbor…

Mike C. once told me about a young Lt. who took a jet (T-38) out on a weekend cross country with a Flight Surgeon who needed to log some flying time.  This wasn’t unusual, I did it a few times myself.

Apparently this particular Lt. was building a reputation as somewhat of a ‘screw-up.’  Yes, we had them – not many, but we had the.  It was upon his return that Sunday that he got his “name in lights” once again.

Mike was the SOF that day and first became aware that there was a ‘problem’ when ATC called to tell him that one of his jets was diverting from Willi to Luke because of ‘high crosswinds.’  Mike asked ATC to ask the IP how much fuel he had remaining.  As it turned out, not enough to make to Luke, some 50 miles away from Willi.

Earlier, when this Lt. began his descent into Willi that afternoon, the crosswinds were below 15 knots.  But they soon increased to between 15 and 20 knots.  The ‘Solo’ (Student) crosswind limit for the T-38 was 15 knots.  For everyone else, the limit was the T-38 design limit of 25 knots.  This guy thought that, because he was a “solo” pilot flying with a flight surgeon, his crosswind limit was 15 knots, so he diverted!  Yep, we had a ‘few of them!’  So, off he heads for Luke AFB…

Mike then told ATC, “Point him to Sky Harbor (Phoenix International) and tell him it’s Luke.  He’s too stupid to know the difference.!”  And the “solo” pilot subsequently landed uneventfully at Sky Harbor, albeit without much gas remaining.

I later heard that this guy soon received an assignment to T-43s at Mather AFB, CA, with the hopes of having “adult supervision” with him when he flew…

  

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How Do You Spell the Name?

My second trip with Major General LeRoy Svendsen was a 3-day cross-country to Las Vegas.  He had some business out there and I was once again, his “seeing-eye IP.”

The trip was more or less straightforward until we stopped at Willi, (Williams AFB, AZ), on the return.  After a couple touch and goes, he made the full stop.  On rollout we were directed to contact Base Ops (Operations).  So I flicked over to their frequency and checked in.

“Willi Ops, Tonto 07 is on freq,” I called.

“Sir,” came the reply, “how do you spell the name?”

Now remember, I was flying with General Svendsen.  I instantly figured out that they probably had some young airman, with a bag full of letters standing at the marquee in front of Base Ops, wondering how to spell the general’s name:  Svendsen, or Svendson, or whatever.  So I asked, as we continued to roll out, “Are you ready to copy?”

“Yes Sir,” came the reply.

“B-O-B” was my transmission, and the radio went silent!  The General, listening to the whole conversation, began laughing his ass off while clapping his hands over his head!

When we reached parking there was the usual greeting party; the Wing Commander, the Base Commander, The Director of Ops and a few “horse-holders,” and one steaming base Operations Officer.  He was the fat major in the background, and he wanted to talk to me!

As we deplaned I fell in behind General Svendsen, with my eye on the angry, fat major.  He motioned for me to come over to him, and I shook my head, “No.”  By the way, I was still a Captain at this time.  As we trooped the line of the greeting party I once again glanced at the angry, fat major.  Nor he was motioning for me to come over to him by curling his fat, little index finger on his right hand.

“No,” and again, I shook my head.  That just went to piss him off even more.  Now he curled his finger at me with ever more ‘authority,’ and began squinting at me with his beady eyes, now pointing down with his index finger for me to put my person directly in front of him.  Still, not going to do it!

At this point he became ‘very animated’ and pointing to his rank, he once again then pointed down to the space in front of him.  “Okay, that’s the game,” I thought to myself, I pointed to General Svendsen’s 2 stars, and flipped him off – never to look at him again.

I also made sure that I never went to Willi again for 6 months or so…

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Late Night Lieutenant?

The IP-Student relationship was very formal in the beginning of their training.  It had to be.  I had no desire to be their ‘friend.’  Jay Barnes once explained it very well for me.  He once said, during my Buddy IP training, “Bob, there will come a day when you’ll have to look across the desk at that kid who wants to be a pilot so bad, and put a bullet right between his eyes (wash him out of the program).  You need to keep your distance from your students to remain objective.  Sometime after the Formation Two-ship Check you can begin to loosen up a bit, if you want.  But until then, keep it straight and narrow.  Firm, but Fair.”  I subsequently used that guidance for my entire T-38 IP career.

In late ’75 my wife’s sister came to live with us for a while.  We lived on base at the time.  She was young and single so we introduced her to T., one of my first students, and they seemed to get along very well.  We had a boat at the time and would take them with us up to the lake and so forth.

One morning, on ‘Early Week,” I got up around 0430 for a 05015 hrs. report time.  As I walked out into the living room I noticed there were 2 “lumps” in our hide-a-bed, where there should have only been 1 “lump.”  Crap!  So I crept back into our bedroom and explained it all to my wife.  I then grabbed our alarm clock and fired it off again, while standing in the doorway.

“Oh shit,” I heard coming from the living room.  And, after a certain amount of panic scurrying I heard the door open.  But I never heard a car start.  Odd.  Anyway, after another couple minutes I walked down the hallway into the living room.  I couldn’t help myself; I walked over next to the bed, then patted my sister-in-law on her backside and said, “Smile if you got any last night…”  Then I headed off to work.

When I got to the flight line there was T., sitting at his assigned place at my desk.  How he did it, I wouldn’t have a clue.   Dress, shave and report – all within perhaps  15 – 20 minutes.  I was impressed.

T and I had a flight together on the first ‘go,’ and it went well.  However, during the de-brief, he had a hard time not yawning.  About the 3rd or 4th time he yawned, I looked up at him and asked, “Late night Lieutenant?”  To which he replied, “Yes, Sir.”  And that was all I ever said about the incident – only to ask him at graduation what he did about his car when he left that night.  “I pushed it down the block before I started it Sir,” came the reply.  Well, okay then….

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The Day Goes by So Much Better…

One morning ‘the Burker’ was the opening SOF (Supervisor of Flying) at Vance.  His report time that morning was around 0430 or so.  Helping him open that morning was a female Ops Specialist, a blonde 2-striper who had not been in the squadron long.

About an hour or so into the day she looked over at the Burker and remarked, “You know Capt. B., the day goes by so much better if you have a couple beers before coming in…

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Flying With Iranians…

In the late ’70’s, we received 29 Iranians at Vance AFB, OK for pilot training.  In preparation for these guys we had a 3-4 hour briefing on their (Muslim) customs from the State Department. (In retrospect, one of the best USAF briefings I ever received.)

One of the things they told us was that, in their society, if “they” lied” to you, and you didn’t ‘catch it,’ it wasn’t considered a lie. And, in addition, it was somewhat of an insult to these guys to challenge them if you suspected they were lying… Well, okay then.

I flew with their Class Leader, Lt. Bosh, very early on in his T-38 training.  We had just come back to the pattern and were coming off a touch-and-go I had demonstrated for him. As we pulled up for another pattern he asked me the final turn and final approach airspeeds – something he was responsible for knowing. I gave them to him, 10 knots slow.

As we were about mid-way through the final turn we began sinking like a sewer pipe. “Go around, use Burners!” the controller directed…

As we went around Lt. Bosh said, “Sir, I don’t think the airspeed was correct…”

“Well, you got me Lt. Bosh,” I replied. “I was just messing with you. I wanted to show you that, if I ask you a question and you lie to me, I will lie to you.  So, if I ask a question, and you do not know the answer, just tell me. Okay?”

“Sir, may I speak freely” he then asked.

“Of course.”

“Sir, I think you are crazy!”

But you know, the “word” got out and I never had any issues with those guys, and came to enjoy flying with them.

Note: These guys were all reported killed after they returned to Iran. They weren’t the Khomeini’s guys…

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The Country Ham

DQ was the “A” Flight Commander at ’38 PIT when I was the Chief of Check Section.  I liked DQ.  He was (somewhat) an ‘intense’ individual, hardly ever smiling.  In addition he could be quite “sharp”upon occasion.  But hey, he was from New York City – it came naturally to him!  But I liked DQ.

One morning he went up with Steve U. on a flight.  Steve was the Class Leader for DQ’s current class at the time.  From my understanding, the flight was rather nondescript, except in Steve’s eyes.  Apparently DQ had shown Steve a particular way of flying a maneuver that totally impressed him.  When they finished the debrief, Steve was apparently still unable to contain amazement with what DQ had shown him, to where he declared, “Maj. Q, that was so impressive, I am going to bring you a country ham!”  And the next morning, Steve walked into the flight room, carrying a country ham!

DQ was speechless!  I don’t know if anyone in the history of Air Force pilot training ever received a country ham for showing a student a particular way or another of performing a maneuver.  Perhaps a beer or two, but never a country ham.

I can still see DQ coming down the hallway with that ham in his hand, and a very perplexed look on his face!  Maybe you had to have been there, but DQ was obviously “rattled!”  And the look on his face, priceless… A country ham!

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I Got to ‘Put My Hands Under Mike Webster’s Butt!’

In the early 2000’s I was honored to speak at an Air Force Flight Surgeon’s Course at Brooks AFB, TX.  The topic of my presentation was, “How do pilots hide their drinking from Flight Surgeons.”  (Spoiler Alert:  We lie to ’em.  Shocking!).  It was during that presentation that morning that I realized just how much alcohol took from me, what I missed in flying by ‘flying drunk’ all those years.  Not ‘physically drunk, but certainly emotionally and psychologically drunk… in a ‘stupor’ if you will.

I had seen the acceptance speech of Terry Bradshaw where he lamented about ‘sticking his  hands under Mike Webster’s butt just one more time.’  That one comment really resonated with me.  I don’t know why that thought came to me during my presentation that morning, but it did, and I shared it with the residents.  (Have a look at the video below, 36 seconds into it…)

“What I wouldn’t give right now to strap on the Jet (the T-38A) and punch those Start buttons just one more time,” I lamented that day.  I must have struck a nerve with ‘Voodoo,’ one of the Residents, for a couple years later I was given that opportunity!

I was almost 60 years old at that time, and such a thing is almost unheard of.  But Voodoo went to ‘the mat’ for me, and I got a ride.

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How many times have I made ‘this’ walk?

And oh, how it all flowed back to me in an heartbeat!  The seat training/orientation, the mini-physical, strapping in – I savored every bit of it!  Then when the air conditioner began ‘spitting’ at me on takeoff I was in Hog Heaven!  When the sweat began running down into my eyes I just let it sting, lest the experience escape me once again.

When I was given the opportunity to fly my IP asked me if I remembered how to perform a Loop.  (For perspective, I had been flying ’38s when this major was still in liquid form!)  I couldn’t find the G-meter in the new cockpit configuration (T-38C), so I flew to the ‘tickle’ and help it over the top.  It worked out fine, and so it went.

The hour just flew by and soon we landed.  As we taxied in we punched off the intercom and dropped our masks.  I took a moment to reflect – to just “be’ with it all, and I found myself in prayer.  I thanked God for having had the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream of flying, for the realization that, at one time, I wasn’t too bad at it, and for not hurting anyone – myself or anyone else.

When I retired from the Air Force on 15 Jul 1988 I left somewhat ‘unsettled’ with respect to my flying career.  I could never quite put my finger on it, but on this date, 26 May 2006, I climbed out of the Jet “complete.”  I was at Peace…

Terry, I also ‘stuck my hands under Mike Webster’s butt one more time!

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