“I’ve Never Met A Dead Man Before…”

I labeled my first three students I had at Vance as ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”  Looking back now,  some 35+ years later, that pretty-well sums it up.

Lloyd was “the Good,” and he damn-near killed us a couple of times.  Not because he was a “ham-fisted,” but because I was complacent!  I first became aware of this when Jimmy P. came up to my table one morning and stuck out his hand.  I had seen Jimmy around the squadron, but had not met him yet.  From a distance I had seen him as as a quiet leader in the unit and I held a bit of respect for him.

I looked up from my debriefing with Lloyd, stood and took his hand.  As we shook hands, he simply said, I have never met a dead man before,” and with that, he turned and left.  I just stood there, kinda perplexed.  “What did he mean by that?” I asked myself.  Lloyd just kind of kept his head low, not wanting to draw any more attention to himself.

Some time later I found the courage to track him down and ask, “What was that all about?”  Jimmy suggested we grab a cup of coffee and then we found a place to sit and he explained what he meant…

He had been the RSU Controller earlier that morning when Lloyd and I were flying traffic patterns.  I remember having been sent around once, but didn’t think anything more about it – until Jimmy explained how close we had come to “spearing in.”  Then it all came back to me.

We were on an advanced contact ride, flying now more for proficiency vs. learning.  Lloyd had been doing quite well in the program, and I was content with his progress.  As I write here this morning, I can distinctly remember sitting in the back that morning, arms resting on the canopy rails, feeling proud of the job I had done with him!  He was good.

As we approached the overrun for a no-flap landing, Lloyd began his flare (to landing) a bit early, a bit too high.  It wasn’t too bad, or so I thought, so I let him continue, thinking he would soon recognize his error and correct accordingly.  He didn’t.  Crap!

When we crossed the runway threshold, instead of relaxing stick ‘backpressure,’ Lloyd pulled back, and chopped the power!  It was at that time my arms came off the canopy rails!

I remember the aircraft rolling to the left as I shoved the throttles into ‘burner’ (afterburner) – but I didn’t realize how far we had rolled.  Jimmy then told me that from where he sat in the RSU,  he could see our knee boards strapped on our legs, looking up through our canopies!  He went on to say it all happened so fast that he never had the chance to send us around.  He said his next thoughts were to notify the fire department…  Until then, I had not realized how precarious our position was!  How far I had let him go… (That line from “Animal House” now comes to mind:  “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life”…Ahhh!)

I managed to ‘right’ the jet just as the burners lit.  And thank God, it was enough to arrest our sink rate and we recovered.  I thought nothing more about it – until Jimmy introduced himself that morning.

As a young IP, I matured quite a bit from that incident – and from the way Jimmy handled it.  I took a hard look at “complacency” within myself; and my limits, with respect to how far I was willing to let a student go.

Jimmy could have taken the incident to “the Heavies,” to the squadron Ops Officer or Commander, but he didn’t – he came to me.  And I got the message!  At that time, in 1976, we had a great cadre of mid-level supervisors within the squadron.  Jim N., Hal R., Don R., the ‘Burker,’ Sam D., Andy J., and ‘the Fonz’ to name but a few.  These guys knew how “the cow ate the cabbage” and  how to run a flying squadron.  They didn’t “run to Mommy” with every little issue.  They weren’t concerned with “covering their asses!  I never forgot the lessons I learned from these men, and was a better IP and supervisor myself for having known and worked for them… And, it still gives me the shivers when I think about how I met Jimmy that morning…

 

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