When we graded UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training) students after a ride there was always a block called “Judgement” on the grade sheet ‘Judgement’ was a graded item in all the different phases of training: contact, formation, nav and instruments. The grades we assessed at the time were Excellent, Good, Fair and Unsat.
Usually ‘Judgement’ was a subjective grade based upon the IP’s overall feeling of how the ride went; unless something exceptional stood out, good or bad.
I recently became reacquainted with a former Vance T-38 IP. We served together briefly in 1978, maybe 4 months overlap. I vaguely remember him and now, after talking with him a bit last weekend, wish I had known him better.
As we talked he told me how he approached ‘Judgement.’ Apparently he never gave a student an Excellent on ‘Judgement’ on a ride, regardless of how well it went. Occasionally he was questioned about it, but he never relented. Then he went on to tell me that on graduation day he would meet with his students before they ‘walked across the stage’ to receive there wings. It was then that he gave them a set of Air Force Wings, with the word “Judgement” inscribed on the back of the Wings. He said that often by the time the student reached the Wing Commander to receive his wings, he would have tears in his eyes.
In 1977 Col. Wilson C. Cooney was assigned to Vance AFB, OK as our Director of Operations (DO). As he was settling in to the operations he wanted to visit our ACE* (Accelerated Copilot Enrichment) bases. I was a T-38 Wing Flight Safety Officer at the time.
For whatever reason ATC determined that putting the various ACE programs under the host Wing Safety Divisions was the best way to go. So it was determined that I could perform a “flight safety inspection’ with this unit by accompanying Col. Cooney with his ACE orientation at Pease AFB, NH. So, off we went.
Colonel Cooney had flown the T-38 previously, but had yet to begin his requal – but it was determined that he could fly in the front seat anyway. This decision made, by ‘not me,’ would soon come to bite me in the ass!
Our first two hops to Pease went without incident. We would land for our ‘gas-and goes,’ and I would direct Col. Cooney to shut down the engines once we coasted into parking. (It should be noted here that the T-38 engines could only be shut down from the front cockpit.)
I think we may have stayed overnight along the way because, if memory serves, we arrived at Pease mid-morning. It was a cool, sunny Fall morning that day, and we taxied in with our canopy closed.
The “reception” committee consisted of 4 or 5 SAC (Strategic Air Command) colonels and 1 ATC captain – all nicely lined up at attention. As we came to a stop they all saluted, in unison. Quite a nice reception if I might say so. In taxing in Colonel Cooney had taken off his helmet and replaced it with his service cap. He crisply returned the salute as we came to a stop – then we just sat there, staring at 4 or 5 SAC colonels and 1 ATC captain. With the engines running.
The 4 or 5 SAC colonels, and 1 ATC captain, were standing there at attention, and Colonel Cooney was sitting up front looking politely at them. And the engines were still running.
Then it dawned on me – Colonel Cooney didn’t realize that I couldn’t shut the engines down! And, with him wearing his hat, in lieu of his helmet, he couldn’t open his canopy! Well, damn! So, I sat there for a moment, kind of amused by the whole thing, then I though I had better ‘do something.’ So I unstrapped, opened my canopy then reached up and slapped the side of his canopy. He was somewhat surprised when he looked back at me and I gave him the ‘cut-off’ signal. Then he got it!
He then shut down the engines, opened his canopy and climbed out of the aircraft. Soon he was on his way with the 4 or 5 SAC colonels, leaving me with the ATC captain.
I didn’t catch up with him until sometime later – and nary a word was said about the incident. Never was, but I have sure chuckled about it over the years…
I just received notification of the passing of Colonel Tom Ardern, USAF/Ret.
I met Tom when he came to “O” Flight at Vance AFB, OK in Oct 1977. I was his Flight Commander for about 6 weeks before moving on to Wing Safety.
Tom ‘stood out’ from the very beginning. Not only from his size but from his intellect (I don’t believe he missed a single academic question throughout UPT), his athletic prowess and his broad, wry smile.
Two things come to mind when I think about Tom:
One Saturday morning we, the T-38 IPs, played a pick-up game of ‘beer’ softball with his class. It was toward the end of their training and most of us were more interested in drinking beer than the game. However, (Capt.) Marty Miller was playing shallow center field and was ‘taunting’ the students at bat. He continued to creep inward toward the infield while pointing behind him and shouting, “Ardern, look at all the territory behind me!” Tom, wanting to get back at Marty for being a smart ass, swung at the pitches like a man on fire, eventually fouling out… Like many of his classmates before him.
The next thing that comes to mind is, one day I was told that Tom had attempted to enroll in Squadron Officer’s School (SOS), by correspondence. The folks at the Education Office told him that, because he was enrolled in UPT, he could not take SOS. Because of the intensity of the UPT program itself. So Tom went downtown Enid, and enrolled at St. Mary’s University for his Master’s degree! You have to love him for that!
In later years we established ‘voice contact’ again and shared many stories about our T-38 IP experiences. I wish I had paid more attention as some of the things he shared with me were “eye-watering!”
So, today I am sad to hear about Tom. I am glad I knew him, and he will be missed when he ‘walks through my mind…’
They typically sit at the approach ends of runways at Air Force pilot training bases. During student training operations they are usually manned by a crew of 4: a Senior Controller, an Observer, Gear Spotter and Recorder. The Controller and Observer are IPs in the primary aircraft using the RSU’s runway. The Recorder and Gear Spotter are usually students.
The Controller’s job is as it implies. He/she is the individaul who controls the traffic and is usually a senior, experienced squadron IP. He is responsible for watching jets in the pattern primarily from the ‘perch’ through touchdown.
The Observer, another squadron IP, has the responsibility for the back half of the pattern, watching either the rollout portion of the runway, or clearing for the Closed Pattern – the part where the jet pulls up for another pattern.
The Gear Checker carries a pair of binoculars and is responsible for checking that 3 gear are ‘down and locked.’ More often than not, that the gear just look ‘normal.’
Then, the Recorder records all takeoffs and full-stop landings as well as any comments the Controller might have during the tour.
Usually a ‘tour’ lasts 4 hours or so, and a Controller might have 2-3 tours per week. Being an RSU Controller wasn’t anything I wanted to be, but I kinda got roped into it my last 6 months in the squadron – in 1977. And, I made the best of it, being recognized as Controller of the Quarter, 4th Quarter 1977… Go figure?
I happened in to my barber’s this morning and Tom shared a great story with me; too good for me not to share!
It seems a while back this guy owned a drug store in Bowling Green, Oh, near the university (Bowling Green State University). One day this female student came in and bought a pack of cigarets. On her way out she stoppered, opened the pack and took out a cigaret. As she was lighting it, the store owner asked her to not smoke inside the store.
“Well,” she replied, “you sell the cigarets inside the store, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” the store owner came back at her, “and I also sell laxatives – but I don’t expect you to take a shit in my store…”
One day “PF” was the IP on a student two-ship (T-38s) training flight. The pilot on his wing was a solo student pilot. At some point during the mission, PF checked in on the SOF (Supervisor of Flying) frequency, callsign ‘Lowell,’ at Vance AFB, OK. The conversation, as I understand it, went something like this…
Lead: “Reno 17 Lead,”
Two: “Reno 17, Two.
Lead: “Did you just hit me?”
Two: “Yes Sir, I think I did…”
Lead: “Lowell, I think my wingman just hit me…”
Apparently PF’s wingman lost sight of him (in the sun) during a pitchout and at some point his vertical stabilizer brushed against PF’s airplane. Very little damaged was done, but PF and his student definitely felt it. The initial reply from Lowell was (again, as I understand it), “Two, stop hitting Lead…” Then it got serious… The flight was directed to return to Vance where an inspection revealed that indeed, significant damage had been done.
“PF” was an IP who worked for me when I was the Chief of Check Section in the 560th FTS (Flying Training Squadron, T-38s). He was a good IP, and I liked him well enough. But PF was a talker! Man, could that boy talk – all day, talk, talk, talk…
One afternoon I was in my office when he came in to talk. About nothing in particular as I recall but it really never mattered. Hardly anyone else could ever get a work in edgewise once he began to talk. On this day I let him ramble on for 4 or 5 minutes, then I got up and walked out of my office, saying nary a word. How could I anyway, not that it would have mattered. And sure enough, he followed along, talking continuously.
My walk took us outside and around the building, then back into my office. He just kept talking, not once asking where we were going. Then, once we got back I managed to break into the conversation and tell him I was off to fly. That got me some relief!
That Friday night, down in the Auger In I happened to run across Susie, his wife. I mentioned the above incident and asked if was always like this. “Oh yes,” she replied, “ever since I met him.
Then she proceeded to share a story of her own. Seems shortly after they were married they visited her folks in Colorado. One morning, just after breakfast, her Dad had to take his ‘morning constitution.’ He excused himself from the breakfast table where he and PF had been sitting; PF talking. Without batting an eye, PF also got up and followed mer Dad to the bathroom, taking up station just outside the door. PF was quite content to stand there, continuing his conversation while Susie’s dad took care of business! I guess he was quite ‘taken aback’ by the experience.
The next day when it once again came time for his morning constitution, he got up and grabbed a chair to take with him – so PF wouldn’t have to stand outside the doorway. Apparently PF never gave it a second thought, took his seat and continued talking. Susie told me that once finished, her dad climbed out the bathroom window and went about his way for the morning – giving his ears a much needed break!
Like I said earlier, I liked the kid; but boy, could he talk!
In 1978 I was the Chief of Safety at Vance AFB, OK. One morning we received a call from the Command Post telling us that one of our T-37s (Tweets) had crashed. My first concern was for the condition of the pilots. As it turned out, they were fine. So then we began the investigation…
The aircrew, a Tweet flight commander and his assistant, were on their way to the auxiliary field to serve as runway supervisors for the morning. It seems they engaged in somewhat of a “game.” The rules were simple: Upon beginning the descent for landing once the throttles were retarded they could not be advanced and once a drag device was extended, it couldn’t be retracted. The idea was to see who could begin the drill the farthest out from the field. On this particular day the flight commander, who was flying, came up 19 feet short of the runway overrun. Damn-near made it!
When this accident occurred Vance had gone 4½ years without a T-37 accident. We were in one for a coveted 5-year accident free award for the Tweet squadron – that is, until these 2 Bozos pranged 19 feet short. This accident certainly didn’t have to happen…
Aside: When our wing commander called the ATC 4-Star (Commander) he told him (rightfully so) that he was sure of what happened and requested to investigate the accident “in house.” He agreed, and we investigated it ourselves – it wasn’t hard. At one point, over a few beers, we considered hanging it on Civil Engineers – for building the runway 19 feet to far to the South…
Craig and I were on a T-38A cross-country to Norton AFB, CA (San Bernardino, CA) one weekend. We flew out there and spent the weekend visiting my Aunt Jan. She and her husband lived in Indio at the time.
On Sunday morning she invited us to head out back and take as much grapefruit and oranges as we wanted. Her trees were loaded that year. As it was, Craig and I packed 5 or 6 grocery bags of grapefruit and lemons.
When we got to the jet we packed most of the fruit in the travel pod we had. We got the grapefruit and all of about 3 or 4 lemons in the pod, and stored the remainder in the cockpit. Give up a lemon? Oh, hell no!
Start and taxi were normal. Actually, there was no indication of any problems at all until takeoff. It was my leg and I was flying from the rear cockpit. As we neared 130 knots I began pulling back on the stick, as I had done hundreds of times, and nothing happened! I relaxed back pressure to continue accelerating, then tried again. This time the nose came up, very slowly. Very slowly, matter of fact. And when the jet (finally) became airborne it flew like mush! Very uncharacteristic of the T-38. I continued to nurse it, slowly gaining airspeed. It just felt sluggish.
Somewhere during the climb it finally dawned on us – we were over-grossed! The pod had a weight limit of 140 pounds, and we were surely over that weight! This was confirmed when we leveled off at altitude with about 500 pounds of fuel less than what we had planned for. Thankfully we were only going to Williams AFB, AZ, not that far away.
Upon arriving at Willi, we flight planned to Randolph ABF, TX and saw where we could make it – with a grapefruit, and 2 lemons to spare! Willi had a long runway and we had experience with heavy-weight takeoffs now (Idiots, we were!).
As you might imagine, the takeoff and climb were ‘sluggish’ at best. And we again leveled off with a little less gas than planned. But we made it, and ate grapefruit for a month.
Today I cringe at the thought. What we we thinking? Can you imagine losing a jet because you overloaded the damn thing with grapefruit? Twice? Idiots, we were…
I came into thee squadron one afternoon after flying and found this note:
Throughout my Air Force career I received a few ‘awards and decorations’ for various things but they all pale in nature to the simple personal notes of recognition from the folks I worked with. This was one of those notes… and it still warms my heart.