Echelon, You Hockey Puck!

This is an “Echelon” formation:


T-38A Echelon


It is used primarily at low level, to maneuver around the traffic pattern and so forth.  It is characterized with all the aircraft in the formation being on the same side as opposed to the ‘Fingertip’ formation where the Nr. 2 aircraft is on one side of the leader, and Nrs. 3 and 4 are on the opposite side.


Randolph AFB, TX T-38s in ‘Fingertip’ formation.

Before entering the traffic pattern, the Leader will command the formation from Fingertip to Echelon to be in a position to pitch out and land…

In the top picture above the formation is in the area, practicing Echelon.  To transition from a straight and level Echelon formation to a turning formation, the Leader will give the Nr. 2 guy a hand signal before rolling into the turn.

We didn’t have a formation for a “Fingertip” formation turn while in Echelon so it was all fairly simple – or so you would think.

One day, out in the area, I led a formation into an Echelon turn.  I gave a hand signal then rolled my aircraft.  Nr. 2, a solo with his head up his ass, rolled up on my right wing – in Fingertip.  Nr. 3, 1Lt. Howard Nicholas, was now in a quandary!  (Howard was the IP).  He wasn’t going to roll up on Nr. 2’s right wing as it was not a ‘legal’ formation.  So he just kind of held back, in Echelon, giving Nr. 2 plenty of space to maneuver, keyed the mic and offered the following words of thoughtful encouragement:  “Echelon, you hockey puck!”

And that was Howard being pissed!

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Would You Like to See the Pictures?

(There are some stories I hear that are just too good not to include here.  This is another of them.)

Joe called just before Christmas and we got to talking about his 2 daughters.  They are both adopted, from China.  After he told me how they were both doing, he shared this story…

When he and his wife decided to adopt they had to go through a rigorous and intensive interview process.  Joe’s wife, having lived with him for over 20 years, knew him pretty well.  As they were heading into the first interview, she stopped and looked deep into his eyes.  Then she said in a bone-chilling voice, “Don’t you dare screw this up!”  And Joe knew, at that very moment, he had only one of 5 possible replies to offer in the interview process:  “Yes Sir, Yes Ma’am, No Sir, No Ma’am and Sir/Ma’am, I don’t know.”  That was it.

And, with his wife putting the ‘Fear of God’ into him, he did fine at that first interview.

The second interview, a ‘one-on-one,’ followed shortly thereafter.  Joe told me that he drew a young 22, 23-years old girl for his interview.  And again, as he went in for the interview, he caught a glance of “the stink eye” from his wife.

The interviewer had a list of questions she was to cover.  As she proceeded through the list it was obvious to Joe that she was becoming more and more nervous.  When she got down near the bottom of her first sheet of questions, she skipped a few and went on to the second page.  Then she came back to the first page, then she came back when Joe answered everything on that second page.  By this time Joe said she was ‘real’ nervous.

She looked at him and said something like, “Mr. D., I’m sorry but I have to ask these questions about your sex life.”  And it was obvious she was about to have a nervous breakdown with it all.

To put her at ease, Joe came back right away with, “Oh that’s okay,” and as he reached for his wallet, he continued, “Would you like to see the pictures?”

And she “lost it!”  I guess her eyes rolled back and she went into a case of the vapors!

As they eventually were approved for the girls, and it has been several years now, Joe felt safe in sharing the story with me.  I don’t know if he has told his wife….


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No Jim, You’re Not Screwed Up…

After I wrote about our Christmas 4-ship last week I received the following reply from Jim N.

“Yes it seems like only yesterday…but I checked the calendar and it says no.  Hey, it’s important to see the other 3 guys in your four-ship right!!  Especially if two of them are solos…right.  So why did ATC paint their ’38s camo shades of gray?!?!!  To make it hard to find #4 during rejoins at 30,000ft?!?!!  This makes no sense or am I just old and screwed up?  Jim”

Jim raises an issue I have thought about for years.  This is one of the ‘gray camo’ jets he talks about:


And these jets below are painted white as they were when Jim and I were at Vance AFB, OK together in the mid-70’s.


There was a purpose for having them white.  Our mission was “student training,” and part of that training involved formation flying.  Getting lost in formation training is just part of it.  It happens.  So now, as Jim observes, on a gray, overcast day, which jet do you think an inexperienced student pilot will spot first?  The whit one, or the spiffy camo one?

The jets were all converted to that spiffy camo paint job in the early ’90’s when the Fighter boys took over T-38 student training.

I instructed in the T-38 for over 13 years; from 1975 – 1988, logging over 3,200 hours in the Jet.  I flew with a lot of guys, and a couple gals.  For the most part the Fighter boys always felt it below their state of life to come back to the Training Command – to fly ‘trainers.’  It was just below their dignity.

Often my first ride with one of these guys was an “orientation ride in humility.”  Yeah, I would endure the briefing laced with such Fighter talk as, “Shit-Hot, and Fuck,” followed by calls of “Fox 1,” or “Fox 2” in the hallway as we walked to the chute room.  Pretty extensive vocabulary, and I had to really concentrate to keep up with it…

Once we got in the Jet it became a different matter.  Usually the F-4 guys and the A-10 guys caught on pretty quick.  The guys who flew F-15s and F-16s were a different matter.  (The F-4 had been around for years and was kinda ‘old,’ and the A-10 was the bastard step-child in the fighter world.)  However the differential was that the F-4guys and the A-10 guys knew how to use the rudder; the spiffy jet guys flew with their feet on the floor.  And therein was my opening to teach ‘humility.’  More often than not, the debriefing was quite a bit quieter than the briefing…

In the 90’s Air Training Command (ATC) went through numerous changes.  First the name: it morphed into Air Education and Training Command (AETC – Air et cetera.)  Well swell, I am sure we needed that.  I don’t know how we missed this for so many years?  Then it was decided to go to a “dual track” system of pilot training wherein after basic jet training in the T-37 students would be designated into 2 categories: Fighter/Attack/ Reconnaissance (fast movers) or Tanker/Trainer/Bomber. (‘heavies’)  There were a couple exceptions to these categories, of course, but for the purpose of this conversation, this works.

Now, since the guys only going into T-38s would eventually be going to fighters, it was decided that only Fighter guys should be T-38 IPs.  And I suppose there is merit to this… And to further create the environment the students would be eventually flying in, they repainted the jets to gray camo.  This, in turn, had an additional benefit.  It made the Fighter boys, coming back to the command, feel a lot mo’ better… And that’s important.

So no Jim, you’re not screwed up.  Like me, you’re just ‘old!’  LOL!  However, just think how “shit-hot” they’ll look with a mid-air at 30,000 feet!

Posted in Just Things I Notice, USAF | 2 Comments

Supporting the Cops

When I came out of the grocery store yesterday I saw a Monclova Township Deputy Sheriff sitting in his cruiser next to me.  His passenger side window was cracked about 2 inches or so.  Man, I could not resist this set up!

I reached in my car and took out one of the GIFT CARDS I am handing out this year.  Then I turned and tapped on his window telling him I had something for him.  He unrolled the window further, then I passed it through, explaining to him:

“This is just a small gesture on my part, to show my support and deep appreciation for you guys.”  His face lit up, and I ‘almost’ felt bad about it; but that past fairly quickly… There was the ring on his finger so I told him to please bring along his family.

I was able to observe his expression of ‘deep appreciation,’ followed by ‘confusion’ then I heard him break out in uncontrolled laughter as I got into my car.  I didn’t dare look back as I drove off, but I think I might have made his day!

I like doing ‘nice things for good people.’


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My Favorite Christmas Carol?

By far, “The Littlest Angel,” by Bing Crosby…

In 2012 I decided to build ‘little boxes’ for all the kids; my kids and the grand kids.  I was very meticulous in choosing a special wood for a special kid.

IMG_0805When I finished them I decided to add something ‘of mine’ to each box, something I treasured.  Each ‘kid’ got something different.


In Beth’s box I put one of the gloves I wore on my last flight in the Air Force: Keith’s I put my wings – the wings I earned at graduation from pilot training.  (They are ‘broken’ because of the legend – if they are broken on the ground, they can never be broken in the air).

Over this summer I decided to build a box for myself.  I chose ‘barn wood’ for mine.  And this is it this evening, 24 December 2014:


In it I have a few pictures, of my grandmother and my kids.  Then there are a few patches I wore at one time or another: my UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training) class patch, a PIT (Pilot Instructor Training) patch and a T-38 3,000 hour patch.  Then there’s a flying glove I once wore and a set of my wings.  On the glove you can see a “Gold Key.”  This was on my UPT parachute and used to initiate the parachute deployment in the event I was rendered unconscious during ejection.  And in front you can see the watch my Grandfather gave me when I turned 12 and a “BratPin.”

If I were to meet the Lord this evening, this is what I would take to Him…

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The Snow Maze

Last year (2013) we had a winter something like we used to have when I was a kid (1964 – ’68).  I don’t know what the “official” snowfall was, suffice to say, a lot.  Toward the end of the season I was talking with Mikey and he suggested this year I open a “snow maze.”  Now, just how stupid is that?  However, his idea held great appeal for me and I lent a lot of thought to it over the year.  So I contacted my sign maker last month and this is what we came up with:


Right now (Dec. 23, 2014) it sits in my family room; no snow – and it’s killing me!  I now can appreciate how ski resorts feel when there is no snow.  I am losing a great deal of money!

Do I think I’ll have folks walking in my front year?  Oh, hell yes!  And probably at $5.00 each.  And I will have my camera ready!

Last week I decided to create “gift cards” to fill the gap.  They have been a real “hit!”  I took 3 over to Noah’s school and gave them to the receptionist.  I told her that I wanted to give the “gift cards” to Sister Pat (principal), Karen (secretary) and Mrs. Rogers (the boy’s teacher) – and I handed them to her, upside down.  She went on to tell me ‘how kind I was,’ as I began to walk away.  Then I her her burst out laughing!



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I Didn’t Fly 3 Times that Day…

I was talking in the hallway to a few Captains one morning when the squadron commander (the 560th FTS/CC) came up to us.  At that time I was the “Special Assistant to the DO (Director of Operations), Number 2.  Lt. Col. Byron Allen was the Special Assistant to the DO, Number 1.  I had upward mobility, he didn’t…

Anyway, the commander asked if he could speak to me, indicating that he wanted it to be a “private conversation.”

“Sure Tom,” I replied, “what’s on your mind?” I replied with a ‘body language’ that told him I wasn’t going anywhere.  This would have been in December 1987 and I was retiring in July.

“Have you heard of ‘my’ policy of not flying 3 times a day?” he asked, thinking he had ‘nailed me.’

“Why, yes Tom, I have,” I answered.

“Well, it appears that the other day, you violated my policy,” he stated as if he had nailed me.

“Okay Tom, let’s think about this for a second,” I replied.  The Captains I had been talking with were now becoming somewhat amused, so I continued.  “Your ‘policy,’ as I understand it, is a ‘WOM,’ a ‘word-of-mouth.’  If you want me to adhere to it, write it down.  ‘WOMs’ are not legally binding.  And besides I did not fly 3 times that day (12 December 1987), I flew 5 times that day!”

At the time the only limit we had to flying on any given day was no more than 6.5 hours in a day – and I had not exceeded that.  I had 6.0 hours that day… and I knew it.  So, I was just ‘playing’ with him.  He was now in a engagement he could not win – so without saying anything else, he just turned and left.  Nothing else ever came of it…

You have to know the rules…

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“Kansas City Center, Guess Who?”

It was about this time of the year when we took a 4-ship out to the area to ‘play’ a bit.  The students had all gone home for the holidays so there were just IPs (instructor pilots) in the jets.  The initial check-in with Kansas City Center went something like this (after a silent nod from everyone acknowledging, we were all on Kansas City’s radio freq.) -beginning with the IP in the front cockpit of the Lead jet.  Subsequent responses were followed by the IPs in the front cockpits of the other 3 jets, then with the guys in the rear cockpits:

“Dasher,” “Dancer,” “Prancer,” “Vixon,” “Commet,” “Cupid,” “Donner,” “Blitzen…”

…then Jack Dyer, Flight Lead called, “Kansas City, guess who!”

Merry Christmas Everyone!

t-38a(And yes Jack, I know: these aren’t ‘Vance’ jets; and I know this isn’t ‘in the area,’ and I know these aren’t Vance IPs, etc…!  But it is the only T-38A four ship picture I can find this morning!  LOL!)

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Who Taught You How to Talk to Adults?

I was up to the post office the other day with a handful of BratPin orders to send out, maybe 12 – 13 of ’em.  As I was about to hand everything over to Deb I noticed this ‘kid’ come in with just a few envelopes.  He was maybe 17 or 18; a nice looking, well-groomed kid.  I thought this might be a good opportunity for a ‘lesson’ for him; teaching him to be observant about his surroundings, and whatever else he could take from it.

So, I asked him, “Do you just have the 2 pieces to mail?”

“Yeah,” he replied.

“Yeah?!” I came right back at him with, I think perhaps ‘shocking’ him a bit.  And at the same time I motioned for him to go ahead.  Then I asked, “Who ever taught you how to talk to adults?”  And I left it at that.

Deb was somewhat mortified, but she went about her task at hand…

As the kid completed his business, he looked at me and said, “Thank you, Sir,” and all was good…

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Retro ID Cards

And so in early December it came to us; how fun would it be to create ‘retro’ military dependent ID card?

When we, Military Brats, left home or when our parents left the service we had to surrender our ID cards.  Not a big deal perhaps, to civilians, but to us Brats our ID cards symbolized our existence.  It was almost losing our ‘identity’ for a while.  From when we became aware that they even existed we counted the days until we turned 12.  That was the minimum age you could receive an ID card back in the day.  I wouldn’t doubt it if they just give them to about anyone these days – after all, every kid deserves a trophy today…

So a friend and I put our heads together and came up with this great military dependent retro ID card.  How cool is that?  They kind of look like this, ‘like’ the original ones:


Only we “sanitized it.”  (I think Brats have more of an appreciation for security sometimes than active duty folks or members of congress.)  Front and back there was nothing that could pass for military.  Nada!  However just before going into production our printer’s lawyers advised the company against it.

Their claim was that someone could use the card to gain entrance into the World Trade Center, blow the place up and the company would be held liable for trillions (of dollars).  Oh, really?

Let’s look at the ‘big picture’ here a minute.  A “Retro” ID card.  An OBSOLETE, Retro ID card!  No bar code anywhere.  No American eagle or bird if any kind anywhere on it.  No rank of any kind.  No “unit” details.  Nothing military.  And most of the pictures on the damn thing would be pictures of us as kids:

Circle "F" 1

Makes me take pause to think that they should consider enlisting the legal staff in Homeland Security.  Clever bastards they are… the “tip of the spear” with respect to homeland defense…

Posted in A Nation Gone Nuts, Air Force Brats | Leave a comment