Tattoo at the Taj…Behind the Scenes

To put on this ceremony required a great deal of timing and precision from the flyers.  I first became aware of this late one Sunday afternoon in early May 1986.

At the time I was the Chief of the Stan/Eval Division for the 12th FTW.  I was out in my yard when a 4-ship of T-38s came across the house, real low and at the “speed of heat!”  All four aircraft were bouncing in the late afternoon thermals and the only thing that kinda resembled a formation was, they were all kinda heading in the same direction.

“Holy shit,” I thought to myself, “I am sure glad I am not part of that ‘goat fuck!'”  What the hell?

The explanation didn’t come out until our Operations staff meeting the next day.  For the greatest effect, ‘they’ wanted the ’38s coming across the field in ‘burner’ – in afterburner.  Well, okay.  But the flight was planned and flown by guys without any, or very little experience with this type of flying.

Our ‘speed limit’ below 10,000 feet was 300 knots.  When those jets passed over my house that Sunday, they had to be doing 450 to 500 knots!  And trying to hold a tight formation, with those thermals – at that speed – it’s a wonder no one hit each other!

After listening to ‘them’ (the staff pukes) wonder what to do, and scratch their heads for a bit, I suggested they fly the “run in” at 250 knots, with their speed brakes out.  Then as they cross the field boundary, retract the speed brakes and light the burners.  This would give them a stabilized approach and still yield the effect that they were looking for – and keep the airspeed under control!  It worked.

Another “challenge” we were presented with was managing resources.  Speaking from only the T-38 side, we were stressed!  To support the flybys required  7 jets, and 14 IPs.  We had the 4-ship and a spare, then the solo and a spare.  The “Heavies” didn’t want any “noise” at the beginning of the program, so we had to take off and stage out of Kelly AFB across town.  So, 7 jets would depart Randolph at 1630 and fly a “training sortie,” recovering at Kelly.

Then we had to man the Supervisor of Flying (SOF) desk and provide an IP for observation/timing.  Because of crew duty restrictions this severely limited our operations for the day of, and the day after the blessed event.  But hey, we “pulled it off,” and our wing commander received a “star!”  What more can anyone say?

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