Just a Slab of Concrete…

Outside of Hanger 12, at Randolph Field, TX, on the southeast corner, sits a slab of concrete.  I don’t know; maybe 6 feet square, and 12 inches high?  But it’s been there ever since I can remember.  And so why is this weathered piece of concrete so significant to me – when so many others over the years have passed it by without even a second thought?  Well, to me it represents “esprit de corps.”

I attended UPT at Randolph, Class 71-07, from April 1970 to April 1971.  Yep, a year; 52 weeks.  In those days we had “esprit de corps,” and we knew it!  We felt it.   And probably nevermore than the times we gathered near that old slab of concrete to watch guys taking off on their “Dollar Rides.”

A “Dollar Ride” is a traditionally the first ride in an aircraft that a new pilot has.  And although there are mission objectives, it is often more of an ‘orientation’ ride than anything else.  At least, that’s they way they were structured when we had them in the ’70’s.

Also, in the ’70’s we were allowed to perform “Burner Climbs” – climbs in afterburner (AB) – to 23,000 feet, without congressional approval.  To facilitate this, there were military climb corridors at the departure ends of military fields that had high-performance aircraft.  Sweet!  All we had to do was advise Departure Control that we would be performing an AB climb on takeoff.  (This was when pilots made the calls with respect to how their flights would be conducted, instead of shoeclerks.  Oh well…)

And so, every 6 weeks a new class would come into T-38s.  And every 6 weeks we would see 3 or 4 days of AB climbs.  Oh, gawd damn it!  They were so much fun to watch, and even more fun to fly!

Typically you would see the jet accelerate after brake release.  Then as it became airborne, the gear would come up, and the jet would level off – about 10-20 feet off the concrete.  And then it was pure acceleration – and you could actually see it!  At the departure end the nose would crisply come up, and the aircraft scrambled for sky!  This is a NASA aircraft on a departure, much like a “Dollar Ride.”

This aircraft is an F-104 in an AB climb.  Although not a T-38, it does capture the essence of a T-38 “Dollar Ride” AB climb:


One after another, they would roll down the runway, then transition into a 45-degree climb, in AB.   From the ground it looked like the jets were going straight up!  The transition was always ‘crisp,’ and it ‘would sit you back’ in your seat!  And the Earth dropped away!  Nothing but ‘sky’ out the front windscreen!  Freedom…

In later years, I always looked fondly at that slab of concrete as I would catch the van to the jets.  So many Dollar Rides; so many fond memories.  And today, it just sits there… but the memories are still here, vivid as ever!

PS:  I need to tell this to you.  On my Dollar Ride, as we returned to the pattern, my IP – Rick Vaile – asked if there was anything else I would like to see.  “Why yes,” I replied, there is – an AB Closed Pattern.”  This is where you come off a touch-and-go and instead of using ‘Military Power’ to climb to traffic pattern altitude, you use the afterburners.

Rick didn’t make a big deal of it – he just lit the burners, rolled, and pulled.  He had to roll first to keep the jet from climbing into the stratosphere – which we would have because we were so light!  I can remember looking out the left side of the canopy and seeing the runway passing by… just feet away from our wing tip!  Esprit de corps….


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