A Tribute to the King

(The following was provided by Rat.)


16 August 79:  It was a hot, humid, summer morning at an un-named USAF base
in northeast Mississippi.  I was a T-38 IP in Eagle Flight.  This particular
day marked the second anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley – “The
King”.  One year to the day prior, some of the Eagle IPs  decided to pay
tribute to “The King” with a memorial flyby of Graceland.  It was obviously
a superb  idea at the time, the flight went great and so it was more or
less decided it would become an Eagle tradition.  Just one small act of
kindness on our part to honor Elvis and brighten the spirit of a nation in

There was plenty of Continuation Training (CT) flying available and Eagle
was manned IPs and guest help who really liked flying T-38s.  Our scheduler
always ordered jets for our “off half” of the day and so most of us would
come in early or stay late in order to fly CTs.  Seems like about 99% of
these were 2-ship and 4-ship.  We were  very good in all aspects of
formation flying.   As we were showing up to fly one of the guys mentioned
it was the second anniversary of Elvis’s death and thus the day for
“Tribute to The King” part dieu.  Of course everyone was onboard with that
– even our new  Flight Commander who was in day one of his job and  the
squadron’s newest 2LT FAIP who had just been assigned to the flight.

Navy Memphis ( Millington NAS ) was one of the places we used for
instrument training .We had a canned profile that allowed us to fly
approaches at the NAS and  Memphis International (MEM).  Shocking as it may
seem we all knew with  MEM  on north flow a slight right turn on the
missed approach  would take us  right down Elvis Presley Blvd and over
Graceland.  It was basically part of the regular profile and required no
special coordination. ie. no paper trail or untidy ATC tapes.

We hit the high points of the 4-ship brief , signed out the jets, grabbed
our gear and stepped.  The departure was in 2-ship elements, we rejoined and
dropped into the MOA for some wing work followed by more challenging
exercises just to make sure we were tuned up for the real mission.
Following an enroute descent lead checked us in with Memphis Approach and
ask for an ILS low approach and directed the flight into left echelon on
base turn.  We configured on the glide-slope and just to make sure we had
the appropriate amount of smash and time for perfect positioning for the
low approach, we “cleaned up”  a little early, blew  by the tower
evidently looking pretty good because the controller said something to the
effect “Hang 10, that was FANTASTIC!!  Can you do it again?  Lead replied
“Be glad to – Short Vectors.”  Second time around was better than the
first. Repositioned to to fingertip as we made the right turn down Elvis
Presley Blvd headed for Graceland.  The flight was ” on a wire” as we
passed overhead.  One of the guys has since remarked “I can’t believe we
weren’t on TV !!

Of course we were now 10 feet tall and bullet proof, a little low on fuel
but no real sweat. J ust enough for an enroute descent back into homeplate
for another4-ship  approach followed by a closed full stop.  Lead called
“VFR entry – request straight in for 4.”  The RSU Controller was another
Eagle Flight IP on his first unsupervised tour after checking out as a
controller. Of course he said “Approved.”  Turning  final we reformed into
left echelon and configured on the VASI glide-slope.  Again, we cleaned up
a little early so we could properly manage our energy –  which was copious
–  and flew a very nice echelon low pass down the runway followed by
burner pitchups to closed downwind for full stops, formed back up at the
turnoff and taxied back to parking  in formation.

GREAT FLIGHT with one miscalculation.  The  Commander’s picture
window had a very nice view of the approach end through about mid-field if
we were on north flow.  He happened to be looking out that window pondering
the state of his kingdom as we performed our arrival show.  A  4-ship
echelon low approach was not something he saw everyday.

Goes without saying we were eminently pleased with ourselves  when
walked into  the “chute shop.” As we were stowing our gear there was a
VERY LOUD voice –  “GENTLEMEN – VIETNAM IS DEAD!!!!  Sounded a lot like
the SQ CC.  Sure enough it was, and he did not seem to share in our sense of
aerial accomplishment.

As far as I know the only guys invited by the CC to a “fireside chat” were
the RSU Controller, the newly minted  2LT FAIP  and our brand new  flight
commander.  He entered a plea and rolled over on the rest of us with a
full soul cleansing catharsis.  The CC shunned the rest of us for about a
month and that was the extent of it.  Somebody else suffered  a heinous
lapse in judgement and the  “The First Law of Thermodynamics” came into
play i.e., ‘If the heat is on somebody else, it is off of you.’  Nobody was
fired but there was not a “Tribute to the King,” part three.

Just for clarification it seems ATC at that time was undergoing a period
of “enlightenment.”  AFM 51-38 wasn’t much more than a pamphlet and if it
didn’t expressly prohibit something it was generally OK to do it as long
as it wasn’t completely stupid.  I don’t remember anything about this
flight that was out of line – just slightly expanded the mundane
day-to-day operations.

It was fun. Commander probably just wishes he had been with us.

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