Tattoo at the Taj: Running Out of Airspeed, and Ideas

As the ceremony came to a close, just after the playing of Taps, the Taj would be lit up in Red, White and Blue colored lighting. Then a lone T-38 would come from behind, light the Burners and climb into the heavens. That was the plan…

On this one night the solo ‘38 was flown by a young FAIP (First Assignment Instructor Pilot.). Another FAIP was in the Taj, relaying ‘how it was going’’ to a guy in the Tower who, in turn, passed the information to the Sol Pilot for timing. Being either early or late would dampen the whole show.

So this one evening the Solo pilot got a little ahead of himself and had to do a couple “S” turns for spacing lest he be too early. And by doing that he inadvertently bled off more airspeed than he realized. As he pulled into the vertical, the airspeed bled off even more – until he almost ran out of airspeed! So there he was, over the reviewing stands, out of airspeed, and ideas.

It wasn’t long before the jet pitched over and the kid found himself staring at all the attendees – almost going straight down! I can only imagine what everyone thought, from either perspective. Very slowly, as the airspeed began to build, he recovered from the dive, but not before giving everyone quite a show!

The next morning I showed up to work around 1100 or so as I had been part of the 4-ship formation that evening myself. Until then I had no knowledge of the show. The ADO (Assistant Director of Operations) called me in and asked, “What happened?” I didn’t have a clue, at that time. When I found out the details I felt a cold chill run through my body. We came so close to a real disaster!

Of note, the kid’s squadron commander was in his rear cockpit…

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