There we were at Fallon again, on one of the endless dets before actually going to sea. The earth around NAS Fallon has to be the richest iron earth in the world, what with all the practice bombs and occasionally real bombs being rained down on the various targets over and over again until the bombers get it right or too close to really matter any more.
We practiced section flights, then division flights, then threw in all the attack guys (A-7’s and A-6’s), then made our way up the learning curve to a full blown strike, with the attack pukes, fighter guys (F-14’s), recce dudes (the RF-8’s), and the EA-6B’s on top with the E-2’s helping us out. Baby steps to elephant steps, one bomb at a time.
The baby steps included some basics that I didn’t think about until my name showed up on the skeds along with Tom, my trusty B/N, for a tanker launch. Single tanker, it says, brief with F-14 before launch. What was this all about? A few questions later we learned that there was an F-14 driver in one of the two F-14 outfits in the air wing that needed to learn how to tank, and we, Tom and I, were going to brief the F-14 guy on the tanker procedures, take off, meet him overhead the NAS, and teach, no, that’s not it, fly a stable tanker pattern while the fellow attacks the air refueling drogue. Piece of cake, suitable for a j/o and below. Presto, the assignment is all mine.
So we meet with the F-14 crew, I can’t recall either of the names here, but I’ll call the front seater Rick. Rick was the guy, somehow he’d gotten through all the RAG training without plugging into the tanker. Never done it.
The brief was more about where to find the tanker around the ship and the hand signals utilized to start the in flight refueling once joined up on the tanker. Normally around the ship everything is done with the ship’s heading as the reference point. Picture the bow of the carrier as pointing to twelve o’clock, the port side of the boat would be 9 o’clock, and so forth. When a fighter gets airborne his first radio call is “Tanker Posit.” The tanker is circling the ship counterclockwise at a certain distance and altitude. A succinct “three o’clock” reply from the tanker tells the fighter all he needs to know to locate the tanker.
For this flight we decided to use the runway heading for today, runway 31, as the bow of the simulated ship, and Tom and I would be circling Fallon at 12,000′ at a 10 mile radius. We briefed all that we needed to brief, the F-14 was going to be airborne before us and doing something else for a while, then return to Fallon and get a few practice plugs.
Tom and I lolly gagged a bit before manning up and getting in the air to give the F-14 time to finish whatever it was he had to do. Bear in mind here that the F-14 Tomcat was brand new to the fleet. Tom and I had watched the turkeys take off and land on occasion, I had even watched one crash (that’s a really good tale all by itself, no one was hurt and boy was I close to the scene). We had no idea of the big machine’s capabilities or maneuverability.
We were about to learn.
A leisurely man up and unhurried takeoff ensued and we began our orbit about the NAS, 12,000′ and 250 knots, left hand turns. Counterclockwise. Like we briefed.
A few orbits of the field and Rick comes up on the radio with the magic words: “Tanker posit.”
“One o’clock” was Tom’s reply, he was working the radios and we were not quite directly ahead of runway 31.
After a few moments delay Rick called us in sight. Said he’d be on our wing shortly. I asked him where he was as I looked over my left shoulder and didn’t see anything.
“I’m at your eleven” was the reply. I looked forward and was surprised to see an F-14 a few miles ahead to my left going the wrong way, clockwise.
Fighter pilots, they have big watches but have no idea how they work.
I called him in sight and suggested that he pitch out and come back around to join on us from behind, as was the usual.
“Nah, we’ve got it” came the reply.
I started to get a little bit edgy at this moment, what was this guy going to do, fer cryinoutloud? What is going to happen next?
We watched as the turkey grew larger and larger, he was about a quarter mile or so offset left of our nose and a couple of miles away. He came closer and closer going the wrong way and just when I was about to key the mike and say something Rick made his move. He rolled into a 90 degree bank with his nose pointed straight at our KA-6D and pulled back on the stick.
The swing wings on the mighty turkey spread out, his nose kept tracking on our nose, great quantities of vapor appeared over his wings. The F-14 put on some serious G’s, more than I thought any airplane could do in a rational airplane world. It was absolutely mind numbing to watch. The damn big jet was pivoting about a point, I swear.
Any sound effects attached to such an arrival would be akin to Robert Mitchum’s moonshine running car screeching to an untimely death.
But no death in this story. Rick, his backseater, and this great big jet came out of this incredible maneuver wings level, 250 knots, about a wingspan or so off to our left.
I was speechless.
Tom, however, was not. He summed up all we had seen with just a few short words over the ICS.
“Hemorrhoids,” he said. “The man has got to have hemorrhoids.”