By lex, on March 10th, 2007
Long, long ago it was, in the land that was, shortly after the final dinosaur had heaved his last breath, and while the earth was still a-cooling, like. The Gipper was in charge of the federal, and your correspondent was a junior officer among that cohort of the few, the happy, few, the band of Hornet bubbas who strode the earth like jolly green giants, in flight suits.
High desert warriors we were, establishing our digs in the hamlet of Lemoore (population 14,000, very nearly – as the WikiPedia page notes, the new Motel 6 is very popular among visitors) or maybe the teeming metropolis of Hanford just down the road a bit (population 40,000, or so – did you know that Slim Pickens grew up in Hanford? I didn’t, until just now). But mostly we were engaged in the Art and Science of breaking up other people’s gear, just for the job satisfaction that was in it, while flicking aside any such as would try to get in our way. We flew from our lodgings at the Naval Air Station over into scenic venues east of the Sierra range such as Death Valley, and the Panamint, and the Walker River dry lake bed. Sure, they weren’t much for looks, but no one much cared what you did over there and the environment suited us just fine.
Not least of us in those ancient times was a man y-clept Seamon. A right good stick he was, and personable too and probably he deserved better, having joined the sea service, than to think that with a last name like his it would all work out for the best. Now I have previously regaled you, gentle reader, on the inherent, inveterate, malicious cruelty of callsign assignment. Even given that, I ask you to put aside, for the instant, the confusion that attends to an officer whose last name is homonymic for the lowest ranking member of the sea service. It might sound all nautical and such in isolation, but putting “lieutenant” together with “seaman” was a recipe for the kind of low japery that gave Joseph Heller a head start* in this cruel world.
But it was worse than that, since naval aviators – as a class – are addicted to the kind of infantilism-cum-humor that would extend the metaphor further, indeed: Well past the pale of civil propriety. Thus it was that Lieutenant Seamon’s designated delta tau chi nickname was “Sp*rm.” (Out of a certain sense of delicacy – not to mention the perverse Google hits that are in it – I choose to modify his call sign for this venue.)
A good sport he was, and he bore up under the strain of being called “Sp*rm” by his best friends as well as anyone might have done, although I cannot think that he ever enjoyed it. One day it came to pass that he was the wingman on a 2vX hop against four FA-18′s from his sister squadron, themselves simulating the rough nags that used to be exported by the Evil Empire unto them such as who could afford to pay good hard currency sufficient to die foolishly in air combat. This simulation our fellas accomplished by restricting their radar modes at range, their close-combat modes in close and modulating their afterburner usage at the merge so as to present the under-performing simalcrums of those who’d dare to test their mettle against the US Navy’s finest in second class gear.
By way of introduction you should know that in fighter aviation, we’re very big on communications brevity. Quick’s the word, and smart’s the action, and never use two words where one would suffice. So when a wingman says to his lead, “Tally 2, visual, engaged,” what he’s really said is, “I see two of them bad fellers, I see you as well, and I’m maneuvering with an offensive advantage.” On the other hand, he might say, “Blind, no joy,” which communicates that he sees neither his wingman, nor any of his foes. Further down the totem pole on the scale of inutility would be the wingman who called, “Tumbleweeds,” which marvelous terse form of expression means “I don’t see them, I don’t see you, I don’t have a radar contact, and – as far as I know – I am not targeted: I got nothin’.”
There’s no comm brevity reply for that, but if there were it might sound something like, “Thanks for coming.”
Anyway, the good guys made it to the merge with their adversaries, and right good swirl they had of it, too. It’s no mean feat once you’re engaged with a gaggle of adversaries in similar airframes to know exactly which of them is the good guy and who deserves a good shooting after a turn or two. You can get all mixed up and turned around, like. Sometimes you have to resort to the radios in order to make sure you don’t shoot the wrong person, which is considered very bad form.
Which is what happened when one of the four bandits lost SA to his own wingman, but had a good tally on our hero, just out of missile range right in front of him and trying to extend out of the fight. The bandit lead, having momentarily lost track of his wingie, asked him for his “status,” essentially demanding, “Yo. What’s up?” to which the bandit wingman inauspiciously replied, “I’m blind, I’ve got Sp*rm on my nose.”
Now, for joy of verbal sally and quick repartee the FA-18 community – motto: “No slack in light attack,” yields the stage to no one, but this particularly graphic formulation, coming as it did in the midst of a vast aerial brawl, left all the whole world shocked into momentary speechlessness. This uncharacteristic silence was followed of course, by the kind of violent wheezing which is the very limit of human capability when uproarious laughter is constrained by a well-fit oxygen mask.
For a while there, it was borderline unsafe.
Someone sagely called a “knock-it-off” before the distraction of reply became too much to bear. The whole gaggle headed back to the home drome, with some of ‘em heading back there faster than others. At any rate, in short time this exchange was memorialized for eternity in the squadron hit log. Shortly thereafter, cooler heads prevailed, and nugget or no, the decision was made that “Sp*rm” really was an untenable call sign for a naval aviator. Thus remonstrated, the JOPA scratched their collective noggins and lit upon a brilliant inspiration: “Let’s call him ‘Sp*rt’, instead.”
And that “*” does not stand for, “a, e, i, or o.” No. Alas.
Or at least it didn’t, at least until our man got orders to fly for the Blue Angels. Once there, the publicity conscious leadership decided that “Sport” would do right well, all things considered.
They do a lot of traveling of the world, the Blue Angles do – it’s bad form to scare the straights.