By lex, on November 2nd, 2008
I have been forced away from the laptop to the study by SWMBO v3.0, and while awaiting the creaking and wheezing of the ancient G4 Mac as it updated itself to the very latest standards of system software, my restless eyes fell on my military flight log books, sitting there on a shelf, dusty and seemingly uncared for.
The first book fell open to the last page, where there stands a testimony to equipment issued by a grateful and expectant nation: BOOTS, Flying, 9 1/2R not to mention a pair of GLOVES, Summer. Also a HELMET, Protective (less liner) and JACKET, Leather, Intermediate. A few months later there was a MASK, Face, oxygen in size “long” to go with the MICROPHONE, oxygen mask, cord, plug, Type ANB-M-C1. Which in turn replaced the MICROPHONE, boom, cord, plug, harness, Type-5A/UR. Knives, both “SURV” and “SHROUD.”
I still have those knives.
The SCARF block went forever unfilled.
I remember sleeping in that first flightsuit (SUIT, Summer, Flying) the night I brought it home, itself stiff and still smelling of the fire retardant chemical the Navy had paid so much for. Telling the Hobbit that it was perfectly comfortable, like pajamas almost. Stretching the truth to breaking point, but after a few launderings both the stiffness and the fire retardant were washed away. We all wore the standard issue GLASSES, Sun for the better part of a week or so before deciding that, taken as a whole, we all looked a little too dorkish in them. Not to mention the fact that the instructor pilots were all wearing Wayfarers and Revos. We learned early on that, even if we had no idea what we were doing, it was very important to at least look and sound cool while doing it.
They had once been dear to me, line after line of cryptically written entries that made up a professional life. The first official entry was May 1983, the aircraft was a T-34C, the flight length 1.6 hours, half of that given over to my first flight instructor, Lieutenant Doug Seward. A flight purpose code of 1D1 – Day Visual, Student aviator training, Fundamentals.
He was a good guy, flew A-6s in the fleet if I recall, and in the best traditions of the service I mercilessly skewered him at the “tie cutting” that celebrated my 19 July 1983 first solo. Felt bad about it afterward. The skewering that is, not the solo.
That flight was my second of the day, flown just after my check ride with a grim faced Marine major whose last name was “Wehrle,” and I remember little about him but for his high and tight haircut, obligatory granite jaw and the fact that he never said anything to me throughout the entire flight apart from terse instructions to begin or conclude the next maneuver.
Never said a word after shutting down the aircraft either. Walked in silence from the flight line to the debriefing space. Filled out the grade sheet while I sat waiting on a chair across the room. Hearing the hall clock tick, a bead of sweat trickling down my back. The buzzing of a fly. Finally handed it to me at last, still silent: Straight ruler-job, averages up and down the page, with that critical “safe for solo” up-check at the end. Any questions?
No, sir. No questions at all.
You’ve got an hour to prepare for your next flight. Brief the SDO before you walk. Don’t make me look bad.
Yes, sir. I mean, No, sir.
The names run on and on after that, but I still remember all their faces. The recently divorced Marine major with the harsh laugh and the reputation for aggressive flat hatting who so concerned me as a T-2 student that I actually made out my will before flying with him. The terminal lieutenant commander in T-34s who killed himself, taking one of my best buds with him, showing off for his friends on a cross country. And all the rest of them in between.
Some of them made general or admiral, some of them made it to the airlines, some of them didn’t make it all. And as an instructor, the names kept coming in the remarks boxes, all in the delicious cadences of our conjoined culture. Smith and Jones of course, but Pavack and Papez, too. Vanasupa, Bianchi and Glackin. Bright-eyed kids that I taught how to wear an oxygen mask and fly a turbine jet who are now air wing commanders or airline captains.
Later, after Hornet training was complete the remarks boxes contain no other names, just airfield identifiers. NLC/NLC – Lemoore to Lemoore. NQX – NQX: Key West to Key West. Fallon to Fallon. Cross-countries too. My sisters lived in Virginia, so there were a number of trips that ended up at Andrews Air Force Base. Other cities came and went, Chicago, Denver, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Diego, Atlanta. Lubbock.
Good people and good dove hunting in Lubbock, even if not much else. Since there was bird shooting to be had, LTJG Dave Dunaway – a classmate of mine, an eager shooter and a Texan to boot – shanghaied some poor kid from Rockville, Maryand, I think it was, to go along with me and my student, whose people “had some land” out Lubbock way. Dave’s student was the kind of kid that wore the collar turned up on his pink polo shirt, he had never shot a gun before and missed everything he pointed at except for one poor bobwhite quail that got up right in front of him. Brought him straight down with beaming pride and evident self-satisfaction, only to face the leadenly heavy, if silent, disapprobation that could only be imposed by five or six, dusty, bone dry Texans on a man who would stoop to shoot a bobwhite quail out of season. And that bird a hen.
I remember how Dave had laughed at me on Friday evening for bringing along my JACKET, Leather, Intermediate to West Texas in September. I remember laughing back at him on Sunday morning, when the temperature had dropped to freezing and we had to deice the airplanes. Him shivering in a thin, borrowed sweatshirt, and probably would have worn a SCARF too, if anybody had one.
First guy to make admiral in our class.
I remember all the intermediate stops along the way on every cross country – places represented nothing more than pit stops at best, and an opportunity for middle of nowhere to break downs at worst – nervously tapping our feet, silently urging the fueling crews to hurry, wanting to get going again, to get there. Wherever “there” might be.
Places I’d mostly never been to before, and mostly have never been to since. Just went because we could, because the student had family there, or because we’d never been.
In the month of February, 1999, when all the world was at peace because George W. Bush was still only governor of Texas there is this entry:
|Day||Model||Serial Number||Flight Code||Total Pilot Time||First Pilot||A/C COMDR.||ARR||Catapult||Remarks|
|2||FA18C||164050||6T1||3.6||3.6||3.6||1||1||CSS-3 Al Faw STK|
It’s written in green ink to stand out, which makes sense when you decipher the flight purpose code: “6″ stands for a combat flight, “T” is for “Attack, non-ASC targets”, and “1″ is for a pre-planned target. Which, scanning all the way to the right, was a sea-launched cruise missile site that had been making things awkward for coalition naval forces trying to prevent Saddam from smuggling oil out of country outside the UN’s “Oil for Peace” auspices.
I planned and led that strike. We came from out of the sun, shacked four out of four DMPIs with laser-guided ordnance, the secondaries were beautiful, nobody laid a glove on us, and the strike made the front page of the New York Times the next day, albeit below the fold.
My 15 seconds.
A few years back I was running late on the motorcycle for an FAA check ride when my luggage bag came off, bumping and rolling almost to the side of Highway 5 before getting hit square on by a Volvo station wagon that never stopped. Everything inside that bag – my logbooks, medical, certificates, my entire professional existence (not to mention Jeppesen approach plates and charts) – exploded into a veritable snowstorm of paper there on the roadside. I almost got greased by a careening Oldsmobile trying to pull over. Gave it up and took the next exit, the clock still ticking. Miraculously found it all, or least all the important stuff. The approach plate into Chino went missing, unlamented. Made it to the airport with about 5 minutes to spare, right there on the inner boundary of acceptable naval promptitude. Waited another 45 minutes for the examiner to show up.
Those four, battered books had once seemed so important to me. So much tied up in them. Mementos of friends come and gone, of experiences good and awful, a lengthening tale of professional experience and future potential. I watched them grow day after day, week after week, year after year with quiet pride.
And now it’s lunch time. Time to put all that away again.