Category Archives: Carroll “Lex” LeFon

Part XX A fodded engine, the approach to mother

The XO called 304’s wingman on the aux freq and told him to escort the crippled jet back to the ship. After a few terse words of advice, “Throttle idle on the bad motor – if it keeps chugging, for God’s sake shut it down. If he can’t maintain altitude on the one motor, don’t let him forget to jettison his stores someplace safe. Join us if you can after getting him aboard the ship – we’re not waiting though.” Man, what a mess. “Hammer’s, switch Sabre on prime. Liberty, the Hammer package is going feet dry, minus two.”

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Part XIX Buffoonery on the tanker

“Pre-contact,” the XO calls when he’s aligned behind the basket. “Cleared to engage.” The XO bumps the throttles up, cautiously – the key is to keep flying formation on the big jet, while steering the probe right into the center of the basket. The key is to have confidence, to know that you can do this, that it can be done. The key is not to be afraid…

Thirty minutes later:

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Part XVIII Strat tanking on the Iron Maiden

Twenty miles away from the overhead tanker pilot, the squadron XO acquires a radar lock on the USAF tanker orbiting in its track, analyzes the target angle and maneuvers to intercept heading for a stern conversion…

It’s good to be the first one airborne, he thinks again. Although his radar warning receiver occasionally burps at him from six o’clock, adding unnecessary proof that the launch has continued behind him, he knows there should be no traffic between him and the big wing tanker now out of its turn to the south to maintain the tanker orbit, and on one of its long legs back towards the ship.

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Part XVII Letters home in the overhead tanker

The XO braces himself in the ejection seat with his right arm locked on the canopy bow towel rack, left arm braced against the rail, holding the engines at full power. He puts his head back against the seat, peeks to his left at the deck-edge cat operator and catches him just as he fires the catapult. The XO bites down on a scream of mingled primal joy and physical strain as jet bounces up and down the long catapult stroke. His body is pressed against the seat by the g-forces as even his eyeballs flatten, making the flight instruments in the HUD momentarily unreadable. But after a long moment, it is over and his heavily laden fighter wallows, rather than springs into the air on this hot day in an Arabian Gulf summer. Airborne, by God.

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Part XVI Day cat launch

“Ooooon the flight deck, aircrew are now manning for the 1200 launch. All unnecessary personal must clear the flight deck, everyone remaining on deck must be in a full and complete flight deck uniform: Life vests on and securely fastened, helmets on and buckled, goggles down, sleeves rolled down. Take one last good look around the flight deck for loose gear and FOD, stand clear of all prop arcs, intakes and exhausts. Stand clear of huffer exhausts, tow bars and tie-down chains. Let’s start the go aircraft, start ‘em up.”

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Part XV Pre-flight, and night sweats

In the ready rooms below, the crews are wrapping up their final briefs before going to the parachute locker to strap their g-suits and harnesses on over their flight suits. The squadron XO goes to his squadron duty officer and draws a 9mm pistol and two magazines. He reflects upon the words his first CO told him when he was a lieutenant: “Always carry a weapon over Indian Country. If you get shot down, the war isn’t over, it’s just that the tactics have changed.” He smiles briefly at the thought of that old man, wonders where he is now or if he’s even still alive – he was one of the old breed, that CO: He was what they called “Old Navy,” back before that became a clothing brand. He burned it hard at both ends, left it all out there on the field, no matter what the endeavor. The XO’s smile fades as he looks at the pistol in his hand, feels the purposeful hardness of it, thinks about why he needs it. The war is supposed to be over, but it’s not, and where he’s going, not everyone is friendly.

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Part XIV Recovering the alert

In TFCC the Battle Watch Captain turns to the admiral and says, “Well, that seemed to go pretty well.”

“Just about textbook,” the admiral concurs.

In Combat, the third class operations specialist looks at his relief with a gimlet eye, passes down the status of the air systems, threat and weapons posture. Turns the console over and walks away without saying good-bye. Port and starboard watch – he’ll see the guy again in six hours. Hungry. Hungry and tired. Wonders which one he’ll work on first. Maybe a bite to eat.

On the bridge, the Captain calls down to Air Ops: “Where the hell are those alert fighters and the E-2? Sure would be nice to have them on deck so that we can finish the re-spot.”

In a squadron ready room, the executive officer concludes his briefing, releasing the close air support crews to do their individual and crew briefs on their own. They’ll walk in 30 minutes.

It’s going to be a hot day…

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Part XIII A near -midair collision, and the gamble pays off

The lieutenant thinks, “If he shoots me, I die. If he’s inside min range, once we close I can easily handle him.” Upon a moment’s reflection, he calls his wingman back into the fight, just in case. The throttles are already parked in the northwest quadrant, delivering full combat rated power, so the lieutenant urges his fighter forward with small thrusts of his hips like a horseman, trying to close the distance. He looks at his armament panel, sees that he is still in simulation mode, reaches up and re-arms the jet:

“There,” he thinks. “If I’m going to have to die today, at least I’ll have company.”

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Part XII A CAS brief, and life on the knife’s edge

Do something, daddy. Do it, he prays. Do it now.

He is rewarded: The Phantom jock turns forty degrees left, no more: He’s checking his six o’clock, aware now of a potential threat, “spiked at six.” The lieutenant can imagine the narrowing eyes of the Iranian crew, pilot and weapons officer, heads straining over their left shoulders as they attempt to evaluate this new information, give it context. But the lieutenant is unsatisfied: Forty degrees is not enough. At this range, forty degrees won’t make it happen. He strokes the throttle-mounted expendables switch, thumbing out an IR decoy, a flare. He hopes it draws their attention to him. He hopes it looks like a missile launch. He hopes he has done the right thing…

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Part XI Out of position, taking a gamble

At a mile, with three seconds left to go until the merge, the lieutenant knows that he is unobserved – no way that the Phantom pilot would allow a threat down there at his belly without checking into him to neutralize the merge – he’ll have 90 degrees advantage by the time he crosses the Phantom’s six o’clock. Perfect.

He starts an “early turn,” before the merge has even happened, up in the vertical behind the F-4. At 90 degrees nose high, looking back through his canopy at the Phantom exhaust pipes and with his airspeed bleeding away in the HUD, the lieutenant realizes his mistake and screams with anger into his O2 mask: His nose-high conversion turn has cost him too much energy, he has gotten slow. He will get slower still before he has completed his turn and is in trail of the F-4. The F-4 is a faster jet: Not only will he never catch up to him, but the F-4 will catch up to his wingman, placing her at risk- the lieutenant recovers to the horizon at 250 knots and sees the fast moving Phantom turn again from an identifiable aircraft into a receding speck on the horizon. In training he could simulate a missile launch from here and win the day. But he isn’t in training, this is really happening, and he hasn’t got the ROE.

He is out of position, and the physics cannot be overcome.

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