Between Iceland and Greenland.
Lost opportunities, III
By lex, on June 8th, 2007
The Good Wingman
When I was a plebe midshipman at the Severn River Trade School, CAPT Dick Stratton came to speak to us one fine day in the fall. We were always tired in those days, always harassed and always getting “motivational” speeches from officers so senior to us that there was no real frame of reference to their experiences. We often dozed off.
Captains were, after all, unspeakably old men. Ancient.
But Stratton was different, we knew of him. We’d seen him over the summer during leadership courses, in grainy video clips and photos, wearing the gray and black, vertically striped sack that was issued to guests of the Hanoi Hilton prison system.
He’d gotten bagged – or, to use his own words “shot himself down” – on an H&I mission over a northern canal system in January, 1967. He’d unloaded a salvo of 2.75″ FFAR – folding fin rockets – on a hostile convoy of barges bringing supplies to the Viet Cong down country. Some of the rocket fins didn’t open, they interfered with each other and the next thing he knew he’d taken debris down the intake of his single-motor A-4E Skyhawk. It ran rough for a bit even as he turned for the coast, but he punched out when the motor quit. He was treated roughly after capture and more roughly still over the next 6+ years of his captivity. As a POW, he courageously endured the worst forms of physical and mental torture imaginable and survived – like almost every one of them – with his honor intact.
There are no heroes in lost wars, we are not permitted them, not at least for many years afterwards. But the POWs were the next best thing to heroes that we were allowed from what was still a suppurating wound of national disgrace in the fall of 1978 – it had only been three years since the fall of Saigon, and the bad memories, shame and blame-casting were still fresh.
We stayed awake for Dick Stratton. We listened to him.
Lost Opportunities, II
By lex, on June 7th, 2007
Every strike fighter pilot worth his salt has a dream, a very simple one: In this dream he will launch from the deck of an aircraft carrier at sea loaded for bear. Having marshalled the forces at his disposal – the dream is scaleable by experience and qualification: The forces at a wingman’s disposal are himself, his jet and the weapons he is carrying, while a strike lead may have 18-20 other aircraft attuned to his every whim – he will navigate his craft towards a target, acquire the target successfully and deliver his ordnance precisely. He will capture the moment of the target’s destruction on video tape in his cockpit, a kind of scalp-taking for the digital age – call it: Proof of death. Having successfully cleared the defenses around the target – if it was worth attacking, it was worth defending – he will regain situational awareness to his team members, reset the formation and head back to the ship, making good time.
And then it will happen: Having transitioned out of air-to-ground mode and back to air-to-air, he will dig something out of the ground on the margins of his radar, something that doesn’t make sense, not one of us, moving fast, climbing – heading our way. Or else the watchful eyes of an E-2 NFO will report a pop-up contact between his group and the ship, altitude low, identity unknown. Or maybe even something at six o’clock, moving fast. Moving very fast. Closing.
As much fun as it was hanging around with Pete and Cory in France Marcio and I felt that maybe, just maybe, we should put a few miles behind us and get just a little closer to our destination. So we bid our comrades farewell and took off for jolly old England. It wasn’t much of a leg for a ferry pilot but we’d wasted most of the day sightseeing and weren’t too far behind schedule, yet. The night flight over Paris was fantastic and I thought I was able to take some good pictures of the Eiffel Tower but when I got them into my computer they were all just a little blurry. We landed at Southampton and were greeted by quite the reception committee. Immigration, customs/border patrol and two very grumpy men from the Special Branch, some sort of CIA, I guess. It turns out that all the flying we’d been doing and the flight plans we’d filed, then never used, had triggered some alarms so they decided to check us out. They gave us a thorough going over but in the end realized we weren’t dangerous, just crazy.
By lex, on June 6th, 2007
It was late January or early February almost ten years ago when my wingman and I rattled down the cats, each of us carrying one of the then brand-new Joint Stand-Off Weapons (JSOW). In the best traditions of the strike fighter service, we were also carrying an AIM-120 AMRAAM mounted on a cheek station, with a forward looking infrared (FLIR) pod on its opposite. Each of us also had a pair of AIM-9M Sidewinders on our wingtips and of course a full drum of 20mm in the nose. We were ready to strut down main street.
Being that I’m going to be sort of busy for the next ten days or so I’m going to treat you all to a five part story by Lex to keep you all entertained whilst I fly the cold northern skies. Enjoy, it’s one of my favorites.
Despite having been jerked around all day by French air traffic control Cory and Pete finally made it to Annecy France. Marcio and I beat them by a full day and spent our time diligently researching the beautiful city at the base of the French Alps. We found the sights amazing, the food superb and the wine……yes we found the wine. It was hard and grueling work but somebody had to do it.
We took the boys out for another fantastic dinner followed by a visit to a local watering hole where the locals were beyond friendly. Maybe we’ll fly tomorrow and maybe not.