Your Weekly Lex, For Strength

Ohhh. Good.


Place this in the category of: “Probably too good to be true, but worth sharing nevertheless”




The correspondent who sent it my way said that it represents what it appears to: A HUD camera freeze from of an FA-18 of some flavor in a “position of advantage” over a USAF F-22 Raptor.
Little things. Like gunning an Air Force guy in his high tech gear. They just mean so much.
You have to understand this about fighter combat: Killing someone with a missile? Just business. Killing him with a gun? Now that’s personal. How can that be, you ask? Dead is dead, right?
Wrong. If you get shot with a missile, you got beat. You get gunned, you’ve been owned. A missile has a guidance loop, a processor, a logic board – it can be defeated. A 20mm round is brutally insensate, a mere bludgeon, with high explosive incendiary effects to go along with its kinetics. You cannot argue with it, you cannot decoy it, you cannot, once fairly beaten down, get out of its way.
Which somehow puts me in mind of as story from when I was stationed over in Japan. The USAF had a F-15 Eagle squadron in Kadena working “with” another USAF F-16 squadron in Korea. Now, much as there existed a good-natured rivalry between the FA-18 community in the US Navy, and their F-14 counterparts, so also did a rivalry exist between F-15 pilots and F-16 jocks. Except you could probably leave out the “good natured” part. Because in the Navy, anyway, after a moment or two’s reflection, one brand of pilot would actually cross the street to piss on the other, if in fact he was on fire.
Because of the service.
Less so in the USAF, was my strong impression. It all came from the hauteur with which the Eagle drivers, accustomed to raining long-range death from way high above viewed the mud-moving Viper pilots, no use at all in a stand-up fight, but given to pretensions. The F-16 guys on the other hand, were all too accustomed to seeing beat-down F-15s in the HUD cameras with the gun pipper on them to give much more than the back of their hand to the self-regard demonstrated by “Ego” pilots. They went at each other hammer and tongs. And that was just in the O’Club.
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Your Weekly Lex, For Strength


A couple of years ago, I had the idea that I’d post stories from “times I almost died.” T.I.A.D., in short.
I didn’t have that many, as it turns out – you don’t get that many chances to “almost die” before completing the act, and then someone else gets to tell stories about you. So the thread didn’t last very long. But it wasn’t an entire waste of time. And it is the weekend, and the world’s on fire and I’m not up to getting my noggin wrapped around it right now.
A new series, for Sunday evenings: “Times I Almost Died.”There are no lessons here. No larger truths. This will not change your world view.
But I have a rather large store of aviation tales, stories wherein things could have gone very wrong, that will take the pressure off Sunday evenings for a while. A month of Sundays, at least.
Date: April, 1987
Place: Fallon, Nevada – B-17 range complex
Environment: Close Air Support (CAS) training missionClose air support is a “high risk” mission. It’s typically flown at low altitude, where no self-respecting strike fighter pilot would choose to find himself, if he could at all avoid it. Down low, any gomer lying on his back with an AK-47 could put a 7.62 round somewhere important, just by sheer, dumb luck. And you’d never see it coming.
But when the folks on the ground call for CAS, it’s because they need it. Their own artillery isn’t answering the ordered bell. People are dying. Our people.
So they call fixed-wing CAS in, because a strike fighter or two with four 2000 pound bombs can make quite an impression on the enemy, if mortars, howitzers and 105′s aren’t doing the job. To put things in perspective, you, gentle reader, could pick up a 105 round, although you’d probably struggle a bit.
You couldn’t part the hair on a 2000 pounder.
And the bigger bombs get (by mass) the greater the proportion of explosive power.
CAS is hard to get just right. By definition you’re in close proximity to friendlies when you release. Getting it wrong could make things much worse, rather than better. You have to be absolutely certain. In Vietnam, over half of all CAS missions went through the target “dry” on their first look. The guys couldn’t be sure. Which sucks for the guys on the ground, because the really, really need your help.
But dropping your ordnance on the wrong side of the line doesn’t help them at all.

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Your Weekly Lex, For Strength

Repost: T.I.A.D. – Near mid-air

By lex, on July 26th, 2006

There are few words so immediately blood-chilling in their effect upon tactical aviators as these: “mid-air.” It is an abbreviation for “mid-air collision,” and conjures up images of once sleek, purposeful and lethal high performance aircraft reduced in a moment to odd pieces of flaming trash, fluttering to earth – instant chaos from order.

Mention news of a mid-air and prepare yourself for the customary, almost involuntary response: “Did anyone get out?”

There are many ways to die in fighters. The most common is controlled flight into terrain, or CFIT. It’s a long term that essentially boils down to “dummy flew too low.” While we can and do mourn people who die this way, we also have a tendency to shrug a bit, mentally. After all, you can only tie the low altitude record, you can’t beat it. Should have known better.

Mid-airs can occur between flight members, as someone’s attention drifts or gets over-channelized; the wingman has primary collision avoidance responsibility, but a poor flight lead can certainly contribute by behaving unpredictably in a moment when a flight is task-saturated.

They can occur in a slow-speed fight, when the aircraft are performing at their aerodynamic limits and nothing is left to draw upon when one or both combatants miscalculate the vector – these can have a slow motion, nightmarish character of inescapable and imminent doom that hasn’t quite happened yet. One pilot may survive such a collision, much more rarely both will. The aircraft themselves, of course, are almost always destroyed.

But the third and most lethal form of mid-air collision is the head-on. No one ever survives a head-on collision. Closure rates are so very high that the moment is over before conscious thought can form, and the forces are catastrophic. And I think that’s what so frightening about the head-on mid-air: pilots are essentially control freaks, accustomed to being in charge of their destinies. But in the moment you realize that you are approaching a head-on collision, a moment that transitions seamlessly between “in control, looking good” to a red wave of panic, there is often only one chance to escape, one last-ditch move and whether or not you live through the next instant will depend entirely upon what the other guy does: If his reaction mirrors yours, it will mean instant, unknowing death.

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Twenty three years ago I lost five of my very best friends in a mid-air collision.  It was a beautiful sunny winters day and they climbed into my friends Cessna 182 to make a skydive.  The plane they were in was the one that I normally flew but I’d been on a skiing trip that weekend and had just pulled up to the dropzone as they were taking off with the plane being flown by one of my best friends.  They didn’t get far.  Climbing out at five hundred feet their plane was struck by an instructor and his student flying a Piper Cherokee on a training flight.  Even though everyone on the jump plane was wearing parachutes no one made it out.  I’ve replayed what it must have looked like being at the controls of the jump plane in my head a thousand times.  If it had been me at the controls would the outcome have been different?  Or would I have been just as distracted or complacent and not seen the black shape in the windscreen getting larger and larger until it was too late?  I’ll never know.

Your Weekly Lex, For Strength

Butch in the Box sent me a PowerPoint brief demonstrating the tough love culture of naval aviation.

In the beginning was the jacket, and the jacket was precious on account of the “been there, done that” patches, but it got left behind.


And the Training Officer found the aforementioned bit of flight gear laying adrift, and like any good Training Officer he made things right. And that’s when the unassailable court of squadron opinion was benched:

The evidence –

(Friday, October 15, 2004)
Wally’s jacket is found unattended in Bldg 797 classroom by fellow aviator.
Attempts to locate Wally are unsuccessful.

Jacket is placed in Training Officer’s locker for safe-keeping until Wally and his patch-saturated jacket are properly reunited.

(Thursday, October 21, 2004 8:15am )
Wally sends an e-mail to “all VS-41″ inferring that the jacket has been stolen. He claims to have had it in his possession “just last night”.

(E-mail of Thursday, October 21, 2004)
“Last night at 1600 I left my flight jacket where I left it for the past 6 months, on the back of my chair in room 202 in bldg 797. When I came in this morning at 0730 it was missing.”

(The jacket had been in the TO’s locker for 6 days at this point)

The Charges-

Failure to accept responsibility for his own actions when he lost positive control of his crap.
Not once did he ever mention that the jacket might have been “lost” or “misplaced”.

Implying that there are thieves among your co-workers is not very neighborly.

Acting like a Drama-Queen in describing the loss of his jacket and patches.


“If you might know where it is I’d really appreciate getting it back, it’s irreplaceable and it serves a personal memento of my operational experience.”

Sounds like you’re describing your cruise sock.

The penalty assessed –

If you want to act like a whiny broad, you might as well dress like one too.  jack2.jpg


Your Weekly Lex, For Strength


By lex, on April 5th, 2005

I never met a fighter pilot I didn’t want to gun.

BFM – Basic fighter maneuvers. Dogfighting. Mano a mano. One versus one.

Play hard or stay home.

There’s nearly nothing a fighter pilot would rather do, completely sober, than try himself against another fighter pilot in the physical and mental test of skill that is man-to-man air combat. Sure, there’s a great deal of job satisfaction to be had by shacking a weapons cache from 20,000 feet, and seeing secondary explosions – it’s lovely, in fact. But it’s not personal, it’s just business. And yes, the sensation of a near-perfect landing aboard the ship is as close as one can come to le petit mort while fully dressed. But that is a part of what we do. And it is true that in a many vs. many air combat brawl there is to be found the kind of fey, wild joy that was only paralleled perhaps a hundred years or so ago in the clashing collision of cavalry troops, there is the element of chance: You could do everything right, in a big fight, and still get killed.

Because in a huge fur ball, as a mature, multi-plane engagement is known, victory and defeat are only partly attributable to skill –  engagements which follow tactical intercepts are rarely ever entirely neutral – there is always an advantage accrued to one side or the other in position, angle or altitude. And there is only so much information the human mind can process in a four vs. four or 4v6 engagement, at seven and a half g’s, with the sun scribing crazy arcs in the sky as the heavens and the sea alternately fill and fly from your windscreen. Odds are, having accepted the challenge to enter that dangerous environment (as you must – you are, after all, a fighter pilot) you will, over time, lose track of a friend, or worse – lose track of a foe. And when you lose sight, you lose the fight. It is exactly that simple. Because when you lose sight, you will most likely suffer a missile attack to the belly, a place you cannot visually clear, a place where you are blind. A place you cannot, therefore, defend. Because it’s always the one you don’t see that kills you.

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Your Weekly Lex, For Strength

Adversary Course – Miramar

By lex, on January 23rd, 2006

Miramar it was, and back in the 90′s too, what with your humble scribe being an adversary pilot but recently arrived from the purgatorial southern swamps of Naval Air Station Key West, Florida, from whence liberated, like Prometheus unchained from a demanding flight schedule, bound as he had been like any galley slave and forced to fly two – sometimes three! – air combat flights in a day, alack, and alas and if your heart wasn’t made of brass, wicked thing that you are, then perhaps you would have felt more sorry for him.

“Go west, young man!” the operations officer had said, meaning TOPGUN when he said it, and the adversary course to be more particular, challenging though it was to fragile egos and given in judiciously and repeatedly applied thumps by the world’s finest fighter pilots, themselves accustomed to treading the hallowed halls of the Prestigious Navy Fighter Weapons School with the heavy step of Praetorian guards. The School itself was not unlike Valhalla to a man of a certain age, never mind the repeated getting of your ass kicked by your betters.

So your scribe and a brother of another mother paired themselves up in a two-seat F-16N and did as they were asked, desired and required, pre-flighting, manning up and tearing the sky apart in a vertical departure before rolling her over on a westerly heading out over the Gulf of Florida and towards Barksdale, Louisiana, that being a short stop on account of all the damn gas we’d burned just getting out of home, profligate wastrels that we were with our vertical departure, and no stewards of the national bounty. At all.

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Your Weekly Lex, For Strength

First CQ

By lex, on March 24th, 2006

Successful completion of carrier qualifications, or CQ, marks a critically important milestone in the career of a student naval aviator. Landing safely and expeditiously aboard the ship is what distinguishes the Navy pilot from his more pedestrian, prosaic, even rustic, counterparts in the Air Force.

My first CQ was aboard the USS LEXINGTON (AVT-16) in 1984. The Lex was ancient, even then: First launched in 1942, and weighing in at a mere 42,000 tons (as opposed to over 100k on a NIMITZ class) she seemed impossibly small, almost fragile to the fleet experienced pilots that would take us out for our first CQ. She was only 910 feet long, with just more than half of that length on her angled deck landing area.

But she was also a living piece of naval aviation history, the “Grey Ghost,” thrice claimed as sunk by the Japanese during World War II, and thrice returned to the fight. During her long and illustrious career, she fought at Tarawa, Truk, Kwajalein, the battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf and elsewhere through the Pacific, earning 11 battle stars. Her final strike into Japan was ordered to return and jettison their bombs after word was received of the Japanese surrender.

To generations of students bound for her overhead marshall stack, she represented an implacable and unavoidable obstacle on their professional journeys; the path to the Navy Wings of Gold led through the Lady Lex

lexington copy.jpg


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Your Weekly Lex For Strength

Dealing with adversity

By lex, on February 28th, 2007

The story of the grounded Raptors in Hawaii reminds me of one of the first TRANSPAC tales I ever heard. I was an ensign, or maybe a JG in Meridian training in TA-4J’s, and one of the Marine IP’s started talking about a WESTPAC pump his squadron had been on.

It seems that eight Yuma-based A-4F’s were on the way to the P.I., herded by a USAF KC-10 – and unlike the high-tech F-22, they didn’t have to worry about navigation systems that might fail. For the A-4′s, it was TACAN and NDB only, neither of which was worth a damn more than 200 miles or so from a land station.

Anyway, about half-way between California and Hawaii, the site of their first lay-over. One of the guys was in the basket, replenishing his go-juice – A-4′s didn’t carry much gas, so it was pretty much a constant cycling through the tanker to try and maintain options if something should go wrong aboard the tanker itself. Fatigued, I guess, from all of that form flying and refueling in the cramped environment of a Skyhawk cockpit, he hit basket with too much closure and a little off-center, the result being that the basket ripped off the hose. The still-pressurized fuel hose dumped JP-5 straight down his intake causing the (only) motor to cough and finally quit.

If I ever end up taking a cruise on a day I’m supposed to be flying I hope they find me like this.


Your Weekly Lex, For Strength

Lost opportunities, V

By lex, on June 11th, 2007

Well, I think I’ve strung you along for long enough. I told you what we dream of, a day cat shot loaded for bear, a shack hit on a defended target, a MiG kill on the way home and an OK-3 wire (day) landing with maybe a bacon cheeseburger at midrats to help lull you to sleep. The bombing and the landing would almost be a matter of routine after a while, but the opportunity of a MiG would be something else indeed – no one ever comes out to play anymore. Put them all together, and that’d be a pretty good day.

You could write a book about a day like that.

But you already know how the story ends – and that I didn’t get my MiG. Trust me, if I had, you’d have heard about it long ago – I would have found a way to work it subtly in to every other post or so. Like, “Did I ever tell you about the time I flamed that Flogger? I did? Do you want to hear it again?”


Your weekly Lex, For Strength

Lost opportunities, IV

By lex, on June 10th, 2007

When the no-fly zones were first instituted following Saddam’s brutal suppression of the Shia in the south, Navy and Air Force fighters filled the counter-air lanes more or less continuously – a needlessly wearing pace of operations, especially after 1992 when the Iraqi Air Force stopped tempting fate by trolling around below the 32nd parallel. By the late 90′s, operations had become routinized, almost to a fault, with large force packages of anywhere between 8 and 20 aircraft assembling for fixed lengths known and “vul windows” and then returning either to airbases in Saudi or back to the aircraft carrier(s) at sea in the Arabian Gulf.

At first we used to have two dedicated lanes of defensive counter-air (DCA), plus a strike package of four to eight jets milling about in the middle supported by at least one EA-6B Prowler for electronic warfare support. To that Prowler would also typically be attached a two-ship of FA-18′s in close escort, while an E-2 patrolled just south of the Iraqi border to provide long range radar search and command and control. Bucket brigades of S-3′s came off mission searching the northern gulf for oil smugglers long enough to bring gas to thirsty mid-cycle fighters in Kuwait, while lumbering USAF tankers filled air refueling tracks in the gulf and KSA as well. In time we dispensed with the dedicated DCA almost entirely, since – apart from the closely protected Prowler – all of the TACAIR in country had a robust self-defense capability.

In the weeks and months immediately following Operation Desert Fox, above and beyond emplacing surface-to-air missile batteries in the southern No-Fly zone, Saddam had taken to randomly launching a fighter or two at the end of each vul window. They would trail the exiting force packages out of “the box” in order to give Saddam the propaganda victory of claiming that his invincible air force had once again chased away the “cowardly ravens” of the coalition. Much thought and no small amount of jet gas was spent pondering ways to catch these bandits in their poaching across the line, but to no avail – the MiG launches were not frequent enough to justify a level of effort operation, and having no real tactical or strategic impact were ignored by the heavies.

But not by us, we few, we happy few, we band of box hoppers. We avidly devoured the after action reports of these sorties with glittering eyes, imagining. Visualizing the tactics that would put us in position to shoot. Seeing the kill.