Something a little different for Flightdeck Friday this Memorial day weekend. We are working on a project that if luck holds out, we should be able to post over the weekend, provided we don’t have to make an unbidden trip that lurks around the corner…if so, we’ll roll that project to the 4th of July. – SJS
Sometime this summer an orange and white jet that bears a passing resemblance to a guppy or bullfrog, will drop out of a white-hot Arizona sky to the scorching pavement at Davis-Monthan AFB – aka the Boneyard. It will be the final flight, at least in Navy colors, of an aircraft that almost all of us who currently or have worn the Wings of Gold, be they with single- or double anchors, have more than a passing acquaintance with.
For it was in the T-2 Buckeye that we achieved one or more significant milestones in our aviation career. Naval Aviators headed for TACAIR used it for their first look at the boat – CQ, and the ticket into that most exclusive of aviation communities, carrier aviation. For most of us prospective Naval Flight Officers, it was our first real flight (that is, the one that counts) in something that went (moderately) fast and (moderately) high with a big “NAVY” on its flanks. Whether it was the front seat or the trunk, we had our moments of exhilaration, of disappointment, of fear and of quiet, unabashed joy – sometimes simultaneously, as we put the mighty Thunder Guppy through its paces. And at flight’s end, we more often than not, found ourselves taxiing back to the flightline awaiting that final decision from our instructors – thumbs up/thumbs down, and usually while sitting in a puddle of cold sweat. Even now, with the passing of thirty (!?!) years of water and wind under our wings, the memories are still vivid, such as:
(The, ah, Scribe in more hirsute times…)
Our first lesson about learning from others, um, circumstances…
A fellow SNFO who literally scripted the entire flight, right down to the radio and ICS calls and put it in a 3-ring binder to haul along on the flight. That was fine for the first couple of flights which were pretty much “canned” demo/familiarization flights, demanding little of the SNFO than a few radio calls. Flight 3 though was BFM (Basic Fighter Maneuvers) and the notebook lasted until the first inverted maneuver when it fell onto the canopy, bursting open and dumping said script out, FODing the rear cockpit. The IP, a dour soul, failed to see the humor of the situation and promptly downed our classmate – which, as fate would have it, also happened to be his last flight…
Instructors ranged from the screamer variety to the gift givers and make no mistake, the gouge was readily available amongst the student populace as to who was what (and, we secretly suspect, the IP’s knew full well and played up their role). Occasionally, Dame Luck would smile on the fortunate SNFO and they would end up with an IP who wanted to break out of the curricula box and once all the flight’s required tasks were dutifully checked off, show the sheer joy that flying such a beast through the great blue cathedral could impart. We, of course, savored those moments. We also learned to be on our guard whenever a maneuver was preceded by (if we were fortunate enough to be warned) “Hey, watch this…”
Such was the time when we had completed one of the single-ship BFM flights and had a good .4 to kill (24 minutes). Some IP’s would head back to the bounce pattern for endless T&G’s – our intrepid IP wanted to stay out and play and we certainly weren’t one to argue the matter, given the alternative. Some stick time was in the offering for YHS, especially since his previous stud that day had blown chow. Abundantly. Old Faithful like…
After an all too brief a time flinging the Thunder Guppy about it was time to head back to the barn. But before leaving the MOA, there was one more demo – a SAM break. As we were asking the front seat just what a SAM break was, the voice from up front intoned “Watch this…” and the aircraft snapped to the right in a violent roll and we found the stick full aft.
Now, we’d experienced a few ‘g’s in the BFM phase and they were usually mild, or at least predictable in onset and magnitude. Not so now.
With head turned back to look to the left, we suddenly found our lap occupied by the biggest herd of elephants around – though we don’t recall if they were pink or not. One turned around and, pulling our eyelids down, said “night-night…”
Well – one of the last senses to return following a g-induced loss of consciousness (g-loc) is vision. So there we were, waking up in a mildly confused state with the world still all dark-like. The racket in our ears and sweat down our back told us we weren’t home in bed – which was soon ratified as our local surroundings swam back into view, and we found ourselves studying the instrument panel, divining its prophecy. Which prophecy was that we were wings level and in a gentle climb, headed out to sea. The silence form the front seat was mildly off-putting as we queried once and then again with a stick shake as to who exactly was piloting the beast as we lacked the necessary union card. All was rapidly taken care of and we bundled ourselves up for a straight-in at NPA, ostensibly to avoid further delay. In bound we happened to notice the g-meter and the tale of the needle, pointing accusingly at 4.2 g’s. Turns out, that is a no-no if all the fuel hasn’t been drained from the prodigious (or so we thought) tip tanks. It wasn’t, which meant the plane was down for a stress inspection when we returned home.
Our education continued that same day when we found out that maintenance control Master Chiefs have a marvelous vocabulary and are quite proud and given it seems, to flaunt it. Especially for the benefit of fleet LT’s (us En-swines were usually roundly ignored). Oh – the flight itself? All “aboves” (we max’d it).
Occasionally we need to be reminded to pause in our journeys through this veil of tears and smell the – petunias, marigolds, roses, whatever. SNFO’s in the midst of learning the nuances of instrument flight are no exception to the rule…
On the chart it plotted out innocuously enough – from departure fly to the enroute fix with the funny name to join the airway that tracked Northeast to VORTAC A, turn left (naturally) to an outbound westerly heading for a long leg that stretched from Atlanta to a fix off some forsaken VORTAC in Louisiana, left again on a southeasterly heading for the third leg, spend a couple in holding, thence to the shoot the TACAN approach into NPA (P-cola). Simple – piece of cake. Until the first VORTAC when the winds aloft began their mischievous play, toying with the occupant in the rear seat like a couple of dogs with a chew toy. And, to top it off you’re in the goo (of course you ninny – that’s why it’s called Instrument flying…nuggets, sheesh…)
Your focus shifts from your instrument scan, to fiddling with the whiz wheel, figuring out winds, ground speed and fuel, to your scratch pad on the kneeboard, then passing the heading and fuel remaining to the IP up front who is reprising the role of a voice activated autopilot in an Oscar-winning manner. Chase that damn needle on the TACAN some more (‘it wasn’t this hard in the simulator…’) – sweat trickles down and stings the corner of your eyes and runs in rivers down your spine, an icy river seeking its way to the sea which, it would appear, is the exceptionally hard and uncomfortable seat pan of your ejection seat. Center’s calling – change freqs and check-in – don’t muff the call, and – what happened to our course?? The needle is drifting left – need to stop the drift…watch your fuel (did somebody say something about ‘prodigious tip tanks’?), and where’d *that* wind come from? Soon you find yourself in holding, a chance perhaps to catch your breath and let the rest of yourself you’d left behind a fix or two ago, catch up. But nope, no rest for the weary, one turn and off to approach. Approach plate out, quick brief to the (auto)IP and “standingbywiththeapproachchecklist…” when the a/c gently rocks…
“Heads-up man…look outside the cockpit bud, you’ve been head-down the whole flight…”
You look up and all above and around is a late October sky so blue and cloudless it almost burns your eyes.
“I’ve got the approach, just sit back and enjoy the view – ya did good…”
And you relax – the knot at the base of your skull unwinds and in the still air, as the shadows creep across the ground below, you watch as the sun seeks the horizon, matching your descent into the twilight below, another memory etched for posterity.
Flight school is an interesting opportunity to study the human psyche in its multitude of facets. Competiton is keen, at least for the first 4 or five slots in the class standing as those folks are reasonably sure of getting the community they want (it is also where one is introduced to the phrase “needs of the Service…”). For all the competition – in the classroom, in the simulator, in flight, one also has the opportunity to forge some pretty strong friendships, which years down the pike, are periodically refreshed in a chance encounter at a conference or courtesy the daily COD delivery…
Your last flight in the mighty T-2 – time is fast approaching for the meat of the syllabus and the T-39, with its dual-personality imbued by the presence of an IP and Instructor NFO awaits. Childhood’s end – adolescence’s start. Still, one more chance is offered for play before the level of seriousness is ratcheted inexorably higher. 1v1 – time to go beak to beak, to turn and burn baby. Hang the fangs out a bit and see how you do in the dynamic environment that is ACM – such as it is in a straight-winged, subsonic jet. Your sparring partner is a good friend. Came from a fighter family, he did – pops having been instrumental in the early life of that worthy steed and snorting beast, the F-4 Phantom. Scott was his name, but everyone just called him Scooter. Along with Rich and Briggs, the four of you had torn through AI and VT-10 (and, ahem, truth be told, the environs in and around P-cola, usually with our hair on fire and late into the night, but we digress) clustered together standing-wise with grades broken out to the second decimal. If everything held, and it looked oh-so-tantilizingly so, you each were headed to your community of choice – but that was stuff for the ground. Here, now, it was you vs. Scooter, each with a VF-derived IP manning the front seat and – Fight’s On!
Inbound now, there they are – watch, watch and…call the turn. Damn! Where’d they go? OK, got’em, but it’s going to be close. Work it – the g’s build, work it – rats, looks like they won this one. Let’s set up for a second run. Outbound we get a quick debrief and suggestions from our IP that they didn’t talk about in class.
Inbound again, visual and coming to the merge – call the turn and … got ‘em all the way this time. A quick knife fight and a guns solution met with a “Knock it off.” One for our “W” column. Quick check of gas in both planes – time for one more run? Absolutely – go for it. More bits of knowledge, experience passed back from the front seat. Seemed pretty standoffish in the brief and the gouge was he wasn’t a screamer – but still a tough grader and not much given to serendipitous talk…are we sure they didn’t switch IP’s on us?
Here we go again – once more into the breech. This time we’re going vertical, big time. And there we are, me looking across to a mirror image pinned against the dark blue as we go vaulting off into the heavens…
Some number of years later the memory came flooding back as we learned of the terrible news. It had been while flying a low-level anti-ship cruise missile supersonic profile for a destroyer. Just a training hop. He’d taken time off from his post-command staff job to climb back in the cockpit he so dearly loved. The big Tomcat was there one minute – and gone in a cloud of flame, smoke and vapor. Little was found – and a good friend, a husband, father, and fighter NFO beyond compare was gone. CAPT Scott “Scooter” Lamoreaux, USN. Bounty Hunter One. Rest easy Scooter and know that while we all miss you, we each have our memories. Mine forever of an orange and white jet with the countenance not unlike a guppy, suspended against the Florida sky and two young buck aviators, intense on the task at hand and loving every second of it with grins a mile-wide, yet hidden behind an O2 mask, having the time of their life…
Imagery of T-2′s in flight via T-2 Sunset Gallery.