All posts in “Smuggler’s Blues”

Reflections: Smuggle’s Blues (IX)-Conclusion

(Part 8: Convergence here)

VAW-122 Night Launch

Steeljaw 604, airborne, Eastern Caribbean
“Here comes another one” passed the ACO on the ICS. Flashing the position of the video paint on his and the others scope via the Intercom Mark function. “Right where the others have all been coming from – they must be using that cape as their final nav check before heading out over the water”
The CICO silently nodded his head as he prepared to make the report via SATCOM to Panther. At least tonight the Customs P-3s were up – both the dome and the slick. The Dome (AEW variant) P-3 was following a contact 603 had picked up earlier that appeared to be headed stateside. An ancient DC-3 with no markings, it was likely destined for a final resting spot in some remote backwater in the southeast US after delivering its cargo – except tonight the trap was being prepared and the crew in the dome P-3 were busy orchestrating the bust on SATCOM.
During a break in the traffic between the dome P-3 (callsign Omaha 50) and Panther, he managed a quick report that was acknowledged by Panther.
“Steeljaw, Panther. Be advised no more F-16’s tonight, Omaha 51 will be your interceptor for track 1556.”
“Panther, Steeljaw roger, break, Omaha 51, meet me button 3 secure”
“Omaha 51, switching.”

And with that, the hunt was on, again.

Continue Reading…

Reflections: Smuggle’s Blues (VIII)-Convergence

Part 6 and Part 7

YV-411, airborne SE of Martinique.

There is a saying in aviation that if everything seems to be going perfectly, then look out, for something really bad is about happen. These were the thoughts of the Beechcraft’s pilot as the plane was inbound to its illicit rendezvous. Cockpit lights turned so low that they were almost off, he flew through a moonless, hazy night – few stars, no horizon to speak of and he was uncomfortable and growing more so by the minute.

“Something’s not right” he announced to his copilot, who at the moment was busily engaged with binoculars, looking for the faintest of lights below, “I’m going to make a slow turn to see if we’re being followed”
“No, not now – I think I see something” the copilot replied

Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (VII) – The Squadron CO

(Part V here)

Steeljaw 602 – airborne 270 nm East of Curacao
“Still tracking XO”
The report came from the RO (Radar Operator) who sat to the XO’s right in the back of the E-2C. Normally there would be a full complement of three NFO’s in the CIC compartment and all three would be busily engaged in the Hawkeye’s mission of AEW/battle management. For the counter-drug missions though, the squadron had taken to flying with just two to allow greater schedule flexibility for alerts and such.

Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (VI) – The Pilot

(Part IV)

YV-411, airborne over Venezuela.

The sky was growing a deeper shade of blackish-blue as the South American evening crawled slowly along. The shock of having the business end of a 9mm pointed at his head had begun to subside as he went about the business of flying the Beechcraft. Consulting the hand-held GPS that accompanied his “cargo” (several bales of cocaine paste and a co-pilot to assist him on this leg of the flight) he cross-referenced it with a chart that had neat circles drawn, indicating ground-based radar coverage. Their planned route took the flight deep into the interior of Venezuela before turning north to exit the coast and fly up the Lesser Antilles to the rendezvous/drop point before returning along a similar route. It was going to be a challenge – not so much because of hazards along the way – weather was clear and they’d be above any mountains, but because the distances involved would leave his tanks almost dry by the time they returned to the remote landing strip in Colombia. There’d be little room for error. Glancing back over his shoulder, he caught the last vestiges of the sun as it dipped below the horizon and thought back to the encounter.

Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (V) – The Squadron CO

Story sub-arc starts here

‘New day, new site, new mission.’

‘Well, kind of’ thought the CICO as he prepared for landing. ‘Wonder what luck we’ll have with this change in venue…’

Settling to the runway, the Hawkeye made the midfield intersection and turned for the transient ramp. At the far end it, it was led to its parking spot by a plane captain and shut down. Disembarking, the CICO was met by another aircrewman.

“Hi Skipper, welcome to Curacao.”

The Steeljaws were in town and things were going to be a little bit different in the counter- drug ops field…

Continue Reading…

Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (IV) – The Pilot

Ed note: We’re going to try something a little different here and change the POV for a couple of posts.  Note that the events portrayed here are a conglomeration of many encounters over several years and do not represent any one interdiction flight.  Think of this part as being ‘informed fiction’ and try not to draw too many inferences or conclusions… SJS

The sailors and pilots, the soldiers and the law,
The pay-offs and the rip-offs, and the things nobody saw
No matter if it’s heroin, cocaine, or hash,
You’ve got to carry weapons ’cause you always carry cash
There’s lots of shady characters, lots of dirty deals
Every name’s an alias in case somebody squeals
It’s the lure of easy money, it’s got a very strong appeal
Perhaps you’d understand it better
Standin’ in my shoes
It’s the ultimate enticement,
It’s the smuggler’s blues
Smuggler’s blues…
– Lyrics from “Smuggler’s Blues” by Glenn Fry
El Piloto they called him, with emphasis on “The.” Suited him just fine – no names, no traceability, everything in cash – 50% upfront and 50% on mission completion. They supplied the plane and the “assistant” – he just waited for the call and where/when to show up. Of late, these past few years, his services had been in increasing demand. With time built up from his commercial job and prior military experience flying AT-27 Tucanos’ in the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (FAC), his were among the best bona fides in the business. The fact that he was pulling more money than his former service friends who were now supposedly the elite, flying Kfir C-7’s made him smile more.   ‘La venganza es él es poseer la recompense’ was his motto and in his mid-30’s, he was living it just right – enjoying the lifestyle without drawing attention from the national police or the despised Yanqui Agentes de DEA.

Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (III)


Howard AFB Howard AFB

Two months into this endeavor and the novelty has worn off. Standing in the hangar at Howard AFB, the LCDR surveys the flight line – what little of it he could see through the sheets of rain, and does some mental calculations.

‘Do I make a mad dash for the plane and wait inside for the rain to stop, or just stay here?’ he thought. Two months of experience with the “wet” season in Panama had taught him you could almost set your watch by the rain showers’ comings and goings. What had one moment been a partly cloudy sky suddenly darkened and with no warning, turned to buckets of water that nothing in the way of raingear effectively kept you entirely dry. Five, ten minutes later, the rain genie throws a switch (‘or zips up his fly’ he continued wryly) and it stops as suddenly as it started, leaving the air and ground a steamy, fetid mess.

Glancing at his watch he figures on another 5 minutes and then the exigencies of the flight schedule will push him forward. The prospect of sitting in wet flight gear for the next few hours didn’t fill him with a lot of cheer.

Continue Reading…

Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (II)

Part I here.

“Yeah, should be a good night for hunting – wonder what we’ll bag tonight…” he thought as he walked out to the waiting Hawkeye with the Skipper.

“Omaha 51, check right one o’clock, 4 miles, heading 280, angels 3…”

“51, negative contact”

Damn he thought, Is this guy blind or what?

Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (I)

It began with a phone call –

“It always begins with a damn phone call…” the young LT thought morosely to himself.  Any other time he would be drinking in the warmth of the Florida sun, enjoying the beach, such as it was, across the highway from Patrick AFB, but not this time.