Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey

Excerpt Book One

Pilots prefer to fly a hot airplane as an instructor, but the true measure of an instructor is his instruction, not the airplane he instructs in. T-37 instructor pilots (IPs) did far more to shape future pilots than those in the T-38 and should have out-swaggered the T-38 guys in the bar. The Tweet IPs’ hands rocked the cradle of the Air Force pilot corps.
As I returned to the flight room, word had already spread of my check ride bust. As I had seen with many others who had left the program, a pall of disaster now surrounded me, an aura of defeat and impending course failure I had seen envelop many others.
Right or wrong, many a variety of exotic life spices were available outside the gate, and many GIs were looking for exactly that because they knew they’d never be readily and anonymously available again once they got back to “the world.”
Who were those guys in the North Vietnamese Army? They were a splendid, ferociously capable guerilla army whose prowess, ironically, doomed their country to economic depression while decimating their population. They won the war but lost the future.
Then the Donut Dollies came down the ramp and the troops went joyously berserk, but not in a nasty or lewd sense. They spun around in the same frantic ecstasy of a pet dog when you pick it up from the vet, or when you hold its dinner bowl over its head to make it dance.
Nav wife smiled at me with an enthusiastic let’s-get-to-it smirk while I sat frozen with eyes wide and my mind thunderstruck at what I had just heard. My brain whirred rapidly as my good angel and bad angel fought it out. Nav wife had prepared the battlefield well and knew, when she sat down, every detail of how this would transpire. As she anticipated, my mind used the few days between the two phone calls to orchestrate the speech for why this could not happen, while my libido marinated in delicious possibilities of erotic mayhem with her.
Everyone made it past the guard but me. The guard looked at my name tag, then at the authorizing order he held in his hand. I was not on the orders. “Halt!” he commanded while lowering his M-16 rifle at my chest. “Raise your hands, sir, and order your crew back here!”
When I leapt into the copilot’s seat and started shouting at everyone, the EW feared I might soon give the bailout order, so terse did the dialogue sound. He knew we were over the snow-covered Sierras and he didn’t have his winter flight jacket on. He said he eyed it sitting on the floor next to him and wondered if he had time to unstrap from his parachute to put it on. He listened to the frantic discussion upfront and decided he did not dare do so.
We discussed what to do with food to keep it from the bears. I said, “Hey, no problem, I’ll put it in the front seat and close all the doors and windows. Besides,” I continued, “I’m going to sleep in the back seat and set up my camp tomorrow.” So we all turned in.
Sometime during the night, I felt cramped and opened the door by my feet to stretch out. As the sky was beginning to lighten, I awoke with a start but didn’t know what had woken me. I sat up, rubbing my eyes, and realized something smelled horrible, like a wet, dirty dog but far worse.
As the plane approached the ridge, Col Ivy could not have anticipated that he would very shortly realize he was about to die and would have about eight seconds to contemplate his fate.
A reported copilot account said immediately after ridge impact, he first looked at the fireball on the right wing and then turned to see the pilot’s ejection seat traveling up the rails and out of the plane in seeming slow motion.