Wednesday, October 15, 2014


The key to accurately expressing what goes on in a fighter squadron is to somehow figure out how there can be so much professionalism and so much trust amongst men with such varied backgrounds. The one thing that linked us all (and still does) is our love of flying and love of country. Jeanie and I went to a reunion of the 68th TFS, 8TFW and all of the guys who were there still speak of our Vietnam days as if they were only a few years back, not nearly five decades.

Discipline is the thing that makes it all work. There is a defined “peck-order” i.e. rank, that is not questioned without serious repercussions. You had better be right. Fighter pilots are trained from the beginning to realize that if something goes terribly wrong, it is on their shoulders, and theirs alone. Make it right, or perish. It sounds dramatic, I know, but it is a valid concept. There is no one to help you when you are flying and something doesn’t work correctly. So you need to know the aircraft and its systems inside and out because is the air, you are the maintenance man and crew chief combined. The systems need to be second nature as does the emergency check list. In the 60’s, the technologies involved in the F4 were pretty straight forward but not as sophisticated as modern jets, where one pretty much actuates the switch next to that feared red light when it comes on (at least in the newer Boeing products I flew). Today, many of the systems are highly automated. We had wonderful equipment, but there was still some skill involved in managing emergencies in the air. The 727, too. Thinking three-phase AC here.

A typical mission was based upon everyone’s standardization. That is to say, everyone pretty much understands and knows what’s going on and each pilot is capable of leading a multiple ship mission. This allows briefing to be somewhat standard, and as guys fly together over long periods of time through many sorties, the briefings get shorted and shorter, in fact we used to say, “everything is standard, start engines at 0845, any questions?” And that was it.

 I am speaking here of the routine flying, joining up, refueling, target acquisition and return to base. More so in my earlier years in the Deuce than in the Phantom because of the bad guys and the necessity of intel, weather and understanding the concept of sortie rate in Viet Nam flying. Requirements working with JASDF (JapanAir Self Defense Force) were sometimes different. They had a lot of older equipment which needed occasional external inspection, such as the "bubble check" (depicted above). In the picture, you can't see the GCI radar enclosure (the bubble) just to the left of the guys in the orange flight suits. And yes, the photo is photoshopped. I took out most of the scratches on the slide (!), but I didn't move, add or change the TF-102 overhead.
Of course there had to be individualized “mission briefings”. These consisted of weather in detail, target, and forecast recovery conditions were always covered. But the thing about combat (as opposed to flying for Delta Airlines) was that you were going to go anyway, regardless of the weather on either end or in the middle. I must admit though, if the takeoff weather was too bad, there would be a delay period or some effort would be made to suggest ways of getting out of there and getting joined up once you got on top. I can’t remember whether we took off in formation (two at a time) or not. I think that if we were loaded down with bombs for peace, we took off singly with about six second delay, not really sure of the time, joining up in a wide turn over the base, always heading north (oh, please make it a right turn). The reason for the single-ship take off is obvious. If one had to abort, and jettison the bombs and hardware, you didn’t want your wing man to have to transition to flying whilst maneuvering through ordinance, MERs, TERs, smoke and ground level flack all over the place. I didn’t see that much, but once an F105, fully loaded, had to abort and it was really messy.
If we were to go on an escort mission (Hi-Cap) where the ordinance was air-to-air only, no bombs and such, we took off in pairs with about ten second spacing between numbers one and two, and three and four. The weather wasn’t as much of a factor if you were slated for an escort mission. Numbers three and four could track you on the radar and join up on top. 

We were very used to flying in horrific weather in two ship formations. One of the fondest memories I have (well not fondest maybe, but really memorable) is landing on the wing of my leader in foggy conditions and being a little surprised when we touched down, not having seen anything but his aircraft for the past thirty minutes or so because of the night weather conditions. This experience also demonstrates the trust we had in each other’s ability to maneuver the aircraft in a standard, safe manner. Standardization, again, and trust, that’s it. There were no surprises when it came to the everyday operation of the aircraft. I think I’m rambling, excuse me.


virgil xenophon said...

No fear about rambling, Dave, good post. And about bad wx? I went from the proverbial frying pan into the fire when I left DaNang pipeline for USAFE and the UK. The wx in Europe is atrocious--especially northern parts around the Baltic in winter. Item: The number of socked-in "no fly days" for the base with the worst wx in CONUS is annually consistently fewer(i.e., better) than the BEST base wx-wise in USAFE

juvat said...

Great story Dave! Ditto on the trust. That trust level lead to the camaraderie we miss the most about our time in the service. I've yet to find anything close to that trust level in civilian life. More's the pity.

OldAFSarge said...


You've said it all.

Another great post Dave.