When I began this entry on the blog, I really didn’t think that it would take so long for me to get my act together, work through “writer’s block” and find the right words to express my delight that some even cared whether I wrote it down or not. It is almost forty-four years since that afternoon in 1965 (16 November). In some ways it seems like yesterday. It was a lifetime ago.
Final approach didn’t take as long to fly as it takes to write about it. At higher final airspeeds, you have to descend at a higher rate to get to the same point at the end of the runway (DUH!). Anyway, Bill and I set the bird up and rode it down without really sensing any danger. It never occurred to me that we wouldn’t walk away from this thing.
Geez, looking back and trying to relate what I felt, it was exciting and almost fun! What a dummy.
My wingman checked us over for one last time and broke off at about 500 feet. The next several seconds went by and I simply put that sucker on the ground. I spiked it as hard as I could, pretty much where I thought we’d passed the first barrier and before we whizzed by the second one - the only one that would work for us.
Now the micro second that nothing happened during roll out seemed to last forever! Then all that planning paid off with a deceleration that made me glad I’d locked my shoulder harness. The hook worked as advertised and we came to a dead stop in about a second or so.
Right in the middle of a sigh of relief, I was completely startled when the airplane began to roll backwards and sort of “ground looped” as the nose wheel turned during the barrier cable retraction. This was probably the most unsettling part of the whole day. Some say I have control issues. It really took us by surprise.
We sat there for a couple of minutes, opened the canopies and took off our masks. No matter what the mission or its results, taking off that mask always felt good. I can’t remember whether I lit up a Marlborough in the cockpit, or whether I waited until my foot hit the ground. My crew chief was the first to get to us and he had two bottles of Heineken. Best ones we’d ever have, I suspect. I think I actually remembered to sign the plane’s log (781?). I wish I could remember what I might have written in it. We walked around the airplane a bit, got into a crew van and went to debrief. I never thought to take a picture and I have regretted that for a long time. The airplane never flew again, I believe. I heard that they had put it on a barge after cannibalizing it and took it to the Philippines. That was that.
In the debrief, many shook our hands (the Wing D.O. included), and then my flight commander, Jesse, chewed my ass for five minutes for getting low on a bombing run.
That’s about it. The next night it was back to north of Hanoi, in the dark, under the flares. Maybe daylight flying shouldn’t have held the allure it did.