Aviation is all about adventure and aesthetics! For some insight into these elements read these one-liners about some experiences that have remained indelible in a retired pilot’s memory bank. These unique venues and brief anecdotes are valid for airline pilots as well as ex-fighter pilots.
Formation take offs and landings in the rain … or snow.
Flying close fingertip formation in a flight of four.
Flaming out while taxing back to the ramp after a mission.
Terminating afterburner at 2.2 Mach and experiencing deceleration so hard that you flew into the harness and had strap bruises on your body.
Pulling 9 “G” and not blacking out. Pulling 3 negative “G” and after removing your boots and socks, seeing the redness of your feet from burst blood vessels.
Being scrambled for takeoff from Alert … from a sound sleep … at night in the weather … with hot guns and missiles.
Full afterburner take off in a clean fighter in below zero temperatures at night. Being #2 in this take off.
Somehow, all the jet-lag and other problems had some compensating balance!
Doing formation join-ups around big beautiful columns of Cumulus out of every fighter base.
Flying in a ballet around clouds, through the holes, along the valleys, up the vertical cliffs …
Sunrises seen from the high flight levels that make the heart soar.
Multiple sunsets as you climb and descend in a large after burner loop.
The patchwork quilt of the great plains of the USA from 40,000′ + on a day when you can see forever.
Cruising mere feet above a billiard-table-flat cloud deck at Mach .95, with your chin on the glare shield and your face as close as you can get to the windshield.
Knowing you got to land a fighter on a seven-thousand foot runway, that is covered with hard packed snow, and no drag chute.
Punching out the top of a low overcast while climbing 30,000 feet per minute in Afterburner.
The majesty and grandeur of towering cumulus.
Rotating at VR and feeling 400,000 plus pounds of Airplane come “alive” as she lifts off.
The delicate threads of St. Elmo’s Fire dancing on the windshield at night.
The twinkle of lights on the Japanese fishing fleet far below, on a night crossing of the North Pacific.
Cloud formations that are beautiful beyond description.
‘Ice fog’ in Europe on a cold winter morning.
Seeing the approach strobes appear through the fog on a ‘Must do’ zero, zero approach when there is no other place to go.
Seeing geologic formations that no ground-pounder will ever see.
The chaotic, non-stop babble of radio transmissions in combat, or at O’Hare during the afternoon rush.
The arcing red lines of AAA tracers approaching your aircraft … and missing!
The quietness of center frequency at night during a “Transcontinental flight”, over the Atlantic, the Pacific, … or over the Amazon at any time.
The welcome view of approach lights appearing out of the mist just as you reach minimums.
Finding yourself in a thunderstorm with 12 x 750# bombs still hanging on your wings.
Lightning storms at night over the Midwest … or Europe … or Korea … or Viet Nam
Picking your way through a line of huge Thunderstorms that seemed to go all the way from Chicago to New Orleans.
The soft, glow of the instrument panel in a dark cockpit. Drinking numerous cups of bad coffee on international flights.
The dancing curtains of colored light of the “Aurora Borealis” on a winter-night “North Atlantic” crossing.
Passing 30 west . . .
The taxiway names at O Hare before they were renamed: ‘The Bridge’, ‘Lakeshore Drive’, ‘Old Scenic’, ‘New Scenic’, ‘Outer’, ‘The Bypass’, ‘Inner’, ‘Cargo’, ‘North-South’, ‘The Stub’, and ‘Hangar Alley’ !
The majestic panorama of an entire mountain range stretched out beneath you from horizon to horizon.
Lenticular clouds over the Sierras.
The brief, sad, yet tempting, glimpse of runway lights after you’ve already committed to the missed approach.
The Alps in winter on a clear day.
The South China Sea so smooth that you leave waves in the water from 75 feet above the sea as you fly over it.
Watching a fellow pilot do an engine out flameout approach and making it
Being stupid enough to try –and do — a 9g loop in an F-16.
Seeing a “dumb” bomb you drop hit a target and knowing you had all the parameters right.
Watching 20 millimeter HEI cannon rounds sparkle around the target before it explodes
The lights of London or Paris or Munich or Buenas Aires or Quito at night from FL 350.
Landing at La Paz, Bolivia … 13,300′ elevation
Squall lines that run as far left and right as you can see.
Exotic lands with exotic food … and exotic women
Seeing Tokyo lights at night from thirty five thousand feet stretching from horizon to horizon.
Maneuvering the airplane through day lit canyons between towering Cumulus Clouds.
The deep blue-gray of the sky at FL 470. The deep black of the sky at noon at 70,000′
The hustle and bustle of Hong Kong Harbor.
The softness of a touchdown on a snow-covered runway.
Hearing the nose wheel spin down against the snubber in the wheel well after takeoff. A delightful sound signaling that you were on your way!
Old Chinatown in Singapore before it was torn down, modernized, and sterilized.
Watching the lightning show while dodging thunder storms at night.
Long-tail boats speeding along the klongs in Thailand .
The quietly turning paddle fans in the lobby of the “Raffles Hotel” in Singapore .
Dodging colored splotches of red and yellow light on the radar screen at night.
Intercepting and flying formation with an SR-71 returning to Kadena. Meeting the Wing/CC to explain why……..
The sound of foreign accents on the radio.
Luxury hotels and royal service … flea bag hotels and abusive service.
Carmichael’s bar in Taipei.
To paraphrase the eloquent aviation writer, Ernie Gann, “The allure of the slit in a China girl’s skirt.”
Sunsets of every color imaginable. The “Green Flash” the instant the sun melts below the horizon.
The tantalizing glow of the flashing strobe lights just before you break out of the clouds on the approach.
Yosemite Valley from above. The Grand Canyon flying below the rim.
Flying in Red Flag 1 as an Aggressor.
Bernie’s Bar at Nellis.
Flying on any mission with or against the F-4 FWIC.
The almost blindingly-brilliant-white of a towering cumulus cloud.
A cold San Miguel in Angeles City after a long day’s flying.
The Diamond Horseshoe at Itazuke.
Flying with Top Gun in a ‘Battle of San Clemente Island’ exercise.
Seeing stars and the curve of the earth from 65,000 ft. doing an FCF in a 12 year old F-4C from Kadena.
And knowing that 190 KIAS at 65,000 is 2.3 IMN !
Ocean crossings and in-flight refueling.
Hearing every sound a single engine fighter makes at night over the open ocean.
The taxiway sentry (with his flag & machine gun) at the old Taipei (downtown) airport. The bullet holes in the walls of buildings at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, or the buildings at Hickam and Pearl.
“Bubble Checks” at Quemoy and Matsu islands.
Saying ‘Thank You’ in 5 different languages.
Eighty-thousand-foot + -high thunderstorm clouds in the tropics.
Sipping Pina Coladas in a luxury hotel bar, while a Typhoon rages outside.
Chinese Junks bobbing in Aberdeen harbor.
Seeing a rooster tail of water in your mirrors of an F-4.
The smell of spring kimchee in Korea.
Watching the latitude count down to zero on the INS, and seeing it switch from “N” to “S” as you cross the equator.
“Wake Island” at Sunrise.
Oslo Harbor at dusk.
Icebergs in the North Atlantic.
Pago Harbor, framed by puffy cumulus clouds in the late afternoon.
The camaraderie of a good crew … and good squadron
Ferryboat races in Sydney Harbor. Samlar races in Viet Nam or Thailand.
Experiencing all the lines from the old Jo Stafford tune:
“See the pyramids along the Nile . See the sunrise on a tropic isle. See the market place in old Algiers Send home photographs and souvenirs. Fly the ocean in a silver plane. See the jungle when it’s wet with rain.”
White picket fences in Auckland.
White sandy beaches lined with swaying palms.
Double-decker buses in London.
The endless expanse of white on a Polar Crossing.
The “Star Ferry” in Hong Kong,
Bangkok after a tropical rain. A boat tour on the Chao Phya River
Taking off — or landing — in a typhoon anywhere in the Orient.
Mono Lake and the steep wall of the Sierra Nevada range when approached from the east.
The bus ride to Stanley … on the upper deck front seat of the double-decker bus.
The 3 Alley Pub in Seoul.
The “Long Bar” at the Raffles.
Seeing an old military buddy from 30 years’ previous at the “Jet Lag Club” in Narita.
Heavy takeoffs from the “Cliff” runway at Guam.
Looking down at Mt. Aetna exploding lava while an F-16 bud is taking fuel from a KC-10.
An F-16 formation approach shadow on the clouds below in the middle of a perfect circle rainbow.
Real low-level flights enroute to Konya Range in Turkey.
Landings in the B-767 when the only way you knew you had touched down was the movement of the spoiler handle.
Trying to do a weather offset in Russian airspace with a kilometers lateral and meters vertical request on HF. Actually getting the correct clearance!
Orsini’s and Gorgat’s in Aviano, Italy
Taking a plane load of GIs home for Christmas on a Kuwait military charter.
The corner booth reserved for the 389th TFS at the Club 99 in Bangkok, Thailand
And my all-time favorite quote:
“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been, and there you will long to return” (Leonardo da Vinci)