from Flying Low
3, 1957, was a crisp autumn day in east Texas. I was about to solo in a
single-place, swept-wing jet (the Grumman F9F-8). Hot damn. Two of us
were to fly solo, with a chase plane behind so that an instructor could keep
an eye on us. The three of us taxied to the end of the duty runway and did
our engine checks.
That day I was “Banjo One,” the other student
was “Banjo Two,” and the instructor in the chase plane was “Banjo Chase.” We
kept our radios on squadron tactical frequency while we did our final
pre-flight checks. I had just finished my checks when I heard, “Banjo Chase,
this is Banjo Two. My EGT is running hot.”
There was a short pause and then, “Banjo Two,
this is Banjo Chase. Go back to the line and get another aircraft. Hurry.
I’ll wait here for you. Banjo One, go ahead. We’ll join you in the tactics
“Banjo Two Wilco,” came from my fellow
“Banjo One Wilco,” I added. I’ll be darned.
I’ve been let off the leash. “Banjo One switching.” I changed the UHF radio
to tower frequency. “Chase Tower, this is Banjo One, ready for take off.”
“Roger, Banjo One. Cleared for take off.”
I took the duty runway, ran the power up to a
hundred percent, checked the gauges one last time, and released the brakes.
Thirty seconds later I was a real jet pilot.
I flipped the landing gear handle up, sucked up
the flaps, and put that beautiful dark blue bird into a climb for the tactics
area. The sun sparkled off the star and bars insignia painted on the wing. I
had to swivel my head to see it because it was on a swept wing. God was in
the heavens, and I was climbing to join him.
I leveled off at twenty-five thousand feet and
looked around. A few thousand feet below, a flight of four TV-2’s on a
formation hop cruised by. I ignored them, but a couple of minutes later here
they came again. This was too much. I swung right to put myself “on the
perch” and then rolled in on them. I had over two hundred knots of closure as
I came up behind the placid flight. I was like a bobcat racing into a covey
of quail. When I judged that I was in range of the last TV-2, I imagined
shooting my guns and then broke it off before I got too close. I soared
skyward and reversed. The formation flight obliged me and turned away. Then I
was down on them again.
“Check your six,” came over the UHF. It was a
very stern voice. Could that be for me? I looked over my left shoulder as I
headed the Cougar up again. Nothing there. I looked over my right shoulder.
Oh ... shit. The instructor was tucked in tight under my starboard wing.
“Take us home,” the voice said.
I took us home, as smoothly as I could. The
instructor waited for me while I crawled down the side of my plane and
stepped onto the hot tarmac.
He ripped me a new one, started to walk away,
and then came back and ripped it again. After he stomped off towards the
hangar, I stood still for a long time. I could visualize the drill; my new
gold wings would be torn from my chest and thrown away.
After a while I walked, head down, across the
ramp and into the hangar. I had to pass the instructor’s ready room to get to
the locker room. Their door was closed, but loud guffaws of laughter made it
through the thin wood. I stopped and moved a little closer. I recognized my
“You should have seen the look on the kid’s
face when he finally saw me.” Much laughter.
“Well,” a strange voice said, “what are you
going to do? Write him up?”
“Hell no. The kids gonna make a fighter
Flying Low is Brian's memoir of his Navy flying career. Amazon.com
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