Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

There I was...3

by Chuck Clifton


My 1947 Bonanza V-tail

There I was...again

I elected to go COT (consecutive overseas tour) to Europe after I finished my tour in Viet Nam. I stopped in the states to collect my bride, then went on to Spangdahlem, Germany, where I continued my fight against the powers of evil in the Cold War. After spending two years sitting Victor Alert with our dial-a-yield weapons and several "elephant walks" (simulated mass launches against Eastern European targets and other targets farther east), I was selected as part of the "Dirty Eight" to transition into the front seat of F-4E air superiority fighters in the 525th (You be your sweet ass I am) Bulldogs, stationed at Bitburg AB, 6 miles east of Spangdahlem.

Two caveats are in order here: First, The Dirty Eight were eight back seat pilots already stationed in Europe, hand picked by new Squadron Commander Lt.Col "Griz" Wolters, to transition into the front seat in the newly reconstituted 525th (You bet your sweet ass I am) Bulldogs. Tony Covais and Cliff Krieger were two of the other members of the Eight. (Cliff had a proclivity for carrying a lot of supplementary data with him in his cockpit, to the tune of a couple small ditty bags worth. This caused him to declare an in-flight emergency one day because he had totally unresponsive flight controls. Turned out one of his bags had accidentally engaged his autopilot.)

Second, The F-4E had two distinct upgrades; 200 additional pounds of thrust per engine, and an internally mounted 20 mm cannon.

The addition of the internal gun was a feature sorely missed in the Viet Nam conflict. A woefully inadequate centerline gun pod was developed for the D model, but it was extremely difficult to boresight and embarrassingly inaccurate. The standing joke was that for air to air combat, the gun should be mounted pointing backward, so we could shoot the MIGs in the face when we engaged them.

I needed that extra bit of thrust one foggy day. We had launched on a routine training mission out of Bitburg one morning under marginal weather conditions, which were not unusual that time of year. Unfortunately, while we were doing our training, the weather did not improve but instead got worse. As flight lead, and having the most experience flying in inclement weather, I sent the other members of my flight down first. With them safely down, I began my approach in rapidly deteriorating conditions. Has anyone seen that old film clip about the F-100 doing the "Sabre Dance" down the runway? I was told by the folks watching from the tower (including LtCol Griz) that my Fighter Gator and I were doing the exact same dance. We dragged the tail on the runway a few feet,but thanks to that extra thrust, we recovered and diverted to Spangdhahlem where the weather was still above minimums.

Later that year there was a once-in-a-decade summer day in Europe where the entire continent was CAVU (ceiling and visibility unlimited) also known as CAFB. I believe Tony was my wingman that day on Zulu Alert. (Victor Alert was 15 minutes to airborne for Nuke alert, Zulu was 5 minute launch time to be airborne for air-to-air engagement).

The Eastern Warsaw Pact guys were doing their annual big deal exercise with MIGs making passes at the border between East and West Germany and were getting uncomfortably close to the dividing line. So we were launched Priority One to intercept them.

We were airborne in 3 minutes and stroked min A/B (that gave us about 10 miles per min) to the border. We spent the next hour and a half trying to catch each other on the wrong side of the border.

They finally gave up and we came back home. As we were approaching the field, we were monitoring Tower freq, since the weather was severely VFR, and heard that another plane had taken the approach-end barrier and thus the primary runway was closed. I called tower and advised them we (the Zulu birds) were inbound, low on fuel, and needed a quick turn-around. Tower advised that the runway would be closed for fifteen minutes. I suggested that they didn't want to degrade our NATO Zulu capability in light of the current high threat situation.

After minimal delay I sent Tony down first and set up for a straight-in approach and landed uneventfully. Later that day my crew chief came to me and said he had never put that much fuel into an F-4 after a mission, about 50 pounds more than max capacity. It was another beautiful day.
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