Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

My Own Bag Experience

by Cam Coberly

Other than our “orientation ride” during our “Doolie” Summer, my first experience flying in a jet plane was completed at an air field called “Craig AFB”, a training base hacked out of the darkest jungle in south central Alabama, 80 miles west of the capital, Montgomery.

Your first flight is called the “dollar” flight. Tradition was that you gave a dollar bill to the instructor that took you “up” for your first flight. I was so excited I couldn’t eat breakfast the morning of that flight. “Yep, strong black coffee “ was all I needed to get me going.

After the safety briefing and checking out and fitting my helmet and oxygen mask, my instructor and I headed out to the flight line to find our T-37 by looking for the proper tail number. My instructor was one of the “old” guys who had just come back from having spent a year somewhere unpronounceable, in a country that was unheard of, teaching little brown, uneducated men, to fly the very same aircraft I was getting ready to launch myself in.

I felt very confident and, frankly, more than just a little bit over enthusiastic. After all, my Dad flew P-51’s, P-47’s, and a group of trainers as an advanced flight and aerial gunnery instructor during WWII. He was an F-86 pilot during Korea, where he “downed” 2 MIG-15’s. He was a plant rep to the old North American Aviation where he flew and was a test pilot in F-100’s. He was the USAF System Project Officer for the F-105 And would ultimately be the Wing Commander of the 10th TAC RECON WING, Alconbury, UK., before was promoted to BG and moved off to the Pentagon. It’s “in the blood”, right?

The first thing I discovered, after squirming into the cockpit, was that the canopy would not close unless I bent my head down, assuring that I would be a quadriplegic, if I ever had to eject, or that I could loosen my lap belt and “slump” down in the seat, assuring that I would lose my knees, during the ejection process. Knee loss seemed to be the lesser of two evils. Slumping down would also allow me to see the instrument panel, which seemed like a good idea at the time. The taxi and takeoff was exciting and happened very quickly. During the climb out I noticed that I was sweating profusely and my stomach felt as if I were in negative “G’s” half the time.

After “level off” in our assigned “acro” area , my “torture master”, I mean instructor, began a series of rapid aileron rolls followed by a steep dive that ended just before we hit a majestic Southern Yellow Pine. My stomach was left somewhere deep in the Dallas County Lake (local fishing hole) as we did a beautiful loop, followed by a magnificent Immelman, several barrel rolls, and ending with a perfect cloverleaf. Somewhere, during one of the barrel rolls, the, now more concentrated, coffee rebelled, followed by the previous night’s “Keema” (a dish provided by my next door BOQ, Pakistani classmates ), then a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches and the remnants of “ 3 over easy, please” from the Officer’s “Mess”.

The “trained killer” in the right seat, quietly chuckled as we headed back to the safety of the ground. But then at the last minute he added a “high speed” climbing “pitchout” that “pitched” the last of whatever remained in, wherever my stomach was, into my 3rd “paper bag”. Other than that, the landing was uneventful. We taxied in and after I had clumsily climbed out of the “torture machine”, he patted me on the back and said in lively, but serious voice, “now you know what you have to look forward to during the coming year”.

Over the next 13 flights I became airsick 13 consecutive times. Why didn’t I “wash-out”? Unlike most people who get sick, I could continue to fly and fly well. The flight surgeons were mystified, as were the flight instructors. I completed basic flight school(T-37) and moved on to the T-33. I never got sick or felt bad, no matter what we did, after that.

About 1/3 rd of the way through T-33 training, I was called into the flight surgeons’ office. Once there, three flight surgeons asked me some basic health questions and then put me in a “hearing” test box. They put ear phones on me and then began to “play” with the controls of the panel. My hearing was so good that I could actually hear them move a switch. They stopped the activity and told me to ignore any sounds that I heard. Shortly thereafter, things got quieter and then I began to sweat and felt sick to my stomach. With that reaction, the flight surgeons, smiled, shook hands, and finally turned off the machine. I felt better almost instantly. The Docs concluded that I was not suffering from motion sickness but was hearing a very high frequency sound generated by the turbine of the J-65 Jet engine. In other words I was hearing a lot like a dog, which goes to explain a lot about my life.

My Dad pinned my wings on in pilot training. My classmates presented me with the “GOLDEN BARF BAG” award. Yippee!

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