Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

The Usual Suspects

by Tim Kline

      “Unsafe Pass! Depart the Range # 3!”

I was booted off the El Outia range in Libya. An ordinary fighter jock, I had been asked to familiarize a newly assigned flight commander on the Wheelus AFB patterns and procedures. I had been guilty of overestimating this fellow’s experience level. He was “along for the ride,” and I was the tour conductor in addition to doing the gunnery bit. Plus I was pretty cocky. Here’s what happened: The first pass was going smoothly. It was a routine SKIP BOMB delivery about 450 knots wings level heading down to the rag with the F4C aircraft nicely trimmed and the pipper crawling up to the base of the rag. My hand was light on the stick and nearing release of the bomblet. As I began to finger (or thumb) the pickle button, the stick was rudely slapped into my stomach and the aircraft suddenly was standing on its tail. In a micro-second I was able to wrap my arms around it – catching it before it could dampen the sine wave. (You engineers will appreciate this) at any rate, there I was doing 500 knots, walking past the range tower blowing all the targets down, my arms cradling the stick like a star-crossed lover. For dear life. The Phantom began to creep out of the dust cloud just as those words – “Depart the Range” crackled in the head set. We left behind half the Sahara as fast as we could.

At first there was silence. Then a profuse apology: “I was scared.” My retort: “I’ve seen it before.” He was extremely remorseful and all the way home to Wheelus I was as calm as a cucumber on ice. When we landed, naturally, the Squadron Commander was there to meet and greet us. The fearful fellow—a Major – confessed his panic in an appropriate art of grace and humility. “These things happen,” said the skipper.

We were sent back to the BOQ in a bread truck. I was tired and went to my cot for a quick nap before lunch. As I lay on the bed, my arms, legs, and entire body began to shake as shock set in. I yelled: “Hey guys, come look at this.” Several tried to hold me atop the cot. Nobody could stop it. For several minutes the shaking continued. I guess I was also shocked by the range experience that morning. The lesson: Beware of newbies climbing into a big fighter? Or, check out the guy you’re checking out? Even if they outrank you. God was good to give me an instinctive clasp of the runaway stick at the moment of release. And I’m glad not to have tested the bottom of that sine wave.
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