Up in the Air so Blue


When you fly in the military there is a path that you follow.  All do it.   You start as a student flier, earn your wings, become qualified in a certain aircraft, move on as a squadron member, and then if you are proficient, and do well, become an instructor for others.

From there you might become a member of the unit’s Stan Eval shop –or Standards Evaluation – which is the group that annually checks that fliers to make sure they are qualified and certifies their abilities in the air.

It  also should be noted that flying in the military is not just strapping on a fighter and taking off.  There are countless jobs that are done in addition to the primary duty of flying: Administration officer, schedulers, flight commanders, operations officers, supply officer, and the list goes on and on.

And if you are really crazy enough  you become part of a Functional Check Flight crew.

FCF is a very specialized type of flying which involves the most experience fliers.   And you get to experience the type of flying that is the closest to being an astronaut and is the most fun.

“How does it feel to go up in the air
Up in the air so blue
Oh I do think its the most pleasantest thing
That ever a child can do.”

Flyers take a child like joy in flight and are really big kids at heart, and FCF flying is the ultimate experience.

Another poem by John Magee,  that is less well known to most Americans,  captures the feeling:

“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds –
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of –
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.”

Late in my time in the F4 I came to FCF flying.


The FCF crew takes planes that have been grounded for mechanical problems and after they are “fixed” takes them up and tries to break them again.

Yes I said we were crazy, but boy was it fun.

And as the poem above says, we did a hundred things you have not dreamed of.

We pulled G forces in excess to try to rip off the wings, we flew at the height of the envelope on the edge of space at more than 50,000 feet and were as free as anyone can ever be.  We swooped and turned on a dime, as the adrenaline and speed built.  We pushed the bird to nearly Mach 2, then we landed.  “OK, she’s fit to fly,”we told the crew chief, and signed off the forms.

And then… we went back to your other jobs as a squadron planner or ops officer, which was never as much fun.   And we all know how that feels when we are bound to a desk for 8 hours a day.

I would choose slipping the surly bonds any day.


About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in Air Force, Air Force lingo, American History, F-4 Phantom II, Norvell Family History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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