Thoughts from the Pit

As I completed my time at Luke upgrading into the backseat some thoughts crossed my mind:

1. The Ejection seat was my friend and I took great care to make sure that everything was right. When I stepped in the seat, I looked to make sure that leg garters were not tangled, that the ejection handles were in the correct positions, and that the appropriate pins had been pulled. Then I made sure that I was strapped in properly. The last thing to do was watch for the crew chief to pull the upper pin and show it to me. Then the seat was hot and ready to fire. 

2. Air on Two – became a buzz word for anything that was starting. When we flew, the right engine was always started first. The AC signaled the crew chief to start;  the air and the external power were turned on. The whine of the J79 filled the cockpit, the RPM gauge began to move showing the rotation of the #2 engine. Even 50 years later that whine of the engines lives in me, I can never forget its high pitch and how the bird then came alive

3.  Phantom Bites and other adventures down under.  There was a tendency to hit my head on something hanging down from the bird while I was doing a pre-flight. We called this a Phantom Bite.  The crew chiefs always warned us about antennas and other things that would take a chunk out of your scalp.   Also while walking under the bird we had to watch for things that had leaked on the ramp, hydraulic fuel or other lubricants so that we didn’t step in them.  While looking down it was easy to walk into an antenna.  In addition to this I became very wary of walking under the tail hook, I had heard stories of how it had dropped unexpectedly and injured a crewman.  Now this many have been a phantom myth, but I wasn’t about to take any chances.    I am not sure how much it actually weighed estimates ranged from about 600 -1,000 pounds.  All I knew was that if it was strong and heavy enough to stop a Phantom, it was also strong and heavy enough to take me out.

4. Debriefs could be brutal. On my first flight the IP complimented me saying that I had completed the pre-flight checklist in the best manner he had ever seen. That was the last nice thing he said to me. I was behind for the first leg of the flight and I didn’t catch up until we reached the training area. Yet as the months passed I got better and better, and while there were always comments made about performance, they became suggestions about how to do things better rather than criticism.

4. Fighter Pilots could not talk without using their hands. Invariably the right hand became the F-4 and deftly demonstrated how to do an intercept on the left. Almost every debriefing witnessed this phenomenon. This was especially evident when they talked about BFM and ACM. BFM were basic manuevers; ACM were aerial combat maneuvers. It was impossible for them to describe a maneuver without using their hands. We WSOs got a big kick out of it. 

5. “ROE”– at Luke I was introduced to the concept of Rules of Engagement. These would come into play in one form or another the rest of my flying career. Whether war or peace, there were restrictions on what you could do in the air.  In war ROE would limit us even more determining where we could fly, when we could fly, and how we could engage the enemy.

In peace, these might be air spaces that were off limits, or specific approaches for an airfield that governed the landing.

One thing was particular to Luke.  We had to fly a very specific departure pattern for each runway. At one end lay Sun City, a retirement community; at the other there was a large turkey farm. If we overflew Sun City, the phones in the Commander’s office rang off the hook, if we went over the turkey farm, the birds were agitated so much that many of them literally committed suicide — running until they dropped.

Of course, we  fighter jocks saw that these two things were somehow linked as the turkeys who ran around until they dropped and the older retirees who became enraged to the point of apoplexy seemed the same.   

Throughout my career I would encounter many, many turkeys but that is a story for another 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, Arizona, Fighter Aircraft, Fighter pilot lingo, Fighter pilot slang, Navigator, Navigator Training, Tailhook, Vietnam War and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Thoughts from the Pit

  1. John Townsend says:

    nice job

  2. Joel says:

    Nice job. The #2 engine was always started first because the utility hydraulic system had a pump on both engines, the #2 pump had a check valve that lowered the output to 2750 psi (if my memory is correct) and the #1engine pump put out 3000 psi. By starting the #2 first you knew both pumps were working. The primary flight controls had a pump on each engine also but PC1 and PC2 hydraulic systems were entirely separate.

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