Thoughts from the Pit Part Deux

More Thoughts from the Pit

Flight Surgeons: The Docs were great, never met one that didn’t look out for the best interest of the jocks. Two things to remember though: you never told a Doc that you passed out. That was an immediate grounding. My son-in-law’s brother told one that he had passed out when undergoing a pilot flight physical in college – BOOM, out of the program. Second never volunteer information (this also applied to an IG visit). Not necessarily lie to the Doc but don’t tell him things he didn’t need to know.

Wing Weenies and Crew Dogs: Half the time I flew the backseat of the Phantom I was a Crew Dog, in the trenches with the rest of the guys, flying combat missions or sitting alert. Half way through my time in Alaska, I became what we called a “Wing Weenie.” I moved up to a position on the DO’s staff and became attached to the F-4 squadron. That meant I flew with the squadron, no longer pulled alert, and often flew on weekends to get my requirements.

Bold Face tests: The most critical emergency procedures were designated “boldface” because bold type highlighted them in our checklists. These we learned by heart. Instructors tested our knowledge of them weekly, and we had to write them verbatim from memory. Verbatim meant as they appeared in the checklist; even a misplaced comma counted as a failure.

Fighter pilots; They could not talk without using their hands. Invariably, the right hand became the F-4 and deftly demonstrated how to intercept the left. Almost every debriefing witnessed this phenomenon. This phenomenon became especially evident when pilots talked about BFM (basic flight maneuvers) and ACM (aerial combat maneuvers). They couldn’t describe a maneuver without using their hands. We GIBS got a big kick out of it.

Pecker or Peter Pocket: The survival knife pocket, a.k.a. the “Pecker Pocket,” on our flight suits’ leg. There was no need for it as our G-suits contained a survival knife. A pocket-less flight suit was a sure indicator that one was a fighter jock. Tearing off that pocket was a rite of passage.

Flight Pay and Combat: During the war, as a captain on flight pay, I had my base pay and made an additional $400 flight pay a month. Still, I was not rich; the combined income for my wife and me totaled about $11,000 after tax withholding. We each got about $460 a month, which she supplemented with pay as a substitute teacher. Her share did not include that princely extra $65.00 combat pay, which was not taxable, that went to me. Flight pay was called aviation incentive pay and not paid for flying. It was paid to ensure that all aviators were available and ready for flight duty no matter what staff position they might occupy. Thus a more senior officer would continue to receive this pay as long as he had flown a requisite number of years during his career. I continued to receive this pay as a lt. colonel in Washington even though I was not flying as I had fulfilled the number of years to meet my goals. Today the pay is about $1000 per month. This meant that my $400 in 1973 was about $2,300 in today’s dollars.

Blood Chits and Survival Vests: When we flew, we always wore a survival vest; these included survival radios and extra batteries, flares, a jungle tree lowering device (we had learned to use this at Clark), some extra food, and of course the blood chit. The chit was a small cloth with the American flag on it and the U.S. government’s promise, written in several languages, to pay anyone who assisted the downed airman in evading the enemy. Some jocks also planned to trade their gold or silver bracelets for their lives. And I must admit that thought was not far from my mind if need be. Yes, the idea was always there.

More stories about the Phantom and combat are in my new book Fighter Gator available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble or go to

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 13 TFS, Air Force, Air Force lingo, Alaska, Alaskan Air Command, American History, Anchorage, Anchorage Alaska, Arizona, Combat, F-4 Phantom II, Fighter Aircraft, Fighter pilot lingo, Fighter pilot slang, Navigator, Navigator Training, Thailand, U Dorn RTAFB, Udorn RTAFB, Veterans, Vietnam War and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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