There was an old saying in the F-4 world: “There are two types of flyers, those who have been sick and those who will be.”
As our training continued, we moved into a lot of turning and violent maneuvering in the air. It was at this point that several of my contemporaries experienced extended bouts of air sickness. One friend told me that he had been sick on nearly every initial flight. We carried barf-bags, like those found on airlines, in our checklist bags if we were ill. But, some found it hard to get their masks off quickly enough in the throes of turning and maneuvering. Filling a mask was not a pleasant experience, nor was it acceptable to blow one’s cookies in the rear cockpit. The crew chiefs especially disliked this and made the GIB clean it up.
It did not help that GIBs had to crane their heads at impossible angles in many cases. If you had to check six—that is, look toward the Phantom’s rear—your head’s position affected your middle ear. If you had your head down in the radar, strange things were going on inside the ear canals, which affected your equilibrium.
If the Phantom pulled Gs, that could affect you. Since you often maneuvered at high speed, turning, or banking rapidly, sometimes pulling negative Gs, all these things could make you sick. The IPs had many theories on avoiding sickness. Some said it was a physical thing, and in time, those GIBs would get over it. Others told backseaters to ignore it. This advice did not seem to help those who got sick. Most of the time, the solution to being sick was to fly the aircraft. Once you had your hand on the stick, you quickly forgot about being nauseous.
We had a GIB who got sick all the time. He had not made too many friends as he exhibited a superior attitude. He had screwed up several times, but the worst thing was that he never took responsibility for his mistakes. It seemed he pissed off folks one time too many, and someone took a knife and cut through the bottom of all his airsickness bags. This sabotage was easy to do as all the aircrew gear hung on pegs in the life support area. The slasher had easy access to the publications bag that held his checklists and barf-bags. That day, the obnoxious GIB almost made it through the flight without getting sick.
The air was warm and heavy in the backseat, and the AC IP decided that he needed to practice touch and go landings. Around the sky, the F-4 drilled holes for about 20 minutes. Around and around, it went: going through the pattern, approaching the runway, putting down the gear, touching down, then hitting the burners, raising the gear, and taking off again.
The air in the back seat grew thicker and thicker, and the GIB knew that he would not make it. Aircrew etiquette dictated that if you were going to barf, you went cold mike. You turned off your oxygen mask mike so that the other crewmember would not hear it.
The frontseater immediately knew what was up when he stopped hearing the whoosh of oxygen in the back. He didn’t realize that the GIB was vainly in the process of trying to use the bottomless barf-bag. As he lifted the bag to his mouth, he released the contents of his stomach. Out it went all over his lap. It decorated the ejection seat. It coated the rear cockpit floor.
If the GIB made a mess, the GIB cleaned it up. The crew chief quickly reminded the young lieutenant of this when the F-4 taxied back into the parking area. Lesson learned the hard way. You are responsible for your actions in the backseat, good or bad. I was lucky as I did not get airsick, but there was of course the warning you will be. Not a cheery thought.
For more stories of my time in the Phantom, see my new book
Fighter’ Gator – Available on Amazon in ebook or paperback or from the publisher