Fighter ‘Gator Flying Memoir


This story is about Lt Colonel John E. Norvell’s quest to fly and David Garbe’s work to restore the shell of F-4D 0720. It first focuses on how Norvell got to flight training, then was selected to be a backseater in the F-4, his time in combat in Thailand, and F-4 flying over Alaska, providing “Top Cover for America.” Then the appendix covers Garbe’s work to find a bird, get the parts, and rebuild the front cockpit area.

Fighter ‘Gator, i.e., the navigator in a fighter aircraft or the Guy in Back (GIB)–the Weapons Systems Officer.

First, we look at how I got to nav school, my challenges there, and what it meant to get my silver wings.  Then l focus on F-4 upgrading and my experiences in combat. The AC—fighter pilot—usually tells most combat stories about the F-4. However, we who flew the Phantom were a team.  I tell this story from my perspective in the back. 

Leaving SEA, I went to Alaska, where Mother Nature was out to kill me, not the Khmer Rouge.  When I left Alaska to teach at the Air Force Academy, I left the F-4.  When I retired from the Air Force, I did not think about flying in her for the next 30 years.

Then I met David Garbe, who reawakened my memories. These memories became the stories that, in the end, shaped my life and what it all meant in the context of Duty, Honor, and Country.  To me Duty is dedication and hard work. That is why I was drawn to David Garbe and wanted to include his story in this book. He personifies hard work and dedication.

If I am a Fighter ‘Gator then David Garbe is truly a Fighter Builder.

The Appendix:  F-4 Phantom Restored by David Garbe

David first published this work in 2016 and graciously allowed me to include it in this book.  His story is a fascinating look at the restoration process and the long hours and dedication that he showed in his quest to renew this bird. And renew he did. She is the most beautiful F-4 I have ever seen. Everything is perfect in the cockpits. She gleams and sparkles. 

It makes me wish I was 28 again in the skies above Cambodia with the long runway of life ahead of me.

The book is available on Amazon in print or ebook, or directly from the publisher