I'd managed to survive another blazing hot day at Nellis Air Force Base, outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. By 1600 hrs (4 PM to you civilians) I'd already put in a full day, flying air-to-ground and air-to-air combat training missions with my students over the sprawling desert weapons range since 0600.
I'm Major Buzz Donaldson, commander of one of the three Squadrons assigned to the 474th TAC Combat Fighter Training Wing, which is an advanced fighter/bomber pilot training wing. Each squadron is assigned eight F-100 D Super Saber single-seat jet fighter-bombers, plus two F-100 Fs, which are basically modified versions of the 'D' model, but with two inline cockpits. In addition to my own training duties, I also supervise four other instructor pilots. Our primary duty is to teach our assigned students the techniques and skills necessary to achieve mastery of their weapons systems, while at the same time maximizing the chances for their survival in combat situations. Being a squadron commander in this wing doesn't mean just flying a desk. I have an Adjacent, a young 1st Lt who takes care to most of the paperwork, while I try to spend most of my time in hands-on combat training which, here in the desert, is hot, dry and sometimes stressful work.
I was exhausted by the time I landed from the final sortie of the day and entered the locker room. I was looking forward to changing out of my sweat-stained flight suit, taking a long hot shower, and then retiring to the Officers Club for a cool drink and a quiet meal. That was when my wing commander, Lt. Col. Peterson, caught up with me and quickly ruined the rest of my day.
"Ah, there you are, Major Donaldson!" he exclaimed with a smile, "I have a request to make of you. We're scheduled to deliver one of our 'F' models to the Wright-Patterson maintenance depot in Dayton, Ohio, and it must be there by 0800 tomorrow. Captain Adams was originally scheduled to deliver it, but unfortunately he's been diagnosed as having an inner-ear infection and the Flight Surgeon's grounded him for a week. I'd appreciate it if you'd fly the 'F' back there tonight, then pick up the 'D' they just finished rehabbing and bring it back here tomorrow."
Now you have to understand that, in the military, when a Colonel tells a Major he has a request, it's not really a request at all, it's merely a polite way of issuing a direct order. I gave him a weary nod and asked, "Do I have time to shower and change into a clean flight suit, then maybe get a bite to eat before I leave, sir?"
"Certainly Major, do whatever you need to do... as long as you're airborne in ninety minutes. The flight plan's already been filed and the bird's been serviced. Of course, I had to schedule you for a layover in Omaha, Nebraska tonight for your mandatory crew rest. You've already logged nearly nine hours today... but plan to leave Offit by 0600 tomorrow in order to get the bird to Dayton on time. I'll see you back here tomorrow evening then... and thanks for helping us out. It won't be forgotten," he said with a smile as he strode away.
'Who's he kidding?' I thought grumpily. 'He'll have forgotten all about it before sunset!' Christ, it had already been a long day and it was now promising to be an even longer night! Ah well, such is life in the military and it sure beat the hell out of my previous assignment... a Forward Air Controller, directing close combat air support for the ARVN troops (that's the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam), as well as our own Army and Marine Corps grunts, in South Viet Nam.
I showered, changed into a clean flight suit, scooped up my shaving kit and my 'go' bag containing a clean set of clothing, grabbed a quick sandwich and a soft drink at the snack bar, then reported to Operations for my flight briefing. After a short weather briefing and an even shorter review of the planned flight route, I proceeded to the equipment room where I donned my G-suit over my flight suit, then retrieved my still sweaty flight helmet and my 'chute. I was about to catch a crew bus out to the aircraft when the Ops. Officer pulled me aside.
"Buzz, a Major James Garret is looking for a hop to Wright-Pat. Some kind of family emergency or something, I guess. Since you've got an empty back seat, would you be willing to take a passenger along?" he asked.
"Well, I suppose so, as long as he's willing to RON at Offit and isn't prone to airsickness," I quipped. (RON being military-speak for 'Remain Over Night')
Before he could reply, a confident feminine voice behind him interrupted. "A layover at Offit is no problem at all, Major, but let's set the record straight. I'm not a he, I'm a she, and I'm definitely not prone to airsickness unless I'm really hung-over, which I assure you I'm not. As an added bonus, I've logged over a hundred and fifty combat hours in F-100's and can spell you on the stick if you're half as tired as you look... Oh, and by the way, the name is Jamie, not James."
Surprised, I whipped around to find a tall, slim, extremely attractive female officer in her early thirties, a silver-piped blue USAF garrison cap, displaying a Major's bronze oak leaf, cocked jauntily forward on her head, partially covering her short, dark-auburn hair. She was wearing a green, custom tailored, Nomex flight suit with a matching G suit, her feet encased in highly shined black jump boots. Her flight helmet was cradled in the crook of her left arm, a parachute pack dangled from her right shoulder.
Even without the military trappings, I'd have suspected she was a veteran combat pilot. Her penetrating emerald green eyes gave her away; the thin lines radiating from their corners bespoke many hours spent scanning bright distant horizons for possible targets and threats. Her cocky, go-to-hell posture only emphasized the impression. The leather name tag on her flight suit displayed silver Command Pilot wings with the name 'Major J. Garret, USAF' centered beneath them. Due to its position on the suit, checking her nametag drew my attention to her chest. Under the snug-fitting custom tailored flight suit, her breasts were prominent enough that they should have gained my immediate attention. I also noticed that the suit fit the rest of her trim, athletic body like a glove; she obviously had all the standard-issue equipment, arraigned in an extremely attractive package.
"Well now, seeing that you're willing to pull your own weight, welcome aboard, Major. Always glad to help a fellow pilot in need," I grinned at her. I gave the Ops Officer a wink and asked him to adjust the crew manifest to reflect that Major Garret would be flying as the back seater on this flight, then escorted her out to the waiting crew bus.
The crew chief was waiting at the aircraft with the 'start cart' already hooked up. After a quick but through walk-around-inspection (what was jokingly call a 'kick the tire and light the fire' check) I clambered wearily up the crew ladder and settled into the front cockpit as Major Garret scrambled up into the rear. I noticed, with a wry grin, that the crew chief had solicitously followed her up the ladder and helped her strap in, assistance I was sure she didn't actually require. When he returned to the tarmac, he looked up at me with a wink and a big smile. I couldn't blame him, I only wished I'd allowed her to climb the ladder ahead of me so that I might have had the opportunity to 'assist' her myself.
Grabbing the maintenance log off the top of the instrument panel, I quickly scanned the entries, assuring myself that all safety-of -flight write-ups had been corrected and signed off, then strapped myself in, donned my helmet, plugged in its communication cord and oxygen hose, then nodded to the waiting crew chief. He raised his right arm and rotated his hand, indicating I was cleared for engine start. Nodding at him, I quickly ran through the pre-start checklist, then hit the ignition switch. The diesel electric 'start cart' belched black smoke as the unit rammed compressed air through the engine, spooling up the compressor turbine, and the powerful J-57 engine lit off. I eased the throttle back to idle and quickly scanned the instrument panel. Soon all the engine instruments settled into the green as they should as the artificial horizon and gyrocompass settled down. As I was doing this, the crew chief disconnected the start cart, removed the ladder hanging from the canopy rail and returned to the side of the aircraft.
Switching the radio over to Ground Control frequency and thumbing the mike switch, I called the tower, gave them my tail number and requested taxi and take off instructions. After a thumbs-up signal from me, the crew chief ducked out of sight under the belly and reappeared shortly, off to the left side in front of the wing, wheel chocks hanging by their connecting ropes over his left shoulder, and waved us foreword with a two handed 'come along' ground control signal. I snapped him a smart salute, which he stiffened to attention and sharply returned before moving further off to the side. After warning my 'co-pilot' over the intercom to 'clear the canopy rails' and receiving her confirmation, I hit the switch closing and locking the large heavy Plexiglas canopy. Advancing the throttle, we trundled slowly down the taxiway to the runway threshold. The tower announced that I was cleared to the active for immediate takeoff and wished me a good flight.
.... There is more of this story ...