Friday, January 23, 2015

Mongoose Part III

Mongoose and I breakfasted at the college cafeteria, which was full of pilots and airshow attendees, then caught the shuttle to the field. I had an hour to kill before the briefing so I called some old buddies who I knew were there. Five guys from my pilot training class at Vance AFB (Class 73-06) were there somewhere among the growing crowd of tens of thousands of people.

If you are familiar with the terminology, you know when I
graduated from flight training: 1973. The “73” in 73-06 was the year of graduation and the “06” was the sixth class to be graduated that year. The only time I felt old is when I flew on airline trips with guys whose class numbers were something like 02-06.

Mongoose scurried off to the briefing tent, since he was the honcho that day, and soon I was joined up with the old buds.

Pete, a retired career USAF officer with many years flying C-130s and C-141s, now ran an aviation technology school. He was the groomsman at my wedding. (The USAF issued me wings and a wife the same week.)

Then there was Mike. He did one tour as a tanker driver and went to Northwest Airlines, then retired as a Delta 747 captain. He was a vociferous people man, a soloist in his church choir and the kind of guy who could be happy anywhere, anytime. Later that night at Kelly's Bar, Mike, reacting to some crazy story being told, suddenly sprang up from the table and burst into song and dance, drawing applause from across the whole establishment.  

Another friend, John flew C-130s and served 25 years active and reserve. He was retired from the FAA where he was assigned to oversee United Airlines—my airline. I remember once he came aboard the DC-10 I was flying as a first officer to give a no-notice check ride. He took one look at me, waved his hand and said, “Oh hell! I’m scared to get on this plane. I’m gone!” And he did—he recused himself. While in training John and I flew our T-37 cross country trip together. As soon as we parked our jets our instructors jumped out and hurried away leaving us to secure the planes. As we walked away I elbowed John and pointed at his jet. "Your flaps are still down, Bozo!" He looked at my Tweet, snickered and pointed. "Your speed brake is still down, idiot!"

Another welcome sight was Chip who had just retired from United as a 777 captain. Chip served one tour on active duty flying C-141s. Low-keyed and subtle-humored, Chip was the best instrument pilot in the class. After retiring he was content never to touch the controls of a plane again, but he loved just to be around them. 

The last guy was Ahmad, from Iran.

In 1972 the U.S. and Iran were allies. Their king (they called him the Shah) sent his young men to the U.S. for pilot training, and so that’s how Ahmad came to be among us. We lost track of him after he left Vance. He was a Phantom pilot in the Iranian Air Force and we knew he would have been heavily involved in the 7-year Iran-Iraq war. None of us in 73-06 ever expected Ahmad to survive that. But he did. About 2005 he converted to Christianity and was threatened by the local mullahs. He came to the U.S. and got in touch with us. We helped him hire an attorney to file for status as a religious refugee. The U.S. government denied him refugee status but allowed him a green card after years of hellish red tape and incompetent bureaucratic bungling. He found a job and settled. Seeing Ahmad at Oshkosh with the other old friends was a special treat.

There was another friend there as well, apart from the 73-06 guys—Dave from Tucson. Dave is the guy who helped me get my RV-6. If you followed Decision Height, you might remember him from the Seven Sierra Whiskey series of posts. Dave met up with the rest of us and I was delighted to introduce him to the 73-06 gang and later to Mongoose. They all wanted to see Alabama Girl and so as we were all walking to the warbird corral I thought this day was one of the greatest in my life. So many memories and good times I had known with these guys blended with the awesome place we were in, just damn near overwhelmed me. I was only two weeks out of retirement from United Airlines, and I was enjoying one of the greatest times I had ever known. My cup was running over.

As we walked Dave told me he was planning a flight to Alaska in just two weeks in his Cessna 172. Was I interested in going along? I immediately used a question on him I had heard him say many times: “Does the sun rise in the east?” He grinned and we agreed to discuss the details after Oshkosh. As we approached the long rows of Yaks and CJs I thought, On top of all this, now I’m going to Alaska, low and slow—just what I had always dreamed of. What an incredible day this was becoming. And the flying had not even started yet!

After I showed Alabama Girl to the gang we headed to the briefing tent where Mongoose was busily preparing to lead the 12-ship formation scheduled to launch at 1000.

It would be another flight I would never forget—for both its good and its bad memories.

Mongoose makes a point with Dave, who carries a big bomb around.

Mongoose gets Dave squared away in the back cockpit for the Veterans Memorial Fly-over

John tries on Alabama Girl for size

Ahmad relaxes

L-R: Pete, Mike, Chip, John, Alan, Ahmad

No T-37 we ever flew looked that good

Mike tries on Alabama Girl

Pete prefers wing-walking

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