Happy Hour Story 

                                                                                                                    ONE                                                                                                                                      

                                    ME AND MOFAK

 

I was one happy guy.

After doing Fleet tours (one in the Far East) in AD's and in A4's, I had just completed a two year tour with the Navy as an Aircraft Accident Investigator.  There was very little flight time to be had.  We were limited to 4 hours a month (for flight pay purposes) in old and worn T-28 (Trainer) and SNB’s (small twin engine).  So my flight skills were rusty. 

          It was great to be back in the Fleet Marine Force, stationed at Beaufort, S.C.  I was assigned to Marine All-Weather Fighter Squadron 451, flying the F8 Crusader—you remember the wing went up and down.  I had known and was old friends with some of the 451 Squadron Pilots from my previous 6 years in the FMF.  Each one that I knew personally was a top notch pilot.  The squadron had been together for over 4 years and had logged some great flying experiences (and liberty calls), including a Med (Mediterranean) Cruise plus some action in a flap down in the Dominican Republic.  They were a tight group.   Because I had previously served with the C.O. (who was also new to the squadron) it was entirely possible that it might be expected that I would become “The Colonel’s Boy”,  a reputation I did not want to have.  It suggested preferred attention by the C.O.   Some of you will remember the C.O. I am talking about.  He earned the very accurate description of a Disney cartoon character, “The Tasmanian Devil” or as he was called, “The Tango Delta”, having replaced a well liked former C.O.  I might have been one of the few (young) officers he really liked (at least at that time)—hence, my assignment to his F8 Crusader squadron.  In the previous squadron, I had just returned from a tour in Japan, and was recently married.  He and is lovely wife took an immediate liking to me and my wife. We never took advantage of it, but there you are.  I’ve said it and I’m glad.

          After the necessary 2 weeks in Ground School, I was assigned to my first flight (FAM-1) in the Mach 1.9, after-burning F8 Crusader. Remember, I had not touched a jet aircraft in 2 years, and had never flown an afterburning aircraft.  I was facing my first flight in the Crusader with some anxiety.  I was not worried about killing myself.  I was totally concerned about doing a good job so I would be accepted by the squadron pilots.  It was my experience in the United States Marine Corps that reputations were earned, not given because of rank or any other reason.  You had to prove yourself. 

          Ed (or Mofak as he was called by all) was to be my chase pilot.  We had known each other briefly during my Japan tour a few years earlier.  I knew that he was one of the most respected and even admired pilots in the entire Marine Corps.  I knew that if Ed gave me an UP CHECK (satisfactory) grade on my first flight in the F8 – that would go a long way in earning my acceptance from the other squadron pilots.

          I studied hard the Ground School stuff, systems and procedures before the flight.  I was as ready as I could make myself.  Ed gave me a not too detailed briefing on what we were to do on the flight.  He briefed for an afterburner take-off.  I swallowed hard.  The Briefing Guide for the FAM-1 called for a basic engine (no afterburner) take-off which would be much less exciting.  I called this to Ed’s attention.  He smiled and winked and said, “Lou, you can hack it.  Things just happen a little faster than in the A4.”  I swallowed hard again and, in my excited mind, quickly went over the procedures for an afterburner take-off and climb.

          Well, after we took the runway, I ran it up and lit the burner and BANG.  From there on I was just along for the ride.  I was so far behind the airplane I might as well have stayed in the Ready Room.  Anyone who has ever flown the F8 will remember their first afterburner take-off.

          Climb out in the F8 is near vertical.   If you drop the nose, even a little, you’ll go thru Mach 1 in a second and the noise of your shock waves on the ground make for angry citizens.  There had been a lot of complaints from the chicken and turkey farmers in South Carolina about the shock waves made by jet aircraft which they claimed were killing their chickens and turkeys.  It seemed that if I didn't keep the nose pointed straight up, it would go down enough to go thru the Mach.  Well, I broke the Mach so many times on the climb out that I must have killed a thousand or so chickens that day.

          The rest of the flight went pretty well, even the landing.  During the flight I had sweated (literally and figuratively) a lot and was in a dehydrated state.  I must have drunk a half-dozen Cokes before I got to the Ready Room.

          I got back to the Ready Room before Ed.  The usual Ready Room Rats—young pilots who weren’t flying at that time and had nothing better to do than “hang out”—were waiting for us—waiting for Mofak and me.  They looked like the pilots who hang out on “Vultures Row” on an aircraft carrier, watching landings and just hoping someone will prang.  They were standing on the other side of the Ready Room and I was just inside the door—waiting for Ed, and the verdictNo one said anything to me.  I was actively being ignored and sweating a lot.

          Then Ed burst into the room (Ed never just entered a room, he burst into a room).  All eyes were on Ed, waiting for “the word on the new guy.”

          I’ll never forget the next few seconds.  “Great hop!  You flew like a champ, but I knew you could hack it.  Everyone shake hands with our newest Crusader pilot.” 

          I had made it.  Ed’s endorsement was all I needed to grease my acceptance into the squadron.

          Ed, when you read this:

          THANKS, I STILL OWE YOU ONE.

          This was the second time in my life that an old friend had told me “You can hack it” and it meant a lot me.

          See “LSO’s ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.”

                                                                      The Count

LOU PRITCHETT

2/7/2006