"We're going ballistic man!"
Minutes before "Take-off"
"Tower, this is Shaw 465, and....we....are.....ready to taxi....please advise, you copy?......."Yes sir, Shaw 465, you are clear for taxi to Runway 2. Call us...... when you are........ready for take-off."......"Roger that tower, Shaw 465 out!." It was September 1988, I was 26 years old and loving my life....I was sitting in the rear seat of my RF-4C with two J-79 jet engines under my excited ass, and I was about to go vertical with one of the best pilots I'd ever worked with! We taxied as we were told, turned onto the runway, and listened for the words, "Shaw 465, you are cleared for take-off!" Captain Robert Gift had the honor of being in the front seat, as I sat in the WSO's (Weapon System Operator) seat for what would be the "ride" of my life!! I had dreamed of this moment for many years! I never thought I'd be 26 years old and doing anything like this. I had joined the USAF in March of 1986, landing a position as a crew chief on RF-4C's. They had been used in Vietnam for Reconnaissance Missions, and when I served, we used them for the same thing.......taking pictures of different subjects from miles above the earth's surface, hence the word RECONNAISSANCE. Those jets were built for speed, and they could take whatever was thrown at them, believe me you!
This flight was my "incentive" flight to get me to re-up in the USAF for another 4 years. Well, it worked! I was going to do another 4 anyway, but hey....I'd take a free ride in a 15 million dollar jet any day of the week...wouldn't YOU if YOU had the chance? Hell yes you would! I loved those days...I'd get up early and be on that flight-line at 0600, breaking the jet down, getting it ready for the onslaught of pilots that would be ready to get in the air each morning. Two weeks earlier, I was sitting under my aircraft, "Shaw 0465", and Captain Gift comes up as usual, but he doesn't have his "G Suit" on for a flight. I snap to "attention", salute and shake his hand. "How ya doin' this mornin' chief?", he asks. 'I'm good sir, I'm alive and well...Where's your WSO today sir?" "Well chief, I wanted to ask you something.....Do you trust your work chief?" I looked at him a little perplexed....."Hell yes sir, I trust MY work, why do you ask sir?" "Well chief....I've got a flight in two weeks up to Virginia, and I'm doing some acrobatic maneuvers, plus some low level flying over the ocean as well....I need you to be my rear seater, what do you say chief, you up for it?" I almost fell out right there on the flightline! You can imagine what I said, and I tried to keep it professional, but that wasn't happening people! What a day that was, and now the training started. I went daily to the Flight Operations building, sitting in with Captain Gift, going over our flight plan, the altitudes, the different regions we'd be in, the "No Fly" zones near airports, or cities, etc. This was going to be an amazing adventure for yours truly.
"Uhhh, Shaw 465, this is Shaw Tower, we have you on Runway 2, and you.....are.....cleared for take-off sir. Safe flight, and God speed sir! Tower out."........."Roger tower, we are cleared for take off, thank you and have a great Air Force day gentlemen! We are outta here chief!" I screamed into the mic and pumped my fist!! "Bob"....yes we were on a first name basis now, did the same and released the brakes. Pushing the throttle forward, I could feel the rumble of the two engines under us coming to life. The power of that machine was amazing, and we were down the runway in a few seconds and up into God's blue wonder in the blink of an eye. When we reached the end of the runway (EOR), Bob jerked the stick back toward him, hit the afterburner, and we went vertical for what seemed like 3 miles straight UP into the wild blue yonder!! I took a deep breath, getting ready for a tight turn, knowing the "G" force would be quickly upon us....I could hear the Captain taking his deep breath, breathing quickly and getting into his zone. I looked behind me to see the earth slipping away at a high rate of speed, and watching the air streams from the hot engines hitting the cool atmosphere. What a sight it was to behold, and one I would NEVER ever forget. We were both screaming at the top of our lungs at the beautiful thing that it was. There is no rush like the one of being in a jet and knowing you are going to get the chance to fly it and do all the turns, flips, rolls, and loops that you see them doing on TV. Nothing compares to it people...Do you hear the words coming out of my mouth?!! It is UNBELIEVABLE!!
"Chief, how ya doing back there?" "I'm freakin' awesome sir! This is amazing to be here doing this with you sir! Thank you for giving me the chance!" "Chief, you deserve it man, you do a great job for us here, and we knew you would do great today!" I was humbled, but proud of who and what I was doing back then. I served this country because I loved it and I still DO love my country. I was doing what I thought needed to be done in those days. I'd do it again and again if I could, but I know the younger men and women today will keep the torch burning for me.
"Posing with my pilots"
We headed out over the ocean out of South Carolina....Captain Gift took us down to 100 feet off of the deck! We were doing 300 mph over the ocean, looking down on boats, and ships out in the shipping channels. Pulling back on the stick, we climbed to 18,000ft altitude, leveling off to get our wits about us, and focusing on the next plan of attack. We flew to our free flying zone, and C.B showed me what the RF-4C could do under pressure. "Chief, get yourself ready, we're about to throttle past the speed of Mach 1!!" He pushed the throttle to max speed, then hit the afterburners, and when we Supersonic (760 mph), we felt the plane's power push us back in our seats, and then came the Sonic Boom that always follows that exact moment....WOOOOOW!! Now that was an unbelievable feeling! I screamed into the headset......"We're going ballistic man!!" Captain Gift laughed like the joker....He loved his job!! He then performed loops, rolls, aileron rolls, quarter turns, and finally we flew UPSIDE DOWN for a mile or so. Looking at the earth like that will put it into perspective for sure. No one will ever know the feelings that coursed through my body that day, except the pilots that do that for a living of course. Words can't express the feelings I had that day in that 2 1/2 hours of flight.
"Chief, take the stick....the plane is now in YOUR hands!" Captain Gift placed his hands on the canopy as I pushed the stick to the right to make a hard right turn. I rolled us over and did a few aileron stunts as well. I looped us starting at 2000 ft altitude, going up to 18,000 ft, and back down to 2000 ft altitude and leveling off...."Where in the hell did you learn to fly like that chief?!! I laughed, and said......."Well sir, you won't believe it, but I learned it on Play Station with my son Chris! I guess it does teach you how to fly." He was speechless after that. I flew for a full 30 minutes, going through the mountains of Virginia, and back down to South Carolina, where I gave up control of the aircraft to C.B. What a rush that was! We flew back to Shaw AFB, and called the tower....We had permission to do "Touch n Go's".....where you touch the tires to the runway and quickly hit the throttle to take back off, hence..."Touch n Go" We finally landed and rolled down the taxiway and into my parking spot for 0465. The whole squadron was there, along with my wife and son, to welcome me back to earth. We opened the canopies and Captain Gift stood in his seat, turned and saluted me for a job "well done". "Chief, that was an amazing job young man!" He shook my hand, as I thanked him from my heart for the opportunity to share the skies over the earth with him.....The crowd below us waited for us to clear the jet, then unloaded a fire hose on us to celebrate the flight, and we kept celebrating all the way into flight ops!! I worked with some great men and women in my years of service, and I thank each and every one of them for "having my back" over the years. I would've died for any of them in those days, and still would today if it came down to it. Once a serviceman, always a serviceman is our saying. We are all connected as one even though we have different services....Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard.....We are America!! God Bless us all!
"Back on the Ground"
Toby Keith....Just to add to my story!
- YouTube - Vance AFB JSUPT Video
This is Toby Keith's song, "Red, White, and Blue" Adds to my story and the feelings all of us servicemen and women have towards all of the terrorists in the world.
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