First Airplane Flight of this Boy from the Mountains
Every since I was a youngster I have always been intrigued by airplanes. We lived in the flight path of commercial airplanes that flew into two airports (Asheville Regional and Greenville-Spartanburg) and one Air Force base near the city of Greenville, South Carolina, Donaldson Air Force Base. When playing outside I could see those big C124 Gobemasters as they flew low in the sky with their distinctive orange wing tips and tails clearly visible. Occasionally fighter jets flew low over the mountains flying sorties on training exercises. On occasion a sonic boom thundered and the jets could not be seen as they broke the sound barrier. The booms rolled through the hills and hollers of our Blue Ridge mountain community.
Like most boys with a vivid imagination flying one of those fighters was often in my dreams. I have always held this fascination of flying which was in part motivated by Superman one of my favorite television programs and one of my childhood heroes. Flying through the air faster than a speeding bullet without a care in the world. One of my close friends even donned a bath towel and jumped from the families barn loft thinking he was Superman. Luckily all he got was a broken collar bone and the stark reality boys can't fly. I also was fascinated by the birds in nature and sometimes watched as they flew effortlessly especially the Redtail hawks, crows, and sometimes Turkey vultures soar effortlessly catching the updraft breezes curling up through the valleys filling the wings on those magnificent birds . They all made it all look so easy and gave me a desire to one day fly.
Along came the Viet Nam war and after my high school graduation and not able to go on to college, I decided to join the Air Force. It would take four years to complete my enlistment and would afford me an opportunity to at least be able to fly in airplanes. I also knew I would never be a pilot because my education and aptitudes did not fit the criteria for becoming a pilot. As an airmen in the USAF I did know I would at least be around some of the best aircraft in this countries arsenal.
At 18 years of age I left my induction center in Charlotte, NC where the new recruits were going for basic training to Amarillo AFB Amarillo,Texas. We were our given flight tickets and the excitement began to build. I was somewhat apprehensive at first because during the summer prior to my induction, a commercial airplane had collided with a Cessna near my hometown and all the passengers were killed.
Soon we boarded our 727 Eastern flight which would take us to Amarillo with two stops along the way.It was amazing looking into the Captains cabin and see all those dials and knobs that would be used to fly the plane. For a country boy it all seemed surreal. I remember how I felt when the plane taxied down the runway and the power of those jet engines forcing me to set back in my middle seat. The flight was just a little over an hour and the sensation was nothing I had ever experienced and the only thing that ever came close was putting the petal to the metal on a friends new Chevy that had a 327 engine under the hood.. As we landed on our first stop and touched down, those mighty jet engines were reversed to help us stop.
Over the course of the next four years, I logged many hours of flying time in both commercial and military aircraft. While in Alaska for my last year of active duty, my first flight to Galena AFB was ironically in one of those C124's I had seen as a kid flying over our mill village of Tuxedo, NC. The craft had been altered and was now a military passenger plane. At Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, I saw the remaining C124's parked on a dead runway, rarely used and now in moth balls.
I spent the next 12 months serving on a remote isolated ACW Radar site counting down each day before my tour would be over and I'd board a Freedom Bird to carry me back to Elmendorf AFB for my discharge. This flight would inevitable be on the old reliable C130 but we caught a tailwind after leaving Fairbanks and the extra push brought us into Elmendorf AFB a good 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
The fascination of fighter aircraft still hold a special intrigue for me I suppose because my first duty assignment was as a support person for the F101 Voo doo fighters with the 52 Supply Sq a division then of 1st Air Force at Suffolk County AFB, Long Island, NY. The base was closed in the early 1970's and the F101's deployed to an ANG base. We also had the T33's.
Although these days my opportunities to fly are zero, I still enjoy seeing the Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels perform. During my enlistment (1968-1972) the aircraft used by both special teams were the F4 Phanthom's. I once had an opportunity to have a flight in one of those bad boys when I was selected NCO of the quarter but gave me opportunity to another airman, something I have always regretted. I bet sitting in the back seat of one of those bad boys with all those G's would spread your facial cheeks and would have been the thrill of a lifetime.
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