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Short Runway

    

It’s been a year since I retired.  After decades of high-intensity work, we all think retirement means endless, idle days on the brink of boredom.

Not so.

  

I keep running out of time, to do things I want to do.  Maybe my bucket list is too long.  Maybe I’m keenly aware that time is short now.  I’m in a position where I can afford things that I need and want.  Except time.

No one can buy more time.

  

So there is a persistent urge to prioritize.  Release burdens, discard mediocrity, resist complexity, leave Facebook fools behind.  I am keenly aware that I will never get to read all the unread books on my shelves and in my Kindle.  It’s time to choose.  Biographies and history now take precedence over flying technique and airplanes.

The last time my medical certificate was renewed for my pilot license, I had a scare – quickly diagnosed as an x-ray machine error.  Still, it was a hint that ageing pilots might soon run out of runway.  A wise person told me to set a deadline – two or five years, whatever.  Then I should walk away from flying, on my own terms, all my ambitions achieved.  That way, nobody could take them away.

       

I had more flying hours this year than in the past three years combined.

    

One thinks that deadlines disappear after retirement.  Maybe.  I find myself now traveling at my leisure.  A month in Tuscany, ten days in Normandy, and Paris, a fortnight with my sister in San Francisco.  I have many airline miles.

Still, one deadline tugs at my consciousness.  Friends and relatives are passing on.  At my school reunions, the tradition to recite the names of classmates who had passed took 5 minutes.  We decided that the damn tradition was too depressing, and quit it. 

What an unfortunate word that is – dead-line.

  

So, I’m constantly pruning my bucket list.  Oshkosh.  The 75th anniversary of D-Day.  Duxford’s Flying Legends.  Family and friends.  Dinners with my sons.  Fly a jet, a P-51, a DC-3 rating, some outrageous aviation thing.  Read. 

As I wrote this Christmas card for readers of Flying in Crosswinds, I gazed a bit at my “retirement desk.”

  

Retirement Desk

  

Piles of diaries.  The Aston-Martin from “Casino Royale.”  Two Nativity tableaus, featuring the Magi — a research project.  A crystal model of Mont Saint Michel.  A hilltop village made of tree bark, from the Nuremberg Christmas Market.

A replica of Patton’s prayer card for good weather during the Battle of the Bulge.  Business cards, and, under that but definitely there, a photo of the last sunset my dear friend John saw, as he died on the day of the Magi.  An unseen reminder of The Deadline.

   

Projects, mementos of people and characters I loved, cheerful dreams and aspirations, and a pen.  It will be an extremely busy retirement.

  

May you all have a magical Christmas, and a New Year full of dreams come true!

  

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Posted from Manila

December 24, 2018

 

 

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TOP GUN 2 Plot Revealed !

     

Spoiler Alert:  THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS.  Those readers not willing to learn the plot of the upcoming blockbuster TOP GUN 2 should delete all links to this article, and stop reading HERE.     

  

  

Arabian Gulf, Present Day… .

 

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File photo of the aircraft carrier at port

We are on board the aircraft carrier [name redacted], steaming in an undisclosed location near the Persian Gulf.  We are in the Combat Information Center, CIC, the nerve center of the aircraft carrier during hostilities.  The duty crew was tense.

    

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Combat Information Center, USS Hornet, somewhere in the Arabian Gulf  

    

Unknown to us, an international incident was already unfolding.

“Ghostrider, this Mustang.  I have incoming bogies bearing 179, range 90.”

  

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   Incoming bogie bearing 179, 90 miles.

The Battle Group commander, Admiral Tolkan, call sign “Stinger,” asked the air intercept controller about who was on Alert 5:  the fighters already spotted on the catapults, ready to be launched within 5 minutes.

“Icegirl, in the Super Hornet.”  The air intercept controller paused, then added, “And Maverick and Gosling.”

  

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   Maverick and Gosling

  

The entire CIC groaned.  Maverick was still flying?

“Great.  Maverick and Gosling.”  The Admiral, wishing he didn’t have to, ordered, “Launch the Alert 5.”

“Uh, the ladder seems to be broken, sir.  They’re having trouble boarding Maverick and Gosling.”

  

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   “Mav, get your butt in that cockpit!”

 

The bogies were inbound at Mach 1, so they launched, “Icegirl” as a solo element, and she went out and destroyed the MiGs with her missiles, and was very heroic.  She came back and recovered on the carrier, cheered wildly by the crew.  Her father, CAG Tom “Iceman” Kazanski, was at the foot of the ladder.  “You can be my wingman any time,” father shouted to daughter.  “Bullshit,” she laughed.  “You’re transferring me to drones next month!”

  

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"You can be my wingman any time!"

 

Meanwhile, “Maverick” and “Gosling” were trying to avoid again being fragged to a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong.  They spotted a Harrier packing bombs, and recalled the movie where Slim Pickens rode a thermonuclear bomb out of a B-52.

  

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Dr. Strangelove, True Lies

 

But it was a fuel tank, not a bomb, on that Harrier.  Finally they hit on another movie inspiration, and decided to take The Flight of the Intruder.

 

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Last known photo of Maverick and Gosling

  

They launched the A-6 on an unauthorized sortie.  They never came back.  The loss of “Gosling”is especially tragic given that he is the son of Lt. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, an F-14 RIO killed in a training accident in 1986. 

Many theories developed at Naval Intelligence, CIA and allied intelligence agencies.  A stubborn rumor. fed by a blurred photo, insists that “Gosling” is a suffering castaway on the beach in Bora Bora.

The mystery remains unsolved.  Watch out for TOP GUN 3.

 

 

Posted from Fremont, CA
November 22, 2018
American Thanksgiving Day

  

  

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TOP GUN 3 Publicity Photo

Have you seen this missing pilot?  Call 1-800-BRINGTHEMBACK

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Arlington

  

  

May 28, 2018 is Memorial Day in the United States.  This day in 2017 I was traveling to Amsterdam through Chicago O’Hare, where there was a display honoring fallen military servicemen and women.  Five days later I flew back east to Washington DC.  There I met up with a TOPGUN instructor at the Udvar-Hazy Center.  Before leaving Washington DC I dropped by Arlington National Cemetery.

  

Memorial Day at Chicago O'Hare

Memorial Day at Chicago O’Hare, 2017

     

     

  

  

Arlington is a paradox.  It’s sad but uplifting.  Stark but comforting.  Graves surround you, yet you are honored to be among a multitude of heroes who fulfilled a higher call.

  

The Marines at Iwo Jima

 The Marines at Iwo Jima. 

We drove past the Marine Corps War Memorial and walked through the gates of one of the most famous cemeteries in the world.  I went against the crowds headed for John F. Kennedy’s grave.  I wanted to see the pilots.

  

'Pete'Quesada, father of tac-air.  Pappy Boyington, Black Sheep Squadron

‘Pete’ Quesada, Tac-Air pioneer.  Pappy Boyington, Black Sheep, Medal of Honor.

      

Pete Quesada’s tactical air force supported General George S. Patton’s drive all across France, acting as a virtual army protecting the Third Army’s flanks.  The irrepressible Pappy Boyington led one of the most successful fighter squadrons in the Pacific.  James Doolittle, whose diminutive headstone is all the more eye-catching, was awarded the Medal of Honor for flying land bombers from an aircraft carrier to raid Japan just four months after Pearl Harbor.  Unknown to many pilots, he also pioneered the concept and practice of instrument flight. 

James Doolittle, Tokyo Raider

James Doolittle, Tokyo Raider, Medal of Honor

I visited other aviators.  Joe Foss and Marion Carl, both Marine Corps pilots and aces.  Joe Foss was a Medal of Honor awardee.  Claire Chennault, father of the famous Flying Tigers in China is buried here.  Gary Powers, shot down on his clandestine U-2 flight over the Soviet Union, is also buried here. 

I passed other famous graves.  Omar Bradley is here, Army Group Commander in WWII and later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Berlin crisis.  Five stars.  “Lightning” Joe Collins served under Bradley as VII Corps Commander at Normandy, the liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge.  He was Army Chief of Staff during the Korean war.  Four stars on his marker.  George S. Patton IV is here, son of the World War II general.  His father is buried in Luxembourg. 

  

Omar Bradley.  'Lightning' Joe Collins.

Omar Bradley.  ‘Lightning’ Joe Collins.

      

I re-focused.  There was one more pilot on my list, a long walk.  I passed a military burial.  They fired the volley of shots, and then a bugler on a hill sounded Taps.  The bugler really does stand on a distant hill.  I thought that was just in the movies. 

I found her on a far lot.  The first woman to fly fast jets in an operational Navy squadron: the A-6 Intruder, and then the F-14 Tomcat.  She ejected a fraction of a second too late from her F-14 during a landing mishap on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.  To this day there are those who take pains to declare that the crash proved she didn’t deserve to be an F-14 pilot, that women were coddled through military jet training.  But that’s for another article.

 

Kara Hultgreen, call sign 'Revlon'

Kara Hultgreen, call sign ‘Revlon’

 

I said a short prayer.  She was a carrier pilot, after all, serving her country.  She was only 29 years old. 

I walked the long road back to the gate.  At the gift shop, I saw the headlines. 

     

D-Day Headlines

June 6, 1944 D-Day headline.

 

It was June 6, 2017. 

  

  

Posted from Manila

May 29, 2018

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David Baranek, call sign ‘Bio,’ was an F-14 naval aviator, became a TOPGUN instructor, the Commanding Officer of an F-14 fighter squadron, and a book author.  He flew in the movie ‘TOP GUN’ and helped write the dialogue.  When I grow up, I want to be like my friend ‘Bio.’

     

David 'Bio'Baranek, F-14 Squadron Commander

       David ‘Bio’ Baranek, F-14 Squadron Commander

  

  

David and I first connected on Facebook, and then I met him in person almost exactly a year ago, in the US.  He toured me around the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center, and signed one of his books for me. 

     

Facebook friends meeting for the first time at David's book signing, Udvar-Hazy CenterFacebook friends meeting for the first time at David's book signing, Udvar-Hazy Center

Facebook friends meet in June 2017, at David’s book signing, Udvar-Hazy Center.

        

Tonet and David in front of the F-14 at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center

In front of a real F-14, with a real TOPGUN Instructor.  Doesn’t get better than this.

       

That evening David and his wife Laura joined Shirl and me for dinner in Washington DC.  And F-14 stories, TOPGUN stories, and carrier deployment stories.  A year later, I regret not having asked him a bazillion other questions.

  

Dinner with Laura and David in Washington DC.

Dinner with Shirl, Laura and David in Washington DC.

           

I found David’s book, TOPGUN DAYS, in the big Kinokuniya bookstore in Singapore on May 13, 2011.  May 13 just happened to be “TOP GUN Day,” the day the movie premiered in 1986.  I devoured the book, reviewed it on Facebook and got copies for pilot friends.   

Remember the iconic scene where ‘Maverick’ and ‘Goose’ flew inverted over the ‘MiG-28?’   Well, David was the Radar Intercept Officer in the ‘MiG-28,’ in reality an F-5F from the TOPGUN ‘Aggressor’  squadron

     

'Bio' Baranek in the movie 'TOP GUN.'

‘Bio’ Baranek points to himself, then a TOPGUN instructor, flying in the movie.

        

He also wrote radio and intercom dialogue for the training missions and dogfights.  After shooting wrapped, he and his wife Laura attended the cast and crew party. 

    

David and Laura with Tom Cruise at the TOP GUN cast party

David and his wife Laura with Tom Cruise at the ‘TOP GUN’ cast party.  Tom Cruise is on the right and David is on the left.  In case you were wondering.

     

David’s inside stories about the movie are in the book.  And there’s a lot more. 

TOPGUN DAYS thoroughly portrays the intensity and focus needed to join “the elite, the best of the best.”  The best pilots and RIO’s from each class really did get invited to become instructors in the school.  Their mission was to graduate the absolute best fighter pilots in the world.  It is inspiring to read David’s account of the “murder boards,” and all the complex preparation for training sorties.  He accurately describes the studious mastery needed to squeeze the maximum performance from the F-14 and its radar and weapons systems.  

Every boy from Orville Wright to Luke Skywalker dreamed of flying in jet fighters, and there are none better than TOPGUN instructors.  David lived the life we dreamed of as kids.

     

Too many stories, too little time.

Too many stories, too little time.

  

David’s second book, BEFORE TOPGUN DAYS, is a prequel.  It dives into David’s aviation training, filled with anecdotes of his first years of flying for the fleet.   

On his first 7-month cruise David deployed with fighter squadron VF-24 on the aircraft carrier USS Constellation in 1981.

Wait – my cousin Albert was in the same Tomcat squadron on that same ship, that year.  It turns out that they remember each other well!  I recall seeing Albert at a brief family reunion in Manila when his carrier docked at Subic Bay on the way to the Indian Ocean.  Meanwhile, David was at Subic taking cockpit video of his Tomcat taking off from Cubi Naval Air Station. 

  

VF-24 F-14 Tomcat airborne Subic, 1981

VF-24 F-14 Tomcat airborne Subic, 1981, screenshot from Bio’s cockpit video

 

Thirty years later, I flew my airplane off that very same runway.  My 1,600-pound Cessna 152 and David’s 60,000-pound F-14 probably used up the same amount of runway before taking off!  F-14s are awesome but there is no doubt a 152 is superior in takeoff field length, haha. 

  

On December 19, 1981, David and his squadron CO trapped on the carrier and caught the #4 wire … which turned out to be inadequately tensioned.  ‘Bio’ ejected himself and his pilot just as the airplane went off the flight deck into the Indian Ocean.  His video account of the ejection and recovery is both tense and funny.

  

Split-second before David and pilot eject as F-14 goes over the side

 Split-second before David and pilot eject as F-14 goes over the side.

     

David also rode out a single-engine catapult shot and recovery on the USS Ranger on another cruise, in the South China Sea, September, 1983.  A thrilling account of that episode is here, by the pilot of the Tomcat.

David later became the CO of VF-211, then fulfilled assignments with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US 7th Fleet.  He retired after 20 years in the Navy, and is now a defence contractor. 

David was an enthusiastic photographer during his Navy career, and has an impressive collection of photos, many of which have been commercially published on the internet.

     

Photo by Airfighters.com/David Baranek

Photo by Dave Baranek in Airfighters.com

     

Dave Baranek has a lot of stories to tell.  Read his books.  There’s a review and an excerpt here for you to enjoy, along with some of his photos.
  
https://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/what-it-was-like-being-a-topgun-instructor-while-they-f-1655347873

  

Or browse his website, http://www.topgunbio.com/.  There are dozens of photos, videos, and anecdotes there, plus links to many interesting websites.   He is writing his third book.

  

Tomcats forever! 

     

Shirl, Tomcat, 'Bio.'

Shirl, Tomcat, ‘Bio.’

     

     

Posted from Manila

May 13, 2018

   

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Air Combat

    

    

April 27, 2016 was one of the best entries in my pilot logbook:  Air Combat Manoeuvring — “dogfighting.”  Air Combat USA was an outfit in Fullerton Airport, California.  We showed up at their hangar for a pre-booked flight.  Suddenly our world changed.  We were on an aircraft carrier.  We were about to launch into air combat against a real pilot, in a real fighter airplane, with badass ex-Navy and ex-Marine fighter pilots.

There were two little boys in those Marchetti SF-260 fighter airplanes that day.

     

     

Now, two years later, my former adversary Paolo sits all grown up in the cockpit of an A-330 airliner.  In fighter pilot lingo he is “flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong.”

    

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Paolo ready to go Mach 2 with his hair on fire.    

 

But two years ago, he travelled trans-Pacific the day before our knife fight and pleaded jet-lag.  He also claimed that he spent the night with “Charlie.”  Yeah, right.  I texted him that Charlie and I were already at the beach playing half-naked volleyball with Maverick and Goose.

We met at Fullerton and stepped through the looking glass.  We were instantly in an aircraft carrier fighter squadron ready room.  Within minutes we were ordered to the locker room to put our flight gear on. 

     

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Air Combat USA ‘Ready Room.’  

 

We considered recreating the locker beefcake scene from the movie. 

“Yes, Ice…man.  I am dangerous.” 

Tim, Paolo’s Dad, threatened to walk out if we stripped down to towels.  So we put our flight suits on and sat for the briefing.

    

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Tonet and Paolo

        

An ex-F-14 Navy jock, call sign ‘Spartan,’ ran the one-hour brief.  The biggest thing on the board was “LOOK GOOD AT ALL COSTS.”  The Marchetti SF260s we would fly had three video cameras – cockpit camera from behind looking forward; gun sight camera; and the ‘hero’ camera, which looked back at the pilots and was always on.  If your breakfast came up again, the hero camera would record the ballistics of every disgusting barf.

    

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LOOK GOOD AT ALL COSTS   

 

Then there was the cryptic “IYAC YAT” on the whiteboard.  “If You Ain’t Cheating, You Ain’t Trying.”  So the playbook allowed shady tactics?  These would be covered in the airplane after take off, we were told.

    

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IYAC YAT    

 

I went into the ladies room by mistake and the wisecracks were predictable. 

“The trophy for the alternates is down in the ladies room!”  Yeah, cracked me up.

We slipped into our parachute harnesses, then swaggered out on deck.  We hammed TOP GUN poses beside the airplanes.  We shamelessly pretended to shake hands.  The trash talk was personal and unforgiving.  ‘TOPGUN’ dialogue lines were abused again and again.

    

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The trash talk was personal and unforgiving.    

 

My engine wouldn’t start.  Paolo taxied out ahead, chortling.  My IP, an ex-Marine F-18 pilot, call sign ‘Mac,’ cycled our boost pump and the Lycoming O-540 fired.  After a formation take off we tested our guns on the way to the range.  When you triggered the Marchetti’s guns, a laser beam fired at the target airplane.  If you hit him, his laser sensors would ignite a smoke trail.  There would be no arguments about who won.

Watch the video of our aerial battle.  The barrel roll attack tutorial is interesting.  Paolo and I shot each other down in the first two practice dogfights, then we went at it tooth and nail.  Dogfights #3 and #4 were easy kills for me, since Paolo was focused on keeping his breakfast down.

    

Well if you were directly above him, how could you see him?  Because I was inverted.       “Well if you were directly above him, how could you see him?”

Because I was inverted.”

     

Then we squared off for dogfight #5. 

The video is worth watching just for this one dogfight.  We flashed past each other head on, left-to-left, then Paolo daringly went vertical, pulling straight up into the sky.  He rounded the top of the shuddering loop and dove.  I pulled a 4.5G split-S, my body weighed four and a half times normal and my Marchetti nibbled at the stall buffet as I tried to pull my targeting reticle onto him and light him up with my guns.  

    

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“You can run, kid, but you can’t hide.”

    

Paolo kicked off a miraculous recovery by wrenching his Marchetti into another high-G vertical egg, squeezing every bit of performance from his airplane. 

     

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“He’s still coming, he’s still back there.  C’mon Mav, do some of that pilot sh*t!”

    

After three mind-blackening vertical turns it was clear that Paolo had gained the edge, pulling tighter and flirting more daringly with the stall buffet.  He was almost on my tail.  ‘Mac’ suggested I reverse my turn, and I made it worse by hesitating in level flight for two seconds.  I realized my mistake and desperately rolled 90 degrees more to the right, but Paolo was already there.

     

Subtitles Air Combat six Dogfights16 05 21 Final Synced Subtitles Complete-005

Subtitles Air Combat six Dogfights16 05 21 Final Synced Subtitles Complete-007”Goose, I WANT Viper”

     

Clearly, he was quite motivated to kill me.

He slashed in almost at right angles to me, a tough 90-degree deflection shot, where the target airplane was flashing perpendicularly across his nose.   He was also in a high closure rate, but his timing was exquisite as he held the trigger down. 

    

Subtitles Air Combat six Dogfights16 05 21 Final Synced Subtitles Complete

Subtitles Air Combat six Dogfights16 05 21 Final Synced Subtitles Complete-002

The Defense Department regrets to inform you that your sons are dead because they were stupid.

  

‘Mac’ and I were toast.  Eject, eject, eject.

   

Blood in his eyes, Paolo wanted one more.  ‘Spartan’ and ‘Mac’ set us up head on again, and then Paolo and I took over our respective controls.  Dogfight #6.

As we neared each other, nearly head on, I slammed the stick left, even before ‘Spartan’ announced, “Fight’s on.”  IYAC YAT!  My Marchetti instantly rolled wings vertical.  As Paolo predictably went vertical again, I slipped across his loop, and it was my turn to rake him as he crossed my nose.  Guns, guns, guns, and it was over.

    

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 “Say hello to my little friend!”

       

“Say hello to my little friend!”  Mac rubbed it in with the Al Pacino’s line from ‘Scarface.’  Fighter pilots are suckers for movie lines.

     

We flew home in tight formation, pumped up and basking in the smug realization that for the rest of the day our shit would smell good.  Heroes.

 

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"We’re going home, Viper has the lead."

    

Los Alamitos Army Airfield, on our route home, made our day when they requested a low flyby.  Goose, it’s time to buzz the tower. 

“Marchetti Ball!”  We recovered with overhead breaks just like they do at aircraft carriers.  On the ramp they thought I had to be helped out of the cockpit.  I just sat there not wanting it to end.

At the debrief we watched both SD cards unreel in perfect synchronization.  Shirl, Paolo’s Mom and Dad, and my cousins Rico (United B777 Captain) and Jeepy (retired B747 Captain) snickered at our self-awe.‘

13256490_10153723575542857_8528318652359547966_n-00113220928_10153723574417857_7545210701070121694_n“Gutsiest move I ever saw, Mav.”

 

It was worth every cent.  Today, two years later, Air Combat USA is transitioning to new ownership, and I really hope they sort things out quickly, because I want to do this again.  And again.  And again.  Heck, Paolo even bid for the airline equipment that will get him into the LAX area for layovers.  Layovers my ass. 

    

    

Posted from Manila

April 27, 2018

Two years later

Time to Write, Time to Fly

 

Something changed this year.  After 37 years of working, the planets aligned on a perfect opportunity to choose when to work and what to work on. 

Planetary alignments don’t happen often.  I seized the opportunity. 

Stress has been my constant companion in the recent years.  Being the Chief Supply Chain Officer of a $4 Billion global company is truly a 24×7 job.  There is always a region in the world that is awake, and our non-stop worldwide operations kept me heavily engaged 18-20 hours a day.

That ended this year.  I am now financially independent.  More importantly, I now have the time to fly, and to write.

 

 

It’s been a wild year!  On top of redirecting my passions from management to retirement, I was gifted with the golden aviation nuggets.  There are so many stories to tell.  Now there is time to tell them all.

Our beloved airplane, a 1978 Cessna 152, had its engine overhauled in the UK. 

  

Our Lycoming is back from MOH at Norvic, England.

  

Our Lycoming came back from major overhaul in Norvic, England, with new cylinder sets, crank bearings, ring gear and idler gear sets, Slicks, ignition harness, carburettor, Warp Drive with flux capacitor, new wallet with smaller compartments for money… .  Beam me up, Scotty, there is no cash left down here!  Two months of excellent craftsmanship and 3 months of assembly and paperwork later, our engine is installed, fully checked out and nearly brand new.  The airplane is performing solidly according to book values, if not better.

 

In the San Francisco Bay area, I chanced upon another flying display by the Collings Foundation World War II Warbirds.  They had a B-17, B-24, P-51 and a B-25 on the ramp at Moffet Field.  They were offering rides, and a chance to fly right seat in the B-25, a twin-engine medium bomber made famous by the Doolittle Raid.

I seized the day.

  

B-25 "Tondelayo

   

Then, just a week later, a visit to the Commemorative Air Force museum and ramp in Phoenix AZ gave me my first close-up look at an F-4 Phantom, which I actually kissed and tried to hug. 

  

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They let me climb all over their famous B-17, ‘Sentimental Journey.’  The B-17 has been a piece of the True Cross for me since childhood.  I spent an hour alone inside it.  They were doing some maintenance on it on the ramp, and nobody even glanced at me as I personally shot down hordes of Messerschmitts and flew it home on three engines.  I seized that day, too.

  

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But probably the best story of the year is my visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, both to the Washington DC museum and in the Udvar-Hazy Center.  There, beside the F-14 Tomcat, I finally met a Facebook friend, David ‘Bio’ Baranek, former TOP GUN instructor, squadron commander and now author of two outstanding books about flying in the Tomcat.

     

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Those of you who don’t recognize him might remember him as one of the stars in the 1986 iconic movie, TOPGUN.  No, he wasn’t ‘Viper’ or ‘Jester’ or even ‘Maverick.’  David was the RIO, the Bear, the Guy in the Back Seat, in the ‘MiG-28.’  With a red star on his black helmet, David was in the F-5 that terrorized ‘Cougar’ until Maverick flew inverted on top of his canopy.

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Doesn’t get better than that – an F-14 RIO and TOP GUN instructor, who was in the movie TOPGUN, who helped write the script, and who went on to command an F-14 Fleet squadron on an aircraft carrier.  David and his wonderful wife Laura joined us for dinner that evening in Washington DC.  I would have had dinner with him in Timbuktu.  I didn’t just seize that day – I hugged it tight.

I am still hoping to invite ‘Bio’ Baranek to my country to meet some of our military pilots and maybe give us a talk.  I really treasure our friendship. 

  

Santa_Refueling

  

 

There are scores of stories for this year.  I promise to write them all.  Now it’s time to go to Christmas Eve mass.  To all our readers and friends, please have a truly Merry Christmas and a healthy, happy New Year!

  

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Posted by Tonet from Manila

24 December 2017

Santa Cat

  

In December 2000, The aircraft carrier USS George Washington transited the Mediterranean, bound for Norfolk, her home port.  It had been a long cruise in the Arabian Sea for Operation Southern Watch, responding to the terrorist attack on the USS Cole, and joining the search and recovery of a missing Gulf Air airliner.  She also cruised the Adriatic for NATO exercise Destined Glory and covered the first free elections in Serbia.  After port calls in Corfu, Naples, Trieste and Palma de Majorca, the GW and her air wing sailed for Christmas at home.  

  

To celebrate, Fighter Squadron VF-103 painted one of their F-14B Tomcats in Christmas colours, decorating their famous “Jolly Rogers” livery with a Santa hat and crossed candy canes.  It became known in Tomcat lore as the ‘Santa Cat.’

 

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Fourteen years later, Century Wings released a 1/72 scale die-cast model of the ‘Santa Cat.  It was a collectors’ item, with only 1,200 made.  I had to get one, even if the e-Bay price had gone supersonic since release.

  

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Like every kid who loves airplanes, I slapped plastic scale models together before puberty.  Decades later, I decided to get serious about the hobby, and eked out a slow build of an aircraft carrier deck diorama for the Santa Cat.

  

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I dressed up my tiny “Village People” deck crew — camo pants, bare torsos and all, and inhaled copious vapours of air brush paint.  I used up an eye shadow compact before discovering Tamiya’s weathering pastels.  After taking over the dining table for several weeks, I finally finished the damn thing.

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That night, when all through the deck, not a creature was stirring, I spotted a stowaway on my aircraft carrier.  There, behind the catapult ‘shooter’, was an extra crew member.  My hair stood on end.  Who the heck was that?!

  

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The mysterious fellow was soon surrounded by the cat crew and squadron safety officers.  Up in Pri-Fly, the Air Boss tore at his hair.  But CAG had authorized the evolution.  A new aircraft was to be switched onto the catapult.

  

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The Santa Cat made way for a new strike package.  The deck operators had their hands full with fresh paperwork for the new launch.  They were stupefied by the weight boards.  The vehicles’ payloads maxed out the catapult’s rating. 

  

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Eventually we sorted it all out.  The Madagascar Penguins ensured discipline, the deck crew preserved operational efficiency and, er, everyone pitched in with the Christmas Spirit. 

  

   

   

  

Another year has gone by, an extremely busy year.  Looking back, i was lucky to have found the time for the diorama, and to fly again at Air Combat USA, six dogfights against a fellow pilot and ACM enthusiast. 

We wish all our readers a very Happy Christmas! 

  

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Postscript:  A friend on Facebook alerted me to a new photo from the USS George Washington.  Life is imitating art!  US Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Wyatt L. Anthony,, a week ago.

  

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Posted from Manila, Philippines

24 December, 2016

  

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