Posted by: E.G. Owens | October 8, 2008

Dedicated to all who serve or have served our country in peacetime or war

KICK THE TIRES AND LIGHT THE FIRES
a salute to military aviation crews everywhere, past and present

by a retired Air Force Fighter Pilot

This is a salute to all those men and women whom serve honorably in our military as ground crews, maintenance personnel and crew chiefs. These airmen are the reason why pilots are able to fly and complete their missions. For it is their dedication to duty and country that I honor them with this blog.

My father used to tell me stories of the missions he flew in Vietnam and how he saw some of his close friends shot down. I remember the somber in his voice and the look on his face as he spoke true of his words. I knew it was from the heart and was difficult for him to talk about. He used to share quotes with me as he told his stories of the war and his years as an Air Force pilot. He said once that…

A “good” landing is one from which you can walk away.  A “great” landing is one after which they can use the airplane again.

Well I grew up with a love of flying. My father used to take my flying and that is where I first learned how as he would allow me to take the wheel. I was hooked at an early age. From then on I knew what I wanted to do. So after highschool graduation I was fortunate enough to attend the Air Force Academy. After I graduated I was assigned to my first fight pilot training base. Thus began my career as a flyer. I was young and so full of myself. But deep inside I remembered all that my father taught me. When I graduated from fighter weapons school I was assigned to and Air Force base on the East Coast. I graduated with honors and was now beginning my F-15 E qualification training. This would be my aircraft. I was so excited to be flying one of the most powerful airplanes ever designed in human history.

Air Force Fighter Jet

Air Force F15E

Little did I know what was brewing in the middle east. The Gulf War was on the horizon. During my qualification training we simulated strafing and bombing runs at a practice base. I must say using live ordinance is an eye opener. But flying low and fast or dog fighting is what a fighter pilot lives for. Well as you know one thing led to another and I was soon on my way to the middle east in support of the Gulf War.

The Gulf War

A day after the deadline set in Resolution, the coalition launched a massive air campaign codenamed Operation Desert Storm with more than 1,000 sorties launching per day. It all began on January 17, 1991, when eight U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopters, and two MH-53 Pave Low helicopters destroyed Iraqi radar sites near the Iraqi-Saudi Arabian border at 2:38 A.M. Baghdad time, which could have warned Iraq of an upcoming attack. At 2:43 A.M. two EF-111 Ravens with terrain following radar led 22 F-15E Strike Eagles against H-2 and H-3 – airfields in Western Iraq. Minutes later one of the EF-111 crews – Captain James Denton and Captain Brent Brandon – killed an Iraqi Dassault Mirage F-1, when their low altitude maneuvering led the F-1 into the ground. At 3 A.M., ten U.S. F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighters under the protection of a three-ship formation of EF-111s bombed Baghdad, the capital.

Iraq’s air force escapes to Iran

The first week of the air war saw a few Iraqi sorties; but these did little damage, and 38 Iraqi MiGs were shot down by Coalition planes. Soon after, the Iraqi Air Force began fleeing to Iran, with 115 to 140 aircraft flown to Iran. The mass exodus of Iraqi aircraft to Iran took coalition forces by surprise as the Coalition had been expecting the aircraft to flee to Jordan, a nation friendly to Iraq rather than Iran, Iraq’s long-time enemy. The Coalition had placed aircraft over Western Iraq to try and stop such a retreat into Jordan. This meant they were unable to react before most of the Iraqi aircraft had made it “safely” to Iranian airbases. The coalition eventually established a virtual “wall” of F-15 Eagle and F-14 Tomcat fighters on the Iraq border with Iran (called MIGCAP) thereby stopping the exodus of fleeing Iraqi fighters. Iran has never returned the aircraft to Iraq and did not release the aircrews home until years later. However, most Iraqi planes remained in Iraq. They were devastated by Coalition aircraft throughout the war. I was one of those F-15 pilots.

None of this would have been possible had it not been for the ground crews, maintenance crews and crew chiefs. These enlisted men and women are of the finest caliber of Americans. It is difficult enough to turn out a perfect aircraft in the best of times. To do so in wartime when rushed, exhausted and under fire is an art form like no other. If only you could have seen them in action with your own eyes.

But now thinking back at what I learned in the Air Force was not just about how good I was or wasn’t. It was the sense of becoming a part of something more important then myself. Becoming part of a community of people with so many skills making personal sacrifices and looking out for each other and getting the job done. I’ve served with some of the finest America has to offer and I would do it all over again if asked.

It was a wonderful experience and I’ll remember it as long as I live. I’ve been lucky to have many great wingman and airmen watch over me. But there is one who has been with me the longest and to me he remains the greatest hero of them all.

My father said that being a fighter pilot was the best job in the world. He also said that going to war was worse then anything I could possibly imagine. I would have to say he was right on both counts.

So, should we be in Iraq, Iran and elsewhere? Yes, as long as certain inalienable rights are the endowment of all people, not just Americans; then the answer is self-evident.

One final note. I’d like to say Thank You to all servicemen and women and American’s who support our military. I was raised to believe in God, Duty and Country. I still do!

In closing I’d like to share with you a poem for Aviators everywhere. I didn’t write this but I will credit the man who did. Now I share it with you.

SOLO

The earth rolls by beneath my wings,
My mind dwells not on other things,
For as my nose points towards the sky,
I can’t believe I’m going to fly.

The years of waiting over now,
My instructor says that I know how,
And as the spinning wheels break free,
I wish that he were here with me.

Higher, higher the ship is lifting,
Racing thoughts my mind is sifting.
What’s that he said on rate of climb?
I wish we’d done this one more time.

Five hundred feet. It’s time to turn,
There is still so much I have to learn.
Ease the yoke and now the rudder,
The trick is not to make her shudder.

Eight hundred feet, another turn,
This time there’s not as much concern,
Throttle back and trim her out,
Seems there’s less to care about.

Downwind check now, just in case,
Runway’s on the left, some place?
Carb heat on and lots of power,
Oh God I’ve got to call the Tower.

Victoria Tower! I call my name,
Why no answer? Is this a game?
Radio set, I know it’s right,
Settle down, no time for fright.

Crackle, crackle, I hear him talking,
Straight ahead, not time for gawking,
Cleared to land, it’s said and done,
Thank the Lord, I’m number one.

The heart inside me seems to race,
As I ease her onto base,
Power back, she starts to sink,
Easy does it, time to think.

Nose up trim, at seventy knots,
Six hundred feet is all I’ve got.
Turn for final, almost over,
On the blacktop, not the clover.

Hold her level ‘til the last,
My! The runway’s moving fast.
Hold the nose up, gee I’m clever,
Seems she wants to fly forever.

Thump! I’m down! It feels so good,
Nothing to it, I knew I could.
Take heart my friend and have a try,
For now I know that I can fly.

by Patrick J. Phillips

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