I am not sure why these memories keep coming up, perhaps it is because Memorial Day is approaching or maybe I am getting closer to the six foot hole at the end. We owe a debt to those who have raised their right arm and taken the oath of enlistment or officer's oath of commission. Anyway this incident occurred North of 50 years ago at Webb Air Force Base, Big Spring, Texas. --- No I never did find the "big spring". I was half way through the UGPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training) crucible. My class - 65-Delta had progressed to the Northrup T-38 Talon; a twin engine (GE-J-85 engined) supersonic trainer - with after burners. My first instructor's call sign was "Apache", at the briefing table his voice was calm. Mellow and collected, but in the aircraft his voice rose at least three octaves. He was near the end of his commitment and did not wish one of his students to do a stupid thing that would end his flying career or worse end his life. The Second was Captain German - a real gentleman. And then a newbie came by a 2nd Lieutenant just out of Instructor Pilot School. His name escapes me now, but he was a pretty cool dude. Anyway I got assigned to him as I was considered at that stage a pretty safe bet that I would not endanger myself or my IP. This particular mission was a flight of two - formation flight. We lined up on the runway with "lead a dual" and me number two also dual. I was given the signal to runup the engines to be sure both were in the proper parameters. Note: the thrust of two engines at military power necessitated foot force on the brakes to keep in place. Lead was taken his sweet time viewing the various gages - my foot force was weakening and my mind kept saying - HURRY up for God's sake. Finally the Student in the front seat looked over at me for the favorable sign that I was O.K. Then the head bob forward which meant - go over the detent and light the twin afterburners. Lead usually went to burner, which gave number two the ability to advance or retard as necessary to stay in the proper position. No need to read instruments as when lead's nose wheel rotated to takeoff attitude I would do the same. Off we roared and being an advanced student in formation flying I was right where I was supposed to be - barely wing tip clearance and some 15-20 degrees aft of his wing tip.
So then the normal routine - gear up - flaps up - unhook the zero delay lanyard of our parachute. Out of the Base pattern and out to the Practice area. Then we would do the normal routines of the curriculum. One of them was what we called a "rejoin". It was initiated by Lead with a wing wag followed by a 60 degree two G turn usually to the left. Number two was (me) count to four - one, one thousand - two, one thousand, etc. until I got to four and then turn to the left the same with a 60 degree two G turn and then use superior speed to rejoin on Lead's left wing. This by this time was "old hat" we had done so many that the rejoin was now routine. I was to the point that I could safely judge the closure rate to just get on the left wing like I was born to it. Anyway, prior to getting close to lead - a streak of another T-38 went over our top - perhaps closer than 15 feet - exactly opposite our heading. My speed was 400 Knots and I am sure his was close to the same. Closure speed of 800 knots - over in a mini second. My initial response was to push the stick forward to the STOP. But, the incident was over - over, so I reduced back pressure to neutral and uttered a profane statement. Note: The elevator on the aircraft was powered by 3,000 pounds of hydraulic pressure and the full down force made it like a barn door in the atmosphere. If I had held full forward stick - probably structural failure would have resulted. Anyway, I was so startled and frightened that I started hyperventilating. But my 2nd leui IP had the answer - "you can come off Oxygen, Stiegelmeyer" So there we were - I collected myself and we completed the mission
If we had hit - the explosion would have been spectacular, but no one would have seen it - and likely four military funerals would have resulted; also, no marriage to Sharon no Suzanne, Stephani, or Scott and no seven grandchildren. Each day I have is a blessing, I am indeed grateful I have survived this long -81 years this next July. .
Note: there were no Participation Trophies in the Air Force each flight was graded U-unsatisfactory, F - fair, G -good, E- excellent. I received mostly G and a few E's - whether one ended up first or last in grades we all received the same silver wings of PILOT. We lost two because they could not control their fear and one who could not memorize the bold print of our checklists also one who could not fly. It's just not easy. Persevere, Adapt, And Overcome!
Blessings to all. God Bless America. On Memorial Day find a Vet and give him/her a smile and thumbs up.