HOW TO BE MARRIED TO A MARINE FIGHTER PILOT--A Marine Corps pilot's wife: F-4s, F/A-18s and aviators from my perspective.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Aviator Brief IV: To Eject or Not to Eject (#2)

Stu Mosbey, while landing behind a DC-10 in Yuma, got caught in the wake turbulence--in the days before safe separation was established--his F-4 flipped upside down--a bad position to eject from close to the ground. Did he panic? Did he try to eject anyway? Did he crash and burn? Nope. He lit the afterburners and flew it out. Mosbey’s Aerial Circus Act. “Hey, Stu, You should take that one on the road with the Blue Angels.”

If the afterburners wouldn’t fly you out, there were three ways to eject from a fighter. The first required reaching up above the helmet with both hands, and grasping the face curtain--not an actual curtain, just a striped loop--then pulling down, putting the elbows in a safe position for launch. The second method required reaching between the legs and pulling up on the ejection handle, another striped loop.

The third method was not to eject. This has only been successful once. A pilot making a red-eye tracking run at the Yuma Proving Grounds made a very low pass. Too low a pass. He ran out of sky and bottomed out on the desert floor. Next thing he knew he sat amid the sage and scrub in his ejection seat, but without a plane surrounding him. It had disintegrated into pieces in the crash. He had not. Known as the immaculate ejection. Grins all around.

The worth of an ejection seat depends on circumstances. Shit happens. Machines fail. A lucky pilot who keeps his cool lives to fly another day.

Miraculous. Lucky. A good stick. Sometimes the prayers of angels or God’s hand saved me or mine from certain death--physical or spiritual. Sometimes the fortunes of the world shook the dice or the Fates decided to change what would have been a certain horrific outcome. Sometimes years of training and practice and skill paid off, rescuing my loved ones or my precious-to-me rear end and the rest of my attached self from certain annihilation.

Do I care what agency of miracles, luck, or skill achieved those saves? No. But I care that I am still here and semi-sane and able to be a wife, a writer, a mom, a Nana. My father-in-law used to say, “The proof is in the pudding.” By which--I think--he meant something about my kids turning out well so I must be an okay person.

The proof is not in the pudding for me. I am proud of my creative accomplishments and the impact I have had on the future of the world. But if my pudding never sets--my books aren’t published, my children reflect poorly on me, my husband and I become distant, my grandchildren act like no relation of mine, a former student does a terrible act (and none of these horrific scenarios seem a distant possibility)--what is important is that I made the pudding. I acted. I collected ingredients. I learned how to read a recipe. I measured and poured and mixed and hoped it would all turn out tasty. I did the best I could do with the best of intentions.

I never ejected, either. But I think about flying in a broken plane, a burning plane, an unflyable plane. I realize I would eject--not from life, but from that one untenable situation. To live to fly another day. Let’s all live to fly another day.

Photo of ejection seat used by permission of Kevin Coyne:

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