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 15, 2008

Aviator Brief VII: The Ready Room #2

The preflight brief also covered the ROEs--Rules Of Engagement. Pilots needed the rules and expectations for any hop to take away unpredictability--so they could come back in their plane, and without looking bad at the field. The rules were like a good wingman, the pilot knew ahead of time what the other aviator would do in any given situation. One of the rules for pilots was ‘right to right’--in any potential nose to nose collision, each plane was to turn right, veering away from disaster. Jet fighters went very fast. How fast? Well, if an aviator told you the maximum speed, he’d have to kill you. However, fighters routinely flew toward each other at one thousand knots--1150 mph--of closure. Without prior discussion, a pilot had a fifty-fifty chance of turning the wrong way in a head-on confrontation. Bad odds for planes. Worse for aviators.

A pilot out of Beaufort, South Carolina on an ACM--air combat maneuver--centered the radar dot within a mile of the intercept, pointing his plane at the same piece of sky as the bogey. A mile at a thousand to twelve hundred knots of closure left little time to avoid a midair collision. The pilot found the bogey all right--very quickly and close enough to touch. Oops! One imperative in ACM and formation flying: ‘no touch touch--however slight’. It takes very little contact to make parts of planes fall off--often with catastrophic results. The F-16 lost most of a wing, the pilot ejecting safely. The F-4 ended up damaged, but flyable. The result? A new ROE that forbade centering the dot within a mile of the opponent.

The rules also mandated disengaging from and steering clear of planes out of control. Just as a civilian driver recognized a weaving car indicated the driver was
non compos mentis--drunk out of his mind--and should be avoided at all cost, so aviators avoided the pilot who lost control of his plane for any reason. The out of control drunk wouldn’t be looking out for other drivers; an out of control pilot didn’t have the time or the ability to steer clear.

Any pilot experienced departure from controlled flight at some point. A smart pilot knew how to keep a departure from becoming a post-stall gyration. Only Dilberts continued to lose control until an oscillating spin required deploying the drag chute.

Altitude saved planes and lives by giving room to maneuver before air turned to unforgiving dirt. Pilots were to knock off any air-to-air combat maneuvering at ten thousand feet AGL--Above Ground Level. A pilot who flew too low and ran out of sky ended up a smoking hole in the ground. No glory in that.

Right to right. Remember that the next time you head straight toward someone in a grocery aisle or at the mall. Is there anyone who hasn’t done the awkward dance back and forth and then the inelegant sidestep and “Excuse me.” followed by nervous laughter? Right to right--from now on for everybody. I go right and you go right. Nothing to do with liberal or conservative bents. Can you imagine? If liberals go left and conservatives went right and moderates--well they should own the whole damn road, anyway--stayed in the middle--everything would be balled up in a mass of confusion. Instead of moving through the mall or grocery store, we’d be making a statement and in gridlock. Wait. That sounds a lot like the state of politics in America today.

Centering the dot. Some people lock on their radar and refuse to swerve from their goal. That can be a good thing, but not if their goal involves opponents or other people who might be the target. I have to remind myself I do not move through this world by myself. Other people have wishes and dreams and goals and feelings. No touch touch, however slight. Apply that maxim to my neighbor of the preemptive nastiness (Brief VII), and we know why it’s wrong. The slightest contact at high speeds can cause great damage and distress.

Sometimes I have to stay above it all: altitude saving my life--or a relationship I value. When my pride keeps me heading down to auger into the good hard earth, I should break it off and live to fly another day. Walk, fly, run, drive away from those who would hurt me, anger me, belittle me, take off pieces of my fuselage. No glory in that for them or me.

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