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.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Aviator Brief VII: The Ready Room (#3)

Marine aviators loved to push the envelope--especially if it would win them glory. In aeronautics, the envelope was the known limits for the safe performance of an aircraft. Test pilots had to test (or push) these limits to establish the exact capabilities of the plane, and where failure was likely to occur--to compare calculated performance limits with ones derived from experience. Test pilots called this ‘pushing the edge of the envelope’.

Rules of Engagement for Marine aviators established the ground rules, but the main requirement for being a good stick involved knowing when to push to the edge and when the rules didn’t apply. Marines were told what they couldn’t do; Air Force pilots were told what they could. Air Force pilots flew by the book and had itemized checklists for all contingencies. True, they lost fewer planes on the average, but in a 1v.1 with a good Marine pilot, they were beat like a rug.

The rules also required verbatim memorization of spin procedures, so they could be accomplished automatically, without thought, while in extremis. Out of control? Neutralize everything or just let go and grab two nonessentials in the cockpit. Upright spin? Have to know which way the plane is spinning, then where to put the stick to reduce the angle. Inverted spin? Different G- forces, but a pilot still needed to know where to put the stick. Can’t remember the spin procedures? Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.

After briefing the Rules of Engagement, the brief always covered a NATOPS--Naval Aviation Training Operation Procedures--question of the day. Every aviator was expected to know the answers found in the big blue NATOPS book. One question might be, “What is the hydraulic pressure supposed to be?” Know your plane, save your life.

The Emergency Question of the Day followed, such as, “What is the procedure in the event of the landing gear not extending? Know the procedures: save your life and your plane.

The brief almost finished, the guys would talk some more about the hop--the aviator’s term for a flight--using the white board and/or stick models, planes--usually an F-4 and a MIG--on the ends of dowels to represent the good guy and the bogey. “You do this, and I’m going to be trying to do that.”

Any questions?

Time to man-up.

Children are a lot like Marine aviators. They always want to push the envelope, and they don’t want to fly by the book. Their learning curve is sharp and they grow to be strong, independent human beings. Unfortunately, pushing the envelope caused all sorts of ‘office hours’ with my kids standing front and center, getting read the ROEs. Not that the reminders of the rules made any difference in the short term. The next time they went flying, they still tried to skirt the outside parameters without being caught out by gravity--us, their parents. In the long term, they still want to fly outside our box and we have lost the gravitas of the Commanding Officers. They are adults whether they act like it or not.

I was a parent like the Air Force (although my Marine wife soul cringes at the thought), wanting my children to follow itemized checklists. Parents want children to survive their childhood; rules and regulations try to accomplish that.

The truth is that life always has spins in store. So children push the envelope, parents impose checklists, and sometimes both need to know spin procedures. Reminds me of driver’s training--learning where to turn the wheel instinctively. I am glad I do not live in the lands of snow and ice--I still don’t know which way is ‘into the spin’--the way the car is moving or opposite to the way the car is turning. I have a feeling I always worked against the natural forces of my children’s spins.

With my grandchildren I am more like the Carrie Underwood song. I throw my hands up in the air and let Jesus take the wheel.

Oh, and then I hug them, tell them how precious they are to me, and how much I love them.

Age does bring some wisdom.


  1. Thanks, I enjoyed reading that. My partner flys for a commercial airline, he wanted to fly for the airforce, but had asthma as a child which ruled him out. He loves his job though... I think it's in their blood if they want to fly-dont you?!

  2. Yes. It is in their blood--or their genetic makeup. My father-in-law was an Air Force bomber and then private pilot, as was my brother-in-law. My husband was a Marine fighter pilot who I met through my brother a Marine fighter pilot. Flying filled a part of them nothing except writing, fly fishing, and horseback riding in Wyoming fills for me. We partners is to find ways to keep ourselves sane while missing them when they are gone. Too many of my military friends decided they liked having them gone more than at home--and they are no longer together. I love my guy. I also love being able to spend some time on my own. Pilots tend to want to make checklists for everyone :)

  3. Wow. Those are some crazy rules of engagement. I have a few friends that always fly with their Aviator Sunglasses no matter what time of day it is. Does tht violate any of the rules? lol.

  4. What a clever way to advertise your product. Pilots look cool with or without sunglasses. The truth is that military fighter aviators have a face plate on their helmets that serves the same purpose. I am told aviators are for looking cool on the deck and after flying--at the club.