11 April 2009

The Chance of a Lifetime

So as I have been slowly clearing out my old computer and going over to the laptop I have ran across some different pictures, college papers, and just randomness.  Here is a draft that was eventually submitted to Leader magazine while I was going through the Air Force program at USC.  Aww...college.  Looking back it seems like a dream.  Enjoy.

Many boys dream about being a fighter pilot one day or even getting a chance to go for a ride in an aircraft of such great performance.  On the seventh and eighth of November 2002, six AF ROTC cadets from USC had the opportunity to live out this dream.

The first day consisted of egress training for those who were first to go up.  This showed us how to exit an F-16 safely in the event of an emergency on the ground or in the air.  We sat in a cockpit where the canopy came down and smoke was simulated to give the real effect of being in a burning plane.  Between the chair, parachute, and survival gear, there is a lot of equipment to strap on when in the F-16.  It is hard enough to jump out of a jet as it is, but if it is burning and you don’t know where to unlatch or detach, it could mean death.  Along with the egress training was some instruction on what to do if we did need to use our parachute.  We were strapped in to a hanging parachute and given a couple different scenarios for what kind of terrain we were about to land on.  In the same room we were told what type of survival equipment we had and how to use it.  Finally we had a short brief on what type of critters to avoid if we found ourselves in the Arizona desert.

There was enough free time to allow us to pick the pilots’ brains with questions on what life as a fighter pilot was like.  They really seemed to enjoy sharing with us, which we all agreed was a highlight of the trip.  One 1st First Lieutenant went the extra mile in setting up some simulator time before we actually went up for the real thing.  The simulator consisted of to scale size cockpit with all instruments simulating what we were about to see as the real thing.  We were able to feel and get used to the quarter inch movement in the fly by wire stick, which helped a lot by the time we had to take the controls for real.  It seemed to be a lot more sensitive than what most of us expected.  The lieutenant had us take off and then gave us various targets to shoot at.  After about twenty minutes, we were given the opportunity to land using all of the instruments, which we were a little more familiar with by that time  

Before the day of the flight we were all fitted for G-suits, helmets, masks, gloves, and given at least three motion sickness bags.  The fitting of the G-suits was a longer process than most of us expected.  Snaps, laces and zippers made a custom fit of them and we were soon to find out that the process was worth the time.  The process could be compared to that of a woman with a corset in the early twentieth century - very tight fitting.  The fitting process allowed us to talk with all of the pilots who came into the locker room. 

Finally, one of the last steps to qualify us to fly was to get checked out by the Flight Doc.  This consisted of a short briefing on the “G-strain” and what kinds of things to do before take off; get plenty of sleep, eat light foods, no caffeine, and a few other tips.  We were given physicals and were out the door with our paperwork in hand, ready to fly.

Whether we flew on Thursday or Friday we were all ready when it came time to take our seat in the F-16D.  Going into the locker room and seeing my name on the locker and finding all of the customized equipment fitted to my specifications, I felt like I was a part of the 61st Fighter Squadron for a day.  As I strapped and clipped things on I couldn’t help but think how everything I was putting on was not for comfort, but to keep me alive.  It came time to head for the flight line so I followed the Instructor Pilot and the student out to the van.  The next thing I know I am strapped in to the jet with 29,000 lbs of thrust behind me, brakes on, throttle at full military power, and adrenaline pumping.  After a few more checks on all the systems we were off the ground in formation, quickly moving to a tactical formation, side by side.  Twenty feet wingtip to wingtip!  I have ridden shotgun in a KC-10 with a boom operator where planes get close going relatively fast, but this was definitely a bit different.   

Although each flight was unique, thankfully they all had one thing in common - not a single cadet threw up.  Overall, the trip was a major success and helped keep a freshman cadet  motivated for his ensuing years at Detachment 060.  “After this amazing experience, I would say I am definitely “retained” not only because of the great flight, but the great people I have met.”  A senior cadet was also very impressed by the event, “The Luke AFB visit was my most valuable and interesting event that I will take away from ROTC.”  All of the cadets who participated agree that  it was a highly motivating experience -  the chance of a lifetime.