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“OK, I think we’ve got the hang of it now.” I have heard those words before.

One day when I was a young instructor pilot, not long out of pilot training, we got a new squadron commander and executive officer. Both were lieutenant colonels and both were recent returnees from the war in Southeast Asia where they’d been combat fighter pilots. Now, our curriculum had recently been updated to include trail formation, where the wingman drops back about a thousand feet and essentially plays “follow the leader” on the lead aircraft. I was one of the cadre of instructors on the project, which meant I and a few other young captains were tasked with checking out all the other instructors in the squadron.

One evening at the bar the exec pulled me aside and said, “Dinger (my callsign), Colonel Bradshaw and I need to get checked out in trail. How about you and Sluggo (another young instructor) check us out tomorrow?

“Yes sir.”

The following afternoon the four of us headed out to fly. The normal situation would have called for a colonel and an instructor in each jet, but instead both colonels walked over to the same jet and started strapping in. Sluggo and I looked at each other, but neither of us was going to approach the two commanders and tell them they were doing it wrong. “They must have a plan”, we thought.

Anyway, take off and the flight to the practice area were normal. The plan was for the colonels to fly the lead position first, so when we got the signal to “go trail”, all was as expected. They broke away from us, and after a few seconds we broke after them, falling into their six o’clock position about a thousand feet back. We followed them through some hard turns and a barrel roll, when all of sudden they entered a dive, built up a lot of airspeed, then pulled up very aggressively.

“This should be fun”, we thought, “they’re going to do a loop or immellman.”

Instead, though, they pulled up to a perfectly vertical climb and held it. Both jets rapidly bled off airspeed, and since we had entered the climb last we were gaining on them rapidly. Also, since the airspeed was going, so was the control authority. As they hung there above us, rapidly getting bigger in the windscreen, their jet finally ran out of airspeed, hovered momentarily, then swapped ends and pointed straight down. As we passed canopy to canopy just a few feet from each other, them pointed down and us still pointed up, we heard on the radio, “OK, I think we’ve got the hang of it now.”

At that point, we had nothing…no airspeed and very sloppy controls. We went to zero g to avoid a stall, hoped the engines kept running, then waited for our jet to swap ends and head down after them. The rest of the flight was just a fur ball, with each crew trying to get on the other’s tail and stay there as long as possible. As you can imagine, the two combat-experienced colonels usually had their way with the two young captains.

After landing, we were happy to sign off their trail qualifications, even though things hadn’t gone quite by the book. We took a little ribbing from them that night in the bar, but they turned out to be two of the best commanders I ever had.
 

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"OK, I think we've got the hang of it now." I have heard those words before.
Pilot instructor stories are way more exciting than welding instructor stories.

I went to an air show in Norfolk some years back; that was when you could actually come onto the base and get up close to the action.

The finale was a single F-15 doing a low pass nearly over us and then going vertical. The aviator did a hammerhead and came down almost directly at us.

That's a big airplane... I puckered a bit.
 

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The Eagle is indeed an impressive machine. I have a few friends who flew it and I've never heard a negative comment. It is universally loved and respected.

I'll bet that one set off every car alarm in the zip code when it went over.
 

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The two most memorable events from an airshow .....multiple decades ago were: low level pass by a B52 cell (the ground shook for about 2 minutes before you could see the planes) and the stunts by F104s. I recall the one that took off, stayed parallel with the runway till the gear came up, then lit the afterburner and did a vertical climb, accelerating all the way. It was a little dot in an astonishingly short time.

I was in AFROTC. The OIC was a fighter jock light Colonel (less than 20 years service) with impressive fruit salad. We also had a 20+ year major that we figured must be a screw up. After we learned to read the ribbons there was an adjustment in relative regard. The major only wore the important stuff.

THEN, there was an award ceremony. This being during the Sourtheast Asian War Games, they hung Air Medals on a couple of Captains and then awarded the Major his third or fourth (long time ago) DFC. We not only got the story in class, we saw pictures of the C123 he managed to get back to base. They scrapped it. The whole story would eat up major bandwidth, but about 1/2 the nose was gone due to a recoiless/rocket hit during a pallet drop run at Khe Sahn.
 

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We also had a 20+ year major that we figured must be a screw up.
Yeah, I've known a couple of those guys. Their rank usually indicates that they couldn't care less about being a general, avoid staff jobs like the plague, try never to get within two time zones of the Pentagon, and spend their whole careers in the cockpit. As was the case with this guy they're some of the best pilots you'll ever run into, and usually pretty nice guys to boot.
 
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