Testimony of Pilot: Chapter One – Of Dragons and Ghosts

Testimony of Pilot #5

And like no other sculpture in the history of art,  the dead engine and dead airframe come to life at the touch of a human hand,  and join their life with the pilot’s own. When you believe in something as true as the sky you’re bound to find a few friends.
Richard Bach

dusk-delivery-corsair-ii-peter-chilelli

Corsair II Dusk Delivery by Peter Chilelli

With the four previous articles this concludes the first chapter of a new series for Remembered SkyTestimony of Pilot is intended as anthology of TINS, memorable quotes, and story-telling art.

Dedicated to Max – Navy flyer, Champ, great husband/father/grandfather, unforgettable friend, and
the best story teller ever

Everyone at one time or another stumbles across something or someone that sends their mind cascading back in time to people and events that have shaped their lives. Aviators in particular are notorious for that instantaneous hands in the air “and their I was, flat on my back, running out of airspeed, altitude and gas… but here’s what I did…” – airshow time at the bar. Late 1999 I experienced that moment when daughter Tracey – made in Hong Kong 1972 in the midst of the war over Vietnam – announced she was bringing home for Christmas 1999 an F-14 Tomcat type naval aviator. The result was really my first effort at story telling by actually  writing – The Ghosts of Christmas Past…Fly Navy, the BEST Always Have.

Since October 2006, when I began the website Project White Horse 084640 I have found myself on those special days – Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Christmas – posting articles about flying and the air war over Vietnam in remembrance of all the people brought into my life by being a naval aviator.

The PWH blog was focused on organizational resilience and response to unconventional crisis. Indeed research showed aircraft carrier operations as probably the best example on high reliability organizations.  Later I found myself wanting to post more of the stories of TINS (you know, not once upon a time but rather “this is no shit”) and a chance find of a book telling the story of flying in a small and ancient bi-plane created critical mass and so a new blog – Remembered Sky. I will discuss Anne Hopkin’s book Sticks & Wire & Cloth and its very special aspect for me shortly. But as a starting point for Remembered Sky here is the introduction to that first effort based on that winter 1999 reflection:

 Ghosts of Christmas Past

It happens periodically, going on for over twenty-five years but mostly since I retired and am not so close to the source anymore.  The memories come rolling in.  Sometimes I’m in the cockpit of the A-7, the spare for a night road-recce north of Vinh.  Bear is up on the cat, Munt is in the plane next to me – they know they’re going.  You know you’re going, too, you can bet on it.  Spare, night, north, it’s the perfect combo.

The FIRST SAM always makes an appearance – right behind Lots, between me and Floo,  at a wonderful place called Thanh Hoa.  Yahoo. Sometimes I’m sitting on the runway at El Centro in the Crusader, the skipper of VF-124 off to one side, waiting to roll on my first hop in a real single seat – non training command- honest to God Fleet warbird.  Or towards the end, so close to the TLAM D, the photographer in the back seat of the TA-7 has  got to get good pics, one of the sub-munitions doors is jammed,  with all our technology this is the only way to get this test data.

Sometimes it’s the flight deck of Midway in Singapore Harbor, Christmas ’72, Bob Hope.  Our A-6 guys have really had an interesting few nights along with the BUFFs.  The Christmas card from Randy, college buddy, flight school roomie, VF-111, just back in the states, sticks in my mind  FLY NAVY it says, THE BEST ALWAYS HAVE.  Ghosts of Christmas past.

When it happens the thoughts play around in my head for days and I always rummage through my collection of books, articles, scrap books, patches,  “I love me” stuff and read pieces  that I’ve been collecting since NROTC days.

What brings this ghost hunting on is chance meetings with old pals, some news item with Navy guys in it, a bad war movie with Navy jets, you get the picture.  In the last few weeks I’ve gotten bombarded with multiple inputs and therefore this little e-mail shot.  First was on a random channel flip,  catching William Holden in the binjo ditch just as he tells Mickey Rooney about the wrong war, wrong place –you fight because you’re there, leading into the famous comment by the admiral on the carrier Savo “Where did we get such men?”  The next, learning of the loss of Munt’s son in an S-3 off JFK.  Munt once flew on  my wing,  he’s family.  Finally, a joyous input. My daughter, made in Hong Kong during that ’72 cruise,  is bringing home, Christmas Eve, for a first meeting,  my son-in-law to-be, a LCDR F-14 RIO.  Seems “Fly Navy”  is gonna be around some more.

And so, I thought  I’d pass on some of the pieces as Christmas ornaments, if you will,  thoughts that  are important,  written by people who can tell the story so much better than I. (Pieces subject of a later post)

MERRY CHRISTMAS
FLY NAVY THE BEST ALWAYS HAVE
December 1999

Navy Wings

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Remembered Sky, a blog focused on flying and those that do it and whose lives would have been so much less without it.
Boris, September 18, 2012

Testimony of Pilot is intended as an anthology continuing the original intent. Chapter One – Dragons and Ghosts concludes the first five stories.
Boris, April 25.2019

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