Above & Beyond: Launch the Fleet!
- By Russell Gregory
- Air & Space magazine, July 2001
(Page 2 of 4)
Maintenance had somehow gotten the word that we were probably going to put most of the aircraft into hangars and ride out the storm. Now they had to prepare the jets to fly, hang external fuel tanks, and gas them, all in 30-mph winds and driving rain.
We anxiously awaited a go from maintenance while we watched the weather deteriorate. Eventually, one four-ship element was ready. A half-hour later, another four-ship was ready. After an hour and a half, our four jets were ready. We got a last-minute weather update from the operations desk and went out to the van taking us to the jets. This would be our last few minutes of calm.
When the van arrived at the flightline, we saw that things weren’t going quite as planned. Pilots cowered under the wings of their jets, trying to stay dry as the crew chiefs did final maintenance. For safety reasons, an aircraft cannot be refueled while another is running next door, so the crew had to ground-check the running jets, then move them out of the way while the rest of their flight got ready.
The carefully laid plans of matching experienced pilots with inexperienced ones quickly gave way to elements being flown by whoever had an aircraft ready. Soon the roar of departing aircraft overcame the battering of the rain on the canopies, and the flightline began thinning out.
As soon as my jet was ready, I hopped up into the cockpit and cranked the engines. The cockpit was a pool of water, and I briefly wondered if any pilot had ever been electrocuted in a rainstorm when electrical power for the aircraft had come on line.
After condensing 15 minutes of ground checks into five, I began checking the status of my flight members. One was having a problem with one of his engines and had called for maintenance to try to fix it. Another wingman reported that maintenance had forgotten to fuel his external tank, leaving him short of the gas needed to make Tinker.
Operations told us to taxi out and plan to depart with the two jets that were ready. They were worried that the weather would go below takeoff limits, trapping aircraft on the ground directly in the path of the storm. It had just about become every man for himself.
As we were getting our last-chance maintenance checks done at the end of the runway, operations reported that two more jets were ready to go. Though they weren’t part of our original four-ship, operations wanted them to go with us to get as many aircraft airborne as possible.