As departure control handed that four-ship off to a different frequency to work on their problem, I heard the rest of my four-ship call that they were “tied” to the aircraft ahead of them with their radar. I began a sweeping left turn, dragging my daisy chain of fighters toward clearer skies, when number four’s radar suddenly broke lock and stopped sweeping. Within seconds, number three’s radio stopped receiving. Just before three’s radio died, he had heard just enough from four to learn that four was having radar problems. In between three’s calls that he was not receiving any air traffic control radio transmissions, he passed his position, altitude, and airspeed to four so that four could maintain an approximate heading and hold an altitude that would not conflict with the rest of the flight.
As my jet buffeted its way up through 30,000 feet, it began to pick up some intermittent icing. I called for our flight to turn on our anti-icing equipment and continued to hear three broadcast his parameters to number four. It was clear from four’s voice that everything was under control. As I broke out into clear skies at 39,000 feet, I felt grateful to have highly experienced wingmen.
With my flight rejoining above the hurricane, the mysterious problems began to disappear. Number three’s radio began receiving. Number four’s radar began sweeping again. It was clear that the problems we had on departure were a result of the torrential rain.
Settling down for the remaining hour of what would finally be an uneventful flight, the conversation turned to lighter topics. Did anyone know a good Mexican restaurant? Anyone hear any reports of a whiskey front blowing toward Tinker Air Force Base?
An hour and a half later, 22 F-15s landed safely at Tinker, and soon we were all settled in a hotel in Oklahoma City. Hurricane Earl ended up clipping the edge of Tyndall, doing no more than minor damage to the base and the surrounding communities—but for some $2 billion worth of F-15s cooling their heels halfway across the country, it was better safe than sorry.