Flights & Fancy: Thai Boom

Flights & Fancy: Thai Boom

The fearsome Vigilante was meant to carry nuclear weapons but ended up lugging reconnaissance cameras. (R.R. Powell)
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“As low as you’ll let us.”

I lit the afterburners and headed down. The mechanics later said it was spectacular. At the end of the runway I pulled up, did a couple of rolls, and headed back to the Kitty Hawk. After that, life settled into routine. For a week.

No words strike fear into a junior officer’s heart like “The skipper wants to see you in his office.” After rapping on the door and hearing a brusque “Enter,” I stood at attention. Commander Bill Belay said, “What the !%@# did you do in Ubon last week?”

It seems the Thais had stormed the base at Ubon, demanding retribution for windows broken by a sonic boom. The local commanders figured out it was not one of theirs and sent the problem up the Air Force chain of command. In Hawaii, where four-stars talk to four-stars, the Air Force and Navy exchanged information on the incident. From the Navy Commander-in-Chief Pacific, it rolled back down the Naval chain, gaining momentum. For the next eight days I did not know whether I was to be court-martialed, sued, or keelhauled.

Then an officer on the embarked admiral’s staff  let me peek at a message from a high level in the Air Force. It was mostly business but it ended with “Good-looking airplane in Ubon a couple of weeks ago. When’s it coming back?”

I was concerned about the aerial welfare of my pals back at the Wolfpack. In the Philippines I ran into an F-4 crew from Ubon and asked if my low flyby had led to restrictions on their flying. The pilot looked at me and said, “What flyby?”

I am convinced that owners of the curio shops, tailor shops, and bars heard my sonic boom and heaved Coke bottles through the nearest window, hoping for money from Uncle Sam. There was likely no damage at all.

I’ve been called Boom for over 30 years now. I haven’t given up low passes—I just keep them below Mach 1.

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