I wrote a chapter of Comet 21 today. I don’t know the story yet, so I went into my memory and pulled up images of the Alert Facility at Rickenbacker AFB, Ohio. 2nd Lt. Tom Harter, who three years later shows up as a T-38 IP in Awol 21, is at this point the FNG in the squadron and going on his first alert tour. I thought back to my first alert tour; 1975 at Little Rock AFB, where we had 4 airplanes deployed. It was a great place to sit alert; we were a detached unit and a ways from the rest of the base operations, so we were on our own for the week. The facility even had a swimming pool! Of course, it was January. After breakfast my first morning there, the crew headed out to ‘rotate tires’ on our jet. I asked the Aircraft Commander as we walked out to the jet exactly how we did that. I assumed that meant we would be taking wheels off one side and putting them on the other or something like that. Turns out that we just rolled the jet a few feet so the tires wouldn’t flatten on one side. Rolled it with a tug, that is; it weighed over 302,000 pounds. On my first alert tour at Rickenbacker I heard announcements over the loudspeaker for “Economics Class, now forming in room 101.” It was several months before I learned that was a poker game.
This isn’t the story of a military campaign, or a unit, or even a story about flying. Its the story of a young man. I don’t have and don’t find many photos of this time, so I go into the deep recesses of my memory.
It is 1975 and I’m copilot (CP) on Crew E-158 in the 301st Air Refueling Squadron. My aircraft commander (AC) is Captain Rhett Cooper. Some of the names and faces are gone from my memory, but not the feeling of it all: the smell of burning jet fuel, the roar of jet engines, the thump when the gear comes up into the wheel wells. The cold wind biting into my face, the cockpit preflight, everyone taking their positions.
(CP) “Battery Switch” (AC) “On.” (CP) “Parking Brakes” (AC) “Set.” (CP) “Reserve Brake Pressure.” (AC) “Checked.” I open my side window and wave to the crew chief, holding up four fingers on my right hand and making a circular motion, and say
Here we go.