THE FOX AND THE FALCON
COOLSTONE considered himself reasonably affable – within limits, of course, because he was a flight leader, and, after all, he had to maintain a certain dignity. He worked at this, and his flight was a good one. The members, perhaps, didn’t share Coolstone’s self – appraisal as to his affability. In fact, their impressions were somewhat to the contrary, but they did respect his abilities and experience. They had to admit that while he held himself somewhat aloof, all in all he was a good flight leader.
At times Coolstone would relax slightly – usually at the club – and talk to his flight about his Korean experiences during that conflict. But his ideas of leadership were fundamentally based on the premise that familiarity with the troops – off duty and on – broke down the lines of discipline, and caused a loose operation. With the newer pilots, therefore, he was always all business. He did not encourage a first-name relationship, and at social activities he confined his circle of friends, with whom he greatly relaxed, to his contemporaries.
The newest member of Coolstone’s flight was an Air Academy graduate, just four months out of Perrin. Coolstone’s background was a reflection of the hard way, and it was very difficult for him to understand why four years of Academy training was necessary for a fighter pilot.
With the limited information the Rock had been exposed to about the Air Academy, he had concluded, quite objectively of course, that their course outline would probably give birth to some educated fools, with no practical experience, but with glamour status which would constantly discount any mediocrity in flying ability. The old fire, desire, and fun of flying would probably be secondary with the Academy graduates, because they would be so busy analyzing the physical laws at play while racked into a tight turn, or rolling in trail … They would be all right in orbit, perhaps, just sitting there pushing buttons, engineers – but the lusty traditions of the fighter pilot would fade into the limbo of history with this generation of flyers, Coolstone sadly concluded.
However, the Academy graduate came to him with all systems in the full go configuration, both off duty and on. The lieutenant’s enthusiasm, in fact, for even the most menial of tasks was rubbing off on the rest of the flight for the good, with the exception of those damned exercises Coolstone was a great believer that there was only one time a sweat should be worked up, and it had nothing to do with Five BX.
In this conjunction, the Rock had obtained a T-33 for a weekend cross-country. He had pressing business at Ogden. In fact, about once a month he had pressing business at Ogden.
Lately he was having difficulty finding a pilot to fly with him. He had taken so many so often. It was already Thursday, and he still hadn’t been able to pin down a copilot. The Rock was becoming slightly desperate.
He considered the lieutenant as a companion. He was also single, and had not been away from the reservation on a cross-country since his assignment to the squadron. Good idea, thought Coolstone, and he needs the experience, too.
Coolstone found the lieutenant in the lounge. “Look,” he said. “I have a T-bird scheduled for the weekend, and I thought perhaps you would like to accompany me. How about it?”
“Where are we going, Sir?” asked the lieutenant.
“Well, I’m set up for a special appointment at Ogden Saturday, but Sunday we could go almost any place you like, within reason.
Where’s your home?”
“It’s South Dakota, Sir,” said the lieutenant, “and I would like very much to visit my folks.”
Now, this wasn’t exactly the truth, but it wasn’t a lie either. The lieutenant had a great desire to attend the football game between the Air Academy and Nebraska, which was to take place on the forthcoming Saturday. He had approached several pilots with the proposition that he could get tickets if they could get an aircraft and would go to Ellsworth, where his family would meet him. He had been completely unsuccessful.
He mulled over the possibility of getting Coolstone to amend his flight plan so that they would go to Ellsworth on Saturday morning, attend the game, and then proceed to Hill on Sunday.
“Sir,” he said. “Would it be at all possible to work it so we can go to Ellsworth Saturday, then Ogden on Sunday? I can get tickets for the football game between Nebraska an the Air Force Academy.”
Coolstone frowned, then said crisply, “No, no possibility at all. In the first place, the Air Force doesn’t like us to make special trips for football games and that sort of thing, and in the second place I have a firm commitment for Ogden on Saturday night, and that’s the way it will have to be. We can get to Ellsworth Sunday and back here Sunday night, however. If you don’t want to go, I can get somebody else.”
“Oh, that’s O.K., Sir,” said the lieutenant quickly. “I want to go. I’ll be real pleased to go.”
“All right,” said the Rock. “You get the flight plan figured, fill out the 21A’s, and take care of the 175. You need the experience.”
On the morning they were to leave, the Rock came down to the squadron early and found the lieutenant had already completed the necessary paperwork.
Coolstone checked the clearance carefully, reviewed the 21A’s, then signed the clearance, checked the weather, and went out to the bird.
The local weather was about 500 overcast, with five miles viz. Ogden was clear.
They preflighted the airplane together. Coolstone climbed in the back seat, and strapped himself in, while the lieutenant climbed in front. When the interphone came on, he advised the lieutenant to handle all the radio calls, including the clearance.
The lieutenant checked in with the tower, then called for their ATC clearance. After a short delay .. “Hello, Coolstone One, Paine Tower. Have your clearance. Are you ready to copy?”
Before the lieutenant answered, he said, “Sir, there is an unusual amount of static in the interphone. I believe it is coming from your microphone. Perhaps you should unplug, and I’ll get the clearance.”
“I am reading them five square,” said the Rock, “but go ahead,” and he unplugged.
In a short while, the lieutenant indicated that Coolstone should hook up again.
Coolstone did so and asked how the clearance read.
“Just as filed,” said the lieutenant, and started the bird.
They made the standard departure. However, once at altitude, they seemed to be held on 080 much longer than normal.
“Hello, Seattle Center, this is Coolstone One. Why are you still holding us on 080? Over.”
“Sir,” said the lieutenant. “Let me ask them that. You cause so much static when you transmit, I’m sure they couldn’t receive you. Would you please unplug?”
“O.K.,” said the Rock, disgustedly. “But tell them to start us south. We are going in the wrong direction,” and he unplugged.
After a short delay, the lieutenant signaled him to come back on the radio. “Sir,” he said, “they have routed us through Spokane, then south. With the winds astern, there is no problem with fuel.”
“What in the world did they do that for?” asked the Rock.
“They said something about a bomber stream,” was the lieutenant’s reply. “They couldn’t get us an altitude below 45,000 feet.”
“That’s SAC for you,” grumbled the Rock. “They run the Air Force.”
As they reached Spokane, the lieutenant once again asked the Rock to unplug, as the static was still bad. Coolstone did so. When he came back on again, the lieutenant told him, “They want us to go east just a little further before we head south.”
“For Pete’s sake,” said the Rock.”Tell them negative, negative. We will never make it to Ogden. The first thing you know, we’ll have to land at Mountain Home and refuel if this keeps up. I have refigured the flight plan and it is close right now. If the winds don’t hold up, we haven’t a prayer.”
“I’ll give them a call,” said the lieutenant, “if you’ll un…”
“Yes, I know,” said the Rock, “I’ll unplug.”
They were over an overcast, but they were grinding off miles at about seven per minute, and even though Coolstone didn’t know their exact position, he knew it would be but a brief time before it would be too late to make Ogden. He waited and waited for the lieutenant to signal him to hook up. Finally just the glimmer of an ugly suspicion took shape in the back of his mind. As it developed, he became certain that it was an accurate one. He plugged back in. The radio was quiet.
“Lieutenant,” he said. “What Center control are we under now?” “Great Falls, Sir,” was the weak reply.
“Great Falls Center, this is Coolstone One. Over.”
“Roger, Coolstone. This is Great Falls. Go ahead.”
“Great Falls from Coolstone. What is my destination?”
“Would you say that again, please?” the Center asked incredulously.
“Better let me check, Sir,.” said the lieutenant, quickly, “And unplug. The static is …”
“Never mind,” said Coolstone. “Center, I said, ‘What is my destination?”
“Stand by one,” said the Center.
Into the interphone Coolstone said very quietly to the lieutenant, “if I find out what I think I am going to find out, you are going to be a very sad young first lieutenant.”
“Roger, Sir,” said the lieutenant.
“Tombstone One from Great Falls Center. Your destination is Ellsworth Air Force Base. Is there some problem?”
“That’s Coolstone One, not Tombstone One, and stand by one.”
“Roger, Tomb …. er Coolstone. Center standing by.”
Quickly the Rock checked his chart to see if it would be possible to change destinations, but it was clear from his present position there was not now even enough fuel remaining to go to Mountain Home.
“Lieutenant,” said Coolstone. “Of my three alternatives, court martial, , and murder, I favor the latter. But since I am unable to get close enough to you right now, I’ll wait until we land at Ellsworth to make my final decision.”
“Sir, please, please let me explain,” said the lieutenant, desperately.
“Don’t even talk to me right now. Keep extremely quiet for the rest of the flight. I suggest that you unplug.”
After landing at Ellsworth, the quiet pair entered Base Operations, with the lieutenant maintaining a respectful interval two paces to the rear and one to the left. An elderly couple approached them and greeted the lieutenant with much warmth. They were obviously his parents.
“We were so glad to get your phone call Thursday night telling us that you would be here. Now let’s hurry, so we can get down to the game,” said the elderly gentleman.
“Yes, Sir, Dad,” said the lieutenant. “And I want to introduce to you one of the Air Force’s top flight leaders. This is Coolstone One,” he said proudly, “my flight leader and a pilot among pilots.”
“Yes,” said the lieutenant’s mother, “It is a real pleasure to meet you. How fortunate for him to be assigned to your flight. We don’t even worry about our son when we know he is in such fine hands. ‘Professional,’ I believe was the term he used to describe you, and we were so pleased when he called and told us that it was your idea to bring him here to see us and the ballgame.”
Coolstone became unplugged once again.
On the way back home, Coolstone advised the lieutenant to maintain a close silence, under a minimum penalty of death, about where they’d been and how they had gotten there. However, as the Rock came to work Monday morning, he was greeted by some rather suspicious smirks on the part of other members of the squadron.
“How was the trip to Ogden?” he was asked over and over, amid much laughter. “Fine,” was his brief, terse reply.
Coolstone cornered the Ops Officer. “Look,” he said. “I have a question to ask you, and I’d appreciate it if you’d keep this discussion strictly confidential.”
“Sure,” said the Ops Officer. “What’s on your mind?” And he too obviously was experiencing difficulty controlling a smile.
“Did you have anything to do with that cross-country of mine?” asked the Rock.
“Well,” said the Ops Officer. “I did sign a clearance to Ellsworth for some member of your flight.”
“Did you know that I wanted to go to Ogden, as usual?”
“Well, maybe,” said the Ops Officer, “I told the lieutenant that if he could get that clearance by you, more power to him, but it wasn’t my idea. We’ve been waiting to see where you ended up. All the squadron is interested.”
As he turned away, almost to himself the Rock mumbled, “Some of the material taught at that Academy obviously isn’t described in their course outline.”