YOU’VE GOT IT, COOLSTONE!
Interceptor September 1975
Because of his broad and varied experience in all phases of the Aerospace Defense Command’s operations, Coolstone One had been selected as a member of that most elite group of all, the ADCOM ORI Team. Coolstone just felt so proud and so pleased with his good fortune he could hardly contain himself. He could scarcely believe that such an honor could be his. There were quite a few others that could scarcely believe it, either. There was, however, a small inner group of headquarters experienced troops, wise to the ways of the system, that felt that a type such as Coolstone would serve the command well. This conclusion was based on the theory that it took one to know one, and this was really why he was selected.
The secret plans had been drawn. The date had been set. The roving street fighters were about to be unleashed upon the command once again. The target of their attention, the 25th Air Division. Because this was the first ORI since Coolstone was assigned, he was sent to Paine AFB to observe – they said.
What it really did was to keep him out of the way as much as possible. T-bird targets were to be launched from Paine at the secret time which Coolstone knew. He therefore awakened at his BOQ room around 0100. He shaved, shined, and otherwise readied himself for his first assault upon the unwary.
His bright new orange flying suit was not resplendent with the appropriate patches, badges, and personal alterations, much to his chagrin. He had managed to scrounge it just before the classified departure time from Peterson Field, and had not been able to procure the proper embellishments. He did, however, have a snappy scarf and his major’s leaves shone and were carefully positioned. As he arrived in the squadron ops, it was clear to see that there had been an intelligence leak. Many of the fighter squadron pilots were there and ready. The target pilots were also there, nervously going over their routes. The activity was stimulating to an old war horse such as he, and he found himself wishing to be a direct part of the action. The many times he had been a direct part of the action, he had spent most of the time wishing quite the opposite.
While he wasn’t particularly avoided, on the other hand he was not receiving the attention he figured a representative of the head shed should. For several minutes he observed as he was supposed to do, clearly outside the action, and then, no longer able to contain himself, he sidled up to the ops officer and ‘lowed as how he’d noticed they were pretty busy, and could he help in any way?
“Well,” said the ops type, “we’re looking for a body to fly with the colonel on one of the T-bird target missions. Would you be interested?”
Coolstone quickly mentally reviewed his instructions. He could remember no remarks to the effect that he shouldn’t observe from a target bird.
“Sounds fine,” he said, “I would be glad to fill the hole.”
The ops type introduced him to a graying colonel, gave him a target folder, bird number, takeoff times, and the other many details that the target pilot must have to sneak around in the middle of the night effectively. The Rock looked over the target route altitude and saw that they were going out to the west, well out, over the Pacific. He immediately had some second thoughts about being part of the action. At least they were not going to thrash around at low altitude. That was some consolation. He wandered over to the P.E. shop very casually and drew everything that they had for water survival.
The formal briefing was very well conducted, thought Coolstone, and he made a note to that effect. After it was over, he and the colonel went out to the bird.
He helped the colonel with the preflight. He held the flashlight, mainly, and pointed it at the appropriate places called out to him by the colonel from the checklist. It was a slow but very thorough preflight. Coolstone noticed that the colonel was either somewhat uncertain about his procedures, or was, for Coolstone’s benefit, touching bases that Coolstone hadn’t seen touched for five years.
They strapped in, the colonel in front of course; got the power, and on the interphone, the colonel, once again, called off each prestart check from the checklist. The colonel then began to start the engine and he also called off to Coolstone each procedure as he accomplished the action. At exactly the right time they arrived at the end of the runway.
“How do you want to work this?” asked the colonel. “Do you want me to take care of the flying, and you handle the radios?”
“Sounds fine,” said the Rock. “I’ll handle the radios and the navigation for you if you like.”
“OK,” said the colonel, “you take the radios.”
“Rog,” said Coolstone, and he checked in with the tower for their IFR clearance which had not yet been received as they were taxiing out. He got the clearance and fumbled it only slightly on readback, which, in itself, was a minor miracle. There was a ceiling at about 4,000 and tops were estimated at 12,000. Out to sea the weather was even better – strictly a no-sweat flight.
The tower released them for takeoff and once again the colonel carefully called all pre-takeoff checks. Then they had at it. The takeoff was normal.
They checked in with departure control, established their climb heading and airspeed, but just before they entered the cloud deck, the colonel said, “You’ve got it.”
Coolstone wasn’t ready and really didn’t want it, but he took it, and shook the stick indicating he had it. The Rock glued his eyes to the instruments, and attempted to maintain some semblance of a climb attitude which would get them through to the tops. He began to experience a slight case of vertigo. He had a death grip on the stick. He could see that if they didn’t get on top pretty soon, they wouldn’t. He had about arrived at the point where he felt that he would have to give it back to the colonel before he fell out of the airplane, when he noted they had finally broken out.
“I’ve got it,” said the colonel.
“Rog,” said the Rock, between gasps.
The target mission was uneventful. They were intercepted on schedule, and Coolstone mentally noted to include on his observation report that the 25th’s systems were all go and procedures and effectiveness were good. “Tips dry, leading edge checked, wing tanks on,” said the colonel.
One thing about this cat, thought the Rock, he keeps you informed. They headed back for Paine, were handed off to approach control, and started their descent. Coolstone was tidying up the cockpit a bit, stowing charts and cards.
He hadn’t flown with many colonels. But unless this one was from SAC, he certainly operated strangely, much differently than the fighter squadron pilots. Everything he did, he did very deliberately, and always advised Coolstone before he did it.
Coolstone could see that they were nearing the cloud deck again, and just before they entered, the colonel said, “You’ve got it.”
Once again, the Rock wasn’t ready, and didn’t want it. “I’ve got it,” he said weakly, and wondered to himself what was wrong with this guy. Everytime they got near a cloud, it’s “You’ve got it.”
Coolstone was really springloaded to the vertigo position this time, but he hung on as best he could to the attitude that the colonel had established during the descent. They kind of fell out of the bottom of the clouds and Coolstone didn’t wait. He quickly said, “You’ve got it.”
“Roger,” said the colonel, and added, “Do you want to cancel IFR and go on in and pitch, or shall we make it an ILS?”
“Suit yourself, sir,” replied the Rock, “And do you have the field in sight?”
“Roger,” said the colonel. “I’ve got it dead ahead.”
“Paine tower from Coolstone One. Have field in sight. Please cancel IFR. And we need landing instructions, please.”
“Roger, Coolstone,” said the tower, “IFR cancelled. Landing is to the north, runway 34, report five miles on initial.”
The colonel quickly and smoothly set them up on an initial approach.
Coolstone rested his elbows on the canopy rails, and relaxed for the routine pattern and landing. The colonel pitched, “You’ve got it,” he said.
Coolstone scrambled for the stick, pumped it a time or two, leveled the wings for the downwind, and said, “You’ve got it.”
The colonel call gear and flaps, started the turn for the base, and said, “You’ve got it.”
“What’s with this cat, thought the Rock, as he herded the bird generally towards the final, and then he said, desperately, “Colonel, you’ve got it.”
“Look,” said the colonel, you’re the IP, I’ve never flown this machine before, and with the night landing and everything, I think you’d better take it. I probably should have been in the rear seat, anyhow.”
A great burst of adrenalin caused Coolstone to stand up in the cockpit as he jammed the throttle to the full position. “Colonel,” he said desperately, “I’m not an IP, I’m an RO. I can’t land this thing. You’ve got it, and I never want it again!”
The colonel took it. “This is rather awkward,” he said, “I sure hate to get everybody on the ground upset.”
Coolstone, now working on a level slightly below full panic, put his broad experience to good use at last. “Look,” he said, “why not declare just a minor emergency. You know, just enough to get the fire trucks out, but not enough to bring out the whole base. I would just as soon not have any more publicity than necessary myself. How about an unsafe gear? That ought to work.”
“Great idea,” answered the colonel. “Go ahead and give them a call. And look,” added the colonel, “I appreciate your help. Don’t sweat it too much, I think I can get this thing down in the correct number of pieces.”
Coolstone relaxed to rigid, then said with a great deal of bravado, which took extreme self control, “My end goes where your end goes, colonel, I’m with you.”
He then called the tower, “Paine tower from Coolstone One. We have an unsafe gear indication and are going around. Please get the fire trucks out.” The note of desperation in his voice belied the minor nature of the declared emergency.
“Roger, Coolstone,” replied the tower. “We saw you as you went over. They look like they are down to us. Emergency vehicles are alerted.”
“Roger, tower, we will make a large box pattern and land.”
“Coolstone One from mobile control. Do you need any help? I’ll read the checklist for you if you like.”
“Negative, I don’t believe there’s anything you can do,” said Coolstone. “Particularly from down there.”
The colonel made a big box pattern – big – big – big.
“Roger, Coolstone,” said the tower, “we don’t have you in sight. I think you went over the horizon. How far out are you?”
“We’re a ways out, all right,” replied Coolstone, “BUT WE’RE WORKING ON THIS GEAR.”
“Roger,” said the tower, “call us when you’re turning final.”
Three other aircraft came in and pitched, and landed ahead of them without disturbing their pattern in the slightest.
“Tombstone One from Paine. Are you still going to land here? And is your gear still unsafe?”
“That’s Coolstone One,” said the Rock, “Coolstone One, and yes, we’re still coming in, and yes, we still have the emergency.”
“Roger, Tomb – er – Coolstone. Do you have the field in sight yet?”
“Roger, roger,”said the Rock, “I can see it up ahead. We’re on final now.”
“Roger,” said the tower, and added dryly, “you’re cleared to land whenever you get here.”
The moment of truth had finally arrived, accompanied by numerous power changes, but either because of his several thousand hours or a lot of luck, the colonel greased it in, but was about halfway down the runway.
“Tombstone One from mobile control. You’d better take it around, you’re down too far. Tombstone One, take it around, take it around, you’re too far down, too hot.”
“Negative,” said the Rock, weakly. “We’ll keep what we’ve got.”
The radio was silent for several moments. Then,
“Tower, this is Tombstone One, please send a truck out to the barrier, we seem to be somewhat entangled.”