Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Alert Two-step

As a B-52 crewdog, about a third of my life was spent on Alert. That meant we worked, played, ate and slept right next to our heavily loaded, heavily armed BUFF's. And because we were working for SAC, the Strategic Air Command, we knew that there would be very little time during our seven days of alert that we weren't being trained, tested, and prodded. In other words they had us prisoner; why not screw with us! For instance we knew that at least once during each tour we would be subject to the rude sound of the klaxon. When the horn blew we were supposed to get to our airplane as quickly as possible, start the engines, decode a message from headquarters, and do exactly what it said. And we were timed to make sure we were ready to go to war immediately. So one bright and sunny day on alert at a base on the west coast (that doesn't exist anymore) we heard the call of the klaxon, jumped into our truck and blasted out to the ramp to our own special bomber. As the pilot popped the cartridges that fired the engines, the Nav and I copied down the coded message from command post. It usually decoded to a message that told us to just start engines and equipment and report ready to go or do all that and taxi to the runway to show how fast we could lean that much farther forward. We decoded, agreed, and told the pilot it was a taxi exercise. We moved out of our parking stub heading for the runway when the whole crew heard me and the Nav say, "Oh, shit!" We had both discovered our error. It wasn't a taxi exercise. We were supposed to stay put. The pilot just about lost it. Results from each exercise were reported to the head of SAC almost the minute they happened. We were about to become famous. The only thing we could do was get back to our parking place as soon as possible. But moving a big-assed bomber full of fuel and weapons is no easy thing. Finally the pilot team decided that going down the runway and back the taxiway would get us home in the shortest amount of time. We got clearance on the runway and hit the power for a high speed taxi. But we forgot to tell command post what we were doing. Two full colonels, a major and three captains almost had heart attacks when they thought a bomber loaded with major crowd-pleasers was about to launch. Once again we had blown it. We belatedly told everyone what we were doing, hopefully preventing any further heart attacks and silently headed back to the alert pad. "Man, are we going to be deep in the barrel when we get back," the pilot said. "Yeah," said the gunner. "But I don't think we're going to be on the bottom." "Why's that, guns? Who's going to be in deeper shit than us?" "Oh, probably those guys behind us." The pilot and copilot almost wrenched their necks to check and confirm that someone else had followed our mistaken lead. Yep. There they were. The good old number one elite Standardization and Evaluation crew. They hadn't even bothered to copy and decode the message. They just followed us out. And when everyone in charge was through yelling at them they barely had breath enough left for us. I guess two wrongs don't make a right...but it sure worked for us!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where's George?

Okay, this is an air traffic control "war story" from one of my friends who worked in the tower of a large metropolitan city airport. The city will remain nameless to protect the reputation of everyone there named George. My friend was working in the control tower on a busy weekend night at local position. "Local" is the position and/or the controller who clears aircraft to takeoff and land. In other words local control if where most of the action takes place. While my buddy, Phil (a real name...just not my buddy's real name) was clearing airplanes to do various things and trying to make sure that they all did them without running into each other he heard this from the primary frequency speaker; "Hey, where's George?" He keyed his mike and said, "Say again for tower." "I said where's George?" Phil looked around at the other controllers who all shrugged back at him. They didn't have any idea what the call was about either. Phil said, "Aircraft making the last transmission, say your call sign and repeat your question." "This is Piper 65 Papa, where's George," came the immediate if somewhat slurred reply. "Okay Piper 65 Papa, this is the tower. Who's George?" "George. You know, George, my passenger." "65 Papa, you've lost a passenger!?" "Yeah, tower. He was right here beside me when I went to take off. Now I can't find him. He's going to be late getting to Albuquerque." Phil just stared at the speaker in front of his console. He looked around bewildered. Then he grabbed the strips that showed the last few airplanes taking off. Sure enough there was a Piper with the call numbers that ended in 65 Papa. "Hey, Jerry," he turned to his ground controller, "Turn up the runway lights on 29 right." As the lights got brighter on the runway that the Piper airplane had used for take-off, he picked up his binoculars. Sure enough, there next to the numbers lay a prone figure, probably named George. Evidently both the pilot and the passenger had had one too many cool drinks before take-off. As the pilot started the take-off role George had opened the door to up-chuck and fell out of the airplane. The medics picked him up and and confirmed that drunks have way too much luck. And the FAA was waiting for 65 Papa at Albuquerque with a Breathalyzer and a police escort.