I was living in
this time, the Air Force got a new fighter called the F-15 Eagle.
It was an airplane designed for dog-fighting.
In order to determine the capabilities and limitations of the F-15 a
small flying organization was established at Luke AFB to conduct Operational
Test & Evaluation or OT&E. Other
AF fighter units from throughout the
the other organizations were flying different kinds of airplanes, these flying
activities were called Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics or DACT.
This was a revolutionary step in training pilots because of the dangers
of putting different performing machines in a small area to conduct simulated
combat against each other. Several
years later, some of the energy, excitement and dangers of such activities would
be captured in the movie, "Top Gun" as well as a made of TV movie
called, "Red Flag."
over a year, Steve Hepburn and I controlled virtually all the flying activities
involving the F-15 OT&E organization. We
did this from a radar site on the east side of Phoenix where we sat in a
darkened room behind a radar scope and talked by radio to the fighters which
were flying down near the Arizona-Mexico border.
There would be as many as 6-8 fighters in the area at one time divided
into two teams. Steve would control
one team on a particular radio frequency and I would control the other.
We were adversaries during the engagements.
When one aircraft or team claimed kills against the other, the learning
objectives were considered met and someone called, "Disengage" over
the radio and we would setup for the next engagement.
This was later changed to "Knock it Off" (A Top Gun idea)
because "Disengage" was too easily confused with "Engage" on
the radio during the heat of simulated battle.
was extremely competitive and made more so by the close working relationship we
had with the highly competitive aviators with whom we participated.
We worked together and after work, and sometimes on the weekends, we
partied together. It was an exciting
the same time, the Air Force established a flying organization near
were a great deal of restrictions and regulations to follow when the Aggressors
came to town. One of those was that
a radar controller had to be certified by the Aggressors before he could control
their fighters. When it was
determined that they would eventually be coming to Luke to fly against the F-15
OT&E, Steve and I flipped a coin. I
won and went to Nellis AFB for a couple of weeks to become certified.
Aggressor program was really in its infancy at that time.
One of the biggest hardships was that the controllers had to get in their
car and drive up to the top of Angel's peak to an FAA facility to control the
fighters. Of course some days,
because of maintenance or scheduling problems, we didn't control and just hung
around the break-room. We would
talk, read, or perhaps play a game of ping pong or darts.
an outside individual comes into an organization they develop a sense of various
degrees of warmth and camaraderie. People
are different, personalities are different, and while everyone might say
welcome, most people find themselves working and playing more closely with some,
than with others. It's human nature.
One of the aviators who I soon considered a friend was named Nick Hobbie.
We'd play darts together, either against each other or on the same team
or just sit around and talk. Nick
was married and I believe had one or two small children but I can't remember for
morning during my second week at Nellis a couple of other controllers and I had
driven up to the radar site at
things had occurred when the Butt Slapper deployed.
It had made the instruments inoperative; it had released the front seat
pilot from his ejection seat so he couldn't eject; it had shoved the front seat
pilot hard forward against his stick making the aircraft start into a steep
dive; and it had severed all communications with the front seat pilot from both
Nick and any one else.
the problem had been determined, the controller vectored Nick over to a commonly
known dry lake bed so another aircraft could join-up with him.
With no instruments Nick would follow the other aircraft back to the base
and by being on his wing duplicate the approach/landing speed and rate of
descent. Nick got to the dry lake
bed before the other aircraft so the controller had him circle around.
When the pilot in the front of Nick's airplane saw what was happening he
became very upset. The dry lake bed
also happened to be the designated bailout area.
He thought Nick was going to eject from the aircraft leaving him in an
aircraft from which he couldn't get out. With
his body pressed far forward in the cockpit, he was frantically holding up his
loose straps trying to point out to Nick that he couldn't eject.
join-up was successful, as was the return to base.
Nick landed the aircraft with no problems other than a little difficulty
pulling the stick rearward because it was planted firmly in the stomach of the
pilot in the front. After the
aircraft rolled to a stop and the ground crew assisted the two pilots out of the
airplane, Nick was reported to have said, "I did it.
I did it. I saved the
the pilot in the front said, "Uh Nick.
Are you referring to the airplane or me?"
must have been especially enjoyable for Nick because his previous assignment had
next week I returned to
Phantom pilot was closing in for a kill on Nick's T-38 when someone called,
"Disengage." Nick heard
the call and relaxed the aircraft controls in preparation for the next
engagement. The Phantom pilot did
not hear the call and press on at a high rate of speed.
In the blink of an eye, the Phantom ran over the T-38 causing death and
destruction for everyone and everything involved.
few days later a memorial service was held at the Luke AFB Chapel.
We all said goodbye to these brave warriors and extend our condolences to
their families. They talked about
past accomplishments and futures that would never be fulfilled.
And whether anyone said it or not, we all knew that you, "pay your
money, and take your chances". That
doesn't ease the pain of losing a friend or loved one and I, like many others,
had lost a good friend.