Step time is 14:30 - time to get dressed. I remove
my scarf and patches and place them with my cap in my flight-suit pocket. I walk over to the counter, load my .38 revolver, and secure it in the holster attached to my survival vest. Extra rounds go inside my vest pocket. I clean the dust off the dark visor on my helmet and make sure the clear one in my helmet bag is clean. I check my oxygen mask one last time. I put on my G-suit and parachute harness while life-support personnel load our flight gear into the
At exactly 15:00:00, I switch on the jet fuel starter. The big fan engine begins to wind up. As the RPM increases, I place the throttle in the idle position, which adds fuel to the igniters. The powerful engine lights off. The jet vibrates as the RPM increases to idle speed in unison with the other vipers on the ramp.
At exactly 15:30:00, Lt. Col. Scott's voice rings out: "Burn 11, check!"
"Burn 12, loud and clear!"
"Burn 13, loud and clear!"
"Burn 14, loud and clear!"
"Burn 15, loud and clear!"
"Burn 16, loud and clear!"
The two spare aircraft answer next: "Burn 17, loud and clear!" "Burn 18, loud and clear!"
Vicious and I follow. "Burn 25, loud and clear!" "Burn 26, loud and clear!"
Thirty seconds prior to takeoff, we run our engines up. The exhaust from the four aircraft 1,000 feet in
front of us shakes my jet. Lt. Col. Rackley
releases his brakes right at 16:30, and I watch his engine nozzle expand as his afterburner lights. Heat waves roll across the runway. In a matter of seconds, his jet lifts off. He is followed by Burn 22 and, twenty seconds after that, Burn 23. When Burn 24 releases his brakes, Vicious runs up his engine. He looks over at me one last time, salutes, then releases his brakes.
With my feet pressed against the rudder pedals, I push up my throttle. The
nosewheel compresses as the engine winds up. My eyes peer at the clock on my up-front control display. I count down twenty seconds, and, finally, the moment I have been waiting for arrives. I push the throttle up to mil power, then smoothly select afterburner. Once it ignites, I accelerate rapidly. As my airspeed increases, I rotate and quickly become airborne. I raise my gear and immediately lock up Vicious with my air-to-air radar.
The first of ten air
refuelings begins at steerpoint three over Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. I spot the tanker on radar, forty miles off my nose. Tan 62 is a KC-135 Stratotanker from Plattsburg AFB in New York, and he's right on time.
We reach steerpoint eight approximately two hours into the flight.
The location marks the beginning of our second refueling track. Yellow 63, a KC-135 from Robbins AFB in Georgia, is orbiting at the steerpoint when we arrive. We aren't low on fuel, but our plan is to keep our tanks topped off. Once we get out over the Atlantic, our divert options decrease significantly.
By 23:00 East Coast time, we're about 350 miles off the coast of Portugal. The skies are clear, and the brilliance of millions of stars light up the night.
We've been airborne for seven hours, and we've traveled over 3,400 miles.
By the time we finish our seventh air refueling, the early morning sun begins to creep above the horizon. We're off the southern coast of Italy and the deep blue Mediterranean sits below us. I had never been to this part of the world before, and seeing it for the first time from 25,000 feet at sunrise is a sight to behold. I can see the coast of North Africa off my right wing. Below and to my
left is the island of Sicily, perched off Italy's southern coast.
We begin our ninth refueling fifty miles west of Cairo, Egypt. Black 61, another KC-10, will take our formation the rest of the way. By the time we finish, we're directly over top the Nile River. Airborne nearly thirteen
hours, we are just now coming into Saudi Arabia's airspace. While I eat my box lunch, I enjoy the view of the Saudi desert below: an endless sea of sand dunes. We have one more refueling and then we will make our closest pass by Iraq.
We pass over Riyadh at the fourteen-hour point, and I begin to realize why Saudi Arabia is the world's largest producer of oil. The eastern part of the country is one continuous oil refinery. Oil storage tanks linked by hundreds of
miles of interconnecting pipeline crisscross the terrain below. If Saddam Hussein wants to exert his power by affecting the world's oil supplies, a precision attack on this section of the country will certainly be the place to make his point.
Thirty minutes pass and, finally, the Persian Gulf comes into view. We pass just to the south of Bahrain and over the southern part of Qatar. The Gulf waters are a beautiful deep blue, a contrast to the parched Saudi deserts.
our descent, T-Rack sends us over to Dubai approach control's frequency. The UAE coastline begins to appear. Just in time. I've hit a brick wall. As tired as I feel, I know I'm going to have to put this thing on the ground soon.
Once we reach 5,000 feet, T-Rack splits the formation into three two-ships. About fifteen miles south of Al Minhad Air Base, our final destination, Vicious and I are cleared off.
"Burn 25, go 118.55!" Vicious radios.
I switch frequencies and wait for Vicious to check me in.
"Burn 25, check!"
Vicious gives me the gear down signal and I match his configuration. After I make one last check of my configuration, I key my mike and say, "Burn 26, gear down full stop." Once my wheels touch down, I aerobrake to slow the aircraft down. At the end of the runway, I make a left turn and proceed toward the ramp. After seventeen long
hours in the F-16, I've reached my destination.