I wrote about returning to NAS Pensacola and the National Museum of Naval Aviation a couple of years ago. Much had changed, and much had not. Planes, people; even the base had changed after a hurricane smashed into it. But the feel of the area will always be the same for my wife Laura and I. It is where we and many other youngsters started a great adventure; Sean McDonald remains one of our closest friends in our continuing adventure.
We started together in class 8402, in January of 1983. 8402 was an Advanced Strike class; JETS! While Laura and I settled into the life of newlyweds, Sean and I settled into the turbulent skies as Student Naval Aviators. During the week we roamed the airspace over the beaches; on weekends their many distractions. Sean was our personal guide, he had grown up in Gulf Shores. We quickly fell in love with the area.
After receiving our wings at the Naval Aviation Museum, we got our orders. Sean, being a Marine, was headed to the AV-8A Harrier and I was ordered to the EA-3D Skywarrior. Fellow Aviators gasped, Laura cried; the survival rate on both aircraft was less than optimal. The Harrier’s nickname was Scarrier for its propensity to dead bug and A-3D was joked to mean all three dead (the Skywarrior had no ejection seats for the 3-man crew). We observed that we apparently were not well liked! After bouncing around a bit I finally ended up on the USS Midway flying the EA-6B Prowler. Sean transitioned to the AV-8B; a much safer aircraft. We both survived as a bonus.
Our paths crossed many times: San Diego, Whidbey Island, Kingsville, Memphis, Cubi Point in the Philippines, and a crazy cross country drive with my brother Gregg. Laura shaking her head at most of our antics of youth.
It had started for me in the mighty T-28B Trojan; a throw back to WWII. The aircraft were older than the pilots; round engines powered by pistons made it the most macho trainer in the Navy.
I learned to fly the T-28 over the beaches in South Texas, out of NAS Corpus Christi. It was quite an aircraft to learn to fly on; but we didn’t know any different. I returned to those roots this week; appropriately with Laura and Sean. He took us up in his Waco bi-plane and we flew low and slow over the same beaches we used to streak over in T-2C and TA-4J Jets.
Below is Fort Morgan from Sean’s Waco, somewhere I have the same photo from a TA-4J Skyhawk.
After our careers in the military we both traded fighters for wide body airliners. Now we are returning to our roots; I’m looking for a round engine aircraft as well. Next year we will roam the skies together again in formation…..low and slow, but with a much better view.