Dealing with passengers, in a fighter


As an airline pilot you have interactions with passengers daily, some “memorable” for sure. Most passengers are courteous, even when things go bad. I’ve found the more experience a passenger has, businessmen for example, the more patience they have for problems like weather.

You will always get your 1%’er, present on every flight they feel compelled to reveal their unreasonable nature to the world. I’m always amused by the eye rolls of fellow passengers standing behind them, who have to endure the show as well. It usually culminates in a group nod of silent agreement: moron.

But what about passengers in fighters? Passengers? Yes, passengers. I’ve carried Admirals, Generals, lawyers, doctors, civilian photographers, maintenance troops, admin troops, etc. A good friend of mine, Drago Dobbs, even flew “the” Jimmy Buffett in an F-14.

VT 21 division

Administration personnel? Yes, if they got their ejection seat quals we’d fly them. I remember a young female yeoman we taught to fight in VT-21. She was a natural, could toss the TA-4J around like she was born in it. Our macho students hated seeing her in a flight suit, knowing they may be subjected to the humiliation of being pushed around the sky by a pretty blonde yeoman.

Flag Officers were easy, normally they were aviators so a simple brief on the seat and a couple systems and we were off. I generally flew Flag Officers at sea in the EA-6B Prowler. It had side by side seating (as well as a rear pair of seats for Electronic Counter-measure Officers) so they got a front row view from the Navigator spot.

I always enjoyed taking Air Force fighter pilots for a ride at sea: 500 knots into the break at 500 feet, 5 g’s and turn at the bow for a circular pattern that rolled out with a short, short final, and then a trap on board. I could see the smile through the mask. If you could get a USAF Phantom Driver to say “coool” you had accomplished something on the day.

My most memorable passenger dealing, also had elevated humor value. We often flew midshipmen on their summer cruises. They were academy and ROTC boys. Most were smart enough to keep their eyes open and mouths shut. Of course you always get that 1%’er, the military is no exception. We had one particular obnoxious middie on the the USS Lincoln. When he first showed up he announced in the Ready Room that he required a call sign. His precociousness was not lost on us, we had the para-riggers make him a new name tag boldly displaying his new call sign….Crack Whore.

His running buddy, another middie, was so amused we gave him one worse. I choose not to share it on this forum. We thought this new monicker might bring our wayward middie a modicum of humility, it did not.

After a flight one day that involved aerobatics he proclaimed that he could not be made to succumb to airsickness. I grabbed the schedulers arm before he could go over and assault the young lad: “Spert, put him on with us tomorrow.” An evil grin appeared on Lieutenant Junior Grade John Sperridelozzi’s face. “Roger that but I’m not sitting in back with him.” We concluded our conspiracy with a nod and agreement to also schedlule one of our iron gut bubba’s and went to the wardroom snickering as we passed Crack Whore who was holding court in the back of the ready room with a group of middies.

The next day broke pure as we pre-flighted our mighty Prowler with il-intent. Crack Whore was yammering away like a busted chain saw. Even our flight helmets couldn’t filter his bravado. We had “briefed-in” our fourth crewman in maintenance control before we walked, I was afraid his constant grin would give the caper away.


Immediately off the catapult, I held the nose of the EA-6B Prowler down to accelerate, as I pulled up the gear and flaps. The J52-P408 turbo jet engines propelled us to 550 knots quickly. We streaked across the wave tops until about 15 miles from the ship and then without announcing it, I snapped on 5 g’s and pulled 60 degrees nose up. Passing through 13,000 feet I rolled the big jet onto its back and pulled the nose to our departure reference radial.

Rolling upright, I reached over and flipped off the stability augmentation, Spert was watching with a grin. I put a finger to my lips next to the dangling O2 mask and gave him a wink.

In a multi engined aircraft, stab aug basically keeps the tail behind the nose by putting in very small corrections. Without it the tail wanders around. I added to that by slightly moving the control stick in a stirring motion. It got the aircraft rotating around all three axis.

We continued on our mission of running in at the ship radiating with our ALQ-99 jammers, going against the F-18 fighter CAP. After each run I would hard turn back out to reset.

In the Prowler you could talk discreetly to any other seat or block out one. Our plant in the back seat came up on the inter-com talking only to Spert and I: “he’s turning green!”

Our mission complete I snapped out some high-g barrel rolls, and ailerons rolls. Crack Whore let loose with the technicolor yawn over the top of one of the barrel rolls. I kept the g very smooth so the bag would not spill its contents. We split-s’d into holding and then settled in waiting for the recovery. After our 5x5x5 break and carrier landing Crack Whore had to be lifted from the jet. He finished the mornings events stretched out on the same bench he had held court from just the day before.

I spent a large portion of my life teaching young men and women how to be a warrior in the sky. I used would tell them:

“When you fly your jet into Valley of Death; you have to think, to know, you are the baddest pilot in that valley. But, you also have to know, you absolutely must anticipate you will make a mistake. Be ready for it, look for it.”

Crack Whore now knew he was not infallible. A very important message. He was back to his self by the end of the day as if nothing had happened; but in the back of his mind he knew, and would look for it in the future. I heard he ended up flying Tomcats in the fleet.

F-14 fly by

Crack Whore?


Read more about Naval Aviation and air combat exploits in the Aviators Series:

#3 ENDGAME #2 Vengeance #1 Project Seven Alpha

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10 comments on “Dealing with passengers, in a fighter
  1. Rob says:

    Chip, if you handled your fighter even half as well as you handle writing, you’re one helluva pilot! I loved the story!! I was so glad you crushed Crack Whore…I found myself throwing a victorious fist pump when that little twerp got what he deserved. Great story!

  2. Andrew says:

    I made fun of my dad once for throwing up on final approach after a particularly large Thanksgiving dinner.

    He threatened to take me up and do some particularly airsickness-inducing maneuvers… unfortunately he never got the chance before he passed away.

    Thanks for the great story, Leland!

  3. Rob, thanks. He was fun, I must admit I secretly admired his spunk. However he definitely needed a sniff of reality!

  4. Ron Rapp says:

    Not only was he arrogant but the midshipman also lacked situational awareness. How did he not see that flight profile coming a mile away? 🙂

  5. Brent says:

    Leland I love it!

    Great tale! There’s a crack whore in every crowd!


  6. Karlene says:

    Leland, what can I say… “Coool!”
    This was just like being there. Or better. Fabulous story! Crack Whore? There has to be more to that name than face value. Inquiring minds want to know.

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