There are no old, bold Pilots

F 102 A
142nd FIG F 102A Delta Dagger landing at Portland International Airport

“There are old pilots, there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.” Sage advice from the elders. Pay attention to my words young fighter pilots… lend me your ears and I will tell you a tale.

I flew the first supersonic jet fighter. The F 102 Delta Dagger… known to the pilots that flew her as the “Deuce.”

Top speed in the Deuce in level flight was Mach 1.25 at 40,000 feet.

Flying past the speed of sound, labeled as “Mach One” was a big deal because it was a new experience. The opportunity was rare. Supersonic flight was the realm of a few test pilots and select military pilots.

Flying at supersonic speeds at 40,000 feet was anti-climactic. The sensation was reduced to an instrument reading since outside speed references were distant. Passing through the speed of sound was noticeable. The banshee shriek of air molecules rubbing against the airplane went silent while the airplane was supersonic. Above Mach One the outside world is silent.

On the deck, down in the weeds, it is a different story, outside references whiz past… trees… rocks… clouds… boats… speed became apparent.

My favorite stunt was to level off just on top of a cloud layer… submerge the airplane in the clouds so just the canopy was exposed… then push the throttle forward. What a rush! I imagined what the scene would look like… a canopy bump followed by a vertical stabilizer… like a shark cruising the surface of the ocean. A supersonic shark hunting for prey!

That brings me to my story: One day I was scheduled to fly a low-level target mission out over the Pacific Ocean. My assigned altitude block was 2,000 feet or below. Upon arrival at the initial point I found the perfect cloud layer… flat as a table… perfect for a high-speed dash.

I couldn’t resist… wings level… canopy clear of the clouds… I pushed the throttle forward… lit the afterburner for more thrust… wow!

And then I saw the mast of a fishing boat hurtle past… too close…  the top of the mast was higher than me… I traded airspeed for altitude while I contemplated what had just happened and what could have happened.

I knew the clouds weren’t dense enough to support a boat. What I was flying through was a fog bank lying on the water… not very deep fog either. I had to be mere inches above the water judging from the mast of the boat I had just passed.

Somewhere out there is a fisherman with a story to tell about the day he was becalmed in a dense fog and heard a monster roar… like he had never heard before… like he never wanted to hear again.

Maybe he doesn’t want to talk about it. Who would believe him?

story and photos ByLarry

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