I opened the door on Saturday morning at 7:02am and was pushed back into the building by the heat. Suddenly leaving at 0600 seemed far smarter, even if it meant getting up while the clock still had “5” on the front on a Saturday morning, to which I am highly opposed. On the second try, I made it out into the thick humid heat to meet 3 other crazies for a long bike ride. We pedaled out the front gate of Kunsan Airbase – and 11 hours later, arrived at the back gate of Osan Airbase, 112 miles away. That was the final goal, but as always, the journey was rife with stories.
In the end, we began as 4, ended as 3 (one took a cab back home from mile 55); stopped at 42, 66, 92, and 105 miles for beer, water, potato chips, Pocari Sweat (think Gatorade), and monkey bananas; saw a land-locked ship (we weren’t hallucinating!); applied sunscreen 3 different times; got free coffee from one gas station and admired the month-old puppies at another; passed one truck; passed 100 miles at 20 miles per hour and have the picture to prove it; rested in the shade of bus stops, tunnels, trees, and awnings; made phone calls while riding to say we’d be 4 hours late; sweated off the heat that measured just shy of one degree per mile that we rode (99 degrees F); and overall, just enjoyed the ride.
I failed to mention to my ride-mates that I ran 12 miles and rode another 25 the next morning. Even though it was a beautiful day and a beautiful course on shaded trails through a park and around a lake, I don’t think they’d appreciate my energy after that grueling ride!
After so much exertion on the weekend, Monday morning came far too early. But someone had found an empty “pit” (F-16 back seat) for me to ride in, so I had to go! I’d forgotten about the acceleration. Even at 20,000 feet and climbing, push the throttle forward and the jet just GOES. Smoothly. With solid confidence. “Shooter” let me fly a bit on the way back to the field and around the traffic pattern.
We were the “unmanned flight”. Number 4 of the formation was a woman also, so the odds were even – 3 men, 3 women (4 viper pilots in the front seats, 2 stealth pilots in pits). Forward visibility is severely lacking from the back seat of a viper, as it is in an F-117, so I was fairly comfortable with that, but having another pilot watching my flying was entirely another story. Nevertheless, what a great jet the F-16 is!
The next day I flew alone again. Alone, with a 500 pound piece of explosive tucked away in my jet’s belly. We took 4 F-117s and 4 bombs about 25 miles west of Kunsan to an island called Chick-do. Clouds were forming rapidly over the island that was our target area. One pilot in front of me chipped some rock off the island with his bomb. As I approached the island, I peered through a layer of cloud thin enough to drop the bomb through. I released it. The jet yawed sideways as the bomb bay door opened. I felt a tiny jolt as the bomb released and the door shut. Now all I had to do was shine the laser at the target. I picked a hollow on the side of the island and waited. And waited. My countdown reached 0, and still I waited. Then the jet selected the next point and started a turn. Still no explosion. While it’s somewhat disappointing not to see it hit (not to mention the question of where the bomb went!), it’s a rare thrill to drop a bomb off the jet.
And all that by Tuesday! Now for the rest of the week…