a full flight and an easterly sunset

I’ve heard it said that flying is hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Thankfully it wasn’t terror, but Friday was a flight full of non-boredom. Tower told me to hold short of the runway for an airplane landing with an emergency. Low and behold, the newest model of F-16, a test jet that is based at Holloman, landed fully loaded with external fuel tanks and bombs. He taxied off the runway and commented to ground control that he thought the jet was fine, but he might have hot brakes. From across the runway, I was trying to determine how the sun could glint off his tire with such an interesting orange glow. Hearing his radio call to ground control, I immediately replied, “there are flames around your left main gear”, thinking, oh yeah, you have hot brakes alright!

I eventually was cleared to take off and as I rose above the desert floor, I turned left toward the white sands. From there I continued north over the black lava flows. The Tularosa Basin sure doesn’t lack interesting scenery! Over the simulated airfield that serves as our bombing range, I released a block of concrete called an inert bomb, then turned back south to do some more sight seeing on my way out of the restricted airspace. Over the white sand again, another pilot asked if I could rejoin on him to help with an aircraft problem. I flew in formation with him, watching the angular black jet against the waves of white sand far below. In order to be able to land sooner, he dumped fuel while I steered well clear of the huge stream out the back of his jet.

After he landed safely while I watched in “chase” formation, I arranged to continue with my planned route of flight, picking it up over El Paso. I continued with several practice bombing runs before returning again to Holloman for several instrument and practice emergency approaches. All on one tank of gas on a sunny Friday afternoon. No, it wasn’t terrifying, but it was also absolutely not boring – and that is one fighter that doesn’t lack sufficient gas!

Before dawn the next morning, we reported to work for departure to Nellis Air Force Base where we’d participate in Red Flag, a war game exercise held every few months typically involving about130 aircraft and several thousand people. We accounted for everyone in our squadron then trudged sleepily out of the building toward the bus. The eastern sky was in full bloom, prompting one of our Nighthawk pilots, who is accustomed to beginning his day near sunset, to comment, “Hey, look! The sun sets in the east, too!”

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