If you’re a Paul’s Thing regular you know I love aviation, military aviation in particular. I often write about flying, and when I do I post links on social media. I also post short comments and photos directly to Facebook and Twitter, small stuff that doesn’t necessarily show up here.
The other day I wrote a paragraph on the F-105 Thunderchief and posted it to Facebook. A friend commented, asking when I last flew a plane. It was the kind of question you can take different ways. Was he chiding me for pretending to know about something I haven’t done in a long time? Was he complimenting me on my enthusiasm about flying, given that I’m now a senior citizen?
I’m going with door number two. Yes, I’m a boy when it comes to aviation. I hope I always am. As a kid I dreamed of flying. When I should have been doing my homework I’d daydream about flying. I put the dreams aside in high school and college, mostly, but they came rushing back when I went flying with a friend in graduate school, and not long afterward I found myself talking to an Air Force recruiter.
I’m one of the lucky few who got to do what he always dreamed of. Flying fighters for the USAF was never a job. It was a profession, and then some. The fighter community is small and tight, subdivided even further by types of aircraft and missions flown. In certain aspects, being a member of that community is similar to being in a gang. In other aspects it’s a priesthood. You’re a made man or woman. It’s a way of life; it’s a whole life; you never really leave it. If you don’t go to the airlines afterward, you seek out civilian contract work in aviation-related fields. You get old, go on Social Security, and find yourself volunteering at an air museum. You stay in touch with former squadron mates. You keep up with what’s going on in military aviation and try to stay abreast of developments in tactics, avionics, and weapons. You might even start writing about your experiences.
Shoot, some of the old goats I volunteer with at Pima Air & Space … men who flew EC-121s, KC-97s, F-100s, and B-47s in their prime … still build model airplanes. I haven’t built one in decades, but I’m thinking about getting back into it. Thank god there’s still some boy in this old man!
I haven’t flown F-15s since 1997, but I flew them for almost 20 years (and other jets before that). USAF pilots fly F-15s today and will for years to come. Air combat tactics haven’t changed in any fundamental way since I retired, and the cool new radars and upgraded missiles being fielded now were under development when I flew C models at Kadena. Going in the other direction, in the six-plus years I’ve been a docent at one of the nation’s largest aviation museums, my knowledge of the whole history of aviation, military and civilian, from the Wright Flyer to the Boeing 787, has grown enormously.
I would love to have written about flying when I was doing it every day, but I never would have had the time. I have the time now, and don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
© 2016, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.