Abdul See Great Water

Before embarking on the "war stories" I would like to point out that while I am poking fun at situations that can be considered humorous (from a safe distance in both time and space), I am not ridiculing a national group at large. Americans grow up in a "robot society" we are surrounded by machinery from the moment we are born. It's difficult to see life the same way as a person from a less mechanized culture. We also tend to be less fatalistic than Islamic cultures. ("God helps those who help themselves" vs. "Allah wills").

The real humor lies in the differences between the cultures, and not within the culture itself. I have had my turn myself. I recall being on a street corner in Tokyo acting like a typical American and having passersby shake their heads, click their tongues, suck in some air and mutter "henna gijin. (crazy foreigner)"

So if I pick on Abdul, it is only with respect. Besides, I will never under estimate a potential adversary.

Nonetheless, there was this son of a used camel dealer, named Abdul ...

The Islamic way of life puts total faith in Allah. As applied to flying (or driving), this means that if Allah wills you to have an accident on a particular day, you will have an accident no matter how safely you fly. On the other hand, if Allah wills to protect you, no amount of daring will harm you.

I went through pilot training at Moody AFB, GA. (Near the big "O" in Okeefenoke) in 1970-71. We had a number of foreign students in class 71-08 including: Iranians, Vietnamese (one of them looked more like Chinese), Danes, Texans, Cajuns, Marines and Yankees (That's where I fit in - I'm from Brooklyn. That not only makes me a Yankee; it makes me a DAMNED YANKEE).

It was a quiet day at Moody Airpatch as the T-37 student pilots were doing their "crash and dashes" on the inside runway. The normal radio calls on the mobile frequency were interrupted by the single phrase, "Abdul lost!" The mobile controller, an instructor pilot, grabbed the microphone and said in a calm voice which belied the inner panic gripping at his intestines, "Abdul, tell us what you can see". The response was, "Abdul see great water". "Good Abdul, don't fly over the water".

This wasn't much help. From southern Georgia, he could either be looking at the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. If it were the latter, there was a good chance he was wandering around over some of the restricted ranges at Eglin AFB. Some of these ranges were used for ground to air and air-to-air gunnery. Abdul had a good chance of being skewered with a redeye missile or sidewinder. (Imagine the headlines - "IRANIAN FLYING AN AMERICAN MADE AIRCRAFT, SHOT DOWN BY MISSILE OVER GULF").

Search radars all over the southern United States were galvanized into action to find an aircraft that may or may not have its transponder turned on. In fact, the only thing we were sure was on was the radio, since he was talking on it. About an hour and forty minutes after Abdul's take-off time (in an aircraft with a supposed fuel endurance of only an hour and a half), he radios back in; "Abdul see airport". "OK, Abdul, land!".

After another anxious 30 minutes elapse, the base receives a call from a Fixed Base Operator (FBO) at an airport about 90 miles away. The FBO, a local Georgian, is convinced that he's just had a close encounter of the worst kind. He couldn't understand Abdul's English (come to think of it, the locals couldn't understand my English either - or was that Brooklynese). However, he did recognize the Air Force markings on the aircraft, so he called the nearest Air Force Base, which eventually patched him through to Moody.

I could just picture it: a T-37 does a tactical overhead approach at a Unicom controlled field. After scattering any local traffic, it lands, taxis loudly1 across the lawn, stops, and out steps a pilot speaking a foreign language. I don't blame the FBO for being a little bit apprehensive.

An hour after the phone call, a driver and instructor pilot take off in a fuel truck to rescue Abdul. Upon reaching the airport, they find the T-37 parked too closely to other aircraft to get the fuel truck in safely. The instructor decides to taxi the plane to the fuel truck on a clear taxiway. He starts up the engines, advances the throttles, and flames out. So much for Abdul's fuel reserves. Allah apparently had something better on His mind that day than getting rid of Abdul.


  1. The T-37 may not be the loudest aircraft in the Air Force inventory, but it leads all polls for making the most obnoxious noise.